Saturday, May 28, 2011

The King’s Speech – Movie Review

It was a real pleasure for me to witness this modern portrayal of a lesser known, but very significant historical event – an event that profoundly influenced the world in which I now live.

On September 1st, 1939, as the inevitability of World War II rolled across the British Empire like thick English fog, King George VI was preparing himself to utter perhaps one of the greatest speeches of all time – a speech he was ill prepared to make. Because of the sudden abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, the new king unexpectedly found himself on the throne. King George would obviously have to speak in public but his life long speech impediment stood firmly in his way. The new king’s faithful and determined wife, Elizabeth (mother to Queen Elizabeth II and grandmother to Prince Charles) had previously hired several speech therapists, but King George’s progress was non-existent – until she hired a man named Lionel Logue.

An ordinary man, Mr. Logue was anything but common. Lionel immediately went to work trying to help the king – using unorthodox methods to change the course of history. This movie is about the ultimate triumph of King George VI, a real life reluctant monarch thrust into the spotlight by circumstance beyond his control. “The King’s Speech” is the story of a man who rises to meet his obligations – even when those obligations felt like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen support. This story is about determination and determination and more determination – and I liked it a lot!

In the United States, “The King’s Speech” was rated R (14A in Canada), and I will tell you why. The movie has no sex or violence, but it does have a few scenes when the struggling king uses profanity to help him in his speech therapy. As you may already know, I’m not a fan of profanity and wish it had been omitted. I did, however, brave the occasional swarms of foul language masquerading as acting, and enjoyed the movie anyway.

The movie stars Colin Firth, Goeffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall and Anthony Andrews – and they all do an awesome job of portraying this “based on true” story. 

Visit “The King’s Speech” official website.  
For more information and support materials for children and adults who stutter: The National Stuttering Association provides educational and support resources for children and adults who stutter, educators and speech therapists. Over 100 local chapters provide additional support.
Visit for more information.

Here's the real speech His Majesty, King George VI delivered on September 3rd, 1939

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gardening in Cold Alberta - Green Peppers & A Micro Greenhouse

Southern Alberta is not really cold in the summer, but the winters can get nasty. Here, we enjoy Chinook winds in the winter months - warm winds that melt the snow and raise the temperature as much as 40 degrees C in 24 hours. In the spring however, the Mother Nature provides us with a variety of conditions. We can have great weather for days, followed by one morning of frost. What to I do in the garden to keep the plants going? Cover them with plastic.
Typically, Southern Alberta will not be guaranteed frost free until June 1st, but most of us who plant gardens here put our plants and seeds in the ground on the Victoria Day long weekend (about the 23nd of May). We usually get a frost the morning following the full moon, and that occurred May 17th so we are probably out of the woods as far as frost goes until the end of September - if we are lucky.
I started my peppers and tomatoes from seed in early March. The plants grew in our kitchen window until about the end of April when I put them out in our most protected greenhouse. The thriving plants are definitely ready to be in the ground and most of our greenhouse dirt is already planted with flowering tomato plants and soon to flower green, red and jalapeño peppers. Outside, Diana and I prepared a special place of protection for additional pepper plants - since we had too many for our two greenhouses.
We selected a plot about 24 inches wide and 11 feet long. Then we dug a trench about 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep, all around the rectangular perimeter of the plot. Next, we planted the pepper plants - 7 of them in the 11 foot row. With each planting, we used liquid fertilizer 15/30/15 to prevent any transplanting shock. (Miracle Grow or RX-15 are two 15/30/15 fertilizer brands I know of.) We added about 4 cups of fertilizer water (1tablespoon per gallon) to each plant. Next, we placed the drip irrigation hose against the stems (we use the kind of drip irrigation hose that weeps from micro pores everywhere along the hose). With the hose in place, we took 2 large plastic garbage bags and cut them down the sides to form long rectangular sheets of plastic. We folded the bags lengthwise, covered half the plot lengthwise and placed big dirt clods in a few strategic places to hold one edge of the plastic. With the fold against the stem of each plant, we cut a + shaped hole for each plant, about 5 inches each way. We then carefully pulled the plants through the holes, overlapping two garbage bags to reach the entire length of the row. We smoothed out the black plastic and I then pushed 6 curved wires through the plastic and into the ground such that the wires entered the ground at the edge of the 24 inch wide plot and along the inside edge of the 6" x 4" trench. Each wire hoop is 88 inches long and about 1/8 diameter and is the kind of wire used for farm fencing (non rusting and fairly bendable). We pushed the wire hoops into the ground about 8 or 10 inches at each end. (Please note: the two end hoops are pushed in at about a 60 degree angle and the bottoms are less than 10 inches away from the first perpendicular hoop. This helps support the end of the clear plastic when it is stretched. Also, the hoops are placed so that none of them pass directly above any plant.) Next, we cut a piece of 2mil clear plastic 6 feet in width and 16 feet in length. (The plastic is not UV stable, but it really only needs to last about 4-6 weeks to accomplish its magic so this isn't a problem. Thin and cheap is the name of the game.) With the clear plastic cut to length, we draped it over the hoops, centered it and piled the dirt from the trench all along its edges. Approximately 4 - 6 inches of plastic was available to sit in the trench, and the piled dirt tightened the plastic nicely.
The result? A perfect micro greenhouse. Now there are a few cautions I need to tell you about before you try this at home...
First, this micro greenhouse is a closed system - meaning that no air is flowing in our out. Inside the tube, humidity levels are high and the plants use and re-use their own oxygen and carbon dioxide. This is OK for a while.
The plastic is nearly all buried. All that remains to be done is to finish covering the closest edge and sweep off the patio blocks. (It the background, you can see two of the drip irrigation hoses.)
Second, if the ambient temperature gets too high, the plants will cook
So... We'll leave our micro climate alone for about a week or so - until the hottest daytime temperatures get up to no more than 78 degrees Fahrenheit. (80 degrees is the maximum upper limit if there is full sun.) When the days are warm enough, we'll stick a knife into the clear plastic and cut 3/4 circles, leaving the top 1/4 of the circles intact so they act like a flap. The circles will be about 4 inches in diameter. We'll cut one circle in each end and two along each side for a total of 6 vents. After about another week or two, the plants will be getting tall. We'll then cut holes directly above each plant so the leaves can get out of the tube. The holes will be about 11 inches across which will mean that there will not be much plastic left on top. At this point, we'll also cut out and enlarge the 3/4 circles along the walls of the tube so there's better ventilation. We'll add a few more holes to the walls too. Eventually, the clear plastic will come off, but it can remain on until harvest - and a nice harvest it will be!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Small Stuff - 1440 Little Things Each & Every Day

What do you think? I bet you have an opinion. Some say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Others say, “Everything is small stuff.” Well, I agree and I disagree – all depending on how I look at the definition of small stuff. Today, I’d like to talk about ‘time’ – you know, the small stuff that prevents one thing after another from becoming everything all at once.

Let’s first consider the math and then we’ll move on to more pleasant considerations (unless of course you're a math aficionado and then this is a bonus situation of desert first).

In every 24 hours, there are 1440 minutes. That sounds like a lot, but for me, those daily increments can go by very quickly or very slowly. For example, I can hold my breath for well over two minutes, but each minute passes by pretty slowly! Without my accustomed steady supply of oxygen, two minutes seems like an eternity! And how about when I’m sleeping? Eight hours (480 minutes) seem to pass by in less time than it took me to hold my breath without passing out. This phenomenon of time distortion has always fascinated me – and sometimes scared me. In my short life, all 26,928,000 minutes of it – give or take, I have been both efficient in my use of time and wasteful.

In spite of my seemingly endless supply of minutes, I really ought to consider the reality that my minutes have a finite limit – I only have so many minutes allotted to me before my mortal life concludes. The thought might seem a little morbid, but if I’m to get done what I want to get done in life, then I need a plan that fits my parameters – or at least considers those parameters. So... since I don’t have any inside information about the exact number of minutes I have allotted to me, I seem to have only one of two choices. I either live each minute without regard or notice of its passage, or I pay attention and try to maximise the efficiency of each one of those minutes.

Even though any given minute may be my last one in mortality, should I be fearful? I think not. I think that I should embrace and employ and enjoy each minute that I get. Do I always do that? Sadly, no, but I believe that awareness is the first step to creating good habits. My future is going to happen no matter what I do, so I might as well try to push it in a desired direction.

Here is a personal example... About a decade ago, I began writing my book, “Three Seconds On, Three Seconds Off” – my book about growing up on the lighthouse. I was working full time and after work I built up my home-based photography business – as well as fulfilled all my obligations with my growing family. I had no time to write – or so I thought. Then something great happened. I got a Palm Pilot and a compact, folding keyboard. I began pulling the system out on my breaks at work and typing while I ate and rested. In the four years I did that, I wrote over 80,000 words – mostly about 4, 5 or 6 minutes at a time. Occasionally, on my 30 minute lunch breaks, I’d get in over twenty minutes of writing, but not always. What did I learn? I learned an important lesson about using time. I learned that if I did a little bit of writing when I could, that my writing would add up to a lot – eventually. So, what did I do? I took that Palm Pilot & keyboard everywhere. If I had to wait to see the doctor, I wrote. If I had to wait in the car, I wrote. I didn’t read unimportant stuff just to pass the time. I did spend time pondering and thinking – because I found those things important to a balanced life, but I looked for small windows of opportunity and appropriately seized them. I learned that some minutes needed to be sacrificed in order to help other people and that I should not scar my important relationships with the tip of my pen (so to speak). I learned that some minutes, however, were ‘fair game’ and those minutes were mine to gainfully employ as my obedient servants in the pursuit of my creative writing.

Today, I use my small laptop – a Samsung N210 Netbook, to get my words in order. It’s not quite as portable as was my Palm Pilot, but I can input a whole lot more words in a document than I could in the old days – and it has spell check! Today, my battery lasts longer and my data is easier to move around. I just plug in a flash drive to back up my precious files and I can easily transfer data to my archive. I enjoy the onboard thesaurus and the much bigger screen. I can even upload posts to my blog from this nice little computer. All in all, I still try to write whenever I have a few free minutes. And when my computer is not handy, and I have a creative surge, I use a paper, a Post-it note or even a dry erase board (old fashioned I know, but they work in a pinch).

How about you? What do you do to maximize your precious minutes?

I invite you to visit Stephen for lots more time management inspiration.You can even join up and send me a friend request. Have fun!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Who Do You Write Like?

This morning I found a fun place to start my day. I visited Deirdra Eden Coppel's blog and found a very cool widget! I followed the link to a program that analyses a person's writing style:
Rather curious about comparing my own writing style to the styles of others, I posted a small sample of my new novel, "Treasure of El Grado Escaso" and the analysis said that:
I write like
Ernest Hemingway
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I then posted a much bigger sample of the "in progress" novel and it still said that I write like Ernest Hemingway.
I next posted several excerpts from my yet unpublished book, "Three Seconds On, Three Seconds Off" (about my growing up on a lighthouse on the west coast of Canada) for analysis and it said:
I write like
Edgar Allan Poe
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!
For my third and final post, I uploaded some of my novel, "In Ravenscrag's Shadow" and it said:
I write like
Stephen King
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!
I'm most definitely flattered!