At war with the yellow menace

There is a hole in my front yard.

Technically, it’s not really a hole – more like a patch of scorched earth that has created a huge blemish on a very small but artificially well maintained piece of green earth.

I wish I could garner sympathy by saying that it was put there by some insidious enemy who had it out for me, or was indiscriminately added like one of those ‘taggers’ who blotch up walls, utility boxes and light posts with ugly scribbles.   The truth is that this awful blemish on my pretty little piece of heaven was perpetrated by yours truly.  That’s right, I am the stealthy vandal who created this terrible brown mass.

Like a few of you, I have declared war on the yellow enemy know as ‘Dandy Lions’ – those resistant, unapologetic weeds that flourish the more we try to eradicate them.   They tear me from my sleep and force me to suspend any outdoor activity the moment they pop their terrible sickly yellow heads up, so that I must engage in hand-to-hand combat, one on one with this relentless adversary.

The hole?  In the heat of battle, conventional, humanistic conscience is occasionally abandoned in order to win.  In this theatre, I am embarrassed to  admit, I resorted to chemical warfare in order to defeat my enemy.

You see, I decided to to fertilize the lawn, trying desperately to keep pace with my neighbours. You probably have neighbours like this too – the ones with the perfect grass? I bet they have some sort of laser-guided edger, making every curve and corner so precise it looks like its out of an ad for Home and Garden.  And they have rare tropical plants in full bloom, defying nature and baffling the rest of the block.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see some wayward soul teeing up their golf ball on one of these lawns by mistake;  who could blame them for being confused?

While I was out being a good neighbour, trying not to single-handedly destroy the local property values, I took one of those hand fertilizer spreader thingies and started to dutifully cover the (what should have been) green parts of the property.

SIDE NOTE:  does anyone know if its harmful to get this stuff on your dog?

Anyway, as I was churning out the grass food like that scary Scottish guy in commercials tells me to do, I paused to chat with my next door neighbour to catch up on the local gossip.  As I was chatting, my hand spreader decided to go to work all on its own and dumped a small pile of this ‘food’ on the lawn.  By the time I noticed, it was too late.

My selfish desire to eradicate everything yellow from my land, led me down a path of self-destruction.  I poisoned my own troops.  I guess this is what they call ‘friendly fire’ in the big show, but it doesn’t make me feel very friendly.  Now I must do what so many have done before me.  I have to conscript new troops, and go down to the garden centre to buy new top soil and sod.  Its a terrible cycle.  Fight, lose troops, replenish the troops, then fight again.

Each day, however, I wake up to see another evil little yellow flower thumbing it’s green nose at me, as if to say ‘you will NEVER win‘.

Maybe that’s the message.  Maybe I need to do what others have unashamedly done, and embrace this interloper that will not die, will not rest, and will definitely not go away.  Perhaps I need to change my prejudices about these little yellow flowers.  Maybe I should take delight in running through fields of ‘lions’ after their blooms have faded and been replaced with wisps of fluffy seeds, like a child or a puppy would.  I could lay in the grass, blowing the seeds into the air…right on to the neighbours lawn that looks like a golf course.

Country drives and guys named ‘Jack’

I love driving.  I don’t really even mind city traffic that much.  Getting in the car and going somewhere is cathartic and therapeutic for me. I think I inherited this trait from my father, who drove constantly when we were kids.

Sometimes, he’d take us on ‘country drives’, searching out new routes to nowhere in particular, on back roads, occasionally stumbling on some roadside fruit stand or interesting village.  We’d come home with bushels of apples or pears that we ate until our stomachs hurt.  they were like treasure hunt adventures, but with no map and no idea what the treasure would be.  These drives were part of our family life.

When my kids were young, and easy to trick, I’d take them on the same ‘country drives’.  The trips usually had to have a prize or a reward for the kids – a stop at the ice cream stand, or maybe a chip truck ‘poutine’ lunch.  Not sure why I insisted on these – gas is expensive, the drive was probably really boring for everyone but me, and my daughter is notoriously bad with motion sickness and we frequently had to pull over so she could purge the ice cream or poutine.  I liked them because it was the only time you could legally tie your kids down.

On one of these country trips – I think my kids were barely school-aged – we were traveling along a country road through some beautiful farmland.  We had caught up to a large tractor which was moving far too slow for my liking.  The funny thing about country drives, is that no matter how relaxing and leisurely they are,   you still get frustrated with drivers who are too slow for your pace.  George Carlin had it dead right when he said “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

As I not so patiently followed this tractor, I saw a straight part of the road ahead, so I prepared for the pass:  back off slightly so you get a run at it, move to the most left-side of your lane, signal, check your mirrors, then get ready to hit the accelerator.  Just as I was pulling out, and was beside the massive rear tire of the tractor, the driver, who clearly had no idea anyone was around him, decided to make a left turn.  Too late to abort the mission, I steered (and possibly closed my eyes, saying a prayer), as far to the left ditch as I could without rolling the car.  While this was all happening, unconsciously, I yelled out ‘JACK ASS!’.  This has to be a DNA level instinct that all fathers have, by the way – expletives are automatic in pain and panic situations.  You  can’t control it any more than you can control the sun rising.

By some miracle, we jumped the ditch and made it around the tractor, swerving down the dirt road like Bo and Luke Duke running from Boss Hogg.

Once the dust literally settled, and the car straightened out, we all began to breathe again.  I glanced over to my wife who was giving me a look that said everything:  What just happened, Thank God we’re still alive, and I can’t believe you swore in front of the kids. It’s incredible how women can cover so much with one look.  I peaked through the rear-view mirror to check on the kids, who were vaguely aware that anything had happened.  My daughter (the car-sick one) caught my eye and said, “Dad?”.

Yes, honey?” I asked, trying not to let my frazzled nerves come through in my voice;

How did you know that guy’s name was Jack?”

Perfect.  Out of everything that just happened, she picked up on the only mistake I made (besides the entire idea of a country drive).  With no where else to go, I replied, ‘They’re ALL named Jack‘, refusing to look at my wife, who, I was sure had a completely new look on her face.  I was just thankful that the kid didn’t fill the backseat and her brother will leftover poutine!

To this day, any time someone does something questionable, we refer to them as ‘Jack’.

My deepest apologies to all the real Jacks out there who are, I’m sure, completely awesome, wonderful people.

I still love country drives, but I take a lot more of them without the kids..and yes, my daughter still gets car sick.

Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions

Welcome to my first blog.

Life is full of silly little events and happenings that we often dismiss or forget about over time.  Occasionally however, our normal everyday events can sometimes create the most memorable, lasting impressions on our families and friends.  I think this is how some of the greatest legends that long ago were retold around campfires and grew into supernatural or completely unbelievable folk-tales.  I have had the pleasure (although the jury is still out) of having several of these unique opportunities occur over the years.  I have one story, which is completely true (to the best of my recollection) that I have repeatedly been asked to retell – coincidentally, around above mentioned fires, usually after too many adult beverages, or on long car rides with the kids.

My story starts about 10 years ago, when my wife and I were hosting Christmas Dinner at our very small semi-detached house.  If you’ve ever hosted a family dinner, you know how stressful it can be.  Multiply that by a gazillion (that’s a real number – I looked it up!), and you get a sense of what Christmas Dinner hosting is like. The first step is an entire remodel of the house; painting, plastering, moving furniture, cleaning places that any self-respecting guy doesn’t even go, let alone sponge-mop.

We were really excited about our ‘turn’ at hosting my family this particular year.  Although my family isn’t huge by European standards, we usually run into the high-teens on head-count, and no one is what I’d call a light eater.  It’s also important to know that I have 3 brothers, all of whom are over-achievers, highly competitive, and sarcastic… dictionary definition sarcasm, not the pedestrian type.

Friends of ours had returned from a trip south of the border, and insisted that the best turkey they’ve ever eaten was a ‘deep-fried’ one.  WHAT??  Deep-fried turkey?  That was an insane thought – clearly an American tail-gate phenomenon that had no business on the respectable tables of a conservative Canadian table.  Of course, lacking all clear judgement, I borrowed their deep fryer for this years feast.  Now, I know what you’re thinking – recipe for disaster, right?  Wrong! I’m a responsible guy…

Using my talented food-service skills (and a few ‘Google’ searches), I found a great recipe for deep-fried turkey using a dry rub under the birds skin, and then soaking it in a bourbon mixture to pickle the bird for a few days before the big event.  Yum!

To be sure I wasn’t going to fail in front of my watchful, blood-thirsty family, I did a ‘test boil’ with the deep-fryer, using a chicken….smart, eh?  Well, it cooked perfectly in about 20 minutes and tasted great.  Excellent – man, I am GOOD!

Christmas day came – along with about a foot of fresh snow. I had set up an elaborate station in my backyard on a cement basketball pad, complete with overhead lighting, side walls to control the wind and snow, the soon-to-be infamous deep fryer, and a barbeque that played host to a ham (this might be a good place to tell you that my wife is a genius, thinking that some extra food might be a good backup plan.  Just in case).  Family arrived in stages, each one hoping they weren’t the last ones, since the disgrace of being the latest group is akin to being tarred and feathered and strutted through town.

Things were going great!  Liberal amounts of beverages were being consumed, the ladies were busy preparing vegetables and other stuff that for some reason should be on the table, but never gets any real credit.  The meat is the big show.  As it goes, so does the entire meal.  No one leaves the party saying ‘I must get that salad recipe from you’.

I had the deep-fryer chugging away in the back yard.  The ham was cooking slowly next to it on the barbeque.  It was time.  Like some sacred ceremony, I retrieved the beautiful bird from it’s bourbon bath and prepared to lower it into the peanut oil hot-tub at precisely the right temperature. I could almost hear a chorus of Angels as I lifted it out of the cooler it rested in. It would be a 40 minute oil bath, ending in a mouth-watering creation that Martha Stuart would be envious of.  How exciting!

Apparently, there is some chemical reaction between boiling oil and bourbon that I don’t recall hearing about in grade 10 science class.  Maybe I was off that day.  Anyway, as I lowered the fated bird into the oil, it seemed to reach up and grab the bourbon with a fury of anger and intent.  The oil shot upward, and over the side of the deep-fryer, spilling down and hitting the open flame below it.  Did I mention the open flame?  Anyway, apparently there is also some chemical reaction with fire and oil.  Another missed science class, I suppose.

As the oil hit the flames, the fire moved like lightning up the sides of the deep-fryer, igniting the entire contraption, down onto the oil that now covered the ground, and shot up, engulfing the doomed, bourbon-soaked bird that I was still holding.  There’s probably another lesson about fire and alcohol, but I’ll save that for another time.

As the fire covered the turkey, I panicked, and leaped backwards, quickly lifting the turkey out of harms way.  In doing so, my foot slipped on the oil-soaked ground, throwing me off-balance.  The turkey was now fully air-borne, looking like some Viking fire weapon or demon caber-toss thing, and it flew, fully on fire like a small meteorite across the yard, landing in a large snow-bank, making a perfect turkey-shaped hole like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.  There’s another science lesson here – snow puts out fires.

By now, I have a missing turkey, a good part of my backyard is on fire, and I’m laying in a small pool of burnt oil, slipping like Bambi on ice, trying to get my footing.   I do finally make it to my feet, and frantically grab handfuls of snow to put out the fire.  Eventually, the angry oil subsides, so I take the opportunity to dash back into the house, letting my concerned family know that we don’t need the fire-bombers after all.  Turns out that despite all of this fire and brimstone going on right outside the dining room window, not a single person noticed the carnage going on in the back yard.

As for the turkey, well, it looked like a bowling ball with wings, but we did manage to harvest a bit of breast meat….and everyone loved the ham.  I think I mentioned my wife the genius, right?  I also recall more than a few people asking for the yummy salad recipe that year as they left.