Septuagenarian Puts Out Garbage

This is no country for old women.

On Saturday, I confirmed that hypothesis. I did a really hard tai chi class. I climbed into the little red Yaris, which helpfully told me the temperature was 2 degrees celsius (34 F), but of course, it had not factored in the bitter wind, which meant it felt to me much colder. I stopped at the local wine shop to pick up my drug of choice, a little Pinot Grigio to get me through the night. At home, I struggled out of my long, brown, old-lady coat and my fur-lined aviator ear-flapped hat. I unlaced my snow boots. Then I remembered.

Twice a week, at least, I have to put the garbage out. I had the recycling pail ready in the kitchen. The newspaper rack was over-flowing. The ‘real’ garbage pail under the sink was not too fragrant and the compost on the counter was fermenting big time.

I crawled back into the feather duvet, which passes as my coat. I couldn’t dare dash out with just a hoodie on. My screamingly sensitive cells would catch the bitter wind and go for … a week-long headache or pneumonia.  I tied the  hat under my chin. I dragged my tall black Wellingtons out from the back of the closet and clumped out with the recycling pail, the garbage bag and the compost bag. Thus laden I started down the walk that leads to the drive. OMG, I need to put more ice salt down. “Be very, very careful.” I manouevre carefully past the cedar trees that have started to lean with the weight of ice and snow. This gives me a sideways sort of hunchback-of-Notre-Dame look. I decide to leave one of my burdens on the stone wall so that I get a purchase on the wrought-iron rail on the steps. I open the green bin and deposit the compost. Then I move it back away from the basement window sill. The coon which moseyed by my front window this morning needs the sill’s height to get a purchase on the green bin.

I pass on to the blue bin where I upend the recycling pail, noting as I do so that my house mates drink a lot of pop. They may also drink wine, but we have stopped putting wine bottles in this huge bin because of the Polish-only scavenger who insists on rooting through it and putting the recycling into the garbage bin as he goes. True my Polish neighbour has helpfully translated my threats to him and on the third try, achieved the same angry volume as I did. I haven’t seen him since, but that may be because this is no country for old men either. (What do we do with the wine bottles? We have to haul them off to the beer store (!!!) to get our deposit back. I have a whole winter’s accumulation waiting for warm weather.) Last I retrieve the vraiment garbage from the stone wall and turn to the black garbage bin. Back in the house after a careful return walk, I go down to the basement to get the ice salt and carefully salt the walk and the steps and the patches of ice on the drive, which is on a steep slope.

Back in the first floor apartment, I divest myself of outer wear, hang it up and go into the kitchen to make lunch. Opening the freezer, I discover another bag of compost, which really prevents my putting in the frozen food, I just bought at the market where the wine shop is. See above, re outer wear, still icy walk, sloping drive, green bin.

When I was young, you know 30, when I could still whip out the side door in a sweater and put the ONE unsorted bag of garbage in the ONE garbage pail in our double garage, I had children, I had a husband. All I had to do was threaten them with death to get the garbage taken out. It all went to a landfill I never saw and I was content.

Then it transpired that we were killing the earth. We mustn’t buy packaged goods. That worked well. More and more things came sealed in impervious plastic and cardboard. We must reuse. Well, no problem. In my family we even drove our cars until they died of age.

I left the city. I moved to a country town sans help-mates, mostly. I got acquainted with the dump -sorry- transfer station. I got acquainted with the nice man in the gate house. I enjoyed fireside chats. I started sorting bottles into one dumpster, paper into another. I learned to heave heavy, real garbage bags exactly where I was supposed to that week and I enjoyed browsing through the stuff people left at the side, which you could reuse, no charge. I did have to pay when I needed to get rid of a truck load of drywall and old pieces of plumbing. But it was a reasonable cost and Daniel, now an adult, no longer had to be threatened. I had bought the 20-year-old truck for him.

In my back yard, which lay open to my little barn and open fields, I had a composting pile that yielded lovely black loam for my vegetable garden.

By the time I moved back to the city, I found myself with a grey box for paper, a blue box for glass, a real garbage bin and, eventually, a counter-top holder for compost and a small green bin outside, which was especially designed to accommodate the small hands of a raccoon. Luckily, my first apartment on the second floor of a house also had a pond, so we were coon-central for dining excellence.

Well, at least we didn’t have bears, so I saved a couple of thousand on a garbage safe.

Eventually, the city introduced large black garbage bins and blue recycling bins -the green bins were such a success, they carried on. The former two bins can be automatically lifted by the truck as you probably know, except on streets with parking, except…, except… And the green bin guy has to get out and hand load.

In the house, I have often stood with a ting scrap of food and a tiny bit of cellophane extracted from the sink strainer and puzzled my over-worked sorting brain. Which goes where? Sometimes, I confess, I just put both in the garbage, even though the voice of my friend, Sara, alias, the garbage police, is shouting in my head that I have just put another nail in Mother Earth’s coffin. It’s my small rebellion.

Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned.

Note #1: Initially I gave the scavenger bags of bottles.  I was repaid by a grunt and intense self-satisfaction. Then he must have started coming when I wasn’t in the kitchen where I could hear his racket. That’s when he started trashing the recycling..

Note #2: A woman I know went out to her green bin one morning and a coon sprang out in her face. She staggered back, tripped, broke her hip and had to crawl next door. I visited her in rehab. She blamed her husband.

Note #3: Calling all coons -you are nocturnal.

Snow Bound Reflections

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe world is filling up with snow. Outside the windows, individual flakes are swirling. They start in one diagonal line and suddenly change direction into its opposite. Indeed as I write, they begin to be less single, distinct shapes and become a diaphanous white veil, faster, more wind-blown, a constantly changing beautiful spectacle, which, of course, I hate.

I assure myself that I am warm and dry with full pantry shelves, that such snow, unlike ice, presents no danger to the electrical grid, that I don’t have to go out and, if I did, I wouldn’t. What can I say? I had a bad experience in a storm in my formative years and I still bear the scars. Moreover, we haven’t had as much snow here as New England and the mid-west. Still I would be willing to send today’s downfall to Southern California where even the mountains are dry this year, or even to Sochi, just in case it’s needed.

No one is shovelling. No point. Not yet. The snow plows are rumoured to be working on the major highways. Then they’ll get to the roads and about midnight, they may get to the side streets. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the bus go thundering up the hill in front of the house for a while. Usually, you can set your watch by them, two of them that do a quick loop down from the Old Mill Subway Station to the Humber streetcar loop, every 20 minutes. Almost as good as snow plows at clearing the road.

My earliest winter memories are of living in a farmhouse in the hills of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Windswept! It had poplar trees on two sides that registered the slightest zephyr and talked to me about it. In a winter storm, they shouted as did the windows where the wind hummed in and left little drifts of snow inside on the window ledges. The wood box would be crammed full and several pails of spring water standing on the pantry shelf, carried in by my father who would have had to break the ice at the top of the spring. My mother was completely capable of keeping the stove going while he was away, pulping in the woods. That is cutting soft wood, trimming and hauling it back with the team of horses, to stack it in the long piles of pulp wood beside the road, work that snow and sleds made possible. There was no need to go to the store, what with the flour barrel, the potato bin, the canning cupboard filled with jars of berries and green beans and the deer meat hanging in the wood shed. Yet the house was full of terror.

What if… my mother wondered, when my father set out. What if, the place burned down? What if we needed the doctor? Etc. To each, my father responded with specific detailed solutions. The next farm was less than a mile away although out of sight. There was, of course, no telephone and no electricity. Anyway, he would be back in two days. Did she think he enjoyed freezing his ___ off in that camp? And John would look in when he came to milk the cows.

She would have been 22 then, a country girl, born and bred, but high-strung. When I was 22, I had just left residence at university and couldn’t have built a fire to save my life. She passed on her fearful nature and cold-hating physicality but not that practical skill.

I do remember one glorious day when it finally stopped snowing and freezing. The sun shone down on the glittering world. “Get on your snow suit,” she cried, joyfully. “We’ll go sliding on the crust.” And what a crust! Even she could walk on it without breaking through and it carried my sled, heavy laden with both of us all the way down to the bottom of the slope where the little brook lay frozen and buried.

Years later when I lived in the house under the hill (famous in this blog’s mythology), on a snow day, worse than today, school was cancelled. As teachers, my husband and I were off work and our small children were home. Curiously, our housekeeper had made it in and was busy in the kitchen. I was sitting at the table in the family room, close to the blazing fireplace, marking essays. I could see out the window to the high drift that lay there. Suddenly I saw the mailman step easily over the drifted-in wire fence and begin his progress over the side yard. “Stop,” I yelled, leaping to my feet. “Stop.” I started to pound on the window, but dropped my fists. And watched, dumbfounded. Slowly, he progressed through the heavy snow, one step after the other, mail bag banging at his hip. At each step. I prayed. He caught sight of me and smiled. Then he climbed over the fence at the other end. I collapsed in relief. He had just walked over our snow-covered, eight foot deep swimming pool.


Early October: reflections from Journal 119

The first weekend in October has always been an important one for me. As a high school English teacher, I found that by that date I had finally forged a relationship with my classes. I knew their names and I was interested in them as individuals and they had, usually, stopped testing me, having presumably given me a passing grade. So by then the hard slog of the new school year was over.

And there was another reward – it was a long weekend, the first Monday in October being Thanksgiving Day here, where harvest time comes earlier than it does south of the border.

Some teachers in the States have a long weekend as well in honour of Columbus Day. Not all, as I found it one year when I took my 7 year-old grandson for a hike in Topanga Canyon that day. I discovered to my mortification (I was a teacher after all) that his school, a private school in Los Angeles, didn’t have that holiday. It was the sort of school that let its students plan the lessons, so, in fact, our day trip was not much out of line.

This year, that child is in his first year residency at a New England hospital. Just saying.

On Saturday I drove to Stratford to see a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a trip of about an hour and a half with a bonus that hadn’t occurred to me. The trees were aflame with colour. In the middle distance woodlots glowed with orange and red and golden phosphorescence. (We are lucky here to have so many hard maples that produce such bright colours. The photographer who originally posted “A Tribute to Autumn”, which I reblogged lives farther north and west, I think, because the trees there produce mostly yellows.) The corn nearer the highway still stood dusky gold, but as we drove farther northwest, the fields became brown and beige stubble.

Surprising how cold it was when we got out of the car to find lunch. I had worn a sheepskin-lined rain coat and a wool tam, scarf and gloves, but the cold wind went right through me as if I were wearing diaphanous cotton. No doubt about it, summer was long gone.

I note by the way that, although it is only 70 degrees F. in Los Angeles today, it will be back up to 92 next week.

The Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario has a thrust stage, rather than a proscenium arch. I first saw it when I was a teenager in the second year of its operation, although at the time, it was housed in a huge circular tent. The permanent structure was designed to mimic the tent. By the time, we had hiked through the park from our car, we were chilled to the bone and it seemed as if a glass of pinot noir was in order to get the blood moving again.

Once seated, I realized that my friend who had made the reservation online had upgraded us, not to the very best seats, but almost, thinking I wouldn’t notice her largess. It is hard in such a theatre to get a bad seat, but the sections at the sides of the horseshoe-shaped auditorium are more challenging. And the row in front of us was entirely empty, sold no doubt to some sponsoring company but not distributed so no heads obscured our view. The set had a staircase that swept up around a palm tree!!!! This production had been relocated to Brazil in the early 1900s.

I had looked up a summary of the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, just to sort it out from Shakespeare’s other comedies, but I was not prepared for how familiar I found it. I knew the next line before the actor spoke it. It was unsettling! Apparently, in my 35 year career, I had taught it many times and forgotten I had done so. Considering that most years I taught 5 plays by Shakespeare, I had much opportunity.

Basically, the play is about the duelling couple who apparently scorn each other and are always putting each other down, but eventually ….. Shakespeare used the same sort of plot device in Taming of the Shrew. He liked to set a headstrong, witty woman, in this case Beatrice, against the equally willful, caustic man, Benedict. There’s plenty of scope for pratfalls as they eavesdrop on their friends who are setting them up to fall in love.

After the show, we stopped at Balzacs for coffee and sugar enough to get us home through a dark and rainy drive.

Monday, turkey day, was a roast beef day in my house, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which I came to love when I was married to a Yorkshire lad. Fortune had carried him back to my table after many years’ absence and he assured me that I had channelled his mother’s pudding. (See recipe below.) My mother-in-law used beef fat but beef doesn’t have much fat these days so I opt for butter. And it turned out well even though we never succeeded in raising large bubbles. Like my mother-in-law, I chose a loaf tin rather than the 9 by 6.You start the oven at 400 and turn it down to 350 after 20 minutes. If you are like me, you forget when you turned it down and have to wing it after that. Maybe that’s when I got help from beyond. Proof I had channelled her: it came out of the oven puffed high and lightly browned. You have to serve it asap, so the mashed root veg (See recipe below.) had to be ready, the beef sliced and the gravy made. (Why is there never enough gravy?) The roasted beet and argula salad had to wait its turn. The meal was so delicious that we four fell to expressions ofthankfulness spontaneously. And of course there was pumpkin pie.

There were absent friends, some more permanently absent than others. We were a family reconstituted with good fellowship and food.

Early October has a way of reconciling me to the inevitable, which comes earlier here than it does down there in my second home.

 Yorkshire Pudding according to The Joy of Cooking 75th anniversary ed.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70 degrees F. Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift into a bowl:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons
1/2 tsp of salt
Make a well in the centre and pour in
1/2 cup milk
Stir in the milk. Beat in:
2 large eggs well beaten
1/2 cup water
Beat the batter until large bubbles rise to the surface. …Pour 1/4 in. beef drippings or melted butter into a 9 by 6 baking dish or 6 regular muffin cups. Heat pan or dish until hot. POur in batter and bake 20 min. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 10-15 min. longer until puffed and golden brown.

Mashed Root Vegetables a la Desmond, my hairdresser

Peel or scrub equal amounts of carrots, parsnips and turnip, dice, add water to cover, salt, bring to boil and reduce heat. Cook until fork tender, but not soft. Drain and mash. Add butter and pepper.
Desmond says, “Don’t even think of adding sugar. These vegetables are sweet enough.”