Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Tree of Happiness

My friend Louise, from This Is My Patch, has given me a very delightful award. It's called the Tree of Happiness. I love the idea that there are gardeners out there exchanging this tree all over the place. Who knows what will grow where?

One of the requirements of this award is that I list 6 things that make me happy, then pass it on to other bloggers that have inspired me.


1. Really good food and drink. A serious pesto. A glass of champagne. A rack of lamb. A perfectly steamed artichoke. Garlic butter. A crisp baguette. A rich and frothy latté. A gin and tonic. A very very very very old cheddar. Pancetta. Gravensteins. Raspberries. New potatoes. Sablé cookies. Very bittersweet chocolate. A slice of romano. Buttery toast. Marmite on buttery toast.
Sorry, but this list is endless. You'll all be asleep by the time I've finished.

2. My garden. I love my garden, no matter where it's been.

3. Cats. I've had quite a few cats over the years, but I love them all devotedly. They always make me feel pleased with life. Dogs, shmogs.

4. Richard.

5. Watching my kids act like idiots. It's infectious.

6. Food. Oops, mentioned that already, didn't I? Well then, let me say that reading other people's blogs gives me a certain level of happiness. Not in the same way that a sunset, or the advent of the summer, or Christmas morning does, but still, it's a lovely quiet pleasure that sustains me through the day.

Now I'm supposed to award this to other garden bloggers who have inspired me, and I can't think of any gardeners that have been more fun to read than my pals Heather and Samantha at Four Friends and A Blog. They garden AND cook - and they look charming in flowing white shirts! Plus, they indulge my crushes on inappropriate but oh-so-cute famous men. (but we won't go there today)

A Not Back To School Day

A long time ago, I used to be a Mocker of Homeschoolers. It pains me somewhat to admit this, but it's true. People who intentionally stayed home with their kids seemed inexplicably batty to me. I could see no sensible reason for it. Of course, if I'd put any thought into taunting bullies, bad teachers, and the perils of mass education, not to mention all that negative Peer Pressure, I might have been slightly more compassionate, but I doubt it. I've always taken a long time to figure out things. It's one reason why I sympathize with my youngest, Dominic, because he also needs a long time to figure things out (ie: why he should listen to me when I intone "stop wrestling in this store now" for 321st time, say, or even why he really should stop muttering "Don't boss me around" when I ask him to unlock the door for his siblings who are standing in the rain on the other side of the car). Consequences (me grabbing his hand and gripping it like a grim - and humiliating - death all through said store, or siblings shrieking "Why can't you just open the bloody door for a change!" as they drip their way into the car) take a while to percolate through his consciousness. He's not slow, he's just like Chester, he does things his own way ("'That's one way to put it,' said Chester's father"). And so do I.

Which is probably why, even though I've come late to it, I like homeschooling so much. No waking up before the crack of dawn to prepare lunches and breakfasts (we won't get into me getting up before the crack of dawn to write blog posts though, will we); no agonizing over Who Was Shunned Today; no "OMG, he failed Quiet Time!" angst; and finally, no stress over whether or not the teacher likes my children, despite their theatrics, intense energy levels, and precociousness (and no, as "teacher" I do not play favourites, no matter what Max tells you).

My decision to start homeschooling came about rather suddenly. I sort of leaped head first, without thinking too carefully about it (gosh, what a surprise, says Richard). I've written a bit about it before, here and here, but really, it kind of thrust itself upon me. Lest you think me anti-school, I will say that I'm not: all three of my kids attended kindergarten at local schools and all three of them loved it. And one day they may all choose to go back to school. I won't prevent them. But I like what not going to school has done for them: FDPG can read grade 6 level books without anyone saying anything; Dominic can continue to learn to read without anyone saying anything; and Max can, well, continue to be Max without anyone saying anything. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's all that Other Stuff, stuff like reading really great books aloud to them on wet, rainy mornings (instead of racing to school), or making chocolate chip muffins with - gasp - peanut butter in them for lunch (instead of racing to school), and let's not forget the moments when they play charmingly together (instead of racing to school). This is definitely one of the aspects I like best about the homeschooling community: the fact that all ages can usually hang out together without conflict, grimaces, or angst.

Yes, we get a lot of "But what about SOCIALIZATION?" comments, mostly from people who just don't know better, some way more well-meaning than others. And yes, we get a lot of "Aren't you worried in case they aren't at grade level?" remarks usually from VCP (Very Competitive People). And finally, there are the relatives who think I am sheltering them too much, but I tend to avoid these people as much as possible. I have enough angst over my parenting style without worrying about what I might be doing to my kids' intellects! But mostly we get a lot of "What nice/polite/charming/helpful/well-spoken children!" remarks, some sounding more surprised than others.

It may be too that I have developed a really thick skin, or the fact that I live in a part of the world where homeschooling is considered a trendy educational option, or I'm just good at ignoring things, but I don't notice too many negative remarks these days. When people tell me how privileged we are that we can choose this kind of option for our kids, I always agree, although I am quick to point out that it has its down sides: I don't contribute to a pension plan, we are frequently scraping the bottom of our bank account, and I often feel a certain frustration of over my own dearth of free time. It's a trade-off, as with most things, but one I like so far. So do the kids.

So here's to another Not Back To School week! Happy trails homeschooling to you all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

But Wait! There's More!

A particularly lovely nasturtium, just waiting for its close-up:
And when I stripped the leaves off the tomato plants, as per one of my favourite gardeners' advice, this is what I found:
Literally hundreds of Tigerellas. Dripping. Burgeoning. Thronging. Oodling. Glutting. Teeming. Swarming. Abounding. Flooding. Jamming. Massing. Crowding. Mobbing. Flocking. Pullulating.

And if any of those aren't already adjectives, I'm turning them into one.

Fresh From The Garden

Just picked:

green peppers
hot chilies (Red Cherry and Super Hots)
tomatoes (Better Boy, Sungold, and Tigerella)
artichokes (Green Globe)
rhubarb (Lump Found in Alley)
peaches (Frost Peach)

The blackberries got turned into a tart (Martha Stewart's pate brisée rolled flat, berries piled in centre and sprinkled with sugar and flour, pastry wrapped loosely around), the rhubarb was stewed and frozen, the peaches were eaten, the chilies were pickled, the tomatoes went to dinner, and the artichokes were boiled and the peeled hearts dotted with pesto and goat cheese, then baked. Why everyone doesn't have a little kitchen garden I don't know. It's addictive!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Little House Day

There are all sorts of benefits to having a garden, but in spring, when I'm digging some room for yet another fruit tree, I always forget about the "Help, I have a big bucket of ____ going bad - I need to do something FAST!" late summer moments. One of which came my way yesterday, in the guise of a large bucket of on-the-verge-of-rotting transparent apples. And yes, I actually DO think in that slightly histrionic way. Sometimes I even throw my hand across my forehead. How do you think FDPG got the way she is?

Anyhow, yesterday, while Max and Dominic laboured away on math and Explode the Code, respectively, FDPG and I peeled a Sisyphisian pile of transparent apples, until I got the bright idea of juicing them. So we peeled and sliced some into bags for the freezer, to be brought out and turned into crisps and pies on those dark despairing Will it ever be warm again? days, and the rest we juiced. And then, (yes, it gets even more riveting than this) I had the even brighter idea to make apple jelly with the juice. So I did. And guess what, it worked. Now we have 3 quarts of thick, dark apple jelly.

Thanks Laura. Thanks Ma. Heck, thanks Pa.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Random Thoughts At The End Of The Summer

We are having a little party here tomorrow for the local relatives who didn't get to celebrate the twins' birthday, so I've been trying to tidy the house up a bit, clear the mess in the garden up a bit, sort through the photos a bit, and in between, make a cake.

For those of you who have seen my other blog, you may have noticed that my kids like their birthday cakes. I like making them, I have to say. There is something about creating a ferry boat that appeals to me, right down to using Micromachine Men as figurines. Maybe I should have gone into making museum exhibits.

Anyhow, I agreed to make the twins a big, iced cake, but trying to get the two of them to agree on one theme is like trying to shove a hippopotamus through the eye of a needle. Here are some of their ideas:

Indiana Jones Lego Men fighting Webkinz
(don't think this will go over well with FDPG)
Indiana Jones Lego Men climbing a large and complicated tower of Doom
(well, maaaybe)
Indiana Jones Lego Men racing away from a My Little Pony
(good one Dominic, FDPG will LOVE that)
Indiana Jones Lego Men...
(enough with the IJLM already!)
Webkinz Animals going down the slide into the water JUST LIKE THE TWINS DID!
(gosh, that shouldn't be hard at all, har har har)
(had that one last year, FDPG)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
(FDPG, that sounds awfully complicated, can't we get scale it down a bit?)
The Castle of Cagliostro and Indiana Jones on top of it

In sorting out the summer holiday shots, I noticed that I have an inordinate amount of one kid doing the same thing over and over again. I think he needs skiing lessons.

Wasp Slurry!

We came back from holiday to find that our neighbour's juniper bush had a MASSIVE wasp nest in it. It was impossible to see it, too, nestled as it was in at the back against the wall of the house. The neighbours are not outside very often and didn't seem to distressed by the fact that we were getting stung and chased around the yard every time we stepped outside, so Richard the Brave used another in our friend Robert's Patented and Odd Household Hints repertoire: he got out the shop vac and stuck it into the bush. This is the inside of the shop vac after about 2 hours of noise noise noise vacuuming.

Game of the Summer: Hide and Seek
Every year there is a summer game that gets played over and over and over and over again by all the kids. One year it was Cars UNO; one year it was trampoline games. This year it was hide and seek. See if you can find the 8 children that are hiding in this picture.
(See them? Don't worry, FDPG couldn't either)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The First Day of School

In previous years I used to make this a special sort of day. Sometimes I'd take a picture, other times I'd have little gifts or things to dole out, solemnly.

This year I said "Let's meet in the Family Room to discuss school stuff." My intention was to have some kind of meeting where we would detail things like breakfast duties, dish duties, cleaning bathrooms duties, helping with garden duties, and so on. Now that they are all getting older and more competent (and I am feeling less inclined to micromanage) I figure they can help more. And I wanted to arrange the non-school scenarios a bit so they weren't sitting there like big messy elephants when Richard came home from work. But when we sat down the kids all looked quite expectantly at me.

"What are we going to start with?" said FDPG. She looked very pleased.

"We haven't done our read aloud yet," sighed Dominic (aka: the Boy Who Doesn't Transition Well).

"I haven't finished my math from last year," said Max, pulling out his Singapore books.

And I hadn't even opened my mouth.

"Um," I said, "how about we see what we haven't finished and see if we need to finish it before we start the new stuff?"

And so we did. While I went over Max's math with him, FDPG decided that the blank pages in the back of her Spelling Workout book were intended as space for an essay so she wrote an essay about the book Journey to the Centre of the Earth. She took the "Writing and Proofreading Guide" page to mean that she was supposed to make some mistakes and correct them afterwards, but given her spelling prowess and youthful earnestness, the best she could come up with was to reverse her Bs and Ps. Deliberately. Kind of cute in a weird FDPG sort of way.

" There was once a book that told you how to get to the Center of the Earth. But the Entrance was in Greenland. They were fearless and travelled to Greenland. One of them found a hole. They lowered themselves down through a dark deep deep deep Hole. One of them fell. He landed at the Bottom. It seemed safe until rumbling rock opened up and they fell down through a deep hole..."

After 20 minutes she took a break. "I'll work on it tomorrow," she told me, "I might just finish it. I have a lot to say."

No kidding.

The boys are less in your face than she is. They do their work in quiet, twitchy ways, fiddling with erasers and dropping pencils and scratching their heads every 2 minutes. Max used to have a fake sniff which Dominic tried to affect but couldn't quite manage. Instead of Max's furtive "sssnn!" Dominic would HORK and SNORK and NGGGGHHH! loudly. It was almost funny, if I hadn't been so weirded out by the fact that one kid had a fake sniff and the other was trying to imitate it.

And so, instead of doling out bathroom duty days and breakfast making days and dealing with library books days, I sit and watch my kids work on their various projects. I watch FDPG's head bent over her essay, wondering what she'll be like when she's all grown up - if I will be there to see it. I look at Dominic, drawing on Max's eraser with his pencil (uh oh) and saying "Sid slides on the snow," and wonder if he'll be as quirky as an adult. Then I look at Max and think what a truly nice kid he is and how much I genuinely like him, even if he does twitch a lot. Moments like these are lovely but oh-so-painful. I certainly wasn't expecting these bursts of sentiment when I had kids, but now they crowd around me, shoving aside thoughts of cleaning toilets and making oatmeal. I think, rather morbidly and suddenly, please don't let any of them die before me.

You know, typical first day of school stuff.

Watching Richard Watch The Olympics

Nice form!
Guess how old that diver is!
Too much backsplash.
That one's American.
Hey look, she was homeschooled!
Why are BOTH channels showing beach volleyball at the same time!
He over-rotated. Oh, man, talk about over-rotation.
Nice dismount! Did you SEE that?
Solid landing!
Too much backsplash.
You HAVE to see this!
Oh man!
The Chinese are cleaning up.
That guy is way too skinny.
Too much backsplash.
Talk about over-rotation!
I wonder if I can get this live on the computer?
Didn't keep his legs together on the dismount.
Ah! Did you SEE that?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taking the kids to the movies

I took the kids to see WALL-E  today. It was one of those rainy-ish days here, a day when I felt too dispirited to work in the garden and the kids were at loose ends with themselves. A perfect day to see a movie. But as so often happens, the best part of the movie was what was happening around the movie, rather than the movie itself. 

(Let me preface this by saying that one of my favourite Tips For New Parents is this: being a parent often means learning to enjoy a certain amount of public humiliation. note the word certain)

Here's how it all started. We're at the ticket counter, where FDPG has hauled herself up across the counter to peer into the cash register as the girl gave me my tickets. She has her little bum sticking out and her stomach squished by the effort of clutching herself against the counter. She knows I hate it when she does that (it's a bit on the feral child for my liking and plus, she always flashes her underwear going up and coming down). "Oh wow, look at all that money!" she shrieks delightedly, "can I have some?" She then chortles at her own wit. The ticket girl regards her nervously. I stare at the movie posters in the opposite direction. You'd think we never go anywhere. 

I've bought the movie passes from Costco, which means that a bunch of greasy sugary junk food stuff my kids love accompanies the ticket: popcorn, pop, and a - gasp - Kinder Egg.  So we line up for this. When the girl comes to take our tokens and drink order, my kids are paralyzed by the deliciousness of it all. Do they choose some tooth-dissolving Coke? Burp-producing root beer? Dubious-looking iced tea "blends"? Or something called Fruitopia, which is impossible to explain to a clutching 6 year old in a noisy crowded room. "One is pink," I shout, "and the other is orange!" (don't laugh - I used to describe Pepsi and Sprite as "brown pop" and "white pop") Our food girl is clearly irritated with all this gaiety, and when I ask if the clear, greasy fluid she is about to drench our popcorn with is butter, she snaps "Of course it isn't, it's BECEL. Butter's extra!" "What?" I say, unable to make out much beyond "of's extra.". "It's MARGARINE! Butter is EXTRA!" she bellows. The customers around us fall silent and we all stare at her. I decide that we should probably cut and run, but she's one step ahead of me, having dumped the kiddie trays on the counter and moved on to the man behind me, all without saying a word. Wowee zowee, Batman, I think. That girl sure does like her job.

Then I have to figure out how to get two trays of overloaded popcorn down the hall, up the staircase, down another hall, and into a pitch-black room, all without spilling a single bit, because if I do I just know one of the twins will shriek "I don't want the one that lost all the popcorn!" Never mind if they spill it all; but heaven help me if I spill it all. Fortunately Max is both able to negotiate this all on his own AND be a very calming presence. "Twinnies!" he says imperiously, "follow me!" 

And off we go. Max leads us into The Dark Knight at first, hoping I'm more of an idiot that he could dare to imagine I won't notice, but the fact that the movie had already begun tipped me off. Nevertheless, we pause on the edge, until some very alarming action scenes scare the (under)pants off FDPG. Back out into the hallway, we see our own theatre: #9. 

Ignoring Max's pleas to sit in the nosebleed seats, we settle somewhat in the upper middle, near the end of the aisle in case FDPG has to pee (because she always does). I sneak popcorn from Dominic's tray until he puts his hand over mine and says "I'm trying to save this for the movie." Drats. I turn to FDPG and try to sneak some of hers. She's busy stuffing such great handfuls of the stuff into her mouth and darting her eyes around the room that she doesn't even notice my hand snaking in. And so we eat. We admire the new containers the Kinder Egg people are now using. Dominic demonstrates how easy they are to open. Max demonstrates how easy they are to open. FDPG demonstrates how easy they are to open, dropping her card pieces from inside on the floor in the process. I pick them up while FDPG wonders aloud if she will be able to sell all her old containers on Ebay. She wonders aloud how old the teen-age girls two seats in front of us are. She wonders if they smoke cigarettes like Paper Mouth Man down the street. We admire the nice lights in the theatre and FDPG asks me, at the top of her lungs, if I wished I had them in our house. Then she asks me if I went pee before we sat down. Again, at the top of her lungs. The boys start giggling at this point, the teen-age girls no doubt making mental notes never to have children, and Dominic drops half his popcorn down between the seats. And the movie hasn't even started yet.

We watch a short trailer about a super dog with John Travolta's voice, named Bolt. It's sort of funny. There is a very amusing hamster that has us all cackling. After it's over, FDPG says, at the top of her lungs, "Was that it? That was short! Where was WALL-E?" 

The Disney castle promo appears at this point, Tinkerbell waving her magic wand around the castle and lighting up the night. Dominic yells, at the top of his lungs "Look! There's  Hogwarts!!!!" which causes the teen-age girls to start giggling. "That's not Hogwarts," I whisper, "it's the Disneyland castle." "What?" says Dominic, peering at me skeptically, eyes narrowed, convinced I am oh-so-wrong. I have a sudden vision of him as a deaf, grouchy old man. We stare at each other in the dark for a second, until he mutters, "Hmph." "What did Dominic say?" asks FDPG. "Nothing," I reply. "Are you sure?" she says. "Shush," I say. "I could have sworn you said something to him, oh well, guess you're too grouchy to tell me about it," she says. I stare at her while she stuffs yet more popcorn into her mouth, wondering how she got so bossy - and mouthy.  


Fortunately the movie started right about then. Finally. We settle, the kids slurp and chew. Periodically Dominic is completely confused by certain aspects of the film and asks me to explain it all. He thinks that EVE is actually 2 different white objects. Each time he says something FDPG asks me what Dominic said and what I'd said in reply, peering closely at Dominic the entire time. At some point I start laughing uncontrollably, and all three kids ask me what is so funny. Everything, I say. 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summer Vacation Part 2

Things to consider when on vacation:

One only needs to capture a maximum of 50 scenic shots. One does not require 238. Weeding through 238 scenic shots is time consuming and will cause one to get intolerant of one's children, who are likely to be milling about asking if one is finished so that they might check their Webkinz accounts. Or if lunch will ever be ready, while muttering "she likes that computer more than she likes us" not so subtly under their breath. One might be tempted to reply in return that YES, SOMETIMES SHE DOES.When your youngest child learns to swim long distances under water, you may be requested to document this each and every time. Resist this request (see above for further elucidation on why one does not need more than 5 shots of this event).
Do not refuse the Lots of $ off Dairy Queen Frozen Cakes! coupon your mother presses on you enthusiastically before you leave town. Do not fear you may look cheap handing a coupon to a very bored and mildly surly teenager when buying a birthday cake for your about-to-turn-seven twins, who fully expect a large and heavily decorated ice cream cake from Dairy Queen each and every birthday. Those $#%&*@ cakes are expensive. They also exude a magic scent that draws in all children within a 2 mile radius and those children will prevent you from getting even a taste of that over-priced slab of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, dark creamy fudge, crumbled chocolate cookies, and melt in your mouth icing.
(squint carefully here, or click on the picture to magically enlarge it)
Do not worry when your husband takes your request to "get these kids out of here!" seriously and heads off on a raft-with-slide with his friend (you know, the one who likes to make margarita machines out of garberators?) and two paddles. He's just going to moor them offshore a ways. And your youngest children have life jackets on. Right? Besides, you're having a lovely time.
Do not fret that your eldest spends all his time hunched over, making large and strangely complicated sand castles. It's not like he's recreating all the things he could be doing on Runescape if we weren't the only people on the beach without an internet connection. Oh no no no. He's having a lovely time.

Do not feel awkward when looking at your neighbour's summer photos from last year, particularly when you note that your corpulent body is wearing the exact same frumpy dress it was wearing last year. (remember, you were having a lovely time)

no photo available

Do not worry about your cat, even when he spends almost the entire vacation hiding under your bed. Do not believe him when he tells you he'd rather be home, teaching the children math. He's having a lovely time.
Do not buy the Canadian edition of Hello! magazine if you can help it. The British version is so much better. You will be able to read about people you've never heard of, people like Cheryl Cole and her unfaithful soccer spouse Ashley, who spends lavishly on her when he's not cheating. You will see lots of pictures of Cheryl in many different outfits, looking fetching and holding Ashley by the hand, and be convulsed by the captions of their summer holiday ("Ashley waits chivalrously while Cheryl adjusts her shoe" "Ashley gazes adoringly at Cheryl's stunningly toned and fit body"). You will marvel at her declaration that she feels "over the hill" at 25. You will see the very first pictures of the MIRACLE IVF twins an aging rocker you've never heard of and his also aging (but vastly better looking) wife just had. You will see pictures of him trying to feed a sleeping baby a bottle of what appears to be apple juice. Never mind that the baby is only 1 month old. You will note that he has the same compellingly rigid expression in all 12 photographs. And finally, you will see pictures of Brad Pitt rushing to be at Angelina's side as she awaits the birth of their 4,234th and 4,235th children. You might have to tell your husband again why you like to buy this magazine when you go on vacation. He might express some skepticism about your exuberant and unbridled hilarity at the stories, not to mention your penchant for reading him the really funny bits, but just because some of us like reading academic texts at the beach doesn't mean that all of us do. Who knows, maybe he is just distressed at the idea that a 57 year old man is trying to give a 1 month old baby a bottle of apple juice. Ignore him. He's having a lovely time. And whatever you do, do not worry when your children push the raft-with-slide further and further out into the ocean in a never ending quest for further and further excitement. As long as you can see a speck on the water you know they are still there. Even when they climb onto the slide en mass and start rocking the whole thing back and forth, laughing wildly all the while. Even when they go head first down the slide into the very deep water. They have life jackets on. And they're having a lovely time.
Finally, teaching one's cat to fetch one of those glow in the dark bracelets is an excellent Party Trick to entertain The Slightly Bored And Looking For Excitement Underage Masses when it's raining on one's vacation. Just make sure he doesn't bite through it and drip glow in the dark fluid all over the carpet.

By the way, no cats were harmed during the making of this video.

They were having a lovely time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Vacation

Well, I still haven't done anything with the massive piles of laundry sitting around the kitchen, but I have managed to clean up the garden. We all have our priorities, right? While mine might involve having clean laundry, they don't extend to actually doing anything about it, especially when the garden is so obviously IN NEED.

At least, that's how I was attempting to explain it to Richard last night. Fortunately, he is well aware of my lack of interest regarding housework so he nodded enablingly. But now the kids have no underwear. Which means I will have to Do Something Soon. Sigh.

But I digress!

Our two weeks up in the wilds of Vancouver Island was so fun I almost forgot to angst about my garden (and whether the watering system was working properly) the whole time. Which turned out to be a good thing because the front yard timer developed a weird whine and had to be turned off, before the neighbours lost their hearing, only three days after we left. Then the people who were checking the mail turned it back on again, whereupon our neighbour turned it off again, and so forth and so on. And the whole time one of the vents leaked continuously. Poor Neighbour. Poor confused House Checker. Poor Sheila and her no doubt Horribly Inflated Water Bill. Thanks ever so much, Lee Valley.

But I digress!

It was fun being near a hot sandy beach for so long. We have beaches around here, but they aren't right across the street, where the kids can head off on their own with a band of other holiday kids, and get up to mischief I can only guess at. Actually, considering that I (and the parents of all these other holiday kids) spent my summers here too, I have some pretty good guesses: racing down the sliding and somewhat dangerous sand cliffs, carving vaguely rude words in the highest of the sand cliffs (which in my day extended to words like BUM), eating every Freezie every adult in every house they visit offers them, and trying to stay up past 11 pm each and every night. And for the older kids: watching really dumb movies in the back yard on a giant inflatable screen someone brought up with them, sleeping on the beach, staying up all night, riding bikes to the candy store for yet more sugary junk (to quote Robert Munsch), bugging their adults to take them to the local swim hole, and looking very cool the whole time. Then there's us adults. We sit around in each other's houses after the heat of the day is past, drinking and laughing and telling silly stories about our other lives, lives that exist back in the towns and cities where we live. Sometimes we reminisce about the things we got up to during our summers together here. Sometimes we reminisce about the people who used to live in this beach town, the Americans and Brits and East Coasters who made our childhood memories so full of scandal and fascination and humour.

I think of Pam, the slightly batty English woman who lived next door to my grandmother. She had two dogs, Sally and JJ, and a plastic parrot named Polly. She treated Polly as if he were alive, and I never really knew if she was serious, although the fact that she liked to eat dog food along with her dogs ("It's very good, you know") should have tipped me off. One summer she gave me Polly to take home with me, and I endured several months of alarming dreams where he chased me around, screaming "I miss Pam!" until I finally hid him in a closet. She had a grippingly interesting house, filled with things I imagined my own mum would have been horrified by: a stuffed ferret that sat on the kitchen table at all times (gasp), buckets of costume jewellry, and a large bed in a room just for Sally and JJ (double gasp). And she smoked like a chimney (everyone seemed to back then). To my 11 year old mind this was the height of cool adulthood.

Then there was Vicki Goudge. She'd married a much older man, a fact that had all the local ladies whispering "gold digger" most of the time, well, when they weren't whispering "bottle blonde." She'd had 4 skinny blonde boys in quick succession, after which she considered that she'd "done her duty" (a cryptic remark I didn't understand until much later). She too smoked like a chimney, and if I was particularly lucky she'd send me to the store to buy Black Cat cigarettes. Then I could saunter back to her house, carrying - gasp - a pack of cigarettes and pretending they were mine. Vicki spent most of her afternoons drinking gin and tonics, smoking Black Cats, and dissing the older ladies she knew were dissing her, all the while lying on a lounge chair in her carport. I'd sit on a stool next to her, listening to her talk, and passing her various things: a lighter, the local newspaper, her drink, those fragrant Black Cats, and feel wonderfully, delightfully decadent.

Of course, there was my own grandmother. She was from East London and had an accent to prove it. An accent she never lost, despite living the last 50 years of her life in Canada. I spent most of my summers with her and she was a far more accommodating guardian than my parents were. I could wander for hours, as long as I came back for lunch. I could come back reeking of the beach grass we were constantly trying to smoke and she would say nothing. And, best of all, she often let me have a teenie tiny glass of sherry with her every morning at 11am. I would make plans to live with her when I grew up, plans which usually involved smoking Black Cats and drinking a lot of sherry. It's a wonder I never grew up to be a smoker. Or an alcoholic.

And now here we are, another generation of beach families. We keep our family houses (now off their wells and septic fields and onto city mains, something that would have horrified my grandmother), some more dilapidated than others, and we cling to our summer traditions (marshmallow-roasting fires on beaches and in back yards), even though local fire codes and city regulations now forbid them. We converge upon the local Farmer's Markets, bringing our lattés and city newspapers and internet connections, and relive our favourite childhood memories. It makes for a perfect vacation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How We Spent Our 7th Birthday

As related by FDPG and Dominic, the Greenridge kids.

First of all, our neighbours brought us chocolate chip waffles - through the window - for breakfast! We ate some Pringles afterwards. We tried to eat some Skittles as well but our Mum wouldn't let us.Then we got lots of funny cards from our friendsMum made us these ones We caught crabs for hours on end. And we showed Mum each and every one we caught.We lay on blankets in the shade.
We drank out of our new stainless steel water bottles that will attach to our bicycles. We wore bikinis (well, some of us).Dad and our neighbour Robert (that's Robert there in the green shirt) built a raft with a slide and we created a bit of a public spectacle taking it down to the beach. Mum said we specialize in public spectacles.We slid off the slide into the water. When the tide was in this was extremely exciting.
We smooched a little, just to make all the adults go "Awww."After dinner we got towed around in behind our friend's motor boat. Fun but kind of scary.Then we had a fire and roasted marshmallows while the sun went down. Now that we're seven we get to stay up late.