Rhubarb season

Monday, May 14, 2012 | | 2 comments

The other day I walked to the side of my yard and something caught my attention. There, on the ground, close to the house were the first signs of my rhubarb patch sprouting up from the ground.  

Ah, yes. Glorious rhubarb.  

I must admit I've developed a love-hate relationship with rhubarb and you really can't say you know me until you know these details. 

Let's start with the plant itself. I didn't plant it, it came with the house. In fact, no one in history has ever planted rhubarb, it just comes with houses and people eat it. Look it up. 

Rhubarb requires no effort. It grows, you pick it, it grows back, you pick it again, it snows, the rhubarb spends the entire winter thinking of ways to grow sooner next year. You don't prepare the ground for rhubarb, it prefers to grow out of dirt, but will grow out of concrete slabs if necessary. You don't water rhubarb and you don't talk to rhubarb. You simply pass by every few days and say, "Are you kidding me? How could you possibly have grown that much since I last looked?" 

Rhubarb patches cannot be destroyed. When I was a kid, our rhubarb patch was in the middle of our backyard toboggan hill and doubled as first base in warmer months. We slid over it over and ran through it thousands of times a year and the rhubarb was never affected. Rhubarb patches will live forever and scientists should spend more time studying rhubarb DNA, specifically the "live forever" part. 

There are two ways to eat rhubarb-raw and with massive amounts of sugar. The taste of raw rhubarb is too sour for human beings so I would recommend the massive amount of sugar option. When you think you have enough sugar, you don't. Trust me. 

My wife doesn't enjoy the taste of rhubarb and refuses to eat it. I could lie to myself and say I'll make rhubarb pies and rhubarb tarts and just simply stick rhubarb stalks into sugar dishes until my teeth rot, but none of that is ever going to happen. So, I give my rhubarb away to my mother and my sister. 

My mother has taught me all that I know about rhubarb and perhaps all there is to know about rhubarb. She tells me I need to pull it out by grabbing it near the bottom of the stalk and just pull. She repeats the "just pull" part, likely figuring the second mention will prevent me from cutting down the rhubarb with an axe, or harvesting only the poisonous leaves. She also taught me that rhubarb is only good for the first few months of the growing season, so it should be noted that each year will only produce about 75 arm-fulls of rhubarb or enough to make 900 or so pies. 

My sister lives close by and will sometimes just take the rhubarb without asking. It grows so fast, there is only a 10 minute window where you will know that any of it has been taken and all rhubarb stealers know this. 

Between the two of them, they take more rhubarb than they can use themselves and give some away to other family members. If I'm ever at a family function where rhubarb is served, there's a good chance it came from my patch. People make a fuss over me as though I am in some way responsible for the quality of the rhubarb... 

If they only knew.

The importance of Where The Wild Things Are

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | | 0 comments

 Maurice Sendak, best known as the author and illustrator of the beloved children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are, died today at age 83.

If, like me, you were born after 1960, chances are good that Where The Wild Things Are was part of your childhood. If you have children of your own, you’ve likely made it part of theirs too.

As a child I had a vivid imagination and would get absolutely lost in worlds I had invented, so it’s no surprise that I related so easily to the adventure that begins, “The night that Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind or another.”  

Like Max, forests would sometimes grow and grow in my room after I had leaped into my bed to avoid the wild things hiding beneath and covered my head with my blankets to protect me from the creatures that lurked in the darkness.

I dreamed of travelling in and out of weeks and almost over a year to jungles filled with dinosaurs and other strange beasts where I was forced to conquer my fears before I could land safely back in my bed.

Sometimes, before nodding off, I would imagine my bed was a jet airplane and my blankets would hold me tight as I shot through my window, out into the open sky, to circle the earth at dizzying speeds.

Some nights, I imagined I was a wild thing myself, powerful, brave, unafraid of anything.

Whatever it was, I was constantly dreaming and Where The Wild Things Are told me that was okay. It told me that little boys and girls were expected to imagine things. The book confirmed what I already knew - that the world was full of possibilities and that nothing was too wonderful to imagine if you tried.

It told me too that there are times that all boys and girls get in trouble with their parents, but after a while, the anger passes and you realize that they never stopped loving you. Not even long enough for your supper to get cold.

The story captured so perfectly the magic of imagining yourself in a thrilling adventure that often defied all logic and the comfort of the most magical place of all – your own bed.    

When they were smaller, I read Where The Wild Things Are to both my children and today, I watch them as they play make-believe games in their rooms with dolls, cars and other things. I hope they never lose the wonder of using their imaginations. I know I never did.

If you haven’t read Where The Wild Things Are in a while, you should. If you’ve never read it to your children, make sure that you do. And most of all, no matter what your situation, remember to sometimes let your imagination run wild and explore worlds and times that challenge and scare us.

Let the wild rumpus start. Go to where the wild things are.

RIP Maurice Sendak

The Laser Quest birthday party

Monday, May 7, 2012 | | 1 comments

This past weekend, we held my son’s seventh birthday party at Laser Quest in Kitchener. Although my son was naturally excited to have his friends at his party, for weeks he had made it clear that he really wanted me to play in the laser games.

Before we were allowed into the urban laser warzone, each of us had to pick our codenames. With varying degrees of thought and originality, our band of warriors became: Yourself, Sonic, Princess, Zack, Smiley, Hulk, Ironman and Arceus. I chose the codename “Hawkeye” for no reason whatsoever.

My son, “Hulk,” insisted that the two of us team up and he led me to high ground as soon as we were allowed into the game area. When our lasers were activated and the game began, Hulk shot rapidly and randomly in all directions and I had to be careful that I wasn’t zapped in one of the worst cases of friendly fire in laser quest history.

There were two other children’s birthday parties going on at the same time, all of us contributing to the laser chaos of mostly little people running around the game area.  I had very little strategy coming into the match, but what little I had went out the window when lasers started flying at me from all directions, many of them aimed at my kneecaps. Hulk and I ran from place to place, often finding ourselves pinned down in a bad spot, taking heavy laser fire, before shooting ourselves out of danger.

 During the first game, “Ironman” started to cry when he couldn’t find any of his comrades and I felt really awful for him. I wondered if he might change his codename to “Lost and Scared” and knew that I needed to take better care of him for the remainder of the games.

After a gruelling 15 minutes, the game was over and we exited the game area to see our scores. Surprisingly, I had bested the other 33 players and had the high score. Considering that I had beaten 28 children in claiming top spot, it was a dubious honour indeed.

Before the second game started, one of the other groups of kids pointed at me and said, “We’re all going to get you next game!”  It seemed that by winning the first round, Hawkeye had earned a Bullseye and I was in a bit of laser trouble. Thinking quickly, I asked the other kids in my son’s party if they would join me and the soldier formerly known as Hulk, who now went by “Mr. Time Twister,” in battling this other group of kids. Zack, who now called himself “Super Zack” and Ironman were the most enthusiastic and I had myself an army of little people.

Game one chaos returned for game two and I realized I was in more danger than ever of being zapped by my own men. “Listen up guys,” I said. “Whatever you do – don’t shoot each other!” It was an order I would repeat 50 or 60 additional times throughout the game.

I swear, I have no military experience.

 Super Zack volunteered to lead all enemy attacks, mostly those he called himself, without warning or backup. On those rare times he led something other than a suicide mission, his objective seemed to be to get to a place directly in our line of fire and not surprisingly, he was lasered more than any other player in the game.

Sonic was a lone wolf who regularly wandered away from the group, surprising us by emerging quickly from behind a corner, forcing us to shoot him on sight.

Arceus had changed his name to “Hunter” for the second game, but if he did any hunting, I did not notice.

Ironman shrugged off the effects of war and suffered no further breakdowns on the battlefield. Though he posted a lousy score, I think he was thrilled to be part of the group.

Our guns deactivated, we returned to base and waited to see our scores. Hunter turned to me and asked if I had gel or sweat dripping down my forehead.

“Both, Hunter,” I replied. “Both.”

Completely exhausted, we filed into the party room and sat around the long, wooden table. We helped ourselves to a juice box, some Oreo cookies, potato chips, and more mini marshmallows than anyone should ever eat. The room was filled with laughter and battle stories as the ice cream cake was served.

Ironman and Super Zack asked me between bites of their cake to explain their scorecards to them, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had placed 33rd and 34th, each of them finishing with negative scores.

“You both did great,” I told them as huge smiles grew on their faces, turned blue from the cake and marshmallows.

What else could you tell your laser brothers in arms?