Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One Year Anniversary

(sounds of popping corks and balloons at the Greenridge Chronicle, with lots of confetti and children flying)

It's been one year since we bought this house. One whole year. We took possession on this very day, too. Hard to believe. (to be honest, I forgot and Richard reminded me this morning but now I'm excited all over again)

One year since we moved to this city, too. The kids, when I reminded them that we'd been here a year, responded by saying "We're sick of moving around, can we stay here for a while?" Sure, kids, at least until your mother and father get itchy feet again, I thought, but I didn't say anything. I've seen Mutiny on the Bounty.

So, without further ado, I bring you a few of my favourite flashbacks from:

The Reno That Seemed To Take Forever!

Here's the large stucco box house when we first bought it. Note the hedge-like objects in front, as well as the expanse of grassy lawn. It's not a strikingly beautiful house, but when we did our whirlwind Real Estate Tour, this was the only house that we could afford without going into indefinite and bone-shivering debt seemed to fit the bill. We saw 18 houses in one weekend - and that was with the kids. We were looking for a south facing yard (garden potential), 4 bedrooms, and room for an eventual study/studio. This was the last house we saw before we had to dash for a late ferry back to the mainland. I think we were in it for a total of 16 minutes. On the ferry back our realtor called and said that it was going really cheap because the owners had bought another place and were in a rush to move. I couldn't see us doing this for another weekend, so I leaped foolishly into a marital abyss and talked Richard into putting in an offer.

"It's really big," I said.
"The yard is massive!" I said.
"It'll be great!" I said.
"It better be," said Richard.
"All I see is a lot of work," said Richard.
"We hate it, it smells bad inside," said the kids.

I think I gulped nervously and said a silent prayer at this point, because the offer was accepted. The fact that it turned out to be the only offer they'd had didn't help matters any.
The house had had only one set of owners - a couple who'd raised their 5 kids here. They were very nice and delighted to sell to a family but they were, dare I say it, rather challenged in the modern decor department. There was burnt orange shag everywhere (and it covered solid oak floors). There were smoked glass mirrors covering one entire wall. One entire wall. They were also a big fan of the trend known as The Textured Wallpaper Look, and they favoured a style with very busy geometric patterns. The kids fell silent when they noticed this. There was also a profusion of wallpaper borders, slapped one on top of the other, seemingly for years. I counted 9 layers. None of us had noticed any of this during the 16 minutes we'd spent in it 2 months previous. It was very sobering.
Never mind, I thought, that's what we're here for. We're handy. We're not afraid to put in a bit of labour. Now of course all I think of is those aliens from the Simpsons chuckling and saying "foolish humans!" but then it all seemed pretty simple.

We renovate.

We move in.

Foolish humans, indeed.

While Richard went inside to survey his New Project for the next few weeks, I put the kids to work started work on the hedges almost immediately. I am not a particular fan of the Large Green Hedge. Dull, dull, dull. I want colour. Excitement! Texture! I hadn't quite bargained on the difficulties inherent in removing fifty year old roots, though, so my texture and colour experience wasn't quite as immediate or dramatic as I'd expected. But as you can see from the photo below, Dominic is a tenacious kid. He didn't seem to mind.

Wonder of wonders, a window appeared behind some of them. The previous owners had obviously misplaced it long ago, because the shutters were painted a different colour from the others. We also found: a bottle of rum, a Calgary Stampede hat, and a still sealed-but-long-since-evaporated bottle of Coke. Really old Coke. Oh, and several empty beer bottles. Did I mention that the family we bought the house off had raised 3 boys here?

The picture below was taken this morning, three hundred and sixty six days later. I don't know if you can see the front lawn very well, but the Formerly Grassy Area has been transformed into a Lozenge Bed With Accessories. We also replaced all the windows. Here's the front of the house...

And here is another view of the front yard, as viewed from the Lozenge Bed, which is bisected by a little slate path. It's a long and complicated story as to why it's named that way, suffice to say it involved a weird HGTV show, Max and his whims, and a fond moment of maternal madness.

When we first entered the house, what struck me most was how, err, reminiscent it was of my childhood: the shag, the smoked glass - many other charming touches abounded but I will spare you. The only things that were missing were the avocado green washer/dryer appliances, but that was because they'd taken them with them. Why they didn't take the bright blue bathtub, toilet and sink as well was a bit of a mystery to me. Fortunately, I was able to persuade Richard that those fixtures and I would not be able to co-exist harmoniously in the house (told you I jumped into a Marital Abyss, good thing he likes hauling me out of them or I'd still be in there with my blue bathtub).

Pictures of the bathroom, did I hear you say? Mais oui! I just happen to have a couple right here...

Here is the During picture. Believe me, I'm doing you a favour by not showing you the Before shot. It might damage your retinas. There were at least 6 layers of wallpaper, all equally lurid (you could see where their sympathies lay during the 60's), two layers of plywood on the floor (they'd even covered the heat register), and no electrical outlets at all. The sink had a spray hose but the hose itself ended after about two inches. Oh, and did I mention that the window wouldn't shut? The 14 layers of frilly window curtain might have been one reason the owners didn't notice, of course, but I sure did. Hmm, looking back on it, I think I cried at this point.

That's Richard and my dad, labouring away. Originally they'd both said (suspiciously in unison) "You can't have a new bathtub because that would mean removing the walls and that's really too big a job" but then Richard discovered some rust on the tub and decided that maybe we should get a new one (diving into a marital abyss of his own, let us note). That was after I'd bought some amazingly beautiful $300 taps, thinking that since we weren't getting a new tub I could splurge a bit (but we don't need to get into that...). So, four days before my parents left for 5 weeks in Italy and Greece, Richard and my dad removed the walls and floor in the bathroom. Did I mention that neither of them had ever done such a thing before?

Here is the After shot.
It took about 12 trips to Home Despot (some more panicked than others), a crowbar, a shop-vac full of dust, lots of wallboard, 8 hours of exhausting yet daring-in-its-methodology tiling work (the tile, c'est moi), a brand new tile cutter, a new bathtub, toilet, sink and taps, a tiled floor, paint, and countless hours (and bottles of beer) of very hard work, but we now have a bathroom we love. I loved it so much that I wouldn't let the boys use it for the first 2 months.

In the end, after much bribery I gave in.

Come to think of it, if we'd had any suspicion that we'd be still working on the house, 5 weeks after that first day, we might have run for the hills. As it was, I ran for the back yard several times over the next 5 weeks.

One of the more striking changes inside the house was Max's room. It was one of the places where The Textured Wallpaper Experience was most evident, and Max was, sadly, not as enchanted with this experience as the previous owners had been. He was also the one least thrilled about having had to move, so, in an effort to appease him, I rashly offered to redecorate his room.


Here it is before we started working on it. Rather innocuous, other than the Texture of course, don't you think? It was roomy. It had a pencil holder screwed into the wall. It even had a lilac in full bloom right outside the window. Never mind that the window couldn't open. That's what we have imaginations for, right? And who wouldn't like a nice beige carpet? What's a few stains?

(is any of this working on you? it didn't work on Max either)

So I peeled off all the wallpaper. I peeled off the carpet. I peeled off the borders. And the polyester flounce. I tell you, I don't know what I was thinking, because after I'd removed everything, look what I found:

I suspect it was one of the boys' rooms, with all that black. It also had approximately 8,271 dart holes in the walls. Don't ask me how I know. Let's just say that me and my very large tub of pre-mixed Polyfilla spent a long time in here, working our magic.

Eventually I had the room filled, painted, and redecorated. Richard put in some laminate flooring. Max was mollified. Thank goodness. It wasn't pleasant seeing him lying on the floor, talking sadly about sleeping bags and hair shirts and eating worms in back yards.

Here's the finished product. The colour is known as Geoffrey's Room and for a brief moment we toyed with the idea of renaming our eldest, just for the sheer entertainment value of it all, but Max put the kibosh on that one. He was, as they say, not amused. At all.

He liked his room, though.

And now, let us turn our gaze back to the outside before this silly retrospective nonsense brief tour is over.

The View

No snickering please. Right this way. Quickly now.

A room with a view is no small thing. It was the one thing that convinced me that this house had potential, because it is perched on a hill, looks slightly southwest, has a massive sloping yard and gives the impression of being in the middle of (almost) nowhere, no mean feat considering that it's a city house - 5 minutes from town. It's also seconds away from this nature sanctuary. We walk here almost every day.
But there were a few things that detracted from the view, or, rather, The View, at least initially. They were all tall, with lots of green leaves. Some of them were quietly invading the drains. Some of them were looming over the roof with obvious mossy intent. And some of them were just plain overgrown. Here is what we saw from the deck, looking south, when we first bought the house:
If you look lower-middle-right (picture above), you can see Brian, the college kid who helped us to see this trestle bridge (picture below), which had been totally hidden from view up till then:He also removed a drain-invading, foundation-lifting birch, trimmed a large and menacing chestnut, and limbed the pine in the front yard, just in case it lost another branch to the roof in the winter storms.

And after all that we sat on the deck and contemplated our new project. So far so good. When I look out this way it all seems eminently worth it. Cheers!

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Good Day

I've been feeling these last weeks rather keenly of late, due I think to the usual suspects: I need more time alone than I currently get; I'm homeschooling three lively extroverts; we're heading towards the end of the year; we follow a busy curriculum. I'm sure most of you know exactly what I mean, particularly those of you with more than a couple of kids. They seem to multiply their noises and needs exponentially, these groups of little people, and mine, while I love them dearly, are no exception. Not that I begrudge these factors, but round about this time of year they can be wearing, and I often find myself longing for the little things - more blog time, drinking my tea while it's still hot, not having to dash out the door to some activity or another at 6pm, or simply being able to stare blankly into space without the risk of having some little face poking into mine, asking for one of the following:

clean underwear
TV time

You know. The usual roundelay of the SAHP...

But today was a pretty good day. I enjoyed myself. The kids enjoyed themselves. There was a minimum of squabbling, a maximum of benevolent behaviour, hardly any trails of crumbs under the table after the 16 sweet potato muffins had been consumed (recipe here), and the weather - ah, such weather! - was charmingly sunny and warm. We spent some time outside in the sunshine, me weeding while the kids climbed trees and emptied the water barrel all over an ancient Lego village (it was a watery grave this time for poor Pompeii). Max and I had an inspiring conversation around something that confused him in his Word Roots book (discussing the word civi, what a civics teacher does, what rights and duties we have here in Canada vs. those we'd have had if we'd stayed in the US). Dominic worked steadily through his reading work without a single wilt and managed his Robert Louis Stevenson poem quite admirably. And FDPG flitted from history to spelling to reading to drawing to reciting her own poem without a minute's hesitation. It was a day when I wanted to burst out into song. And wear underwear like this:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Squirrel Families

We have had a squirrel family nesting in the carport, and it looked as though the squirrel mama had had a few broods in there, which didn't bother us too much until we saw the soggy, peeling paint in the corner where the nest was. Squirrel families are one thing; wet wood is another, so Richard got out the wire and started battening down the hatches. He peered around with a flashlight first, trying to see if the female was in the process of preparing for the babies or already finished having the babies because we didn't want to disturb them. He also banged around the soffits a bit; in our experience you usually hear a lot of rustling if there's anything in there. The space was was silent. No noise. No rustling. No squeaks. The coast looked clear, or so he thought until he unscrewed the back panel of the soffit.

Out fell a gigantic pile of shredded plastic, paper, and leaves. And three squirrel babies. Well, baby isn't quite the term for them - they weren't so little anymore - but obviously still hanging out with mum. To say we were all shocked and appalled would be understating it a bit, because while Richard was shocked and I was appalled, Max was gleeful. Finally a squirrel to chase after with his blowdart! (have I mentioned that Max is going through a phase I've termed fatuum filius?)

The babies, as you can see from the photo, dived into the space between the old hose and the woodpile, and started squeaking as loud as they could. Loud enough to call mum, evidently, because in a second she was there, hanging off the stucco wall (see photo), obviously quite irritated at what we'd done. She checked out her brood, wrapped one around her neck, and took off. Twenty minutes later, she was back for the next one, and then the next.

The only hiccup was when the fellow across the street thought she and her baby were really two fighting squirrels, and started chasing her away. I sent fatuum filius sine his blow-pistolium over to explain that she was really a mother squirrel trying to relocate her family in a hurry, since I felt too guilty to face it myself.

And now I sort of miss hearing her scrambling up the stucco wall outside our bedroom window at 4am...

Ever wonder what the back end of a peacock looks like?

Well, here you go. I just happen to have a picture right here:

Not quite so glamorous, is it?

This shot was taken at the Petting Zoo we volunteer at. Max collects their feathers, I photograph them, and they lounge around like the spoiled super models they are, soaking up all our adoration.

I Should Have Known...

from this picture, just what to expect...

Look at her. This is FDPG as a 16 month old. Look at that purposeful stride. That eagle-eyed glare. The clenched fists. I should have known, but I didn't.

In contrast, her twin brother is the figure you can see rolling around on the ground behind her (and that's me hunched in my faux fur beside him).

Now him I could read: Roll. Eat. Sleep. Laugh. Fart. Laugh. Come to think of it, he's still a lot like this. Uncomplicated. Easy to please. Quiet, even.

But FDPG...
No one could ever accuse her of being quiet. She takes a deep breath when she wakes up, starts talking, and never stops until she falls asleep at night. In between she's reading, thinking, acting, jumping, twitching, shouting, shrieking, writing, and telling everyone what to do. It's probably a good thing none of us knew what to expect or we all would have run screaming for the hills.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yes, Virginia Louise, there is a snowman...

...in my backyard.

Louise, a friend of mine from Blogland, emailed me on Friday to tell me about the sudden weather change in her part of the world. She lives in the UK. I live in Canada, not the Atlantic part, but all the way across to the West Coast. Louise and I have a lot of land and water between us. But Friday it seemed as though geography changed its dimensions, because we too had weather from the proverbial brass monkey. Five days earlier, we'd had temperatures hitting 24ºC. Tee-shirt and shorts weather. I planted Walla Walla onions, blueberry bushes, peas, carrots, radishes and a few early scarlet runners. We had breakfast on the sundeck. We walked around without coats or sweaters. Then Friday came, the skies hunkered down, and we got hail.

You know, hard white balls of ice falling heavily from the sky? Frigid temperatures?

And later, just when we thought it was all a bad dream, we had snow in the night. Snow!

Enough to make the ground white. Enough to make the daffodils droop. Enough to make me turn the light back on in my cold frame. Enough to make me dig out my sweatshirt from the dirty clothes pile (I hate laundry so it tends to remain in the "pile" proportions). I felt like Lady MacBeth: "the milk of human unkindness is freezing all over my bloody perennials." I could have done the "Out damned Spot!" bit but our snow, sadly, was more than just a spot. It was more in the large-and-annoying-drift vein.

We had to cancel our Friday track and field practice it came so fast and furious. We showed up, but there were only two hardy mothers willing to trek through the blinding white sleet to keep time for the 50 metre. These two women are in the Teutonic bloodline, I'm sure. They are tall. Their legs are long. They gleam with ruddy blonde health. They also stride (their kids stride too). I hunched into my feeble anorak, feeling a little on the short side, and watched them stride off with a falling heart. I so did not want to go off into that good night that snowy day. I felt a bit like Cassandra: "It's too cold for this!" "You'll get wet!" "I might freeze to death!" My kids raced off, thrilled that someone was finally on the same wavelength. After twenty minutes, thankfully, everyone realized the futility of such a venture. I was by that time sitting in a friend's van, watching them. I am, I freely admit, a weather wimp.

The kids were upset after this sudden cancellation, so I consoled them with a blast of Good King Wenceslas from our Naxos Carols of the Advent CD. I know, it hasn't been Christmas for ages, but for some reason my kids like to sing this song together at least once a day, particularly if we're in the van. I've almost forcibly encouraged them to try a new carol, but they always revert to this one. And by some fluke I'd dug the CD out from the Christmas box that morning, so I popped it in and listened to their delighted shrieks of "Is this _______????"

Then we went to see some newborn lambs at a friend's house, drink some tea, watch FDPG inflict herself on an woefully unsuspecting 12 year old, offer said 12 year old our deepest condolences, and drive home. The snow fell all the while.

Saturday morning Richard and I awoke to find that snow had fallen all the night. We didn't have more than an inch or two, but in my not in the least bit humble opinion it was an inch or two too many for April. I could see my shorts and t-shirt pining away in the corner. Nevertheless, being the April fools for frigid weather good parents that we were, off we went to take the boys to their Scout outing. FDPG and I hung out a bit at the library - where FDPG found a Nausicaa graphic novel - and a bit at a coffee house, where we read the graphic novel and drank hot chocolate. Many hours and many warm layers of clothing (to keep out the biting wind) later, the day was over. I went to bed hoping it would all disappear and never come back.

Sunday update: The snow is gone and the high today was 19ºC. The shorts and t-shirts were back out. The Pig From Guinea was frolicking in the grass. FDPG was basking. The boys were rolling down the hill and flinging Lego everywhere. The Richard was mowing. The Sheila was gardening. And laundrying. And baking. A good day was had by all.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poetry Friday

April Optimist:

Always Marry An April Girl

Ogden Nash

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.

April golden, April cloudy,

Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;

April soft in flowered languor,

April cold with sudden anger,

Ever changing, ever true -

I love April, I love you.

April Cynic:


Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness

Of little leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?

Not only under ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots,

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Poetry Friday is being hosted over at A Wrung Sponge where you'll be able to see an impressive group writing project, a corona of sonnets, one of which was written by Cloudscome herself (for a more detailed explanation of this project, visit Kelly at Writing and Ruminating).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Purpose-Driven Blog

That's me! Or, rather, the blog I write. According to my pals over at Four Friends and a Blog, that is, which is in itself well worth a read. These four women (Heather, Samantha, Nicola, and Katherine) blog about food, knitting, gardening, kids, art projects, and chocolate. And if you click on their names you'll find their other blogs. Indefatigable, you lot are!

So thank you thank you thank you! I'm delighted. My hat is off to you all as well.

I wish I could get Alan Rickman to deliver my thanks in person, but he's very stubborn about stuff like this. He said something about a bad hair day, but said if you click on his picture he'll show something good...

Monday, April 7, 2008

One Small Square

And more signs of spring!

Dwarf Pink Heronsbill
It was a lovely day here on the Island, sunny and warm - most welcome after a few days of cold, wet weather, but for some reason we all felt uninspired and tired today. I was actually feeling restless and vaguely crabby, but one of my New Year's Resolutions was to keep a sock in Grouchy Mum's mouth, so I did my best to repress it. These sorts of days make me despair a bit, partly because I feel compelled to do something about the ennui and partly because we end up getting on each other's nerves when we're all like this, and that's never fun. Plus, the twins are young and still of the inclination to follow me around looking for excitement and adventure; it seems a waste not to enjoy the attention while it's still sweet and adoring.
So, tying an anchor to Grouchy Mum and tossing her overboard, I bagged some library books, a yard stick, some sketch pads, some string and pencils, and out we went into the Great Backyard (I wasn't energetic enough to get us all into the Great Outdoors so we settled for the backyard). Since we were ostensibly exploring the world through botanical eyes, we examined the various plants in the yard for sepals, petals, pistils, and leaf patterns. We sacrificed a few daisies and dandelions and anemones in the interests of Exploration. Some of us used a magnifying glass and some of us took pictures (Sheila coughs discretely). Then we sat in the grass and I read aloud while the kids lolled pleasantly in the warm sunshine with their eyes closed (Grouchy Mum peered over the side of the boat and glared somewhat but I managed to keep her sock in). We read Flowers, another in the brilliantly photographed David Burnie-penned DK Eyewitness Explorers series, How Seeds Travel, which has some very good pictures of seed pods and is technical enough without being too dry, critical considering I'm balancing the interests of 6 year olds and 11 year olds, The Sunflower Family, another lightly technical-yet-absorbing look at seeds and flowers, The Life Cycle of a Tree, How Do Apples Grow? and the charming but sadly out of print A First Look at Flowers. And then it occurred to me, after we read One Small Square: Backyard, to create our own Small Square in the backyard. Since it was there. And so were we. So we did.

As you can see from the picture, we strung up some lines to mark out our Small Square (give or take a few slants). I was tempted to choose a more heavily populated area of the garden in the interests of immediacy, but opted instead for a bare area so we could see the contrast when it fills in. We decided to take a picture every week for a year, if we can manage it.

The kids sketched the Square, and then we went over the plants we could see already: a scrawny fuchsia stem, feverfew, violets, pulmonaria, corydalis (have you ever noticed how the corydalis flowers look like the head of the monster from Alien? I've named my corydalis Sigourney because of this), lupin, and a teenie tiny columbine. I put the shovel into the ground so we could see what was under the ground, but sadly it wasn't half so exotic as the picture they had in the book (which was teeming most unrealistically with animals, insects, worms, and microscopic things, says Grouchy Mum). The twins began to sigh. Oops, I thought, Sheila, this ship is foundering. I dropped the shovel full of dirt back into the place it came out of, wondering glumly if the sun was over the yardarm yet (to continue our nautical metaphors) and what do you know but a little chestnut-backed chickadee swooped right in under my feet. He swooped out again almost as soon, but when he left he had a little bug in his beak. This thrilled everyone present (except for the bug of course) and things began to look up again. Grouchy Mum receded into the depths.

One of the suggestions the author makes in One Small Square is to sit with your eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the yard. So we sat, listening to sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, bushtits, and chickadees. We live quite near a bird sanctuary, and there's a lot of bird life in our back yard as a result. Max is pretty keen on birding, and has developed his call recognition skills over the last couple of years, so when we hear unfamiliar calls we usually ask him to identify them. But one bird we couldn't identify. It had a thin and piercing sort of call that sounded quite distinct from the sparrow and chickadee chirps, but we couldn't see what was making the sound. We wandered around under the Garry oaks, and eventually we saw it - a red-breasted nuthatch (sitta canadensis). I don't know why but we'd never noticed it making those calls before, but we hadn't. If you click here you can hear it for yourself.

Then, it was time to go in and get ready for Cubs.

But wait, there's more!

Here's the charming little Corydalis Sigourneyius.

Look at that jawline!
Is that or is that not the Alien head? Some days I expect to see them come after me, their little jaws snapping at my heels like bad tempered terriers (or aliens).

A frittilaria. More properly: Meleagris. Also known as the chequered lily. Deer resistant and naturalizing, apparently. About 8" tall so far.

Finally, my Narwhale. Atmospheric, isn't it? Oh I know, it's really a piece of driftwood, but it looks like it might actually swim away, don't you think?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Nim's Island

A Greenridge Movie Review

The kids were in various degrees of getting-better-from-a-sniffle yesterday, which meant that we had to miss Track and Field, which meant that they were feeling slightly sorrowful, so I decided to use some movie coupons someone had given us and catch a movie somewhere. We'd originally intended to see Horton Hears A Who, but when I saw a trailer for Nim's Island on the TV, I knew we had to go see this instead. And, no, cough cough, it had nothing to do with the fact that Gerard Butler was dressed up in leather and chaps and looking fetchingly unshorn.

Initially I was a little apprehensive because this film is based on a novel, and I'm one of those types who likes her kids to read the book before seeing the film, but then I remembered The Water Horse. The Water Horse is a truly great kid's novel, written by the truly great Dick King-Smith (here's a post I wrote about the book), and it too was made into a film only last year. We loved the novel version: it was funny, it had charming characters, it had an exciting premise, the parents were largely absent, and the champions of the story were kids - what could be better than that? Then we saw the film. It was okay, but only that. My kids gave it tepid reviews for one reason - the film ignored one of the best characters: Grumble the grandfather. Oh, and they seemed to have lost the sister along the way. It was a bit of a let-down, when all was said and watched. What we'd thrilled to read for five funny, exciting, tangential days (everyone suddenly developed a huge interest in Loch Ness and all things Crusoe) morphed into a cute but ultimately flat viewing experience. All I remember is Ben Chaplin.

After remembering this, I didn't feel quite so bad about not having read Nim's Island. I adore watching movies, and we watch a lot of them, but I hate it when the novel adaptation fails. I'm left itching with indignation the whole time. I think I've even fumed once or twice. I still haven't gotten over seeing the movie adaptation of The Polar Express, which my kids loved, but jeez, it was not anywhere near as enchanting as the book. I still cringe when I hear my eldest sing that stupid hot chocolate song. And don't get me started on Arrowsmith singing under the tree at the end. Ugh ugh ugh. Guess I should have prefaced that with an "Old & Crotchety Alert," eh?

So, we went to see Nim's Island.

The movie opens with a mesmerizing 3D collage of sorts, with lots of waves and whales and boats and a voice over, spoken by the actress who plays Nim (Abigail Breslin). The plot is this: Girl loses adventurous mother, who is swallowed whole by a whale, girl goes to live on island with father, father mourns mother but protects daughter with a fierce love. Now, I haven't read the novel so I can't vouch for any resemblances thus far, but I can tell you that we all sat there in a trance while this was laid out for us. It was everything a kids' movie should be: gorgeously artistic, luminously colourful, fantastical, sentimental, magical, and positively reeking of adventure. And did I mention that the voice over was done by a kid?

Brilliant so far.

After the fantasy sequence we are introduced to Nim's island home, her father (Gerard Butler, with a bit of an overbite - is this what happens when a Scottish actor tries to sound American?) who is distracted by a Quest of his own (nanoplankton!), her assorted island pets, and her really cool methods of travel. Ooh, boy, are they cool. FDPG even gasped at one of them. Out loud. So did I. So did Dominic. Needless to say, we all wanted to move there immediately. I could see myself frolicking in the foam with Gerard Butler, even.

Then, as is usual with these sorts of stories, dad heads out to further his research and leaves the capable Nim at home. Alone. With a book and her pets. And that is where the adventure starts: A surprise wind storm, some brave home repairs undertaken by Nim, a couple of Important Email Exchanges (I have to see if this really happens in the book), the dad in terrible peril, a new and no doubt intended-to-be-funny character (Jodie Foster: Adventure Novelist), some Nasty People with Bad Intentions, some interesting modes of travel, and another storm later and the film wraps up.

I don't want spoil the movie for anyone, but I thought that the movie looked as though it was begun by one person and finished by another - people with vastly different visions of what the film should look like. There are scenes that sparkle: Nim reading a book while the action of the book unfurls around her; underwater swimming sequences. And there are scenes that are embarrassingly formulaic and pedestrian: Jodie Foster as an agoraphobic; fat people acting like stupid fat people; port-a-potties (?). Every so often there are some inspired touches: I loved seeing the novelist's character come to life as her alter ego and there is one intriguing scene where Nim rescues someone from drowning, but ultimately I was vaguely disappointed. But just vaguely. We all really liked it. I suspect it isn't much like the book though. And I won't mention how weird it was hearing U2 blasting out at the end. Well, okay, I will (don't hold back, Sheila, really). It wasn't quite as bad as Arrowsmith, but it was pretty jarring. It didn't match the delicacy of the opening scene in any way, shape or form. I was left wondering what had happened to the person who had created it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

These Happy Golden Years

We've been reading the Little House books every morning this year, and as we were finishing These Happy Golden Years FDPG asked me where the title came from. I mumbled something about reflecting on one's life, "rose coloured lenses" and "salad days" (and maybe even something from a David Bowie song), but one page turn later and it was all laid out for us:

"Golden years are passing by,
Happy, happy golden years,
Passing on the wings of time,
These happy golden years.
Call them back as they go by,
Sweet their memories are,
Oh, improve them as they fly,
These happy golden years.

Laura's heart ached as the music floated away and was gone in the spring night under the stars."

And as I read it, my heart ached as well. People always say that these are the best years of your life, these days when the kids are still able to be nestled in laps and cuddled, and as I read the words I was struck by a terrible terrible pang, that pang when you suddenly see all the days of their childhood rushing past you in a whirling, unstoppable blur. I teared up a little, and gazed fondly (if blearily) at my three happy golden children, only to find them looking at me as if I'd suddenly lost my mind. Nothing like a kid to drag you out of a wallow in Nostalgia Land.

These are your happy golden years, my sweet little chickadees, I thought, but I didn't say it. They'll find out soon enough.

The happy golden Greenridge kids, seven years ago...