Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: Sea of Trolls

We just finished Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer. This is not a new book – it was written in 2004 – but it sat on our bookshelf for a long while simply because I thought it might be a bit too mature for the twins. Now, having read it, I’m glad we waited. It was a bit mature – there were snippets of snatched children and strange women going mad and cruel warriors taking strange drugs to put them in a murderous mood. Slit throats. Torched villages. Spirits and strange creatures. Gave me goosebumps.

But in one of those strange and lovely coincidences, because this book sat overlong on our shelves, our Roman history work is just now wrapping up – and we’ll be moving onto the Vikings any minute now. The kids will have some touchstones this way, things like bards and berserkers. I like touchstones. They give the kids reminders from places they’ve been, things they’ve studied. Here, Ivar the Boneless. There, a blue-stained Druid. And over there, a troll, a raven.

What I noticed first about this book was that it was well written. Trust me, this is no small thing for an adult doing a morning read aloud, day after day. A poorly written book, while exciting for the kids, can be agony for the reader. I felt this way about The Mysterious Benedict Society: the kids loved it, I really struggled some days. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I liked it book well enough. It’s fun and clever and full of interesting twists and turns. But, and here I will lower my voice so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, the sentences are choppy and there’s too much jerkiness. Some cheesy jargon. I’m not a big fan of jargon, me.

But Sea of Trolls is a thing of beauty. It really is. It’s layered and descriptive and haunting and thrilling and quite simply wonderful. Farmer has said that she studied Stephen King and Edgar Rice Burroughs, writers she admired, in order to get a sense of pace and story, but when I read this book I initially thought that she must have trained as a medievalist, because her ability to describe objects and events was so, well, medieval (think lots of descriptive adjectives). For example, here is a snippet of her retelling of Beowulf, as told by a character in the novel, the old Bard:

In the morning the warriors rode to the lonely mountains where the creatures of the night lived. Toads bleated melancholy cries from slime pits. Trees trailed twisted roots into swamp. Frozen water hung like fallen daggers over the gloomy cliffs. Beowulf blew his battle horn, and all manner of snakes and scaly beings came hissing out. Hrothgar and his warriors fought them with axe and arrows until they were all dead. But one creature remained.”

“Grendel’s mother,” whispered Jack.

“Did I tell you her name was Frothi? Or that she was a half-troll?

Are you excited yet? I sure was. So were the kids. It’s a very exciting story. There are stories where I think “get on with it already” but this wasn’t one of them. There were more than a couple of mornings when we read one extra chapter, or two extra chapters. Took me less than three weeks to read the entire book, and it's a hefty 450 pages long. And just now, when I was trolling through Google trying to find information about the author, I discovered that it’s actually the first in a trilogy. Very welcome news for FDPG and Dominic, when I told them. They wanted to dash right out and get them NOW.

Let’s get through The Graveyard Book first, kids. (another fabulous read, by the way)

I’ll leave you with this quote from Nancy Farmer herself. I like this quote. In these days when so many people I know complain about stories where the parents are absent or busy and the kids are left to battle through on their own, the kind of stories I grew up on and feel wildly attached to, it’s heartening to see a writer who feels the same way:

One of my main themes is self-reliance, the ability to compete against odds and to beat them. A lot of kids' books have somebody who learns to come to terms with some dreadful situation, and it's all about them continuing to suffer at the end of the book. I don't want to write 'victim' books. I want a triumph, a hero or a heroine, and that's what I write about.”

Couldn't agree more.

Girl Power

There was an article in this morning's National Post, an article I actually read out to my kids, not because it was particularly gripping, per se, but because it pertained to our favourite animator: Hayao Miyazaki. This article, sandwiched as it was between an article on the heroin poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and an article on Canada's 'near-American in its vulgarity' position on foreign policy, was written by Michael, Taube, a "former speech writer" for the current Prime Minister, which made it all the more startling. Not something I'd expect to see from a former speech writer, not to mention to see in the first few front pages of the newspaper.

The author's main point was that Mr Miyazaki's latest movie effort, Ponyo, had been snubbed by Oscar voters in the animation category. "Politically," Mr Taube writes, "Miyazaki should be a good fit with the Hollywood elite. He's an ex-Marxist, who peppers his work with a distinctly leftist, anti-war tinge...You'd think Miyazaki's passion for environmental issues would have caught Hollywood's eye too." He even cites a comparison to the movie juggernaut Avatar to prove his point.

Now I like environmental issues as much as the next person, although I haven't seen the thing that is Avatar (although my dad has, what's with that). I also happen to love everything Miyazaki, as do my kids (the Teenager might roll his eyes but he doesn't leave the room when the movies are on). I've even written about our adventures into the world of Totoro food, Totoro toys, seeing Haku in the sky, weird things other people do with their Miyazaki love, and Totoro origami and papercraft. So I should be nodding my head with all this Oscar snubbing going on, shouldn't I. Shouldn't I?

No, I'm not. Because I know why Miyazaki has yet to crack the American market. There are two main reasons in my mind:

1. Americans in general don't like weird Japanese cartoons.
2. Sexism. Miyazaki's females are almost to a person all the same: strong, independent, opinionated girls who don't always care if they end up with the guy, or if they do they prefer to call the shots. And if you look at the last 20 years of American cinema you'll notice that those kind of roles for younger women are not a really salient aspect of American cinema. Women might be strong and witty and clever but they always know their place and in the end they always have to buckle down and marry the real hero, even if he is a bumbling, language-challenged, gruff, otherwise-unappealing fellow. Oh, and they have to be beautiful but not know it. Heck, even Pretty Woman had a retrospective in the newspaper the other day: The Honest Prostitute who got her guy. It's insidious, folks.

And that's why I like Miyazaki's movies so much. I have an FDPG in the house and it's good for her to see young girls doing their own thing. Girls who are smart and clever and funny, with no mention of how beautiful they are or aren't. Girls who can think on their own, without needing men to do their thinking for them. Girls who don't need to look or act like young beautiful hookers with a heart.

And that is what Hollywood doesn't like.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thoughts From Unexpected Places

Who would have guessed that even the Onion would be getting in on the discussion?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Post Playtime Thoughts

I have been reading what other people (ht to Phoenix) have to say on this topic, as well as rereading my own post of yesterday and I feel like I need to make one thing a little more clear, because I don't think it's evident from last night's post. I have this horrible virus and it's wreaking havoc with my brain's ability to think, sorry.

Mr Elkind, in his excellent piece in the NY Times, makes a correlation between excessive television & computer usage, the decline in peer-to-peer socialization, and the increase in bullying in schools. Thus the case for Recess Coaches. "Critics have suggested," he writes, "that such coaching is yet another example of the over-scheduling and over-programming of our children...I'd probably have been opposed to recess coaches in the past. But childhood has changed so radically in recent years, that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students."

Granted, this is a very good point. If kids are getting up to no good in playgrounds during recess, or having trouble getting along, or - gasp - figuring out how to play, then having an adult out there probably is a sensible solution. Television and computers have moved kids indoors, he goes on to say, and this is largely why they are having trouble socializing with their peers: they are spending inordinate amounts of their spare time with electronic devices and not with the outside world. They have become, and this is in my words here, like dogs that aren't trained properly. You know, the dogs that lunge at you when you walk past them and growl. Dogs that bite other dogs or even people. Dogs that bark all day. Dogs that aren't properly socialized.

The issue of socialization is one of the top 2 albatrosses for most of us homeschooling parents. The other one is "if you aren't a teacher how can you teach?" I hear about socialization all the time, although certainly less these days than in the past. People felt no shame at all in asking me how I expected my children to be "socialized" if they weren't at school. There were many times when I wanted to ask them something extremely personal but I've been taught to keep my nose in my own business - and to be polite even if I was seething. Oh sure, there have been times when I've responded testily: "That's WHY we're homeschooling - it's Lord of the Flies in some of those schools! You think THAT'S socialization?" On the homeschool lists I'm on, it's certainly one of the first 'problems' new homeschoolers deal with, and everyone wants the perfect answer to "Well, how are your kids going to learn how to get along with other kids?" For what it's worth, there isn't a perfect answer, just your own good sense in knowing how to respond. And, as one homeschooler to another, please don't make us look bad by being rude, ungracious, or worse, cryptic. People can be really really stupid about asking questions, I agree, but you give us all a bad name if you act like an unsocial creature yourself.

Anyhow, after reading about Recess Coaches, and Last Child Left in the Woods, and that article at Brain, Child, I was left with one thing I didn't think had been properly addressed by anyone, including myself. You know, the proverbial elephant in the room. I'll give you three guesses what it is:

1. Computers? Television? Wiis?


2. Bad schools?


3. Not being out in nature?

Nope, although I'm sure it doesn't help

No, the elephant in the room is this: the parent. Where are all the parents in this? If kids are spending too much time inside with their various electronic devices, who's allowing them to do this? Who's buying these items for them? Who's leaving them to their own devices? Who's putting those things in their bedrooms, where they can access them day and night? Who's not hanging out with them, mentoring them, talking to them, making sure they are growing up as strong, responsible people the world will be glad to have around? Who's leaving them in day cares, after school programs, alone, without guidance?

The parents.

That's what some of these articles should explore: why we aren't such great parents anymore. Why our kids are growing up so anti-social, so into bullying other kids, so hooked on devices that aren't giving them anything but instant gratification second by useless second. The answer isn't Nature: the answer is spending more time being families. Or else you have to ask yourself why we had them in the first place.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Is Playtime Really Over?

(HT to Becky for the link to this article)

David Elkind, professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University, has an interesting piece in the March 26th issue of the NY Times, about "the culture of childhood" and its ever-changing form the world over:

"This culture, which is to be found all over the world, was best documented in its English-language form by the British folklorists Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s. They cataloged the songs, riddles, jibes and incantations (“step on a crack, break your mother’s back”) that were passed on by oral tradition. Games like marbles, hopscotch and hide and seek date back hundreds of years. The children of each generation adapted these games to their own circumstances."

Now, I wasn't actually aware of this 'culture of childhood,' before or after my own childhood, but when I'd finished reading the piece I felt sad that the culture I'd experienced was so radically different from what so many of today's kids are supposedly experiencing. I went to school in prehistoric times, mind you, when parents didn't walk/ride/drive their kids to school, nor did they generally pick their kids UP from school afterwards. We walked home, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. I remember crossing a little bridge each day, terrified that some of the Bad Kids would come up from underneath and throw rocks at me, something they were known for. I also remember being hit on the leg by a random firework while I rose my bike to school, the scar of which is still on my knee today. And I remember falling from a precarious position on a teeter totter, hitting my stomach so hard than I passed out I was so winded. No adults anywhere to be found. Did I care? Not really.

"For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools."

And while Mr Elkind's point is more concerned with the "link [between] the rise of television and computer games, the decline in peer-to-peer socialization and the increase of bullying in our schools" (which I LOVE seeing in print by the way, because I heartily agree with him), what drew my attention (and ruffled my feathers) was this statement:

"We have to adapt to childhood as it is today, not as we knew it or would like it to be."

Why? Why do we have to adapt? Just who's making the rules here? The kids? That thing known as "social pressure"? Or is this a thinly veiled "We haven't a hope in hell of redirecting their interests to anything more creatively social so get used to it." I don't like this conclusion one bit. Doesn't imply that we parents/teachers/adults are on the outside, looking in, forever out of step and unable to prevent our children from being swallowed up by some mindless National Zeitgeist? Do parents with kids in school just surrender to the "Recess Coaches" and hope for the best? I'm with Becky - be radical. You don't have to let your kids be submerged in the fetid waters of endless computer games, bullies at school, and seeing things like text-messaging taking over your family dinners. But it takes some effort, and that is probably why Mr Elkind comes to the conclusions he does: we humans aren't so great in the willpower department. But we really need to be more creative about this. Not only are imaginations at stake here, not to mention quality of life for everyone who has to live with all these maladjusted kids we're churning out, but think of the health issues our kids will see in 20 years, if they continue with this computer-obsessed lifestyle. Watch this is you don't believe me. And be thankful some people have different ideas about adapting to this new "culture of childhood."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Garden Thursday

I moved this arbor. Instead of it sitting in the middle of a bed where no one can walk through it (this never occurred to me - my mother pointed it out) I've now got it positioned as an entry to the vegetable garden.

I am waiting for the Westerland rose planted against it to take off. If you like orangey-gold climbers this rose is really beautiful. I bought it at a garden centre only because it was a) orange, and b) cheap, and instead of turning into one of those Regrettable Impulse Purchases it turned out to be a really nice rose.

In front of that arbor is a columnar apple tree my dad gave me. It's called Ultraspire. The handy thing about columnar fruit trees is that they can be grown in a tub or in a very tight area of the garden and they actually like it. I'm a little worried about this one because this is the third time I've uprooted it. First I thought "Oooh, this would look amazing in an oak barrel on that stupid ugly concrete slab over there." I plant the tree into an oak barrel and put it on the concrete slab. A week later I notice the wild green burgeoning of the Gravenstein apple tree beside it - but it's burgeoning all over the Ultraspire. I think, with a pang, "Ack! That poor Ultraspire is going to be drowned beside that Gravenstein!" So I move it. But if you've never moved an oak barrel full of tree, dirt, and wetness, let me just say that it's not an easy feat. After a few humiliating heaves and ho's I finally dug it out and planted it in the wheelbarrow, thinking "Another place will magically appear, til then it can sit here." Later that day I was moving the arbor and thought "Gosh, that Ultraspire would look amazing beside the Westerland rose!" One thing I did to move along the success of this final move was to add a lot of kelp and bone meal to the soil before plopping in the tree. That should help the roots from developing too much shock.

Here is Max dismantling an old bench a friend of mine gave me. Check out the wrought iron detailing! (uh-oh, I sound like a car fanatic "Look at those hubcaps!") My plan is to sand and paint the wood then reattach it, using the Handy Dandy Max of course.

And lookee here. It's the inside of a greenhouse. My mother bought my dad a huge hard-sided greenhouse the other day, so I inherited his old one. It's a bit weather-beaten but it's already made seed propagation so much easier. The cat likes to sit in here. Does that make him a Seed Guard Cat? He even made me put a concrete paver at the end so he can lay on the warm concrete when it's sunny.

Here's a shot of it at the end of the vegetable garden (makes it sound like it moves stealthily around the yard, doesn't it?). That red tape is from the 'weather-beaten' bit of its former life, when it was caught in a wind and had some of its cover shredded.

The twins and I planted a bunch of seeds the other day, and placed the containers on the shelves of this thing: carrots, lettuce, arugula, clary sage, milkweed, 6 different kinds of tomatoes, breadseed poppies, collinsia, peach hollyhocks, fennel, beans, and sweet peas.

And finally, some primroses. You SO need to stop buying those cheap 99¢ polys and get these English ones. They are head and shoulders above the others. And they aren't nearly as attractive to the slugs. At least, mine don't seem to be. And the colours! This one is red with yellow centres.

Well, that's it for garden action around here. I'm going to be thinking about installing watering systems soon, because I like having the beds on soaker hoses and timers, but I've yet to find a soaker hose that lasts. They all seem to develop little holes in them, rendering them rather unimpressive in the Soaker Department. I've cleared up almost all the winter debris, and I'm slowly working on removing all the Bishop's Weed from the side beds. Gosh that stuff is tenacious. Irritating, persistent, and horribly tenacious. Grows like buttercup but faster. When I'm done that I will move my ire to the vinca.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why DO We Need A Dictionary Of Old English?

Ammon Shea answers this question in the most delightful way, well, provided you like reading about nuances in language.

Semantic change waits for no man, indeed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Twittering Again

FDPG is going on a Brownie camp, so we're getting her gear together. I pick up her "sit upon" (something to sit around the fire on). Every other Brownie drew flowers and fairies on theirs; FDPG drew The Evil Head Man, Nasty Mr Pumpkin, and the Scary Octopus Man. This was BEFORE Dr Who. Just so you know...

Dominic, as he's getting his hair trimmed. Out on the deck in the sun. "I can't see in this light!" "This sun is too bright! Why do you have to do this when it's so bright?" "Ouch, you clipped my ear AGAIN! I'm going to BLEED to DEATH!" As is my wont, I ignore him because he does this each and every time. And then, right at the very end, I glimpse a teeny tiny speck of blood. I HAVE clipped his ear! Do I tell him? I decide not to. This kid is an elephant. He will remember the day I SHREDDED HIS EAR WILLYNILLY until the day I die.

Max, as he helps me load the wheelbarrow with soil, to move from the front yard to the back yard: "Oops, I just remembered - I have to go check my batteries. I'm recharging them. They might be ready now."

Nice try Max. Nice try.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Garden Thursday

New spot for the arbor. I moved it to make a bigger herb garden. Now this arbor acts as a sort of Entry Way for the vegetable garden. It is bordered on either side by golden roses: one side is a David Austin rose that I think is either Golden Celebration or Graham Thomas, and on the other side is a Westerland climber.

This is a checkered fritillaria: Fritillaria meleagris. They are just starting to bloom in earnest. When I saw the picture on the bulb package my first thought was "No WAY do these things look like this!" They were like some wonderful Alice In Wonderland chess board flower come alive but my deeply suspicious nature distrusted that picture - I've bought too many bulbs that looked incredible the first year and that first year only. Subsequent years they reverted to the sorry a$$ heritage they'd been crossed with, much to my irritation (mostly because I'd paid too much for too little and we all know how annoying that can be). But you know, these fritillarias really DO come up like this, year after year. Even better, they last for weeks and weeks, crisp and fresh the whole time. They start very very small, then oh-so-slowly creep higher and higher until you're amazed at how very tall they have suddenly grown, all the while maintaining that crazy chequerboard pattern. I've got them all over the place now, I love them so.

This is my week for transplanting. Here's the first plant I moved. It sat in a pot in my cold frame all winter, mostly because I couldn't think of anywhere to place it until it was too cold to put it in the ground. And now, with it bursting out of its pot, I was forced to. It's hardhack: Spiraea douglasii. I bought it last fall at the place where I get our fruit and vegetables. This place also has a little greenhouse section in the back and this poor plant was sitting pathetically in a cracked pot, looking old and dry. But that's not why I bought it: I bought it because it was 75% off. I can't resist nearly free plants. Plus I liked the name hardhack. My only dilemma is when I research it online: I bought a variegated version and I can't seem to match the tag on the plant with the names I find online. Time will tell if the flower is pink or not. I suspect not somehow.

My other major transplant was this pear tree. Now, I don't know where you live, but let me just say this - if you're ever in a garden centre and see a charming little pear tree sitting oh-so-prettily, with the even more charming name of Louisebonne, don't think back to your university days as a medievalist translating Chaucer, where pear trees in literature seemed to abound, oh no, do yourself a favour and get yourself over to the perennials. Busy yourself with a few blueberry bushes or some fancy hellebores or something, because pear trees are a PITA in these parts. They do this terrible blight-infested dance with the juniper bush, and everyone ends up getting rust. Very codependent. Rust, for the organic home gardener, is no fun. It involves picking off leaves and even worse: little to no fruit. There are a couple of options, though: 1) move the tree at least 100' from any junipers; 2) remove the junipers completely; 3) don't plant pear trees ever again, whilst glaring at neighbours who have thousands of feet of juniper hedges. I chose 1), although I was unable to find a single spot in my yard that was 100' from any juniper hedge, this being a juniper hedge-infested neighbourhood. I think I might have managed 55'. And here it is. According to my online sources, April is the cruellest month...I mean, April is the month when the juniper pollen is at its most potent, so if I was going to move this pear tree I'd need to have it moved by then. So I did. And here it is. In its new spot at the end of the yard. So far it looks really good: the blossoms are all breaking and nothing is drooping. Sigh. I was really looking forward to those Louisebonne pears. Apparently they are slightly pink and have none of the grainyness regular pears have. And it would have looked so atmospheric with my stuffed partridge come December...

If you've read this blog for any length of time (or if you know me IRL) you'll know that I live on a hill. The yard is big but it's also quite steep in sections. So I did like the Peruvians and terraced some areas. At first I used sod, in little half moons. This is a good solution if you have a small area and you don't mind the border being grassy. This section here, in the photo, is too large for a grassy border because I'd be constantly picking out the grass, so I had to find another edging material. I thought about cedar boards but I really wanted a solution that did not involve me buying anything. So I did the next best thing: I asked Max to give me bricks from his HO train fantasmagoria garden sculpture brick stash.
I started with the front walls and later added the side walls, with some strawberry plants added as decorative points. And a couple of stakes just in case of earthquakes. I know, I know, stakes on my brick beds will be the least of my worries if there is an earthquake.

Here's a bit of a closeup. I don't do mortar, because I have issues with total commitment, but I think these walls will endure long enough to settle firmly into place with each other.

Here's a detail shot: you can see my little pear tree down at the bottom, along with my crumbling compost bin. No rude remarks about the straightness of my walls, now...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good Day Sunshine

The day started off badly: the developer who bought the house next to us has, let us just say, difficulties being a foreman, and some of the tradesmen he's hired are making a hash of my yard as they traipse around doing their thing. So I spent some time this morning trying to make myself understood (and being reminded that there is still a very clear divide between some of the sexes). It's been a while since I've heard a man over the age of 25 actually say "Whoa, babes at five o'clock, dude!" while I've been standing next to him. While his ladder is firmly wedged in my fuchsia bed. While he's sitting smoking on my doorstep, quite oblivious about the fact that I might actually mind him sitting smoking on my doorstep.


Fortunately things went up remarkably from there. Max and I had the best conversation about his life today. I am not a person who plans ahead a whole lot, so I haven't been reflecting much about the impending teen years of my offspring, other than to think than that they can be trying for the rest of the family. As a result, dealing with this First Teen is sometimes unpredictable and inexplicably mysterious, not to mention frustrating. For those of you who either can't remember being a teen or don't have teens in your life, let me just say that at times it can be like living with a really really picky princess. An opinionated picky princess. I often reference this to Max, especially if he's being particularly princessy. Irony keeps the irritation down, you know.

"You are such a princess!" I say. To which he usually says "I am a BOY, BOYS can't be princesses." To which I usually say "Oh you are SUCH a rule breaker, you little princess you!"

Sometimes he laughs. Sometimes he rolls his eyes. Sometimes he stomps away. It sort of depends how he feels about being so woefully misunderstood.

Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I am completely serious. Sometimes I stomp away. It sort of depends how I feel about being the Servant Girl to his Princess.

Anyhow, we had a really great talk today. It really made up for the irritating Babe Boys next door.

This is the part that was glossed over in my Parenting Manual: what to do when they aren't babies anymore. Some of it comes easily; some of it doesn't. So when days like today come along, they really are an unexpected delight.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Have you read the book on which they based this film? I haven't, but Max has, so I am going by what he remembers, which is this: the plot isn't horribly different from the book. There are some key differences, which, if I had read the book, would probably drive me BATTY (which happened when we read/watched The Water Horse), but overall Max wasn't terribly bothered by any of the divergences. So I won't be either. Well, until I read the book, or listen while FDPG reads the book and tells me all about them and THEN be horrified about how callow and disastrous the changes are...

Calm down Sheila.

The story is this: Zeus, head honcho in Olympus, loses his lightening rod. There he is up there, in that picture. That rod in his hand is the very one he lost in the book. So you can see why he'd be so pissed. Goes nicely with the shield, although in the movie he was more of a long black coat, long blonde hair, cool scarf kind of guy. He was played by Sean Bean, whom we usually refer to as Seen Been, or Shawn Bawn (think about it - it'll make sense in a minute).

Anyhow, Zeus thinks that his brother's son has stolen his lightening rod. He's very annoyed about this, because losing his lightning rod means that he can no longer make lightning. Why this was an issue was beyond me, frankly, but it was obviously not an issue for the Movie Executives. They glossed over it in a matter of nanoseconds: I think it involved a toss of the head, a couple of brotherly shoves, and three very cold glares. If they could have inserted a Meagan Fox cameo, I'm sure they would have, even if this scene was on the top of the Empire State Building.

The brother in question, in case you tend to mix up your Greek Gods, is Poseidon. One of the Big Boys of Greek Mythology. Here is a picture of him rising out of the Mediterranean. He's pissed about Zeus' accusations, although from what I remember of the scene he doesn't seem very indignant about Zeus accusing his offspring and most of us in the movie theatre assumed that he figured his kid was the thief. I was more indignant about Poseidon's assumption of guilt than I was about Zeus' assumption of guilt, frankly, although both of those assumptions paled when I stopped to think about Omnipotence and God-like Abilities To See All and Know All, because surely they


Calm down, Sheila. Calm down.

Okay, so Poseidon is a fairly tough guy, played by the grimly charming Kevin McKidd of Rome. When he comes out of the waters in his Greek God outfit, complete with trident, and glares at some hapless fisherman, well, forget about Venus rising from the waves. Kevin, err, Poseidon, looks pretty darn cool. He stalks almost continuously from his initial entrance until the very last scene. I like a man who can stalk well.

Move on Sheila.

Turns out that Poseidon's kid is no mere God, but a part-human offspring, or demi-god. And his name is, in true Super Hero convention, is Percy. Percy Jackson.

Percy is your average disenfranchised Modern American Teen, who likes to sit underwater for minutes on end (helps him think), has issues with dyslexia, and is fairly conversant with terms like ADHD and "show some respect, man!" He has charming blue eyes, likes to argue about everything that happens to him, and is fairly likable, as far as the MAT thing goes. His accoutrements: sad-eyed, sad sack mother; initially-charming-but-later-cringe-worthy sidekick-slash-Protector friend; school principal-slash-centaur; and Hot Chick-slash-demi-god-slash-ultracool-fighter-friend, all have their good and bad moments, although I have to say that his mother (played by She Really Must Be Slumming Catherine Keener) is truly awful. Someone show that woman how to IRON. I need a little verisimilitude with my movies, puleeeze.

Anyhow, Percy, as the heroic convention goes, has to find the bolt, return it to Zeus, get some action with the Hot Chick, kill off the Baddies, and manage his angsty teen attitude, not necessarily in that order. Medusa makes an rather campy appearance, as does a very cool Hydra. There are a lot of absorbing CGI effects in this movie, effects that make the story line far more palatable than it otherwise would. Call me a complete killjoy, but I had the distinct feeling that the director didn't quite know who he was making the movie for: adults, children, or teens. And by this I mean: there are goofy, funny scenes involving kids running around being Cool Demi-God Fighting Heroes, exciting scenes involving Angry Gods being Angry Gods, dramatic scenes with monsters and lots of things getting smashed up, and distressingly mature scenes where the cast of High School Musical (on acid), Meagan Fox, and a couple of pole dancers wouldn't have gone amiss.

Poor Meagan Fox! What have you got against her?

The entire Transformers franchise, for one thing. And her complete lack of acting talent, for another.

Get on with this, Sheila.

Let's just say that watching a satyr do an ensemble dance routine (with a number of 'sexy chicks') as if he were a randy Michael Jackson kind of guy is quite cringe-making when one has taken one's 8 year olds to a movie that one assumed would be packed with action and not hormones. And let's just say that one doesn't usually expect Persephone to be dressed as a panting, slutty 18th century prostitute while she's in Hades (I won't even get into what I thought of Hades except to say that he had baroque pretensions of Rock Star Grandeur that might, just might have been amusing had I not been accompanied by my 8 year olds who were puzzled as to why Hades had such bad hair and why the satyr bleated whenever he was near Persephone). I felt like saying GET A ROOM ALREADY.

And let's not even get into why the satyr got his horns after spending time with Persephone in Hades. Oh my my. It was all Juvenile. Such a hackneyed male fantasy. I wanted action. Excitement. Dramatic tension. Pure fear. Terror, even. I did not want to watch a couple of boys have a Losing My Vir— movie.

Gosh, don't hold back, Sheila.

Sorry, Rick Riordan, but I was completely disappointed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Garden Thursday

The weather has really changed in the last week! We had days and days of balmy, sunny, mild weather. The Mason bees and bumble bees were emerging, my nectarine and peach trees are in full blossom, and all the hardy fuchsias (what a weird word to spell) are sprouting madly all over the place, giving me an opportunity to prune them for the first time ever (tip pruning to remove the dead wood from the winter). Then, just as quietly as it had arrived, the balmy weather disappeared, leaving us with cold wintry drafts. I rushed over to the garden centre to buy some manure to pile over the roots of the trees I'd been re-planting (to give them some heat) and then decided to plant the roses I had sitting in pots around the front yard. You can't see it from here but I now have a little climber (Lady Caroline, a variant of The Fairy) going up an aged pine tree, where I hope it will intertwine with Sandy's clematis, as well as another clematis (Mrs. N. Thompson), to create a sort of pinky, purpley, bluey spectacle.
Someone gave me a bag of lilies, which I planted in the above bed. This used to be the Lozenge Bed, and had a little oval of grass in the middle. It was very pretty but incredibly awkward to mow, and one day, in a fit of ARGH-ness I dug out all the sod and turned the inside Lozenge Grass into inside Lozenge Dirt. Things were even more awkward after that because it took me forever to figure out what I wanted from that bed: first I planted some roses but their thorny arms made it even more awkward to navigate the space; so I hauled them out and replaced it with some Irish and Scotch moss and tiles. Now it's a pleasant open space. So don't worry if a garden section isn't working for you: you can always dig things up and reposition them, as long as you follow the one cardinal rule of transplanting—take good care of the root ball.
Here is my usual transplant technique:
1. First, I dig the hole the plant is going to be moved to.
2. If it's dry, I fill that hole with water.
3. I then dig all around the plant, making sure I'm not cutting any major roots.
4. Place it onto a tarp or large shovel.
5. Take it to its new place. Then, before placing it in its new home, I sprinkle a couple of big handfuls of bone meal and kelp meal in the bottom of the hole. I position the plant and sprinkle another few sprinkles of bone and kelp meal over the roots. If I have some compost I fill the rest of the hole with compost. If I don't, I try to break up the old soil so it's soft and crumbly. In the summer I'll then water. This time of year I don't.
6. Oh, and when transplanting the adage is that you always keep the plant facing the same direction it faced in its old place.

In other news: primroses seem to be the new fad here. It's weird, I've never noticed so many new varieties before. Not only the usual poly. primroses, but the English primroses - which are taller, hardier, and less shiny with primary colour if that makes sense. They are far less likely to revert, too, so if you like primroses, the extra $ you'll pay for these English ones is well worth it. I've got a few that are springing up all over the place. I'm keeping the areas around them clear of debris, though, because the slugs are pretty enthusiastic right now.

Look at this before and after. A local gardener, who has a very useful garden guide for my area, gave me this tip: upend a terracotta pot on the rhubarb in early spring, to force it a little.

Here you can see the little nubs of rhubard, peeking out from the soil. The date is February 18th.

And here is the rhubarb after I suddenly remembered it! I was walking by and caught a glimpse of green leaf out of the top of the pot, and thought with a tinge of horror "OMG! THE RHUBARB! I FORGOT ABOUT IT!"
So I pulled off the pot, and look what I found.

I took this picture on March 7th.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Look Me In The...Eyes

Twittering Again

"Mum, you have to push the cart - I have to go do my business now"
Dominic at Home Despot. His "business" is to check for spare coins lying about. So far he's found about $35 in loonies and toonies on the floor - in the past 4-6 months. Found money. At big box stores. No wonder I don't give him allowance...

"MUM! Toffee is sitting on the most beautiful instrument in the world!"
FDPG, in response to the cat sitting on a little string harp we have, that is named exactly that: the most beautiful instrument in the world.

"But I wasn't going to throw it off the deck. I was just thinking about it."
Max standing on the deck holding the compost bucket over the compost bin. The distance between the two, let me stress, is about 30'. Not a target I was willing for him to contemplate. Yes, I realize I am a total killjoy.

"But you love me because I am such a delightful son. Right? Even if you can't admit it right now."
Max, in response to me seeing him wear his really super muddy shoes across the kitchen floor out onto the deck so he could toss a spider off said deck because I have a bit of a spider phobia. And guess who had to mop the kitchen floor? Grateful mother? Sigh. The things we do.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


If it isn't enough that our Island honeybee population has apparently been hit badly by bee mites:

Vancouver Island beekeepers are reeling from the worst commercial honeybee die-off in recent memory, with some estimating almost 90 per cent of colonies have been wiped out in the last few months.

Many blame a harmful parasite called varroa mites that has become immune to some pesticides, and fear the shortage of bees could affect spring pollination.

“The amount of bees that have been lost is just phenomenal,” said Sol Nowitz, a veteran commercial beekeeper who breeds bees and produces honey at the Jingle Pot Apiary in Nanaimo. “It’s the biggest catastrophe to kill bees on the Island ever.”

Our Mason bees have started hatching. Here is one here, drying its wings. Why this is so sad is because our weather went from a balmy 18ºC on Saturday to a frigid 2ºC last night. It's COLD. And all those lovely little Mason bees are out in that cold. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will survive this cold snap.

Here's another shot. You can see the mud at the bottom of this bee house, with a bee on the tile in front. It's basking in the warm sun. And now it's cold and wintry out there.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Tale of Time City

Finished this last week. I was expecting not to like it, because it was a bit more SF-y than her usual stuff, but her characters were, as always, so individual that I couldn't help but get quite engrossed in it. The kids were all enthusiastic, but then, they like everything of hers. The only DWJ book I probably won't read them is Time of the Ghost. It's a bit on the Creepy Weird side and FDPG is a bit young for that, Weeping Angels not withstanding.

The story is this: young girl being evacuated from war-time London, in 1939, is kidnapped by two boys (from a future place called Time City) who think she is a Time Lady. At this point in the story we aren't sure who this Time Lady is, nor are we sure if she's a good person or not. All we do know is that these two boys hold her responsible for manipulating history so that is is reverberating in very bad ways. They take her back to Time City with good intentions of Bergmanesque proportions. Can I say "chaos ensues" without it sounding too clichéed? Or "the kids save the day after many a mishap"? Because that's pretty much what happens. There's even an android. And a revolt in Canada, of all places (Canadians? revolting? surely she jests). Time ghosts. Butter pie. Pajamas instead of street clothes. It only gets curiouser and curiouser from there.

Academy Awards Recap

Did you watch them last night? I did. I always do. I've watched them for so many years that it's almost a habit. Some years we have a party with friends; some years it's a solo affair, because I'm the only one in my house who really likes watching all 4,000 hours of them. Oh wait, I lie: this year FDPG and Richard hung around, although we had to send FDPG to bed because she was seriously flagging, even with those obnoxiously enforced 45 second speech rules. What was with that? Killjoys, those producers.

Anyhow, I've found a few photos to illustrate what I think is best and worst about a movie awards show. But first let me say that I thought the director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, had all the right attributes of an Award Winner: she was breathless (I like it when they seemed shocked and amazed), she was humble, she seemed genuinely nice, and she had a pretty decent speech considering. I did, however, get a little irritated with Richard, who, after each category had its winner, would say things like "Who do you think would have given the best acceptance speech?" I used my stock reply: "The Brit." Fortunately there was one in each category.

Let me also express my extreme indignation with those turkeys who thought it would be a good idea to cut the mike off when the second or third winner attempted to give a thank-you speech. Boys, here's the deal: there is a difference between shortening a bloated boring awards show and taking away the possibility of anyone saying anything remotely memorable. What you did was to cut up an already dull event and you didn't even have the wit to replace it with something interesting. Interpretive dance? Blech. Actors introducing the nominated movies? Boooooring. I want unexpected! I want gasp-inducing (but not, let me hasten to add, when it involves Mariah Carey or Miley Cyrus)! I want original and unusual!

Okay, now let me give you a brief synopsis of some dresses.

Someone give this girl some Spanx. Or at least someone who can honestly tell her not to wear clothing that is too small for her (without her later killing them or flattening them). This is not a good look. Mariah, if you were to hire me I would tell you that you do not have a very realistic self-image. And that you shouldn't inhale quite so deeply when you are posing. And that you need some chest deflators.

Miley Cyrus. Sorry, I simply cannot include a photo with this terrible excuse for an entertainer. This girl used this phrase "lots of glitter everywhere" and "it looks SO classy" in the same speech. And her sister, who is about 10, looked like a very trashy 30 year old hooker. Bad. Bad. Bad. I was horrified and highly irritable looking at those two. Where are their parents? Bad parents. Very bad parents. Good parents do not pimp out their children. Do not pass go. Do not collect $50.
Be still my beating heart! Gosh, I like this guy. He's such an amazing actor, even if he does have his troubles with drugs. Let's just all breathe a sigh of relief that he isn't dead yet.

Do I really need to say anything about this gem of a woman? I aspire to have hair as good as hers one day. Among other things.

Here is Richard's girlfriend. Not that he'll admit it, of course. But when she shows up on screen he sits up straight and tidies his hair. So I refer to her as his girlfriend. There is the kind-of-weird issue of her being a brunette and me being a blonde, but if he can deal with my Doctor Who obsession I can deal with the brunette thing. Besides, she is one hot chick. At least he has good taste, right?

What is with this dress? I think someone lost their streamers from Chinatown. These look like the ones I get for the twins on their birthday. I stretch them out over the garden and they look supremely gorgeous, but this is definitely an odd look. Even for me. Highly tactile, but weird.

I know this is a very LOUD and BOLD look but it was my favourite dress. Not my favourite colour, but it was so shiny and multi-hued I loved it nonetheless. I had a hard time dragging my gaze away, it had so many, err, layers to it. I'd put this on a cake or present any day. I'd even take a stab at wearing it. I think this could be a good look for a visit to Home Despot, don't you? To pick up some chicken manure?

Do you know who this is? Then you cannot be a True Doctor Fan. Her name is Carey Mulligan. Now she is An Ingenue With A Bright Hollywood Future. But before she was AIWABHF she was...

...Sally Sparrow. And yes, that is her hair. She was in a Stephen Moffat-penned episode of Doctor Who entitled Blink (don't you love how I can bring everything back to Doctor Who?). It was one of the scariest of the scarier episodes. It was so scary that I might I have to make myself a Weeping Angel one day, for the garden. Just to scare the bejesus out of everyone when it's dark and we're out dashing around in the night. FDPG's Dr Who poster has those Weeping Angels on it, and every night, before they go to bed, the twins say the same thing:

"Is it true that Stephen Moffat is going to bring back the Weeping Angels in the new Doctor Who?"

Sadly, Sally Sparrow will probably be too busy to do a cameo for this hypothetical future episode. But the Doctor knew. He knew this would happen. One day.

Here he is, trying to tell Sally that she should not leave to seek her fortune in Hollywood. "Don't go!" he is saying, "you will only regret how shabbily they treat you. When you win awards they will cut you off in mid-speech. They will serve you cheap champagne. Expect you to laugh at cheesy jokes and act in sub-standard material. You will regret leaving me. Whatever you do - do NOT go to Hollywood."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Garden Thursday

We were at a multicultural lunch today, with some homeschooling friends, and afterwards we all segued to a park to continue watching the boys thug it out with a football against the girls playing, then we dashed home and dashed out again to track, so I didn't do much garden thinking today. I did take a few pictures, just in case.

It continues to be bizarrely mild here, as you can see from the nectarine blossoms. There are no bees around to pollinate it but luckily it doesn't need bees: it's self-fertile (no rude comments now). And speaking of bees, we've redoubled our watch on the Mason bee houses, because some of them look as though they've had some tunneling action going on. They are the first bee out in our yard. If you have a lot of fruit trees and shrubs I would definitely recommend getting yourself some Mason bee houses: they are solitary, mild-mannered and ferocious pollinators. Check out this website if you like persuasive statistics. And making a Mason bee house is the easiest thing in the world if you have some plywood and a table saw. Or a really clever Dremel.

Here is the peach tree, just starting its flowering season. This tree was sheltered by a couple of climbing roses, which seemed fine during the cold winter months but now, with spring starting, it's not so fine. I am pruning all the roses, as per this book, because I didn't last year and when I realized that I should have they were already branching out every which way, and it was too late already. This might sound odd, but pruning really goes against my grain. It just doesn't seem right to take perfectly good branches away from something. Then again, the last couple of years with lots of roses and a couple of old fruit trees (that have been heavily pollarded) have taught me that some things really DO do better with a good pruning. (it seems like there should be a really good joke there, doesn't it?)
The irises are done, the crocuses are just about over, and now the daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are starting. It's all suddenly so YELLOW out there.

Oh, and wonder of wonders, remember me moaning on about my finicky fritillarias? Well, I eat my words, because looky what we have here. (do I sound like Yukon Cornelius yet?) Methinks I saw a fritillaria.

A pasque flower, soft and delicately purple. This is the miracle plant right now, because I yarded it up in the fall, intending to move it elsewhere, and I forgot all about it. So it sat, in a clump, under the rhododendron, until January when I was struck with horror by the sight of it sitting there so woefully. So I moved it over to where I had just planted some apothecary roses. I sat it on the dirt, in preparation for planting, and forgot all about it. Until today, when I noticed that it had suddenly bloomed. Despite my care. Poor pasque flower. Forgive me. I was not saving you for breakfast, I was planning on planting you. You are so sweet and so cold. (ack, stop it with the bad poetry allusions already!)

Some English primroses. Nice to see them undecimated by the slugs.

Finally, some Purple Sprouting Broccoli leaves. Gaze on them in all their unchewed glory. I've stuck them in the food processor with carrots, green onions, and mayo for a coleslaw; eaten them raw; and chopped them up in a stir-fry. All very good. We're not big on brassicas in this house but we all like these a lot.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, & Wintersmith

We read these over Christmas and I completely forgot to mention them, but now that I have a spare moment I'm going to mention them, because they are an impressively fun read.

We have a few Terry Pratchett books, after having had them recommended to us (the first two books in the Discworld series and another called Only You Can Save Mankind), but I have to say that while I appreciated the run-on
sentences in the Discworld books (I am a big fan of the run-on, can you tell?), they were so complicated and so mature that I attempted to read them then put both back into the bookcase all in the space of about 30 minutes. And none of the kids complained. I resolved to read them later, on my own, just to see what they're like.

We read Only You Can Save Mankind, which everyone enjoyed well enough, but it certainly didn't get the same response that the Tiffany Aching series got. For one thing, the plot centers around a boy who plays a lot of video games, and reading BLAM BLAM KERPOW over and over again, not to mention the ZINGS and BEEPS, got slightly tedious for me, sad to say. Plus, it featured an old version of the Video Game (black screen anyone?) and even the Teenager had no idea what THAT was all about, so most of the significances were lost on them. It had a plot that drew us in, and lots of humour, but I was relieved when it was over.

The Tiffany Aching series (Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith) though, was so wonderful we were all unabashedly thrilled at the sight of JUST the covers each and every morning. Everyone loved these so much that I bought them one after the other. Once morning we even made a beeline to the bookstore right after finishing Hat Full of Sky, and FDPG gasped out loud when she spied it on the shelf. I even overheard her a few times whispering "The Wintersmith" to herself in the morning before I started reading. We could hardly wait to get to the next one. I pulled a rich Scots accent out, to imitate the Nac Mac Feegle (miniature blue Scots fairies who seem most enthusiastic when drinking and fighting and swearing at each other, characteristics guaranteed to convulse almost any kid), and the kids were enthralled (even the Teenager, who I thought would scorn this book, because the protagonist is a GIRL). It was particularly sweet for FDPG, being as how most of our reading seems to involve an awful lot of boys. Or men. And here we had a girl, nine years old in the first book and thirteen by the time the events in Wintersmith take place, a capable, clever and cool-in-the-face-of-most-dangers, girl. And not just any girl, but a witch-in-training.

So there you go. I won't give you more plot, but I will encourage you to try them out. Best for ages 7-14 when used as a read aloud.