Monday, March 31, 2008

My Lawn Has Dandruff!

Well, either that or the universe is playing an April Fool's joke on us here on the Wet Coast. Either way, I am not amused. I want to be out gardening, not watching little balls of ice fall from the sky.

Look at that lawn! It wants to be basking in sunshine, I just know it. So do I. We had the most amazing weather in February, which is probably why I feel so dismayed about the weather we had for March. It was a wet, windy, and cold March. It came in like a lion, it stayed like a lion, it had a brief spell as a lion cub, then it went out like a lion. And right before it left it dropped a lot of solidified water pellets on the ground. This is the Wet Coast, O ye Weather Gods, get your deliveries straight!

And yes, the kids were thrilled. As I sat shivering in disbelief, they frolicked on the front lawn, trying to catch ice in their mouths. I tried to take a picture of them, but my fingers froze on the camera buttons. Well, maybe it wasn't quite as dramatic as that, but you get the idea: cold + Sheila = Weenie Sheila. So what do I do? Go back into my warren and dream of Spring? Oh, wait, I forgot, it is Spring. Sigh. I know, hilarious, aren't I. I can hear my mother saying "At least you aren't in Montreal right now" thinking she's giving me some much-needed perspective, but I don't need perspective, Mum, I need sun. I could resort to the Weather Chant they do at Cubs (where you simply chant the kind of weather you want, three times, over and over again) , but then the kids might start chanting "Snow! Snow! Snow!" and then where would we be?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poetry Friday

I was going to do a little Robert Frost this week, because it was the anniversary of his birthday on March 26th, plus the kids used his poems for their memorizations this week. But then I got distracted (while checking some old Safari bookmarks) by a YouTube clip I've kept for so long simply because of its affiliations with the ever so charming Time Lord to the left. I've watched it countless times. Then I figured that I could inflict that on some of you instead of the Frost. Ever so charming of me, I know.

Anyhow, to introduce the clip (since I can't get the Doctor to do it), I'm starting with a little sonnet written by Shakespeare. The following sonnet has a cameo in the (also following) YouTube clip. All this is clear as mud, no doubt.

Alright then, go read the sonnet...

Sonnet 130

My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

You might have heard Sting sing this once upon a time. You might even have had a boyfriend, or girlfriend, quote bits of it in a love note. But I bet you've never heard it spoken quite like this (Kenneth Branagh, eat your heart out):

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Cuentesitos, where I see there are already some great poems to be checked out. Thanks for hosting, Gina, and I wish you many many more cancer-free years.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Purim Gifts and Things

No, we don't celebrate Purim, but last year a friend of Max's gave him this box, filled with dried fruit and hamentashen, and I just happened upon the picture I took as I was trolling through iPhoto.

It's charming, isn't it?

Happy Purim, Jake! Happy Purim, Jake's mum!

How My Week Went (guest post)

By Toffee, the Greenridge Cat. (click on all my photos to see them in glorious cat-like splendor)

First, I slept in every single day. Why get up when the humans are all racing around making a lot of noise and getting in my way? No, I wait until the wet food is in the dish, and they are all out of the kitchen. I like to eat in peace. Besides, after getting up at 5:30am to go out and pee, I feel I need a little cat nap before I face the day.

That's me there. Lovely, aren't I? It's nice to stretch out a little when everyone else has gotten up. Kind of bugs me when the adults snigger and take pictures, though. Not very dignified of them.

Tuesday I sat on Dominic's Singapore Math for a while. I felt as though Sheila had droned on long enough, and that it was time for a little comic relief.
I was right, as usual. Nevertheless, I tried to look as nonchalant as possible - a very good tip when interrupting humans.

Wednesdays are my day for catnip chewing. It's very fresh this time of year, but I do wish Sheila would get all the aphids off it before she gives it to me. I don't enjoy the way they crunch in my teeth and they make my breath smell bad. Ahh, the aroma of fresh catnip. Nothing like it.

Every afternoon this week I stared longingly menacingly at the budgies for a while. We're looking after them while their owners move house, and I think they found me deeply irritating intimidating. I spent several very pleasant hours sitting here, until everyone came home and Sheila made me get off the table. I think I asserted my paper tigerferocity authority over them, nonetheless.

Then it was back to bed. After such a long week I felt exhausted. I don't know how I do it.

Easter Chocolate, Did You Say?

I was casting around for some different egg decorating ideas this week, when I came upon Cami's Hot Rock Eggs at Full Circle. So that was what we did on Friday afternoon, right after track and field. Read her instructions carefully, because the eggs DO get hot and the crayon wax can get pretty singey on the fingeys (says the woman who no longer has any fingerprints).

Now I'm going to collect some rocks for the Hot Rocks version.

Later, in a fit of kitchen-themed madness on Saturday night, I made Nigella's hot cross buns (from my well-worn copy of Feast) and Martha's Truffle Eggs. That's Martha's eggs there on the plate, looking very pinkly at us. Martha made hers smaller and more egg shaped, and dipped them in blue-tinged white chocolate to to mimic a robin's egg, but I used pink (no blue, alas, in my food dye box) and then, deciding it was just a bit too weird having all these large pink blobs everywhere, reverted to some milk chocolate dipping wafers I had kicking around. Those were much easier on the eye. Facing a luridly pink Easter egg at 10am is not something for the faint of heart...not that anyone could ever accuse my kids of being faint of heart when it comes to eating chocolate, mind you.

After all that frenzy, Richard and I filled a bag of plastic eggs with jelly beans (orange sherbet! coconut!), chocolate coins (Canadian loonies!), and chocolate eggs so we could hide them around the yard for the kids to find. We waited until morning to hide them, in the event of marauding squirrels, but when we woke up it was raining so bleakly that we hid them around the house instead. Sigh. A typical Easter in the Pacific Northwest.

Then, finally, I congratulated my kids on keeping their Lent promises. I'd convinced them that Lent lasted a week longer this year (because they'd all agreed that this year's Lent would involve no Dollar Store visits), and I wanted that lovely empty space where the "Can we go to the Dollar Store?" noise used to be to last just a little bit longer. I think they all knew I was having them on, but they humoured me. Nice kids. No wonder the Easter Bunny was so good to them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Downy Woodpeckers In Our Midst

Look at this. I had barely put the peanut butter in the feeder when the downy woodpecker was on it. I still had my hand on the lid when he started pecking away at it! In fact, when I opened the peanut butter block I reached up, with the block in my hand, and three bushtits landed right on the top of the block. I had to brush them off in order to get it into the feeder.

When I took this shot I was about 3 feet from the feeder.

The bushtits, sparrows, and this downy woodpecker are the most relaxed around us, even though we frequently burst through the door heading out to the deck and shriek and wave (we're waving and shrieking at the starlings). We've all come to the conclusion that the other birds know this, because they ignore us now. They remain on the various feeders. Some of them look rather apprehensive, but that's about it.

Yet More Signs of Spring

I know, I've used this title before, but it's hard to think of something more original when really, all I'm showing you are signs of spring in our yard. So, without further ado, here we go.
First, we have a nice spray of peach blossom, which was a very hot pink when still a bud, but the colours are softening slightly as the buds open.

Next, a lovely little number in a viola. I like violas, even if I have bought millions of them over my lifetime.
I like to think of them carpeting the roads to every house I've ever lived in (and yes, I HAVE bought that many).

I'm not quite sure what this is, some sort of wild toothed violet, but it is growing everywhere here: all over the lawn, all down the sidewalks, and in the cracks of all the rockeries. There is something about the shape and colour of it that is incredibly charming.

Spotted Pulmonaria. I bought this one for you, Matt James.
Just for you.
And boy, am I glad I did. It's so delicately delightful and delicious I could alliterate about it forever.

Water droplets in a lupin. Or, as FDPG says, sips of nectar for the fairies. Actually, it's getting slightly onerous having fairies in the garden. They're awfully temperamental. I can't touch the lupins in case they're thirsty, can't disturb the Totoro statue because the eggs are under it (exactly what kind of eggs FDPG isn't sure about), and we have to keep the geoduck shells in the same spot because the fairies like to hide under them when Toffee shows up. Never mind that Toffee is probably more afraid of them that they'll ever be of him, but I guess I'm nitpicking here.

Sorrel! I love sorrel. It's lemony, prolific, good in soups or salads or just standing in the garden, passing it around.

Rhubarb. I followed a tip from a new gardening book (I'd give the link but it's specialized just for this area), which says to upend a large terracotta pot over the plant just before it starts to bud, and remove it when the buds break through the soil. Looks like we are going to get a seriously good crop this year. And to think I found the root in an alley in Vancouver, awaiting the garbage.

So that's it from the Signs of Spring department here at Greenridge Chronicles. Well, that's it for now. You don't think you're going to get off that lightly, now, do you?

Monday, March 17, 2008

FDPG's Favourite Day (also known as St. Patrick's Day)

Why look! A little leprechaun was in our house last night! And we're not sure, but we think Toffee must have surprised him, because he dropped a bunch of gold coins on the floor. FDPG's theory is that he was trying to steal her green St. Patrick's Day hat, but dropped it and his gold when he bumped into Toffee. She and Dominic made sure they ate all the gold coins (which were made of - gosh, the luck of it - chocolate) in case the leprechaun comes back tonight to retrieve his lost gold.

Today is one of FDPG's most treasured days of the entire year. Not because it involves leprechauns, pots of gold, shamrocks, or even green milk (I know, it's weird and gross, but it thrills the twins), but because this day is all about GREEN, and green is FDPG's favourite colour.

So today we had green eggs for breakfast, a green smoothie for lunch (concord grape juice, frozen bananas, and fresh baby spinach), and green noodles for dinner (steam parsley, spinach, and kale then puree it with some chicken broth or fish sauce, dill, and a bit of cream) and the, err, green milk.

And while we were out in the garden FDPG saw at least 4 leprechauns flitting about the yard. No one else saw them, but she has pretty sharp eyes, so we all took her word for it. They had gold with them, but as soon as she touched it, it apparently dissolved in a puff of smoke.

Hmmm. That FDPG has some imagination, doesn't she?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cooper's Hawk

We have been seeing the Cooper's hawk more and more of late. I'm not conversant enough with the habits of hawks to know why he's suddenly showing up so much, but he has started landing on a certain branch in the neighbouring Garry Oak. The same spot on the same branch - every time.

Here is the section on Cooper's hawks from our bird book (one of the superlative Kaufman guides). These are great books, if you are looking for a bird or insect guide. Very good photographs. Anyhow, what we see is the adult male Cooper's hawk. In flight they are dramatic birds - with a strikingly beautiful underwing.

And here he is, sitting in his spot. See him there, perched at the top, sort of in the middle? That's our boy, minus dead starling.

Friday, March 7, 2008

English Ivy

The twins started a series of classes down at the local nature sanctuary this week, which meant that Max and I were at moderately loose ends for a couple of hours during these classes. What to do? Do we go for a long walk around Bird Lake? Do we go home and work one something together? Do we watch Sheila get groceries/drink a relaxing coffee/check her email? I confess I spent more than a few minutes wrestling with the options and my conscience, I'll have you know. I love having kid-free time and I don't get nearly enough of it. Which is why, even though it did occur to me to ask Max what he might like to do, I polled myself more than once or twice before I could bring myself to ask Max.

When the kids are at activities I have no trouble finding ways to occupy myself, mostly because the stretches of time afforded me are so short. I shouldn't even call them stretches. They are gasps of time. In-breaths, even. They remain a novel moment in my day, if they occur at all. Sometimes, if we are close enough, I whip home and read the distressingly long list of unread email I am accumulating. Other times I meet friends for coffee, catch up on reading, or wander through garden centres. Now that we have a house we're likely to stay in for a few years, and a house with a big yard to boot, the last option is the most popular lately. I'm even developing plant obsessions.

But this time I had Max along for the ride, and I knew it would be hard to wander through a garden center with a mildly resentful 11 year old rolling his eyes at my "Max, look! LEWISIAS! What incredible luck!" no matter how much humour I would be able to buttress his replies with.

Fortunately I didn't have to wrestle too fiercely with my conscience, because something came up in the meantime. Max's Cub troupe. Or rather, Max's Cub troupe leader. She emailed and asked when Max was thinking of finishing with his Purple Star requirements. Not really knowing what she was talking about, I asked Max. He was unable to give me a very distinct answer. He didn't seem terribly interested either. I considered Max. I considered his leader, a very nice woman but totally lacking in irony. I didn't think I would be able to joke about Max's interest levels with her. I considered my 2 hours of free time and saw it dwindling away into the distance. I think I might have sighed, too. Then I sat down with Max. After some discussion, it hit me that Max didn't know how to finish the requirements. I think he was hoping they might magically finish themselves. So we got out the Cub book and I helped him itemize them a bit. The Purple Star, for those of you unfamiliar with Cub activities, is a category that requires a Cub to investigate their native country in various ways: faith, citizenship, culture, technology, etc. To complete his Purple Star, he would have to be able to tick off eleven items from the list in the book. And before you go all "Well, how can that be hard?" on me, let me give you the piece de resistance in this farce chez Greenridge: Canadian history/culture/citizenship is an area in our homeschooling venture that, if it were a plant, would be sitting brown, dusty and dry on some long-neglected shelf. We just don't do it. Okay, now you can tssk tssk at me.

Luckily I saw the volunteer section in the requirements. Max has done a fair bit of volunteer work in his time, and this managed to get through off a surprisingly large portion of the list. It was then that I saw a category with his name all over it: "Participate in a community service project not listed above."And it was then that I had the brilliant idea to volunteer us to do something useful at the nature centre while the twins were in their class. Well, I thought it was a brilliant idea; Max sighed a little but refrained from commenting too extensively. I don't know if he was merely being diplomatic or if he felt the situation was beyond redemption. Poor kid, caught between puberty, a Cub leader, and an enthusiastic mother.

Thus it was that Max called the grounds keeper at the nature centre, explained who he was and what he needed to do, and arranged to meet him while the twins were in their class. So last week, once we'd had breakfast, some of us collected our heavy-duty gardening gloves, some of us collected our backpacks with a snack and a drink, all of us pulled on our rubber boots and all of us trudged off to the nature sanctuary, which is pretty much across the street from our house. It was a beautiful day: not too wet with promises of clearing. Masses of birds flitted after us as we stumped through the trails. The air smelled good. We wended our way over the bridges, the footpaths, and the puddles to the nature house. The twins were chattering with excitement. Max, in the rear, looked thoughtful. It took maybe ten minutes. Willie, the groundskeeper, met us in the nature hut. We settled the twins in their class and Willie showed us around the area we would be working in. Our task for the day: remove ivy. English ivy. An invasive European species, introduced when the Englishmen showed up here with their nostalgia for thatched cottages, holly, and clipped hedgerows. He showed Max what it looked like when it really started to strangle the undergrowth, demonstrated how to remove the roots, and left us to it.

In a way it reminded me of tree-planting: trudging through wet woody growth scrabbling in the ground with soggy gloves and bulky clothing, feeling the distinct need to pee. Not the most fortuitous of tree-planting memories, but they were definitely there, in between the nice bits, when the sun shone through the trees in streamers of glimmering misty light, when the ground smelt damp and sweet, and when the sounds of the hummingbirds buzzing and Canada geese honking reached our ears. I don't know what it reminded Max of, but he teetered between finding it amusing (flinging strings of ivy at me) and boring ("how long do we have to do this?"). And so we spent two hours.

We've been back twice now. I have to confess that the last time I really wanted to ditch it, because it was cold and rainy and I could think of a zillion other things I'd rather be doing, but I felt as though I had to Set An Example (ooh, I can hear my mum fainting) and show Max that we had to honour our agreements, even if they were rather lacking in the Creature Comforts or Desperately Thrilling departments. I might have thrown in a few Well, it's not like I'M getting a Purple Star's but for the most part I tried to manifest a dignified fortitude. Max was more colourful, throwing out a few Ugh's and Yucks and This SUCKS whenever he slipped or got tangled up with the blackberries, but he surprised me by doing it with way less complaint than I expected. I even had a couple of "seems like yesterday that he was 4 and playing with trains and now he's 11 and growing up and when did he get so tall?" moments, as I stared across the pile of ivy at him. Is this what growing up is for us parents? Brief glimpses of the past and the present in one go. They slip away so fast.

Oops, I'm getting all sentimental on me.

Poetry Friday

Here is an oh-so-polite welcome to March, a month of unpredictable weather here in the Pacific Northwest, by the oh-so-polite Emily Dickinson.


by Emily Dickinson

Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat-
You must have walked-
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell.

This next one is by the eminent RLS, and I include it because of the wind we've been having. If you want to see a five year old friend of mine recite it, keep scrolling.

Windy Nights
Robert Louis Stevenson

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By on the highway low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he,
By at the gallop he goes and then,
By he come back at the gallop again.

Poetry Friday is hosted today over at The Simple and the Ordinary. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Little Volunteers on the Prairie Farm

We started volunteering at the local Petting Zoo a couple of weeks ago, ostensibly so that Max can finish up his Purple Star in Cubs, but also (ever so stealthily) so that he can get the experience of doing something for someone else for no obvious reimbursement. This is a trait I have long admired when reading the Little House series to my kids: the Ingalls family works very hard at getting along and getting along well, even when they don't feel like it. Even when they almost starve to death during a horrifically cold winter they keep it together socially. (this book has taken root in my brain, hasn't it)

The idea first came about when we were visiting the Zoo a while back. We love animals, and this place has a lot of them. Even better, most of them are of the pygmy variety, so the twins don't feel intimidated. We were first drawn into the guinea pig room, partly because we have our own guinea pig (named Henry) and partly because they had little baby guinea pigs the twins were desperate to see up close. We stood there gazing at the sheer size of the enclosure, and at all the happy little pigs (well, okay, maybe I AM projecting a bit), and we were all struck by the same thought: Henry's cage was nothing like this. I think Max and I might even have shared a look of mild shame. Afterwards we went home and mollified our guilty consciences: Max scrubbed out his cage, I trimmed Henry's nails and the twins took turns brushing his long hairy coat.

Then, a few weeks ago Max was trying to find ways to to work through the Community Service section, and it occurred to me that this would be a natural way to work through it AND have some fun, although Max's response ("What? We shovel poo for free? Yuck.") wasn't quite what I had hoped for. Luckily the twins are still in the excitable stages of their lives, and they were delighted with the idea, so, studiously avoiding Max's glower, I signed us up. Fortunately Max has warmed to the idea and he actually enjoys cleaning out the cages. Wonders will never cease.

There are an inordinate number of peacocks here, and they wander freely about like cats, although they are a good deal more ungainly. They hop onto fences, hop off, raise their tails periodically in that fabulous fan, and follow us around the place, hoping for dropped food pellets. I find it hard not to stare at them, because they are such an arresting colour, and, well, because of those tails. Those tails. They launch a thousand ships for me every time.

Here are some baby pygmy goats we saw today. Cute, eh? Two days old! They frisked about on unsteady legs while we cleaned out their stall, and their incredibly sociable mother nuzzled Dominic's pockets for snacks, butting him gently when none were proffered.

FDPG was so thrilled with them that she momentarily forgot about going to groom the pony and the donkey.

(You can click on any of these shots for a close-up)

Sorry, but I have to give you another peacock shot. I love these birds. These birds have it all for me: colour, weird personality, an ever weirder call (I put their call up there with the loon for Calls One Never Forgets), and the sort of mildly aloof nature that makes me fall head over heels in love with them. Be glad I'm only inflicting 2 shots on you, because I took 20.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

War Cries

More handiwork from FDPG's history pages. We were all reading about Ashurbanipal and his, err, methodology as both king and army captain when I came across this translation. It was carved into a wall relief and was supposedly something his armies were taught to shout as they neared the enemy. Judging from his war record it was quite effective.

"We are like an evil rain that washes its enemies away! We are like a net that tangles the feet of those who fight against us!"

More Garden Work

Here is the Lozenge Bed, after a wash and set edge and lime. Don't ask me why we call it the Lozenge Bed, because the story is way too long (and totally uninteresting unless you know the quirks of my kids), but I will tell you that it had a lot to do with complicated but amusing in-jokes.

I mulched the perennials around this bed heavily last fall, mostly because they were newly planted and I was worried about them surviving, and when I hauled off all the leaves I was struck by how healthy they all looked. Now I am remembering all those little pots I bought (mostly on impulse): Astrantia Major, Sidalcea, Polemonium, Lobelia Tupa, Nettle-Leaved Mullein, Persian Coneflower, Scabiosa, Monarda (the shockingly gorgeous "Marshall's Delight"), "Princess Victoria Louise" oriental poppies, Belamcanda chinensis, Hakonechloa macha, and, last but not least, some of my favourite Lysimachia (a goose-necked variety called "Snow Candle").

See the rocks on the path crossing it? Not the slate, the rocks. Those rocks were originally hauled off a beach up Island with the intent to form an ever-so-lovely hearth floor for the living room fireplace. Unfortunately, we later discovered that we'd need to reinforce the sub-floor more than we'd care to in order to make this happen, so all those lovely flat rocks been co-opted by the Lozenge Bed Pathway (and yes, I am using the royal we here).

Here is the new asparagus bed we put in today. Richard the Handy Man often saws and screws together the structures for my projects (mostly because he makes them sturdier than I ever would) and this box was no exception. I think he is becoming resigned to it, actually, because I hardly had to do any arm-twisting bribing wheedling to get him out there building me a box of sorts. It might be hard to tell from this angle, but the site is rather sloping, so the box needed but front and sides. We used scrap cedar and a sod back wall. I'm getting good at skimming sod and building walls now. Must be all that Little House on the Prairie I've been reading. It measures about 5' by 6'. And into that bed went 2 massive bags of chicken manure, a load of compost, a giant bag of peat moss, and 10 Jersey Giant asparagus root bunches.

A parting shot for all you who like the humble iris reticulata. The iris has it all for me, almost: colour, form, fortitude. They are all there. All it lacks is a spicy scent of some kind. Who knows, maybe there is a scented miniature iris out there somewhere and I just don't know about it...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thou errant hedge-born joithead!

Sorry if anyone is getting multiple copies of yesterday's Poetry Friday post, but for some reason the embedded YouTube video caused an enormous amount of confusion with the blog's appearance. I wish I knew why, but I don't. All I know is that it looked perfectly normal when viewed using Safari, and horribly distressingly odd when viewed using Firefox.

Oh for a computer literate brain!

(But if you want an amusing Shakespearean Insulter like the one I used in my title, click here)