Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Name of the Rose

I was introduced to David Austin roses a few years ago by the neighbour of a friend. She had recently divorced and was seeking to rid herself of ex-husband memories, and asked my friend if he wanted a couple of roses her ex had planted in between their houses. My friend didn't want them but he knew of my inability to refuse a free plant, so he called me and the two of us went over to dig them up.

It was a difficult task removing those roses, mostly because they had been planted against a house and beside a concrete driveway, in a very small amount of soil. They were leggy and thorny and getting them out was fraught with disaster: we broke roots, we had to prune them fairly drastically, and one had grown so far under the driveway we ended up having to just yank it out, breaking the root almost to nothing. I got them home, sank them into buckets of water and bone meal and kelp meal, and transplanted them, hoping they'd survive.

Fortunately they both took immediately. Then came the task of finding out what their names were.  Those first blooms were so beautiful and so fragrant and so amazingly gorgeous. They were everything I thought a rose should be and everything my current roses weren't. I poured over the online David Austin catalogue and even took a bloom to a local rose supplier to narrow down my choices. Obsessive, me? Well, Maybe a little.

 The yellow rose was easy: Was it Golden Celebration or Graham Thomas? The rose grower and I both decided it was Golden Celebration. (I can see some of you snickering, stop that now) The other rose was more difficult and this was where it became rather more fascinating, because the colour changed slightly as the rose settled in. At first I thought it was Shropshire Lad, but this year I realized it couldn't be, so back to the catalogue I went. Now I think I've found the name: Lady Emma Hamilton. What do you think? Is this the name of my rose? Keep in mind that the catalogue photo is enhanced a bit, whereas mine was taken on my deck this morning by mine own hands (and mine own vastly cheaper camera).

Lady Emma Hamilton was Horatio Nelson's lover, according to the David Austin catalogue, and this rose was named to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Rather apt, I think, because I've always called these two roses my Divorce Roses (because they came to me as the result of a smaller but no less significant battle of their own).

David Austin's Lady Emma Hamilton

Monday, June 25, 2012

Where Time Goes

Another chunk of time has slipped by without a post, I see. And yet the days are so busy: I've discovered Gardener's World magazine, Max is writing high-school exams, Dominic and FDPG are deep in grade 5 angles (second time round and I STILL don't like them, lol, they seem so, well, so  pointless), and the garden is growing quite well considering the gloom that has been our June.

High school exams?

How did that happen? It just crept up on us all, home-high-schooler included.

This morning Max and I walked down to the local high school so he could write the grade 10 English exam with other grade 10s (this is the way distance learning schools operate here). We walked through the crush of students on our way to the gym. I was surprised at the atmosphere, having mostly experienced some of these students at the tiny shopping centre adjacent to the high school. That crowd, the kind that buys slices of pizza from the pizza shop and tankers of pop from the grocery store, defines the word INSOLENT perfectly: they loiter in the middle of the outside walkways, are zealous swearers, and are obnoxiously oblivious to anyone outside their little gaggle of cronies. So I was prepared for some jostling but it was oddly genteel in that hallway. Even Max was surprised, which was even more surprising given the fact that he was preoccupied with the idea of taking his First Official Exam ever.

Watching him study for these exams gives rise to all sorts of reflective Homeschooling Parent Moments, mostly in the What Would I Do Differently? vein.

Did we do enough reading and writing? Well, he's quite a good writer but I wish that he'd done more reading. At one point during his adolescence we locked horns on the whole topic of reading, with him insisting that he was "just not a reader" (a little toss of the head thrown in for good measure). So, taking my cue from everyone who told me Pick Your Battles! I picked this as one of the battles I wasn't going to engage in; it soured the atmosphere and made us resent each other. When all was said and done, I thought, he was a good kid doing all his other work without any quibble. I decided not to stress about it. He'll come round, everyone said. I hope so, I thought. Instead, I assigned essays and the odd short story but left the topic of books alone. He did not come round. He read computer and music magazines, joke books, and all our Horrible History books, but not much else, unless, again, it was assigned. With two other kids to do school with I eventually forgot my angst. Then he signed up with a distance learning outfit and the first thing he had to do was read a few books. This gave rise to much hilarity: me finding it mildly cathartic; him feeling a bit OMG-ish, not to mention a tad sheepish. "I wish you'd made me read!" he said to me once, to which I replied "remember that phrase when we start calculus!"  Now he's discovering for himself why being a reader is so critical: it doesn't just help expand one's vocabulary - it also adds to one's depth of comprehension. Because, as I like to drone on and on tell the kids, "you can't learn in a vacuum!" If you don't read a lot of literature you don't get all those sideways tangents, meandering trails, and interesting perspectives (especially the ones that might differ from your own), especially the ones that come up time and time again in other places: books, newspaper articles, interviews, conversation, university courses. You also miss all those cultural references and touchstones that pop up - even if it's a minor Biblical reference in a Margaret Atwood novel - you miss it. We have some summer plans that include reading more, although if Richard gets his way there is a list of Recommended (by Dad) Classics hovering in the background.

Did we do enough math? Yes. Math is one of those areas where it's hard to overcome bad curriculum, a lack of comprehension, or a lack of practice quickly, particularly when faced with an unfamiliar textbook and a number of timed exams (not to mention being graded on them, eeks). For that we have Singapore Primary Math, Singapore Challenging Word Problems, Singapore Home Educator Manuals, and Chalkdust Math to thank (not to mention my friend Mrs Deeply Suburban). We couldn't have done it without you all. Come for tea sometime. I'll even serve cookies.

Would I do the classical route again? Yes, yes, and yes! All that poetry memorization, narration, word root study, and copywork, started early on, gave him a very solid grounding in listening carefully, grasping the meaning of unfamiliar words, writing clearly, and organizing his thoughts cogently, not to mention being a whiz at memorization. Plus, the chronological 'living books' history study gave him a decent understanding of what went on way back when and who invented what and why. He's learned that history is less a bunch of wars and heros and more a long and infinitely fascinating thread of people, times, and places. And no, we did not censor our history studies to cut out the nasty bits. Google 'bowdlerization' and you'll find out why I am firmly against the 'focus only on the positive' study of history. You're short-changing your children with that method, trust me.

Did we do enough? Well, yes and no. As anyone who homeschools their kids will know, it's hard enough being a parent, let alone being a parent AND an educator, and frequently those worlds collide, sometimes happily, other times unfortunately (give or take a little puberty, lack of sleep, additional siblings, broken appliances, or outside drama). Sometimes I let things go. Sometimes the other siblings needed more help. Sometimes we were sick. Sometimes I needed to see the latest Miyazaki movie more than I needed to know that they fully understood fractions. Give and take. Ebb and flow. Off and on. Use whatever metaphor applies best. Interestingly, while I was standing in the gym watching Max sign up for his exam, I felt pretty good about the last 8 years of homeschooling, despite its ups and downs: he's a really good person, he's helpful, he looks you in the eye when he talks to you, and he realizes the value of applied effort. He's also managed to get a series of straight As despite never having been graded before, too. In the long run that's really all I wanted out of this journey. A nice kid I was proud of. What's better than that?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Random Garden Happenings

 We worked in the garden for much of the weekend, not because the weather was glorious and we were all panting to be out there grubbing in the soil, no no no. We were out there because:

a) everything in the greenhouse was rootbound because I'd left it, waiting for the warmer weather.

b) everything on the deck was rootbound because I'd left it, waiting for the warmer weather.

c) the soil was wondering where the hell all the plants were, not realizing that we were waiting for the warmer weather.

d) I bribed the kids to get out there and slave away with help me. I used freezies (for the twins) and cold hard cash (for the teenager). Easy, relatively cheap, and extremely effective.

This is what the teenager did. He turned over all three of my compost bins (which is why he got cold hard cash and not a mere freezie for his efforts). After we sieved it that compost was a thing of beauty. Methinks even Martha would have used it in her (extensive and heart-rendingly fabulous) gardens.

We had about 8 wheelbarrow loads. The rhubarb got the first load, because it was suffering from a lack of attention. Then the fruit trees, the tomatoes, the empty beds, and the peas, in that order.

When we had the first barrow load sieved I made Dominic come and admire, because he and FDPG had recently done a Compost Presentation for 4-H. They put in a lot of time studying the mechanics of making compost and making up a very lively demonstration, complete with costumes and signs and models, for the competition. Amazingly, they won the District Demos with this presentation. Their presentation rocked the big one, if I may say so, so I figured he would be interested in seeing how our compost changed so drastically over the winter.

"Wow!" he said. "I didn't think it would really do that."

Yes, he really did say that. Fortunately there was a big screened window in between us, or that barrow load of compost might have winged its way onto his head.
FDPG took a lot of photos, when she wasn't slaving away with her freezie. Oops, I meant working in the garden. It's hard to know sometimes just what she's getting up in the garden.

I like this shot. In case you're wondering what it's a shot OF, well, I'll tell you: that wheel is part of a pulley system that lets a bucket go up and down from our deck to the back yard. It's a very handy way of getting produce into the kitchen, stat.

Another in the fabulous line of David Austen roses. This one is Evelyn, of Crabtree fame. It's very delicately apricot.
My new cucumber trellis. I'm thinking of painting it a very unusual blue. Any thoughts on this? Don't hold back now, although I should say that I have nixed yellow, black, white, and red at this point. I'm leaning towards an unusual blue or some kind of glow-in-the-dark green.
A Maltese Cross. Not many people grow them but they are an exceptional plant for the herbaceous border.

Yes, I really DID just say herbaceous border. I must be hitting my dotage or something, because that term is starting to roll off my tongue rather easily of late.

Finally, a Westerland rose. I've had this rose for three years and this year it's been positively spectacular. As in shocking amounts of bloom. As in intoxicating scents wafting across the yard. As in healthy green leaves waving about in the breeze, framing those indecently gorgeous blooms so perfectly.