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.