Monday, April 30, 2012

Hometown Memories: Face To Face With Mean Girls

“Don't blindly follow your friends into self-destructive behavior in order to be accepted by them.
If they were truly your friends, they wouldn't expect that from you in the first place”

Last week, I wrote about how tough the high school I attended was and ended it with this:

I was never really aware to what level of nastiness the ‘bad’ girls could climb – I’d never needed or cared to find out – until it hit close to home and was literally shoved in my face. Until that day I was living in my idyllic world where ignorance truly is truly bliss.

And I will share that story with you - next week.


...

Well, it’s ‘next week’, so here is that story...

When I was in elementary school, I was really good friends with a girl named (let’s call her) ‘Ashley’. Sometime toward the middle of our elementary school years, she moved away and changed schools. Because we were so fond of one another, we decided to keep in touch. By writing letters to each other. And we did, regularly.
Hanging out with a best friend. (I'm on the left)

For years to follow, we mailed letters back and forth; sharing our news, talking about our lives, friends and schools, and basically growing up together through words. It was a joyous event whenever I received a letter from her, something I always looked forward to. None of my day to day friends knew about this part of my life. My cherished friendship with ‘Ashley’ was my secret; a place I visited alone --- like a secret garden.

Because we were quite young when we started our pen pal adventure, we were not quite clear on distances, so we were convinced that the area she moved to was exotically far away. This made our correspondence that much more exciting. But when we started high school and become more ‘worldly’, we discovered that we weren’t as far away from each other as we had always assumed - no more than 8 to 10 kilometers (5 or 6 miles). It was about that time that we started to hint at the idea of reuniting in person. And since we had learned by this time how to get around by public transportation, we knew it was only a matter of time before we would make this happen.

Girls I hung out with in high school. (I'm on the right)
I must have been about 15 when I received a letter from ‘Ashley’ asking me if she could come down to my school with some friends to meet me. She listed a date; I wrote back and confirmed. I told her to ‘just ask for me’ when she arrived, and that someone would be sure to locate me and pass the message. I was beside myself with excitement. We were finally going to see each other in person again; all grown-up, teenagers, young ladies. I had a childhood image of her but now I’d get to see her as an adolescent. I wondered what she was like now. In elementary school, she had been a kind and sensitive girl, and the letters I received from her indicated to me that not much had changed. I imagined us feeling a little awkward at first, trying to conjugate the present and past by compressing the distance of the years between the two like the folding of an accordion. But no matter what, I knew that the friendship that we had kept alive for so long on paper would surface rapidly in person, and the years of physical separation would quickly fade away. The initial nervousness would be squelched by the strong bond that had kept those letters coming – regularly, avidly – for so many years.

I never did see Ashley that day. I just knew that she had been there. She had traveled down with her friends to see me, but never got a chance to find me.

Here is what happened...

During lunch period on that day, I entered the school foyer (a big open space where we hung out during the colder days and listened to music from our school’s radio station run by students that volunteered as DJs), and as I strolled along, several students ran up to me to inform me that (let’s call her) ‘Jenny’ – a leader of a callous gang of girls in our grade level – was searching for me. And that she looked angry. My heart stopped. Looking for me? Angrily? No one wanted ‘Jenny’, a bona fide bully, ‘looking for them’. Especially in such a foul mood.
(I'm on the left) The girl whose arm is around me was one
of my best friends in high school. We're still great friends.

When I reached halfway through the foyer, I spotted ‘Jenny’ and thugs. They saw me and started heading toward me with determination. I tensed, preparing myself for the worst. Nothing good could come out of this. They stopped in front of me, five of them, ‘Jenny’ in the middle, and two cronies on each side. It was always that way with them – traveling en masse with the leader center stage. She towered over them, not so much in size as in ruthlessness. Her followers were looking up at her in admiration. As if being hardhearted was something to be proud of.

‘Jenny’ looked straight into my eyes as she dropped devastating news right into my lap. My heart was pounding so hard against my chest, and I was drawing such deep breaths, that I was convinced that any minute I was going to pass out as she rambled on.

“Ashley...said she came to see you...”

‘Ashley’.

My head was spinning so hard at the mention of her name that I could hardly make out Jenny’s words. The background faded and was replaced by cut-out figures of students. I was no longer in a sensible reality. I was standing on quicksand that was sucking me into a gruesome abyss.

“...with her little friends...taught them all a good lesson...”

I heard laughter. Her cronies were laughing, nodding their heads in approval, proud of this bully, and of themselves. I felt the nausea building as ‘Jenny’ fed me this poisonous information. This couldn’t be truly happening; the scene was too surreal.

“...think they can come around here...”

I never took my eyes off this vicious girl, frozen, feeling my head throbbing. I couldn’t feel the rest of my body. Had it gone numb? Had it vanished altogether? Had the quicksand finally managed to pull me all the way down leaving only my head and its – my eyes, my ears – as witness?

“...never show their faces here again...”

‘Jenny’ was shaking. Pumped up with adrenaline. It was clear just how much pleasure she had derived from the experience. It was like a drug that she needed to keep her cold heart pumping.

“...had to let you know...”

More laughter. And then silence. Suddenly all eyes were on me. She was asking me something. I didn’t hear what she was saying at first. I was too mesmerized by the look in her eyes. I’d never seen a look like that. It was like looking in the eyes of a wild animal after it’s hunted down its prey.

Hanging out with friends. (I'm on the seat to the right)
"What do you think about that?” That was her question. What did I think about that? I just stared at her for the longest time. There were no words. My mind was blank. The satisfied smiles, the laughter, the cold eyes – it all stunned me. The lack of shame, lack of remorse and lack of sensitivity was beyond my comprehension. These girls could have foamed at the mouth, writhed on the ground, shown horns, cloven hooves and pointed tails – it wouldn’t have surprised me. Because I was, after all, in the presence of demons. These weren’t human beings. They couldn’t be. They had surfaced from hell. No one could behave in this manner, hurt other people intentionally, without feeling guilty, and not be evil. After all, what kind of a sick mind carries out such an abusive act, and is then fanatically eager to brag about it?

I couldn’t breathe. I felt as if my lungs were being squeezed. I opened my mouth to speak, to ask ‘why’ they would do this and felt my tongue twisting inside it, paralyzed. I closed it, opened it and tried once more. Nothing. But they didn’t care for an answer. They never really expected one. As quickly and forcefully as they had arrived is as quickly and forcefully as they turned around and left. En masse. Always, en masse.

I never heard from Ashley again after that. She never contacted me. I never contacted her. We disappeared from each other’s lives, each one of us hiding behind our own wall. Perhaps for her it was anger. Perhaps it was embarrassment. Perhaps it was even the feeling of betrayal -- my betrayal of her. I never did find out. But my own wall was multi-faceted. Regret. I should have warned her. I knew what type of school I was in, what could have awaited her. And yet it had never crossed my mind. Because I’d always been safely ignored by these nasty girls, I’d assumed that she’d be safe, too, simply because she was my friend. Anger.I was angry at myself for not having protected her. Shouldn’t I have kept an eye out for her, checking every now and then to see if she had arrived, running out the minute I saw her approach to meet with her? Would this have kept her safe? If those girls had seen me with her, might they have left her alone? Shame. I had stood before the demons and done nothing. I’d stood before them shocked; immobilized by fear and horror. For years and years I told myself that I should have pulled myself together and punched that bitch in the face, right then and there, and simply lived with the consequences that would come from it. Even if that meant being relentlessly bullied for the remainder of my high school years. But I didn’t. And struggled with that.

It’s been over 30 years since this happened, and yet, whenever I think about it, I’m transported back to that foyer, staring into that vicious girl’s eyes, stunned by the iciness in them, and shocked by how proud she was of herself. How keen she was to gloat about victimizing an innocent human being.

In the present, ‘Jenny’ is friends with good friends of mine; friends that never knew what happened back in high school. Recently, one of my friends sang praises about ‘Jenny’, saying “She’s such a wonderful person. And even back then, she wasn’t that bad. She was a good kid. It was the other girls in her gang that were really bad.”

Maybe I would have shared that perspective if not for my own unpleasant experience with her. I guess it all depends on which side of the fence you’re standing on. And who’s telling the story.

Another friend recently said about high school bullies: “All that happened a long time ago. We should forget about it.”

And she went on to say about another notorious female bully: “Remember (let’s call her) ‘Macy’ [last name omitted]? I’m good friends with her now and she’s turned out to be the sweetest, nicest person.”

And that’s great. But it doesn’t change what happened back then.

She went on to add: “We’ve all done stupid things in the past. We learn from them. They help shape who we are today.”

They absolutely do. But the abuse that bullies dish out also shape the victim they dish it out to. Should we not ponder how those moments have affected a victim? What it’s done to them? It’s not one-sided, after all. And the other side is always more devastating.

What puzzles me is that making a reference to anyone’s debauched past, even our own, seems to be taboo. What gives? Can we simply sweep misdeeds and elements that we are ashamed of under a rug and pretend they never happened? Is there a statute of limitations on ruthlessness? Or do we grow as human beings by owning these moments, and feeling the guilt and remorse that these actions should rouse? And what about the people that were victimized by these bullies? Do we simply wave away the impact those days had on them because it’s easier to just ‘forget about it’? Isn’t that a lot more convenient for the bully than the bullied?

I will write a little more about my thoughts on this next time...

“There is one thing alone that stands the brunt of life throughout its course: a quiet conscience”

Book It - Room

This week’s featured book:

Room
Author: Emma Donoghue

Overview:

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. . . . It's where he was born. It's where he and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination -- the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells; the imaginary world projected through the TV; the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it's the prison where she's been held since she was nineteen -- for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space. But Jack's curiosity is building alongside Ma's own desperation, and she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely. . . .

Told in the inventive, funny and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience -- and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.


My Comments:

I was hesitant at first to read this book, not sure what to expect. Just the thought of what this story is based upon is very disturbing. Furthermore, it takes incredible talent to write the story through the eyes and mind of a very young child, and I wasn’t sure the writer would pull it off.

She does!

Emma Donoghue does a brilliant job of placing the reader in young Jack's shoes, and telling the tale from his perspective. It’s a shocking and endearing story about the strong bond between a mother and child, psychological survival and the innocence of childhood. And Jack tells you all of it...

Demotivational


Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Garden Is Growing On

Spring started off nicely here in my little part of the world, and then suddenly the weather turned on us. Clouds. Rain. Cold. Even some snow. The month of April is quickly coming to an end, and I’ve barely gotten any garden time in. I haven’t even been to a garden center yet. Well, I went once, but only for a few minutes. Our gardening season is very short here, so when an entire month is lost, it’s quite upsetting.

My garden keeps growing on despite the weather, although it did look a little stressed during the worst of those gloomy days.

Here is what’s happening so far:

The daffodils are just about done but the hyacinth is still going strong. And so are the tulips in back and front of the house.





All the roses are starting to grow, but Morden Sunrise is in the lead. Can’t wait to see those glorious blooms that it produces.




The huge maple tree (not sure what kind; possibly a crimson maple) in front of our deck is blooming. It will be stunning when it’s done. And the birds will be happier as they’ll have a place to hide.





Clematis 'Niobe' will be showing off its beautiful purple flowers very soon. The anticipation is more than I can handle.



Euphorbia polychrome, which grows in front of Clematis 'Niobe' is also getting ready to show off its neon-yellow flowers.




Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, the pride of my garden, is inching its way up. It will grow to about three feet tall and flower all season long. Bees, butterflies and an assortment of other tiny critters will be hanging around it daily. And yes, so will I, with camera in hand.



As you can see, Aquilegia 'McKana Hybrids' is also preparing to put on a show. Perhaps it will do so within the next few days.



My Heritage Red Raspberry bush that I planted in 2010 produces the tastiest fruit. It’s a bit of a challenge to keep the birds, chipmunks, squirrels and a bunch of other critters from eating all the berries, but well worth the effort.



PJM Compact Rhododendron is eventually going to reach a height of 6 feet, but it will take some time to get there. For now I’m just happy that it’s growing well, and getting through each winter effortlessly.



I have quite a few daylilies planted in different flower beds and they are all starting to make a very healthy appearance.




Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Sissinghurst White’ is now displaying its tiny white flowers. Once it’s done blooming, the plant will be cut back hard and the new leaves that will grow back will be thicker, larger. For the rest of the season it will be a beautiful foliage plant.



Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' has bright-golden, variegated leaves. These turn an attractive pinkish-red in cold weather.



This beautiful plant is Iris pallida ‘Aureo Variegata’. It is a stunning addition to the garden.



I planted Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’ (Autumn monkshood) last summer. And despite the fact that is was just a tiny plant at the time, it produced the most spectacular flowers. I am really looking forward to another round of these blooms on a much larger plant.



Pulsatilla vulgaris is showing no signs of slowing down. Because it’s one of the sole plants in bloom, the flowers stand out and can be seen from quite a distance.




Alcea rosea ‘Spotlight Mars Magic’ (hollyhock) is going to grow over 6 feet tall and produce the most gorgeous blooms. Unless the rabbits eat all its leaves, like they did to all the other hollyhocks in my garden last year. Sigh...



And finally, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ has bloomed. In addition to the pretty blue flowers that are tiny and delicate, the plant boats spectacular foliage.



Let’s hope that the month of May is much kinder, so that I can finally get into my garden on a regular basis.

A Single Photograph

“Animals give me more pleasure through the viewfinder of a camera than they
ever did in the crosshairs of a gunsight. And after I've finished "shooting,"
my unharmed victims are still around for others to enjoy. I have developed
a deep respect for animals. I consider them fellow living creatures with certain
rights that should not be violated any more than those of humans.”
- Jimmy Stewart -

My camera adores this little critter...



...and so do I!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Chipmunk With A Huge Appetite

Well, here he is again...my favourite critter. With the amount of food he consumes in my backyard alone, he won’t be able to squeeze into his home by the end of summer.




Where does he put it all?

Chipmunks have cheek pouches, which allow them to carry multiple food items to their burrows for either storage or consumption. Considering that this little one is getting to be a little chunky, I’d say that a lot of this food is being consumed!




I found this on a website. It describes perfectly the process a chipmunk uses when it finds food.

"When preparing food for storage, the chipmunk holds fruit and seeds in its dexterous front paws, and with specialized incisors, which are especially long and directed forward, it removes seeds from pods. Then it uses its tongue to shift them backwards and stuff them between its teeth and the extensible skin in the cheek area, where they are held while the animal collects more food. The capacity of these cheek pouches increases with maturity. When the cheek pouches become full, the chipmunk deposits the seeds in its nest or buries them in shallow holes that it digs in the ground and then covers with earth, leaves, and other litter."




Chipmunks belong to the genus Tamias. Tamias is Greek for "storer," a reference to the animals' habit of collecting and storing food for winter use.


"So...what's for dessert?"

The common name originally may have been spelled "chitmunk," from the native Odawa (Ottawa) word jidmoonh, meaning "red squirrel" (cf.

Other early forms include "chipmuck" and "chipminck," and in the 1830s they were also referred to as "chip squirrels," probably in reference to the sound they make. Chipmunks have also been referred to as "striped squirrels," "chippers," "munks," "timber tigers," or "ground squirrels,".

Personally, I like Mr. Inski. *smile*


How Many Nuts Can a Chipmunk Stuff into His Cheeks? Find out in this video...



Sunny Side Up

“You're despicable!”
- Daffy Duck -

This week’s sunny side up is a video featuring my favourite Looney Tunes character, Daffy Duck...



Have a super weekend, everyone.

The Great Outdoors

Spring and summer are your plant’s favourite time of the year. This is when growing conditions are at their best with longer days, higher light levels, elevated humidity and abundant fresh air breezing through open windows and circulating around the home. Plants wake up from their winter slumber when all those beneficial elements of the warmest months of the year kick in, and experience the highest growth during that period.

As temperatures warm up in early or late spring – depending on where you live- many indoor gardeners choose to place some, sometimes all, of their houseplants outside to enhance the value of those benefits. For many plants that have struggled through a long, hard winter with negligible humidity, shorter days and the harmful effects of heating systems, a sheltered spot in the open air may be just what the plant doctor ordered. With appropriate handling during the transfer from home to garden, and suitable care throughout their outdoor stay, most indoor plants will flourish with a summer vacation. Breathing the constantly flowing air, soaking up the rain that quenches their thirst and washes their leaves, absorbing the increased humidity and loading up on that superior level of light are just a few of the pleasures of the great outdoors that your plants can enjoy.

There’s no doubt that your houseplants will experience all of those wonderful outdoor delights, and then some – but only if they are transferred outside the right way. And the right way is by following the necessary steps that will ensure that the transition between the indoor and outdoor environment, which are poles apart in many ways, is as smooth as possible. The risk of immediate (and possibly permanent) damage just from the overdose incurred by the massive increase of light alone is a clear reminder to respect the methodical transition.

What does that transition involve? Let’s take a look at it below.


Easy Does It With That Sunshine

Patience is a virtue, they say, and something you will need to practice as you work towards transferring your indoor greenery outside. Do not consider the transition until temperatures are reasonably warm. Reasonably warm to houseplants, which mostly originate from tropical areas and cannot withstand any amount of cold, means that nighttime temperatures begin to approximate those indoors (at least 15°C / 60°F) and daytime temperatures are even warmer. There are many plants that can survive even lower levels of 10°C / 50°F, but the more sensitive plants will sustain cold damage if not kept warm enough. But before you reach the point where you can leave your leafy broods on the patio permanently, you must first acclimatize them to their new home.

After all danger of frost in your region has passed and the temperature is just right, it’s safe to begin moving your plants outdoors. Gradually introduce them to the new environment by allowing them to spend time outside daily – but only for a few hours. Extend the length of the outdoor stay slowly until your plants are spending their entire days and nights outside. If some of the nights are too cool for your liking, bring them back indoors in the late evening and take them back outside the next day.

There is a tremendous difference between the indoor and outdoor environment, and although you might not be able to make a considerable distinction between the two, your plants can. For example, the brightest spot in your home is equivalent to a shady location outside. Therefore, moving your sun-loving indoor plant to a sunny location on your patio from day one is not a good idea. If you do, your vulnerable plant will sunburn faster than it can say “smells like something’s burning!”

Because of the vast differences between the intensity of indoor and outdoor lighting, move your houseplants slowly into the higher light outside. Keep shade-loving greenery out of the sun throughout the season, especially midday. Place them on screened porches, under trees or any location that does not get hit by the scorching heat of summer rays. For plants that appreciate higher levels of light, and may learn to tolerate full sun outside, gradually acclimatize them to the sunshine over a two-week period. Remember that many plants that bask in the sun indoors might not endure being exposed to direct sun outside, which is much more intense. A little morning sunshine is usually sufficient enough to satisfy the majority of sun worshippers. But no matter what type of outdoor light you expose your plants to, keep an eye on them for signs of sunburn, which consists mainly of bleached or whitened leaves but can also include leaf spots, leaf blotches and red or maroon coloured leaves.

Despite your best effort to help your plants acclimatize to their new surroundings, don’t be alarmed if a few of your potted beauties decide to discard perfectly healthy leaves. Indoor plants often form leaves that are not able to tolerate exposure to the outdoor sun because they don’t need to. And while some plants won’t be very dramatic during this process, others will shed their indoor ‘shade’ leaves and grow new ‘sun’ foliage that has the ability to withstand direct sunlight.


Elements Of The Outdoor World

Air - Although the consistent air movement of the outdoors is extremely beneficial to houseplants (helping to minimize pest and fungal problems), it can be quite detrimental when a light breeze turns into strong winds. Leaves can be damaged or broken, pots can be tipped over and the soil can dry out very quickly. Secure your plants so they can be safe all summer. Use heavier pots to keep them in place, check on them regularly to quench their thirst, stake their leaves when necessary and place them in areas that offer some protection against the powerful forces of the wind.

Rain - Together with that light breeze, your houseplants – especially the more sensitive ones - will also enjoy the purity of rainwater that is free of chemicals added to tap water (unless you live in an extremely polluted area). But like anything else, too much of a good thing can do more harm than good. Since your plants are confined to a container, make sure the soil is well-draining to avoid it from being flooded by heavy rain, which can take days to dry out. If the rain continues to come down hard for extended periods, move your plants to a sheltered area to avoid any damage to them.

Heat – The dog days of summer are just as exhausting to plants as they are to humans. Just like you can become dehydrated quickly during those dry spells, so can your plants, especially when outdoors. During these stressful periods when the heat wave is in full swing, be sure to check on your potted greenery every day, preferably twice a day, to avoid severe dehydration that can cause irreversible damage to the root system. Keep your plants well-watered during this period and consider changing their location to provide additional shelter if the heat wave is going to stick around for awhile.

Pests – Let’s face it, there’s really no way to avoid pesky critters from trying to turn your houseplants into a meal. The good news is that you have friends in the great outdoors, beneficial insects that prey upon pests that invade your houseplants. These predatory bugs are the greatest form of natural pest control and your best buddies during the summer. If you have a backyard, consider learning about what to plant in your garden to attract beneficial insects. There are many flowering plants designed to attract these ‘good bugs’ and convince them to stick around. As your garden insectary matures, you’ll have your own army of beneficial insects, powerful allies in the battle against harmful insects. In addition to the natural help you hope to receive from the good bugs, give your plants a shower now and then. When you’re out watering the lawn, hose down your houseplants to knock off unwanted guests and accumulated grime. If you have a garden full of beneficial insects, you might want to avoid this step, for obvious reasons, until your plants are ready to come back inside in the fall.


A Few Things To Bear In Mind

There are risks involved when taking your plants outside. If you prefer not to take any chances with your leafy gang, don’t move them outdoors.

- Keep an eye on plants you’ve placed outdoors; not all of them will appreciate their new environment. If one of your plants is having a great deal of trouble adjusting or it’s plagued with too many problems, move it to another location, even back indoors if necessary.

- Outdoor plant growth is usually more rapid than indoors so make sure you adjust the frequency of feeding and watering accordingly.

- Summer heat, increased light and vigorous growth will leave your plant parched more often. Check daily, twice daily in heat waves, to ensure that your plants are not ‘dying of thirst’.

- Insects are not the only threat to the health of your plants. Squirrels, cats, dogs, rodents, birds and a multitude of other potential ‘plant abusers’ can strike any plant at any time. If problematic critters are damaging your plants, find ways to secure their health and safety. Or bring them back indoors if it’s the only way to put an end to the aggression.

- If you have a houseplant that is growing very happily inside your home, a plant that is cherished, a plant that is an heirloom or a plant that is growing inside a valuable container, you might want to seriously consider leaving it right where it is – in its indoor haven.

- Although I have no interest in placing any of my hydroculture plants outside, you might want to. In that case, I strongly recommend that you only transfer plants that are growing in containers that can be modified to function well outside (glass containers are not a good idea). If you are using an alterable container, perhaps a standard hydroculture setup, drill a hole in the side of the pot (the outer pot) about an inch up from the bottom to allow excess water to drain out, particularly after a heavy rain fall. When you’re ready to bring your plant back indoors in the fall, plug the hole with silicone.

- If you live in areas where the fall season can become quite cold, start listening to weather forecasts as soon as the month of September kicks in (or at least midway through). Once you hear that night temperatures are plummeting to levels of 10°C / 50°F, start the process of moving your potted plants back indoors, out of the cold.


And finally...

Moving houseplants outside is a matter of choice. I don’t agree with some websites that I’ve run across that insist it’s a very bad idea, nor do I agree with others that maintain it’s absolutely necessary for your plant’s health. While I do think it’s a real ‘breath of fresh air’ for your greenery, if your plants are used to growing happily indoors all year round, they’ll never know the difference. In other words, they aren’t missing anything, nor are they somehow deprived. And if you don’t mind the effort involved in transferring them outside properly, as well as the risks involved once they’re there, your plants will flourish once they adjust to their new surroundings.

So don’t be intimidated by all the information you pick up from experts and non-experts alike. Whether you choose to take advantage of the great outdoors or are satisfied with the status quo of the secure indoors, as long as your plants are happy and thriving, it’s the right choice.