Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Scene of the Crime

We saw a sparrow get chewed up today, on these very branches. Yes, Gentle Reader, this tree was the scene of a Very Graphic Event here at Greenridge Chronicles. A Cooper's Hawk caught a sparrow midflight, flew to the twist you see in the middle of this photo, and proceeded to eat it right there and then.

At first we were all quite enthralled. It was a perfect David Attenborough moment. I was possessed by the urge to start narrating everything sotto voce: "And now the Cooper's Hawk rests on the Garry oak with its prey, a single Song Sparrow, plucked out of the very air in an instant. The forest falls silent and watchful as the hawk disembowels its catch swiftly and efficiently, spilling not even one drop of blood." But the puffs of feathers swirling overhead periodically kind of spoiled the mood for me, and instead we all fell silent and watchful as the hawk ripped and tore, dipping his head every now and then as he swallowed. We stood there for what seemed like ages, watching that hawk, until he gave a final gulp and lifted off the branch. He circled a few times, then flew away towards Bird Lake.

Am I Going To Survive This Kid?

I know, I know, this photo looks misplaced in time somehow, doesn't it. But it isn't. It just encapsulates my little FDPG, who is becoming a complete terror, at the tender age of six. I worry daily that she might just eat us all alive.

Here she is in her Halloween garb. She was, as you can probably tell, a pirate. But not just any pirate; oh no, no, no, FDPG had very specific ideas as to what sort of pirate she was going to be. Most of these ideas involved being terrifying, fierce, and serious. And she did this mugging routine in every single picture I took of her that night.

But this, this photo, is the essence of FDPG. She's a take no prisoners kind of gal. Every morning she bursts into my bedroom, never mind if I am sleeping, and asks "What are we going to study today, Mum?" She's been known to shriek with delight at the idea of doing Spelling Workout. She knows all the Egyptian gods and goddesses off by heart. Once I paused outside her bedroom door, listening silently while she listed them all out loud. I asked her the next day why she did that and she said "So I don't forget them." She reminds her (humanities professor) father that the Phoenicians were from Canaan, NOT Egypt. She learned origami by working through an origami book every single night until she had done every single fold in the book (a 185 page book). She taught herself to read while we were renovating the house we'd just bought when we moved here - in 5 weeks she went from reading simple readers to whipping through Magic Treehouse books. And I do mean whipping. Now a little light reading for her is an entire MTH book before bed. I don't want to give the impression that she is obnoxious, because she isn't; she's actually quite charming. She's just far, far more intellectual and motivated than any us. She doesn't quite roll her eyes at us but we all know she's thinking about it, even if she's too polite to do it to our faces. Thankfully her two brothers are very restful sorts. They like Lego and sugary food and squishing crumbs into the carpet, normal kid things. When I need to escape the million watt beam of FDPG's concentrated attention, I creep into Dominic's room and lay on the carpet while he and Max squabble mildly over who's farting or who left toothpaste all over the sink. I can hear FDPG upstairs, though, rustling through her books and plotting new study strategies.

Am I going to survive this kid?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sublime Sunday encore

A Saturday sunset over Bird Lake, as viewed from our deck. While I get fed up with the Garry oaks in the summertime, because they crowd the sunshine a bit in the east side of the garden, they are rather atmospheric at this time of year.

Sublime Sunday

Here's a picture I took this morning with my NEWLY FIXED camera! Calloo callay, it finally came back from the shop, just in time to capture this shot from the deck this morning.

Look at those clouds.

I think I've been overly-conditioned by Monty Python, though, because I kept expecting a cartoon God to rise up on a springboard, hurl a few darts, and shout "Get dressed, idiot!" at me.

Outwitting Starlings

See this picture? It turns out that there IS an alternative to having starlings eat up all our peanut butter suet. It's called an "upside down feeder." Apparently starlings cannot hang upside down while eating, but other birds (including this woodpecker), can.

So yesterday I decided to turn our cage suet holder into an upside down suet holder, and it seems to be working, even if it looks totally dorky (Richard finds it a little on the hysterically funny side but he's restraining himself in the interests of Family Peace). It looks SO dorky, in fact, that I'm giving you a photo of the professionally manufactured upside down feeder, and not mine.

A Little Light Music Reading

Yesterday I happened upon FDPG, reading in a chair in the family room. "What are you reading?" I asked. "Oh," says she, "just reading about God." "Ahh, what's he up to?" I ask. "He's torturing the Egyptians with festering boils," she replies casually.
I do a double take. "What are you reading?" I ask, slightly bemused. FDPG is six years old; this doesn't sound like light reading for a six year old, somehow.

"God and his Creations, by Marcia Williams," she tells me. I glance. It is. And it has that very line in it. And FDPG looks completely unconcerned.

I'm glad at this moment that I'm not an Egyptian in FDPG's sights.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Poetry Friday

We were reading Rosemary Sutcliff's The Wanderings of Ulysses the other day, and when we came to the part where Circe enters the action I suddenly remembered this poem from my English 310 days. It's an oldie but a goodie. If you like HD, that is.


It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.


But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

I have excerpted slightly, in case there is a copyright demon out there somewhere, so if you'd like to read this poem in its entirety, click here and scroll down a couple of poems.

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds, and More - new blog for me. Thanks for hosting!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Trash Television

We watch TV. If I didn't have kids I'd probably watch more. Well, let me rephrase that: if I lived alone and didn't have to endure the humiliation of having small children witness my viewing habits I would probably watch more. But it's hard to watch Coronation Street with two six year olds who cackle with laughter when someone mentioned the word "knickers" or "ponce." Ditto my HBO obsessions. There I am, minding my own business, or, rather, minding Julius Caesar's business as he's toying with his latest conquest in Rome, when my six year old daughter, who up til then has been silently swinging around on the stair-rail, suddenly pipes up at a most critical juncture with a "What's he doing THAT for?" Heaven forbid she should ever see Atia doing what Atia does best.

But I capitulate for my eldest, who enjoys shows like The Amazing Race, Lost (even though it is getting increasingly bizarre), Survivor, and Dr Who. Someone has to watch those shows with him, right? Anyhow, tonight my patience was tested when, as I was checking the on-line TV guide to see if Lost was on (Max had the idea that it was on tonight), I noted several other titles. Honestly, either I'm getting old and crotchety, or I'm getting older and crotchetier, but listen to these:

Snoop Dog's Father Hood
Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane
Cashmere Mafia
Wife Swap

Now, I've never actually watched these shows, so perhaps I am being overly judgmental, but just the thought of Snoop Dog dispensing his pearls of wit and wisdom on what makes a man a man makes me wince. I feel quite irritable knowing that Snoop is on prime time at this very minute and getting paid for it. As for our Life in the Fab Lane friend, well, she caused me to cancel my subscription to Vanity Fair. Say what you will, but Vanity Fair used to be an interesting read once upon a time; now it's all ads and cringe-making pandering to mostly spoiled celebrities. I still enjoy reading Christopher Hitchens because we're both old and crotchety, but when they started doing articles on people like Kimora Lee Simmons and Paris Hilton I had to either cancel my subscription or increase my Mock the Rich levels, but since those are high enough already, I canceled the subscription. And now I see that Ms Simmons has a TV show. Ugh.

French Drains and Rain

Some days I feel as though I'm channeling Pa Ingalls. I dig, I drag, I chop, and I harness the strength of those around me to assist me in my endeavours, be they hauling bricks for garden walls or hauling compost to other areas of the yard. In Pa's case, he used horses and oxen. In my case, I use my children. I'm not sure who had the easier working companion.

But I digress.

Every good day we've had lately I've been out in the back yard, getting it ready for spring planting. This yard has been neglected for a while, or perhaps the previous owners weren't as fervent about gardening as I am, so getting it ready requires a certain esprit de corps. I've been digging a vegetable garden using grass sod for walls, although I happened upon a hundred free bricks today that I buttressed the south-facing terrace with. I've also been building trellises (or is that trelli?) for runner beans and berries (marion and raspberries), putting in fruit trees (peach plum fig) and shrubs (today saw a brilliant bloodtwig dogwood go in), planting a herb garden, and pruning the horribly neglected apple trees.

In my opinion, we've been extremely lucky with this winter's weather here on the Wet Coast, although you will get a completely different answer if you ask my kids this question. But with all the rain I've noticed that even though we live on a hill, we are accumulating more rain than I expected to see in areas of the back yard. So now I'm trying to sort out the, err, bog out back. The bog next to where my new peach tree is. The bog that is really getting on my nerves, because it shouldn't be a bog. It should be a nicely drained area of the back yard. I suspect this is part and parcel of what one gets when one buys an old house. Drains overgrown with tree roots. Overgrown trees. Oddly pruned trees (I'm being charitable and restrained here). I won't get into the interior of this old house, because it's now but a distant memory, thankfully, but let's just say that it involved lots of orange shag, wallpaper borders (upon borders upon borders) and tinted mirrors.
But I digress.

Gardening is my thing, so I tend to focus on that. Just ask Richard, although he may roll his eyes a bit when answering you, because during the 5 weeks that we renovated I tended to escape outside at moments of intense drama, leaving him inside with those same moments of intense drama. My theory was that he was far more capable of dealing with those moments than I was. His theory was that I was more interested in gardening than I was in painting the 4 million walls I had to paint. He might have been right.

But I digress.

While this house has an ever-so-lovely and ever-so-big-for-a-city-lot yard that looks out onto a wild life lake, some sublime moonrise peaks, and more than a few unbelievably bucolic sunsets, there are two aspects to this yard that niggle slightly at me: first, it slopes, and second, the drains have been, err, compromised by some of the trees that were here. (note, O Ye of Grammatical Bent, my use of the past tense) The sloping aspect I dealt with by terracing the vegetable patch (thus my slogging brickwork). As for the tree invasion, I've remedied the situation slightly by removing a few trees (having a birch tree growing under the house foundation is not on Martha's List of Good Things, nor is it on mine) and heavily trimming others (an overgrown bank of Leyland cypresses and a chestnut that was attaching itself to the roof). Well, to be honest I didn't actually remove them myself. My friend Dave from Barking Up The Wrong Tree removed them, in one glorious and never to be forgotten (because it was so bizarre, even by my standards) afternoon. Let's just say that it involved some young men with chain saws and spurs and beer and lots of intriguing swearing. Oh, and let's not forget Dave. And me with my cheque book. And my children, delighted by the spectacle.

And now, several months on, I have discovered that removing a tree does not remove the damage said tree inflicted while growing, and so I note sadly that we seem to have sustained some perimeter drain injuries from that burrowing old birch. As a result, the last few days have seen me digging out root after root after root in an effort to see where the bog came from. And let me tell you, slogging around in gloopy, muddy bogs with a gloopy, muddy shovel is SO not my idea of fun. Fortunately my dad came arrived on the scene, with my lovely, newly built cold frame (thanks Dad), and told me that what I needed was a French drain. He even demonstrated how to make one, earning my admiration by standing in that gloopy, muddy grass and digging fiercely. So that's what I ended up doing. Making a French drain in the back yard. Already my peach tree is sighing in relief. Thanks Dad. And thank you, Mr Henry French (Harvard graduate). Whatever would I do without you?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is being hosted over at my blogpal Becky's site. Nothing like a little thesaurus with my morning coffee.

Since I'm feeling silly but short this morning, my poem is an Ogden Nash classic.

The Termite
by Ogden Nash

Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good!
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

My dad always told me not to laugh at other people's misfortunes, but this cracks me up. Poor, poor Cousin May.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynne Were Right

It all boils down to putting one foot in front of the other, just like they said here. At least, so states Scott McCredie in his new book "Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense." Balance, according to Mr. McCredie, is an area of exercise often overlooked, and in his opinion most critical for those of us wanting to avoid hip-crunching falls as we age. According to this review in the NYTimes, we should be nurturing and maintaining our sense of balance more methodically:

"Noting that each year one in three Americans 65 and older falls, and that falls and their sometimes disastrous medical consequences are becoming more common as the population ages, Mr. McCredie wonders why balance is not talked about in fitness circles as often as strength training, aerobics and stretching. He learned that the sense of balance begins to degrade in one’s 20s and that it is downhill — literally and figuratively — from there unless steps are taken to preserve or restore this delicate and critically important ability to maintain equilibrium."
"But while certain declines with age are unavoidable, physical therapists, physiatrists [sic] and fitness experts have repeatedly proved that much of the sense of balance can be preserved and even restored through exercises that require no special equipment or training. These exercises are as simple as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or walking heel-to-toe with one foot directly in front of the other."

It proves my point: Mickey Rooney knew whereof he spoke. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.

And that's why I continue to sit on a balance ball when doing school stuff with my kids. Well, that and the fact that it's fun...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?

If you remember Elvis Costello singing this song, or even if you watched Bill Murray lipsynch it (warning, that was a Bad Quality link) in Lost In Translation, then this interview Nick Lowe did with Terry Gross (NPR's Fresh Air) is for you. He wrote the song "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding," and he even gives a brief performance of it for Terry with a few tongue-in-cheek remarks thrown in for good measure ("here I was...twenty-two years old and seen it all...but when Elvis Costello cut it, he sounded like he really meant it").

How the mighty have mellowed.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Backyard Birding

We like birds. We really like birds. We even have our feeder system right outside the dining room window where we can bird-watch during meals, scare off those bloody starlings, check to see if the red-tailed hawk is lurking, and see what sort of order the birds feed in.

Oh yes, there is a definite pecking order over here at the Greenridge Feeder System, and it goes something like this: bigger bosses littler (not very grammatical but oh-so-poetic, don't you think?). If the sparrows, juncos, and chickadees are feeding, the bushtits stay away. If the downy woodpecker is at the suet feeder, the smaller birds keep to the seed house. If the starlings are there, only the junco will venture forth, but only to within a foot of the seed house. And because the starlings are SO pushy, we've had to resort to wrapping twine around the seed house so the tiny birds are the only ones who can slip past. Finally, when the red-tailed hawk or the Cooper's hawk is around, everyone sits quietly in the Garry oaks.

The starlings are extremely tenacious, too, which makes for some lively action here some days. I've been experimenting with hanging the peanut butter feeder on very thin cross-wires, so the starlings won't be able to balance easily and will generally spend more time flapping and bouncing than eating the peanut butter.

In my quest to find new and interesting additions to our own homeschool routines (this being January and my usual time to get restless, plus it's fun surfing through blogs when I could be doing housework or the laundry), I have happened upon a number of great sites:

Terrell, at Alone on a Limb, is hosting Learning in the Great Outdoors: The Carnival of Environmental Education, and all sorts of people are posting handy links to their own outdoor meanderings.

Dana, at Backyard Birding, even posts a recipe for home-made suet, and it's close enough to mine that I'm going to include her link. (mine differs in that I don't use flour or fruit and I use more birdseed and whole oats)

Barb, at Handbook of Nature Study, has a truly impressive blog dedicated to using Anna Comstock's book Handbook of Nature Study in her homeschool. Her photos alone are worth a visit.

I also found this place, Conservation Calling, where you can download ringtones with bird and animal sounds, and according to their website, they support American Forests' Global ReLeaf campaign by contributing 10% net revenue to restore wildlife habitat. Each dollar donated plants a tree. I'm much too cheap to do this myself (what with our new friend Mortgage hovering over us so closely), but I had a lot of fun playing around with the sounds, and I was quite taken with the quality of the recordings. I wish I weren't so cheap, actually, because I'd quite like that black-capped chickadee singing on my cell.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Poetry Friday

I found this one in an anthology. I can't quite put my finger on why I chose it, and I certainly don't relate to it (not yet, anyway) but it's very evocative and I admire that.

(The author is one Tu Fu who lived between 713 - 770)

Snow Storm

Tumult, weeping, many new ghosts.
Heartbroken, aging, alone, I sing
To myself. Ragged mist settles
In the spreading dusk. Snow scurries
In the coiling wind. The wineglass
Is spilled. The bottle is empty.
The fire has gone out in the stove.
Everywhere men speak in whispers.
I brood on the uselessness of letters.

Poetry Friday is being hosted by John at The Book Mine Set. It caught my eye that John notes that "the desire to settle permanently is sinking in." Right there with you, John!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Watching the Birds Go By

We first started watching birds when we moved to Vancouver. Our neighbour Burt, down the alley, came over one day after Christmas with a long pole and a funny looking red plastic thing on a hook. He'd just been given a new birdfeeder for Christmas and he wanted to give us his old one. He even helped us set it up, wiring it to the deck railing with some old telephone wire and showing me how to slide the pole up and down when I wanted to refill the seed feeder. The kids were all excited about having some pet birds, until I explained that it didn't work quite that way. So we loaded up the seed feeder, loaded up the suet feeder, hung a seed bell for good measure, and sat in the shade of the open door, waiting for something to happen.

That was 4 years ago. In the intervening time the twins have gotten to the point where they no longer race screaming at the feeder every time a bird alights on it, and Max has gotten to the point where he can recognize most of the birds in our area. We also live in another city, not too far from Vancouver, but far enough that the little black-capped chickadees Max loves aren't around. They haven't flown across the Strait of Georgia yet, apparently!

In the photo you can see our feeder system. Simple yet effective. We have a black sunflower seed bell, a suet feeder, and a seed house (more popular in the summer months). On the other corner of the deck we have the hummingbird feeder. Hummers are not the most congenial birds around; in fact they tended to dive bomb the other birds when their feeder was closer to this system, so we moved it. Here's a post I wrote about them a few months back, I was so impressed at their ferocity. It was one of the first things we did when we moved here, too: set up the feeders.

During the summer we only keep the seed house filled. Sometimes we hang apples or cardboard rolls with some peanut butter on them (a midsummer's eve treat), but that's about it. The birds forage for themselves just fine. Mind you, we provide numerous opportunities for them to forage. Our yard is given over to flowers, vegetables, and herbs covered in either aphids, seeds, or worms, but we still tussle over the fennel seeds. We have a bird bath which the squirrels edge them out on, sadly. Come the cold weather, we set out the suet feeder, which is a mixture of bacon fat, peanut butter, bird seed, whole oats, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. I save bacon fat all year round, and when I get a couple of cups worth, I melt it down, add equal parts peanut butter, throw in some other things, stir well, then pour into sandwich-sized ziplock bags and freeze flat on a tray. The bag peels off easily and I can tuck it into the suet feeder - which is the same size. A little wasteful on the plastic side, I realize, but I haven't quite figured out a way that doesn't involve a container of some sort.

In Vancouver we had a very cordial relationship with the Stellar's Jays, but we have yet to see a single one here on the Island. They are cheeky, gorgeous, and incredibly noisy birds, but we miss them. I already mentioned the black-caps. We miss them, too. They are easily the cheeriest little bird around. We have the chestnut-backed chickadee, but he's a little shyer than his cousin. We also have juncos, downy woodpeckers, bushtits, nuthatches, kinglets, robins, red-winged blackbirds, hummers, Cooper's hawks, red-tailed hawks, sparrows, and even the odd barred owl. The kids know them all, thanks to this feeder system and our handy dandy Compact Guide to British Columbia Birds. It's not the most comprehensive birding book I've seen, but it's easy to tuck into a coat pocket, small enough for tiny hands, and very easy to thumb through. It also has male/female sketches (essential for figuring out things like "is that a starling or a female red-winged blackbird?), and migratory/summer/winter living habits. This is how we found out that the black-cap hasn't yet made it to our little corner of the world, although Max is readying a special suitcase...

If you want to set up your own feeder system, you must be very careful to keep the seed dry. If it gets wet it can make the birds very sick. And take care to keep the feeders where the squirrels and the starlings can't get at them (she says, to much hollow laughter).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Winter Gardening

We just had a couple of days of incredibly warm and sunny weather, with temperatures of at least 7 or 8º C, and since it was still technically Winter Break up here in Canada (I think I like the breaks more than the kids do - I cling to them till the bitter end) I headed out to the garden centre, then out to the garden. I was able to do this childlessly (ooh, cool word) because the kids were staying overnight at my parents' place. Correct that, I was able to do it slowly and indulgently because I was temporarily childless. I could actually read the tags on those trees, examine the zonal information, check the different Latin names, and stand in a bit of a daze, as per usual. For some reason my kids don't particularly enjoy this.

I love wandering through the back lots of large garden centres - you never know what you might find in them. This time I was looking for Sarcococca confusa, or Christmas sweetbox, something I'd read about in a garden magazine over Christmas. Apparently it can be topiaried (if that isn't a verb then I'm turning it into one) and smells delightful while doing so. Plus, it blooms over Christmas, which translates to: green and good-smelling in the dead of winter. This, to use the words of my friend Martha, is a Good Thing. I like anything that distracts me from the cold and gray of the post-Christmas season. And I have a large twisting topiary frame I'm just itching to use.
I was also looking for a curly willow or hazel, because the stems look so cool when used as climbing supports (see photo). My last bunch are getting a bit crumbly.
When I got to the garden centre I headed right out to the back lot, where they keep the trees and shrubs, but I was distracted by the music wafting over the loudspeakers. Maybe wafting wasn't quite the word for it, and I don't know who they had playing, but it was not the sort of music I am used to hearing at a garden centre, if there IS even any music at all. It was incredible. Amazing. Unique. It sounded like a cross between the Pet Shop Boys, Rufus Wainwright, and Feist. Very pleasant for checking out labels. I caught sight of the garden worker, with his bleached hair, neck tattoo, and pierced eyebrow, and wondered no more. Call me biased, but he looked like the sort to pick interesting music.

I found the sweetbox, which was, as promised, blooming most sweetly. It didn't look very topiaryish, though, especially when sitting next to the more standard topiary vehicle - Buxus or box. Nevermind, I tend to specialize in doing what shouldn't be done, according to Richard. So I picked up my sweetbox and headed out to the tree section, but was distracted by a type of holly I hadn't seen before. It was, dare I say it, cute. It really was. Curly leaves, lovely varigated foliage, and the oddest streak of spines across the top of the leaves, spines that bent gently under my fingers as I ran them across. It even grew beautifully. I could see it in my garden, I really could. The name convinced me: Hedge Hog. I tucked it under my arm with the sweetbox, and off we went to the tree section.

I found the curly willow, a dwarf species with bright yellow branches, and I found the Harry Lauder's walking stick (aka curly hazel), but couldn't decide between the two. The hazel didn't have the long, curling branches I was looking for while the willow did, but from what I know about willows, they are best planted a good distance away from drains and things like that. Do I want something that might get unruly, I wondered. I couldn't answer myself adequately, so I asked the fellow who had presumably put on the great music. I figured he'd be a good source for aesthetic inspiration, but his theory was that all willows are a huge PITA. I assured him that I had every intention of hacking it down regularly, and that I only wanted it for its decorating potential, but he was firm - I was better off with the walking stick, which I was not to prune dramatically. Ever. I would ruin the angles. He even gave me a stern look. I am not easily quelled, but even I felt as though we had reached an impasse of sorts; that willow was not coming home with me and it was most certainly not going anywhere near my drains. Well, maybe not today, not with him standing there, pierced eyebrow arched.

Thus thwarted, I went over to the seed section and comforted myself with a few packets of sweet peas. If you have never grown sweet peas, you really should. They are easy to grow, like shade, and are the most fabulous cut flowers imaginable. I got two packets of new ones: Streamers Mix , which promises me "the biggest, the brightest, and the sweetest of them all! A beautiful colour mixture of giant, ruffled blooms with a heavenly scent." I also got Ocean Foam, which is billed as "an extraordinary wave of beautiful colours in ocean-like shades" that has the heirloom Old Spice as one of its sires. The Old Spice series has, in case you don't know, a seriously lovely smell.

Oh, and while I was standing at the checkout, my pierced eyebrow friend came back over to see what I had bought (he approved the holly very enthusiastically and we set aside our impasse) but seemed skeptical at the sweetbox being a good topiary subject. He pointed out the frond-like branches and the large leaves, and showed me the traditional Buxus, and explained why it would be better for topiary. I hated to admit it, but this time he made a good point. I would be frustrated with that sweetbox. Not that I didn't buy it, oh no no no, it smelled too good. But I found another place to put it. Somewhere without a wire frame to curl around. And the holly (Ilex aquifolium) found a great place, too. It's up on the hill by the front drive, still looking extremely cute.

I'll get that curly willow on his day off. Maybe I'll put it in a giant pot. I might have to, because I told Richard the story when I got home and he seemed horrified that I wanted to buy a willow, considering the tender state of our aged drains.

Wartime Experiences

I meant to blog about an article from Saturday's National Post which caught my eye, but forgot somehow, and was reminded anew by my blogpal Becky, who also blogged about this article. Small world!

For some reason, perhaps because my family hails from the UK, or because my mother was one of those kids sent overseas during WWII in order to avoid Hitler (she was 4, her sister was 5, imagine that), or because my maternal grandfather was a soldier in the war, I have always had a certain fascination in reading about personal war-time experiences from WWI and WWII. Reading detailed battle accounts, hmm, not so much, although we all willingly gathered night after night to watch father and son duo Peter and Dan Snow and their peculiarly British production Battlefield Britain (Max was studying the Battle of Hastings in his Famous Men of the Middle Ages work and this DVD series gives a dramatic re-enactment, handy for your average 10 year old boy). Reading individual stories or letters from someone involved in the war, or watching dramatic reproductions on TV, though, is another matter altogether. My kids and I sat spellbound through PBS's wonderful 1900's House, Channel 4's equally gripping but very bleak 1940's House, and now I'm reading a book I happened upon in our local Sally Ann, called Mrs. Milburn's Diaries: An Englishwoman's Day-to-Day Reflections 1939-45. Mrs. Milburn, from what little I've read so far, did not experience the war quite as desperately as did the characters in 1940's House, but it's a great read, if only to see the unending stiff upper lip the Brits are famous for.

So, anyhow, I was quite intrigued to see this article in the Post, entitled "History in real time." By the way, for reasons I do not understand, the original article, taken from The Daily Telegraph, is not in the Post's archives, but the link (which I borrowed from Becky's article, thanks Becky!) is the same article that appeared in the Post. Like Mrs. Milburn's grandson-in-law, who found her diaries in a long-forgotten box in the attic and managed to publish them, Bill Lamin, of Cornwall, decided to post his grandfather's war-time letters home, but instead of publishing them in a book, Bill Lamin is using the blog format. Even more interestingly, he's publishing them in real time, which makes for somewhat excruciating reading if you are like me and want to know the end already. It's impressive and poignant to see how stoic Private Harry Lamin was in his letters. Here is one excerpt, dated 3rd October, 1917:

"Just a line to let you know I’m going on all right...what do you think Fritz came over about 5 o’clock next morning...but we beat him off...they brought liquid fire with them and bombs and all sorts...and the captain got killed a jolly good fellow too...We have just been given a long trousers again as we have had had Short ones all summer. I hope you are going on alright as was pleased to hear you are keeping in good health"

Mr. Lamin has compiled all the readers' comments into another blog, that you can access via a link on the blog page, and even that makes for engrossing reading. One reader dug up a record (?!) about Private Lamin's son Arthur, for whom there seemed to be no records and was presumed to have died in infancy.

I'll leave you to read about Private Lamin's war-time experiences on your own, and close with an excerpt from Mrs. Milburn's diary. In keeping with Mr. Lamin's habit, I'll use an excerpt with today's date:

Tuesday, 7th January (1941)

A peaceful night as far as air raids went, but alas for the Master of the House - a cold and chill through the night and then a great upheaval in the early morning. Very poorly indeed, poor dear, so we rang up the doctor-man and kept him in bed all day on a very light diet.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Poetry Friday

I had every intention of posting something New Years-ish, but you know what happens to good intentions, they have a habit of morphing along the way. I'm always reminded of the Bergman film The Best of Intentions when I think about good intentions.

So, without further ado, I give you something perfectly lovely from Shuntaro Tanikawa:


Why is the river laughing?

Why, because the sun is tickling the river.

Why is the river singing?

Because the skylark praised the river's voice.

Why is the river cold?

It remembers being once loved by the snow.

How old is the river?

It's the same age as the forever young springtime.

Why does the river never rest?

Well, you see it's because the mother sea
is waiting for the river to come home.

Translated from the Japanese by Harold Wright.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by two teachers who read a lot, at A Year of Reading. Thanks for hosting, ladies.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Does Your Lego Room Look Like This?

Here is but a small corner of the mess that is the Lego Corner of Dominic's room, a place where all three kids gather daily to enact scenes of drama and calamity (I've been there, believe it, there's plenty of calamity going on).
Today, someone sent Max a link, an intriguing link on sorting and categorizing one's Lego. It is, I say fervently, unique and inspired, but it so ain't gonna happen at out house. Wish it could, though. My little Miss Anal (or, "ah-naaaal" as we like to say) side is quite taken with the idea of seeing all those little bits and pieces up off the floor. And, as Richard pointed out helpfully, then I could actually start vacuuming. Hah. Not.

Why Are We Homeschooling?

Episode 2

I get this a lot. More than I expected to, actually, but as my father likes to point out: when I have ever done anything the way anyone expected me to. So I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised. For the most part, I try to imagine myself in the other person's shoes when I get this question, just to see where they are coming from. And, for the most part, the place most people are coming from is a place of puzzlement. They can't figure out why I would want to sacrifice my time and income earning potential just to keep my kids at home, particularly when there are plenty of great schools out there. In some ways, I sympathize; I often wonder the same thing. It's not like I set out to be a SAHP, much less a homeschooling SAHP.

Anyhow, as I sift through all the books on the shelves, thinking about our directions for the new year (should I start another Chemistry Tuesday? should we all be doing Latin? what is Max going to do with that geography book? where are those English From The Roots Up cards I made?), I find myself reflecting a bit on why we started homeschooling in the first place. It's a rather pedestrian comedy of errors, in my opinion, and, as was the case with numerous homeschoolers I've talked with, it was a completely spur of the moment decision, pushed on me by the resulting forces of a teacher who should've long since retired, a resentful principal, a very angry and opinionated parent (not me), and my son. Oh, and my son's body rash. There. You have in a nutshell. (or as nutty as I can make it) Nothing terribly intentional at all.

But I still reflect on this chain of events, because we did have other options. We could've switched schools (but I didn't). We could've kicked up a ruckus with the school board (but I didn't). We could've switched to French immersion (but I didn't). Instead, I took the most drastic option available to us at the time: let's quit school altogether and do something different. Good thing I wasn't a relentless career girl or there would've been trouble, because I am married to a relentless career boy.

At the time, no one in our immediate circle of family and friends seemed too surprised, but that was because they had already heard most of my complaints about Max's grade one experiences. Kindergarten had been a breeze; his teacher loved him, he loved his teacher, he loved his classmates, his classmates loved him. He sailed through the learning, too. Grade one was a different kettle of fish. First, there were 18 boys and 2 girls. Second, the teacher this class had came with a distressingly short temper. Third, detentions for everything, including wriggling during Circle Time, were handed out with an equally distressing regularity. Max spent most lunch hours sitting in the office with at least 6 other boys, all guilty of the crime of wiggling or giggling. I am a relatively conventional person, especially in public, but it was hard not to see the ludicrousness of this. Wiggling = detention. Now biting your neighbour, or smacking your neighbour, or stealing your neighbour's lunch, I could see how those might get you some time next to the dour school secretary, but wiggling? These kids were six years old - weren't they supposed to be wiggly? Plus, I didn't see how sitting in a office for an hour would make a kid any less wiggly all afternoon. I guess that made me somewhat complicit. I used to tell Max to be polite and listen, but that if he ended up in the office, I wouldn't be mad unless it was for doing something truly obnoxious, like biting, or stealing, or smacking. Things he never did. Ahem. But I digress.

Once the class was let out early and the teacher sent the kids home without making sure the parents were there to greet their kids. Max, who had spent hours walking the neighbourhood with me (we are inveterate alley-combers), knew how to get home easily enough, but as I wasn't AT home (I was on my way to get him), he decided to walk back to school (and we lived in a large city at the time) and wait for me there. He was six years old. He had to cross at least three large streets going and coming. Another kid's parent wrote an angry letter, protesting the terrible lack of attention to the many kids who had this happen, but was rebuffed by the principal. I think it was then that I realized that my apparently cordial relationship with the school went only so far. And then, three days before Max was due to start grade two, the rumours started: his class would have the same teacher that they'd had in grade one. To say I sighed heavily was an understatement. Max asked me if he could homeschool. I said yes. Richard rolled his eyes a bit and worried a bit more. And there we were: homeschoolers by default.

Fast forward four years later: we're still homeschooling. In many ways I feel like I have just hit my stride. Max is doing better than I think he would be doing at any public school, I have no doubt about that. And now we have the twins home with us. They did kindergarten in a public school, a charming place in that large city we used to live in, but when we moved it seemed a good opportunity to try homeschooling with them as well. So here we are. Any more questions?

Happy New Year!

I know, I know, if I were a serious writer this missive would have taken place a couple of days ago, but weirdly enough I have been way too busy reading blogs to write on my own...well, in between the brandy in my morning coffee here and there, the sleeping in till 9am here and there, and the "hey who wants to watch a movie for no good reason!" shouts to my kids at 3 pm here and there, that is. And lemme tell you - there are a lot of great blogs out there. I wish we all lived on the same block, actually. Think of the house parties we could have.

My hats are off to you all. A very happy new year to you all, too. It's been a pleasure reading your stories.