Monday, December 24, 2007

A little something for the adventurous...

Know who David Sedaris is? Then you might know why I say this is for the adventurous. But it's incredibly funny and terribly topical for those those of us who a) like David Sedaris, and b) like Christmas, and c) like David, Christmas and see the humour in gently mocking our cherished traditions.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cushion Spirit!

After cushions die, they turn into cushion spirits. So says FDPG.

And it would appear that Toffee is one of them! So says FDPG.

There are three categories of cushion spirits:
-the ones that are alive
-those that have just died
-and cats named Toffee


My kids like making stuff. We paint, we experiment with home-made playdough, we draw and colour, some of us do origami, but most of all my kids love making ornaments at Christmas time. For my kids there is something so exciting about making little Christmas trees, tiny snowmen, reindeer, stars, and even little Santas, painting them, and then hanging them on that lovely, fragrant tree right before Christmas Eve.

With the advent of the internet we have way more exposure to different sorts of stuff, and we've made cinnamon/applesauce ornaments, paper chains, window Bon Ami designs, and others, but in the end, the old favourites are still, well, the old favourites. Two of our favourites are: the salt dough ornament, and the paper snowflake.

Here are the dough ornaments:
We used the usual salt/flour/water mixture, then baked them (tip: prick them lightly with a fork so they don't puff in strange places when baking), then, after priming them (with regular old white paint), we adorned them with finery, using those little plastic containers of acrylic paints you can get at places like Michaels, which means that you can get a huge array of colour. Then we sprayed them on both sides with a light dusting of urethane. You don't need to use urethane, particularly if you have a nice dry storage place, but for us it ensured that the more treasured ones have lasted through our at-times-rather-damp-basement storage-and-then-moving-to-other-countries-in-less-than-ideal-containers periods. You can see the spread of the years in just these four: the Traditional Period, represented by Santa and the Tin Soldier, the Woodland Pagan period (when we started incorporating the solstice), and the kid years when Max was small and utterly obsessed with all things train-like. One year, I even cut out several ornaments using train cookie cutters, printed out some faces from a Thomas the Tank Engine site, painted them to resemble Thomas trains, and used them as gift tags on his presents. I think he might even have gasped when he saw them, he was so delighted. Now they represent our Nostalgia Period.

I took a few pictures of the snowflakes, but despite my (quick!-take-a-picture-for-the-blog-but-haven't-had-my-morning-coffee-yet) efforts I was unable to get anything that really captured how lovely they are. Here is one shot:

These look truly lovely glittering in the white of our fairy lights, but what is even more amazing is how easy they are. You take your generic snowflake pattern (we used three from Martha Stewart's Kids 2002 magazine; this link gives one of the designs), cut it out (we used printer paper), flatten it so you don't see the folds afterwards, get some spray glue and superfine glitter, then spray and sprinkle each side, letting one side dry for at least 5 minutes before you turn it over and do the other side. We have experimented with regular glitter, and it looks very pretty, but the superfine glitter makes the snowflakes look unbelievably unearthly. And that's what we want in the Greenridge House this time of year - something gorgeous and unearthly!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Uses For Origami 101

Looking for something to do with all the origami you no doubt have lying around the house? FDPG spent an inordinate amount of time this week making stars and stockings. She accumulated so many little teenie tiny stockings that I eventually strung them up along the fireplace, where they sit, looking extremely atmospheric (they also make it look as though we either have many many little children or as though we have a lot of mice in the house, and I'm not sure which scenario I prefer).

Here's what I finally did with 18 of the 32 origami stars she made (she made them in three distinct colours: yellows, blues, and pinks, which shows, for her, an unusual tendency towards order). I strung them onto the door of the family room, and we're all quite taken with the effect.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ushabtis I have Known

We're moving our way through Story of the World: Ancient Times right now, which means that we're reading about places like Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt, tracing our way somewhat lightly through battles with kings and pharaohs and warring tribes, dynasties on their way up, dynasties on their way down, and lots of folk tales, with the odd Amazing Discovery (Silk! the Wheel! Copper!) thrown in for good measure. My kids love history. I love history. It's engrossing, it's full of intrigue, it can be funny, and (for me, anyhow) it shows how little we differ from people of old: we worry about similar things, we want our basic comforts, we think about how the world will be after we're dead, and we pursue the things that interest us.

I like the similarities in each area we study, too. One of the most striking things for me has been the proximity of river to settlement. Babylon had the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, Egypt had the Nile, India had the Indus, and China had the Yellow River Valley. It's an obvious essential - fresh water - but I like the symmetry all the same. The pantheon of gods was similar, too: gods of harvest, gods of rain, gods of birth and death, gods of protection. All the variables Out There before the days of meteorologists, obstetricians, supermarkets and deep freezes. It reminded me of an incident at the end of our last read aloud: Little House on the Prairie (a lesson in self sufficiency if there ever was one), when the Ingalls family had to move from their homestead because of Indian Land Allotment issues. They ride off into the sunset and come across a couple who have had their horses stolen by rustlers. The couple are sitting dejectedly by their horseless wagon, and despite the entreaties of the Ingalls' they refuse to budge. As the Ingalls ride away, Pa remarks to Ma that the couple were silly to be without what he considered to be essentials of the homesteader: chains for the horses (so no one could rustle them in the night) and a big dog (ditto). They had no business wandering around out there, in his mind, without the necessary items for their own survival.

Sometimes I get mixed up with my gods and monsters, but the kids, never. Today I quizzed them on some of the stuff we've studied so far, asking questions like What does the word canopic refer to? What organ didn't go into one? or Who was Sobek? or What was the symbol for protection, said to come from Horus? And finally, What were ushabtis for? At this, the kids all scrambled for our handy dandy diorama, a cereal box we converted last week to an ancient Egyptian tomb, inspired by Egyptian Reno World (Wednesdays at 8 on HGTVBC). It's full of ushabtis, or clay figures Egyptian craftsmen made for the tombs of the pharaohs, there as workers to till the fields in the afterlife so that the pharaoh never need work. The idea of an eternal slave really caught the imagination of Max, who, at age 10, is deeply feeling his position as Cleaner of the Downstairs Bathroom. So when we decided to build a diorama, I asked him to make the ushabtis, and he did this with enormous zest, no doubt channeling his own frustrated ambitions into these small statues ("clean the bathroom for me!" "Don't forget the breakfast dishes!"). I tell him a little hard work never killed anyone, but I don't think he's convinced. He's remembering Little House in his own way.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Reflections on Reading a Little House Book

We finished Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie a few weeks back, during our morning read-alouds, and I can't seem to get them out of my head. Perhaps because I live an ever-so-slightly similar life to Caroline Ingalls, albeit with far less day to day grind and toil: I stay home with the kids; I can; I sew; I garden with an eye to storing much of it; I do lots of cooking. Or perhaps because Laura Ingalls Wilder knew how to craft a taut story line, and I got myself good and hooked while reading it aloud to my kids. Even though we left the Little House series (couldn't get On the Banks of Plum Creek from the library in time) and read The Water Horse AND several stories from the excellent Kingfisher Christmas Stories treasury, and now are deep in Half Magic, I still think back to the Little House books, and wonder about some of the things that went on that Laura the narrator never mentioned. For instance:

Just where did that family keep their toilet? Nary a mention of anything toilet related (as the mother of two boys, believe me, I hear enough about toilets that they are on my radar whether I like it or not).

What the heck happened to Baby Carrie when the rest of the Ingalls family got malaria?

What did Caroline think each time they packed up and moved? Was she really so blithe? Did she ever get completely pissed off at Charles, or was that just the way it went back then? Did they squabble tensely and quietly when the girls went to sleep, whispering into the night, or was she a fatalist, knowing that she'd already made her choice a long time ago?

Why oh why did Laura and Mary give their Indian beads to Baby Carrie when the kid couldn't even wear the damn necklace? Ugh. The unfairness of this whole scene drove me and my kids to distraction. Really it did. Why did Ma stand by and let them do it, even? I would have said, "Sweet gesture, girls, but keep the beads. God knows you have little enough toys as it is. Carrie's a baby and we all know she'll eat 'em if she gets 'em." (yes, I suppose this is what separates me from moral stalwarts like Caroline Ingalls)

Where did the cornmeal they ate every day come from? It seemed to be an inexhaustible supply for people who'd had to squeeze all their stuff into a covered wagon, leaving so much other stuff behind.

Did the beautiful carved shelf Pa made Ma for Christmas get left behind? Seemed like it, but seeing as how the toilet situation never got a mention, maybe the shelf came along and never got mentioned either.

Was Ma really that even tempered? I guess this is where she and I really differ, because there isn't a person in my family who would ever describe me as even tempered. But Ma never seemed to shout, or tell Pa to get her a gin and tonic ("with ice, Charles!") when he went to town, or even break down when scary Indians had just left with all Pa's tobacco. She didn't appear to have glimmers of PMS, either. No snapping at Pa when he dropped the logs on her, no bitching about making endless pans of cornmeal mush. She didn't even lose it when the Indians were making plans to massacre them. Makes me feel incredibly weenie, because I quail when Richard sets his alarm for 6am.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bow Tie Protocol 101

Going to a fancy dress party this Christmas time? Need to know how to tie your bows? Check this fellow out. Just don't look at the sidebars, which claim to help you "Undo her bra with one hand" or "Care for your komodo dragon." Who knows, maybe you do want to know those things, but it strikes me that someone who has a komodo dragon really has no business undoing bras with one hand. What's the other hand doing? Holding down the dragon?

The Water Horse

When I choose our read alouds, I usually choose them based on a couple of things. Are they classic children's books that I'd like my kids to hear while they're still kids? And by "classic" I mean are they something that's been around for a while, that gets read over and over again and even referenced in other work? Think Black Beauty, Eagle of the Ninth, Charlotte's Web, The Jungle Book, The Phantom Tollbooth, Robinson Crusoe. Alternately, are they just plain old great reads? We've read some books that made me wonder how they ever got published. Also, are they age-appropriate, and not terribly dense or way too mature for my lot? Will my ten year old be as riveted as my 2 six year olds? Or will my six year olds, and I mean FDPG here, be terrified by scary content? And finally, will I enjoy reading them aloud? (this isn't so goofy as you might think - I find slangy language very tedious to read on a continual basis)

This year I made more of an effort, seeing as how we'd started doing a group read rather than individual bed-time ones (which Richard still does), to find good reads for the kids, and managed, through many a book list, Yahoo! group, and word of mouth, to compile a list that should take us through to late spring, my voice willing.

Our latest read aloud is one of the brilliant Dick King-Smith's books: The Water Horse. Even if you aren't familiar with his name, you've probably heard of his stuff. He wrote the book Babe - remember the talking pig (no, not that talking pig, the other one)? His work is usually filed in the Primary Reader section of the library, which means that unless you've got young kids you might not have seen them around much. But in our house we love his work. When Max was young he listened to audio CDs of DKM's work by the hour. And when I saw that one of his books had been made into a movie, I knew we had to read the book, and read it before we saw the movie. There were two reasons for this, really. One: I'm one of Those People who like their kids to read the book before seeing the movie; and two: FDPG was seriously balking after seeing the QuickTime preview and I knew I'd never get her into that theatre unless she read the book first and could see that it wasn't scary.

I should probably add here that the film looks vastly different from the book. I guess this is to be expected. It seems that all film adaptations have their own voice, whether for good or bad. I can see already that there are some differences I'm not going to enjoy so much, but for the most part it looks fun. The book, though, is a classic. We loved it. It took us three days to read, we loved it so much. It turned from a morning read-aloud to a lunch-time-too read-aloud, to a what-the-heck-so-it's-right-before-dinner read-aloud, and before we knew it, we'd finished it. It has a wonderful twist at the end that had my kids captivated and insistent that we visit Scotland almost immediately.  Now we're either off to the land of Half Magic, or diving deep into schoolyard politics, with Frindle. Wish us luck. 

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Music and Books We Have Known

Music we play ad nauseum come December:

Carols From Clare: Clare College Singers and Orchestra (EMI)
A Christmas Festival: The Gregg Smith Singers/Texas Boys Choir/New York Brass & Percussion Ensemble (Sony Classics)
The Mystery of Christmas: The Elora Festival Singers (Naxos)
A Ceremony of Carols: Carols From Around the World (VOX Allegretto)
The World of Christmas Carols: The Bach Choir (London)
Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity The Cambridge Singers (Collegium)
On Christmas Day: New Carols From King's Choir of King's College, Cambridge (EMI)

Jingle Bell Jam: Jazz Christmas Classics (Rhino)
Christmas With Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin
Barenaked for the Holidays: Barenaked Ladies (I can't stop playing Elf's Lament)
Starbucks Hi-Fidelity Holiday (mostly because of Winter Wonderland by the Cocteau Twins)
Starbucks Winterludes (also because of the Cocteau Twins, this time singing Frosty the Snowman, plus a just plain peculiar Little Drummer Boy by Marlene Dietrich)
Classical Kids Christmas

And FDPG's very very very favourite (I like it because I found it in a bin for 99¢ a few years ago when FDPG was just a glint in my eye):

Rudolph, Frosty and Friends' Favorite Christmas Songs (Sony Wonder) FDPG and I like to sing a duet of Put One Foot In Front Of The Other most every morning! (bet you won't be dropping in for coffee after hearing that, now, will you!)

And my favourite, given to me by my pal Sandy, who I've blogged about before because her repertoire of cool stuff is incredible:

The Roches Sing Christmas Songs (I've had to iPod this because my kids renege after a mere 2 listenings)

And now for the printed page, here are a few books we've recently found that we're reading this time round:

Herschel and the Hanukah Goblins (I know, I know, but we got it last year when Hanukah coincided and my kids LOVE this book)
Follow That Star by Kenneth Oppel (he's written a few kids books besides the Airborne and Sunwing series, and my kids love them - they are partial to Cosimo the Cat right now)
Tomten's Christmas Porridge by Sven Nordqvist (all the Tomten books are charmers)
The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola
Max's Christmas by Rosemary Wells (we found this book when Max was 2 and we've read it every Christmas since - the kids know all the words now: "That's enough, Max!")
The Kingfisher Treasury of Christmas Stories
The Twelve Cats of Christmas (forget the author, but the drawings are utterly superb)

Well, that's all I can lay my hands on right now, and I'm sure I've forgotten a few critical items, but this gives you a good idea of what we listen to, and read, around this time of year.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Poetry Friday

Danny Elfman channels Edward Gorey...

What's This? (from the film The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Oh my, what now?
The children are asleep
But look, there's nothing underneath
No ghouls, no witches here to scream and scare them
Or ensnare them, only little cozy things
Secure inside their dreamland
What's this?

The monsters are all missing
And the nightmares can't be found
And in their place there seems to be
Good feeling all around

I was listening to this yesterday and marveling not only at the lyrics (the entirety of which can be found here, by the way) but also the way Mr. Elfman sings them. He's unique! Inspired!

Happy Poetry Friday all ye blogmates! Don't look under the bed!

Poetry Friday is being hosted here at Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Feast of St. Nicholas

Richard comes from a Dutch family, and a couple of years ago I decided, in the spirit of equality and all, that we would incorporate something peculiarly Dutch (because, let's face it, the Dutch are a decidedly odd bunch) into our family traditions. Most of what Richard remembers, from living in Holland, are things like speculaas (a spiced cookie), chocolate sprinkles on his toast (didn't believe this until I saw the box), krupok (a dried chip made from prawn dust and potato starch that magically puffs up 5X its size when you chuck it into hot oil), sambal oolek (a hot chili paste), ketchap manis (sweet & thick soy sauce), and nasi goreng (a rice dish). Notice a certain theme here? All this, coming from my skinny husband. All food memories. Proust and his madeleines would be proud.

Another one from the memory bank was the celebration of Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas. St Nicholas, so the story goes, was a young man born into a rich family in what is now Turkey (c.300AD), who was later orphaned when his parents died in an epidemic. He grew into a very pious young man, and according to the stories was responsible for many quiet acts of generosity. One concerns a very poor family, with three girls, who were too poor to give dowries to their daughters (so they could marry). Nicholas heard of this, and on three separate occasions tossed bags of gold into the chimney so the girls could later marry their sweethearts. There are other stories about him, ranging from restoring children to life to calming the waters so that fishermen would not drown in a storm. Nowadays he's the patron saint of children and sailors.

According to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas, his white horse Piet and his trusty sidekick Knutselpiet (or Swarthy Piet, a dark-skinned character who carries a large stick with which to smack bad children) arrive on December 6th, laden with candy and small treats for children, which they then hand out: slipped in through doors or tucked into shoes that have been left by the door (if you're a good little Dutch child you will have filled your shoe with hay and carrots for white Piet). At night the feast is all about fun and games: people wrap small gifts with accompanying poems that gently mock and tease, and at each place setting is a chocolate initial - the first letter of the person's name. Now you know why you always see those Droste letters in stores right about now!

So last night we had our own little celebration for Sinterklaas. We cut out little stand-up figures of him (in his Bishop's garb), made little boxes out of cardboard and tucked little treasures the kids had dug up into them, and made speculaas.

The twins rushed around being extremely excited, Dominic concentrating meticulously on his colouring work, FDPG, being the equine fanatic she is, was extremely concerned that white Piet would not have enough carrots, while Max, who is at the time of his life when kids begin to doubt the existence of things like Santa Claus and Sinterklaas - and even the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny (gasp!), watched all our efforts with a rather mournful skepticism. He doesn't want to, in the words of C.S. Lewis, "grow up out of the nursery" but it's hard straddling both worlds. He was extremely grumpy when he was finally dispatched to bed and both Richard and I rolled our collective eyes at his no-doubt coming adolescence. This morning, however, I noticed that he was the first one up, rather breathless about having discovered his chocolate initial and little golds coins where the straw and carrots had been. Habits die hard when you're ten years old, it would seem.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Norval Morisseau: 1932 - 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Rain 2

Need I say more, living here as I do, on the wet, wet, wet coast of British Columbia? Yes, that's right, O Gentle Reader, I am experiencing a deluge at the moment; well, I'm not actually experiencing it, the roof of the house is experiencing it. Technically I'm just listening to it. It's pounding on the roof and drowning out my NPR feed, amazingly enough. It's even made the front page of the local newspaper, which has a photo of a truck plowing through a massive amount of water (probably my BIL, who finds this sort of activity highly amusing). Sadly, it seems to have affected my email provider, so I can't check my email, something I usually do with my morning coffee. This has thrown my schedule right off. I feel, dare I admit it, bereft. Now I know how Toffee the Feline Diva feels when I hide the litter box on cold days when he'd rather pee inside (not that it'll stop me from continuing to do so, I should add, just now I know how he feels).

I've lived in enough dry-in-winter places to find the constant rain a little on the irritating side, and to still be mildly horrified when I see my postie wearing shorts in the middle of December (doesn't he ever get a chill?). The rain gets downright depressing after a while, all that gray and damp and lack of bright sun. I'm sure Roald Dahl could've written an excellent children's story using my locale as a prop: lots and lots of rain, a couple of nasty aunts, some poisonous mushrooms in the backyard (rapidly multiplying) a few curious and undaunted-by-the-aforementioned-aunts children visiting for the summer because their parents have been sent off to Borneo as missionaries, and everyone getting up to mischief because of the weather. Naturally, it all takes place in the UK somewhere, although if they make a movie of it they'll probably need to film it here because of the constant rain. Did I mention that it rains a lot here?

My husband's parting words this morning, as he boarded his kayak, err, car, were this: "Check for damp patches, would you? I'm a little worried about the weeping tiles." So here I sit, pecking away when I should be downstairs hunting for puddles (not cat puddles, rain puddles). I didn't even know tiles could weep. Sigh.

(I call this Rain 2 because I've already written a Rain 1...see here)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Another Martha Moment

Brought to you by the crafty folks at
Greenridge Chronicles, issue no.432

FDPG and I were thumbing through my Christmas issue of Martha Stewart Living the other day, when FDPG caught sight of the living wreaths, which were, we were told, "guaranteed to breathe new life" into our holiday traditions.

Martha's minions, naturally, had made some superlative ones: a lovely little number in cushion moss hung sumptuously from a door (I found myself rather coveting the door on which it hung, and I was pretty sure that door could breathe new life into my holiday traditions, too); another made from various sedums hung, dusted with snow, on a very attractive garden gate (I found myself getting sidetracked a bit, as you can probably tell); and then, there it was: the wreath that would change our holiday traditions. At least, FDPG thought so, so off we went to make it.

We were rather lacking the lemon button fern and two types of maidenhair fern that Martha's minions used (our budget, sadly, isn't as lavish as Martha's), so ours doesn't quite have the "uniform rhythm" or "textural richness" of the "colourful orb" in the magazine, but we like it, and it does spice up our otherwise "bland entrance hall" (ack, someone stop me from quoting this stuff!) It's now jostling for alpha position on the front door with the fairy light wreath from IKEA. Which will win, I wonder?

Love Letters

Can you read the message above? It was written by FDPG, acting for Dominic, who uses her much as the kings of old used scribes to write letters for them. Fortuitously, FDPG is happy to be Dominic's scribe; she is a truly compassionate sort, under all that sturm und drang.

Anyhow, the message reads "Dare Mum I have a surprise. I hope you like it Love Dominic" Attached, in a little paper twist, was the green blob you can see sitting on the paper, which you may or may not recognize as one of Cushion's babies (see here if you have no idea what I'm talking about). Dominic brought it up last night and very carefully presented it to me. And of course FDPG couldn't resist coming up to tell me how she'd written the note, using her very own spelling-mind: "I thought of the words and then wrote down what they looked like in my head" she told me.

It was almost painfully sweet to think of these two working together so cooperatively; she writing thoughtfully, with Dominic dictating his message (clutching baby Cushion, no doubt). According to FDPG, this often goes on after they've gone to bed, Dominic coming into her room to ask for various favours: flipping the cassette for him, writing notes for him, reading him one more bed time story, and she does it all without complaint. So solicitous. I'll have to remember this next time I see them shrieking and flinging Lego at each other...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday

Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,

as if orchards were dying high in space.

Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no."

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other the stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one...It's in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

I chose this poem because of what I saw when I woke up this morning. I looked out into the early morning light and I could see Venus winking brightly in the sky at one end, and the half moon glittering coldly at the other. It seemed one of those days, a day when you felt Great Portent. Just like this poem.
Poetry Friday is brought to you today by Two Writing Teachers. Thanks for hosting!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Carol Singing

A long time ago, in a country far away...


Let's start that again.

A long time ago, I had high hopes of being a Musical Person. Someone who could fling themselves daintily around in meadows whilst trilling melodiously. A sort of Julie Andrews, sans nun's garb. Those hopes, sadly, were dashed after listening to myself on my guitar-playing then-boyfriend's tape recorder. I console myself with the fact that I was not the only one singing thusly, but there it was: I did not sound like Julie Andrews. I didn't even sound like a nun.

But I digress! I haven't let a less-than-delightful voice stop me from singing, or from helping my kids enjoy singing. We sing to Billy Bragg (what other 6 year old do you know who can wail "Shuuuuuurrrllley" in a Cockney accent?), we sing to Ron Sexsmith, we sing to the Beatles, we sing to the Beach Boys, in our last city home we sang hymns in a glorious, stained glass-drenched church, and now, with Christmas fast approaching (only 28 money-draining, err, shopping days left, O Gentle Reader), we have started singing Christmas carols. I wish I could teach my kids to do the Roches' version of For Unto Us A Child Is Born, but there's only two of us who have any hope of carrying a tune right now, so we're sticking with carols that don't require so many sopranos. And I, being possessed of many a carol book, have been singing all kinds of obscure carols with my kids, most of them not known to AM radio, and teaching them all the verses, although we've found some carols take the odd tack every now and then. Take We Three Kings, for instance:

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone cold tomb.

Cheery, isn't it? I usually sing this verse alone, while FDPG* peers closely at the words in case they've changed to something more in the Jingle Bells vein. Max looks uneasy and shuffles a lot, worrying no doubt why people are bleeding gloomily and why he has to sing about it.

Here's another unusual song we came across, and I am somewhat abashed to report that initially we laughed rather immoderately, well, after we first gaped in disbelief. Do you know Here We Come A-Wassailing? I've always been partial to this song, mostly because of the lilting aspect of the verses, but let me draw your attention to the last verse:

Good master and good mistress
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children,
Who are wandering in the mire.

Charming, wouldn't you say? After I explained to my kids why other kids might be wandering in mire somewhere, begging food from rich people, we felt almost too depressed to sing this carol ever again, then decided to stick with the first, third, and seventh verses (and yes, there were more than seven verses of this stuff, no wonder the Victorians were depressed).

Happily, our clouds of gathering gloom were chased away by the inexplicably bizarre. Remember Jolly Old St. Nicholas? Well, listen again, O Gentle Reader, to the last verse. Max and Dominic are completely unable to hear this, let alone sing it, with a straight face:

Johnny wants a pair of skates,
Suzy wants a dolly.
Nelly wants a storybook,
She thinks dolls are folly.
As for me, my little brain,
Isn't very bright.
Choose for me, old Santa Claus,
What you think is right.
(emphasis mine)

Well, you have to love someone who owns up to their feeble brain, right?

And since I should probably cease with the irreverent and end on a more dignified note, I will leave you with a truly atmospheric verse, even if it's usually sung too low for my croak. I like the themes of hope and light and renewal here. Plus, it's just plain poetic. This is from O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

(* Fairy-Diva-Pony-Girl)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday

I was going to post Carl Sandburg's Theme in Yellow today, but as I glanced down at my (messy messy) desk, I noticed a little slip of paper FDPG had left lying there. FDPG leaves a lot of little slips of paper lying around, and most of them wish the finder a happy day, but this one positively shrieked found poem! on it, so here it is as my offering for today:

Dear Dominic,

I'm so happy being your twin
and playing cushion games with you.
I wish you were nicer to me,
but I still love you.

Love from your twin sister,

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Susan Writes, where ole Carl S. merits another mention, funnily enough.

Monday, November 19, 2007

You'd Never Know It...

...but this little fellow, despite his cheery exterior, is a veritable gladiator of the bird world. A kamikaze aviator. The Red Baron of hummingbirds. I could go on, but hopefully you'll have got my drift by now. Heaven help you if you cross his path, or, worse yet, have the temerity to take a sip from his feeder.

There are currently 3 different hummers sharing (terrible word, really, suffering each other is more like it) this feeder. Oh, and one wasp. Why no one has thought to impale him I don't know, but this little wasp has managed to drink his way through many a day. I wish I had a picture of the wasp and the hummer sharing this feeder, but the hummer doesn't like to share pictures, either. It's either him (or her), or nothing.

And yes, I always keep this feeder filled. I wouldn't like one of these guys dive-bombing me in a fit of pique. Oh, no, no, no.

Bird Cafe

This morning, although I was sadly unable to capture a picture of it, this particular feeder had 3 flickers, 12 sparrows, 2 juncos, and 6 chickadees thronging round it. I felt as though I was in the presence of shoppers at a post-Thanksgiving sale at Target: there was flurry, there was bustle, there was even a little shoving going on. A bit too Darwinian for me, to be honest. I was tempted to Get Involved but I've watched enough Star Trek to know that one must obey the Prime Directive even if one doesn't want to.

All this action might be because I offer a tempting array of nuts, grains, and seeds; it might also be because I keep it away from Toffee the Eater of Spiders and All Things Moving. Whatever it is, I take some satisfaction in knowing that I have an alternate career out there...given that there is such a thing as a bird feeder barista.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday

My choice this week is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, a favourite in our house for many reasons (he has great imagery, for one). I chose this poem primarily because of the image of the smoke from the bonfires, spiraling up and wending its way across the valley in the autumn air.

My house sits on the top of a hill, overlooking just such a valley, and these past few weeks, what with the cold, wet mornings, I've see a lot of little smoke towers rising up in the damp morning air and dispersing across the lake. I know it's probably not very ecological, but it sure is lovely to look at.

Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week over at big a little a, despite what seems to be a whirlwind schedule!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Howl's Moving Castle

We've been doing Morning Read Alouds this year, and even though I started it with (wait for it) good intentions of working our way through the books people recommend to us, and in so doing showing my kids what a breath-taking world lies out there in Printed Word Land, I think I might be enjoying it slightly more than the kids.

Every morning we sit down with breakfast and a book, and I read two or three chapters while the kids eat. I've gotten rather skilled at eating my breakfast before all this starts, because there is nothing worse than soggy muesli or cold tea. Truly.

So while it started somewhat for my benefit, reading something that requires active and varied voices, sometimes with special effects, gives me just enough time to coalesce my intentions for the day, gauge the kids' energy levels, and read through a pile 'o' books. I'm killin' a lot of stones this way, so to speak.

We started with the Harry Potter series, because I knew it would engage all three kids (my audience is composed of two 6 year olds and one 10 year old). Read the first one, got really excited, read halfway through the second one, bought the first movie and watched it, got even more excited, finished the second one, bought the second movie, watched it, got really excited, but then tragedy struck: FDPG started to get the willies, goaded on ever-so-slightly by her elder brother, who could not resist throwing out casual mentions of such things as boggarts and Dementors (having read the books already, he feels entitled to a little torment every now and then but I have rather grimly sworn him to secrecy regarding Who Dies and What Happens in The End).

So I decided to take a bit of a break from ole Harry and Hermione and Ron (and boggarts and Dementors). For one thing, FDPG is, as I might have mentioned once or twice (million times) before, possessed of a particularly powerful imagination, and things like basilisks and bleeding diaries and voices in one's head and petrified cats can really get under her skin. She hadn't had any nightmares from the first two books, fortunately, but she has been known to have some extremely unnerving (for her parents I stress) night terrors, so we tend to avoid anything that might bring them on (like basilisks and bleeding diaries and dementors). Ahem.

What to read now? I felt as though anything I chose would be like the Transitional Boyfriend: doomed to failure from the get go. It's hard to go up against characters like Gilderoy Lockheart, Severus Snape, and those charming Weasley twins Fred and George. But then I noticed a book I had bought for Max a while back; a book he had not shown the slightest interest in. It's been made into a genuinely brilliant film, and you may have seen it, but let me tell you: the book is better. It really is. (can't believe I just said that, seeing as how I have been known to worship at the altar of Miyazaki but it's true) So that's our current Read Aloud. And we're all gripped in another fever of wizards and seven league boots and moving castles and fire demons named Calcifer. I've promised a movie showing after we've finished it, too, which we're all looking forward to. FDPG is finding it much less unnerving than Harry's exploits, but, as she told me this morning: "Books are always WAY scarier than the movies!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another Year in the Life

(Alternate Title: Happy Birthday to Me)

That's right, folks, it's my birthday today, and as with almost all of my birthdays I tend to do the inevitable and reflect a little on the current direction (or lack thereof) of My Life So Far. Today, with yet another notch in my little wooden Sheila's Age stick (no, I don't really have one), I woke up and immediately started thinking about how different my life is now from what I thought it would be like when I was in my (excessively) carefree twenties.

I didn't think I'd have kids, for one. Or even like having kids! (ask my mum)

I didn't think I'd be homeschooling said kids. (confession: I am a former Homeschooler Mocker...there, I've said it)

Didn't think I'd be teaching my eldest Latin, and enjoying it (also didn't think I'd ever have a bumper sticker that said "Sona si latine loqueris").

Didn't think I'd be researching the relative merits of programs like Growing With Grammar or Student Intensive Writing in my spare time. Or, gasp, thinking about spelling programs for someone whose spelling is, as they say ever so politely, slightly challenged.

Didn't think I'd have a pencil sharpener screwed into a perfectly good table EVER.

Didn't think I'd spend quite so much time in the public library.

Didn't think I'd ever take a picture of a cheesie just because it looks uncannily like a J. (or, even weirder, have a series of weird cheesie pictures - FDPG's cherished collection I should add)

Didn't think I'd ever organize a chemistry class for 9 year old boys and really look forward to it (my grade 11 science teacher would be rolling happily in his grave if he knew his most pathetic student now loves science).

Didn't think I'd ever teach my kids how to make toothpaste, just for fun (see above).

Have to say, even though I never envisaged this sort of life, back when I was a skinny, globe travelling, backpacking, forever single, hot-spring enthusiast, I'm actually enjoying it. Just goes to show you, sometimes the things you think so terrible could be a good thing (in the words of my friend Martha). Or at least life altering.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Cloudscome, and I felt I should add a poem today, as a prelude to Remembrance Day. This is a poem I once heard my grandfather recite, and since he was in WWII, this is for him.

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Happy Birthday Joni!

The Sorting

Here is the Halloween loot my kids came home with. Every year they do the same thing - sort it out on the dining room table and compare notes ("Where did you get that RingPop? What flavour is yours? Want to trade for a watermelon?" or "I have 22 KitKats. Ha ha." or "How many can we eat now, Mum?"). They squabble and trade and generally have a good time fantasizing about eating it all at once (even if I do haul most of it out from under their beds after Christmas and chuck it).
This year, however, I was struck by their various sorting habits. The boys both arranged their loot the same way, without consulting each other I hasten to add: each candy bar had its own section, and everything was generally in a distinct line. Straight rows of Aeros, straight rows of Snickers, same of Tootsie Pops (ends all facing the same way even). Would that their rooms manifested this same degree of consideration. I had a brief moment of shock, actually, because it spoke of a particular kind of orderliness. A sort of engineered precision I had never even guessed at.

As a little kid, Max did the same thing with his Hot Wheels cars: every day he would spend at least a couple of hours sorting his cars into categories: trucks, cars, vans, etc. Then a further sorting into colours and sizes. They would stay there until bedtime (when he'd sweep them all into their bin). A Jackson Pollack of the Hot Wheels World he was not. And now here he is, sorting his Halloween stash into lovely little piles - and his brother does it too! It'll warm the cockles of their father's heart, because he too has the same compulsion for engineering order out of chaos.

As for FDPG, well, she has her mother's zest for chaos. Her candy was practically flung onto the table, with no rhyme nor reason. Upon seeing her brothers' piles, she laughed and said "Oh boy! I want to mess those up!" She didn't of course, but that was probably due more to her brothers standing guard than to her own self-restraint.

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Today I woke up and contemplated the mess that is my house. The piles of laundry that needed doing. The messy kitchen floor. The piles of crumbs, nay, mountains of crumbs, under the dining table. I even caught an odour of Henry the Pig From Guinea's cage, and let me tell you, it was not a particularly pleasant smell. Then some insane compulsion compelled me to open the dryer and what should I find there but a long forgotten pile of half-dried laundry. The whereabouts of Dominic's many many pairs of up-till-then-missing underwear were no longer a complete and utter mystery to me. I could see them, deep in the the dryer's depths, lying damply and rather, err, fragrantly (note to self: don't leave half dried laundry for more than 4 days). It was a depressing sight and it was only 7am. What could be next, I wondered, cat poo under the bed? A crust of unidentifiable guk in my coffee cup? Or worse: no milk for my morning latté? To be honest, that was the scariest of propositions, because I am a slave to my morning coffee. And I freely admit it. I'm even proud of it, so there.

Since Richard (aka The Tidy One) had already departed for his hunter/gatherer grounds, I felt free to photograph the laundry pile, but I can't quite bring myself to add it to this post. It's evidence. And when one is married to a Tidy Person, that's about all one needs, and I am not the most thick-skinned of people.

Never mind, I can wait until Richard comes back from his slog of a day. I'm sure he'll clean up a bit.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Carving Pumpkins

There is something extremely satisfying about carving pumpkins. Each Halloween I haul out the old stiletto knife, a few oversized spoons, and, with the, err, assistance of my children, carve our load of pumpkins into glowing, light-filled beacons for the Halloween night. If I were more superstitious I'd say it was my ancestral Druid blood urging me on. I do find it hard to stop once I get going. Pumpkins are always so wet and redolent of the harvest, and they do have such strange, uninhibited shapes. It's no wonder J.K. Rowling chose them for her wizard beverage.

This year we had two extra hands on the table, which meant more "discussion" around exactly what to carve on each pumpkin - who was going to get the slightly rotting one, who was going to get the white one, and who was going to wield the super sharp knife. Fortunately I have a bit of the dictator in me, and quarrels were few, once we got a few ground rules ironed out: Mum does not carve for hours; Mum does not usually carve more than one design in each pumpkin; Mum is the only one who holds the really sharp knife. I did cave and attempt a Totoro design, although a couple of girls who came to the door ("We're Punkers!" they said brightly, not knowing that that was me several years ago) said "Oooh, what a cute pig!" Sigh. Let's just hope that Miyazaki doesn't come trick or treating at my house...

For the spirits of the day...

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.

(and not just the wind, I'll wager, particularly on a day like today)

Happy Halloween!

...and thanks to Christina Rossetti for the poem

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Letter From A Twin

I came across this little missive today, laying haphazardly under Dominic's bed, and have been carrying it around in my pocket ever since. I'll tell you what it says, but first I need to contextualize the relationship of the writer (Katie) to the writee (Dominic)...

Katie and Dominic are twins. I have no idea what life is like when you're a twin, not being one myself, but I pride myself on being ever-so-slightly more observant than most people, so I will say that life for my twins is fraught with complications of love and dislike, resentment and pride, companionship and suffocation, and, occasionally, intense devotion. In other words, typical sibling stuff.

For the most part they get along fine, even though they couldn't be more different. Katie lives to read, and reads as well as her 10 year old brother, while Dominic, well, let's just say that on a good day Dominic has no trouble recognizing the word "CAT." It's not that he's not capable, per se, it's just that he can't be bothered learning how to read when he has several adults and two older siblings ready to do it for him. Ahem.

Anyhow, the relationship between these two often leads to lots of skirmishes on the Sibling Front. Katie can be Terribly Imperious ("I want to do that!") and Dominic can be Terribly Manipulative ("Katie, you have to give me that Lego piece or I won't let Cushion have a sleep-over"), while I can be Terribly Despairing ("Oh WHY do you two have to fight all the bloody time?"). But then I come across little tender love letters (because that is what this is) like this:

"To Dominic, I am sorry because I did not listen to you so this is why I am writing to you. From your twin sister, love Katie"

And the most beautifully rendered smiling Halloween pumpkin sitting next to these words. I don't know about Dominic, but it melted my heart. See, they do love each other...once in a while.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Little Miss Origami

Picasso had his Blue period, Gaugin had his Tahitian phase, van Gogh fell for the sunflower, and Dufy went to the south of France; well, at our house Katie is going through a Japanese period. She watches anything made by Miyazaki (well, anything I'll let her watch, because she DOES have those nightmares), eats all her meals with a kitschy Japanese fork someone gave us, can sing the Totoro theme song (much to the cat's discomfort), and practically worships at the altar of origami.

From the second - nay, the nanosecond - she wakes up until the instant she falls asleep, Katie is thinking of what she can fold and shape next. She's gotten quite good at it lately, after many a mishap with things like 'inflatable' ornaments (didn't know they made THOSE in origami, now, did you?). But now she's put that legion of tiny paper penguins, cranes, pencils, and collared shirts to good use - she's sending cards out. Fortunately my mother and father are good sports. If Katie had penpals they'd be getting them too, but she doesn't, so they aren't. (follow that?)

Anyhow, the other day someone sent a link to some Halloween origami sites, and Katie thought she'd died and gone to heaven. Origami pumpkins?! Origami bats?! Origami witches hats?! Does life get any better when you're 6, and a FDPG*?

(* Fairy-Diva-Pony-Girl)

Art Day at the Home School 2

The title says it all: "This is an Egyptian boat."
Indeed it is, Dominic, and a very nice one at that.

Art Day at the Home School

"Set had been following, and now he paused, a vast red hippopotamus straddling the whole stream of the Nile. Against him Horus came sailing in his golden boat...holding ready a harpoon thirty feet long."

Tales of Ancient Egypt
Roger Lancelyn Green

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

If I Am Ever Interviewed...

I want this man to interview me. Another reason why I will always adore the British version of The Office.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

You're homeschooling? Why?

I get this a lot when I tell people that we homeschool. People are SO curious, particularly if they have a kid in public school, and especially if they have a kid in public school who doesn't like being in public school.

In homeschooling vernacular we are what's known as "Latin classical homeschoolers," which means that I gear the kids' work with the Trivium format in mind. My younger two copy out sentences, sometimes with a little drawing to go along with it, and do lots of grammar work, while Max, who is out of the grammar stage, works on essay writing, word etymology, and parsing sentence structures. They also study Latin, which is where the "Latin" part of the "Latin classical" comes in. We have vocabulary roots games, Latin programs like Prima Latina and Minimus and Latin For Children, and Max (who is older) does the odd Latin translation in his history work. They also use a math program, and a history program, and I cobble together science ventures with various books I hear about from other homeschoolers. Fortunately this is MUCH more amusing than it sounds, for all of us.

But it's tough to explain our educational universe to perfect strangers, even if I do live in a homeschooling-friendly part of the world. Why do I even bother, you ask? Well, I suppose it's because I have a little of the evangelist in me. My kids and I really enjoy homeschooling. It's a bit bereft of other kids, some days; I feel a bit wistful when it's time for sports days and Christmas concerts, but it's SO interesting and challenging all the other days.

The people who ask us about homeschooling can usually be divided into three camps: enthusiastic, worried, and skeptical. Enthusiastic I can deal with, because I'm preaching to the choir; Worried I usually fob off by telling them that we do Latin, or advanced calculus (we don't really do this last but it sounds impressive and shuts them up). I used to say "It's private school for poor people," and we'd both nod knowingly, but for some reason I've gone off that one. The Skeptics are the worst, because they are either the same age as my kids (and deeply suspicious of anyone who actually likes school), or they are adults who feel they have the perfect right to debate my choices for the few seconds we are standing together in the line at London Drugs. But for the most part I find people pretty embracing of this odd sort of life we've chosen. I like my kids. I like the kind of people they are. And so do most of my friends. We have the odd friend who tells me that I am messing with my kids' socialization development, but those people are mostly worried that I am subtly criticizing their choices, I think.

So that's why we're homeschooling. Because we like it.

Requiem for a Sensitive Plant

This plant is no longer. It is a former plant. I might sound glib but believe me, I am quite sad. I nurtured this plant. I even took it with us on vacation. But now that the weather has turned, my sensitive plant has given up the ghost. Here is a little R.I.P., seeing as how we're so close to the Day of the Dead. I might remember it then as well, but for now, here's a picture of the flowers it had, once upon a time. Pretty, eh?

Fairy Mushrooms

We were all quite enthralled to see these today. There were more pushing their way out of the ground, too. One of those moments when nature seems both mysterious AND delightful.
We took a less perfect one home with us to make a print with. Ever done this? You place the mushroom cap (gill side down) ever so gently onto a piece of construction paper (choose a dark colour or you might not be able to see the spores after), then leave it overnight. I like to place a large solid bowl overtop the whole thing just in case. The resulting print should be placed inside a sheet protector if you want to preserve it, otherwise it'll smudge.

What the NPR shop should sell...

My NPR affiliate is having it's bi-annual fund drive this week, and since I am too hooked on Morning Edition (what CBC should aspire to, IMO) to find the fund drive pleas all THAT irritating, I've been hearing all about what one gets when one subscribes for more than $50: coffee mugs, t-shirts, CD boxed sets, HD radios, etc. And while I'm sure these things are popular, here's what would REALLY get my $:

- adult-sized underwear with Morning Edition or Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! on it

- NPR socks (Imelda collected shoes, I collect socks)

- NPR stickers (with the faces of Peter Segel, Carl Kasell, Kai Ryssdal, or even Lakshmi Singh)

- goofy bumper stickers

- branded NPR pencils (then I could send my pal Sandy a few)

And if they HAVE to offer coffee mugs, how about some amusing slogans on them, instead of the more sedate retro design they are currently sporting? How about "This cup powered by NPR" in Latin (to go with our "Sona si latine loqueris!" sticker on the car)?

Okay, enough of my station break ridiculosity, back to your regularly scheduled programming, now, all of you.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Last of the Summer Raspberries

The trees in the back yard are donning their fall clothes. It's beautiful, but it makes me feel slightly sad at the same time. The garden is rapidly deteriorating, the fruit trees are starting their hibernation, and the sunflowers are flopping everywhere in a wet heap. The one cheerful note to this time of year is all the bulb planting I've been doing.

I was out yesterday planting the bulbs I've been accumulating on all our shopping trips. It seems almost impossible to avoid the racks of bulbs outside every store these days, and places like COSTCO make it practically irresistible for me by selling 120 miniature Iris reticulata bulbs in one bag for $10. And how could I not buy those lovely little Scilla Siberica at the grocery? Or the Bulgaricums (they're fragrant AND beautiful, who could want more from a plant)? Or that spotted pulmonaria? The charming but always breathless-with-excitement Matt James is in love with pulmonaria. Call me a pushover, but I felt compelled to try them solely because Matt likes them so much. I find gardeners like Matt - how do you put it - strangely compelling. Richard thinks it's because we both like to anthropomorphize plants. Matt once told some hapless homeowners that he actually felt offended at how badly they'd treated their garden. They hung their heads and looked embarrassed, while Matt stared sternly at them, then swept his arms around the garden with such distress one couldn't help but laugh.

Anyhow, one of my purchases this summer was a beautiful little raspberry bush: "Caroline." I planted it near the peach tree, so I can train it along the peach's espalier trellis, but in the opposite direction. Yesterday we ate some of the last berries on it. Slightly less sweet than in the summer, but still evocative of summer gardens. We sat in the yard, the kids and I, and divided them out. We each had 5 berries and we savoured them carefully. A sweet note to go out on.

The Not So Eensie Weensie Spider

I think a fat brown spider represents fall for me more than almost any other thing. They are everywhere each fall. It's hard not to walk into at least one web every day - and the webs seem to regenerate so quickly. This spider is right outside the door on the sundeck. Every afternoon someone walks through her web and every morning her web is back, but in a different corner, which is why we keep walking through it (just in case you think we're merely forgetful or stupid).
I don't mind these spiders as much as I do the wolf spiders. They seem so, well, Charlotte-like. Wolf spiders, on the other hand, seem full of trickery and secretiveness. They pop out when you least expect them. They are always in the sink in the middle of the night. Fortunately Toffee likes to eat wolf spiders. Good Toffee.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Playing Doctor

I'd add a photo to this post but FDPG has forbidden me from showing a picture of her eye to anyone, including you, Gentle Reader. Sorry. Suffice to say that it still looks rather gross, but that's because of the glue the ER doctor rather ineptly applied to the eyelid. I know, it's tough trying to work on little kids in an emergency situation, but I could see that glued eye coming a mile away. Now her lashes are all sloshed together in a clump at the corner of her eye and give her the itches big time.

It's weird dealing your kids when they are injured or in pain: hard to watch, hard to not feel powerless and slightly panicky, hard to clean and bandage cuts when they cause the bearer to sob with self-pity and pain. So, yes, in answer to anyone's question, I AM having a tough time dealing with FDPG. The mornings are the worst: she comes upstairs with a glued eyelid and I have to apply a warm, drippy facecloth to soften up the goop, then Q-tip it away. And I have to tell her a zillion times why she shouldn't scratch it. And tell her not to horse around too much. Not to ride her scooter. Not to race up and down the driveway like a maniac. Not to lie in the bath listening to Black Beauty or Dianne Wynne Jones. Not to rub her eyes. Ugh, the list is endless. And yes, it IS necessary, because the cut has already opened up once, in response to some rather lively Lego Sales downstairs in Dominic's room. My little FDPG is one wild gal when she gets going. It's hard to keep a tight rein on her without feeling as though I'm trying to corral a Phantom of my own. Fortunately little Toffee requires a VERY still lap if he is to be held, so FDPG has something to distract her for a bit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Looks like Toffee

I was also going for Tobey or Simon, but the kids think Toffee is his correct name. They only think this because it's what we've been calling him for the past 24 hours, though - they all agree that too much change will confuse him (never mind the fact that he appears to have spent the past year or so without any name at all, so what should a day or two make, I ask, but obviously I am outnumbered in this decision).

It is with a massive sigh of relief that I write this post - it seems that our impulsive Pound Purchase is an extremely nice-tempered cat. Phew. He has suffered the kids rubbing his emaciated haunches with a rather, err, firm adoration, and he has endured FDPG sliding madly around on the floor after him whenever he moves spots, all without a spit or a hiss. He seems remarkably sweet and kind, something I didn't stop to think about very carefully when we ducked into the Pound yesterday. Oh, I know, I have three kids so I should have put some careful thought into this sort of venture, but if you read my other posts you'll see that I frequently operate under a certain impetuousness, and that sometimes has its consquences (just ask Richard or my mother). I hate to say it, but I picked ole Toffee because he was a nice colour.

The only thing we have to consider now, besides not letting him escape the house for a week or so, is the large testicles he sports. It causes Max and Dominic no end of hilarity when he plops down on the floor, flings up a leg, and commences some fierce licking Down There. It's even led us to some amusing (on my side) discussions about whether or not THEY could fling up a leg and clean themselves thusly. It probably goes without saying, but they were both rather repulsed by the idea, and even more repulsed that I would even think to ask such a silly question.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tardis? Toffee? Titus?

What does this little guy look like? Right now we're calling him Toffee, because he resembles a buttery smooth caramel. Max and I had intended to call him Tardis, because of our obsession for Dr. Who, but when we got him home he didn't seem very Tardis-like. We tried Marmalade, Ginger, and Tiger, but they didn't fit him either.

He's a pound cat. Thanks to a rotating library strike, we were at loose ends for the hours after lunch, so I whipped us all out to the pound. Our last cat, Tarzan, died 6 years ago and we've been pining for a cat ever since. And now, thanks to a Starbucks employee who scooped him out of the dumpster where he'd been living, we have one.

If you have anything more exciting, with two or three syllables, do let me know.

Noli Me Vexare!

Okay, now, do you love these or do you love these! Me, I love these. My friend Sandy, whose repertoire of Cool Gadget Knowledge is more extensive than anyone I know, sent them to me today. Some of us buy pencils at Toys R Us with "Max" or "Kate" on them, can't find Dominic, sadly; Sandy buys pencils with Latin sayings on them.

Max asked me what they meant - even though he's spent the last 2 years studying Latin it did not occur to him to attempt a translation on his own. Ah well, at least he knew they were in Latin. Ahem. But I am always game for a witty translation, particularly if it looks like it might involve something rude.

But I digress. My favourite moment was when the kids asked me what the middle pencil meant. I had looked up the others in my handy dandy Latin-to-English translator, but this one positively flung itself at me: Don't Piss Me Off. Well, I suppose technically it means Don't Vex Me, but I like the robustness of the more, err, vernacular translation, so I'm sticking with it.

Sandy, what would I do without you! My life would be dry and dusty, I'm sure. Now, with this pencil, no one will dare cross me.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Since it's Thanksgiving...

I'm going to write about the incredible stuffing I made today. You need to like oysters, though, AND fennel seeds AND sticky rice. I'd take a photo of it but believe me, it tastes miles better than it looks (it looks like speckled sticky rice). What was even more exciting about this recipe was that it was one of those dishes born out of desperation: after FDPG's accident I was unable to hit up a market for the fresh stuff like I'd intended to, and seeing as we were having people for dinner, I had to make do with what I could scrounge out of my own fridge.

I started with some braised oysters (Fanny Bay's finest), chopped haphazardly into tiny pieces with a paring knife and fork. Set them aside. Then I sauteed some finely diced leeks and garlic in olive oil until golden and fragrant and glistening, added some celery seed (I was out of celery), LOTS of fennel seeds (fresh from the garden), a shake of dill and Spike, and several large clumps of already cooked sticky rice. Plopped the mass (if you know sticky rice you'll know EXACTLY what I mean here) into a pyrex dish with a lid, and baked it until it was hot. You could add a couple of beaten eggs if you like. I didn't, but I did think about it.

And my oh my was this an amazing stuffing. The fennel blended so well with the oysters that I felt I had had a Food Revelation. I wanted to call Nigella - I am sure Nigella would have appreciated this as much as I did. Even FDPG liked it, well, until she saw the teenie tiny oyster bit hidden in the rice. Then she shrieked "Is that an oyster? I HATE oysters!" I feel compelled to point out here that she has never once tasted an oyster. She's going merely by what they look like, which I admit is not exactly the most fortuitous of appearances (even if I do love them with a passion bordering on fanaticism).

ER Visit For Fairy-Diva-Pony Girl

Poor FDPG, she fell on Dominic's bed this morning and cut her eyelid rather badly, which meant that she and I got to spend some time together in the ER, awaiting a medical judgement on the need (or not) for stitches. As I carried her to the ER from the parking lot in the pouring rain, I remarked "It's you and me again, Katie," to which she replied "It's always just you and me, Mum, and it always will be." Good thing I already had rain pouring down my face.

After a botched attempt at gluing her cut, the doctor discussed sedation, since FDPG was getting a little tense about the prodding and poking of her eyelid. I balked, since sedation also meant that there would be the "coming out of sedation" phase, and my FDPG is a pretty high-strung little ball of wax. Her nightmares are legendary around these parts. Fortunately the doctor agreed with me and we discussed Steri-Strips and Their Application. I outed myself as a serious band-aid putter onner, and FDPG and I were able to leave the ER relatively unscathed, although she does have a lot of caked blood around her eye that will have to be washed off oh-so gently. But I'm going to do a Scarlet and make that happen tomorrow, which is another day.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Oh what a beautiful morning....

Woke up to this lovely thing outside the kitchen door, out on the deck. The sun was just coming up, the sky was blue and clear, the mist was rising off the lake; it made all of us glad as we looked out. (I was half expecting to see Julie Andrews twirl up the hill, singing "the hills are alive")

Yes, give me a spiderweb sparkling in the sunrise anyday. Look at the perfection of that web. Look at the glint of the dew on those silvery strands. Sublime. Surreal. (cueing Julie right about now)

Put that spider in my sink, however, and that sublime, surreal experience is completely wiped out by the taste of my fillings and the feel of my sweaty palms. Oh, and the shrieks. Don't forget the shrieks. I don't do spiders very well. (Roll your eyes, Julie, roll your eyes)

No, I prefer a spider OUTSIDE my door anyday.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dissent Among the Ranks

Don't you LOVE this sort of reaction to your "What are we having for lunch? Hmm, let's see. How about..."

My witty, witty son. Harumph. I've made some killer soups, too, all thanks to Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook (his lemon verbena sorbet is the sole reason I grow lemon verbena year after year).

I had a good mind to be mildly miffed, but decided that since everyone else (under the age of 6, that is) found his bon mots absolutely HILARIOUS, I would simply serve the soup and let IT be my dignified retort (not that there IS much dignity in chicken noodle soup). Fortunately, no one gagged or spat or moaned. There weren't even any left-overs. Tomorrow I am planning a nice goulash, and I've hidden all the vowels...

Monday, October 1, 2007

How not to rescue a caterpillar

Why, you ask? Because they don't need rescuing! (har har har, SO funny, I hear you say)

No, really, unless your caterpillar is dangling from the mouth of some bird, it's probably just fine. And it probably knows best where it should be and what it should be doing. I know this because I spent a good deal of my afternoon today trying to 'rescue' this guy here, also known as Smerinthus cerisyi, from a) getting squished by Dominic's scooter, b) getting squished by Max's scooter, c) falling out of a window box, and, finally d) getting squished by my camera (Katie leapt on my back in a fit of fondness and I almost fell over while photographing little Smerinthus). Poor Smerinthus. We should have just left him where we found him, but think what we would have missed!

Max found him wandering around the willow tree in the back yard. He was hard not to miss, being about 4 inches long and an extremely arresting green. We took him to the front yard, where we had hopes of both photographing him AND putting him someplace where we could watch him pupate. But he resisted attempts at settling into the various pots on the front porch, so eventually I placed him gently in between the sea glass stepping stone Max made and the Monet's Palette sunflowers. We all went on to other things: the boys playing Attack of the Lego Men, their sister scootering casually up and down the drive, hoping Cotton the Cat would come visit, and me taking yet more photos, this time of my dahlia flowers. (this year I'm taking pictures of them, to attach to the tubers so I won't forget which one is 5' tall and which one is 12 inches tall) About 10 minutes later I parted the plants to see if he had gone, and if you look below, you'll see just what I saw. In case you can't quite see what I saw: little Smerinthus dug himself into the ground, that's his back end you see poking out.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ode to a Fennel Seed

Have you ever eaten fresh fennel seeds? Then you have missed an amazing taste sensation (ooh, I should be writing cheesy food commercials, shouldn't I). But I am feeling quite worshipful about these little seeds today. I'm even plotting to expand the herb garden next year. More fennel.

It started when we noticed the action on the fennel plants. Bees, butterflies, wasps, ladybugs, birds, you name it, they'd been all over the fennel plants throughout the summer. Some days the herb garden was TEEMING. I wish now that I'd taken a picture of the tiny brown skippers that lived on them for a few weeks. Flirty little things. We counted 25 one time on one plant alone. But by last week the small insects had pretty much disappeared and the plants were left to the birds.

When we looked out the other day, sparrows and chickadees were balancing as well as they could to the sides of the fronds, which really meant that they were swinging around wildly while pecking at the tips. Never one to miss a Learning Opportunity (especially when the alternative was housework and math), out we went to examine the plants further. Turned out that the birds were eating the seed tips at the ends of the fronds. So we tried them. Sharp licorice filled our mouths, and I mean sharp. It was almost ecstatic, that taste (well, I thought so, but my kids are a good deal more restrained than their mother and they restricted themselves to "Mmm, these are pretty good"). We pulled off more, then more, then more. They popped in our mouths, they were so tender. Later that day I went out and cut off most of the seed heads, and have them sitting in a bowl to dry. When dried they are a good deal tougher, but still amazing in curries and Thai-style soups. I might even make bread with them, or marinate them in salad dressings.

What are the sparrows and chickadees eating, now that I've removed the seeds, you ask? Oh, I put out a seed feeder for them. And I left them the bronze fennel.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lego Men sail the Nile

When I first started homeschooling, my first experiment - err child - was 7 and homeschooling was a whole new (and slightly alarming) arena. I was game, but apprehensive. My background had been all about living A Wild Life, not the stay-at-home-and-even-homeschool-everyone life, so the idea of spending hours of time each day voluntarily doing the school thing with my kids was, to be perfectly honest, not something I saw myself enjoying. But we're still doing it, so either my kids have very low expectations of their hapless mother, or we're having a good time.

Anyhow, this year the twins are having their first year doing the homeschooling gig, and with 3 years under my belt, I've come to have a far deeper appreciation of fun as a learning tool than I used to. Not that I'm boring, but books like Great Ancient Egypt Projects You Can Build Yourself, Ancient Egyptians and their Neighbours; An Activity Guide with Assyrians, Hittites and Nubians too!, or even Junior BOOM! Academy, were SO not on my radar. Now they are. And boy, do we look forward to them. Thus the above photo: Lego Men navigating the Nile in their papyrus crafts (sure, those boats look like they were made out of straws but that just shows how little we all know about papyrus). Unfortunately the Lego men got a little carried away with their navigational abilities and almost ended up in the toilet, but it was fun while it lasted.