Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bees in the garden

I love gardening, and luckily I married a girl who loves to have a beautiful garden.  Unfortunately, her idea of what makes a garden beautiful and my idea are a little different.  For me, I like it to be interesting and I don't always care if it looks as tidy or uniform as something you'd see in a magazine.  I love to see bees and butterflies and birds, and I want to smell the flowers.  She's a landscaper, however, and she has a rare eye (more rare than she knows) for knowing what looks good and what doesn't.  And as much as I appreciate her talent, I'd still like my garden to be interesting and useful, so as we plan for a re-do of the beds in our backyard, I'm hoping to incorporate more of the flowers I loved in my dad's garden (stuff like bee balm, black-eyed susans, cleome, and even the garish marigolds and red salvia), even though they might be a challenge for the overall scheme of things.

The Bee-Friendly Garden: Designing a Beautiful, Flower-Filled Landscape for the World's Most Prolific Pollinator by Kate Frey is an interesting book.  It focuses primarily on attracting bees - both honeybees and other native types - into our gardens.  They are, after all, not only helpful but essential to pollinating certain fruits and vegetables.  It even discusses concerns some gardeners may have, such as kids and bee stings, but says the concern is mostly over-rated (I would agree, but I'm not allergic).  It talks about the different kinds of bees a gardener is likely to see and why we should want them in our gardens.  There are some pictures, but I was disappointed that they are very small - about an inch square - and difficult to see very well.  Annuals and perennials are listed, as well as flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds, although the lists are a bit on the short side.  Interestingly enough, even plants to avoid are listed - something I hadn't thought of.

There are a lot of very beautiful pictures here.  As I mentioned, some of them are very small and more pretty than helpful.  There is also at least one page that has the credits for the pictures incorrectly - a middle row shows 3 pictures but only 2 descriptions (I think the 3rd picture is listed with the bottom row), and I suspect there's at least one picture that is incorrectly identified.  The text seems to be without such flaws, but with gardening books the pictures are as important as the information, so I feel obligated to mention it.  Otherwise, however, it's a very nice book and I'm using it to pick some flowers I want to plant this year.  (I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com for review purposes.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Don't disturb the universe

What's the worst thing about having your kids participate in activities like cheerleading and girl scouts?  Yep, the darn cookie and chocolate and whatever-else fundraising sales.  You want to help out the team or organization – heck, you want to help your child!  But I always feel uncomfortable putting a sign-up out at work, especially if I'm not the first one.  I've had employers who've made it easier and banned such things, but that doesn't help the kids.  I guess they ought to go door-to-door and do the work themselves, but honestly, I'm not comfortable with that either and I'd rather just write a check and be done with it.

But take that amusing situation and superimpose it over a not-so-amusing story of intimidation and mob mentality, and you've got the idea behind Robert Cormier's gritty 1974 novel The Chocolate War.  Jerry Renault attends an all-boys Catholic school where the chocolate fund-raiser is practically a sacred tradition.  And when Jerry refuses to sell the chocolates, he runs up against Brother Leon, the vice-principal, as well as Archie Costello, the manipulative leader behind a semi-secret student society called the Vigils. 

The Chocolate War is one of those books that's either praised for it's exploration of intimidation in social groups or challenged and banned for it's graphic language and portrayals of disturbing and sexist behavior by the boys – there's frequent talk of sex and the boys sexually objectify all women.  Sure, it's thought-provoking, and there's some interesting ideas and parallels going on – kind of like Lord of the Flies at a religious high school that's struggling economically. 

But while I found interesting and thoughtful aspects to the story, I wasn't impressed at all with the book.  First of all, the characters seem mostly unrealistic.  You've got kids pulling psychological strings and behaving in ways that I found completely unbelievable (some of the violence, however, is frighteningly believable).  I think Archie is 17 but he acts like a much older and smarter adult with a sickeningly sadistic streak.  And Brother Leon was another disturbing character – although, from what I could gather, the author was NOT anti-Catholic – quite the opposite, in fact.  But the worst is the language, and I'm not referring to the frequent profanity (although that's bad enough).  It's written with the "hard-boiled" style of the noir private detective stories – and the reader in the audio version really played it up.  Telephones "rupture the night" and dial-tones "explode" in your ear.  Characters always "thrust" themselves out of bed, usually with a "cold, hard ball of fury in [their] chest."  It's so over-the-top ridiculous that it made it even harder to take the story seriously. 

So, yeah – it's kind of interesting and it made me think a bit, but it's certainly not something I'd recommend to kids.  I probably wouldn't even recommend it to adults.