Heirloom Irises, Pinning Strawberry Shoots, and more!

For Christmas last year, I received a fantastic gift -- a magazine subscription for Organic Gardening -- and I really love it. In the last issue, among other things, I learned about the origins of various lilac types. In this issue, there was a similar article about heirloom irises.

I really love irises -- Iris is my daughter's middle name -- and I'm always checking out greenhouses for varieties I haven't seen before. Most of the flowers in my garden are purple or white, and I managed to find a dwarf bearded iris that was deep purple and bright white. It's gorgeous!

I didn't realize that traditional irises are supposed to be fragrant, as I've never encountered fragrant ones before. Hybridization has robbed them of their fragrance, and this has inspired me to try to find heirloom irises.

Under the category of more useful information, I learned to use hairpins to control strawberry shoots. The strawberries escaped their raised bed last year and started taking over my pumpkin patch. This year, I will be able to keep them under control by actually pinning the shoots in place instead of just pushing them back into the box and hoping for the best.

In the issue I'm reading right now, there's also a great article about a prison boot camp in Chicago that uses gardening (among other things) to rehabilitate young men convicted of non-violent crimes. This isn't surprising to me at all. There are a lot of important skills in gardening -- like patience, diligence, organization, planning -- that are transferable into every aspect of life. There's also something very calming and peaceful about helping plants thrive, not to mention the rewarding feeling from enjoying the yield from a garden you tended.

My most recent fiction novel, though incomplete and in desperate need of a new draft, revolves around two people falling in love while tending a garden.


Word Nerds Gone Wild

I've mentioned the EAC's conference a couple of times now, and I've finally got a moment to talk about it. It was the first conference I've been able to make it to, though I've certainly wanted to go to others.

My favourite part of the conference was undoubtedly meeting other editors, particularly those I'd become friends with online but had never met in person. I've always valued the EAC meetings, both at the branch and twig level, for their networking opportunities -- does anyone else find that word too buzz-y? We should replace it. It has a certain air of desperation to it that I find repugnant.

But I digress. This conference was all about learning, and learning about other editors -- not just their editing life, but the mundane as well -- was the most valuable aspect for me. Since most of us are freelancers, these meetings and conferences are like our water cooler time.

I learned about being a better small business owner, about the perils of editing SEO, about online usability, and about editing comic books, poetry, song lyrics, and humour.

It was confidence-building when many of the lessons in the business-related sessions reiterated beliefs I already had and decisions I've already been making. I still learned quite a bit and look forward to making changes that will serve my clients even better.

The backdrop of the conference, Ottawa, was also a major highlight. I love the city, but have previously only seen it on Canada Day, which is an amazing experience but completely chaotic. This time I got to see the true city, and it's still just as charming. We toured the Byward Market, visited the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery, and got some hilarious pictures of my daughter playing on Parliament Hill.

I look forward to the next conference in Halifax, another beautiful city steeped in history, and the chance to learn more and connect with my colleagues.


The Passage

For a while now I've been talking about this long monster of a book that I've been reading for what feels like a century. I finished it on Thursday afternoon, but then proceeded to pack up my car, husband and daughter and high-tail it to Ottawa for the EAC's annual conference, which is now over. I will have plenty to say about the conference once I've had a few days to fully process the whole event.

For now I want to finally talk about The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I'm glad to have finally finished reading. There's no way to talk about this book without comparing it to Stephen King's The Stand, so I'm not even going to try. If I had to sum it up in one brief sentence, I would call it an updated take on The Stand -- with GPS and email and vampires.

That's really over-simplifying things, of course, but it's still a fairly accurate description. There are so many parallels between the two books that I almost wonder if Cronin wrote it with a copy of King's book open on his desk. There are shared dreams, unusually old and mystical black women who talk in riddles, a virus that wipes out most of humanity, an epic battle between good and evil, a journey across the United States, a weapons cache in the desert, the army and government completely failing to contain the outbreak, and an epic word count.

I don't know the actual word count of either book, and a Google search failed to help (though I saw someone say The Stand is about 520,000 words, and discovered that there will be two more books following The Passage) but they are certainly a similar length.

However, the length is not a problem for The Stand (I read the unabridged version) but it is for The Passage. I felt like Cronin's book was never going to end -- and not in a good way. One of the main problems is that the first third of the book almost doesn't need to exist at all. While I don't have my copies of either book on hand because I'm away from home, I know that King's book starts with the spread of the virus while it takes Cronin somewhere in the ballpark of 300 pages to get there.

While those first 300 pages are very well written with some beautiful imagery and honest acts of humanity, they just aren't necessary. I kept thinking all the way through those first 300 pages, "When is this going to have to do with anything?" Unfortunately, quite a bit of it never has anything to do with the real story, which begins nearly halfway through the book.

A great deal of time is spent on Anthony Carter, and he ends up having nothing to do with much of anything in the end. He's no different than the rest of The Twelve, aside from being innocent of the crimes he's accused of, but that fact has absolutely no bearing on the overall plot. It doesn't stop him from turning into a monster and doing horrific things.

A great deal of time is also spent developing Brad Wolgast, and this proves pointless as well since he disappears around the 300 page mark. I think that, at most, 50 pages would have sufficed for the opening scenes and to set up the characters and plot of the rest of the novel.

If it hadn't taken so long for the book to actually start, I would have a much better attitude about it. It does redeem itself if you manage to make it far enough, but there were times I didn't think I could go on. This says a lot because the only book I haven't been able to finish in my entire life is Moby Dick. But I did finish this and the ending was at least partially satisfying. There's an incredible amount of destruction and doom, but there's also hope. And I like that.

There are a lot of questions unanswered too, ones that I feel should have been. How was the Colony driven to do what it did? I find it hard to believe it was just Amy's arrival and I also don't think it was just because of Babcock. Speaking of Babcock and The Twelve, what about Fanning? It's like he's been forgotten about, even though he's the original, Subject Zero. And what turned everyone at the power station? That was a major deal and there was a lot of speculation but no answer where I thought there should have been. Why was Zander turned and not Caleb? And why Arlo but not Rey?

There are some profound themes running through the book, and an appreciation of the night sky that makes me very happy, so the book is not a total loss. It's just that I found it was too long. Unnecessarily long. If you've got time to slog through it, you should. It was terrifying in some places and left me with nightmares on more than one occasion. I think that's the hallmark of a successful horror novel.

And I've discovered that the story started with The Passage is going to be a trilogy and the second book, The Twelve, is slated for an October release. I will, at the very least, pick up the second book and have a look at it.


Gone But Not Forgotten

I had the intention of reviewing a book on Monday. The problem is that I haven't finished the book yet. There are a lot of problems related to why I haven't finished the book yet. The biggest problem is that the book is gigantic. It's nearly 800 pages of teeny font, blurred vision and tension headaches. The second biggest problem is that it took 300 pages for the story to actually start.

I will have a lot to say about these problems when I finally get to the end of the book, which could be another week. Stay tuned!


Giddy Astro-Geeks

Now that I've finished revising The Dragon Whisperer, I've been slowly working my way through the May/June issue of SkyNews magazine, and this month and next month prove to be extremely busy for back yard astronomers and astro-geeks in general.

Back on May 5, we had the "supermoon", which really doesn't mean much. The moon was a couple hundred kilometres closer to earth than any other time this year, but on the grand scale of things -- when the moon is over 350,000 km away -- it's not enough of a difference to appear any bigger to the unaided eye. Sorry, guys, but if you thought the full moon looked bigger or brighter this month, you were a victim of the power of suggestion.

On Sunday there will be a solar eclipse, and I've got my eclipse shades ready to go! I've already been out in the front yard staring up at the sun with them. It's an odd feeling to be able to look directly at the sun and to know that my eyes aren't in any danger. I didn't even realize they made glasses for this sort of thing. They really just look like the oldschool 3D glasses, but with black film for lenses instead of red and blue.

Until I received my eclipse shades with the latest SkyNews volume, I thought you had to wear welder's glasses to view the sun. I'm really excited to catch part of the eclipse!

Unfortunately, in my region, the eclipse starts about twenty minutes before sundown. The lunar eclipse that follows on June 4 also doesn't have an optimal viewing time. The lunar eclipse begins here around 6am, and I will not likely be up for that.

The fun and excitement doesn't end there though -- far from it! On June 5, Venus will transit the sun for the last time in over 120 years. I hope we get some good weather for that! I'm definitely going to try to view it, and I'm glad the magazine gives view times by region, as well as tips on how to best watch. I expect we'll make a trip to an astronomy store for protective viewing film for my binoculars, if nothing else.

There are several star parties in the region as well, and we've got a yurt booked at Mew Lake Campground for the September star party in Algonquin Park. There are going to be several star parties on Manitoulin Island as well, and since one of them coincides with my wedding anniversary, I'm going to try to make it to that one too.

Two star parties that I'd really like to go to one day are in Jasper National Park and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. I especially want to do some serious stargazing from the prairies. Those big skies are always stunning!

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has some great resources for anyone looking for more information about any of these events. You can also visit SkyNews's website for more information.