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My friend Walter

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 3, 2017 in Middle Age

Okay, maybe Walter Becker wasn’t really my friend but I’m guessing you didn’t spend a week with him. Okay, maybe I didn’t really spend a week with him per se, but I did spend a week at the same place he was at, had dinner with him several times and hiked the same morning hike every day. He happened to be at my favourite Mexican spa along with his personal physician. He was just a regular guy. I’m guessing maybe the attraction of said spa was the focus on activity, mindfulness and organic vegetarian cuisine. And definitely no beach bar with Margaritas.

I have to admit I wasn’t really a fan of Steely Dan when they arrived on the scene in the early 1970s. I did not mind Can’t Buy a Thrill but not much of Becker/Fagan was in my regular rotation. Anyhow, to honour Walter’s untimely death today, I thought I would do a bit of research and provide you with some Steely Dan facts you may or may not know.

1. Prior to forming Steely Dan, Becker and Fagan were part of a cover band called the Leather Canary, which also included Chevy Chase. Needless to say, fame and fortune did not ensue at that point.

2. Barbra Streisand covered a Becker/Fagan original called “I Mean to Shine” on her 1971 Album Barbra Jean Streisand. Fame and fortune still did not ensue.

3. Although a key part of the song writing duo, Becker did not actually play on a Steely Dan album until Pretzel Logic. Also, although Fagan is lead vocal on many recorded tracks, he refused to sing live. Kind of like if Paul never played on a Beatles track and if John never sang in a concert. Although come to think of it, who would have known since no one could actually hear them over the screaming anyhow. I also learned that Fagan said in defense of the session musician modus operandi that the Beatles regularly used pitch hitters in their recordings (Billy Preston on the keyboard comes to mind, but also Eric Clapton standing in for George on many occasions). But I digress.

4. Michael McDonald and Jeff Baxter were both part of the Steely Dan crew until they left to form a little known band called the Doobie Brothers. Fame and fortune did ensue.

5. Anyhow, eventually Steely Dan caught on, selling 40 million albums worldwide and gaining a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

6. I guess it’s the jazzy nature of Steely Dan that was at odds with my musical taste at the time. But I have found Becker and Fagan to be kind of like olives: an acquired taste best left to grownups, or at least best left to those old enough to drink martinis. And that is exactly what I shall do at cocktail time tonight, while contemplating the wisdom of Bodhisavatta.

7. I still don’t know why Rikki shouldn’t lose that number and silly me, I never thought to ask Walter.

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Bookends

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 31, 2017 in Middle Age

When Pamela Paul was 14, she started keeping a journal of every book she read. While this is certainly what one would expect of someone who would later become the current editor of the New York Times Book Review, I couldn’t help but have a huge twinge of envy accompanied with stern admonishment to my teenage self for not having done the same because my book based on my journal would be on the bestseller list instead of hers (and likely be in the New York Times Book Review). At least I’m pretty sure that would have happened.

But maybe it’s not too late. I have had lots of time to read this summer. My ereader says I have finished 41 books since May and if you add the analog versions I have ploughed through it adds up to close to 50 so far. Now I know it’s a little late in the game to be recommending a summer reading list, but just to show Pamela I have potential, here is a baker’s dozen of books I have digested (some with gritted teeth, some with interest, some with abandon).

1. Toni Tennille (fittingly by Toni Tennille) Now I don’t usually read the celebrity biographies (auto or otherwise) but I did like Keith Richards’ book (while remaining rather dubious that he actually wrote it himself). I don’t know why I decided to read up on Toni, however it wasn’t half bad. I learned several new things about the Captain (I did not know he played keyboard with the Beach Boys) and Tennille (she wrote the hit songs, and was also a backup singer for Elton John, Pink Floyd – on the Wall, no less, and Art Garfunkel, and in her spare time took over from Julie Andrews in the travelling edition of Victor Victoria). Anyhow, light and lively reading with a good bit of dirt on how weird Daryl Dragon is.

2. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. This is of course about the genesis of the North American women’s movement in the early 1970s but also about the civil rights movement before that. Generally there was too much discussion about American politics for my liking, but I did learn that Gloria’s father was a travelling salesman. She is also 83. Yikes! But juicy details were otherwise AWOL.

3. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout is also the author of Olive Kitterage, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and which you must read if you haven’t already. You should also read Lucy Barton. I think one of the things I liked most about it was that Lucy is a writer and writing teacher. One of her own writing teachers tells her “You will have only one story. You will write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one”. And this I believe to be true.

4. On Writing by Stephen King. I don’t remember whether I read this before or after Lucy Barton (sorry, Pamela) but this is a wonderful summation of the craft of writing (fiction or not) and offers very common sense advice. For example, King says “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write”. Two major takeaways for me were that I’m not wasting my time reading, I’m really building a better foundation for digging into writing (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and that I already know the things you need to know to be able to write so no excuse not to just get on with it.

5. Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. This is pretty much what you would expect: a history of the show and analysis of its impact on the pop culture of the day. You know, two standup comics have a conversation in a Korean deli and turn it into a pitch for a show, and yada, yada, yada, the rest is history. I liked it.

6. Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. If you follow food blogs, you will know Molly Wizenbert from Orangette. This book is a memoir about opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle with her husband, while knowing not much about pizza or running a restaurant. Synopsis: husband drops out of PhD program in astrophysics (or some other likely to be lucrative career – I forget which one – sorry Pamela) and decides to learn how to make pizza. For most of us this would end up in a few pizza meals for friends. But Molly and Brandon go big or go home, so a restaurant in some derelict part of Seattle seemed like a good idea. Mayhem ensues.

7. February by Lisa Moore. Now we are back in a literary groove. I did not read this when it won Canada Reads and did not know it was on the Booker Prize shortlist, my bad. It is set in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger but it isn’t really just about that. Suffice to say I need to read more Lisa Moore.

8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before, although he is a very prolific and well-awarded author of both children’s and adult books of many different genres, including comics. I stumbled across American Gods in a bookstore display as a tie-in to a TV series on Starz. It is not even a new book – published in 2001. Anyhow, it is a little difficult to describe because it features mythical gods clashing with 20th century gods (e.g. technology), but I really liked it. Be warned though, it weighs in at about 500 pages so might suck up your entire vacation.

9. The Girl Before by JP Delaney. This is one of those books you see advertised on the subway. At least that’s where I saw it. I guess it was a good ad because I immediately put a hold on it at the library. Synopsis: creepy landlord, creepy electronic house, villain you think is the villain doesn’t turn out to be the villain, you figure out what’s happening before the big reveal. JP Delaney is a pseudonym. Beach bag potential, but pack another book just in case.

10. Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. I picked this one up mostly to get some dirt on Salmon Rushdie (in case you missed the connection, Padma was his fourth wife) and Padma does deliver on that score. Apparently, Salmon is a grumpy narcissist. There – I have saved you some reading time.

11. Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong. Back to light and lively territory. Weird, secret community somewhere in the north. Weird people, who all have a secret past. I liked it and have since devoured the sequel. Hope the series gets much longer.

12. The Saucier’s Apprentice by Bob Spitz. Bob’s claim to fame is writing biographies of the Beatles and Bob Dylan (two different books, mind you). This one is about his midlife crisis spent trying to learn to cook via a variety of dubious cooking schools in Europe. What I learned is that perhaps there are only dubious cooking schools in Europe and also that Bob is a bit of a know-it-all. Took me a while to get the joke re the title. It does have a few recipes in it though.

13. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I gave this one a miss for a long time. Apparently, Joan Didion once said that to be a writer is to always be ratting someone out. There is some of that in this book but I agree with the reviewers that there isn’t enough. There also isn’t enough about books. But I did read it to the end.

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Bon voyage

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 24, 2017 in Travels

NASA recently announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has moved into interstellar space. This journey has taken forty years and that is merely a drop in the bucket when it comes to the time it would take to actually get somewhere tangible beyond our solar system. People that know these things say in about 300 years it will reach the Oort cloud (which is apparently an icy shelf just beyond the reach of our solar system, but of course since no one has actually been there, there is no proof of icy-ness or shelfage-ness that I can accurately report) and then spend a leisurely 40,000 years to only get within 1.6 light years of star Gliese 445, which is at present in the constellation Camelopardalis but has a nasty habit of moving around so may not even be in the neighbourhood once Voyager 1 finally gets within hailing distance.

But although its itinerary is interesting, Voyager’s travelogue is not our topic for today. Our subject of interest is the gold record it carries with messages for the Camelopardians. This record is state of the art for 1977, which was unfortunately before CDs, DVDs and USB drives existed.

Unfortunate because whoever intercepts it will think we are still stuck in the analog era (although at least it carries a message from President Carter not President Trump, who probably would not have provided a message because the Donald doesn’t believe in the universe or thinks he is the universe), and also unfortunate because of the storage limitations of the record which meant substantial triage was required to determine what to put on it. So they ended up with some photos and sounds of our environment (likely a bit of false advertising at this point), some greetings in 55 different languages (likely very confusing to any alien since according to Star Trek they all speak only one language per planet), and some music including Mozart and Chuck Berry (likely also very perplexing, especially the Chuck Berry part since there were all kinds of other options available in 1977 including a little band called the Beatles).

Anyhow, it would be an interesting exercise to decide what would go on the record substitute if Voyager was starting out today. Here is my vote:

1. Episodes from the Walking Dead. That would prevent any aliens with bad intentions from messing with us, because either way, the zombies or the zombie apocalypse would make them wait until we had annihilated ourselves completely before swooping in to take over the little blue planet.

2. On second thought, a message from Donald Trump would be a good idea if we wanted to keep random outer space creatures away.

3. And if we are being more positive, I think we should load that sucker up with Van Morrison, Coldplay, Blue Rodeo, Ella Fitzgerald, K.D. Lang, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and Elvis Costello. Just sayin’

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Yellow Bird

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 21, 2017 in Middle Age

I was walking home the other day and saw a yellow bird. But of course there is much more to this story. I was walking home on Oriole Parkway, a Toronto street in an otherwise leafy and urban area with a volume of traffic and illicit speed that makes it more like a major roadway, although it is lined with multi-million dollar houses (but come to think of it, every street in Toronto is lined with multi-million dollar houses, but I digress).

Anyhow, as I passed one of the driveways I noticed a whole bunch of those little brown birds that are kind of like a smaller, cuter pigeons because they spend all their time scavenging on random pieces of pavement. Except one of the small brown birds was yellow. Really yellow. Like canary yellow. Like maybe even a real canary. I don’t know if this was a case of a swan mistaking a flock of ugly ducklings for his peeps, but I do know that this yellow bird was not where it should be. However, I figured there was no practical way to rescue it and by the time anyone saw a posting on Craigslist it would be long gone. So the mystery remains.

But that is one good thing about taking the time to observe the world around you when you are walking – you never know what you will see. Yesterday I think I thwarted some spy’s secret mission by picking up a USB drive that was lying under a bush near a park bench very close to a midtown subway station. It makes perfect sense that this would be an ideal ‘exchange’ point: lots of people going to and fro. I haven’t looked at what’s on the drive yet, so I don’t know whether or not I need to go into hiding. Stay tuned (although come to think of it, if I decide I need to go into hiding perhaps it would be a good idea not to broadcast it to the internet).

While out for a walk one day last spring, I found a huge floral arrangement on the curb. Obviously, somebody had received it for some occasion but who knows what? Birth? Birthday? Wedding? Death? Retirement? Hard to tell from the flowers themselves, although the preponderance of lilies might indicate more of an end of life thing than a beginning of life thing. Anyhow, there are several strange things about this. Usually any situation that calls for flowers results in more than one arrangement, yet only one was kicked to the curb. Plus, the flowers were all in perfect condition. I carted it home and cobbled three vases full of floral profusion that lasted nearly two weeks. And made my house smell like a funeral parlor.

There are many other mysteries you can encounter simply by walking around. What’s with those single shoes? A single glove I understand, but how do you misplace a shoe? And why would you be carrying a small fold up ironing board on the train? Anyhow, now I feel guilty about that bird…

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I hear music

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 13, 2017 in Middle Age

You know you are getting old when you start hearing some of the music of your youth that was considered edgy at the time wafting gently out of the speakers while you are at the grocery store. I swear I heard ‘White Rabbit’, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, and ‘Dead Babies’ all in the course of a single shopping trip.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but elevators don’t actually have elevator music anymore. What you have now is the disembodied voice that tells you which direction you are going and what floor you have arrived at, and a video screen that makes it legitimate for everyone to look blankly at a spot on the wall and pretend to be very interested in the weather and traffic (even though they have already arrived at work and therefore neither subject is particularly relevant). But I digress. Today we are going to delve into the phenomenon of Muzak.

Apparently, the concept of piped in music was first invented in 1910 but it didn’t really start to catch on until a company called Muzak was acquired by Warner Brothers in 1937. Here are some fun facts about ‘elevator’ music.

1. The initial commercial use for Muzak was as a productivity aid, piped into offices and factories. The ‘music’ was programmed in 15 minute intervals that gradually increased in pace and volume. I’m guessing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ was one of the more popular tunes. Not surprisingly, once workers caught on to this productivity initiative it started to have the opposite effect.

2. Remember the soothing music piped into the space station in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’? Well that was actually a real thing. In the 1960s, NASA used Muzak on space missions – although I think they probably kept to the soothing kind as opposed to the manic kind. Here is another U.S. government Muzak factoid: Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to pipe it into the West Wing. I’m guessing if it is still piped in today, it’s the manic kind, not the soothing kind. Just sayin’.

3. There is a difference between background elevator music and foreground elevator music. The background kind is the classic Muzak – instrumental only and mostly indistinguishable as specific tunes. The foreground kind has lyrics and is recognizable as a particular song. On a related note, one of the most outspoken non-fans of Muzak is Ted Nugent, so I guess we won’t hear either the background or foreground version of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ in the mall any time soon. Nugent even tried to buy the company to put us all out of our misery, but alas his bid was refused.

4. However, maybe Ted was on to something when he said “Muzak’s been responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation”. Muzak was eventually acquired by a company called Mood Media. If that doesn’t sound subversive, I don’t know what does.

5. Perhaps the one consolation is that you can be pretty much guaranteed that rap will never be converted to Muzak because of course the main prerequisite is the music part.

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American pie

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 30, 2017 in Middle Age

You may have missed the latest eruption of severe first world problems. If that is the case, I am happy to be of service to fill you in. It all started in Iceland, of all places. Usually Iceland is pretty well behaved (except for Bjork of course) and doesn’t get on the radar much unless its volcanos are busy disrupting air traffic. However, the genesis of the whole thing was a comment made by the president of Iceland that pineapple did not belong on pizza and he would ban it if he could.

This hit particularly close to home here in Canada because we invented the Hawaiian pizza. Or actually Sam Panopoulos, a transplanted Greek and pizzeria owner in Chatham, Ontario, is credited with first putting ham and pineapple on a pizza. Mr. Panopoulos says he was inspired by the Chinese food he also served (in the grand tradition of the small town pizza, Chinese takeout, and ‘Canadian’ food emporium).

Regardless of where you stand on the fruit on pizza thing, most of us would be content to let the toppings fall as they may and agree to disagree or even agree to relegating any offending ingredients to one side of the pizza. But that is not what happened here. What Guðni Jóhannesson started way back in February fueled an Internet storm that still rages five months later, surely a record in the fickle world of the Internet’s attention span. Everyone from Gordon Ramsey to Justin Bieber has weighed in on the subject (by the way Gordon is as against it as you can possible get, while the Beebs is way cool with it). Apparently, the Hawaiian is the most popular pizza in Australia (based on frequency of takeout orders), while in the U.S. pineapple is among the top three most hated toppings, right behind anchovies. So clearly there are some cultural divides at play.

But the most definitive cultural divide is between Italy and the rest of the world. If you have ever been to Italy, you know how they stand on messing with the top of a pizza. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything other than tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (in any combination you like) on offer, although a handful of arugula tossed on after it comes out of the oven seems to be acceptable. That’s because like most cuisine that migrates across the pond, pizza lost its way.

Or one could argue it found its way – free of the arbitrary restrictions in the name of purity, it could branch out and become all things to all people. North American pizza is truly the most democratic of foods. Don’t like thick crust? Then have it thin. Don’t like tomato sauce? Have pesto or even no sauce at all. Don’t like bread dough? Wait, maybe that’s taking things a little too far… But I don’t think we can stop the argument just yet. That can only happen when the Americans can come up with a good explanation for putting ‘Canadian bacon’ on their Hawaiian instead of ham.

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Go for a soda

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 13, 2017 in Houses

I feel guilty about my fridge and it’s highly likely that you should feel guilty about yours too. That’s because I have a box of baking soda sitting in the nether regions protecting the good name of my housekeeping skills by silently absorbing the sins of sour milk, sauerkraut and stinky cheese. In case you missed the press release, there is currently a dire shortage of sodium bicarbonate in North America. And I might be part of the problem. Or maybe not. Maybe all the blame sits squarely on the hefty shoulders of Arm & Hammer.

The invention of sodium bicarbonate goes way back to some French guy in 1791. Then there was a lull of about 50 years until some enterprising bakers derived baking soda by combining sodium bicarbonate with carbon dioxide and as the saying goes the rest is history. Except maybe not the history you think you know.

Shortly after baking soda debuted as a kitchen marvel, a company called Church & Dwight began manufacturing it and packaging it for sale under the Arm & Hammer brand (Mr. Church and Mr. Dwight being clearly enamored with the ampersand). Now you might think it a little foolish to base your consumer products empire around a simple chemical compound that virtually anyone could produce but Church & Dwight did just that. In fact, with 92% recognition, the Arm & Hammer logo is one of the top five trademarks in the U.S., right up there with Google and Coca Cola.

Everything went swimmingly for Arm & Hammer until the early 1970s when women stopped baking cookies all day and started to work outside the home. That’s when the marketing folks swung into action inventing new and better uses for the product. The first one was an alternative to store bought toothpaste. And the second was as a deodorizer for refrigerators and freezers. And now please forgive me for bursting a very big bubble: it has never actually been proven to work. But that did not deter the savvy marketers at C & D. They needed to make sure that there would be adequate churn on the box in the fridge so they decided to say it was only good for 30 days, after which you had to pour it down the sink (bonus: it also cleans drains!) and buy a new package.

But back to the shortage thing. Even if the deodorizer is just a placebo effect, there are several very legitimate uses for sodium bicarbonate outside of the baking thing, one of which is as a sterile injectable to treat a condition called acidosis and to help stabilize organs that are failing, and as it turns out this is the portion of the market experiencing a supply problem. But it is also a key ingredient in a common form of fireworks (strangely enough another key ingredient is sugar, which begs the question of how none of us have managed to blow up the kitchen while making banana bread…) and it is kryptonite to cockroaches, a fact I wish I had known when living in some of the dodgier areas of town.

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Mon pays

Posted by Marlinee on Jun 25, 2017 in Middle Age

Courtesy of my friends at CBC radio today, I was reminded (if I ever knew in the first place) that our national anthem is a French song that didn’t have English words until 1907 and the version we learned in the 1960s is quite different than the version millennials sing today and furthermore, didn’t even become our official national anthem until 1980. But that is not really our topic today. All of the talk about the history of O Canada and the related subject of the importance of music in the political and national fabric of Quebec reminded me of my French immersion course in the 1970s.

With all of the logic the Federal government could muster, the location chosen to transform us to French fluency was the Scarborough outpost of the University of Toronto. I had only been to Toronto once or twice before but even I knew that Scarborough was not actually Toronto. This location was probably chosen so that bright lights and night life would not distract us from our ‘devoirs’.

Despite our decidedly non-French environs, the program did manage to immerse us in la langue Francais pretty much 24/7. It was kind of a cross between a weird summer camp and a minimum security prison. We had all meals together in a dining hall and they took attendance, even at dinner. We also had assigned tables which made it kind of obvious if someone was AWOL. Each table took turns being the wait staff – taking orders from the menu (of course we had a menu and we even had wine at dinner – this was as full a French immersion as you could get) and bussing the tables. Each night one table was also responsible for the evening entertainment (also not optional). You have not lived until you have experienced the French translation of the ‘Ivory Soap’ skit or a rousing version of “Ne jettez pas votre jonque dans mon arriere-cour”.

Since this was an urban location, our daytime activities did not involve swimming, boating or outdoor survival skills. Instead, we had a roster of classes to attend. However, rather than drilling us on grammar and vocabulary from text books, our language acquisition took place while learning yoga (les salutations au soleil) and macramé. I also took ballet, which was my designated bird course as it did not require learning any new French words.

Another regular activity was the classic camp singalong. But no Kumbaya or rowing boats ashore here. We were issued a booklet of Quebec songs, whose topics ranged from wives trying to keep the home fires burning in the dark and cold of winter to people banished from their homeland for crimes of loyalty. In other words, spanning the gamut from depressing to really depressing.

Prior to my immersion experience, I knew where to find my aunt’s pen and how to converse with people who were on strike (one of the stranger scenarios that were included in our French textbook in Grade 5). Anyone who experienced this curriculum also has the secret handshake of referring to the second level in a parking garage as ‘the little dog’. But I digress. The songs of Quebec taught me a whole new level of vocabulary about the hardship of being a European pioneer in ‘the land God gave to Cain’, the equal parts of reverence for and hatred of winter, and of course about lumberjacks. Gens du pays, c’est votre tour
De vous laisser parler d’amour.

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Garden Party

Posted by Marlinee on Jun 20, 2017 in Houses

Unfortunately, I have recently come to the conclusion that I like the idea of gardening more than actual gardening. I don’t know why this is only a recent revelation because the blatant indications that I am not as enthusiastic a gardener as I imagine myself to be have been evident for some time. Like, for example, the fact that I don’t often plant things or weed things or even water things. But that did not deter me from creating a vegetable garden this year, or at least a plot of land where theoretically vegetables could grow if they decided to but so far the garden jury is still sequestered.

I am told (by the back of the seed package) that lettuce and spinach are a cinch to grow and are so prolific that you can manufacture several crops a season. Except if it is too cold, too hot, too wet, or too dry. Oh, and unless there is nothing around that likes spinach and lettuce sprouts (which is apparently anything that breathes). But so far no worries about unauthorized scarfing of al fresco salad because of the thousands of seeds (or maybe just hundreds – they are too small to count accurately) I have planted in tidy rows, not a single one shows signs of ‘leafage’.

The beans, on the other hand, are showing some promise although I have just jinxed them by saying that out loud. In case you didn’t know (and I certainly didn’t) bean seeds look exactly like dried beans. I mean like the kind of beans you make baked beans with, something I find a little disconcerting because this must mean whenever you eat baked beans or black bean soup or chickpea salad you are eating scores of proto-bean plants. And remember your mother telling you not to put beans in your ear (because really, isn’t every child’s inclination to put beans in their ear)? Based on my bean plants, you probably really would have had leaves growing out of the side of your head if you hadn’t toed the line on that one. Just sayin’.

I also planted radishes. I don’t know why because I don’t really like them, so of course they are coming up really well. The seed man says you are supposed to thin them out when they get a few leaves on them, but based on other progress I figured I’d never get to that step. So imagine my surprise when they all popped up hale and hearty the other day. Of course about nine tenths of the way through the thinning (and flinging of the ‘thinage’ towards the edges of the back forty) I realized what I had was ‘radish sprouts’ and not just radish sprouts but the organic kind that cost about $12.95 for a handfull at Whole Foods. Never mind.

Anyhow, as long as the rain does the watering for me, the forest critters do the thinning for me and the plants grow higher than the weeds I think maybe I’ll ace this gardening thing. And maybe I’ll learn to like radishes.

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Food, glorious food

Posted by Marlinee on Jun 17, 2017 in Middle Age

I clearly have too much time on my hands because I’m pretty sure normal people’s first thought when going grocery shopping is how the store should be reorganized to make it more logical. I’m not talking about the ‘merchandizing strategies’ that place random promotions at the end of the aisle or filter you through the expensive sections of the store like an Ikea maze before you can get to the eggs and milk. I am talking about the basics of shelving taxonomies. As a public service, I am happy to provide some suggestions free of charge.

Pet food is usually near the cleaning products section. Except when it isn’t. Sometimes it is in the same aisle as the diapers and other child paraphernalia. Come to think of it, the latter makes marginally more sense since many people treat their pets like fur children. And since pet food is a distinct category and doesn’t usually require both sides of a full aisle I am okay with the notion that it needs to be shelved beside something that probably won’t have any immediate association with cats or dogs. My simple request is to standardize on a location so it doesn’t take half an hour to run in for a bag of cat chow.

Is coconut milk canned milk or is it an ‘ethnic food’? This must be one of those existential questions that even Plato couldn’t solve if ‘ethnic food’ had been a thing back in his day because even Mr. Loblaw, with all of his 21st century knowhow and grocery smarts goes back and forth between the two. Sometimes when I stride confidently towards the coffee aisle (you know, where they keep the canned milk except when they keep it with the baking supplies which is also where you will find the sugar except when it’s with the coffee, but I digress) coconut milk is nowhere to be found. And anyhow, have we not entered a ‘post ethnic food’ era? Given the fact you can buy sushi at a gas station convenience store and fried chicken at a Chinese restaurant, I think we have jumped that particular shark. (Please note: just because you can get sushi at a gas station does not mean you or anyone else should actually buy it. Just sayin’.)

The produce section is a significant piece of work on its own so I think I will have to rescind my pro bono offer and charge my normal daily rate. However, I will provide a few observations to get us started. First, tofu appears to be considered produce. This may be a radical suggestion, but since tofu is a protein and requires refrigeration perhaps it should be kept with the other refrigerated protein aka the meat section. Second can we please all agree on which vegetables sit beside which other vegetables. Stores usually get the potato and onion brotherhood right but finding shallots can be like finding Waldo. And often as not bag-o-salad is nowhere near the heads of lettuce, but come to think of it maybe that’s because the assumption is there are two types of people: those that think salad comes from bags and those that are more culinarily advanced. Further, some stores do not subscribe to the concept that the produce section should contain a standard selection of items. Like, for example, the store I was recently at that did not believe in eggplant. Oh wait – maybe I should have looked in the Italian section (which is usually right next to the canned fish, which by the way is not where the anchovies live…)

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