Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Higher Power of Lucky

And even if you carry a survival kit around with you at all times, it won't guarantee you'll survive. No kit in the world can protect you from all the possible bad things. (pg. 80)
Even though the controversy surrounding Susan Patron's Newberry Award Winning The Higher Power of Lucky centers on the use of the word "scrotum"* what I found shocking was the raw honesty. Bad things happen and no kit can protect you.

I'm not sure how well this book will age, as part of its appeal is just how current it feels, but for now I highly recommend it for those who are ten and encountering the injustices of the world and those much older than ten who need a fun reminding that childhood can be simultaneously wonderous and terrifying and certainly unfair.

*It is weird how, despite knowning about the scrotum debate, it still startled me to run into it right there on page one.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"It's a great honor to be named after a famous whale"

Mr. Splashy Pants is not only the name of our little (and quickly growing; only three days since those puff-ball photos!) female cat, but also the name of Greenpeace's most famous whale. While I'm unconvinced about the resemblence, I relented on the name as the Mister was insistent upon it for either cat or future kid.

Red is a color of good fortune

and I happen to be entranced by it these days (as mentioned previously). The beetle is a milkweed beetle on our Asclepias incarnata, like Monarch Butterflies, they can handle the toxins in the milkweed and become poisonous themselves.

Wife Like a Marmot, II

Since Mr. Splashy Pants erased this review her first night here, I'll start over discussing Three Cups of Tea.

"She was very beautiful," he said as they lay looking at a Milky Way that was so
dense it covered them like a shawl. "Her face was small, like Jahan's, and she
was always popping up an laughing, like a marmot."

So Pakistani Balti man Twaha describes his first wife on page 120 of Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's extraordinary Three Cups of Tea. The book, describing how a failed attempt on K2 led to the Central Asia Institute and its attempts to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is not about marmots, or rodents of any kind. However, like Nick Hornsby's discussion of sugar mice in Fever Pitch, this line spoke to me. It takes a certain amount of experience with marmots to understand what a great compliment it is, but anyone reading can grasp its sweetness.

I've spent a fair amount of time in the last month trying to figure out what makes this book great. My father hurried and finished it while he was here in May so that he could leave the book with me (my mother had already read and recommended it). The Mister picked it up the day after I finished it and read the first half in one sitting. The Mister's father read it over two days while he was here. The Mister's father was particularly interested in the descriptions of Pakistan. He had been there in the 1980s and found the portrayal of the landscape and the people consistent with his experience. None of the rest of us have any experience in the area. None of us know enough about the climbing community to know anybody whose name was dropped* except Sir Edmund Hillary. The book is not a "feel good" book. The plot, as it were, involves lots of bureaucratic and logistic frustrations, which generally don't make for a page turner. Yet somehow it is a great book.

I credit author David Oliver Relin for the book's greatness. Greg Mortenson, the book's subject, has done fantastic stuff, but writing a biographical call-to-action that doesn't end up beatifying the subject, preaching, or just becoming boring, takes great literary talent. Relin works wonders with Mortenson's story without making a reader notice the writing at all. A great feat.

Plot wise, I would have liked this book far more if it didn't need to bring up 9/11, the Taliban and the invasion of Afghanistan. This speaks more to my desire to wish away the last eight years of US history than any legitimate criticism of the book. Of course, I also know a book about building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan would never have been written without the current terrorist angle. In any case, don't expect many marmots, but do read this book.

*I've come to realize that knowing names of food writers and a few gardeners can make you feel like an insider when reading Calvin Trillin or Ruth Reichl and like an outsider when trying to read about climbing or Arsenal football or discuss anything with anyone other than my mother.

**More money goes to Central Asia Institute if you buy Three Cups of Tea from the official website I've linked. I'll also happily pass around this well-read copy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"What sort of people walk door to door giving away cats?"

asked the Mister this evening.

Apparently the kind of person who think we'd be suckers for a little kitten like this. There's a little more to it than that, but not much. A woman I've never seen before knocked on the door with a kitten, claiming her grandmother had told her we were looking for a kitten, I awakened the Mister so he could politely decline and now we have a very small cat. (photos of Mr. Splashy Pants discovering the reclining rocker which would definitely squish it, asleep in my hands, and with the Mister's hand for scale).

My wife was like a marmot

Cat or I just erased this post. .. . watch this space for a review of a great book that includes marmots.

Further Prairie Dog Adventures

While the Mister's parents were here for a pleasant visit over the last week, Prairie Dog saw some new sights in West Virginia. Not only did he ride a steam train to the top of Bald Knob (2nd or 3rd highest point in the state) he went to the bogs at Cranberry Glades and saw orchids and very very small sundews. He saw Rhododendron maxima, the state flower of West Virginia in bloom near the Falls of Hills Creek. Prairie Dog is already stuffed, so he didn't get overfed on restaurant food and crazy-complicated (tasty, but not quite worth making four cake layers, a custard, a soaking syrup, a filling and a buttercream for)coconut cake, but I did.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Lucky Sugar Mice

What happened was, Chris Roberts bought a sugar mouse from Jack Reynolds ('The
Rock King'), bit its head off, dropped it in the Newmarket Road before he could
get started on the body, and it got run over by a car. And that afternoon
Cambridge United, who had hitherto been finding life difficult in the Second
Division (two wins all season, one home, one away), beat Orient 3-1, and a
ritual was born. Before each home game we all of us trooped into the sweet shop,
purchased our mice, walked outside, bit the head off as though we were removing
the pin from a grenade, and tossed the torsos under the wheels of oncoming cars;
Jack Reynolds would stand in the doorway watching us, shaking his head
sorrowfully. United, thus protected, remained unbeaten at the Abbey for months.

NickHornsby, FeverPitch, pp.109-110.

The opening of the best chapter I've read about luck all year, in a book I was not reading with thoughts to luck, and in it sweet rodents that are lucky. Reading this passage felt like a not-very subtle sign from God.
Alas, even the most obvious signs can have cryptic
meanings and I have yet to properly interpret God's lucky rodent message.

The Magic Garden

A Sylvan Grove Public Library copy of Gene Stratton-Porter's The Magic Garden last due to the library on October 23, 1959 made it to my hands recently. Published in 1926 (two years after Stratton-Porter had died, according to her wikipedia article) the book reminded me of an awkward cross between Sabrina (the rich people on Long Island movies, not the teenage witch) and The Pilgrim's Progress. Romantic, moralistic, high-handed and far-fetched, I first thought The Magic Garden was an excellent choice purely as a foil for the near-contemporary The Blue Castle, which seems incredibly modern and well-crafted by comparison. Two days after reading it, however, while I still think that it has issues (lots of them), I've found myself picking it up, re-reading pieces and crying over characters, so it can't be all bad. Of course, the first hint that it wasn't all bad was that the garden scenes are botanically correct and Stratton-Porter isn't afraid to use "calyx" and "syringa:" in a children's book. The author, it turns out, was also an acclaimed naturalist with her own wetland preserve.
While nothing like the garden of the title, I found the pictured woodland to be magically brimming with mountain laurel when the Mister and I hiked through last weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2008


Without some white and blue, it would be silly it call it patriotic, but red does seem to be the dominant color around our garden at the moment. The cardinal flower (thus far elusive to photograph) is red. Red red red. And the poppies are less orange than the photo suggests.

Without belittling our problems or the greatness of other nations, I do feel lucky to be an American. Happy Independence Day!

Some aliums that strike me as floral fireworks.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Banjo and Good Luck came and went at pleasure

"They left the door open, and Banjo and Luck came and went at pleasure," reads page 158 of Lucy Maude Montgomery's The Blue Castle. I love the image of luck being closely intertwined with bluegrass and completely out of human control.

The book is a fun one. The Mister and I just booked tickets to the Canadian Maritimes (and it's the Anne Centennial!) and I re-read it to reacquaint myself with Prince Edward Island. Unlike the Anne and Emily books, however, The Blue Castle takes place in Ontario. While it's still the story of a downtrodden girl discovering how to live, The Blue Castle is sillier and more fun than most of Montgomery's other novels. Highly recommended, and it contains these great lines about luck.

"But it was Good Luck they loved. They both admitted that Good Luck was so lovable that he practically amounted to an obsession," (pg. 149) of course, "Luck is a dainty little cat."

Image from, apparently a band.