Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

It's Halloween today, which means that I am once again in the throes of baking:

...pumpkins for our gym coop group...

...skeletons for the Beaver party...

...and toadstools for the Brownie party.

In between making goofy crafts with the twins (tissue paper pumpkins! pop-up pumpkin cards! hand-traced bats!) and saying "BEWARE!" a lot. I like Halloween with little kids: things like shouting "BOO!" and "whoooooooooo!" (in menacing tones) always go over so well. Add in a few cookies for breakfast (gosh, how riské!), an It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown or two (or three), and life couldn't get any more exciting. Who needs a dagger that bleeds, I ask you?

Once I finished the costumes, I think I'll be all Martha-d out. FDPG is going as Athena.

"I AM ATHENA! Supreme Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare!" shrieks FDPG at every opportunity.

Well, when she's not waving her Medusa-studded shield in the cat's face. Poor Toffee, he's not a big fan of Greek Goddesses. Always timid, he finds Athena quite alarming.

Dominic is a Forest-Spirit-from-the-movie-Princess-Mononoke, although he seems to remember the film differently than I do. His Forest Spirit has a scythe and skeleton hands. He's got the chattering, tilting head bit down pat though. That's an alien mask he's wearing. It used to be a glow-in-the-dark mask, but now it's painted white.

Max is going, as Richard and I have joked, as a Disaffected Youth: black hoodie, black cape, white face paint, witch's hat. Oh, and don't forget the everpresent Light Sabre. Who could forget that?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Costumes

Every year there is a new trend in Halloween costumes, it seems. One year it was the Scream mask, another year Harry Potter, and this year, judging from a number of the tweens we know, Hannah Montana will be featuring right up there. Not at our house, thank the Halloween spirits, but at least I know what she'll look like when she knocks at our door, and I won't be forced to do my usual spritely "Oh, wow - great!" routine like I have done in years past. Once our neighbour's daughter dressed up as Kim Possible and came to the door with her little brother, who was a more recognizeable Furry Bear. I took one look at her long red wig and said "Cool! Are you a Power Puff Girl or something?" and she burst into tears. Her mother said, rather exasperatedly, "Don't you know who Kim Possible is?" but alas, I did not. Poor kid. Apparently she had similar receptions all night. Fortunately this would not phase my kids: either they are oblivious to the reactions of total strangers or they like being obscure characters. I'm not sure which. But they find it positively delightful when faced with a perplexed Person At A Door. They LOVE to explain just who and what they are.

In the early days I used to sew Halloween costumes. Max, being the first child, was the first recipient of my costume ambitions. His first Halloween, at 10 months, was spent as a Colorado Potato Beetle. Next I made a velvet jester tunic, with little Indian bells on the trim, diamond-shaped patchwork, and silky golden tassles. Once he was a kitten, with soft furry ears and a long spotted tail. He related to that kitten costume big time, and often wore it after Halloween was long past. We have a lot of funny pictures of him preening on the arm of the couch, or curled into a ball on a cushion, or lapping milk out of a saucer on the floor, our own cat looking on perplexedly. As he got bigger he had more elaborate costumes: a lizard, a giant black furry spider, a pirate.

Then the twins came along. It was harder to sew for three, and for some reason the twins seemed more opinionated about their costumes. Dominic never would wear that lizard costume, and Katie couldn't keep her balance in the spider. Besides, she wanted to be "Green Things" and Dominic insisted on being "Yellow Things." So I made more: fairies, elves, bats and pumpkins. Katie spent many happy Halloweens dressed in a glittery green fairy/butterfly costume. One year Max and I glued the contents of a Tube O Bugs to a cricket hat and his Cub shirt and made him a name tag that said "Dr. Arthur O Pod." Amazing how many people in the neighbourhood knew what an arthropod was. The next year we turned him into a television, with the channel tuned to "3D Vampire Vision."

So, after all this relatively gentle Halloweenishness, I found it all the more disconcerting last week when we went to search out a few last minute items for the kids' costumes. Dominic wants to be one of those little nodding Forest Spirits (kodama) from Princess Mononoke and he needed a white mask. Katie initially wanted to be Hermione Granger, but at the last minute changed her mind to Athena, one of the Greek goddesses, so I was hoping to find a big white sheet somewhere. And Max, caught in that space between feeling too old to trick or treat yet still wanting to, simply wanted to see what was Out There.

We went into a couple of regular department stores, those big cheap places one goes for big cheap costume accoutrements. All they had in the white mask line were bleeding horror masks or skeleton masks that had flashing red eyes and horrible decaying faces. We stood there, staring, at all the bleeding costumes for sale. I felt a dreadful pang of dismay that the new trend this year appeared to be The Bleeding Item. Even the swords and daggers bled. And everything seemed so, how do I put it, bleak and terrible. Not a speck of wit or irony or laughter or goofy childish naughtiness anywhere - instead everything was nightmarish and cruel and rotting and malicious. The pirates were creepy, the bank robbers were creepy, the ghosts were creepy, even the skeletons were distinctly fetid-looking. There was no ambiguity anywhere in that aisle. I longed for the days of the innocuous and freely inventive Toddler Costume, and gazed across the aisle at the little kid costumes. I cleared my crushed sensibilities briefly with a few Girl On A Horses and a Clown Kid or two, well, that is, until I saw some of the adult costumes adjacent: Gross Fat Man, Really Drunk Man with Beer Gut, and Man in a Diaper. I feel compelled to point out here that I really do have a sense of humour, but this was all way too depressing. That Fat Person in a Diaper might be ME one day and I don't see myself laughing about it then, either.

So we went to some other stores. We went to second hand stores. We even went into drugstores, desperate for something a little kinder and gentler than those bleeding, menacing nightmares. And finally, we found it: a second-hand alien mask for Dominic. It even looked like the kodama faces. I would paint it white and add some kodama-ish touches. Dominic was happy.

As for FDPG and Max, well, we went to the recycling bin and Micheals for the rest of their costumes. Then we went home and I consoled myself with some chocolate covered raisins from the Halloween stash, trying to banish the Incontinent Old Fat Person in a Diaper images floating in my brain.

Now, if you see a little kid in a white alien mask with a scythe in his hands at your door this Halloween, and a small girl with a gold lamé covered Girl Guide cookie box on her head waving around a shield with a Medusa head on it, not to mention a taller kid with a black hoodie and a light sabre, hanging back a little, just say this:

"Ah, what interesting costumes! You must be —?"

That's all you need to say. They can do the rest. They LOVE to do the rest. Trust me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

That Wascally Wabbit

That's my new name for this person. She's a family member, related to me by marriage. But she's gone and done it again, this time at a wake for another family member. 

Anyhow, while I was doing my Mingle Cheerfully With Complete Strangers routine, she slipped up to the kids, and asked them how they were liking homeschooling.

"Great!" they chorused. 

"But do you have a lot of friends?" she asked.

"Oh yes! Lots. We have a lot of really good friends we do stuff with all the time," they said, enthusiastically. 

"I think you should go back to school," she said, "you'd have more friends."

Then she got up and left. I was watching this exchange from across the room, and wondered what she'd said to make my kids look like that. They were looking puzzled and slightly uneasy.

Now I know. 

And instead of calling her a resentful old bat like I'm tempted to, I'm going to think of her as the Wascally Wabbit to my Elmer Fudd (but a far more, err, competent version, let's say) and tell my kids that adults sometimes say inexplicably stupid things to kids, even when they really should know better. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Clinging To A Raft Of Denial

That's my new phrase for Max. He's going through a phase that even he admits is Contrary Just For The Heck Of It. I like that he can admit it to me so candidly. I like that in a kid. Here are a few of our latest excursions on the raft:

Scenario 1: A Really Bad Smell Emanates From Henry the Pig from Guinea's Cage

Me: "Max, can you come and do something with Henry's cage? It stinks."

Max: "No it doesn't. I don't smell anything. You're just imagining things."

Scenario 2: Max and his Coop Group Duties

Me: "Max, have you finished that project you were supposed to do? It's due on Monday, you know."

Max: "Oh, that, yes, I've finished it." 

We both know he hasn't.

Fast forward 5 days...

Max: "Wait, where's that project I was supposed to do?" 

Me: "You didn't do it, remember?"

Max: "Argh. How come I didn't do it? I thought I did it! Do we have time to do it now?" 

Me: "No."

Scene 3: Walking to the car with lots of library books, CDs, and DVDs

Me: "Can you not carry the library books like that? Give them to me. You're going to drop them all and they'll crack open on the concrete and those CD cases will split and then I'll have to explain to the librarian and feel like a lame mother who lets her kids run wild with the library stuff."

Max: "No they won't. They won't. See, I have them perfectly balanced. You worry about nothing."

40 items crash to the concrete

Max: "Oh give me a break! I had them all perfectly balanced. I KNOW I did!"

And at each scenario I say, without a trace of irony in my voice...

"Max, are you still clinging to your raft of denial?"

It gives us a laugh, if nothing else.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Winter Gardening

I'm attempting a winter garden this year, planting broccoli, kale, beets, and chard. Only broccoli is a favoured vegetable in the kids' repertoire, so it will be interesting (Sheila says very diplomatically, eyebrows raised ever so slightly) to see how the kale and chard are received. I can usually tempt them with steamed and buttered beets, particularly if they are golden beets, but kale goes over better if I purée it in a smoothie. What I can't see won't poison me...that's FDPG's adage. Funny kid, that one. She'll drink a dark, green, sludgy liquid as long as it's sweet (Sheila's tip #694: frozen bananas add a serious amount of sweetness to a smoothie).

I didn't plant any cabbage or brussell sprouts because Richard and I don't like them very much. In fact, one of the things that sealed him as a deal for me was our mutual dislike of most brassicas. I know, I know, how very highbrow of me. I'm posh that way. My snobbery extends to all things edible.

I wonder how long this winter garden of mine will last. I may have to tent it with some plastic later, but for now the temperatures here are a rather balmy 14ºC. Well, balmy for this part of the world.

Oh, and all that weird white stuff around the plants? Why, it's my creative slug repellant. And by gosh, it works (fancy that).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Seasonal Extensions

This isn't a massively big cold frame, but it's roomy enough to fit ten pots of peppers. My dad built it for me from a pattern I found in an ancient gardening magazine. You only need one sheet of plywood, some hinges, and some plastic (for the lid insets).

We've had a few cold mornings lately, with the temperatures dropping to 10ºC (and once or twice even lower than that), so I've been watching the plants in this cold frame closely to see how they are handling the cold. So far only the basil is having a tough time. The peppers, as long as I barely water them, are fine. I even have more peppers growing, but the newest hot peppers have no bite to speak of - they need the summer heat.

My eventual intention is to put the salad mint and some lettuces in here this winter. If it gets really cold I might put in a heat mat, but I want to see just what can be grown in this thing.

A Bed For Garlic

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to plant some garlic this fall. I even have some specially-purchased-gourmet-organic-garlic-in-many-intriguing-varieties this time, too. Usually I save all my sprouting-little-green-shoots garlic (which comes from who knows where because I buy it either in giant bags at Costco or bulk in the local grocery store) and stick them in the ground in the spring. Then I hope for the best. I have yet to get the best out of these little sprouts, sadly; they do alright, but only alright, so this morning, after reading one too many article detailing the best way to plant garlic, I told Richard at breakfast that we (as in the royal we) needed to build another bed. A bed for the garlic. Interestingly (or should that be "disturbingly"?) Richard didn't blink an eye. "Okay," was about all he said. Well, other than "what do you want it to be built from?" I wanted brick, because so much of the rest of the garden is decorated in Moldy Old Gray Brick, but that proved too pricy, so we settled for good old cedar planks. And there it is there, sitting ever so evenly on the ground in front of the bamboo. And lo but I even had enough compost left over to fill the thing (it's 1o' X 5').

Now, to plant the garlic.

Craft Project #320: Creative Slug Repellant

First, you get yourself a food processor. Place it on the counter in your kitchen, preferably near an electrical socket. Plug it in.

Fill it full of egg shells that you have collected over many months.

Turn it on.

Pulverize those shells. Turn them into little bits.

Cover the feeder tube so the dust doesn't invade your kitchen.

When you are done the egg shells should look like this (move your eyes a little to the left). Store in a tub with a lid. Sprinkle generously on little plants. Replenish if needed.

I have green bucket with a lid on a shelf in the kitchen, and I toss all our egg shells into it. It doesn't stink and it fills up every few months - it's sort of surprising how they add up. And every few months I grind them up and toss them into the garden. It works amazingly well.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Putting the Garden to Bed

I spent most of this week being boringly ill, which in the grand scheme of things meant that all the garden chores I had intended to do over the week, in bits and pieces of time, really built up. This is the time of year when tomatoes need their final picking, when squash and pumpkins need picking and storing, when compost bins need emptying and turning and refilling, when bulbs need planting, and so on. So after breakfast I gathered the clippers, the shovel, my gloves, and the bulbs I wanted to plant: dwarf narcissus "Minnow"; Azureum allium, fritillaria "Imperialis Rubra"; "Rembrandt" tulips, more daffodils, some crocus, and some garlic ( Music, Yugoslavian, Silver Skin) from the Gourmet Garlic Farms in Cherryville, B.C., and went outside with the twins.

The twins picked most of the remaining tomatoes while I clipped and trimmed and hauled things around. I took our fat orange pumpkin from its growing seat on the trike and set it in a warm sheltered place to cure for a bit. The other pumpkins we grew are sitting at the door of the mini greenhouse but this one is too big. I spread the remainder of the straw over where the new bed will be next year, on the hot grassy slope in between the raspberries and the marion berries. I emptied one of the compost bins. Part of it went into the bed with the winter vegetables (kale, broccoli, chard and beets) and the rest was spread over the asparagus bed. Apparently asparagus really like rich soil, and because I really like asparagus, I'm humouring them with my very best compost and my very best seaweed fertilizer. Then I filled the empty compost bin with all the garden stuff I'd just hauled out: bits and pieces of clipped strawberry plants, artichoke stalks, tomato stalks, pumpkin vines, weeds and things. The odd startled spider. A few mummified wasps. A slug or two. (yes, the fun never ends around here)

The twins, meanwhile, picked 6 pails of green cherry tomatoes, in seeming casual (but fiercely melodramatic) competition with each other the entire time:

FDPG: "How many have YOU picked, Dominic?" (sighing heavily but very meaningfully while glancing heavily but very meaningfully at the no doubt INCREDIBLE weight of her container)

D: "Oh, maybe 300. Maybe 400." (glancing down at his container and shrugging his shoulders at the no doubt INCREDIBLE weight they must bear, smirking a little all the while)

FDPG: "Oh gosh, I think I must have four THOUSAND by now!" (now a little worried - he has 400 - could it be true?)

D: "Really? Swear by your life?" (panicking, glaring first at his container, then FDPG's)

FDPG: "Let me see how many you have." (craning her neck)

D: "Let me see how many you have first." (craning his neck)

FDPG: "Mum! Dominic won't let me see how many tomatoes he has!"

Mum: "Oh give me a break you two. Who cares how many you have! Get picking!"

And so on. Actually, it went on a lot longer than that. Thank me for sparing you. These two worship at the altar of hyperbole.

I'm not too sure but I think I will just leave them to ripen, then roast them with some garlic and olive oil. The tomatoes, not the twins.

Cherry tomatoes, nasturtium seeds, scarlet runner pods
reposing artistically in a box

Thursday, October 16, 2008


This one's for Shaun. One's a finger puppet; the other is a window cling-thingie.

Look at all my happy friends!* I was going to include a little walking music for those of you who are Totoro enthusiasts (it's a strange world, I can admit it), but then I found this on YouTube and, well, life will never be the same again for FDPG (or me). Do my eyes deceive me or is that a full size Cat bus I see? And all those earnest little singers? And Aya Matsuura and her pink umbrella?

I think I see a visit to a theme park in our future. Some plane tickets. A Japanese phrase book. And definitely a sailor suit. Maybe a few pigtails. Better work on our giggle.

* secret code language

Mornings With Spider

I'm tempted to name this spider something silly like Cornelia or Arnolfini, but instead I just call it Spider. I've been flinging half dead flies into the web periodically since last month, but the other morning I woke up, opened the Dutch door to the deck and instead of seeing a clear line web, I saw this: water droplets outlining everything. And you know what that means. Well, what that means here on the Wet Coast, I mean...

Autumn's officially here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dryads and Dried Tomatoes

What with the four million billion trillion extremely large harvest of tomatoes we've had this year, I've been experimenting with ways to preserve them. I've made salsa, with green peppers, chilies, lemon juice and cumin seeds. I've made spaghetti sauce, with celery, carrots, and onions. I've puréed them in the food processor and frozen them as is, as per Nicola's idea. I can't find the exact place where she mentions it, but the idea is that you freeze them "fresh," which makes a lot of sense to me. I've also chopped them up, roasted them with garlic and beaucoup de olive oil, then puréed the resulting mixture until extremely smooth and frozen it in bags, as per Jove's idea, well, when we managed to wrench ourselves away from the stuff with our spoons, that is.

And just when I'd gotten a little tired of freezing and canning and roasting and even giving them away, my eyes lit on the dehydrator. I usually use it to dry herbs quickly, or make fruit leather, but this time I thought a few dried tomatoes might be fun, so I started slicing and layering. And you know, they were. They were flavourful. Fruity, even. We ate a few trays worth, I stored a few jars, and I gave away a few jars.

I even convinced FDPG, aka She Who Hates All Things Tomato, to chew on one thoughtfully, all in the name of finishing her Food Power Badge for Brownies (whoever wrote "try something you haven't tried before" hadn't met the anti-Foodie that is FDPG, this girl is picky). But if there is one thing FDPG is, it's an enthusiastic Brownie ("Playful Dryads, Strong and True, Nature's friend in all we do" is sung around here daily). She wasn't quite as enamoured of the tomato as we were, but she finished it. She ate it in the name of Badge Honour. And she did it without retching. Or gagging. Now that, in the words of my friend Martha, is a Good Thing.
Here is a dish of dried Tigerellas. Click on this picture to see it in all its lovely redness. Aren't they reposing deliciously? Couldn't you see yourself chewing on a few?

I Guess This Is Why They Call Them Love Apples


It was the Canadian Thanksgiving here on Monday, which meant that I cooked a turkey and roasted a lot more root vegetables than usual.

It also meant that FDPG got into a tizzy of excitement about decorating the table and making crafts ("A party! I need to get special napkins! And make special little things for the table! And get some special leaves! And make something special for everyone! Do we have special dishes, Mum?"). That FDPG, she sure likes a holiday. You should see her at Christmas. And Easter. And St Patrick's Day. And Twelfth Night. And her birthday. And Valentine's Day...

People develop habits around holidays. FDPG has hers, I have mine. One of them is making cranberry sauce. But this is no ordinary cranberry sauce. I make a cranberry sauce that would give me a serious reputation if I lived in a fairy tale. It has all the usual things in it: sugar, water, fresh cranberries. But it's in the extras that this sauce becomes superlative: whole cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, and orange zest. It's fragrant; it's spicy; it's even good enough to be eaten right out of the container. The original recipe came from the L.A.Times recipe section, but I've, err, enhanced it since then (which is just a fancy way of saying I've quadrupled the spice requirements and tripled the orange zest suggestion). I've had it since 1997, when we still lived in California, and I was attempting to cook a turkey for the first time. The section was called "How to stuff and roast a turkey, plus other tips for panicked cooks" - and let me tell you, at the time it was right up my alley: it detailed how long a turkey needs to be cooked, depending on weight; gave some cranberry sauce recipes, from Madhur Jaffrey's to Mom Parson's; discussed the relative virtues of cream vs. milk in mashed potatoes, and other equally gripping topics. I've clung to that section, folded up in my recipe file, for 12 years. It's been dripped on, scorched, spattered, and dunked in the sink along the way. You'd think after 12 years I'd have the recipe memorized, wouldn't you?

Anyhow, as I was searching for that battered recipe section, I came across one of those Martha Stewart magazine inserts she hands out periodically, the ones that scream FREE GIFT! and usually have a few overly festive holiday ideas that always involve things I have to drive to Michaels to get because I never ever seem to have them no matter how many times I go to the #*%@ store (gosh, Sheila, do I sense a little bitterness and hostility here?), FDPG's eyes alighted on a little pinecone turkey with a few feathers stuck in its bum for good effect. "Oh! How cute!" she shrieked, "Can we make those?" I looked carefully at that pinecone turkey. I looked at the feathers. I looked at the pipe cleaner neck. It looked innocuous enough. "Okay," I said, "here's the glue gun."

And lo and behold but they were really easy to make. FDPG got a little carried away with the glitter, but they turned out well, even if I do seem to be picking super fine gold glitter off her face each meal.

I eventually found my recipe section and made the cranberry sauce. Here it is dripping atmospherically in the kitchen. I make it with the whole cloves, allspice berries and cardamon pods in the tea strainer. Why, do you ask? Well, gosh, one year I just threw those whole cloves merrily into the pot, with nary a thought for how I was going to get them out again afterwards. I can just pick them out, I thought. It'll be simple.

It wasn't.

And now I use a tea strainer. This one even holds cinnamon sticks.

And then, because things were going so well, FDPG and I dipped fresh leaves into melted beeswax. This is something we've seen at Waldorf fairs, and FDPG has always wanted to do it. So we did. They smell lovely, I have to say, even if the smoke from the dripping beeswax set off the smoke detector 6 times.

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Canadians out there. Hope you got the government you always wished for. Oh, wait, that's Christmas I'm thinking of, isn't it? I guess you'll have to make do with potluck then.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Misery Breeds Contentment

A perennial topic among homeschoolers always seems to revolve around the "How does it work for you?" thread. As in "How do you get your kids to _____?" (insert what you like here: do math, smile, read a book for fun, wake up, etc) Behind it all, you know, is the "what am I doing homeschooling these kids who don't seem to be having any fun at all what was I thinking?" mentality. I know this feeling because I was there once, a long time ago. 

And you know, it doesn't help when all you hear is Other People saying glorious things about their own homeschooling ventures: "Oh my Giotto is the most expressive artist his teacher has ever encountered - we're thinking of sending him to Paris for the summer!" or "Little Copernicus spends hours on his telescope every night - it's all we can do to get him to eat dinner!" or "Antelope is so enchanted with mosiacs that she retiled our entire front vestibule - it looks like something out of a Kaffe Fasset book!" It's depressing, particularly when the only thing you managed to do that day was get your child to stop dropping their pencil on the floor. I used to joke that on a good day my son could recognize the word CAT. Seriously. Funny, in a poignant is-that-kid-ever-going-to-read way mostly, but still, I worried. I wondered constantly why it only seemed to be me having these sorts of difficulties, getting the homeschooling life to work for us. I struggled a lot in those early days, getting the kids up, getting them fed, cajoling them into good moods now and then, not to mention wondering if I was short-changing them if we didn't do every single thing every one else seemed to be doing. Might I be ruining their futures if we don't study the DNA sequences of the Western White-tailed Hawk? Do they need to know every constellation myth? Quick! We need to study cloud formations! 

(yes, laugh all you like but I do tend to think in exclamations) 

It didn't help that I missed my days of independent adult-ness. Being at home with kids all day isn't terribly glamorous, particularly when they're still needing to be dressed and washed and given puréed food. When we lived in a big city I noticed that some people sidled away from me at parties when I said I homeschooled my kids. Mind you, these people were the type who would also say, perfectly seriously, things like "He doesn't understand that I'm an intellectual!" so what did I expect. And not only that, but there were also the people around us, none of whom seemed to hesitate IN THE LEAST in relaying off the cuff remarks about my decision: relatives, paranoid my common sense had gone AWOL ("you aren't a qualified teacher - do you really think you can teach them?" "you are getting, err, religious are you?"); good friends, childless friends, convinced I was a nutjob for wanting to be home with the kids all day ("won't you get bored?" "don't you have a masters degree? kinda wastin' it aren't ya?"), working friends, friends with kids, convinced I was a nutjob for wanting to be home with the kids all day ("oh gawd, you aren't serious are you?" "I'd go crazy if I had to hang out with my kids all day"), and finally, the people we knew casually who would say things like "Aren't you worried about socialization?" while throwing worried glances at my kids. 

This is easily the most over-used phrase people direct at homeschoolers. What do people mean by socialization? That my kids will be tucked away in the back room not noticing that there are elections and earthquakes and plagues and satellites revolving around the Earth? That my kids won't know how to play with public school kids? That they might stand awkwardly in a group, unable to speak in full sentences? Either way, it drives me nuts, because a) it assumes that there's only one way to skin a cat, and b) that there's only one way to skin a cat.

(not that I would ever skin a cat, I'm speaking purely metaphorically here, so so sorry dear Toffee) 

A few years down the road and I no longer feel quite so angst-ridden in my homeschooling ventures. For one thing, I've realized that everyone has their hot button topics, and for a lot of parents who send their kids to public school, it's homeschooling. Partly because some see my choice as a subtle criticism of their choice. And partly because they've heard about those clusters of RRH (Really Religious Homeschoolers) out there. Not that I fit into either of those groups, but they don't know that, they just know that suddenly One Of Them is in front of them, alive and breathing! I used to be unabashedly irritated with people like this, but now I hardly meet them anymore, so I've mellowed. And for another thing, I know that my kids will survive, and even thrive, despite not knowing all the cloud formations. I don't stress over what we're not doing quite so much. I have twinges, but that's all they are now. Twinges. 

As for hearing about all those little Giottos and Antelopes, well, I've come to realize that so much of it is Creative License: we parents tend to use only the best material when boasting about our kids. Why write about the miserable, whiny, hard, despairing days? Who wants to hear about them? But we all have them. For me, the trick is to remind myself of the truly great moments in our day. I may not be surrounded by little Copernicus', but my kids enjoy what they study, they're not shy about telling me how much they love me, and they appear to be extremely contented with their life so far. So far so good.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Storms and Power Outages

The power went out on our street last night. One minute we were sitting in front of a National Geo. video (some guy following a group of hyenas around with a very large camera, thinking that the hyenas actually considered him one of the tribe; we were all rather skeptical), and the next we were sitting in the pitch black darkness (is there any other kind?). It was DARK. I jumped up to grab the matches and a tea light, and the kids jumped up to go and gaze delightedly at the dark out the front door.

It's a funny thing when the power goes out. I don't mind it, as long as it's not freezing cold and as long as I don't have anything in the oven. It kind of cool how quiet the world outside becomes. Well, quiet when my children aren't shrieking or blowing whistles and flashing their flashlights into everyone's windows or racing around the front yard yelling "WOW IT'S SO DARK LOOK AT ALL THE STARS I LOVE HOW DARK IT IS I WONDER IF GEORGE HAS A FLASHLIGHT THIS IS SO EXCITING MUM COME OUT COME OUT!" They adore it when the power goes out, but that's only because it has yet to cause them any inconvenience. This time it was due to a massive wind storm that whipped through the area. It blew over our neighbour's deck umbrellas, knocked down some tree branches, and carried a lot of newspapers to various front yards. Today our back yard is littered with debris: clumps of Garry oak branches, rowan leaves, and lots of plastic nursery pots from my "collection" (sounds better when I call it that). And the front yard had so many pine needles that the kids swept up a garbage can's worth this morning. I even had to race out in the middle of the storm to tie a guy line to my flimsy but what did I expect wicker arbour because it was leaning rather heavily to the East from the winds buffeting it. And the pumpkin I had growing on top of Max's old trike was blown off. It wasn't damaged, luckily. It's been supported by the seat of the trike the whole summer, because it grew off of a vine that on a whim I let grow along my flimsy but what did I expect wire berry trellis. I liked it at first because it looked picturesque curled around the Mason bee house. The vine grew and grew and finally sent off one miserable-looking squash-like object, but I abandoned it to go off on vacation, and when I came back there was a large and remarkably handsome pumpkin in its place. Trouble was, it was about 5' off the ground and looked distinctly precarious. I stacked some odds and ends on the ground under it until I met its bottom and let the pumpkin be supported by them, removing each odd and end as the pumpkin grew. Eventually it reached nearer the ground and is now sitting atmospherically on the trike (a colourful little number in red and yellow), but the trellis looks tragic. It's all saggy and baggy. I have some clothes-line wire to put in its place next spring. Note: never use 16 gauge wire for a berry trellis, particularly if you are unable to resist the allure of a mysteriously seeded vine-that-might-turn-out-to-be-a-pumpkin growing along part of it.

When the power went out, Richard took the kids down the hill to see what might be happening. Max had gone down earlier and reported that a large Hydro truck and several police cars were camped out where our street met the larger road, doing Something Critical to the wires. Richard got down there to find that the chef at the nearby restaurant was also there, shouting in a typically chef-like fashion (I used to be one, so I can say this) about his 200 customers, now sitting in total darkness without their steaks and seafoods. For some reason, I love the idea that we are on the same power grid line as a large restaurant with a feisty chef.

The kids went out with their multitude of flashlights. FDPG had her whistle-and-compass combination, in case she needed to a) find her compass points in the dark, and b) whistle loudly to drive the neighbours completely batty if lost. She set off confidently and I could hear her little whistle all the way down the street and all the way up the street. Fortunately we have very tolerant neighbours. Their kids are all grown up and they like the noises that happy little kids bring, so they aren't rolling their eyes and muttering rude thoughts under their breath when my kids are racing around shrieking excitedly in the darkness of the night. And in my more morbid moments I file these little moments away in my mind, for when I'm old and they're grown up and off on their own adventures.

I started this post with a view to showing you my ingenious method of ripening cherry tomatoes. With all the rain we've had lately my last tomatoes are splitting, so I hauled in several buckets' worth mid-week. But a week or so ago I was picking some cherry tomatoes and accidentally pulled too hard and one heavy branch cracked off. It was a nice branch, too; lots of tomatoes on it. So I hung it up in the kitchen, and now look at it:
They even taste good. And now I have, to borrow Dominic's phrase, gazillions of tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness, loafing around the dining room, sitting on tables, on sideboards, on top of the Pig From Guinea's cage, and all over the washer and dryer. I have bowls of ripe and semi-ripe Yellow Pears, Sungolds, and Sweet 100s, big dishes of ripe and semi-ripe Big Bites, Bonne's Best, Romas, and Lemon Boys, and ice cream buckets of green Tigerellas and Beefsteaks (I forget exactly what they are but they are big). It's like an episode of Star Trek, the one with the Tribbles. Only I have tomatoes. And believe me, they are no trouble at all.