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.