31 May 2012


I've been spammed. I guess that makes this blog important now, doesn't it? It was innocuous enough, just somebody fishing for business by leaving a generic and badly punctuated comment that didn't even make sense but had links to their editing services attached. Yup, like I'd be inclined to engage the "Dissertation Writing Services" of someone who produces a sentence like "This posts shows your efforts that how do you cover any topic research."

On the other hand, it did inspire me to look up "Spam", and it's interesting what one can find out. Apparently the word is a portmanteau of "Spiced" and "Ham", and the ingredients in the classic variety (there's classic Spam? Hmm...) are "chopped pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, and sodium nitrite as a preservative". That's actually a remarkable quantity of meat product, considering. Well, I guess it depends on just how much modified potato starch is in there, and how it's been modified. Maybe it's been turned into sheets of potato starch paper (like rice paper), and then made into papier-maché, shaped into spam-sized cubes.

There, doesn't this posts show my efforts that how I do cover any topic research? And I didn't even need the friendly spammer's editing services for it.

And I know that any second now, one of you is going to quote Monty Python at me. Go ahead, bring it on! It's definitely one of their better sketches.

Life, the Universe, and Spam. Research brings out interesting trivia.

29 May 2012

Bein' Green

It's Not Easy Bein' Green

It's not that easy bein' green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It's not easy bein' green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an mountain, or important
Like a river, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why,
but why wonder, why wonder,
I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be.

(sung by Kermit, and shamelessly ripped off from Youtube by me)

Not much else to say about that, is there? No, there isn't.

Life, the Universe, and Bein' Green. The frog said it all.

26 May 2012

A Dream and a Coffee Date

I had a dream last night that my blog suddenly got famous. See, what happened was, I got a Scholastic magazine in the mail, and was reading it, and suddenly, there was this article about blogs, and it listed mine as an example of a really great blog! It was a magazine for teachers, too. I was shocked, and very excited, as I had had no idea Scholastic would do such a thing. I didn't even have any idea Scholastic had teacher's magazines. Which, of course, they don't, so I didn't actually get one in the mail and they didn't advertise my blog in it; it was just my dream-addled brain that had me thinking so. There was also something in that article about some of the other things I do, like write stories, which they couldn't know about as I'd never written of them online, and there was the consideration of changing the whole background of the blog to bright turquoise, which is a deeply significant colour in one of those stories I've written.

Don't worry, I won't go turquoise. My eyes couldn't stand it. I don't even like blogs which are white-on-black writing, I find them really difficult to read. But Scholastic is still a great company, even if they don't put out teacher's magazines in which they advertise my blog. Maybe I should suggest it to them.

On another note, Steve and I had coffee with my friend Bonnie Heather yesterday. Well, Bonnie had coffee, Steve and I had a Glasgow Fog (that's the same as a London Fog, except made by a person with a Scots background). I got a sneak peek at Bonnie's new painting, which is really great; the person who commissioned is going to be very happy with it, I'm sure. And we talked about Art, Life, the Universe, and Everything, so it was just what a coffee date should be. (Even without me drinking coffee. Which I don't, ever; I just don't like the taste. But that's another topic. Wait - there was something in that famous-blog-dream about me drinking coffee, too! Which just goes to show that the whole thing really was only imaginary. Too bad.)

Here is Steve, trying to see if there's any Glasgow Fog left in the cup. And afterwards, he was comatose; Horatio was not impressed. I guess Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and sugar syrup don't agree with stuffed bears.

Life, the Universe, and Dreams. Maybe Steve would have been better off having coffee?

24 May 2012

On Brothers and Hope

I was doing the drop-off rounds the other morning, and I saw them again: the big brother, taking his little sister to school. He's a teenager, probably 16 or 17; she's in kindergarten or maybe grade 1 (small, at any rate). He used to just walk her along the road, holding her hand to keep her safe from the cars whizzing past them. Then one day, I saw him zipping down the hill to the highschool on a small bike, you know, the kind that's almost kid-sized; he wasn't wearing a helmet (which is illegal around here). And the next time I saw them, he was riding the bike (still sans helmet) up to the elementary school, with little sister balanced on the bar in front of him, obviously enjoying the ride!

And then on that same day, there was another big brother, probably grade 6 or 7, grabbing hold of his little brother just before he ran out onto the road into traffic; he looked just a bit exasperated, but he was taking care of the little guy, and they carried on walking up to the school.

And then there's the dad who walks his son to school every morning - dad wears the backpack; it's probably a bit heavy for the kid.

I see them, and I go "Aww. That's so sweet!" But then it occurred to me that if you asked me how many big sisters were walking their younger siblings to school, I wouldn't have a clue. Ditto for all the moms by the side of that road every morning.

You see, it's because they're men (even the grade 7 boy is a young man, really), that it touches my mush buttons to see them looking after little people. We're so used to seeing women caring for children, we don't even notice them (or maybe you do, but I sure don't). But men doing the same, that's still unusual. Especially doing it in a way that you can see. Often, good-dad skills are hidden, consisting in doing things that take them away from visibility around their kids - if, for example, dad does his job by doing his job, i.e. by going to work and providing for his family's needs financially, more often than not he's not physically there. And it's easy to assume that it means he's not involved in the kids' lives. Which isn't true, in most cases, but it can look that way.

So to see those young men walking their little siblings to school, or giving them rides on their bikes (even without helmets), it not only touches my mushy heart, it gives me hope. When they're full-grown men, they won't be ashamed of walking their own kids to school, probably even carrying their backpacks (if they don't have one of their own on their back); they won't be walking away from their responsibilities. They'll be the kind of men who will take care of their kids, visibly or behind the scenes. And that, folks, is the true reason behind my "aww" reaction when I see those school-walkers in the morning.

And by way of illustration, here is Steve with his BIG brother, Benjamin (not walking to school, though; they never do that).

Life, the Universe, and Big Brothers. Hope is a beautiful thing.

21 May 2012

On the Fine Art of Creating Titles Which Are More Than Two Words in Length, and on Jane Austen Film Adaptations

I've noticed an alarming tendency in my posts lately: they've all got single-word or single-phrase titles. You know: Tantrum, Superhero, Blue, Mansfield Park... While there is something to be said for telegraphic language, it can, undoubtedly, be overdone. So I sought to rectify the situation with today's title. I hope you appreciate it.

My mind is still running on the subject of Austen. Specifically, Austen film adaptations. Okay, confession time: I have a major crush on Mr Darcy. Well, no, actually, I have a crush on Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy. Not Colin Firth, the man (although he's probably cute enough when you get to know him), and not Mr Darcy, the man (a bit too stiff for me, really; although he's probably alright once Elizabeth teaches him to laugh at himself), but Colin Firth being Mr Darcy. Oh, but - I also have a crush on Hugh Grant playing Edward Ferrars. And Dan Stevens playing Edward Ferrars. And Ciaran Hinds playing Captain Wentworth. And Jeremy Northam playing Mr Knightley, and Jonny Lee Miller doing the same. And Kenneth Branagh playing Benedick. (Oh, wait, that's Shakespeare. Never mind.)

So, in case you've missed the point: I like Austen movies. They're my comfort films when I feel bad, and my pleasure when I feel good. After a hard day, pour a glass of wine, pop in Pride & Prejudice, sink back into the couch cushions, and let yourself get lost in the English landscape. Two riders galloping over the field - "A fair prospect!" "It's pretty enough, I grant you." "Oh, it's nothing to Pemberley, I know, but I must settle somewhere..." It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tired woman in possession of an overdeveloped sense of romance must be in want of an Austen movie.

And after this latest reading of Mansfield Park, I pulled out the VHS of the movie I'd recorded off the TV four years ago, and popped it into the machine (yes, I still own a VCR. Long may it live, because if it doesn't, I won't be able to replace it. You can't buy those things any more). I hadn't watched it since then, because I wasn't terribly impressed with the film at that point. Oh, sure, it's an improvement on the 1999 version, but that's no great feat. (That movie is terrible. I'll spare you the rant; just two words will suffice: sex & violence. In Austen. Yup.)

So, I started watching the 2007 version. And right off the bat, I was complaining. The costumes! The hairdo! Fanny is played by Billie Piper, who, while still a bit too lively for my taste, does a good job on the role. But her hair is all wrong. A Regency woman should wear her hair up, not in shoulder-length ringlets like a school girl. The way Billie looks, you'd expect, at any moment, to hear the sounds of "WOOoooo-eeeee-ooo", and see the Tardis landing in Mansfield Park (Billie is best known for playing Rose Tyler in Doctor Who). And the dresses? I'm not sure exactly what time period this is meant to convey; Fanny's outfits, in particular, have a quasi-Victorian feel to them that's not from any part of the nineteenth century I'm familiar with, instead of the proper Regency style with the waistlines just below the bust.

So there I was, waffling on about how wrong the clothes are (although, mind you, they're nothing like as bad as the costumes in the Laurence Olivier version of Pride & Prejudice, which somehow seems to have got muddled with Gone With the Wind. Yikes.). But then- but then- I got pulled into the story.

You know how I got to liking Edmund as a character in the book this time round? This version of Mansfield, he's played by Blake Ritson. And I tell you, that man is a revelation. You see, I'd only ever seen him play Mr Elton, the highly annoying and self-absorbed clergyman, in the 2010 Emma. And he really plays Mr Elton to perfection; you just want to smack him, or dump something cold and slimy down his shirt (as Mr Knightley says: "That man is so full of himself, it's a wonder he can stay on his horse!"). So I thought Blake Ritson, himself, was annoying and unlikeable. But here, as Edmund Bertram - it's like he's a different man entirely. Same outfit, same hairstyle, but it's like he's got a different face! As Mr Elton, he's got this pinched, pursed mouth that at best can produce a self-satisfied smirk. But his Edmund, he's just like he is in the book. Well, I had pictured Edmund a bit different physically - taller, maybe fair, not smallish and dark with a pointy nose - but I forget all that when I watch how he brings to life all those emotions that made me like Edmund so much in the book (this time). I don't even mind the changes they made to the story, because Edmund is so well played.

So as of the day before yesterday, I'm adding "Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram" to my list of crushes. Never mind the fact that he's short, and more than ten years younger than me. It's my inner Fanny Price that has a crush on him, anyway, and she's perpetually eighteen, and probably only a little over five feet tall. (That's him in the picture, at the moment the penny finally drops and he realizes that it's Fanny who's the girl for him. Awww...)

And as it is a truth universally acknowledged that this post has already become too long, I'll tell you about my favourite Austen heroines and the actresses who play them some other time. Just one hint: one of them is Blake Ritson's girlfriend! Be still my heart...

And that, for today, is Life, the Universe, and Truths Universally Acknowledged.

18 May 2012

Mansfield Park

I finished Mansfield Park the other day (the book, not the building). It's been quite some time since I'd read it before, because, I'm afraid to say, it's my least favourite Austen. Or, should I say, it was my least favourite, until this reading. (Be forewarned: if you haven't read the book, and you're one of those people who must have suspense in order to enjoy a novel, stop right here. I'm the type who reads the end of a book first - a habit which I'm utterly unrepentant of - and will unashamedly drop spoilers all over the place. End of warning.)

Unlike some other Janeites, I didn't dislike this story because of its heroine. Yes, Fanny is shy. Fanny is timid. Fanny is mousy. Fanny lets herself be bullied. But I get that. Okay, there are times during the reading of that book when I just want to go "C'mon, girl, stick UP for yourself!" But I know that Fanny can't, she just hasn't got the opportunities. No, I disliked the story for a couple of reasons: mostly, because everyone is so mean to Fanny, and also because Edmund is so terribly dense.

It's all the other people in the story that had me disliking it, not Fanny. Aunt Norris, of course, is nothing but a horrible, despicable bully. She's probably the character who is the closest to being a "bad guy" in all of Austen (although that might be a toss-up between her, Lady Catherine, Sir Walter, and General Tilney). I'm still not sure that I find her come-uppance at the end entirely satisfying, although at least she does get a come-uppance, which is more than can be said for some of the other Despicables in Austen. Aunt Bertram is a lump of inertia (ADD, Inattentive Subtype, I'd say.). Sir Thomas is, well, pretty much a despot. Tom a jerk. Maria and Julia cattish airheads. Mr Rushworth a dimwit (but as that's his whole role in the piece, one can't fault him for that). And of course the Crawfords, they're terrible. All around evil people.

Or so I remembered. You see, that's what I had against Edmund, that he was so very dense that he didn't see what Mary Crawford really was, and preferred her to Fanny. And that he didn't get Henry Crawford either. I thought that Edmund didn't deserve Fanny, and that the ending didn't justify all the emotional turmoil Austen puts the reader through in feeling with and for Fanny.

But in this reading, I saw it differently. For one, Fanny doesn't suffer nearly as much as I had remembered; I think in the past, I felt more for her than she does for herself. And for another, Edmund became so much more human. As a hero, he leaves quite a bit to be desired. As an ordinary guy, he's actually - well, kind of endearing, and his character makes a lot of sense. He's a young man who has never been around women much. He went to an all-boys school, an all-male university, and then comes home and hangs out with his airhead sisters, his indolent mother, his bully of an aunt, and - Fanny. Along comes an extremely pretty, vivacious girl, who is (and this was my other big revelation) really, really nice - is it any wonder he falls hard, and fast, for her? And that in his mind, he endows her with all the good qualities he feels a woman should have? Building someone we find attractive into the image of what we think they should be, I think we've all done that (okay, I've done it. If you haven't, good for you - although I'm not sure I believe you.). In Edmund's case, it doesn't mean he's dense, it just means he's a normal twenty-four-year-old without much experience with (the opposite) sex.

And, as I said, Mary Crawford really is nice. She's the only person who is ever kind to Fanny and supports her against people's bullying; she's considerate, and she's fun. Her main (and fatal) flaw is that she does not have "good principles"; she does not share Edmund and Fanny's value system, does not understand where they are coming from. And unlike Edmund, Fanny sees it all along - but then, she does not have physical attraction to muddle her vision. The only thing Fanny's vision is muddled by is her low self-esteem. And there's great hope, in the end of the story, that that's a fault that'll be rectified by time, maturity, and being loved for who she is.

Incidentally, Steve doesn't like Mansfield. Not enough bears in it for his liking. Now where did I put The House at Pooh Corner?

Life, the Universe, and Mansfield Park. Which Austen should I re-read next?

PS: I got the lovely illustration image at the top here. Another good site for Janeites is this one. And if you want to know why those sites are called "Mollands" and "Pemberley", respectively, you'll just have to read the books, won't you?

16 May 2012


Steve is throwing a tantrum. See? There he is, on my bedside table, glaring at me out of his beady little eyes (and they are, literally - beady, I mean. Two little black beads.). What do you mean, that tantrum doesn't look very violent? It is. In a softly woolly, fuffly, teddybearish sort of way. Okay, okay, it's hard to tell the difference between a teddybear's tantrum, ecstatic delight, and complete ennui, but if you know the teddybear in question really well, it's fairly obvious. So trust me, this is a tantrum.

It's all because I haven't been giving him enough screen time lately. Well, I've been busy, Steve, okay? I've had enough to do just trying to get the odd post up about my own concerns. Well, yes. I know that's a lame excuse. But I thought you were happy, hanging with Horatio. I'm sorry, okay? So what do you want me to tell everybody?

Oh. Now he's not talking to me. Or to you, for that matter. The tantrum has turned into sulks. Sigh... Temperamental teddybears. Just what I need today.

I wonder if he's affected by the cloudy weather, too. I heard yesterday on the radio that there are people, about 10% of the population, who are bona fide "Rain Haters". They get demonstrably unhappier in rainy weather. We've had a string of beautiful, sunny spring days, so warm it felt almost like summer, but today, it's all cloudy again. And I, for one, find it a bit difficult to deal with. So it's probably getting to Steve, too. Have you ever noticed how your teddybear's moods can really reflect yours? No? Oh. I thought everyone had a small teddybear on their bedside table who travels with them wherever they go (mostly).

I'm going to see if I can coax Steve out of his sulks. Maybe reading him a story would do the job? I wonder if he'd like Mansfield Park.

Life, the Universe, and Teddybear Tantrums. It's all in a day's work.

13 May 2012


It's Mother's Day today. And here's what my son presented me with, a school project nicely formatted, printed, decorated and laminated. Names omitted to protect the guilty; vocabulary and punctuation original.


If my mother was a superhero, she would be Super Librarian. Speed reading would be her power she would be able to read a full book in 10 seconds! Since she could read books so quickly, she would be the smartest woman on the planet Earth! She would be like a human encyclopedia. Everybody would want to use her brain power for assistance in doing things. She would help detectives solve mysteries, scientists research the impossible and doctors come up with cures to irradiate cancer once and for all! My mom would be a wealth of knowledge if she was Super Librarian, but she would also fight crime on the side. When she's not being a super hero, her alias would be A. O., a german writer with four kids and a husband.


Not much to add to that, is there? Except perhaps this picture of Steve, modelling my superpowers. To the Library, and Beyond!

Life, the Universe, and Superheroes. I gotta get me a cape.

09 May 2012


I love blue. It's been my favourite colour ever since I was little. And I especially love cobalt blue glass. I collect it whenever I can get a hold of it; I've been known to buy certain kinds of wine just because it comes in cobalt blue bottles. And there they sit on my kitchen window sill (I think the wine itself was okay; I had to drink it just to empty the bottles. The yellowish tone of the wine spoiled the blue).

A painter friend of mine once corrected me, when I complimented him on the beautiful cobalt blue tiles on his studio floor; they're ultramarine blue, he said, not cobalt. I didn't want to contradict him, as he's a really amazing painter and knows what he's talking about; and of course he was absolutely right when it comes to paint colour names - that particular hue is ultramarine. But in the back of my mind I had this niggling thought that I'd heard it called "cobalt" blue when it comes to tiles, and a few years later, when I got into pottery, I found out why.

See, in glass, and in glazes, it's the actual mineral cobalt that gives it that bright, gorgeous blue. In paint pigment, cobalt blue is fainter, not nearly as brilliant as ultramarine, which is derived from ground-up lapis lazuli - or it was, once upon a time, until the Victorians found a synthetic substitute which was much cheaper (from what I gather, being cheaper than ground lapis lazuli isn't a particularly difficult feat to achieve). But when it's in something see-through, cobalt is amazing.

I don't know what it is about it that draws me the way it does. Especially when the sunlight shines through it, it just gives me a little stab of pleasure to look at it. Blue, I heard somewhere, it actually physically calming; they've done studies with horse boxes painted blue and painted red, and the horses in the blue boxes cooled down much faster after a race than the ones in the red. Also, flies will sit on a red surface, but not on a blue (or at least will choose a red surface over a blue if given the option). Go figure. I guess my genetic makeup doesn't include a whole lot of housefly.

Not that I don't like red - I'm wearing a bright red shirt as I'm typing - but blue, there's just something about it. And not just cobalt, or ultramarine blue, either. Another favourite paint colour of mine is phthalocyanine blue (next time you've taken too big a bite of your piece of toast, try saying it: f-thay-low-sigh-a-nine. Phthalo phthalo phthalo. Hey, I didn't tell you to spit crumbs all over the table!). Phthalo blue is like Prussian blue before the latter dries; I've always loved putting down a swath of Prussian blue, and then I'd get all disappointed when it dries to its ordinary duller shade. Phthalo retains that "pow!" For some folk, it's a little loud - so much for blue being calming.

Oh, and that green bottle sitting on the windowsill, I bought that particular wine for the shape of the bottle. And I do love how the green sets off the blue - don't you?

Life, the Universe, and Shades of Blue. I'm gonna sing the bluuues...

07 May 2012


I was climbing into my car this morning, setting out to chauffeur the offspring to their hallowed halls of learning. As I turned the key in the ignition, the radio came on. "... At least thirty-seven people were killed in an attack in Northern Nigeria this morning..." I hit the "off" switch. And immediately felt a stab of guilt. Don't I care about the people in Northern Nigeria? Don't I need to stay informed?

And as I was rolling down the road, I was mulling this over in my mind. Yes, of course I care about the people in Northern Nigeria. But does that mean I need to hear about everything that goes on there? Do I really need to be informed of everything that happens in the world? And the simple, plain answer is "No". Because the fact is that it's utterly impossible to be informed of everything that goes on in the world. It's utterly impossible to be informed of everything that goes on in my immediate surroundings, let alone my town, let alone my province, let alone... You get my drift?

I laughed really hard when I found out about the iPhone app that lets you type and walk at the same time. The phone's little camera films what goes on in front of you, and then tells you on the screen, so you don't have to bother looking up and seeing your surroundings for yourself. Some versions go even further: they tell you what's there, they conveniently label it for you ("Restaurant A", "Telephone pole", "Restaurant B"...). There's even a word for that: "Augmented Reality". No, really!

And that, I think, is actually a rather apt description of what's being fed to us through the media under the guise of "information". Augmented reality. Filtered through the eye of the camera lens, the news reporter's choice, the information service website: "item to be shocked at", "item to find ridiculous", or "item to be excited about". Without those filters, we're barely capable of reacting on our own any more. And that could become a real problem.

You see, I am firmly convinced that our human capacity for compassion, for being moved by hearing of other people's plight, has a purpose. It's meant to move us to action. Hearing of thirty-seven Nigerians killed in an attack pushes my compassion buttons, disturbs me and moves me. But it doesn't move me in any useful direction. It disturbs the waters of my mind (which are a murky pond at the best of times) for no purpose other than the disturbance itself. And I really don't need that. My hearing of the events in Nigeria will not do the Nigerians one bit of good - and while my emotions are being disturbed by something I cannot do anything about, I miss the opportunity of being moved to action on behalf of my neighbour who might be needing a helping hand with something.

We're in grave danger, in today's information society, of being so informed we become inbred, ingrown - so informed we become de-formed.

Information is good, is necessary, is useful - but we need to choose which use we put it to, which filter we apply or allow to have applied for us. I no longer want news services to augment my reality for me. "OFF".

Life, the Universe, and Information. Who's augmenting your reality?

02 May 2012


Frogs. My neighbour has a charming little ornamental waterfall running beside his driveway (we live on a hill; waterfalls are an obvious choice for a landscaping feature). It's inhabited by a croaker. No, make that at least two croakers. My bedroom window faces out that way; the last few nights I haven't been able to leave the window open because the froggies have been keeping up a non-stop concert. I kid you not: non-stop, from nightfall on until the small hours of the morning - or so I presume; usually I've long closed the window before the small hours, in sheer exasperation. Not even a pillow over the ear drowns them out.

Ribbet ribbet ribbetribbet ribbet... That's what it was until a few days ago, and then a new sound got added. Now it's more like this: ribbetribbet robbet ribbet robbetribbet... I think the "robbet" one, that's the new arrival. Maybe Froggie went a-courtin', and in this case decided on an amphibian girlfriend, rather than taking up with Miss Mousie like his progenitor in the song (uh-huh). (When you stop to think about that one, the genetic makeup of their offspring is a rather interesting concept. Okay, let's not go there.)

What amazes me is how these tiny little critters can make such a racket. They might be no bigger than a few centimeters long, but their sound carries over a hundred meters or more.

So I was lying in bed last night, thinking of how charming it was to have these sounds of nature right outside my window... sigh. My current nighttime choice is between fresh air, and quiet. Fortunately it's not quite warm enough at night that I have to have to the window open, so I can still go for quiet. But mandatory window-open season will come soon - by which point, the frogs will have stopped their springtime mating call, and have handed the conductor's baton on to the crickets (screescreescreescreescree, the warmer the air, the faster the cricketing). And don't even get me started on the birds - 4:00 AM, they start their yelling in the summer! Yes, yelling. When the crickets and frogs have kept me up until past midnight, I completely lack all appreciation for the charm of a dawn chorus.

Well, actually, that's not quite true. I do appreciate the sounds of animals outside my window. It's one of the things I love about living in small-town Canada, right at the edge of the woods. I'd much, much rather be kept awake by courting frogs and woken up by yelling birds than by their equivalent in human activity or machinery.

Life, the Universe, and Froggie Singing in the Night. A sword and a pistol by his side, Uh-huh.