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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Salve Time

It's that time again - the time when I duck under the stairs and haul out the jars of oils I've left to steep all summer. Oddball containers of St John's Wort flowers in oil (yellow flowers that turn a wonderful rusty red), jars of plantain and comfrey leaves smashed up in oil, chunks of beeswax (one of the best smells in the world), dried marigold and calendula flowers, dried cayenne peppers, lavender buds, and all our used Marmite jars.

We eat a LOT of Marmite (sorry to hear about your recent troubles with the Marmite advertisers, Paddington, but I remain a loyal Marmite fan). We eat an inordinate amount, if I may say so. More than anyone else we know, although everyone else we know hates the stuff, so that's not saying much. But the jars are PERFECT for storing herbs, spices, and my salve. They are short, roundish, wide-mouthed, and impenetrable by bright light: ideal for storing something that has a tendency to go stale. They also look spiffy with a Sheila's Magic Salve label on them (and yes, the label really DOES say that).

I've been making this salve for about 20 years, which seems hard to believe (when did I get so old?). The first times I made salve, I was living on a beach in the Kootenays after tree-planting gigs and wanting to emulate a hero of mine: Jeanne Rose. A friend had given me Jeanne Rose's Body Book and I wanted to be just like her. I wanted that Santa Cruz sunshine, that long peasant skirt, that herbal knowledge, and a life on a kibbutz/commune/beach. Not necessarily in that order, of course. I started with her salve recipe, because it seemed the most easily attainable, and I was already living in a beach commune. The instructions seemed relatively simple: Warm some oil, add some herbs, beeswax, essential oils, then bottle. My first few attempts yielded a rock-solid but fragrant mass: way too much beeswax. A few times I had some fierce geranium wafts following me everywhere. Eventually I got the hang of it, found my favourite plant and oil additions, and the rest is salve history. It's amazing for dry skin, cuts, burns, rashes, worrying skin ailments, and it's a lovely after-bath skin moisturizer. The first few batches left weird colours on my dressing gown cuffs, but a little less cayenne and the orange effect disappeared.

What is most fun these days is growing the plants I like to use in the salve. St John's Wort by the apple trees, marigolds against the basil and tomatoes, calendula anywhere it wants (calendula's like that), lavender on the sunny, dry slope, comfrey and plantain in the shade of the huckleberry bushes. All through the summer I groom them. I prune and stake. Some I clip and dunk in oil for steeping; others I dry in the dark corners of the house. Then, around this time, they get turned into something wonderful.

I'm a House Slut

(No photo for obvious reasons)

This morning I woke up to an unusual chill in the air. Or should I say unaccustomed? Whatever it was, it was cold. I had to haul out my long and by now horribly unbecoming dressing gown, the sort of item I would SO not have been caught dead in when I first met my husband. Back then I used to twirl around in as little as possible. Now, body racked by the various aspects of my life (age & children), I wear my dressing gown around the house without so much as a passing wince at the shabby cloth, stained by salve, jammy but loving mouths, and latté foam. Sometimes I even have my wet hair in a towel, turban style (gasp!). And yes, before you ask, I DO look like a slob. And what's worse, I even joke about it with my friends; I call us House Sluts, a term I like because it brings to mind a certain Rogue Housewife element, something I am sorely lacking at times. Some days my life is so consumed with the mundane details brought by unexciting interruptions like food preparation ("What? You just ate 4 hours ago"), hostage negotiation ("Max, stop stashing the Lego."), conflict negotiation ("Just stop talking, right now, all of you!"), and finally, rampant consumerism ("No, you can NOT go to the Dollar Store just because"). My House Sluttishness manifests itself primarily in my distressingly dull morning attire, but an Attitude can speak a thousand words. Don't worry, I won't break out into a Helen Reddy song or anything. I'm content with my dressing gown. For now...

Friday, September 21, 2007

For fans of Dr. Who...

Had one of those funny, funny moments yesterday when we were reading about the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (nothing like a nice, lengthy intro now, is there?).

We're reading about the various gods, their "signs" and related artwork when we come across the Eye of Horus. Linear, black, somewhat sinister. A protection device for the pharoah. We paint (with blackberry juice) our own eyes of Horus onto the parchment we "made," using flour and textured paper. They look very atmospheric and we all admire them. As we're admiring, Max freezes, then blurts out, rather worriedly, "Is the Eye of Horus related to the Face of Bo?"

I tell you, it was a moment to make a mother proud.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm on a whinge binge today!

I wrote this post to a friend the other day (apologies to any 50's mother out there who didn't have this experience):

I sometimes think that 50's mothers knew how to keep their best interests in mind better than we do. Look at me: in thrall to my children day and night. No afternoon drinking sessions in the garden, no cigarette smoking in the bath whilst doing my toenails, no reading magazines with my coffee klatch cronies. No, instead I'm racing around trying to provide sensible learning opportunities for my children. My nails are a mess, I have little to no hairspray in my hair, I don't get near enough gossip sessions, and I lost my corset. I'm a mess.

Now I promise to get my tongue out of my cheek!

I'd rather see this, but instead it's raining.

Need I say more? I'm not a big rain fan, at least, since having kids I'm not a rain fan. It keeps us in the house more, especially if someone is sick or about-to-become-sick. I find I'm getting cat-like as I get older - I hate getting wet. This attitude 'o' mine is not a useful one to have if you are a True Wet (oops, little slip there), West Coaster. W.C.s are tough, they thrive on the rain, rain is fun, rain doesn't stop them from living their life. W.C.s hike mountains in the rain; a little mud phases them not. Postie W.C.s wear shorts ALL winter here! It's enough to make you run for the Mediterranean.

I, on the other hand, am very wimpy about rain. I was born in this part of the world, too, so you'd think I'd be used to it by now. I think my Need To Stay Dry gene triumphed, personally.

I don't seem to have transferred any anti-rain habits onto my kids, although Katie is showing signs. The boys don't notice the weather unless it's snowing. They long for snow daily, as in "When is it going to snow?" or "Do you think it will snow this winter?" or "How many times do you think it will snow this winter?" It can be a baking hot day, us lounging around a beach, even, and there they are, rhapsodizing about snow. It's enough to make me run for the Med...oops, already said that, didn't I? Ah well. I think the boys going to become typical West Coasters, striding about in sensible rain gear, breathing deeply, and enjoying every soggy minute of the day, unlike their sun-deprived, anti-rain mother.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In our midst

We've been examining Ancient Egypt all month, with a particular emphasis this week on the gods and goddesses. For my kids, especially the younger two, this is a strange and fascinating world that really stretches their conceptual boundaries. Dominic doesn't understand how anyone could be born with an animal head and a human body, so he finds it all mildly unsettling, while Katie wonders (hopefully) if they are still around in our far-from-Egypt, everyday world. She's painted herself a little udjat to hang on her door, just in case. Max, although he doesn't say as much, worries that one of them might come walking up the slope of our back yard one night, and appear in front of his bedroom window. I know this because I sometimes wonder the same thing.

My favourite part to all this is how the Cooper's hawk that hangs around our neighbourhood has been magically transformed into Horus, god of the sky. Every time he sails over the house, head flicking this way and that, going round and round in circles above the house, the three kids all fall silent, and watch him carefully, wondering no doubt if his eyes were REALLY restored by milk.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Love Apples

I love gardening. I love my tomato patch, too, even if this year's weird summer weather prevented most of them from ripening until now. Usually I can count on them to ripen precisely when I am on holiday and not around to deal with them as my Fanny Farmer side would like, but this year the majority of them are still sitting rather greenly (as opposed to glumly) on the vine.

An old friend of my parents gave me his extra seedlings this year, so my garden, cultivated in between renovating our new Old House and assuring my husband that I really WAS painting the downstairs kids' rooms (nothing like a little selective wording), swelled more than it might have otherwise with First Lady's, Sweet Clusters, Yellow Romas, Champions, and lots of cherry tomatoes. I like having the variety and although I always swear to myself that this year I will separate each type and do some test tasting or detailing, I rarely do. This summer, however, I have been listening to the audio version of Julia Child's magnificent autobiography My Life In France, and I really DO plan on doing something exotic, or at least very French (cue sexy accent), wiz some of zeez baybies.

Cushion had a baby!

That's right. Dominic's Cushion had a baby today. A baby named - get ready for it - Cushion. We were all there for the Presentation, at which Dominic (Cushion's father) brought up Cushion, a rather lurid green furry item, and its baby, an equally livid green, apparently male, ball of wadded tags from Bekins Moving and Storage (who tagged all our stuff when we did a corporate move 6 months ago). What was so surprising about this event, bar the fact that in Cushion Land ANYONE can have a baby, was that his older brother went through the EXACT same sort of scenario at about the same age. It was slightly shocking to me because we don't often reminisce about this stuff, not because we have issues about Cushions having babies, I hasten to add, but because we, like most parents, tend forget this stuff until it's forcibly brought to our aging memories. So it wasn't as though Dominic was reliving his brother's cute habits in a bid for attention; nope, his Cushion was claiming its own piece of the Greenridge family mythology action (let's just hope my memory holds out this time).

Max's Reproduction Period began with a small box of dried moss, filled with some miniscule lumps of dirt. Max called them his "hatchlings." He would carry these hatchlings around with him; once in a while he'd put them in his bike basket, and periodically he'd lend them his blankie in case they were chilled (which wasn't very often, seeing as we were in Southern California at the time). Eventually, as they all do, he forgot about his hatchlings and it was left to his besotted parents to remind him about it until we too forgot. But wait, that's not all: Max also has a Cushion, albeit a very small one (that we once had to rescue from an Albertson's Lost and Found bin), and it travels almost everywhere with him, even now that he's a relatively sophisticated 10 year old (just don't let on that you know he has it tucked away).

Now Dominic has reminded us anew. Hatchlings in Cushion Land. Nice symmetry, that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

One of those days

This was One of Those Days: the day was hot and sunny, the kids were happy and generous with each other, everyone was delighted with each new project we embarked upon, and best of all, I was in a FABULOUS mood (ooh, writing that makes it sound like I'm usually a grouch, doesn't it). Anyhow, the day dawned and we were off. Egyptian history! Poetry! Magnifying glasses! Hummous! Library fines! (oops, wouldn't normally have included that one, but surprisingly, the cheery librarian found a way for me to enjoy even these) Only one set of tears entered our idyll: a scraped knee that bled a little too profusely for the bearer's comfort level. But a Hello Kitty! band-aid later and we were back to lying in the grass, watching spiders.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First Day

This is the first year the twins have stayed home to do school, meaning I now have 3 kids at home. All day. Every day. Meaning I feel trepidatious. Meaning I feel slightly overwhelmed. Meaning I frequently wonder why I started this homeschooling venture in the first place, when I could have been safely tucked up in a Starbucks or something like that right about now.