Sunday, July 27, 2008

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

No, sadly, no jet planes in my future. 

What am I saying, I hate flying. Not because I'm afraid of heights, but because my very morbid self is convinced I'm going to crash, each and every time. 

But I am leaving for a few days. Amuse yourselves, will you. No arguing. No fighting. Keep your rooms clean. Presents when I return. Promise.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Flowers in the Garden

Bergamot ("Marshall's Delight")

So far this variety hasn't appeared at all susceptible to mildew, something my other bergamots seems prone to here on the Wet West Coast.

I love the colour, too - it's such a change from the usual red.

"Monet's Palette" Sunflowers. This is the yellow and brown combination; other mixtures are brown and yellow, dark brown and light brown, dark brown and yellow, light brown and yellow, and well, you get my drift. They are madly tall and have remarkably sturdy stems, so the summer winds will do little to them. And boy, these things are tough. I planted them once and only once - two years ago in ANOTHER city - and they made their way here with us. I think they must have come with the compost; when I dug up my favourite plants to bring with us, I potted everything in the compost (so I could bring that too). And let me tell you, if that makes you laugh or roll your eyes, you are obviously not a madly obsessive to the point of driving your family crazy dedicated gardener. I think you know who you are. (Sheila clears her throat expectantly)
A poppy. No idea what variety. I have zillions of these things, in varying aspects of frilly leaf, non-frilly leaf, veering towards pink, careering towards purple, firmly red, even more firmly white, and they all appear to have come from the same mother plant. Interesting case study in genetics, that's for sure. A "Black Watchman" hollyhock. I flung the seeds into the lozenge bed last summer, after four years of fully intending to plant them in Vancouver. They languished in my garden bag, looking very atmospheric (I can't resist weird colours and varieties). Or maybe I did plant them and they never took. I don't remember. But last summer, while we were renovating this behemoth of a house, I gave them a breath of hot air (something I have in abundance, according to my family) and tossed them into the soil. Lo and behold but this year they flowered.

Just in case you are wondering, technically they are not black. They are deepest darkest red, something you see most clearly when the sun shines through them. And yes, they are just as susceptible to rust as every other bloody hollyhock. I solved the problem by ripping off most of the leaves. I left those nearest the top, as they weren't affected. And they are perfectly lovely.

The Difference A Day Month Makes

The latest in flash forward photography from Greenridge Studios...

Above you have two artichoke plants sitting in a bed of straw, with a butternut squash plant squished beside them. This photo was taken on the 22nd of June.
Here is the same tableau, one month later. The two original plants are now taller than ME. 
(sorry for the blurry picture but it was 9:30 pm when I took it and I hate using a flash)

But wait! There's more!

This, this...

And this! Four plants, each with at least 2 artichoke heads on them. I can see a saucer of warm aioli in our future...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Biking With Sheila

A photo montage in five acts.

Here are some children bicycling nicely through the woods. (Sheila squints carefully) Oh wait, those are my children. You can't see them all, but there are three children there. Oh, and a husband. Don't forget the husband. He's in the very front. And yes, we all have helmets on. Unbecoming, hair-squishing helmets.

This path is just for people on bikes and people on foot. No cars. Our house is on a hill overlooking this path and we spend a lot of time watching the action. Sometimes you see horses (watch out for the horse poo!) and sometimes you see flocks of Spandex People, intent on their own agendas. "Hey lady, get your kid under control!" one of them yelled at me once, after almost colliding with FDPG. I won't tell you what my reply was, because I don't want to singe your ears, but let's just say I didn't hold back. Once we saw some Spandex People collide with each other. They didn't hold back either.
Very early in the mornings you sometimes see the dim headlights of the odd moped, taking an illegal shortcut from a late-night debauchery in town. It's a lively place to go biking. You can ride all the way into town. Oh look! There are those children again, riding across a trestle bridge. That's Max in the wind-filled blue t-shirt. He also has a Magic 8 Ball helmet but you can't see that. There was a stage in his life with that helmet when he would love to have known that I'd told you about his Magic 8 Ball helmet. He also has Magic 8 Ball pens, Magic 8 Ball party favours, and the standard Magic 8 Ball, he liked them so much. Some days we'd ask the Magic 8 Ball if I was going to be Nice Mum or Evil Hag to him that day, and some of us would roar with laughter at the absolute hilarity of that question, but I digress. Now he's more circumspect about his Magic 8 Ball accumulations. I don't know if I'm more circumspect. Somehow I doubt it.

Here we are almost downtown. That's the city centre you see off in the distance. We don't live in a very large city, which means that the city centre is rather on the small and easily captured by a camera side.

A bridge. Mountains. Sun glinting on the water. Condominiums. A boat.At one point we ride over a highway. I like this view. It seems so prettily incongruous for a highway view: green trees, rolling hills, clean roads. When I lived in California everyone I'd meet, when apprised of my Canadian-ness, always hastened to tell me how clean (the part of) Canada (that they'd visited) was. I heard it so much I grew to believe them each and every time. In some ways it is cleaner than parts of Southern California. Like this bit here. (or did I Photoshop the garbage out? Only my hairdresser computer knows for sure)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mamma Miaow

Mrs G went to ogle Colin Firth see this movie on the weekend. She included several photos of Colin looking as scruffy and sexy as ever, and if I had something to edit my pictures, the following photo would have giant Xs over everyone but Colin, because I too love Colin.
"Are you going to marry him?" my husband always says at this point, convulsed by his stupid remarks wit. Sometimes I sigh and roll my eyes at him (he is SO mature, I think).

Sometimes I say "YES! I just might, if I can get the girl with the happy face dress away from him long enough."

I too had intended to see this film this very same weekend, but alas, my trip to the cinema date with Colin was not to be. As I stood in line with some friends (and about 800 people not going to see Colin on their way to see The Dark Knight), someone in front of us started a rumour, which turned out, sadly, to be true: Mamma Mia was already sold out. Our ogling session had been terminated before it had even started. Sob.

So, I went home and hugged Toffee. He's cute, he's furry, and he likes to be mauled. I pretended he was Colin. I sang a couple of ABBA numbers to him. He tolerated me for a while. Then he decided that having me take pictures of his butt was more fun. Here are some pictures from our brief and slightly deranged photo session.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One Less Than Five, One More Than Three

One two three four....

Do you like Feist? I like Feist.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What We Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder, J.K. Rowling, and Diana Wynne Jones

We do read alouds in our family, which means that I read while the kids listen. We do it every morning. It wasn't something I'd intended to do when we started homeschooling, or desperately wanted to do with the kids. It just started. It was a fluke, really, when I look back. 

It was like this: I had a book from the library.  It wasn't getting read, by anyone. It was a good book - I was sure it was. I couldn't remember reading it as a kid, but I knew it had Potential. And it had to go back to the library. So after breakfast I started reading it to the kids. I read four chapters, then closed the book and said, without looking at the kids, "Okay, now let's get on with the rest of the day." I looked up and saw my kids staring back at me, open-mouthed, with wide eyes. "Do we have to stop NOW?" they all asked, with a slight tinge of shock in their eyes, "that is SUCH a great book!" 

I thought about it. I looked at the book. Then I said, "If we get some good work done this morning I will read more at lunch." They did, so I did. And before you knew it, we'd read the first book in the Little House series: Little House in the Big Woods. I don't know why, but this series caught ALL our imaginations. We discussed Laura and her family as if they were our next door neighbours; the kids argued over who was nicer: Laura or her dad; and I blogged about them. We spent at least a few minutes each day contemplating the wonderful Garth Williams sketches ("Oh look! There's Jack chasing a rabbit!"). It was enthralling to read about someone who lived in a house they'd built themselves, not to mention people who didn't automatically expect a visit from Santa Claus each and every winter. We were gripped in a fever of people who worked hard, lived thoughtful lives, and did everything themselves. Where were their TVs, telephones, libraries, hot water tanks, flush toilets, dollar stores, and Lego sets? Not to sound too naive, but was a completely new Moral Universe for us, in so many ways.

Then I went to the library to get the next in the series, but it wasn't there. It was out. Never mind, we would take a page from the Little House girls and not complain. We would look on the bright side. It dawned on me that this new Little House Moral Universe was aiding and abetting my own Prime Directive as a parent.   

So we started with the Harry Potter series. Max and I had already read them, but the twins hadn't. We read the first one: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (unless you're in the US and have had your copy butchered to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). Same response: pure absorption from the kids. We talked about Harry. We talked about Ron. We talked about Hagrid. And every so often, when we were all feeling heavy from the constant rain, I would wear a satin red cape (from my Welsh grandmother) and pretend I was Professor McGonagall, using a ripe Scottish accent to convulse the kids into enjoying their math. Even better, I found the DVDs for $5 each and bought them all, promising a viewing after each book. We read the first two books and watched the first two movies. And yes, I blogged about these books too. How COULD Draco be so mean? How COULD Dumbledore not notice the terrible things happening to Harry? And those awful Dursleys. Ugh. Another new Moral Universe to contemplate. Less clear cut, but it insinuated itself into our daily lives just the same: we'd magic away things that were bothering us; we shouted "Expelliaramus!" at everything just for the heck of it, and the kids were all very thankful that their parents hadn't died and left them in the care of people like the Dursleys. More assistance for the parental Prime Directive. I was liking this Read Aloud time a lot.

Then By the Banks of Plum Creek came in, recalled from the library. So off we went, back to Little House Land. Oddly enough, it wasn't such a tough transition. We just moved into a different neighbourhood, with new but equally exciting neighbours, albeit a little on the sedate side after giants, flying broomsticks, and spells. We read about wading in creeks, nasty girls named Nellie, party dresses, the perfection of cold, sweet lemonade, living in sod houses, reliable dogs named Jack, and such mysterious things as button strings. Even now, the phrase "plum thicket" whirls me back into a hot summer day, wading in the creek with my skirts up, bonnet strings dangling down my shoulders. I can only imagine what it does for my kids.

We read through By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and even The First Four Years, although by then the magic of the Ingalls' world was fading a bit. Detailed paragraphs about fabric and lace and sewing and marriage weren't high on my kids' list of Interesting Things To Read About. Still, to this day we talk about Laura and her family as if we knew them. When Max is peevish and unhelpful, I remind him how Laura had to look after her sisters for a whole week while her parents took Mary to the college for the blind, and she was just a few years older than he is now (and she spring cleaned the entire house!). When FDPG moans about dinner, I remind her about what they didn't eat during The Long Winter. That usually silences everyone. When we eat a meal composed entirely of garden produce - from our garden - Dominic says "this is just like a Little House dinner!" And when we hear a violin dancing on its own on the radio, Max asks if Pa played like that. 

When we finished the Little House series, I cast about a bit for something else to read. I blogged here about FDPG and the scariness factor of the Harry Potter series and how I didn't want to go on to the next novel, knowing how it (and the film) might affect her and her dream world. Plus, she and her twin were still only six years old, and I didn't think boggarts and Dementors were Suitable Subject Matter for six year old imaginations. Then we found Diana Wynne Jones, a British writer much akin to J.K. Rowling in that she writes about magic universes, but with less emotional emphasis and vastly more creative license. Suddenly such things as 100 league boots, fire demons, and magical suits were common parlance, not to mention the hilarity caused by chapter headings such as Chapter Eight: In which Sophie leaves the castle in several directions at once. We looked forward to those chapter headings, let me tell you. We'd ponder them, I'd ask why Wynne Jones used them - it showed the kids new things about writerly intent and comic appeal. They started creating their own chapter headings for moments in their day: In which Max learns how to wash a glass without incurring the wrath of his mother, or In which Toffee learns that wet food only comes his way once a day, or In which Dominic learns to make his bed. More fodder for the parental P.D. 

And so we read through almost the entire Wynne Jones oeuvre: Charmed Life, Lives of Christopher Chant, Mixed Magics, Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week, Castle in the Air and The Game. We were introduced to the intoxicating world of Chrestomanci, a sensible fellow who seemed to have the wisdom of the world at his fingertips. We met treacherous sisters, silly ladies, goddesses named Milly, tricky Uncles and Greek mythological figures come to life. It was a truly magical few months, reading all those books: so many people, so many different stories, so many emotions and events. So many clever writers.

I could say that the kids learned how a good author can recycle something seemingly commonplace (a Greek myth) and turn it into something new and inventive. I could also say that they learned a great deal about telling a good story, plot devices, settings, and character development (not to mention those intangibles of moral courage and facing adversity). Because they did learn all those things. Not didactically, by answering chapter questions or writing essays, but more as an "along the way" experience, an experience that permeated their lives as they brushed their teeth, got dressed and played together in the afternoons. An experience that coloured the ways they interacted with each other, reflected on their own lives, and treated their friends and neighbours. And I've got my fingers crossed that they won't forget them any time soon. 

I Scream!

Here is FDPG eating a drumstick. A drumstick that I made with my very own hands (Sheila says smugly). Well, I say smugly because it was a little on the messy side (plus I was on the almost-despairing-to-the-point-of-throwing-them-out-the-window side). But I prevailed in the end, just like a Jane Austen heroine.

I got the recipe from Nicole at Baking Bites. If you click here you can too.

Idling the Summer Away

I love summer. I love having a break in the routine, too, although I'm seeing little signs here and there that my kids miss their school time. FDPG is sighted every so often, madly shuffling through her math and spelling books (when she isn't teaching Dominic how to write in Cushion Language), while Dominic has taken it into his head to listen to every 'Read Along' book he owns (a fair few, having inherited all of his brother's). Max, at the grand old age of eleven and a half, is less rudderless and far more sanguine, knowing that come September he'll be back to "all that work" I "make" him do (which in grouchier moments becomes "force"). He alternates between reading on his bed, doing the most involved and witty Lego plays for the twins, and taking FDPG to task for her (yes, even I admit it) very messy ways.

And I, I bask.*

*another in Sheila's longed for alternate reality moments

The garden is starting to produce in earnest now: peas, strawberries, raspberries, radishes, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, rocket, rhubarb, and buckets of herbs (fennel, dill, tarragon, mint, sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram). Each morning we plop raspberries on our cereal and laugh at their wonderful tanginess. At dinner we have salads: salads of fennel fronds and chopped mint, salads of crunchy peas and radishes, salads of grated carrots and snippets of dill. We boil tiny new potatoes with mint and eat them with our fingers (and a sprinkle of Spike). Last night we had sushi rolls bursting with fresh tarragon. For dessert I bake rhubarb and strawberries into crisps and crumbles. And in between we gaze lovingly (well, I do) at the peaches and apples and figs hanging on the branches of the trees. Or loll under the apple trees and watch the birds flit around the branches, drinking in the scent of the sweet peas. I tell my kids that they must remember these finger-stained and fragrant moments for when it's wet and winter dark outside.

It's memories like these I wish I could tie up and deliver to friends who ask wonderingly "Why do you like to garden so much?" I'd just hand it over, a neat little bundle, all warm and snug and colourful and oh so fragrant. "That's why I garden," I could say, "because of all that."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Drinking and Driving and Six year Olds

One of the running conversations we have in our house has to do with What Might Happen If.

What Might Happen If we fall off our very high deck whilst balancing on the edge. 
What Might Happen If we break something precious while doing something extremely stupid (especially if we were already told not to, ahem). 
What Might Happen If we lie about something truly critical. 

And so on. (feel free to insert your own drama) But the point being that there are certain actions that have, in Harry Potter parlance, unforgivable consequences (broken limbs, split skulls, lost trusts, broken-hearted mothers, or even worse - really furious mothers).

One of my usual scenarios features the concept of drinking (alcohol) and driving (moving vehicles). I have a lot of "what was I thinking?" memories from my youth, which is probably why I am slightly hung-up on it. Memories of careering across bridges in rickety cars with drunken boys at the helm. Memories of friends' brothers paralyzed for life after trying to tightrope walk electric lines at drunken parties. Memories of doing an awful lot of awfully stupid things while in an intoxicated state. Too much of something mind-altering combined with way too much exuberance and carelessness. The older I get the more mild surprise I develop that I managed to survive half that stuff.

So my new Official Motherly Advice to the kids is this: no matter where you are, or what time it is, I'll come and pick you up if you really need it. Even better, I will not be mad. Please remember this, I tell them. I will be very sad if anything were to happen to you, I tell them. Very sad.

Yesterday we were out running some errands and FDPG told us all that she needed to get a cell phone. Why? I asked. For when I go to parties, she says. For when I need to call you to come and get me. That won't be for a while, I told her, you're six! Six year olds don't drink (peals of laughter from the back seat at the hilarity of this). Ha, she says, that's what you think. I plan on being very busy when I get older and there might be drunk people around then. Can you come get me if I am on another continent, she asks? Not immediately, I say. Can FDPG get undrunk? Dominic pipes up, suddenly concerned at his sister's wild future. 

I can see this conversation is going to take on some interesting permutations. For all of us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

They're back...

No, NOT aliens. I'm not talking aliens. I'm talking children. As in mine. My kids come back today. All three of them. I knew I should've agreed to a longer visit. I'm not ready for them to come back. Wait! I haven't finished cleaning the house! I haven't cleared off the kitchen table! I still have to do something about That Pile in the bedroom! 

I have too much dignity to insert an actual photo but imagine me running around, much like a flustered squirrel, panicking at the idea of losing the peace and quiet currently enveloping the house. Ignore the Ron Sexsmith CD blasting out of the stereo. Tilt your head a bit at that windmill over in the corner. Concentrate. Yes, THAT peace and quiet. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sans Enfants

That's right, I am temporarily childless. Some I always knew she was crazy charming family member offered in a fit of insanity to have all three of my children over for a few days, to feed them too much sugar to give me a break in my routine. The fact that all three kids, as they were leaving, chorused "Now you can spend ALL DAY in the garden" just shows how little they really know me. Because, my little chickadees, the first thing I did after you left was go shopping. Yes, that's right - shopping. As in clothes shopping. In stores. I think I might even have entered a mall. Gasp. Does it get more exciting than this?


But I'm having fun not hearing the endless "You aren't really going to buy that, are you?" comments from my boys, not to mention the "Oh, mum, you need to get this!" (insert a gaudysequinedluridfurryfluffyandhorriblyinappropriate item of clothing here, held aloft by FDPG, who has inherited her mother's penchant for wearing slightly absurd clothing)

The garden can wait. 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

For Sandy, Wherever I May Find Her

And Sebastian and Leila...

Thought you might like to see some pictures of your plants, none of which are dead (phew, says Sheila, wiping her brow nervously). First, the clematis, reposing comfortably against the pine and the mason bee house in the front yard. It has at least 30 little buds on it. I was a little concerned at first because nothing seemed to want to live in that bed, so I dug out the soil and replaced it. The clematis seemed gratified (just call me Sheila the Plant Whisperer).Next, one of the Monkey Trees. The very happy one. Its a very luminous shade of green. It's protecting the blackberries from those marauding children of mine. Here is the other Monkey Puzzle. It isn't quite so happy, and has told me some very distressing stories (Sebastian? anything you'd like to tell us?) but it has a nice view and hopes to return to its former glory soon.

How can it not, with this to look at every day? Apparently the artichokes and the Monkey Puzzle share a common ancestor (I know, I know, sounds bizarrely far-fetched, but that's what it told me - and I know better than to express skepticism in front of a Monkey Puzzle tree, however small and spindly)

I've told it that when it grows up a bit more it'll be able to lord it over the perennial border. This cheered it up immensely - I can tell it has bossy impulses.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weekly Update

Now that summer is officially here I notice I'm posting less. I've finally decided to deal with the mess we developed over the winter. We've been reworking some of the rooms in this house, because they weren't working as is (they sound like something on sale at IKEA, don't they). And I've been trying to manage the mountains of paper I seem to accumulate. I can tell that I worry Richard in this regard: I can tell he thinks I have Old Woman Smothered by Piles of Paper in Her Own House headlines in me. But it's hard to chuck out all those drawings the kids make. I find old ones and they have enough nostalgia in them to sink a ship.

I've also been working on the garden. I had been collecting beach stones from up island in order to make a long and winding path from the concrete walk to the road (a steep slope) but in a fit of "I hate that spot under that stupid pine"- itis I used them to make a long and winding bed. I laid down newspaper (5 less piles to smother me with later!), sod and several bags of fill and then planted the butterfly plants Max and I had collected. There is the beautiful varigated 'Harlequin' Butterfly Bush, the 'Yellow Sovereign' Phygelius, a silver edge Lavender, and a 'Red Fox' Veronica. And since the adjacent bed was bursting slightly at the seams (who knew Jacob's Ladder could spread quite so fast?), I removed some plants from it and added them to the mix (geraniums, marigolds, evening primroses, and rock plants).
Then, seeing that the pansies were getting the Dreaded Mildew, I went and bought something to replace the ones in a wooden planter I bought last summer. Here it is with some new plants.

The top bit has a 'Shadowdancer Betty' fuchsia while the bottom part has Selaginella 'Aurea,' Corsican Mint, and Pratia 'Celestial Spice' in it. And some more rocks. I like rocks.

Here's a closeup of the bottom bit (you can click for Added Depth). I'm half in love with it, I think. I love the different shades of green.
I'll put up some pictures of the Family Room (where the school stuff is kept) when I've officially finished, providing I don't get smothered by papers first. Here is a picture of the room after I emptied the bookcase (which was driving me nuts and was the real reason I needed to redo this room:

Now, I feel compelled to point out that those piles aren't always there - they are from the bookshelves. Ahem. Just so we all know. I'm not really that messy.

Other amazing feats I've managed this week:

I have discovered that I like potatoes when I grow them myself.

That dust follows me where ever I go.

That my kids still expect me to do history and botany even though it's summer.

And, most amazing of all, I can now get Toffee to close his eyes, roll onto his back, and purr all without touching him. All I have to do is repeat "Toffee, Toffee, Toffee" over and over again, in a soft voice. Pretty amazing, eh? Ha. I can see you all seething with envy at this. Yes, some of us spend our summers beefing up our Latin skills, or taking up Greek, some of us learn to quilt, or go overseas and visit enlightening museums, but I, I have managed to get a cat to turn over and purr on my command. I consider that a well-spent first week of July.