Thursday, 29 May 2014

Canadian Pickers: Rhubarb Express

Canadian Pickers:  Rhubarb Express
The Product
     Rhubarb season is upon us.  I am in the third year as CEO and President of my own thriving business, Rhubarb Express.  Yes, I am living the dream of many retired people supplementing my pension income nickels and dimes at a time. I have trained as a rhubarb picker for about 53 years.  That is only a little bit of an exaggeration.  I started work early in life--Turnip Tags at age 3, Rhubarb at age 5.
     According to anecdotal research, my rhubarb patch has been on the family farm since the 1940s.  It thrives there on the hill in full sunshine, growing in spite of me, not because of me.  All I really have to do is pick it.  Rhubarb is a very low-maintenance crop which is good because I don't really have a green thumb. Occasionally it gets a dose of organic top-dressing.
Rhubarb Hill
Rhubarb Internship:    
      Like many an upstart businesses, I have taken advantage of the intern approach to free labour.  My interns, eager to advance in their chosen careers, serve in many capacities.  Tom, my longest-serving intern, has been a part of the business since its inception 3 years ago.  He is improving each year but has not yet made the payroll. 

Field Hand
     My other intern, Nugget, is working toward her degree in security, a  vital role in the Rhubarb Industry.  This is her second year as intern and she will receive her first paycheque at the end of the 2014 season.  
K-9 Security
     Rhubarb picking is a comprehensive career challenging both strength and endurance which appeals to the macho side of any intern. 
Macho Rhubarb Intern
Research and Development:
     The Rhubarb Industry offers cerebral challenges as well.  My intern, experienced in the discipline of engineering, takes the lead in Research and Development finding ways to improve rhubarb production and harvest.  Recently he has repurposed a canvas wood tote purchased at a Gorham's Bluff yard sale as a Rhubarb Field Tote.  Current estimates reveal that the introduction of this little item has improved harvest time by 20%.  What an impressive return for a 25 cent investment!  
The Happy Innovator
The Rhubarb Field Tote
      R&D intern Tom has recently introduced a new practice to alleviate CEO backache.  Tom does all the bending and picking of the rhubarb and places it on the Rhubarb Cutting Bench (hood of the Pathfinder) to save the back of the CEO.  The CEO stands and cuts the leaf off the stalk, ensuring that she never has to bend over. 
Rhubarb Cutting Bench & Escaping Intern
Employee Benefits:
      As President and CEO of Rhubarb Express, I recognize the importance of a contented workforce.  I allow 5 minute breaks twice daily in the meticulously-maintained Staff Lounge.  
Staff Lounge
     And I provide a substantial lunch bordering on the gourmet at a subsidized rate for all interns. 
Subsidized Sardines
      As a caring and concerned employer striving to allay any feelings of insecurity within the staff, I ensure that workers can count on having the exact same lunch for the 6 weeks of their internship. 
Food Security
     Despite my attentive consideration of staff morale, I have been informed of employee discontent and subsequent underground union meetings.
International Brotherhood of Rhubarb Pickers (IBRP: Local 001)
Tools of the Trade:
     I try to run my business efficiently to realize the best possible financial return for the company.  The interns keep the expense of labour down and the tools of the trade are simple and low-cost.  I inherited the rhubarb knife from my father and the gloves were a gift from a friend.  To be honest, I prefer to work bare-handed and only wear the gloves if I am going somewhere special and it matters to have clean fingernails and hands.  Rhubarb does stain. 
 Tools of the Trade
      The banana box, free in the back room at your local supermarket, is the PERFECT container for transporting rhubarb from field to market.  It is sturdy, has handles, and holds about 30 pounds of rhubarb which can be easily handled by a macho intern or an aging CEO. 
Banana Box 
      Because my rhubarb patch is about 100 kilometres from my clients, Rhubarb Express must maintain a reliable distribution system.  What could be more reliable than a 1998 Pathfinder?  It is a little hard on gas, but rhubarb delivery dates are carefully planned to coincide with weekend outings to the cottage. 
Distribution System
Product Delivery:
    And here we have about 200 pounds of rhubarb packed snugly in my trusty, rusty Pathfinder ready for transport to Fredericton.  Please note my Contiga teacup in the foreground; this is an essential item for any CEO at work in the field. 
Weekly Shipment
My Clients:
      My primary clients in Fredericton include the Fredericton Direct Charge Coop, a major supermarket with more than 9,000 members.
     ...and Real Food Connections, a grocery store that carries only New Brunswick products.
     ...and the Victory Meat Market, downtown Fredericton's busy grocery store in the heart of the city.
     As with any viable business, it is crucial to keep accurate records of sales and expenses.  I keep impeccable accounts at Head Office in Fredericton, the provincial capital.
 Head Office
Impeccable Accounts
Rhubarb Business Perks:
      Atop Rhubarb Hill, the wind is almost always blowing which works to keep away any annoying insects.  There is no machine noise and employee banter is kept to a minimum. The scenery is beautiful no matter which way you turn.  In one direction, you see the beautiful St. John River at its widest point, back grounded by the rolling Appalachian Hills and domed by the wide-open sky.
St John River/Appalachian Hills
      In another direction, you see the houses of my brother and sister.  The main road runs between the rhubarb patch and those houses and every time a vehicle passes on that road, my interns and I cease our work to see who is going by.  This attention to traffic has been labelled by some as the Long Reach Affliction.  Tom is looking for Workers' Compensation for his wrenched neck.  It takes me back to my childhood when my father would call out from one of his 3 couches in the house, or one of his 3 couches on the verandah, "What's that on the road?  What are they haulin'?" 
The Road
      Bilberry blossoms are blooming this week which means the fiddleheads are out and the shad is running.  The interns may get a break from sardines. 
Bilberry Blossoms
      There is a richness of spring colour all around which inspires mitten names and colour combinations for my knitting compulsion.    I have yet to name a pair of mittens after rhubarb.
Rhubarb Going to Seed/Mitten Inspiration
          Rhubarb pie is another of the many perks enjoyed by my faithful intern, Tom.  Like my mother before me, I always add a handful of raisins to the rhubarb pie to soak up the excess juice while baking.  I recommend that little trick to interested pie-makers! 
Rhubarb Pie
      At the end of most meals, my father would always say, "Cup of tea, piece of pie, I'll be all done."  Tom has adopted that little chant.  I don't necessarily recommend that....
Cup of Tea, Piece of Pie....


Until Next Time.....











Friday, 16 May 2014

Something From Nothing: Dedicated to my sister, Gail

Recommended Reading
      When my older sister Gail was a stay-at-home mother with three young daughters, she had the time and inclination to preserve her children's artistic efforts in creative ways.  She spent hours with her children crafting beautiful things from virtually nothing.  Using materials that she had on hand, she expended very little money on her projects.  The items she made from "nothing" are so much more precious than what she would have bought and given away.  It helps that she has a creative/artistic bent that allows her to see how something can indeed be created from what others would see as useless.       
Gail, Eleanor, Margaret and Sheila
Models for a Christmas Card
     I spent a lot of time with Gail's three daughters before I had children of my own.  I so enjoyed borrowing them for days and nights and weekends.  Of course, my sister was happy enough for them to go with me either singly or as a trio.  We did exciting things together......

like working,
and dancing,
and singing. 
     One of Gail’s creative inspirations was based on her daughters’ self-portraits drawn with wax crayons in an array of colors.  Sheila was 8, Margaret was 5 and Eleanor was two and a half when Gail had the girls each do a drawing of themselves.  My sister then took the drawings and replicated them into cloth dolls.  It has been 32 years since she made them and my set still holds an honoured place on my dresser and a treasured place in my heart.  I see them everyday. 
Self-Portrait Dolls:  Sheila, Margaret and Eleanor

The Kelley Girls:
      The finished product reflects the complexity of their drawing skill. At age 8, Sheila’s is the most sophisticated, of course, with a symmetrical face, lovely, almost even, blond hair, dazzling eyelashes and an expensive golden pendant hanging around her neck. 


Margaret, age 4, has her close-cropped blond hair under control, eyes that are only slightly different in size and a big grin that extends a little higher on one side.  Her nose is only a little off-centre. 

      Eleanor, the two and a half year-old, presents a most interesting figure.  The blue eyes are of very different sizes, her smile is a straight line, and her mass of red curls is represented by 3 red circles and a blob of red to the side. 


      And here they are in action.  Sheila has let her hair down, Margaret welcomes us with open arms, and Eleanor is about to dance a little jig!

My Three Kelley Nieces

     A more recent shot of the three girls.  Sheila is still wearing that golden pendant, Margaret's grin is still beaming, and Eleanor still has three red curls!
The Manger Scene:
     Another  treasured gift I received from Gail was a crèche which included Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a shepherd, a donkey and a sheep.  She made the characters three dimensional from scraps of fabric and stuffing, items she had on hand from previous projects.  Over the 30-plus years that this collection has been a part of our Christmas tradition, the three adult players have lost their headgear, Mary's right eye has enlarged, the shepherd has lost his staff, and the donkey has had surgery on his right shoulder.   Jesus is still sleeping soundly, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying a cloth-covered matchbox.   
The Manger Scene
 My daughter Julia, born on Christmas Eve, has always taken extreme delight in all things Christmas.  We call her "The Christmas Spirit" in our house. 

Julia, The Christmas Spirit
Gail's homemade crèche has given Julia hours of enjoyment over the years as she would play with the characters and give dialogue to their actions.  I was often sitting off in the corner listening carefully and taking mental notes. The following is an excerpt from my Mother Journals, December 8, 1998, when Julia was almost 8 years old. 
Because the crèche is out for Christmas, Julia has been playing the Christmas Story.  Part of the overheard narrative went like this:  “Mary tossed and turned all night because the old man snored.”  The story continued and in reference to Mary she made the following statement, “It isn’t everyday you get pregnant and you don’t know how.”  A little later in her play I hear her say that Mary woke Joseph up from his sleep.  I guess Joseph was annoyed because he said, “Jeesh, I think I liked you better when you were pregnant.”
     Another day when Julia was spending time with the crèche, she came running out to the kitchen, very upset.  "The sheepkiller's stick is broken, the sheepkiller's stick is broken, ”  she wailed.   This turned out to be the shepherd’s staff which was fashioned from a pipe cleaner.
Gail and the Next Generation:
What would you do with an empty Pringle can?  Throw it away? 

NO!  Make an Easter Bunny! 
Gail and her granddaughter, Miss Emily, Easter 2014
Keep up the good work, Gail!
Until next time....

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Mother Journals: Dedicated to my Daughters

   The Mother Journals

      In recognition of Mother's Day, I have a few Mother Stories to share.  My daughter Emma, age 26, has recently moved back into the nest for a couple of months before she relocates to Denver, Colorado.  Emma has been quite generous with suggestions and advice on household matters as she settles back into the house.  She has been a tad critical of my house-keeping skills which, I will admit, are lacking.  The new dynamic in our house has been interesting and there has even been some name calling.  She calls me Hoarder and I call her Boarder. 
The Hoarder and the Boarder in Front of the Cluttered Sink

    In the process of moving and changing furniture, Emma has unearthed some of my "Mother Journals" in which I recorded vignettes about the kids as they were growing up.

Some of The Mother Journals

Emma has been enjoying reading about herself as a child and particularly likes this 1992 excerpt from when she was 4 years old. 

       I took a parenting class in January and one evening when I was
       getting ready, the following exchange took place:

                 "Mommy, where are you going?"
                  "To parenting class."
                  "Why do you go there?"
                  "To become a better parent."
                  "Well, is there a sink there?"
                  "A sink?"
                  "Yeah, so you can do the dishes."

Emma, age 4.  Parenting Authority with Blankie
     Last week one day, I was upstairs puttering around, or maybe even napping when I heard Emma arrive home from work.  I went downstairs and found her in her bib apron and rubber gloves doing the dishes which I had neglected for two days.  She turned away from the sink and looked me in the eye as I entered the kitchen.  "I think you need to go back to parenting class," she said pointedly. 

Poor Parenting Practice
       Emma was 3 years old when Julia was born so she had been quite well-established as the only child when she had to adapt to a new sibling.  The following excerpt from the Mother Journal sheds some light on just how she was coping.

               One day while I was looking after some of Julia's
                needs,  Emma asked , "Why don't you call me darling anymore?" 
               Later that same day, Emma said, referring to Julia, "She's not
               the most important thing in the world, you know.  I'm important
               too and so is God."

Emma and Julia
     Of course the Mother Journals also have insights into Julia's opinion of my parenting skills.  Julia was 8 years old when we had the following exchange.
            "Mommy, do you love Emma with all your heart?"
            "Of course," I answered.
            "Well, then, do you have two hearts? 

Julia:  Heartbreaker in Pink
Often the Julia stories have a religious angle to them.  The following relates to both religion and parenting. 
             "It's too bad Jesus didn't have children of his own.  He would have
              been a great parent."

Jesus and the Children
Julia was always rather concerned about my appearance. 
                 One day when Julia was about 6 years old, I was home sick
                 from work.  When she ran into my room, I said, "Give me a
                 hug," which she did.  "Do you love me?" I questioned.
                 "Of course I do, Mother dear, even though you look like a total
                 maniac.  Maybe your hair will grow."
                 I had just gotten my hair cut and she obviously did not like it. 

Mommy (Total Maniac) and Julia at the Beach
And while looking at wedding pictures of Tom and me in our younger and slimmer days, Julia asked the following insightful question:
               "So how does that make you feel, now that you've got grey hair,    
                 you're fat, and you're starting to get migraines?" 
         Mommy and Julia in New York City    
And although I may have failed parenting class, being a mother has been and continues to be the best part of my life!
Happy Mother's Day to my daughters, Emma and Julia!
 Tucker, Julia and Emma
Until next time.....