Monday, December 29, 2008

My Son The Carnivore

Max turned 12 yesterday. And for his birthday he wanted me to make him a hamburger cake. While I love a good challenge in the cake making department, the idea of making a hamburger cake daunted me slightly, because your average hamburger involves all kinds of colours not generally found in your average cake decorator gel boxes: tan, dark brown, brilliant red, light tan, etc. After much Sturm und Drang trial and error I eventually got the damn blasted cake made, as you can see from the photograph. And there was much rejoicing in the land when Max saw it, due in no small part to the new Lego items that accompanied this cake. I should've bought stock in Lego. Is there even Lego stock?

If you want more details, or the recipes for the icing and ganache, click here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Eve!

Okay, I've wrapped the biscotti in clear wrap, nestled tightly on Amazon boxes covered with Christmas paper. 

I've dipped almost 400 truffles. Gads. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But sadly most of them are going to disappear into gift boxes.

I've baked the baguettes and made the garlic butter for tonight. We're having our traditional champagne/bread/garlic butter/brie/old cheddar/paté/pickles/olives/oysters/boiled eggs/salad meal.

I've made the cranberry sauce for tomorrow night's dinner at my parents' house. (the only thing I'm allowed to bring, sigh)

The kids are out blowing off steam before they drive everyone around them nuts because they are so excited for a walk with their dad. 

Toffee is sleeping in a box FDPG made for him, which consists of a sheepie inside a box.

The cough cough - things that go into socks - cough cough - are wrapped. First time they've ever been wrapped before midnight!

I'm just about to go watch my favourite Christmas movie (well, besides The Grinch and Charlie Brown Christmas): Love, Actually. Here's a little clip for you. Now go get yourself a drink and have a lovely Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Christmas Mania

Our gingerbread houses, awaiting construction. I used my pal Martha's gingerbread recipe for these, adapted somewhat by me. If you want it, click here. It makes the best gingerbread cookies.

I'd show a picture of the houses after they were constructed but they were cruelly demolished by some hungry white teeth. Attached to some hungry little children.

Crunch crunch crunch.

While I made Peppermint Creams with the twins (recipe here), Max re-enacted scenes from Dr Who, which has ended for the season. We're all very sad. Here's a Dalek. If you visited us you'd probably hear a lot of "Exterminate!" remarks around every corner.

FDPG has been busy making Christmas gifts for her aunts. Her latest idea is the origami paper bookmark. I like this one:
Here's the little hummingbird again. Can you see him there at the top of the picture, sitting on the Christmas lights? I am finding myself obsessing slightly over these guys. This picture was taken when it was freezing but snowless around here, and now it's so snowy (we had another dump last night) you can barely see the trees for the snow. I wonder what the hummingbirds did before the advent of the liquid feeder - did they fly south with everyone else? Did they find other things to eat? So each night I bring in the feeder, perch it on the heat vent, and leave it to warm overnight. When I get up I take it back outside, where this guy is usually waiting for me, feathers bristling irritably. And no, I don't think I am anthropomorphizing him. He is a very grouchy little bird. I'm glad there aren't any thought bubbles above his head, because they'd probably be bursting with "@#$%" and "$&*%" "that #$%!& slowpoke woman!" and all kinds of charming things.

And finally, it snowed MORE last night. So much that my workaholic mate was unable to get our ancient Tercel out onto the road. It sits there, tragically atmospheric, in the snow, its wheel base completely submerged in the snow. We've seen three vehicles go down our road today. And before all you Hardy Snow People hoot and howl and point rude fingers, let me say that this is the Wet Coast: we don't do snow tires and chains and things. We go all Victorian in this weather - weak at the knees and making fluttery noises. Pitter patting hearts, even. I think our little municipality only has three snowploughs. We fall to pieces.

Oh wait, I forgot - we DO have a snow shovel.

And last but not least, some action shots of the snowy day this morning:
The BBQ, which isn't getting a lot of action this week, although if the propane man doesn't show up soon, we might have to hook the BBQ tank up to the stove...

And a lovely sunrise shot. Sort of makes you want to burst into song, doesn't it? Which reminds me, when we were watching The Grinch last night, the first shot of the Grinch, poised on his front porch with that sulky look on his face, caused Richard to remark "Oh, look, there's Christopher Hitchens!" What a card, that husband of mine.

Nice beginning of the Winter Solstice, don't you think?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Baking

We had a family Christmas lunch, as well as a Christmas party with our co-op friends, all over the last couple of days, and even though it's so snowy here it's become incredibly awkward getting out to the usual far flung shops for strange and wonderful ingredients, I did manage a little baking and candy making. So, without further ado, here's a little sugary torment for your viewing pleasure:

Biscotti. This one is Cranberry Macadamia (thank goodness for people who go to Hawaii and don't know what else to bring me back, because here on the Wet Coast macadamias don't go cheap). It's a variation of one Dorie Greenspan uses, but it seemed a little, err, goopy after the first baking (sorry Dorie). If you've never made biscotti, this is what you do: mix the ingredients, pat into a long thin log, bake 15-25 minutes, let cool, slice into 1/2" slices and re-bake. It makes a toasty sweet biscuit, perfect for dunking into a latté. Heck, I've even dunked them into brandy, but the brandy doesn't last long this way, and despite what my friends say (I think you know who you are) I'm not one for drinking large glasses of brandy. Really.

I generally like to drizzle biscotti with white and milk chocolate. Turns an otherwise unremarkeable appearing cookie into something luscious.This time, however, I wasn't planning on drizzling, but when I pulled these out of the oven after their second baking, and I'd left them in slightly longer than usual because of the, err, goopy factor, I found the side they'd rested on while re-baking looking decidedly brown. This, Gentle Reader, was not my intention. One side was perfection; the other looked (but didn't taste) overbaked. And I'm picky enough to find this extremely irritating. After dithering anxiously for, say, 3 seconds, I decided to slather melted white chocolate over the brown side and Say Nothing. And what do you know but my Clever Trick worked so well everyone scarfed them down in seconds flat. I now have no more Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti left in my biscuit tin. Drats.

I also made some Chocolate Biscotti. These I DID drizzle with melted white and milk chocolate. Sorry this close-up is so blurry but the proximity of so much sweet smelling chocolate was more than I could reasonably deal with. I made two kinds this year: one from Dorie Greenspan's Baking, which looked like a complete mess but tasted nice, and another that I've made every year since 1998. And even though I have made it every year for the past ten years I somehow manage to lose the recipe each and every year, and either resort to calling my mother, who keeps it on hand for this very event (she's never once made them as far I can tell), or, too shamed to call her yet again, I scour the internet until I can find something that looks vaguely familiar and use that. After which my mum calls me and reminds me that she was waiting for me to call her and ask for the recipe.

Then I made truffles. I use Martha's recipe, which I'll post here. It's easy. I usually divide one batch into 3 bowls, then flavour each bowl with something different.
This year I made Coffee (using copious amounts of instant espresso). These are dipped in melted bittersweet chocolate then rolled in unsweetened cocoa.

Chili (althought the first tasting was SO hot even to my tastes I had to dilute them with more melted chocolate). Sorry, don't know where the picture went for these ones.

Scotch. I added - be still my beating heart - half a cup of single malt scotch to this batch, turning these into a sort of Icy Square for adults. If you haven't got a clue what I'm on about, imagine a meltingly silky inside, one that disappears as soon as your tongue finds it, flavoured heavily with McClelland's peatiest Speyside. But wait, don't forget the crunch of the outside coating: bittersweet chocolate rolled in pure chocolate sprinkles. Good quality pure chocolate sprinkles.

Mint. Mint flavouring inside and crumbled candy canes on the outside. These are lovely and fresh but the candy canes don't last long, so make them a few at a time.

Coconut. Coconut flavouring inside, dipped in either white chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, then rolled in toasted sweetened coconut.

I love these but it's only been in the past couple of years that I've made them. The combination of crispy sweet coconut and dark chocolate is amazing.

Now, off to shovel snow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Universe 'as Been Waitin' For Me!

Note for Canadian Dr Who fans:

If you've been watching this series with the same riveted breathless excitement I have and noticed that the season finale, Journey's End, seemed butchered shorter than any sane person would dream of inflicting on Dr Who fans it should have been, hop over to the CBC site, where you can watch the extra

22 minutes

that was cut.

And while I'm at it, where the heck is Voyage of the Damned? Hmm?

Shame on you, CBC.


I know, I know, it's not much for those of you who regularly get minus 20 (or, gulp, worse) temperatures, but here on the Wet Coast this qualifies as Almost Closing Down The Town weather. There are cars sliding everywhere, people falling their way along the sidewalks, and the wind is terrible: icy cold and constant.

Yesterday, while the kids and their dad were at a performance of Silverwing (based on the Kenneth Oppel novel), I dashed around in my mother's fake fur (no wonder everyone used to wear fur - fake or otherwise - it's warm) buying the twins some of those hats with the ear flaps on them. FDPG got a bright blue number with bog polka dots and giant plush tassels, and Dominic got a MEC standard (he won't wear tassels) with polar fleece lining. I almost bought myself a new pair of mitts, to replace my dollar store reliables ($2 and they've lasted 4 years) but balked at the $25 price tag. I'm too cheap, I guess.
One of the more, err, thought-provoking moments to come out of the snowy day was the question of What To Do With Toffee: do we get out his litter box (Richard's idea) or do we chuck him out (my idea), even if he does tend to leave his excrement in the middle of the lawn on top of the snow? Our conclusion, coming as it did last night around 11pm, when Richard couldn't be bothered going outside in the wind to get the litter box out of the carport and fill it up, was "chuck him outside and slam the door really fast." Heartless of us, I know. But you know, Toffee survived just fine. He wasn't even out there more than five minutes, anyhow. Here he is, pretending to ignore me.

And then there was the hummingbird feeder. We have hummers who live here year round, and this morning their feeder was frozen solid, even with all that sugar in it. I scraped it out, heated it up, and poured it into the feeder again. Here is the hummingbird sitting in the Macintosh apple tree, no more than 6" away from me yesterday:
He kept buzzing me the entire time I was outside. I think he was trying to tell me that his feeder needed attention. And here he is guarding his feeder from the other hummingbirds. See him up there on the Christmas lights? His feeder is that red thing at the left of the picture, beside the hanging basket (my poor ice plant, it was never meant for this weather). I want you to know that I hung outside the bathroom window to get you this shot, even though the snow kept hitting me in the face (one, two, three: awwwwww). He sits there in this new weather and divebombs every other hummer that approaches the feeder. They are distressingly jealous about their territory, considering that there are three seats at it. They are also quite noisy. They remind me of the disparity between little dogs (yappy, aggressive towards other dogs) and big dogs (not so yappy and generally less aggressive towards other dogs). The bigger birds are much better at sharing the seed and bacon fat/peanut butter feeders we have sitting elsewhere on the deck. We even had to move the hummingbird feeder off on its own, because the hummers wouldn't let anyone near any of the feeders - even the ones they don't use.

Of course, the kids were over the moon about the snow. They don't see snow much here, and it never lasts for more than a day or two, so when it comes AND stays it's a thing of wonder and delight. Here's Max, pretending to be a snow statue.

Here's Dominic, getting ready for some sledding. Before his New Hat Experience, of course.
Here's Max, crashing into the trees at the end of the yard.

Here's FDPG, crashing into the trees at the end of the yard.

Our temperatures are hovering around the minus 6 mark, plus wind chill (but I don't know what it is). And wonder of wonders but the heat pump we just had installed is still functioning, even though it wasn't supposed to work below minus 5.

Now off to make gingerbread houses...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gifts and Things

FDPG's last Brownie meeting is tonight, and, as per usual, she informed me at the very last minute that her favourite Christmas Snowman pajamas were ripped and since she intended to wear them to this last meeting I might want to mend them. She said it very sweetly, mind you, so it didn't come out as quite the command it really was (almost, but not quite). I regarded the giant hole in her knee (how does she do that?), and then it occured to me that we should probably be giving some kind of gift to her Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, as a thanks for all the work they put into each meeting (it's an awesome Brownie troupe).

So instead of the math history reading I was going to do (Mathemeticians Are People Too, String, Straightedge and Arrow, The Secret Life of Math), I hauled out the glitter and printer paper and we made snowflakes. These are from a pattern I found in a Martha Stewart Kids magazine several years ago. They are easy to make, and they look really impressive when covered with glitter. No one ever guesses that they are made from plain old printer paper. The trick is to use superfine glitter and make your cuts really clean.
This picture doesn't really do them justice (oh sure Sheila I bet you say that about everything). Trust me, they glitter. They are about 4.5" across. Tiny and glowing. We like to hang them from the ceiling with thin thread, over the dining table, next to white lights. It's very atmospheric, with us being here on the Wet Coast and all.

Then, since we'd had so much fun filling the room with bits of paper AND since it was supposed to snow today (but so far all we've had is freezing rain) AND since I'd seen this wonderful snowman picture on a really great art blog called Art Projects For Kids (click here to see it), we hauled out the oil pastels and tried it ourselves. Working with pastels is quite different than, say, pencil crayons and watercolour, and the kids had an absorbing time figuring out their pink skies and peach snowflakes.

I really love drawing with pastels on construction paper. It's incredibly satisfying, and the pictures always look so bright and alive. When we put them up on the wall, FDPG suddenly shouted "I forgot my arms!" which completely convulsed the boys. And if you look at the snowman with the pink sky, you can see that she did indeed forget his arms. (and yes, it is a he, nothing FDPG makes is ever feminine, much to her grandmother's chagrin)

At that point, FDPG decided we needed cards for Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, so we made some. These were in an Usborne book I had out from the library.

This one. It has some excellent card ideas.

FDPG and Dominic made the Peppermint Creams while Max and I laboured away at the cut-away snowman cards. We used origami paper and Martha Stewart's superlative paper punches. They are, really and truly, superior to all other punches. They even cut origami paper fairly cleanly (no small feat when one is trying to get a snowflake cutout).

This is called the Snowman Card, I think (it's all a blur now, I'm afraid). You layer white and blue card stock and cut away the blue to how you want your snow scene (which is why you have the white paper underneath), then draw in details after you've glued it. We added some snowflakes, a star or two, and an origami paper tree.

Here's the other one. They are pretty quick, once you get the hang of cutting the origami paper and keeping the glue from removing your fingerprints (some of us have trouble with crafts, cough cough, but at least we can admit it).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Recipes

I posted a couple of recipes on my food blog. If you like mince pies, click here. If you like black bean soup, click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

High School Skies

More sunset shots. I can't resist it when the light is like this. It's so incredibly beautiful. It's what I was trying so futilely to capture all those years ago in high school, with a stupid air brush that clogged up every five minutes in art class. And eventually, after the 20th unclogging, I'd give up and hang around outside with my smoker friends, watching the cigarette smoke spiral into the air and wondering why that air brush constantly jammed on me.

High school.

Now here I am, many years later, faced with the same awe-inspiring sky, but instead of wrestling with an air brush I stand outside, high on the deck with my three kids, watching while an orange sun falls off the edge of the world, away past the Garry oaks, away past the lake, and the sky above goes bluer and bluer, pebbled ever so faintly with pink, until it's finally black.


I know it's not yet winter, but as I looked out the window very early this morning my eye was caught by these snapdragons. Look at them - all pink and hale. Hearty even. No frost damage anywhere to be found. And here it is nearly halfway through December. Shouldn't they be laying in a pile of mungy brown sludge, leaves long since decayed?

But wait, there's more!

I picked a rose today. And here it is - my new Granada. Hard to see in the yellow light of the kitchen, but it's a lush yellow with orangey red tinges on the outside. And the scent is amazing - all delicate and fragrant and fruity. There's a little slug damage, but here I am, picking roses in December.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I am always coming across notes that the twins write to each other - it's funny and bemusing seeing these little missives. FDPG in particular loves to write notes to everyone.

Here are a few I found yesterday:

"To Dominic I hope you enjoy the gift I gave you"

"To KatiE You are the Best sister. I hope you do like my picture. I hope you like it. Love Dominic"

"To Dominic Thank you for saying that I am the best sister. I hope you mean it. Love, your sister."

(found on a cup with a mosquito in it)
"Please bring this to Mummy because there is a bug that keeps biting us. Thank you. Love ?"


As with so many things, our best school days emerge as sidetracks to what was to have been The Main Event.

Funny that.

I'd intended to read the sections on Lao Tsu and Confucius in The Story of the World and A Little History of the World (a great read if you haven't yet discovered this book), as a sort of respite from what is turning out to be The Greek Unit That Won't End, but one of those internet freebies (printed out and stuck in my Ideas binder) caught my eye. It was entitled Chinese Idioms and appeared to be a brief lesson in calligraphy. Looked interesting enough.

I glanced at one of the idioms:

"Lord Ye's professed love of dragons."

Suitably obscure, I thought. We can have a certain amount of hilarity trying to figure some of these out, no doubt, since we do like oddball foreign expressions. Plus, the complex nature of a foreign idiom is something Max is beginning to find curious and challenging. And I like seeing that boy challenged.

I read. They drew, played with clay, and FDPG built a very involved 3D Cuisinaire Rod maze. Then I hauled out some brushes and black paint and yellow paper (bring on the atmosphere, you know).

I should know better than to be so surprised each time, but I guess I'm still figuring it out, because they loved this project.

The concentration was palpable, particularly for FDPG, aka The Girl Who Stops Talking Only To Breathe.

Max seemed most enthusiastic, which gladdened my heart. It's easy to thrill the twins: a little paint, a story, some cookie dough, a silly lesson in Latin, some pressed leaves, a yoga mat or two. They love it all. But Max is getting older and looking for more. So it's good to see him finding it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday

Today is the eve of St Nicholas Day. My kids love St Nicholas Day; they love putting their shoes out on the front porch before they go to bed, stuffing them first with hay and carrots; they love reading the stories about St Nicholas and his oft times miraculous acts of kindness; they love perusing this site for all the art possibilities it offers; but most of all they love how St Nicholas Day heralds the beginning of the Christmas season in earnest.

Today I was poking around the internet in the hopes that someone had written a poem about St Nicolas, but all I found in those brief few minutes were some slightly sugary, vaguely sappy tributes, which I didn't want. And then I found this. This is what I wanted:

Will The Real St. Nicholas Please Stand Up?
—And Indeed He Did

by Ogden Nash

Once there was a saint called St. Nicholas of Myra,
And his reputation for veracity was better than that of
Ananias and Sapphira,
So when he recently called upon me with his complaint,
Well, I knew I was listening to a truthful saint.
He was also an angry saint, he was spoiling for a rhubarb
or a scrimmage;
He was indignant over the vulgarization of his public image.
He said he hardly dared step out of Heaven for very shame
Because some obese buffoon known as Santa Claus had
mis-appropriated his good name.
He said wherever he might go
He was confronted by this Santa Claus or one of a
thousand facsimiles bellowing Ho! Ho! Ho!
None of whom had any decency or pride
Because they wore their red flannels outside.
He said if people wanted a Santa Claus that was all right
with him,
He just didn't want them to confuse Santa Claus with St. Nicholas,
which was like confusing Walt Disney with the Brothers Grimm,
Because he believed in spare the rod and spoil the child,
and let reward be contingent on good conduct previous,
Whereas Santa Claus was of the permissive school and
showered his gifts indiscriminately, even upon
the most unregenerately mischievious.
Anybody misled by the similarity of the two names
was not a homo sapiens but a most insapiens homo,
Just as likely to confuse Lindbergh with Strindberg or
Pericles with Perry Como,
Yes, they would find a hundred ways to be vague in,
Mixing up Yankee-doodle with Der Dudelsackpfeiffer and
Eugene O'Neill with Eugene Onegin.
He said this was a humiliation he had been forced to endure
Mostly thanks to one Clement Clarke Moore.

(The rest of the poem can be found here)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Mommy's Favourite Children's Books. Stroll on over for many many other offerings!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Travelling the Advent Path

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. I love the music, the food, the decorations, the dark nights lit with candles and twinkle lights, the stories of angels and kings and all those animals and mysterious stars in the night, and last but not least, I love singing carols. So, to that end, I tend to collect cookbooks, records, CDs, carol books, and ornaments throughout the year, at garage sales, second hand stores, and our local Sally Ann. I'm picky though: I don't like most kitsch and I genuinely might die if someone ever gave me a country and western Christmas CD. I like weird and old. And no, that is not kitsch; it's weird and old.

I have my mother's very old handpainted Made in Japan nativity set ("Made of paper mache composition"), that she bought at Sears in 1960, complete with the Red Rose Tea turtle and the hand-crocheted goat we added later. When I was 10, and beginning to think of such things, I thought this was wittily sacriligeous of us. Now I see it as equal opportunity. And when I was sitting in a darkened movie theatre with Richard (all those years ago in San Diego) watching Love Actually, I had a moment of delighted recognition when I heard Emma Thompson say "There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?" "Yes, Emma!" I wanted to shout, "there was also a turtle and a goat!"

But I digress.

I have my Nanna's odd little snowmen carolers and gnome-like Santa, which you can see in the picture here.

I also buy Martha's Holiday magazine every year, despite the palpitations the price gives me ($8 for a magazine?), because they contain some of the best recipe collections you'll ever see. Her 2001 Holiday: Cookies issue is still, hands down, the best cookie recipe book I own. And the other one, Holiday Handmade Gifts (2006), encouraged me to loftier heights in my Must Make More Truffles frenzy.

But with all this Christmas celebration comes the itch for new rituals, particularly as the kids get older and look for different ways of believing. We've brought in St Nicolas, on December 6th, for the Dutch side of the family. St Nicolas, or Sinterklaas, travels with his sidekick Zwarte Piet, riding his big white horse. How can you not love a character named Zwarte Piet, who goes around with a big stick, smacking naughty children? When Richard first told me about him (Black Peter) I laughed, incredulous at the bizarreness of it all. But now the kids leave their shoes on the front porch, stuffed with hay and carrots for the horse, hoping that Sinterklaas will leave some giant speckulaas or gold coins in return.

On December 13th FDPG dons a golden garland of candles and brings us sweet rolls and coffee in bed, for St Lucia.

And this year, I've found something new for our observations of Advent. I saw it in All Year Round, a very charming Waldorf book. They called it Mary's Star Path. I think they had a younger audience in mind, but I like the idea of Advent unfolding, creating a mood for Christmas, "allowing expectation to grow gently day by day," so I made one for my kids.
This is not, alas, the best of photographs, but it shows the thing in its entirety: blue felt sky, green felt backdrop, navy felt ground, little trees on either side, tiny nativity set, gold paper stars. The idea is that you have a star for each day in Advent: little ones for weekdays; big ones for the four Sundays. You arrange them on the cloth in a curving pattern, wending their way towards the stable. Mary stands on each star as that day comes up, and when the day is done and she moves on to the next, you stick that day's star on the sky behind (with a little tape, how, err Waldorfy of me). As her journey continues, you can add to the nature table aspect of this tableau, with stones, moss, twigs, shells, or crystals, acknowledging the four kingdoms of nature.
Here is a little closeup of the stable area. I used a little wooden nativity set from Michaels, clipped the strings off their heads, touched up the paint a little, then glued some pine cone bits around the roof and sides of the stable and stuck it on a bit of birch bark. And you can't see them, but we strung some coloured fairy lights up behind it for added effect.
It's all so tiny and the stars are so bright and golden, and the kids are so enchanted, that I can't help but feel glad.

And what's not to like about a little delayed gratification?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

You're Sort of Funny, I Guess.

So I am clicking around on some blogs I read, and notice that one of these bloggers has been nominated for a humour award. She prefaces her blog entry with a comment her husband made when hearing of this nomination, the gist of which is: "you aren't that funny in real life."

Now, I think I'm a fairly witty writer, so I decide to do an impromptu poll to see just how deluded I really am what the people I live with think: is she funny or isn't she? In real life, I mean. 

As Max is in the room, along with my husband, I ask them if they think I am as funny IRL as I  tell them I am on my blog. Richard, canny man that he is, checks the Sensible Spouse Option: "Of course you're funny," he says, though not in those words. (I feel compelled to add that he used a distressingly cheesy phrase I can't repeat here, other than to say I've heard the same term on a McDonald's commercial)

Since I never trust anyone who compliments me so blatantly, I decide to ignore him and ask Max, who is scribbling away in his art book at the table. Max would never blatantly compliment me unless he really wanted some of the fresh bread cooling on the counter.

"Max, do you think I'm as funny in real life as I am on my blog?" I ask. Max actually reads a lot of my posts, particularly if he's featured, so I figure I'll get a reasonably honest answer out of him. Of course, in hindsight I should have thought about the fact that it's not my writing that cracks him up, it's his behaviour. He thinks he's hysterical. But I didn't have my Hindsight-O-Matic working at the time, alas.

"Umm, funny? What do you mean, funny? You? I don't get what you mean." he says, looking confused. 

Great, I think. This is going really well. Richard starts guffawing in the other room, no doubt greatly enjoying this scintillating conversation, not to mention the razor-sharp wit of his offspring.

"Funny, as in HA HA funny," I say, "Assuming you think some of my blog posts ARE funny, I suppose."

"Uh, well, I guess you are. I mean, you're sort of funny when you're around your own friends. People like you. You aren't all that funny around me." He says this while waving his finger around in the air. Looking pained. 

I'm funny amongst my own kind. Nice. I sit silently for a minute, wondering now who and what my own kind are. And feeling like I'm a gazelle. Or a giraffe. It's not an entirely unpleasant experience, but it's definitely a new one. 

"Well, umm, okay, pretty much," he adds kindly, after seeing the effect his words have had (his mother, momentarily silenced). "Sure, Mum, you can be funny." 

Thanks, kid. Now go eat some bread. I think I'll stay here amongst my own kind. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Advent Reading

I'm slowly amassing Christmas reading from our library, in preparation for Advent, which starts on Sunday. There is something so delightful about seeing all our old favourites, even if my kids are growing out of some of them.

(Ah, who am I kidding. They've grown out of most of my favourites)

First there was the Rosemary Wells Max series. We found this in print long before we ever saw the (vastly inferior) television program, and while we didn't buy quite all of them, we did get our favourites: Morris's Disappearing Bag, Max's Christmas, Max Cleans Up, Max's Chocolate Chicken, Max's Dragon Shirt (with our very favourite line: "It was a teenager; Max screamed."). I think I have them all memorized by now, along with her other series about the fluffy white MacDuff, a dog that likes sausages and rice pudding and gives very arch looks to babies.

Later we found Mary Calhoun's Henry series, about a Siamese cat that can do the most remarkable things. Max still sits through these. The artwork is gorgeous and evocative and that cat is (dare I admit this without being teased by my friends?) hilarious. Or perhaps you have to be a cat person to really appreciate Henry. He's so, err, like a cat.

Along the way there were Raymond Briggs, Tomie de Paola and Ezra Jack Keats. I still tear up at The Clown of God.

I wrote a post last year about our Christmas reading and listening, which you can reread here. There are a few books there you might like to read with your kids. And if you can bear to sit through our Christmas carol hilarity, here's another old post for you. I'm particularly fond of that one. It shows Max with his "I go to great lengths to humour my mum" game face on. I cling to these moments when he's mired in a BeavisorButthead impersonation, and remember that this too is Just a Phase.

Here are a few books I found today:

Henry the Christmas Cat by Mary Calhoun (manna from heaven for my cat-crazy kids)
The Magic Sleigh by Cynthia and Brian Paterson (this one is for FDPG)
It's Christmas by Jack Prelutsky
The Christmas Rose by Sepp Bauer (this is a great story if you happen to have Hellebores, aka the Christmas Rose in your garden, because they really do bloom at Christmas time)
Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti
The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon (of No, David! fame)
Toot and Puddle: Let It Snow, by Holly Hobbie (for younger kids)
Christmas by Jan Pienkowski (you must see the artwork in this book)
Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs (comic style artwork, very appealing to early readers)

I'd say these are mostly for the younger set, although my 11 year old sat through most of them quite willingly. Now he's off trying to recreate the silhouette artwork from Pienkowski's work.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunset of My Day

I know, you can officially call this The Lazy Sheila Blog, because I am resorting to lovely nature shots instead of actual posts, but tell me, would you rather look at this beautiful, serene photograph or hear about the charming moment I had today when I realized that my 11 year old son can imitate Beavis OR Butthead with ease in public situations (and he doesn't even know who they are)? Or that FDPG eats like a hamster, shoving as much food into each cheek until she's bulging and can barely chew or breathe? Or that I suffered absolutely no shame walking into a store today and asking the clerk how much the Foxi Wheels children's bike cost?

No, of course you wouldn't. You can look at that anytime. Let's crack open a bottle of Schadenfreude. I'm telling you all this because I feel the need to share my recent bouts of public humiliation, because that, Gentle Reader, is what I'm all about.


And just in case there is anyone out there who really would prefer to see the picture and forgo my thrills and spills, I'll tell you about it: taken from the back deck at sunset. Deepening shadows and all. Sun setting in a completely different spot tonight. Glittering lake reflecting the last rays of the sunset. As always, no flash.

Made up for all the embarrassing, slightly anguished, exasperating AND irritating moments sprinkled throughout the rest of the day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Free Things

We were exiting our gym drills the other day, and on our way out to the car in the rain, when my eye was caught by a lot of tile samples on masonite, propped up against a wall. Nice tile samples. Very nice tile samples. I don't know about you, but I cannot resist Free Things. And these tile samples, stuck haphazardly in the grass at the edge of the building, were most emphatically in the Free Things category if there ever was one.

I flipped through some of them and they looked right up my alley: all earthy colours and scumbly textures. Some were a bit on the Gothic side, some were on the Villa in Tuscany side. And even better, they were right opposite the car, slouching most mournfully. I took that as a sign that I was meant to have them. "Come on, kids!" I said, "help me load these into the car."

Fortunately my kids adore Free Things just as much as I do. Maybe even more. Never mind that they had shown a complete disinclination to tile projects when we were renovating the house we bought last year. Never mind that they generally do not enjoy trolling with me through Home Despot. Never mind that they are not quite as enamoured of Kaffe Fasset as I am, although FDPG does tend to do the "I want that that and that" routine when paging through his books (so do I). They do, however, flock to Free Things, whatever shape or form they might take: be they tiles, plants, or furniture. And no, I am not being facetious.

Max was first on the scene. He seemed to think we were in imminent danger of being arrested for theft and practically hurled the tile boards into the car. In fact, all the kids seemed to think I was doing something dodgy. "I hope Mummy doesn't get arrested and go to jail," I overheard Dominic saying to FDPG, worriedly. "Those tiles were being thrown out," I said over my shoulder, as we drove away, "that's what places like that do with stuff they don't want anymore, because they know someone else might want them." Dominic seemed to think that this was just too incredible to be true though, and in the rear view mirror I caught sight of him rolling his eyes at FDPG.

As we drove home, masonite rattling around beside the kids, I said "What do you think Dad will say when he sees these?" Instantly FDPG answered "He'll say 'Oh great! More junk for the basement!'" She has her father pegged, that one.

When we got home, I wrestled some of the tiles off the boards. There were several sheets of river pebbles, flat and unglazed and gorgeous. I laid them along the hearth. We were all quite giddy. "Wow!" said one. "Oh my gawd" said another. "Ooooo!" said yet another. We ran our hands along them. We stroked. We burnished. I think we even gazed lovingly; well, I know I did. I felt like Dominic when he says "I didn't know I always wanted them but now I do."

Then of course my eyes strayed to the now abandoned masonite boards, lying in a messy heap on the floor, where I'd peeled all their paper off one side. What to do with those?

Fast forward one day.

Here we are at a Waldorf Christmas Fair. If you've never been to one I highly recommend it, particularly if you happen to be visiting from other places and would like a slice of West Coast Cultchah. Here you will find most things that make us kooky Pacific North Wet Coasters tick: sensible but colourful knitted items, sensible but quirky footwear, sensible but weird food items (spirulina in your smoothie, anyone?), lots of fleece in varying shades of blues and reds, some very long braids, long-haired children of all genders, people hugging and smiling. The smell of beeswax, natural wreath ingredients, and wool in the air. And of course, a lot of recorder music.

And no, I am not in that picture, nor do I wear sensible but colourful knitted items. I tend to black and fitted. I'm going all conservative in my dotage.

Anyhow, we are in the Wreath Making room, and I am watching FDPG stuff fir branches into a wreath while coveting way too much ribbon, when suddenly I glance up at this chalkboard. It has a lovely, typically Waldorfish, chalky design on it, snowmen and santa and fir trees and snow. Swirly letters. I like the way the Waldorfs approach art. It's charming yet acutely sensible.

And then it hit me: all that masonite, all those large flat boards, would make perfect art boards for the kids. They are big. They even have handles cut into them, smooth and rounded, nice for littler hands. I could paint one side with chalkboard paint. I could get some Waldorf chalks. We could draw snowmen and fir trees. Maybe I'll take up recorder music while they draw (whoa, sheila, don't get too carried away now). I could see it all, right there, even with FDPG directing me around the Wreath Making Bins ("get me a bow, I think I need two, hold this while I cut it, wait, I want more pine cones on this side"). Even with Richard, who attended Waldorf schools for much of his school life, pretending to do his own very silly version of Eurythmy next to me, as an aid to Dominic's wreath making.

I felt, dare I say it, quite inspired.

And that, as my pal Martha likes to say, is a Good Thing. A Good Free Thing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oh What A Beautiful Morning

This was what I saw this morning, as I shuffled into the kitchen to see if our morning latté was ready (yes, I admit it, I am a Coffee Snob - no drip for me). It was, so I picked my mug up, cradled that lovely fragrant warmth (ooh, a cute little swirl in the foam) and opened the Dutch door to see the morning. Habits. 

We live on a very open, south-facing hill, and the view is generally pretty spectacular: clouds, mountains, birds, stars. It's a Big Sky view (makes me want to burst into Kate Bush sometimes). And this morning was no exception. It was only this colour for a brief moment or two, during which I, with my handy dandy camera, inhaled that purple gorgeousness as deeply as possible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Espaliers and Other Things

We put in another trellis last week, not for berry bushes, but for the deliciously crispy sweet apple known as the Cox's Orange Pippin. This is the apple to have if you're having a cheese and apple sandwich, I'll have you know, but they must be pretty obscure here these days because we import them from New Zealand. Now I like New Zealand but the idea of eating an apple that travelled thousands of miles to get to my stomach makes me feel a little, err, spoiled. Not that I have a hair shirt complex or anything, but it does seem odd.

I'm going to attempt to - drum roll please - espalier this tree. I've never done much in the way of fruit tree pruning, so it should be an interesting experience (sheila clears her throat nervously).

This photo doesn't really do justice to my inept trussing and hacking job efforts so far, but we've put in 3 cabled guidelines, two 4X4 cedar posts, and some bamboo sticks as guides for the branches.

I'm using Christopher Brickell's wonderful Pruning and Training book as my crutch guide, because the idea of cutting the leader off of a perfectly decent-looking tree, not to mention removing branches not in My Espalier Plan, is completely counter-intuitive to me. I'm having a hard time finding this exact book because it seems to have been reissued under several different titles at various points in time, but the library has several of those various copies, so I can revolve my requests privileges until I've either memorized the book or gone mad.

It also has a lot of very useful advice if you have, like I do, old and ineptly pruned over the years pollarded apple trees, not to mention how to properly train a berry fan.

(stop that snickering, this is cool stuff and yes, I do have a life outside the garden)

Here is a diagram of a two branched espalier. The idea is that you get a young tree, set the guideline about 18" off the ground and either find the nearest branches or clip the, gulp, leader just above this line. Wait for the sprouts to come out, train them along that line, wait for another branch to emerge and train that as your new leader, waiting for it to reach the next set of guidelines. Then you do this all over again once the leader reaches that line.

Now you know the reason for my trepidation. Not only am I commitment-phobic, but this is going to take several years. And a lot of careful pruning and observation.

But I speeded up the process by chickening out and getting a tall tree with lots of branches deciding to use an older tree, so I don't have to cut too deeply. I merely removed several branches not in My Espalier Plan (talk about rationalizing severe pruning), staked one set of branches to a guideline, then staked a second pair, then let the leader dangle over the top a bit, while I wait for the weather to get cold enough to prune it some more.

But wait, there's more! Did you know that to properly espalier an apple tree one must use spur-bearers only? Not tip-bearers? Yes, boys and girls, there is such thing as a tip bearing apple out there, and I had no bloody idea. Thus my single espalier. The Summer Red reposing so beautifully down the hill from the Cox, the Summer Red which was going to be the anchor of Sheila's Espaliered Fence, is a tip bearer. Which means that it bears its fruit on the tips of the branches, as opposed to places all along the branch.

I learn something new all the time.

Other things I learned yesterday in the garden:
Nasturtiums like my compost bin.

Pansies thrive no matter what chews on them.

My yard is much more photogenic than I am.