Thankful Thursday XXXVIII – ‘Owl’ Drink To Napa Valley Going Green

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for Napa Valley wines. And I’m a beer guy, not an oenophile, which is apparently a wine lover. A word I’d probably have already known if I actually loved wine. I might seldom partake in their beverages, but I’m thankful for them after seeing a story recently about how they are beginning to “go green.” More and more of the vineyards in that California valley are turning away from chemical pesticides and towards organic solutions…including owls!

Wine might be healthy for us in moderation, but creating it isn’t always healthy for the land. Growing the grapes invites a lot of nuisance animals to the area… rats and mice especially. For much of the past century, the growers relied on heavy doses of pesticides to keep the rodents in check. Needless to say, this isn’t beneficial. Besides the rodents they’re looking to control, other animals can ingest it and die, or eat the poisoned rats and in turn sicken or die themselves as the poison builds up inside them. And while one would imagine that the amounts of pesticide retained by the grapes during the production would be minimal, the risk to farm workers is real. For instance, zinc phosphides, a common type of rat poison will “increase calcium levels in the blood, leading to organ failure” according to scientists. One would think even a trace amount lingering in the wine wouldn’t be doing its enthusiasts any good and working in the fields with it day in, day out even less so.

So, I’m happy more and more grape-growers are shunning the chemicals and instead encouraging owls. Barn Owls in particular, an especially effective rodent weapon. Apparently a typical one will eat close to ten critters a night, so just a couple of pairs of nesting ones is going to significantly lessen the enjoyment of the area for rats! The vineyards are cleaner, and the growers save money. It costs far less to put up a few nestboxes for owls than to buy pounds of chemicals, needless to say. They may even reap a small financial reward as birdwatchers begin to take the vineyard tours in hopes of seeing a striking-looking owl more than tasting a fine Chardonnay. And the Barn Owls, declining in numbers across the country are finding new homes with ready supplies of food. A win-win.

Organic wine, helped along by owls. I’ll drink to that. Or should I say, “owl” drink to that!

Thankful Thursday XXXVII – Fannie Flagg & The Storytellers

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for storytellers. No, not the used car dealers who assure you that 2003 Mustang was only driven to church on Sunday by a little old lady, but the great ones who write the books and movies we love. Shakespeare was a story-teller. So too Dickens, and Steinbeck and Twain. Even Stephen King. And Fannie Flagg. She came to mind because I just finished reading a book by her, so I’ll rather combine two blogs here and review it.

One of the out of left-field hit movies from the ’90s was Fried Green Tomatoes, a sort of ode to both the Deep South and feminism, starring Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker. The story revolved around the close friendship of two young women, Idgie and Ruth during the Depression-era South, as told by an elderly relative of Idgie’s decades later. It’s an unusual sort of dramedy, mixing well elements of both humor, sometimes quite dark (ie – the disappearance of Ruth’s violent, abusive husband, which shall we say led to a “tasty” subplot) and tear-jerking drama. Most of it centred around a little diner, the Whistle Stop Cafe, run by the two friends.

Anyway, undoubedly some have wondered what ever happened to those characters; when the film ended, Idgie was still alive and looking after Ruth’s young boy, Buddy Jr., and Evelyn, the middle-aged lady hearing the stories from old Ninny was on her way to a whole career and life makeover. Well, it turns out we now know, thanks to the story’s creator, Fannie Flagg. Last year she published a sequel, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop. It’s a good, quick read that brings us up to date on all the main characters, through a similar series of present-day events and flashbacks.

We find that Evelyn parlayed her Mary Kay sales into a major business career and she’s now a mover and shaker in Birmingham, but a bored one. She once again connects with the family of Idgie and Ruth. While the original mainly centred on those two, this one is seen largely through the scope of Buddy Jr., who’d become a successful veterinarian but is now retired and lonely back in Georgia, and his daughter, Ruthie. Together they become a new sort of family and embark on a “if you build it they will come” sort of project to bring the past into the future.

The chapters are short and fast-paced and the story interesting. Like the first one, it highlights feminism and individuality while throwing some shade on class elitism and other less lovable traits of “Dixie.” With her blend of unusual but likable characters and championing of community and small town life, Flagg is something of a Garrison Keillor of the South…a title people like Evelyn and Ruthie would take as an honor. They might not be Tolstoy or Rushdie, but they know how to tell a story that touches us and characters who stay with us.

Thankful Thursday XXXVI – Meatloaf

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for meatloaf. Not the rotund Texas singer, although I sometimes don’t mind his operatic rock epics. Instead I mean the food, a food many call a “comfort food.”

My sweetie made a meatloaf earlier this week. It’s not a meal we eat much in our household; if we have a pound or two of hamburger meat, we’re more likely to make tacos or hamburgers. Hamburger Helper perhaps. But this week she baked a meatloaf, ketchup, bread crumbs and all.

So, you’re probably thinking “he must really like meatloaf!” In fact… I don’t. I have my share of comfort foods – pasta dinners, sandwiches, spicy tomato soup, pizza when my stomach’s up for it – but meatloaf, not so much! In fact, I really don’t like it much at all.

But that’s ok. It reminded me how lucky I was to have someone who cares for me and cooks up nice meals for me and the kiddo frequently. Moreover, I’m very thankful for us having enough food. Even in our community, there are some who are hungry most days, and we’re better off than half the world. There’s a whole lot of people who would love to have the problem of having lots of healthy-enough food to eat and simply not thoroughly enjoying a little of it. Earlier this week on my music blog, I’d featured a record by Harry Chapin, a singer who put his career on the back burner at one time to help the government combat hunger in our country. You know he’d have appreciated some meatloaf!

The next evening we had some fish, and I was even more thankful. But I had some leftover meatloaf for lunch, said a few thanks, and made a note to myself to buy some stuff to donate next time the supermarket runs a food drive.

Thankful Thursday XXV – Companies Who Care About Their People

Since the pandemic hit hard early last year, my sweetie has been working at home instead of the large office she had clocked in at before. My sweetie and thousands others like her, in her corporation and countless others. They sent home computers and monitors and the software needed for her to trouble-shoot customer problems from the desk in our bedroom. It’s a familiar scenario across the land, and across the world. This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for companies which care about their employees.

It struck me a few days back but was really reinforced in my mind earlier today. While there are downsides to the work at home – at times she misses the comraderie of having her worker friends around, she had a more comfortable chair and movable, ergonomic desk in the office, for instance – for the most part it’s been great. We’ve saved hundreds in gas by not having to have her drive back and forth daily, and most importantly, she and most of her co-workers have been able to stay safe. Thinking back, even pre-Covid, it seemed like she was sick a lot more frequently and flu had rampaged through their ranks the winter before. I appreciate the corporation doing their part, and I expect if they ever recall the office, there’ll be differences. More space between desks, perhaps people working some days at home, some days on site, partitions between desks…who knows?

Anyway, that leads to today, when she received an intranet e-mail saying to check her door. The company had sent over a gift bag… snacks, keychain, pens and notepads, that sort of thing. Even a large bagged pickle with a note saying “we think you’re a big dill!” It was cute, and brightened her work day. Little things like that go a long way from employers.

Back in the day, in my first of two employers that were in the photographic industry, we were at a small store. The pay wasn’t great, the ventilation around the processing equipment sub-standard I’m sure. So were my sinuses, and other co-workers who seemed to get a whole lot of sinus infections. But the co-workers were great and the owner of the franchise at least made sure he had a couple of big parties annually for all of us. Mid-summer there was a big pool party at his house, with softball (and his famous “Skydome of Beer!” at home plate – a cooler shaped like the Toronto sports stadium) , a BBQ and of course, cooling off in his pool. It was a great day to relax and have fun with the others outside the “office”. Same thing come winter time, with a Christmas party, full dinner and all those fun things at his place. I appreciated that. So too the freebies he got and passed out readily. Olympus mugs, Ilford film frisbees, Ricoh attaches or something, clothing. Particularly, clothing. The store had a uniform but, if you were in a comfy Canon sweatshirt say, you could skip the dress code for a day. It made me feel quite appreciated.

So here’s to all the employers going the extra mile, to keep the employers safe and put a smile upon their face. I’m thankful for all of you.

Thankful Thursday XXXIV – Rainy Days (And Mondays?)

Well, it’s a dreary looking day outside here today. Overnight thunderstorms scudded off, dragging along a blanket of low-lying clouds, cooler air and rain showers behind them. This Thankful Thursday, or Friday actually, I’m thankful for Rainy Days. They don’t always get me down!

Now, living in Texas, my mind has changed a little here. Back in Canada, fall often meant rainy day after rainy day, rainy weeks dripping into each other until they turned to snow. As if the days weren’t short enough already there in October, the light was often blocked by thick layers of stratus clouds. I think I came home from work enough times having to peel off my socks because the water had soaked right through my shoes on the way home. It wasn’t uplifting. Here however, sunny days are more the norm. And don’t get me wrong, I love bright, clear days. They energize me. But, there’s something to be said for their grayer counterparts.

Here, the ground gets parched and plants wither all too readily in the warm weather – which is to say about nine months of the year – times. The rain is welcomed. Nature watering the flowers and veggies for once, filling up the bird baths by itself. It gets the grass growing, but the rainy days themselves are a great excuse to put off cutting the lawn without feeling guilty about it.

Rainy days are great in fact, for reminding ourselves to slow down once in awhile. Lie on the sofa and watch a movie. Read those last two chapters of the novel you started two months ago. Pull out the dusty board games and sit around the table with the family. The yard work, the shopping errands… they can wait for tomorrow. Not to mention that cooking homemade soup or chili seems a bit absurd when it’s 95 degrees and there’s a UV rating of about 1000 out. But it seems the right, the comforting, thing to do when the clouds are leaky!

Basically, the rain is a reminder of the “laws” we need to keep in mind. Into each life a little rain must fall, they say. Indeed. We need a little rain, we need a little dark just to remind us to appreciate the sun and the heat. Yin and yang. Chicken soup for the soul. And hey… it might be a chicken soup dinner day! Bright spots abound on the dullest day, if we look for them.

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