Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dreaming of Spring

Those seed supply centers are dumb like a fox. A few weeks ago, they started sending me their catalogs for the 2012 growing season. In the midst of ice and snow and cold temperatures (more or less; we've been lucky so far), who can resist the photos of blooming flowers and fresh produce?

Now is a great time to start planning what you want to grow in warmer seasons. This is when you have the time to map out what (and where) you want to plant. There's no rush, because you can't even plant until the last frost is over. It's a good time to look over what's available for your climate, light conditions, and growing zone. You can choose, realistically, what plants you can afford to buy or trade with others, and those edibles your family will actually use. No sense growing broccoli, if no one in your family's going to eat it! Alternatively, you can choose new vegetables your family might want to "kitchen test."

This will be the second year for my butterfly garden, and I expect everything's going to come back fuller and more vigorous. I'm hoping the milkweed will have gotten a nice foothold, and that it attracts many monarch butterflies. I have a couple varieties of butterfly bush, which is quite the magnet for many species. In addition, there are some empty spaces where I can put some new types of flowers to attract butterflies (and hopefully a hummingbird or two). I also have a shed to landscape. Hooray for blank canvases!

Finally, we have a raised-bed garden awaiting its spring planting. This year, we'll plant more of the really successful stuff. Last growing season, we ate leaf lettuce, baby spinach, and beet greens right up until frost. Definitely going to pack the box with those. I want to try more tomatoes and beans, too. I think we'll grow some sunflowers for the birds, out by the bird feeders. We get a couple volunteer sunflowers every year, from seeds that drop from the feeder and manage to take root, but seeing a cheerful patch of them out there every morning over my coffee will be a great way to start the day.

If you're in a cold climate, I hope you're dreaming of spring, too!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Movie Review: "War Horse"

First off, I don't have a right to complain, since I saw this movie for free. My mother won tickets, and this had been on my "to see" list, anyway. The trailer looked impressive.

The movie is not your typical "boy and his horse" story. Rather than focusing solely on the relationship between the horse and the boy who raised and trained him, "War Horse" follows the horse itself through its birth and wartime service. It touches on the lives of several other people on all fronts in the war, with the horse connecting them in a Black Beauty-like fashion.

But while "Black Beauty" is a classic for a reason, I can't say the same is destined for this movie. It had all the expected notes of a good film, but it fell short of great. I'm picky about horse films, and there were a few moments when it was clear that this was a trained horse responding to cues offscreen (or CGI'd in motions or behaviors), rather than an animal acting on natural impulse. The film was missing a clear, unifying element, aside from the connective element of the horse's involvement in the humans' lives, and that of wartime courage and sacrifice. In short, too many vignettes, without a focused path to tie them together. I found several cliche moments, which dimmed my enjoyment of some otherwise spectacular scenes.

The highlight of this movie was undoubtedly the horse's wild run through No Man's Land between the trenches of the English and German soldiers at the battlefront. It was a hard scene to watch, and extremely well done. I found myself clapping my hands over my mouth with horror and sympathy for the poor animal as it careened through mud, bombs, and barbed wire. What happens after that is the saving grace of this film, and an interesting commentary on the human element present behind wars. I'm stingy about my "great" films, and I have to say that if this film contained more moments like that, it would have gotten a "great" from me.

I give "War Horse" a 3.5 of 5 stars, for some well-done moments and some cliche ones. Save your hard-earned cash for the rental on this one!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Baby New Year (Taking Her First Steps)

Well, it's that time of year when we start thinking resolutions! The key to keeping your resolutions is, of course, making them attainable ... by making them look attainable. Break that big task into smaller chunks. For example:

If you're a writer, and writing that whole book seems daunting, piece it off. Instead of "I will write a 100,000-word book and submit it to a publisher," you may want to try telling yourself "I will write two pages a day. By December 31, I will submit its first three chapters to a publisher." (And remember that any writing counts, even if it's a rough first draft. You can go back and edit what you wrote, but not if you have written nothing!)

Even if you've decided not to make a resolution, I hope you're looking forward to a bright, happy, and productive New Year. Cheers!