Friday, May 30, 2008

Poetry Friday

Yesterday I was writing about poppies, and while this poem isn't about my big red poppies waving in the breeze (this one is but it doesn't quite have the mood I wanted), it does combine two of my favourite things: the beach and flowers. We're all in a summer mood today, as the garden blooms and the weather warms and school wanes.

Sea Poppies

Amber husk
fluted with gold,

fruit on the sand

marked with a rich grain,

spilled near the shrub-pines

to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root

among wet pebbles

and drift flung by the sea

and grated shells

and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,

fire upon leaf,

what meadow yields

so fragrant a leaf

as your bright leaf?

And, seeing as I'm on a beach jag, here is another equally evocative poem, albeit slightly more formal.

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The tide rises,
the tide falls,

The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;

Along the sea-sands damp and brown

The traveller hastens toward the town,

And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,

But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;

The little waves, with their soft, white hands,

Efface the footprints in the sands,

And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls

Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore

Returns the traveller to the shore,

And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Poetry Friday is hosted today over at Wild Rose Reader. Hop on over and read what everyone else is up to. And enjoy the waves lapping at your heels.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

You Want To Bet on That?

The poppies are starting to burst all over the garden this week, and each morning we find their furry husks scattered about under the clumps, a somewhat crumpled red poppy waving where a pod was the day before. It's like watching a butterfly come out of its chrysalis - its wings all wet and crinkly and soft. The kids have tried a couple of times to fit the petals back into just a part of the husk, to no avail. The hull of the poppy pod has to be one of the most tactile things around. It's soft and bristley and just begs to be stroked.

Max and I, in a fit of End of the Year-itis, have started betting on which pods will burst next. We have three varieties to choose from: the standard red Oriental, another Oriental called "Princess Victoria Louise," and some Shirley poppies scattered about here and there. The red Orientals are the first so far, but we're really anticipating the Princess Victoria Louises because they have these weirdly elongated layered pods, which are slowly separating like the sides of an articulated bus as it turns a corner. You can see the pale sides coming more into view each day. We almost pulled one apart today, just because, but then came to our senses and left it to come apart without any interference. It's a delightful torture, this waiting around. We're loiterers in the garden, idly betting, hands in our pockets, coins at the ready. Flaneurs. (someone stop me before I start quoting Baudelaire)

Ever glad to be a part of something exciting, the twins are keeping track for us ("Mum! Max! Another poppy in the side border! MUM! MAX!"). They dash onto the deck every morning and gaze about, each hoping to be the first to spot the new one. It's a charming way to start the summer season.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I finally found out what this was

Now I ask you, can YOU identify this plant? Special consideration given to out of town guests...

Updated: It's a member of the Lamiaceae family. Mint family. And, it's from Down Under. The leaves are about 1cm long, and the flowers about 2cm long.

How FDPG Spends Her Time of Late

Tea, toast, and the newspaper. What a little old lady. She was reading an article about a floating bridge and local efforts to fix it. She loves floating bridges. Well, that particular floating bridge, anyhow.

How I Spent An Hour

Last week I noticed some eggs under the hose hanger in the backyard and thought I should take some pictures of them before they hatched, because I could tell they were ladybug eggs. Usually I am joined at the hip with my camera, but for some reason I kept forgetting it (I got sidetracked by some new artichoke plants and having to dig a bigger bed for them, then I had to go find some hay to mulch them, and so on). Then yesterday, while starting to unwind the hose, I noticed that the little yellow egg cluster had turned white - clear even. They'd hatched!

I felt mildly irritated that I'd missed a perfect David Attenborough-style moment. There is something so irresistible about acting like a total idiot while pretending to be David Attenborough - he always speaks sotto voce and always acts as though he is conducting a serious biology lecture whilst en plein air, so to speak. I have one very funny video I made ages ago, pretending to be David Attenborough and creeping up on Dominic, who was standing by himself in a meadow when he was three. He'd retreated there in a terrible sulk for some reason, and to give myself some amusement about what a sulky creature I'd given birth to I was pretending I was stalking a rare creature known as The Elusive Momo, a grouchy animal who only came out in the late afternoon and had a keen sense of smell, all sorts of rubbishy nonsense, but the funniest thing of all was that somehow Dominic knew I was doing this, even though I was clear across the field at the time - even though he had his hands over his eyes the whole time. I zig zagged around the trees, pretending I was getting extremely rare and valuable footage, whispering into the camera and trying to stay behind him so he wouldn't see me. He remained still as a statue the entire time, and right when I came up behind him he moved his hands, opened his eyes, and laughed into the camera as if we'd rehearsed it. No one who's seen it believes me when I say that I didn't coach him first.

Hmm. Lost my train of thought. Oh yes, David Attenborough and ladybug eggs. A natural combination.

So they'd hatched. I'd missed my moment. I stared at the eggs, then peered at the hose hanger, wondering where they'd gone, when suddenly some teeny tiny little black specks crawled past my eyes. Lots of teeny tiny little black specks. And they were all crawling all over the hose I was about to unwind. I froze, horrified in case I'd inadvertently squished any, then did the only sensible thing I could think to do: I carefully took each one and transferred it to the adjacent lilac bush, all the while wishing I had my David Attenborough camera. Alas, all I was able to get was a hastily snapped shot of them scrambling around on the leaves, no doubt wondering why that winding green carpet had suddenly stopped smelling of plastic.

Monday, May 26, 2008

One Small Square

It's hard to see this picture very clearly, I agree, but I'll describe it to you, if you like.

This was one of the things we did for the local Science (and other stuff) Celebration, organized by some friends of ours. It was inspired by the One Small Square books, which we happened upon last year and were quite taken with. (I'm giving the link for this book because the Canadian link shows the cover of the book) When we were discussing what we might do as our science entry, I suggested this, and initially Max (the Skeptic) said "That's not very interesting, I mean, just how much can one little area in your garden change in a month?" Now that remark, I feel compelled to point out to those of you who do not know the obsessed to the point of zealotry gardener that I am, was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. How much can the garden change? Hello? Have you not been watching me obsess over the plants for the past, uh, 11 years of your life? I felt like saying, but being the relatively mature adult that I am supposed to be am, I repressed it and instead used that old chestnut: "Why don't we try it and find out?"

And so we did.

Here's the first post I wrote about our initial attempts.

We took pictures of the garden from where I thought I'd taken the last one the exact same position each week.

We shooed Toffee out of the square.

We drew pictures of the plants and went to our botany books to identify them.

We shooed Toffee out of the square.

We sat quietly and watched the various birds come and go in our small square. Max made notes of what we saw, being the keen birder that he is.

We shooed Toffee out of the square.

Mostly we enjoyed watching the garden change over the six weeks or so that this project took. I found it so therapeutic that whenever I felt the vague rumbles of Grouchy Mum, or the mutinous mutterings of the Greenridge Enfants Terribles, I'd shout "Let's go check the small square!" and we'd all race outside, excited and delighted for the most part. And even if the kids we weren't so excited and delighted with the change of venue, by the time the kids we had been outside for twenty minutes they we were more often than not infused with enough fresh oxygen to cheer them us up until it was feeding time at the zoo lunch time.

And then it was time to put it all together into a Presentation. We took a colour photocopy of the book cover, altered it slightly, and then mounted the photos and made detailed sections of what the kids had seen. Max did the bird drawings, FDPG did the insect drawings, and Dominic did the Silly Comments (which sustained us in the wee hours). We included a photo of Toffee sitting in the square, seeing as how he'd done so much of it (and convulsed the kids each and every time he'd done so). And when they'd finally finished it, they were quite thrilled with themselves.

And lo and behold but only yesterday Max said to me, apropos of nothing "Wow, it's amazing how much the garden has changed in just a few weeks, isn't it?"

I tell you, it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear that. Sometimes these things are worth the effort.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Poetry Friday

Yesterday started out rather overcast - not gloomy, I hasten to add - and as such was a perfect day for taking pictures. Perfect. Overcast skies don't do much for basking and lolling in the garden, but they do wonders for making photos look lush. So here, as my PF offering, is a Greenridge Garden Tour, with a short poem by Karla Kuskin to start us off. I chose this poem because it rollicks along with all the joy and excitement and bounce I feel when I see my garden come back to life again after the winter. I too want to swing and shout and sing (I also like to see those black Mason bees represented in poetry). This poem made my kids laugh out loud. It made me laugh out loud. It made me want to repeat it over and over again, which is exactly what great kids' poetry ought to do.

Wander and enjoy the tour...


Karla Kuskin

I'm shouting
I'm singing

I'm swinging through trees

I'm winging sky-high
With the buzzing black bees.

I'm the sun
I'm the moon

I'm the dew on the rose.

I'm a rabbit

Whose habit

Is twitching his nose.

I'm lively

I'm lovely

I'm kicking my heels.

I'm crying "Come dance"

To the freshwater eels.

I'm racing through meadows

Without any coat

I'm a gamboling lamb

I'm a light leaping goat

I'm a bud
I'm a bloom

I'm a dove on the wing.

I'm running on rooftops

And welcoming spring!

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews. Stop by and see some of the other poems on offer around town. Thanks for hosting Becky!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

We went to see this today. Last week I showed FDPG the trailer on Quick Time to see if she would get totally freaked out by it find it intriguing enough to want to see in the theatre, because I knew the boys and I would have a great time with all those swords and centaurs. But, as I've mentioned more than four million times once, FDPG is an impressionable little FDPG. She's been known to have the odd nightmare, although this thankfully seems to be a thing of the past (you're probably looking at the photo above and thinking "You idiot! You took her to see something with men dressed like THAT in it and you think her nightmares are a thing of the past? Feckless fool!" now, aren't you?) But lest you think me completely irresponsible, I did prep her a bit by showing her the first film - Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - on the weekend. And she loved it.

If you've read the book, you might find the plot has been changed slightly, not for the worse, although there were an awful lot of battle scenes. In fact, if I had to give the battles a percentage mark of their own, I'd say they took up at least 90% of the action, but in the opinions of Max and Dominic, this was clearly a Good Thing. The fantastical characters were again created by those masterminds at WETA, and were, for the most part, pretty decent-looking, although I thought the centaurs were a bit clunky this time compared to the first film. I was also slightly distracted by my kids whispering MR. TUMNUS! rather loudly every time they saw a satyr, but I digress.

The story opens with Prince Caspian a lovely bit of eye candy a young Prince about to have his throne (and life) usurped by his Evil Uncle (above photo, in some rather fetching battle gear even if it does look as though he's just stepped in from a Shakespeare play), being spirited out of a castle by a Sympathetic Tutor. Caspian is sent off with the usual blessings for safe travel, the inevitable "Wish I could have told you more about your past" fare-thee-well, and a mysterious package (which turns out to be the horn of Narnia, although how his tutor came to have it is never dealt with in the film). What with one thing and another, Caspian lands in the laps of some Narnians and blows the horn which summons back the Pevensie children. You might have seen this scene in trailers - we had - but we were all thrilled to see the walls of the Tube in London fly away like roof tiles, while the train racketed by and the Pevensies gaped in delighted disbelief. One of them (Susan?) even said "I can feel magic!" and I didn't groan a bit, so there you go. Almost complete suspension of belief.

It's been only a year London time since the Pevensies were last in Narnia, but more than 13oo years Narnian time, and time hasn't passed pleasantly in either place. The older Pevensies, Peter and Susan, are obviously struggling with having gained and lost both crown and stature, while things in Narnia are even more grim. The Evil Uncle rules the Telmarine, a sort of medieval conquistador people, who seem to do little more than squabble about power in poorly lit rooms. I thought the changes in Narnia were initially dealt with rather heavy-handedly: "If you're treated as an animal you start acting like an animal" (in reference to a menacing bear) was one phrase that had me squirming, but the Telmarines were fun. They were mostly tall, dark, and handsome, and clanked around impressively in their armour, rolling their eyes and their R's with equal dramatic flair. A little clichéed, perhaps, but fun.

Anyhow, once the children are spirited back to Narnia, they start exploring the ruined castle they'd once lived in, their memories gradually returning. Without too much messing about, they don their Narnian clothing and set off, where they run into a helpful but awkwardly surly dwarf, and, eventually, Prince Caspian, who has convinced the Narnians to join forces with him to defeat Evil Uncle. We see satyrs and centaurs, dwarves and talking badgers, and comic relief comes in the form of a talking squirrel with a sword. The head centaur pledges allegiance, Peter and Caspian spar a bit, Lucy agonizes over Aslan, and Susan reprises her exasperated eye-rolling from the previous film. If I sound a tad ho-hum about it all it's because I was, but my kids loved every bit of it, even FDPG. She particularly loved the talking squirrel. I was too busy being shocked by the changes in Lucy and Edmund. Both of them looked as though they'd grown a foot since the last film. Gone was the heartbreaking little girl who'd made me cry so much in the first film, but this Edmund was much improved from the Edmund of old. He was self-assured, shouted useful things in all the right places, and had more than a few good lines.

The film looks as though most of the money and effort was spent on the battle scenes, and they are pretty impressive, but I wish they'd put more time and attention into the battle-free bits. This film didn't tug at my heart the way the first one did. And my oh my but I also wish I'd known about the Hag and the Werewolf, even if we did get a taste of the incomparable Tilda Swinton (who makes me want to say "Oh Ludwig!" every time I see her). I had just enough time to cover FDPG's eyes, but only just. Ug-ah-LEE! as Dominic said. Indeed. There is also one rather distressing scene where a lot of Narnians are left to be slaughtered, but that's all I'll say. For the most part it's typical C. S. Lewis: a blend of mythological themes, bittersweet adult regret, and childish wishes, with the usual Hollywood mania for Big Action, and we all quite liked it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Poetry Friday

It's been a while since I've posted a poem for Poetry Friday. In a word: hectic. I could say that I've been too deeply absorbed in the garden, as well as the Greeks and an upcoming Science Fair for the kids, but that's just window-dressing, isn't it? Often the reason I don't post is because I've left it too late to write a thoughtful PF post. So I leave it, thinking "Next week I'll start thinking about it earlier." Yes, I AM very Scarlet-like; the only thing I never put off until tomorrow is the garden work.

Anyhow, I should preface this by saying that in our homeschool we do a lot of poetry memorization. I'd dropped it with my eldest for half this year, but it turns out that he really likes it, and has been memorizing all the twins' poetry selections simply by listening to them each week. So out came the Longer Poetry book. I think Jabberwocky was his first choice, then a Robert Frost. Now he's working on Cockpit in the Clouds, by Dick Dorrance. And he's still memorizing all the twins' poems.

The first poem all three of my kids learned was Christina Rossetti's Caterpillar, which goes something like this:

by Christina Rossetti

Brown and furry,
Caterpillar in a hurry.
Take your walk,
To the shady leaf or stalk.
May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you,
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.

Simple, yes, but it has charmed all of us. I've got recordings of all three kids reciting it, we're so charmed with it. Periodically we taken them out, dust them off, and watch them. It's funny to see them sitting solemnly in front of the camera, and they all have such vastly different recitation styles. Max used to gallop along like there was no tomorrow, breathless and giddy with nerves. There was no mistaking the meter in anything he recited. We have one very funny recording of him (then age 7) doing Robert Louis Stevenson's Windy Nights, and let me just say (in the interests of not humiliating anyone in particular) that Max was galloping right along with ole RLS. Katie is more pain-staking, getting very annoyed if she flubs a word or some of the rhythm, but more often than not nailing it in one swift blow. She sits quietly, hands in her lap, and looks calmly into the camera. It's rather daunting, to be honest, watching her. I sometimes feel like the fly to her spider. Dominic is different. He likes doing his poems, but initially he found the camera slightly terrifying, yet he insisted on being recorded right along with his siblings. He also struggled at first. Memorizing long lines of words was not something he found easy, so it was all the more gladdening to see him perk up this winter and take far more delight in listening and memorizing the poetry we studied. And yesterday, Dominic (aka The Quiet Child), rewrote the Rossetti poem a bit, after observing our cat Toffee leaping wildly around in the springtime weather. I'm including here for my PF offering. Thanks, Dominic.

by Dominic (age 6)

Blurry furry,
Toffee in a hurry.
Take your walk,
To eat a crunchy stalk.
May no hawk spy you,
May the little birds fly by you,
Twirl and fly,
To live again,
A Toffeefly.

This last line refers to watching Toffee fall out of the willow tree. We all hoped he would land rather more gracefully, but alas, our Toffee is no butterfly in the making.

Poetry Friday is at writer2b today. Thanks for hosting, writer2b, and enjoy the day, everyone!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Signs of Almost Summer!

Asparagus! Some first shoots are making their way out of the ground. They are a little on the skinny side and can't be harvested this year, but as they are from 1 year old crowns I am told that I can start harvesting next year.

I feel so delighted with them.

(I'm having my own Animal, Vegetable, Miracle minute right now)

Tarragon. Look at that wavy gentle green. Gorgeous, isn't it? We love tarragon with a passion bordering on pathology in our house. We eat it in sandwiches, in veggie wraps, in rice paper wraps, in lettuce roll-ups (seeing a theme here yet?), and even when just wandering around the garden.

We even give it to Henry, the Pig from Guinea, because he loves it too.

Can you guess what this is? I have high hopes of candying the flowers, or using it with elecampagne for a cough syrup. I've never grown it before though.

It has a I'm Going To Be A Large Object written all over it, doesn't it? The main stem is thicker than my thumb.

A heuchera ("Vanilla Spice") I bought last year. I was taken with the blend of red and white and pale green. I've got it next to some Ophiopogon planiscapus "Nigrescens," where it can repose strikingly (we all like to repose strikingly once in a while, right?).

Finally, a little violet I found the other day. It's called "Freckles" and if you can't see it from this picture, I will say that it is oh-so-palely spotted and a lovely shade of blue.

Other new plants in the garden:
Dodecathion "Queen Victoria"
Deschampsia "Tatra Gold"
Sidalcea "Party Girl"
Lemon Verbena (to replace the one that bit the dust the other day when Yours Truly left it outside overnight and it snowed) you can make the most amazing lemon sorbet from this
Monarda "Marshall's Delight" (an incredible pink)
And four blueberry bushes ("Reka" and "Hardyblue")

Sheer Bloody Genius!

(Sheila says oh-so-modestly)

To begin with, you have to know that I am not the sort of person who is good at building things out of wood. I can wield a hammer and nails and wield them enthusiastically; I can even arrange driftwood most artistically in the garden, but no one in their right mind would ever hire me to build anything for them. Ever. But today I discovered something that really thrilled and charmed the Pathetic Inner Builder in me.

First, it actually works.

Second, it's likely to remain in working order for a while.

Third, it's portable (and I love portable garden devices).

What is it, you ask? (can you even see it among all those stakes?) It's a portable trellis. Made from two 6' cedar stakes, a roll of galvanized (non-rusting) chicken wire, and some thin wire left-over from the raspberry trellis. I placed the stakes on the ground, measured up 3" from the bottom, and started attaching the chicken wire on both sides until I reached the top, then folded the top over so it wouldn't slide down too much. Then I stuck the stakes in the ground over my newly planted broad beans. And wonder of wonders but it didn't crumble right there and then.
It all came about because the larger trellis, around which I am growing scarlet runners and peas, was too wide to hang the chicken wire vertically. If I'd hung it horizontally I would have to cut and attach (and eventually run out of) the wire more than even I could deem sensible. After some feelings of extreme frustration and irritation pondering, it suddenly occurred to me to run the chicken wire vertically with two stakes on either side. Sheer bloody genius, I tell you. Doesn't happen very often, either, which is why I am exulting so shamelessly.

What's For Lunch?

I don't know about you all, but as the Provider of Food here at Greenridge Chronicles, I tend to obsess a lot about the food I make. I know my kids obsess a lot over the meals, but if I had to hazard a guess I suspect we come at it from vastly different perspectives. After a lot of thought, I've narrowed my menu angst down to 4 main issues:

- the need to economize
- the sheer bloody monotony of it all (3+ meals a day plus liquids really oppresses the diva in me)
- the need to have it amuse me periodically
- taste

I guess the last should have come first, but really, finances and monotony do tend to come to the forefront with a rather distressing regularity. A visit to Fujiya, the sushi grocery around the corner, has me wishing they could deliver my lunch every single day. Yes, I can make sushi, but it's the not-having-to-make-it I love most. It just magically appears on my plate, without me having to do anything more than pay to get it there. And I love sushi.

Plus, it's not just me partaking of the meals here. I have three surprisingly expressive housemates hanging around all day. Sometimes it seems as if they do nothing but eat eat and eat, then tell me they're hungry. It's exhausting. Thankfully their father is a mild mannered man who knows better than to criticize the food eats what he's given.

For the past two weeks we've been having these things for lunch. They are easy to make, quick to prepare, use a lot of healthy ingredients, and everyone likes them. You use rice paper wrappers and roll them up with whatever you have handy in the fridge chopped vegetables, lettuce, cold cooked fish or chicken, and spices. Today we used fennel fronds, tarragon, and mint, all fresh from the garden, mixed with shredded lettuce and a can of salmon. I think I used a little balsamic vinegar as well.
Here's a picture of the ingredients before I rolled them up. The rice wrappers are in the forefront, on the dishtowel.

A Summer of Living Semi-Dangerously

This is mildly strenuous for the twins, but fun enough that they are out here every second they get, climbing into the willow via the two avenues open to them, or swinging on the boat float. In our last house we had a giant cherry tree (a seriously overgrown behemoth at least 80' high) that we attached a couple of floats with ropes to as swings. It was a miracle none of them ever flew off because they sure went high on those swings (leaving me with flashbacks to a cousin who fell out of a tree, required a metal head plate, and was never again the same). The kids were all rather sad when we moved here and found we hadn't any trees of note in the yard. I had some good intentions to build a tree fort last summer, but finances being what they were the floats continued to languish, then the other day I came across the rope ladder in a DIY store and couldn't help but buy it. Richard went a step further and made some limb steps for the tree itself.
My original plan included a platform and one of those long plastic slides off the end. We'll see how far we get this summer!