naked cranberry neighbour oatcakes

Okay. What is it with nekkid neighbours? On any given day, without fail, somebody out there searches for “naked neighbour” and comes to my site.

The only thing on my site that’s searched for more often is “cranberry oatcakes”.

The reason that “naked neighbours” brings searchers to my blog is that I have neighbours who, when the weather is warm, live largely outside in direct eye view of my desk. They’re loud, and apparently unaware of the fact that other people can see and hear them. I even designed a header just for them! I kinda stopped writing about them though, it felt kinda icky.

Recently, my exceedingly handsome and handy husband put a new outlet into the south wall of my office, which allowed me to move my desk. I don’t have to look at the Next-to-Naked-Neighbours now. I try not to, I really do. They still don’t seem to grasp  the idea of window treatments, and I can tell you with a fairly high degree of accuracy what kind of orange juice he takes out of the fridge at night… when he opens it and the room is bathed in fridge-light, I can’t help but be able to see, if chance puts me in view of it. I love my sun room/office, but I avoid it at night so I don’t have to see them, and I avoid it on warm days because  I may hear their overly-loud cell phone conversations, smell their cigarette smoke, or (no, pleeeeease no!) hear those immortal words screeched from husband to wife in the driveway: “HEY?!  YOU ON THE TOY-LET?”

Actually, I kind of ignore that side of the house, now, to be honest. They recently cut down a lot of the foliage and trees in-between our houses, so in order to feel private, I have to look the other way. They built a giant addition that lacks symmetry; it’s not my business.

I understand them, sort of. They’re really involved in improving their property, and their house. They’re building, and really industrious. They probably don’t really think about my house, and the fact that they’ve made it almost impossible for me to not see into theirs. Maybe they’re bitching about me too, who knows? I want them to have some privacy, so I can have some. That requires that I not look over there, and that maybe I’ll have to just not look in that direction. It’s what we do, when we live in close proximity, right?

My blind eye is turned.

But really, I digress.

As interesting as they are, they aren’t the point. What I want to know is this:

Why, in the name of all that’s in a birthday suit, do so many people Google “naked neighbours” so often? Even more to the point: why, when there are about 2,270,000 results in 0.27 seconds (I checked) for that phrase, do they click-through to little ‘ole Box 761? I’m not even on the first page of searches!!

It’s very strange, and I spend just a little time each day musing about it. The only thing that really gives me hope is that Google has 271,000 hits for cranberry oatcakes.  It’s not 2

maybe I should be aiming for that intersection between the two?

million, but it’s a respectable number. I’m not sure what the demographic is of my readership, such as it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s more the oatcake crowd than the naked neighbour group.

Just FYI, here’s the post about oatcakes. They’re good. Really good. And FYI, I’m not at all anti-naked. I like naked. Just not in the adjoining yard, whilst smoking and arguing on the phone with power tools in hand. Or, like, without window treatments and getting an early evening OJ from the fridge.

It’s all about choices, really.

I killed my cat, and other stories: Box 761 Death Edition.

Okay. I’m using that title to shock you.

Doesn’t mean I didn’t do it, but the preferred term is “euthanize“. Sounds much nicer, right?

Bo 1996-2011

Bo was my cat, but before he was mine he was my mother’s. He was a 24-toed (normal cats have 18), black-and-white puppy-like cat who was the charismatic and goofy reminder to me, daily, of my sweet, complicated, and sometimes troubled mother.

Shortly after Mom was diagnosed with the lung cancer that would eventually kill her  she and I had a chat about chats… they were great company, and therapeutic. I lived a 4 hour drive away and worried about her through the week – lonely, ill, alone. I told her they could help lower one’s blood pressure, etc. It was a short conversation, nothing really meaningful.

The next weekend  when I arrived at her house, there they were: two kitties. Oh I wish I could find their kitty pictures; they were so very cute. Bo was awkward – how many awkward kittens do you know? From the start he was  such a character.

She was delighted with her tiny charges (too young to be away from their mother, I always thought). She bought them in Perth, maybe Smith’s Falls (?) – towns I for some reason always get confused.  Whatever. She got them from a pet store (kitten farm, I always figured) in one of those places, anyway. I guess it doesn’t matter much, though not having that small detail bothers me, a bit.

Mr. Bojangles (because he’s polydactyl and tap danced when he walked) and his sister Shirley Temple brought a lot of delight to my mother. Shirley was the brains of the operation, you could see her try to herd Bo towards the food when it was time to eat (otherwise, we weren’t sure he’d find it, to be honest). They were delightful and sweet and really a completely ill-conceived purchase, but who cares, right?

my beautiful mother, 1935 - 1996

Three  too-short/too-long months later my mother was dead, and we were exhausted.  It was a hard death, and a painful three months leading up to it.

I was so out of it that the day we were supposed to finalize things with the funeral home I parked my car downtown and locked the keys in it – still running – and I didn’t notice. It ran out of gas in downtown Brockville while we tried to kill time before my long-suffering big sister had to go take care of business. That’s one of those stories that you never actually look back on and laugh at (I’m sorry again, Nancy, I really am).

It’s just kind of sad.

I can barely remember anything because of the weird white-noise in my head at that time, the hyper-surreality of it all. To this day, there are things I am not sure I’m remembering correctly; I just can’t get a grasp on them entirely.

It wasn’t easy, and it never is, losing someone.

What it is though, is weird. It’s weird getting used to someone taking medicine, or being in hospital not to get better but to fight death, to prolong the time before the inevitable. It’s weird feeling some relief when your loved one dies, but it’s better than watching them suffer.

That was an awful time. A time of confusing emotions and fear and pre-emptive loss. We had a complicated relationship, my mother and I, so it follows that her death was not simple for me. I loved her fiercely, but was often just confused by her otherness to me. I think she felt the same way. She once told me that I was too much like my father, perhaps that’s it.

She was in a lot of pain, and drugged, and often loopy; she was angry and vindictive and scared and sweet and confused and funny. She got paranoid, and plain nasty sometimes – I remember after a particularly obnoxious statement to me I hissed to her that I hoped it wasn’t the last thing she ever said to me, because she’d regret it. For both of us, I am thankful that it wasn’t.

Oh, the pain we cause those we love, right?

Don’t worry, there was sweetness too – many goodbyes and late night talks beside her bed – not about anything important, just talking and trying to be normal in a decidedly abnormal twilit hospital room. We talked a lot about her lost babies – too many, miscarried and lost, so many babies and so many lost dreams. We talked about whether she would see her babies in heaven, whether they would be grown or not. We decided that heaven is whatever you want it to be. I hope she met them there, and is having coffee and figuring crossword puzzles with them all right now.

But by then end of it, I was wrung out, and had stepped back from it a bit. You can’t sustain the emotional rollercoaster that someone’s  death creates without stepping back, sometimes. I couldn’t anyway.

So, she died. It wasn’t like on tv, people – it’s hard work to die, to take that last breath, to allow yourself to give up your ghost.  She laboured at it, and it was awful, even with the help of (a lot of) morphine to ease her way.

And yesterday, a coddled and comfortable fifteen years and 5 months later, Mr. Bojangles was stroked and whispered-to while our lovely vet Bruce reverently and gently sent him to sleep in my arms.

huh.

I’m not going to belabour the point here – you know what I’m getting at, right? I will be able to remember Bo’s death in a way that I cannot do my mother’s, and it’s not only because well, he’s just a cat. Those last too-short months of my mother’s life were so crazy, so full of fear and anger and love and loss and confusion over her care, her pain, her struggle. We did what we could, but it’s hard to have meaningful, pure memories of a time so full of conflicting emotions. With Bo, I had time to prepare, to love him extra-hard, to let him go before it all got too hard and it was muddied with pain and fear.

The choice to euthanize Bo was not one I took lightly, and it caused me pain. I cried about it – I’m not ashamed to say. He was senile, and still didn’t always know where his food was; he meowed and mewled and howled and caterwauled through the night; he was becoming incontinent. He’d lost weight, and his heart murmur was getting worse…. He still had some quality of life:  quiet moments, sleeping on the guest bed, cuddling on my lap at night, playing sometimes with the other cat.

The arithmetic of it was that Bo’s quality of life was declining and there were more bad times than good. He was not going to get better.

So I did what I needed to do, for him and for me. We will all miss him very much; he was one of our family. I am easeful, though, in my mind that he had a good life, and a good death.

Rest in Peace, my Boo Boo Kitty, and say hi to Mom for me, okay?

Box 761: Special Needs Edition

One of three most precious to me, and the centre of my biggest silence

More interesting than what people write about, sometimes, is what they don’t write about. All sorts of things can inhabit those silences.There have been whole months when I’ve written nothing, and there’s usually a reason for that. And when I do write, there are some things that I don’t mention.

The yawning silences in Box 761 have been largely constructed to obscure disability: my (step)daughter’s disability and how we all work together to accommodate it, and our reactions to a world that doesn’t always accommodate itself to her needs….

One reason I didn’t write about it was that it didn’t really feel like my story to tell — it’s hers, right? And I kind of wanted to make “Box 761” a place where that particular issue wasn’t always at the forefront – a place where my story lived.  So, when I started writing here I was just coming off a long period of working in the disability community, volunteering in the disability community, and mothering in the disability community of Box 761, and I wanted to write about all the other things that are me.

Disability has a way of taking over if you let it.

I  was also uneasy – worried about falling into a “mommy blog” pigeon-hole. Or into the even smaller, deeper “special needs mommy blog” hole. It was important I carve out a spot for myself, somehow.

I forgot, though, that mothering has become who I am, not only what I do. It’s not all of me of course, but it’s a big lovely rewarding frustrating boring challenging awe-inspiring part of what I do every day. It’s a privilege to do, especially since these gorgeous women who I mother aren’t my biological children, but are instead a gift given to me first by Mr. 761 and second by those amazing children themselves.

Jeez. add the husband in Kandahar and you’ve got a Lifetime Movie of the Week!

(Daughter Number Two will warrant her own post later — she’s leaving us to go away to school soon and no doubt I’ll be in a teary empty-nest mood one day and write a sappy love post to embarrass and secretly please her. Plus, we need to discuss how much of her I can, you know, discuss.)

Here’s the thing, though. Being a (step)mother has completely altered my life. Vicky’s disability has completely altered my life, altered how I see the world, how the world sees me. So it is also my story,  and I guess it’s time to talk about it a bit.

Vicky and I talked about it the other day, and she told me that she didn’t care what I wrote about, and that she’s fine with it all. She just started her own blog, too, so if you’re interested click here to meet my fine (step)daughter in person…. Today she wrote an especially fabulous, funny poignant and strong blog. It made me run back here to this  draft and start working again. I’ve started this more than once, and it’s tough slogging for some reason.

When I read specialneedsmommyblogs I tend to think they fall into a few different categories: the ones that make mommy seem like a Saint (and while my halo is a bit shiny, I’m definitely no Saint, lemme tell ya); the ones that are all about how Inspirational and Special their child is; the ones that have an overt religious message (like, “Billy’s being born with his eyes turned inward and flippers instead of knees is a Gift from God”… um, yeah, some gift, Thanks a lot God. Did you keep the receipt?). There’s also AngryBlog (with a lot of “why’s?” and not enough “how’s), the SappyBlog, the CheeryBlog….

You get my point. I know I’m not being entirely fair here, and I think that what I mean is that none of those felt to me like blogshoes I could fit into. I’m just not sure how to be authentic, how to fit all of these different sides into one blog space. I  knew that writing was therapeutic for me, and wanted to explore that first. What’s funny is that writing about her is probably the best therapy in many ways. Wonder what took me so long to get to that point?

So, as much as I may not want to be a “mommy blogger” (whatever that is – and many  heartfelt apologies to all those women out there who want the label), there are days when I want to write about this very important part of my life. It is important, and it is worth talking about. And let me tell you – “stepmother” is not always an easy role. And while I’ve been  so utterly fortunate in that – there was a hole to fill, and I stepped  right into it, into their arms – there’s a whole book in that, I can assure you.

All that said, “Special-needs-step-mommy-blogger” seemed just a little too unwieldy, yeah?

some days, it's just there - it is what it is and it's part of the normal routine.

Vicky’s disability is both straightforward and very very complicated.  She was born with cerebral palsy, which is a sort of catch-all phrase for “we’ve ruled out everything else but see motor skills issues, etc.”. Her CP affects all four of her limbs, so they call her a “quadriplegic”. That does not mean she can’t move or feel — she’s not paralysed. It’s just that the messages she tries to send her muscles are often slow to get there, or get crossed somehow. She cannot walk, nor can she hold a pen or get herself in or out of her wheelchair without help.  There’s a whole long list of stuff that she can’t do.

There’s also a long list of what she can do of course, but in our culture, we often really focus on what people can’t do. We do this for a variety of reasons – in V’s world, doctors, teachers, waitresses, passersby… all of them tend to focus on what she can’t do. This is a convenient way to pigeon-hole her, to classify her. Certainly I do it myself sometimes – there are shortcut terms that we use when talking to doctors or nurse managers or social workers – she  “needs help with almost all of her ADL’s” we’ll say. (That’s “Activities of Daily Living” to you uninitiated.)

She also has a pretty severe learning disorder – called non-verbal learning disorder (NLD). I find this the most challenging part of her disability, largely because it means that her brain isn’t wired to “read” non-verbal communication. She is very literal

image courtesy of ClipartOf.comsometimes, and social/cultural idiom can be difficult for her to understand. She has had to learn her world in a way that would be challenging to anyone. Luckily, she was born with a really big brain and a sense of humour. I have learned to try harder to say what I mean, to rely less on lazy language, and to keep an eye out for potentially confusing situations that we’ll need to discuss later. These are useful tools for anyone, so yeah, it’s not all bad.

Vicky would, though, prefer very much not to have NLD, if given the choice. Navigating the world in that chair is hard enough, without not understanding all the signs along the way while she’s at it.

Some days, it's ALL there is.

Lately we’ve had trouble with the people who are contracted to do her care. She and I have been talking about this frustrating situation, and this morning she wrote about it (see above link). She understands very clearly, the primal link between herself and me, her caregiver. Probably in a way that I don’t always even register, she’s twigged to the concept that her very survival depends on there being someone around who will – reliably and safely – be able to do those things for her that she needs to do.

I’m just a nice lady whose kid has a disability. I’m trying as hard as I can to help her and the world naturalize this disability. I want her to leave my house and be a full citizen. I want her to be unafraid of saying “this care is not adequate”. Hell, there’s a LOT of things I want for her, same as I want for my other daughter — I want them to be citizens of the world, with all the rights and obligations that entails. I want them both to be pain free, as much as can be arranged. I want them to have safe places to live. I want them to have friends and secrets from their parents (not big ones, though, okay guys?). I want them to live in a world that is free of their feeling guilt or panic because they want to, say, get out of bed in the morning. Or, I dunno, not sit in their own filth because their care is unreliable.

See? Simple.

But I digress. I do that often when Vicky’s care is concerned. It’s pretty complicated. And it’s not just her, you know? It’s stories like this in today’s paper. It’s worrying about everyone else on that missing Aide’s roster — who went without food? Who slept in their chair that night? Who couldn’t get in touch with their emergency contact? Who didn’t want to complain for fear of reprisal of some sort?

This is the kind of stuff that literally keeps me up at night. Every time I start to bitch about something in Vicky’s life I start to think about other people less fortunate than Vicky, people who don’t have enough money or any family support. I’ve basically made her quality of life my full time job at present and I still can’t guarantee she’ll have it. It’s enough to make one weep. It’s what makes me keep doing this grinding, frustrating, agonizingly angry-making daily struggle to make the world see.

It’s why I was on anti-depressants for a while and felt like I wasn’t good enough. It’s why I often felt guilt that brought me to my knees – I wasn’t doing enough, doing it well enough, doing it nicely or politely or in a way that wouldn’t make me crazy. I’ve become a kind of weirdly earnest,  annoying zealot. Did you read what I wrote earlier? “I’m just a nice lady whose kid has a disability. I’m trying as hard as I can to help her and the world naturalize this disability.

Who the hell write that they just want to help the world naturalize disability? hee hee. Only the parent of a child with a disabilty could write that with a straight face. Why don’t I just try to cure world hunger and bring about world peace while I’m at it, eh?

I’m working on that.

How? Well, this blog today, for one thing. There were days when I wanted to write – felt positively itchy with the need to write something, but didn’t. I didn’t write because I was afraid: afraid that I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand because I was dealing with day-to-day life for Vicky; afraid that writing about it would seem whiny, or that it would make me angrier, or weepier, or make her feel bad.

How is it that I live in a world where my daughter feels bad because of a condition that none of us had any control over creating?

So. Everybody has that something that is their cross to bear, you know? What writing and reading about this does is put it all in perspective. All those blogs I mentioned earlier? They may not be “me” but you can bet that I read as many as I can find. I may not always agree with them, but they sure as hell made me realize that I’m not alone in this ridiculously complicated world of parenting a child with special needs.  Writing one adds my  voice to the mix.

Vicky is empowered by the internet and is finding her voice, there and out in the “real world”. I’m trying to do the same, and the only way I can do that comfortably is to turn up the volume a bit, make those silences disappear. What I can tell you is that the daily work of making the world see and hear my daughter is more accessible all of a sudden. And I’m not alone in it, because I’m following her lead now.

More libraries than Tim Hortons? Yeah right.

Hm. I’m afraid that I’m giving the impression that I forgot I am a blogger… as I said in my last post, I’ve had some things to take care of.

Life intrudes, right? I’ll tell you about it sometime soon.

My One-year mark with Box 761 has just passed, and while I should have probably, you know, written something, I didn’t. Oh well. I’ve had another year with Mr. 761, who has his own blog now by the way — make your way over to here and prepare to laugh. Gawd, he’s funny.

I’m not going to write a lot today. But I’m mulling over what to write. My invective toward the CBC last year tired me out, and made me feel slightly soiled near the end — I’m trying now to avoid things that make me crazy, so odds are the Hunger Games will go without being mentioned here again (unless I really really can’t help it, you know how it can be, right? Sometimes I just can’t help myself).

Today I’m going to leave you with this most ridiculous thing I’ve read in ages. So ridiculous that I can’t really even understand it. How is it that I live in a society that values writing, and writers (and readers, and voters) so little? Jeez.

Read this, and weep, dear friends (here’s the link):

Doug Ford blasts Margaret Atwood over libraries, says “I don’t even know her”

Paul Moloney

Urban Affairs Reporter

Councillor Doug Ford has fired back at world-renowned author Margaret Atwood for her criticism of suggested library cuts, telling reporters: “I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.”

yeah. Our appetite for books *way* exceeds that for Timmies.

Ford also said that the literary icon and activist — who took him to task on Twitter for saying, erroneously, that his Etobicoke ward has more libraries than Tim Hortons — should get herself elected to office or pipe down.

“Well good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is,” said the councillor and advisor to his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, after a committee meeting on proposed cuts.

“She’s not down here, she’s not dealing with the problem. Tell her to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we’d be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood.”

Atwood, an activist on literary and human rights causes, waded into municipal politics in a minor way last Thursday.

She retweeted a Twitter message asking people to sign an online petition, started by the library workers’ union, telling city hall to ignore consultant KPMG’s suggestion to “rationalize the footprint of libraries to reduce service levels, closing some branches.”

Many of Atwood’s more than 250,000 Twitter followers complied, promptly crashing the

A triple-triple?

server hosting the petition.

The author then started tweeting about the library fight, mocking Doug Ford’s Tim Hortons comment on talk radio, and telling the Star that Toronto’s libraries are “astonishing. I’ve done research in them.”

She tweeted Friday: “Twin Fordmayor seems to think those who eat Timbits (like me) don’t read, can’t count, & are stupid eh?” and later asked her followers to check out library books, hold a book club in Tim Hortons and submit their names to win a visit from her and possibly other authors.

Atwood was publicly quiet Tuesday, a day after writing that she would be away from Twitter for a week writing her next novel. Calls to her publisher and private office have not been returned.

Both “Margaret Atwood” and “Doug Ford” were briefly “trending” worldwide on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, meaning they were among the most discussed topics on the social networking site.

Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) stood by his contention that some of Toronto’s 99 libraries should close, adding he would shutter one of the three in his Ward 2, Etobicoke North ward “in a heartbeat.”

“All my point is, in my area at Rexdale and Kipling, there’s a library in an industrial area that is an industrial plaza and no one knows it’s there. But it’s there.

“Why do we need another little library in the middle of nowhere that no one uses? My constituents, it wouldn’t bother them because you have another library two miles one way and two miles the other way.”

His comments about Atwood left some council colleagues bewildered.

“It’s just not something you say one of Toronto’s, and Canada’s, literary giants,” said Councillor Mike Layton. “She’s Margaret Atwood — she’s pretty important and a source of pride to a lot of people. What I’m hearing from people is mostly embarrassment about his remarks.”

Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), a rookie member of council’s left wing, said he would be “surprised” if Ford meant he has never heard of Atwood, one of the world’s most honoured living fiction writers, with awards including a Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin and two Governor General’s Awards, for The Circle Game and The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Whatever he meant, to tell somebody they have to get elected before we’ll listen to them is just rude. But he was equally dismissive with two CUPE (deputants) who had just told us how they clean up blood and puke in police cells and don’t want to lose their jobs to contracting out.”

Review: Plants for Atlantic Gardens, by Jodi DeLong

none of these helped

Okay. We all know that I love my gardens, but hate gardening. I can’t help it. I find it hard to plan, hard to figure out where to plant, what to plant, and how to plant it. Every single year I have to look up what bloody zone I’m in at least 10 times (5a? 5b?). If you add the pathological fear of having an earwig touch my hand as I weed, I’m a mess with the whole thing.

Problem is, I have quite a bit of yard. I love pretty things — flowery things, blooming lovely smelly butterfly-enticing flowers and shrubs. I adore that moment when I plant something and I can see how it has improved the aspect of the yard. I like sitting with a drink on my deck and looking at pretty things.

Okay. So it’s the upkeep I don’t like about gardening. I have, in fact, managed to convince myself of the wisdom of solving that problem with money. There are plenty of people willing to weed my garden for cash.

My only other problem, then, is finding a way to beautify my surroundings with plants and shrubs that will thrive. Luckily, my friend Jodi DeLong just wrote a book that pretty much solves this problem.

If you’ve been reading my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m not a shill. I don’t write a review unless I think a book is worth writing about. She’s a friend, but if I didn’t like this book, I wouldn’t have a review here.

This book is as useful, if not more, than my other favorite gardening activity (aside from looking at it with a drink in my hand): shopping at the local nursery.  I love going to my local nurseries (there are several around here that are really great)…. I wander aimlessly, buy things that I don’t know the name of, and end up planting them in the wrong place and wondering why they don’t thrive. This book will help with that, and I fully intend to either bring it with me to the nursery, or make notes from it that I will keep in my bag.

There are a couple of things I know to be true:

  • aside from the nicotiana I buy every year and plant in the same spot by the big rock I stole from Harbourville beach, I always plant perennials.
  • go for showy: flowering shrubs are great, and not as picky as flowers can be.
  • you can plant magnolias in Nova Scotia

The rest I’m going to have to learn from reading Jodi’s book.

I’ve been reading it for a while now — the stunning photography (all from the able and

(c) Jodi DeLong

pulmonaria-hybrid

loving camera of the author, by the way) has done much to help me through the interminable winter that was February 2011. The photographs are lush and lovingly organized; generous and in many instances spectacular. Reading her very approachable text and looking at these photos, I got a picture in my mind of the author — wandering all over her land in Scots Bay, crouching and waiting by the pulmonaria (at right) for the perfect moment when the sun hit the petals and showed it at it’s best. Knowing that she took these photos, that these plants are all in and around the Atlantic Region, makes it easier for me to trust it.

I’m an index gal. Any book I get, I look at the index. It’s a game I play — Browsing the Index — and it’s often how I separate an okay book from a good book. Good news — this book has a great index. I played Browsing the Index for several days (hey, I’m a geek, okay?) and the only time I stumped it was when I tried to find something about perennial Sweet Peas (L. latifolius). I love them, and managed to find some in a local nursery a few years ago, but usually they’re considered an annual (and so wouldn’t be listed in this book).

That said, aside from navigating from the index, the book also offers some efficient and well thought-out structure to help the questing gardener: a Plant Hardiness Zone map (thank the gardening gods for that one!) starts it off, along with some introductory material. Then a section each on Shrubs and Trees, and Perennials. Each plant has the same very useful information: family, hardiness, bloom period, growing requirements, height, where best used, propagation, problems and notes. There is also a sidebar of recommended species of each plant — very useful. Each subsection is generously illustrated with more of Jodi’s gorgeous photos, and backed up with her inimitable style – chatty, smart, passionate and oh so readable.

I’ve never enjoyed a gardening book more. Her voice is friendly and smart and funny. She peppers her writing with anecdote and humour, along with the amazing detail and careful science. Her section on “Garden Bullies” (goutweed, for example) is a cautionary tale. The sections are arranged alphabetically  (instead of some complex and completely unintelligible (to me) of phylum, genus, species or something weird like that). The Appendices are great  – snapshots of Deer Resistant Plants (not a problem for me, but for many it is a life-long battle), Plants for Pollinators, Salt and Drought-Resistant Plants, Plants for Moist or Wet Soil, and a list of Nurseries.

Jodi DeLong is the author of “The Atlantic Gardener’s Greenbook”, writes regular gardening columns for the Chronicle Herald and is a gardening editor for Saltscapes magazine. She is scheduled for a number of book signings and talks in the next few months.

She’ll be signing books at the Box of Delights book store in Wolfville, NS  on 05 March from 2-4 pm. She will also be speaking at the Woodlawn Library in Dartmouth on 10 March at 7 p.m.; to the Dartmouth Horticultural Society on March 14; the St. Margaret’s Bay garden club on March 16, the Brookfield garden club on March 22 and at Ouestville Perennials in West Pubnico on April 9. Phew!

Her website is a terrific read and well worth the visit.

Plants for Atlantic Gardens is a softcover, 252-page book, published by Nimbus Publishing. It retails for $29.95.

So You Think You Can Talk Bookies? or, the gameshowification of the CBC Books

I’m back from New Orleans, and in some ways I wish that I were still there. There’s something so great about vacations — that mindset that allows you to concentrate on vital choices such as “drinking or shopping?” or “garden district or french quarter?” (the correct answer to those questions is “both“, btw).

It was lovely.

And boy did I need it after all of that Canada Reads nonsense. I tell ya, I’m not even sure image lifted from cbc websitethat I want to go to that website any more. I can’t help it though — it lures me, like the brown muddy bayou waters I toured last week — and I keep going back. What do I find there but alligator-infested oily murk more junky pseudo literary stuff like The Bookies? This ill-timed and ill-conceived idea happened while the Canada Reads contest was playing out, and was weirdly complicated. Readers had to make up genres and categories, then they had to offer up suggestions for books to fit in those categories, and then they had to go online and vote…. there was very little real information set out, and it got lost in the shuffle.

That’s too bad, because the books that eventually won were all pretty great, and congratulations to them all, by the way. It’s clear, though, that the whole purpose really is to get people clicking through to the CBC books portal. It has nothing much to do with the books or the authors — I mean, did you see the press release they put out about the winners? Of course you didn’t — there wasn’t one. Did you hear about the prize they sent each author? Of course you didn’t — there wasn’t one.

Readers, however, got the chance to win prizesprize packs from The King’s Speech, and a Sony Reader. In fact, I clicked a link called “Bookies Contest Winners” thinking I would get to the books that won, and instead found the list of prize pack winners. Sigh.

Hm. Too bad quite a few of those books aren’t even available as e-books. I’m sure, though, that the certificate that the CBC bookclubbers printed off of their MS Word templates will be greatly appreciated by each author.

See, it’s this kind of stuff that I keep coming back to — since when is the author and the book the least important part of this process? It’s just kind of weird to me that they would offer so little to the authors. They thank Penguin for god’s sake, for giving them prizes to give to people who click on their site, but they have nothing for the authors? I don’t mean that each author needs a cheque (though that would be nice), nor do I mean that they have to buy a page of Quill & Quire to advertise (though that would be nice)….  An attempt on their part to even pretend that the works of art were important would be nice. These books’ value does not lie in how well people guess who will win; they represent time and effort and craft. They represent people creating art, right? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but this tacky approach demeans it all.

Their chirpy-chirp inanity also demeans it. One of the books that won this “prize” was Billie Livingston’s incandescent short story collection Greedy Little Eyes. To announce her win, the bright lights at CBC Bookclub wrote this:

“Billie Livingston’s Greedy Little Eyes should no longer feel greedy for attention! This insightful collection exploring the concepts of normalcy and isolation defeated two Giller-nominated heavyweights to win the Bookie for Best Short Story Collection. What will Billie have her eyes on next?”

Really? What will she have her eyes on next? Do you think they even read the book?

Okay. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but it just feels so… thrown-together. Like an un-thoughtful, buckshee blurb because they needed to write something peppy with the word “eyes” in it. I think I’m going to go read Billie Livingston’s book again, and then I’m going to read a few of her other books, and then I’m going to write about them here in Box 761. She deserves at least that.

However, that’s all sooo last month. Now we have So You Think You Can Talk Books with Shelagh Rogers.

This is, of course, in keeping with the Game-Show-ification of the CBC books portal. This current game show relies on the conceit that a lucky listener will write in and pitch their ability to go on CBC and talk books with Shelagh.

In 200 words you have to make a pitch — a book you love, why you’re the best person to talk about it, and why other Canadians would want to hear about it. A jury goes through the applications, then there’s an audition process, and then they pick the winners. The deadline is 07 March, here’s the link if you’re interested.

I don’t know why, but this depresses me. Maybe they just didn’t sex it up enough — they could have paired each civilian with a writer, and they could compete by talking about books while dancing. Or maybe each writer can be asked to compose a new novel while they’re discussing their work? Do you think they can get the authors to maybe write some more holiday gift guides? Those were great. Maybe they could do a live show online, and the authors of each book being pitched could give their champions piggy back rides while they talk to Shelagh? What do you think?

I really like Shelagh Rogers, and I have always admired her committment to Canadian writing, and her very clearly articulated respect for and love of Canadian writers. I don’t even actually have a problem with the idea of a panel of civilians talking about books. Somehow, though, the marketing campaign for this just smacks of tacky — it feels very much like the same junky game-showy stunt-radio that Canada Reads became.

Ah… is this just post-holiday bitchiness?

Nah. This really looks to me like yet another (albeit slightly classier) attempt to disguise getting the audience to create their own entertainment as some sort of democratic interactivity. I will watch with interest.

761 Words about Canada Reads

2011 winner

Hm.

Days Two and Three of Canada Reads have come and gone. Terry Fallis’ book The Best Laid Plans is the winner. That is just about all I’m going to say about that.

I have been heartened in the past days to see so much insightful, funny and honest commentary on Canada Reads… it makes my job that much easier. It felt, for a while, as if were the only one writing about this stuff; I wondered, sometimes, if it wasn’t easier for me to do it because I don’t have a place within the established literary circles, or publishing, or radio… I’m just a blogger, you know? I have no real vested interest except for that which is concerned with being able to live in a culture that respects books and writing, that privileges writers and well… takes this stuff seriously.

I’ll read just about anything and give it a chance. I’m pretty omnivorous when it comes to reading and there’s almost nothing I won’t try to read. Like Debbie Travis, there are some books I just haven’t been able to finish, just couldn’t do it. I only have so much time in

Random shelf in downstairs hallway. No order, definitely no dewey decimal system. They’re arranged whimsically, and I read ’em all. Cherry Ames Dude Ranch Nurse,  please meet Louis Althusser.

my life, and like Nancy Pearl and her Rule of 50, I don’t feel guilty about it. That said, there are very few. Confession: never, ever, was able to finish Old Man and the Sea (10th grade reading assignment). Nor have I managed to finish Eat, Pray, Love (Gah! so bad). I say I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov, but now I can’t actually remember if I finished it. There’s nothing wrong with any of that.

We’re all allowed our personal opinions. That’s cool and I want to keep it that way.

In a contest, though, such as this they have set rules. Criteria that they need to take into account when they judge a piece of writing. Sara Quin said it during the post-game show — that in the end “it’s a job” — they had criteria and she had to work within those rules. I can’t, and won’t, say I agree with her choice, but I like that she worked within the rules of the game and that she took her job seriously. That everyone had a different idea of what those rules were is clear, though, and problematic.

I’ve been getting really caught up in this, so want to take a step back. I don’t want to nit-pick every little bit of this, because (thank god) other people are offering up reportage and play-by-play of what happened yesterday and today. There are some really great blogs out there talking about the competition now, and about the books, and giving their really smart comments and  analysis. Do a tag search, and you’ll find tens of sites, all with interesting fresh things to say about this show.

I’m more interested in a comment that Debbie Travis made in the post-game show, about a conversation she had with Ami McKay. I’m paraphrasing, but she said that Ami told her there’s a “code” of conduct — that authors don’t talk down other author’s books. Jason McBride wrote a great article about this in the December 2010 Quill & Quire. His question was “Is honest criticism possible in the tight-knit world of CanLit, where everybody knows everybody else?” and it’s a good question to ask. It’s pertinent to this space, here, because I know the whole Canada Reads gameplay thing has made it very difficult for people in the literary community. That difficulty trickles down to little wee blogs like Box761 — I can get 300 hits on a posting, and not a single comment. People don’t want to talk about it, not out loud, anyway, and certainly not in public.

Debbie Travis said it herself — that her job was to say what the writers can’t. That said, though, did Debbie or any of the other panelists do that? I think not. It was an exercise in diplomacy, all around. Even when one of the panelists didn’t like a book (or even finish it), their stock phrase was “it didn’t move me” or “it’s not my thing”.  Not a single person there said “the writing wasn’t great, and I wonder how it got into this contest” …. something I’ve wondered about a couple of these books (and no, I’m not going to tell you which ones).

Instead, they latched on to these ridiculous arguments about how x book is better because it will help teenagers read more, or it will encourage more people to go into trades… wtf? Since when is Canada Reads about making teenagers and “semi-illiterates” interested in reading? Since when does that mean we dumb down the entire canon of great literature in Canada? That we privilege “easy reads” over great writing? Argh.

What has bothered me from the very beginning is this sense I get that all of this is just so much filler… something to drive hits to their site.  Someone, somewhere, in the bowels of CBC decided that hits to the site and tweets with the #canadareads hashtag were the indicators of success for this process. The part of this competition that got the least amount of air time was the books themselves. I know what each author thinks is a great gift for christmas, and I know more about what some random Canada Reads “team” thinks of the books than I care to know. I read about the Canada Reads Dinner Party Contest, and what five select bloggers think about Canada Reads blah blah blah. It was incessant, the noise coming from the Canada Reads portal.

What I didn’t see, until day two or three of the actual competition, was anyone really talking about the books. And before you think I’m just snarky for the fun of it, I want to go on record here –it wasn’t all that bad.  On Days 2 and 3 I wasn’t able to listen to it in real time (life intruded), so I was able to have a leisurely stroll through the replays, and it felt almost-kinda-maybe like they were sorta-almost getting to the point where there was some interesting commentary on the books themselves. Jian Ghomeshi was really great (though seems ambitious — is he bucking for a tv show?) and he moderated it ably. He wasn’t great at hiding his biases, but that’s okay. The debaters were — by the end of the competition — doing better at actually discussing the books themselves. In fact, during the post-game show, I found them all to be very appealing and smart. During Day 3’s pre-show live audio feed, they were delightful and real. I liked them by the end of it all.

I am swayed, against my will almost, by the comments in the live chat — people wrote things like “I could barely sleep last night because of anticipation” (weird), and “love the talk about canlit, this is great!” and “I’m going to go out and buy these books”… these are things that I cannot deny. Canada Reads does have a strong influence. All the more reason, though, to take seriously their responsibility toward keeping the tone of it respectful, of not selling out to the lowest common denominator, and of not making a spectacle of themselves just to get hits.

Things like this drive me crazy (from Facebook today):

Just like all 10-year old children, Canada Reads needs to understand that any attention is not good attention.  They could take all of that frenetic social media energy and use it for good. Respectful, author-empowering, calm, informative “edutainment” (shudder. I couldn’t think of another way to say it. Forgive me) that will by its very nature help Canada read more.

This has been a difficult post to write. I despise the frantic, empty,  exclamation mark-happy prattle that they’re serving up. I abhor the Hunger Games-ishness of it all, and find myself wanting to tell the grown ups over at CBC what their kids are doing while they aren’t looking. I find it impossibly frustrating that by all accounts this has been the most “successful” Canada Reads ever — largely because they are gauging that success by counting hits and click-throughs and memberships in the CBC Book Club, etc. I am torn, because while I complain about all of this, I also bought all five books and read them and found myself delighted by a few of them. I saw the chat scrolling down, full of people emailing from all over Canada and beyond… I saw that it was really something that people loved. I don’t really get it, but I’m willing to concede it.

I haven’t been slagging on Canada Reads for all these months for no reason. It’s because I really thought — and still do — that they could be doing it better. That whether they like it or not, the CBC is in the position of great power to shape culture, to further appreciation of writing, and to model respectful behaviour toward those who create that culture that CBC is disseminating.

Next up? The Bookies. Sigh.

Essential. Accessible. Whatever.

With some trepidation I chose today to watch the Hunger Games online — live video feed plus chat (moderated by Hannah Classen and Brian Francis).

I was planning on blogging about it today, right after the big event but, well… I painted my bathroom instead. Then I did some laundry, played with the dogs, trolled the internet, you know.

Yeah, it was that interesting.

Good point, Box 761

I found myself distracted by the inane commentary of the live chat — I spent some fascinated moments looking to see what Brian Francis was going to paraphrase; I started sending comments, just to see if they’d post them (see above). It was kind of fun, in a slighty nauseating kind of way.

Worried that I was going to lose some of it. I started cutting and pasting, just so I could go back and enjoy it all later… insightful comments about the whole Canada Reads process like one from a listener/emailer named Aaron, who asked:

What does the winner of this get?

Oh dear.

And really, aside from amusing myself with the online chat stuff, I did listen, really I did. I’ve made this topic a bit of a speciality of the house, these past few months, and I do a lot of thinking about it. Aside from rummaging around  my own big brain, I’ve been finding some bloggers/writers who are writing some pretty interesting stuff about #canadareads lately, as well.

I mentioned the Walrus article in a previous post — essential reading, I think (more on that word, essential, later), and after much quiet out in the Districts (a Hunger Games reference, fyi) people are finally starting to talk. Charlotte Ashley over at Inklings has been writing some really great, funny and honest stuff. Her exasperation is a breath of fresh air.  Bonnie Stewart, social media maven, wrote some great commentary here today in her blog. I like this, and I love the fresh, irreverent… frustration I hear in these voices.  We’re all bookish sorts, we all love writing, reading, reading about writing — all of it. And what I am starting to hear is a sense of loss — where is the respect, the dignity that writing should have?  What is the CBC doing to contribute to meaningful commentary about literature in this country? Is Canada Reads doing it?

Nah. I can’t even go into depth on this one right now. It makes me tired and bores me. I’ve said it over and over again. Watching that train wreck today was like, I dunno… watching a pretend show about books. It was like a sitcom book panel — you had a smart and earnest young woman, a driven “career gal”, a business man, a sports guy (“life is a battle!”), and an Aboriginal actor/director. After an agonizingly long introductory session (with cheesy voiced-over slideshows for those watching online) with awkward speechifying, they finally got to the point in the show where they were supposed to, you know, debate.

I must have nodded off for a moment because the next thing I knew, they were talking about books being “accessible” and “popular” and then some of them seemed to think that the point of the show was to discuss “getting kids reading”…. Nowhere did I hear anyone even attempt to qualify what “essential” means. I’ve been waiting for that for a while now, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it continues to go unproblematized. So what if the entire shebang is based on these books being “essential”, right?

In keeping with my interest in the peripheral commentary, I saw the following on Facebook this evening:

"Gateway book"?

I think there’s a whooooooole lot of confusion in that post. (Where do they get their stats, and help me out here — is “semi-illiterate” better or worse than “semi-literate”?) I get what they are trying to say, but it’s a cobbled together mish-mash of ideas that culminates in the Grand-daddy of all concepts.

I refer, of course, to that of the “Gateway Book”.

Holy mother of all things literary, what the heck is that? I have no doubt that the person who wrote that post thought they were making some really valid points. Some of those points were voiced by our celebrity panel earlier today. For some reason, all of a sudden, books aren’t about you know, craft, or art

Books are now about being “accessible” (which I guess in our culture now means “easy”?).  At this point, I would be happy if they went back to talking about “essential” — somehow that’s less offensive to me.  “Accessible” means “easily approached or entered” (according to my quick but hilariously apt google search for a definition).  At least “essential” implies worth of some sort. In my world, “accessible” means that all people are able to access the material, not that the book is easy for “semi-illiterate” people to understand.

I'll bet she's reading Lemire's book right now!

But. um. Gateway book? hee hee. What’s next, reading chapter books? Staying up all hours of the night reading?  OMG, what if they start to read… poetry.  It’s like Reefer Madness, but with words. You know, it seems harmless at first, you let them read a few picture books, some comics, then a graphic novel… then all hell breaks loose — they’re reading everything and don’t care who knows it!

It’s as if writers (and Canada Reads judges) are now the social workers of the reading world. They have to get those kids reading, and it has to be easy, that goes without saying.

 

Hm. Where was I?

Sorry, so easy to get carried away. There’s almost too much to think about here, and so little time. Tomorrow this will start all over again. We will hear Georges say that life is a battle. We will see Ali Velshi do his thing —  slyly clever schtick-y sound bites that upon reflection don’t actually say much. Debbie Travis — successful mogul Debbie — will continue to slide her eyes down and sideways and tell us how nervous she is. Lorne Cardinal will be thoughtful but not forceful (I almost forgot he was on it for a moment there). Sara Quin will be articulate and free to speak her mind, and flush with the power of being a swing vote.

Who’s going to get kicked off tomorrow? I think they must be going in reverse order, from best book down, so I think Carol Shield’s finely realized and beautiful book Unless will be the next to go (in my mind they were tied for 1st place). I don’t like it, but there you go.  Essex County is a great book, and it made me think about novels and the creative process in ways that many other books haven’t in a long time.

Personally, I’m pretty sure that none of those five books are the “essential” book of the decade. Maybe someday we’ll all have to have a little chat about that — which books we think are essential.

First, lets define essential though, okay?

 

10:28

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Brian Francis:

“Haunting connections between the characters…cinematic.” Sara

Monday February 7, 2011 10:28 Brian Francis

10:28

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Hannah Classen:

And she didnt’ even need all the time!

Monday February 7, 2011 10:28 Hannah Classen

10:28

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Brian Francis:

Lorne’s turn.

Monday February 7, 2011 10:28 Brian Francis

10:29

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[Comment From Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers : ]

What does the winner of this get?

Oooh! the anticipation…

Can’t wait to see what those scamps at CBC have up their sleeves for the CBC Canada Reads extravaganza next week. Read a great article in Walrus Magazine the other day, by one Jeet Heer. Aside from my blog (of course), you should read this in preparation for the Games. Good to do some homework.

My homework is to finish reading The Bone Cage — I think it’s a strong contender for a number of reasons, and I’ve thought this since before reading the book… it’s just that Angie Abdou seems to have the most coordinated PR effort. She’s genial and enthusiastic and is everywhere on social media. She is, I think, this year’s Katniss.

My last post garnered some fascinating comments (offline). These comments suggested that my gripes should not be limited to what I’ve been discussing lately, but that I need to “go higher”. I thought about that, and realize that there is some merit —  that while what I’ve been talking about is all valid, it is merely a symptom of a more systemic issue. That said, it’s the books coverage, and more specifically the Canada Reads contest, that really get my goat. And, really, it was almost too easy. Who can resist that?

Other than that, nothing much going on here at present. Just trying to dig ourselves out of the omnipresent snow.

Graphic scenes

Oh, dear readers, Box 761 has been busy these past weeks.

Crazy busy.

Work crews in and on my house, Mr. 761 home from KAF, etc.  The work crews are great — I love the idea of having a sound roof without holes, and I love the idea of having walls that do not house wet insulation. Love it. I was willing to move out of my bedroom to facilitate the work, and International Student 761 had to vacate her room as well. Necessary chaos. Acceptable chaos, even.

Chaos, nonetheless.

Even sleeping in my office is okay. If I want to send a midnight fax, all I have to do is roll over and it’s done. Fast Eddie, my contractor, is funny and talks more than I do, but still manages to get the work done. I like him.

But I haven’t actually read a book in a week. I’m getting itchy. I’ve read bits and pieces, but haven’t had a the opportunity to string some moments together and have a nice long read. I miss it. I got my copy of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County in the mail a while ago and after reading about 10 engrossing pages, I put it somewhere so it wouldn’t get covered in drywall dust. Now it’s lost. I’m reduced to re-reading Dean Koontz novels I find stuck on random shelves in my office (within rolling distance, of course).

Lemire’s book is on the Canada Reads Hunger Games Top 5, in case you’ve forgotten. My mentioning it here isn’t favoritism (though I have no problem with that, really);  it’s just that it’s so… pretty.  As an object, it delights me, and I haven’t even read it yet. The heft of it is just right, the trim size, perfect. I love the cover and the card stock the cover is printed on. I love the thing, I really do, and I’ll admit that I smoothed my cheek lovingly on said satiny-slubby cover when I unwrapped the book. I love my e-books, but some things are just meant to be held in hard copy. Graphic novels may be one of those things. I’m new to graphic novels (this month, though, I’ve read one Angel  and 5 Buffy Season 8 graphic novels, and have secreted Essex County into a safe and as yet undisclosed location (after fondling it, yes).

We’ll see how I feel once I read it, but right now, it’s one of my favorite things. I wish I could find where I put it.

So. My inner geeky fangirl is showing herself today. I know a couple of things: I love Buffy Season 8, and Jeff Lemire’s book fascinates me. I don’t remember the last time that I ordered a book with so much curiosity and anticipation. I’m really looking forward to reading that book.

I’m looking forward to figuring out how and where it fits in the literary canon. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this book is defended and attacked by the Hunger Games judges. I’m curious about how they will, in fact, judge. Are they going to be talking about why it’s an “essential” book? Is it the “best” one? Is it “lit-er-ah-ture“? The Games begin 7-9 February, with a new wrinkle: live stream/chat.

I foresee all sorts of mayhem on those three days, and many offenses to my sensibilities in the days leading up to it. I will offer more on that another day, but Box 761 has some work to do offline at present.