Sunday, June 29, 2008

Flower in the Garden

I'm taking that title from a cloth book FDPG used to have when she was 3 months old. We have a picture of her holding it and looking very quizzically at it, as if reading.

I was hanging out with some friends at the park the other day, when one mother asked me where we lived. I told her, and mentioned casually (well, as casually as an obsessed gardener possibly can) that I was turning the lawn into a garden. This is my Lure Remark, designed very specifically to see who I'm talking to: a garden enthusiast, or Someone Else. (snobby, aren't I)

I was totally unprepared for her answer. She turned to me with a slight look of disinterest, arched her eyebrows, and said "Hmm, what do you grow - flowers?" Since there isn't Hear-O-Vision on Blogger, you'll have to imagine the disdain the word "flowers" got from her. I was shocked. Horrified, even. I was that Edward Gorey woman in the Masterpiece Theatre intro, dropping her scarf and saying "Ohhhh! Ohhhh!" over and over again. She didn't like flowers! Say it isn't so! I wanted to transport her immediately into some high meadow somewhere, √° la Sound of Music, and do some kind of fancy Cinderella waltz with cascading flowers (brought in by helpful talking animals), but I was too flabbergasted. Plus, I wondered a bit how she'd like dancing in meadows if she didn't like flowers...

Afterwards, I came home and comforted myself with a wander in the garden. The flower garden, I stress. I stared for a while. I contemplated. I shut my eyes and smelled. And wondered why more people don't see the The Importance of Being Earnest having flowers in their gardens.

So without further ado, here are some recent bouquets from my Flower Garden. All pictures are clickable if you want Big Views.

Here we have some sweet peas, fragrant and soft as clouds.

Next, a mixture of sage flowers, heuchera blossoms, sweet peas, and alchemilla.

And here we have another mixture, this time some Maltese cross, some yarrow, lysimachia, alliums, double coreopsis, and some centaureas. I like the drama of the primary colours.This is part of Cloudscome's Sunday Garden Stroll, and you can see her and more gardeners on their own strolls at her blog: a wrung sponge.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

That Old Chestnut

We were at my ILs for dinner the other night, and some family member, who shall remain nameless (I'm tempted to call this person "resentful old bat" but I'm trying to restrain myself), brought up the old "what about socialization" remark. We were discussing this person's intent to move their own child from a Bad School to a private school, and without any comment from us we heard why they thought homeschooling was neither appropriate nor beneficial. Not just for this child. For any child. Ugh.

I hate when people say this. I've heard this old chestnut once too often, and I am getting very sick of hearing it, particularly as my kids are always in attendance when people say this. If you've ever met my kids, the terms "socially awkward" "weirdly introverted" "badly behaved" "obnoxious" "rude" "in need of intervention" just don't apply. My kids are polite. They say please and thank-you. They don't interrupt. They play well with other children. They don't whine, beg, ignore requests, or act like brats. They're nice kids. They're fun even. And I am not the sort of person to foreground what wonderful homeschoolers we are. I would rather talk about my garden don't even talk about it. So it burns me to hear people who know my kids (and me) toss off that thoughtless remark as if it's got any relevance whatsoever to my situation. Richard says that these people are just reiterating comments they've heard from other sources, and aren't thinking very carefully, but still, these people are adults. Can't they think for themselves? Shouldn't they be thinking for themselves?

Fortunately, this time I had had enough glasses of wine that I could find it mildly amusing was able to comment objectively without getting too incensed. I joked about how great their kid's school experience must be that they were ready to part with ten grand each year to change that school experience and how we were homeschooling to avoid that very aspect of, err, "socialization," but that we weren't having to part with huge quantities of money for the privilege. Then we all laughed rather immoderately, except for the resentful old bat unnamed family member, who continued to stew.

The next day I groused a bit to Richard, who was, understandably, feeling caught between a relation rock and a wife hard place. He urged me to ignore it and move on. It's not as if we even see them very often, which is true. So I did. But I get the feeling that my skin is getting thinner by the syllable. Not a great feeling, really.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Old Dog Learns Some New Tricks

I'm participating in Cloudscome's Garden Tour today and while I fully intend to inundate you with a number of garden shots (gardeners can be very tedious this way, can't they), I also want to make a note, mostly for myself, of some of the new things I've tried this year. I don't know about you, but I'm always thinking "Hmm, I need to remember this - this is a great idea" and then promptly forgetting about it.

First up: window box lettuce. Window boxes have always been a sort of bete noire for me: I love them, and I love having them bursting with bloom in front of the window, but in every house I've ever lived in (and I've moved around a fair bit) they have been near impossible to access decently. This house is no exception, and seeing as how it's the first house I've ever owned I feel compelled to change my relationship with the window boxes. The window boxes in this house are pretty high off the ground and one of them is so inaccessible that I've actually left it, just to spite itself (mature, aren't I). The other one, once the new windows were installed, is easier to get at, so, instead of planting something that I could deadhead and cosset continually, I planted lettuce and spring onions. I can't think why I didn't do it before. Now we just slide open the window, remove the screen, and pluck. Nice for impromptu sandwich preparation.

Next, I'm growing some of the celery plants in these terracotta drain tiles. And they are already 5" taller than their unprotected compatriots. I don't know if they will be blanched at all (I doubt it) but it will be interesting to see what colour they end up.

And here we have a drinking fountain for bees, butterflies, and other small, winged insects. No more tragedies of drowning in the birdbath for me. I lost 4 Mason bees in the spring this way and it was very sad.

You just fill a container with small rocks and some water, and if anyone loses their footing, they will have something to crawl onto. There is enough evaporation each day that mosquitoes won't be an issue.

Mulching. I bought a bale of straw and so far I've mulched the artichokes (pictured), the blueberries, marionberries, and raspberries, and all the tomato plants scattered about the garden. I haven't had to water as much and the weeds are down. Plus, Toffee has a lovely place to lie and preen. He even blends in with it. For some reason this convulses the kids, but then again, they think ANYTHING that cat does is hysterical. He can sneeze, or lift a leg, and they all shriek with simultaneous laughter and adoration.

Some new beds. I just finished this one yesterday - that's why it looks rather sparse. I took cardboard and newspaper, laid it on the ground (weed/grass block), and covered it with many many bags of soil, manure, and topsoil. This one is walled from seashore rocks we picked up on holiday last week (see here). Some people bring back postcards and tans, I bring back rocks. You can't tell from this photo, but most the rocks
are miracles of texture, colour, and mixtures. Some have bands of white, some are marbled green, some are red with granular white crystals, some have black and white blotches, some sparkle, some glisten, and all are incredible when wet (not a claim I can make, sadly).
This new bed is going to house our Butterfly Garden, which Max wants because he loves butterflies. We bought a new buddleia, ever-so-charmingly named Harlequin (varigated leaves). We also have some Jupiter's Beard, crocosmia, roses, and a lot of balloon flowers, just in case the anise swallowtails have picky eating habits.

This bed exists solely to showcase (well, one day it will) the two perennial fuchsias. One is named Alba and the other is called Genii (I think). A little artistic license in some driftwood and seashells and green rocks from last summer when I only collected green rocks.

I don't know if it was just a good year or if it had anything to do with all the kelp meal and fish fertilizer I heaped on them, but the strawberries are particularly sweet. Last night we dipped a few. And wonder of wonders but not a single word was uttered as they were eaten. Not even from FDPG. Now, that is a miracle.

Here is the vegetable patch from one end.

Some pansies. These overwintered - and have been blooming non-stop all spring.

Some alliums.

The Mason bee house, some lysimachia, balloon flowers, roses, some raspberries and a peach tree, all jammed into one walled area. Oh, almost forgot to mention the fig, tucked in at the right there.

Blueberries. I planted them only 5 weeks ago but one plant already looks loaded.

And finally, the lozenge bed from a different angle. You can't see the reason for its name at this angle but you can see the mock orange, the coriopsis, the centaurea, and the California poppies, among other things.

So that's my tour here at Greenridge. Enjoy your Sunday. I'm off to plant some huckleberries now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tag, I'm it!

I got tagged by the ever-so-charming Kris Bordessa the other day, and as far as I can tell, the purpose of this tag is as mysterious as some of my children. But I'm game. In fact, I sort of like the idea of performing strange orders for no obvious reason. So here we go:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Okay. I've acknowledged Kris, I've got my book, and here are my sentences:

(from Diana Wynne Jones' The Game)

Flute stood with his arms folded, surrounded in leaping hissing heat. He did not look entirely friendly. "Until this morning," he said, "I had a thousand and one golden apples. Now I've only got a thousand."

But now that I've got your attention (Sheila discreetly coughs), can I post this bit too? It's too funny not to tell someone about. I was so enthralled with it that I even woke Richard up last night, at 11:45pm, to read it to him. To his credit he laughed (rather wanly) and said "that was pretty funny - why are you still reading?"

(from Eva Braunn's Homeric Moments: Clues To Delight In Reading The Odyssey and the Iliad)

There is something to be said for learning Greek quite apart from the reading of authors. My father, a physician who was educated in a German classical gymnasium, cherished the following story: His Greek professor, bidding goodbye to a student being withdrawn by his father for a business apprenticeship, was heard to say sorrowfully: "What a pity he couldn't stay for the irregular verbs! One more month and he have had something to sustain him in life."

How can you not love a book with footnotes like these? Okay, now off with your heads you all - go read something, follow those cryptic directions, then let me know what you've done!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

That Summer Feeling

We went up island for an extended Long Weekend last week. My parents own a house on the east coast, in a protected little bay where the swimming is good and the summers are hot. I've gone to this beach every year for as long as I can remember. My grandparents found it when they were heading to another place, missed a ferry and had to spend the night here. They ended up buying a little cottage and moving in, where they lived until they both died, many years later. My early memories of this place are of old ladies in bathing caps and black swim suits, drinking gin and smoking Black Cat cigarettes; of wooden outhouses that I dreaded in the middle of the night; of smoking hollow blades of grass with my friends in the beach dunes, certain we were beyond cool; and finally, of being able to wander and wander and wander, free from parents and school and city streets.

It's perfect for kids: long stretches of warm sand, lots of sand dollars, crabs, moon snails, bullheads, eagles, kingfishers, and ospreys, and a wild, rocky reef that stretches way out into the ocean. The reef is where you can see most of the strange and exotic ocean life around these parts. And by strange and exotic I mean things like moon snails and oysters and rock crabs and multi-coloured seaweeds. This picture shows an eagle perched on a rock out on that reef. He sat there for a while, watching me approach, then floated up into the sky right after I took this shot.

A moon snail shell. Sans moon snail. If you've never seen one of these creatures, imagine a large, squooshy gray mass slid inside this shell, with a giant paw emerging from the opening. I suppose I could have said "imagine a large gray slug" but that would leave out the lovely weirdness that is a moon snail.

A moon snail collar. Technically I suppose it's comprised of moon snail goo, conjured up from an overnight rest, but I've never researched it. I don't really want to know, to be honest. Imagine if I were to find out that it's something from their death throes, as a seal consumes them, or a war wound from a surly crab (lost on the Crab Highway). No, I'd rather think of this as bits of leftover blankie from a Moon Snail Snooze.

Here is a teenie tiny bullhead Dominic caught; he waded around after a little mass of them as they basked in the warm shallows as we walked the sand. He scooped it into his moon snail shell, and proudly rushed over to show everyone his prize. You can see it if you look very carefully at the sand in the bottom of the shell. The bullhead is sitting very still and quiet (and yes, I do realize that everything sits still and quiet in a photograph). If you need further visual assistance, click on the picture and it will give you an enlarged view.

Sibling Rivalry Alert: almost one second after Dominic caught his little bullhead, FDPG plunged into the water and grabbed her own little bullhead, with her bare hands. This kid has been watching too much Survivor, methinks.

Can you see his bullish head peeping over the tips of her fingers? If not, click on the picture and you'll see a larger version.

A starfish. People keep telling me they are now called Sea Stars, but I like the word starfish, so I'm stickin' to it. (should have prefaced that with an Old and Crotchety Alert, I guess)

Finally, a razor clam shell. FDPG likes to call them fairy wings for crabbies. I like the colour, because it's so ephemeral. One minute it's glistening wetly in the sun, next it's dry and dull, all the magic having fled.

Lies My Father Told Me

Technically the title should read "Weird Stories My Husband Told The Children" but it doesn't sound so atmospheric, somehow.

See this picture? I overheard Richard, while we were wandering on the beach on the weekend, telling the twins that the reason these waves are imprinted on the sand is because it's really a Crab Highway. "You know how crabs walk sideways, right?" he said confidentially, "well, these troughs are so the crabs can get from one end of the beach to the other without running into each other during the night, because let me tell you, it's grid-locked here come high tide. The crabs are EVERYWHERE!"

But wait, there's more!

Apparently the reason he needs to shave in the morning is because his family was so poor when he was a little kid that they had to eat cat food every day, and now he grows whiskers from eating all that cat food!

But wait, there's more!

Richard was having a coffee with God one day, and told God that he needed to invent something more interesting, just for him, so God invented beer. And now Richard has to drink beer so he doesn't make God feel bad.

Hmmm. I wonder what else he's told them.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sick Day

FDPG and Dominic, enjoying a rare sniffle in bed.

Shakespeare Retold

We rented Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It a while back, and one of the previews on the DVD was for a BBC series called Shakespeare Retold, a television production featuring four of Shakespeare's plays (Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night's Dream) 'rewritten' by modern playwrights. The cast looked fabulous, with all kinds of UK stalwarts from Shirley Henderson to Imelda Staunton to Rupert Sewell to Bill Paterson to the lovely Mr Tumnus James McAvoy, and the premise seemed intriguing enough to make me completely dismiss As You Like It, which wasn't very good anyways. I seem to remember demanding that we needed to see it immediately, and then, in my usual way, forgetting about it equally immediately. Fortunately Richard (aka the man with a memory like an elephant) did not forget, and several weeks later a little Amazon package graced his backpack. Handy having a Shakespearean scholar in the house.

We started with Much Ado. It's hard for me not to think of Emma Thompson when I think of this play, because she was so luminous (not to mention tanned) and snappy as Beatrice, but we were charmed, although I had some difficulty not thinking about David Tennant whenever Billie Piper came on the screen (playing Hero). It was much like Branagh's Much Ado: sharp, witty, and well-cast, curious endings aside (this is what you might call a revisionist rewrite).

From there we moved onto The Taming of the Shrew, which is a perfect feast for the fiesty. Shirley Henderson (whom you might recognize from sitting through all those Harry Potter movies - she plays Moaning Myrtle) and Rupert Sewell go at it for nearly 90 minutes - 90 startlingly charming minutes. Rupert totters and preens, Shirley shreds the scenery, and they swing at each other a good deal. Even the supporting cast commands your attention, and no, I am not talking about that cute Italian boy. It was like watching an vaguely angry, twisted, but weirdly romantic Richard Curtis-type film, now that I think of it: there were even the same future montage snippets to tell you how happily they lived afterwards (presumably fighting like cats all the while).

We dithered a bit over Macbeth, and while I love James McAvoy I can't say I thought this was one was very successful, but that may have been because a friend of ours had just been visiting from England and spent a lot of time telling us about some live productions she'd seen, one of them being Macbeth. Patrick Stewart had played Macbeth; there had been taps gushing with blood, and it had all sounded horribly inventive and visual. Shakespeare Retold's Macbeth was horrible but not particularly inventive or visual. It was depressed and dark and hurtled towards an obvious conclusion, gripping you like grim death all the while.

Finally, A Midsummer Night's Dream: good cast, good performances, but some of the touches were slightly, err, experimental for my taste, if that's the right word. Puck, figured as a sort of smug aging hippie hanging about in trees, had a tincture that remedied everything in a rather facile fashion. I wanted more from him, really, and I never got it. I also never saw enough of Oberon and Titania, who were wonderful in a sort of rock-star chic way - all long swinging coats and frilly cuffs. But it was probably with Bottom and the musicians where most of the charm lay. They were silly, pathetic, and funny, in turns. Intriguing and inventive, though.

Inexplicable remark alert: Just in case you are wondering WHY everyone was laughing when Bottom made his "I'm the only gay in the village!" remark, well, get thee hence to an episode of Little Britain. There is a skit with this very remark in it, sprinkled around so liberally that you'll never forget it, ever.

In fact, the whole series was intriguing and inventive. It's been a while since I've been so won over by something in the DVD line. The last time was when we rented Rome, I think, and we watched the entire first season in about 5 days. Captivating. Just thinking about it gives me shivers. The second season wasn't quite as shocking or powerful on the sense, but still better than most of the dreck made into movies these days (don't hold back, Sheila, tell us how you really feel!).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More In the Way of Bird Books

Here's another new purchase for the school books. I very nearly bought this one, but it didn't have a Black-capped Chickadee call in it, so I didn't. The Black-capped Chickadee is the first bird Max attached himself to when we studied birds (I even bought him a Black-capped Chickadee Christmas tree ornament that year), and it seemed a bad omen not to see the little black cap included, so I bought the one you see here instead. It not only has the black cap, but Max's new favourite, the Red Winged Blackbird (if you want to hear its call, click here and then click on #84698).

I like this book. It's skewed slightly in favour of the East Coast of North America, which niggles at me vaguely, being here on the Wet West Coast of Canada as I am, but when all is said and played, it's pretty fun stuff. And no (just in case you have an eight to twelve year old boy there, wondering) cats are not fooled by the calls. A dog might be, but cats are way too smart for this sort of game.

Funny Twists In Homeschooling Logic

I bought this for Max the other day. I was trying to find something New and Inspiring, without being overtly so, if you know what I mean. And while Max is always open to almost any suggestion I might make (I should admit here and now that even I cringe at some of my past suggestions), he isn't always as interested as I think he might be. But when the geeky cashier at the local bookstore surreptitiously poked his cohort and said "Cool stuff, dude" (in response to my purchases) I felt a distinct thrill of pleasure. Yes, call me shallow and superficial, but there is something about the approval of a geeky bookstore guy that gladdens the heart.

Anyhow, here is one of the books I bought. As you can see, it's called Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels. What appealed to me about this book was not the "how to" aspect of it so much as the fact that here is a book which explains the critical requirements of the basic sketch: perspective, atmosphere, and character. And does so in an amusing and distinctive way. Succinct (compared to how I do things). Fun. Picture-esque. I like that.

I paired it with one of these: a nice black, spiral-bound, archival quality sketchbook. It even foregrounds its purpose -SKETCHBOOK is written in giant letters on the front - so I didn't have to. This seemed embarrassingly redundant when I was standing in line contemplating how much money I was going to spend, because we have a lot of paper for all sorts of purposes, but ultimately I was glad I got it because Max was delighted with the idea of having a decent sketchbook.

I've been thinking about these two items a fair bit in the last few days, in the way one does when grandparents ask for Christmas or birthday ideas, because I don't think I would ever have considered these things had I not had several hours in a bookstore just to scavenge through every single shelf. I wasn't even alone: FDPG was with me, but, even more critically, I happened to have enough time and freedom from regular requirements ("Hmmm, we need something to go along with Black Ships Before Troy" "I should get this map" "Ooh, more origami paper!") to peruse the hitherto neglected shelves holding such oddities as blank diaries, art histories, and comics, not to mention blank sketchbooks. It was very pleasant. Novel even. FDPG was similarly delighted (then again, she loves being in bookstores). She was able to fondle the Mr. "Indiana Jones" Potato Head at length without her brothers shoving her aside in order to give full vent to their own peculiar sense of humour, as they usually do. She had a hot chocolate at Ye Olde Starbuckies, sitting beside a friend of mine who does to kids what every parent rejoices to see - she treats them like another friend at the table. FDPG even got to try on sunglasses at a kid shop in a shockingly extended fashion, something I usually avoid like the plague when the boys are with us (call me humourless but I can only take so much boyish cackling, snorting, and guffawing).

So there you go. It's never what you think it's going to be, is it?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Curious Brevity of Plant Tags

This is the first bloom from our Princess Victoria Louise. We've been betting on these ones to pop at any second, and you can imagine the noise here when FDPG discovered that one had opened. Let's just say that we all knew at about the exact same instant that something exciting had happened in the garden.

Click on the picture for a more, err, intimate experience.

According to the plant tag, Oriental poppies "provide a cheerful display of huge, satiny flowers in late spring...this strain features soft salmon pink flowers with contrasting black spots." That describes this flower, yes, but they left out the delicate crinkly-softness of the petals, the billowy black mass of pollen-laden anthers that seem to shimmer all at once, the velvety darkness of the centre spots, and the heart-stopping gorgeousness of the entire tableau. It's an Experience just sitting beside this poppy. Why can't they fit those bits on that plant tag, too?

More Signs of Life

Click on this picture if you can't quite see what those little brown specks are.

It's spider ball time again here. You know, those little brown balls of baby spiders, all huddled together for warmth. I find them irresistible (Sheila says sheepishly) because just one little poke and they instantly scatter.

There are now 4 balls of spiders in my windowbox lettuce. They are making it very complicated to water, I have to say.


I first saw lewisias at one of my favourite nurseries. They were nestled becomingly in small, curvy hypertufa planters, glowing in shades of orange and pink and hot magenta. Absolutely gorgeous.

It was late spring and I was on a Mission to find a plum tree for the new house (I was on one of my Escape the Renovation Experience Excursions), but found myself instantly besotted with these instead. Plus, there were no plum trees handy.

I grabbed the pinkiest-orangiest one I could find, feeling somewhat repelled by the $8.99 price tag, and decided I would have an Alpine Garden in the new house. I plopped it into a nice, sloping, rock-filled bed, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And nothing happened.

It would have been laughably tragic, had I not in the meantime found a cheaper source (ooh, I sound like a junkie, don't I?) and bought SIX MORE of them! As it was, none of them did much more than send a spoof of a bloom all bloody summer. They looked like dollar store hens and chicks. They wilted a bit. They started to shrivel even. I felt as though I were living in a Shakespearean Floral Tragedy: Lewisias Torment Garden Enthusiast With Lack of Show. Yes, yes, you can laugh at what you no doubt imagine is just me being overly dramatic, but I was unable to find much humour in the situation, I have to say. I felt as though my Grand Passion was going horribly unrequited. I had had great hopes for those lewisias.

(Spin forward in time 8 months)

Fortunately for all of us, those lewisias have changed their minds about living chez Greenridge Alpine Garden. They're putting on a pretty spectacular show this spring. It's Broadway out there right now - lights cameras AND action - all in one glorious clash of fuchsia, pink, and orange. I might have to put on my tap shoes and join them for a few numbers...