Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reading Harry Potter

We just finished Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows today, after a breakneck Harry Potter marathon over the winter. I would have drawn it out longer, and sprinkled a few other authors in here and there, but we began running into an unusual number of kids who were far too willing to spill the beans about the ends of the books to the twins (why oh why do kids do this? it's never little kids doing this, either, but kids you'd think would know better than to ruin an entire 7 book plotline for a couple of seven year olds, leaving their mother to White Lie it a bit so as not to totally ruin the oncoming deaths of Important Characters). Since I couldn't very well duc tape anyone's mouth shut, I decided to speed up our consumption of that phenomenon known as the Harry Potter series.

We'd already read The Philosopher's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban; they were begun in the lazy dog days of summer, when none of us could bear to think about school regimens. A good read aloud, I'd thought, that's what we need - that will ease us back into a schedule. And what better than a series about school (albeit a magical school)? Max and I had already read each book as it had come out, so I knew the story, or at least, I thought I did. The twins were captivated. It was a new and wildly delightful world for them. FDPG started carrying around a broomstick, from an old Halloween costume, and we found a website that told us how to make a Hogwarts wand so she could completely irritate her older brother with cries of Expelliaramus! Alohamora! and Wingardium Leviosa! She donned an old Waldorf silk cape and spent so much time whipping around the house on her broomstick that she eventually knocked over most of the houseplants and scared the you-know-what out of the cat (who still flees in utter panic whenever she enters the room). Dominic spent all his time wondering about the finer points: Did all wizard kids go to regular school or just Muggle-born wizard kids? Did they have to do math ever? Why did they wear those billowy cloaks when playing Quidditch? Why does Dumbledore ignore so much critical stuff? Why didn't Snape wash his hair?

We had a brief Diana Wynne Jones interlude (House of Many Ways, The Game, Dogsbody, Castle in the Air), to start the new school year, mostly so FDPG could steel her imaginative resolve a little in time for The Goblet of Fire and its accompanying movie, because we always had a movie showing after the book. But the series takes a more, err, mature turn here: perfectly nice people die, long dead parents have poignant cameos, and the Death Eaters have several creepy scenes (not to mention the fact that my old heartthrob Ralph Fiennes makes an alarming appearance in the film without a nose). I could see all kinds of problems arising if I started this book too early with FDPG: the combination of an impressionable seven year old and a very dramatic story about wizarding tournaments, not to mention sudden and irrevocable death, was not one I was willing to make. Besides, Max and I had seen Goblet of Fire in the theatre when Max was eight, and I was still slightly scarred from watching him cry as we left the theatre. "That was kind of scary," he'd said shakily. He was right - I'd no idea it would be quite so dark. I spent the final 20 minutes of the film cursing all the movie reviewers who'd neglected to mention this while Max hid behind his container of popcorn every time Ralph Voldemort screeched and swung and sliced. I had no intention of revisiting that place with FDPG: to hell with The Boy Who Lived, FDPG is The Girl Who Has Night Terrors. That trumps.

But then we went to a wedding, and some helpful little sod twit 13 year old told the twins that Dumbledore died in Half Blood Prince, and that Harry and Ginny got married in the end. "Oh, he's just having you on," I said, "he's kidding around." It was time, I knew. Either that or have every kid we run into spill what remaining beans there were.

So I hauled out Goblet of Fire. We read it. This book tested my ability for accents: there was McGonagall, Hagrid, Mad Eye Moody, AND Fleur Delacour to remember, to say nothing of keeping Hermione, Harry, and Ron straight. I have to confess that I used the accents of the actors in the movies: they were easy to remember and they made the movie viewing all the more piquant. A ripe Scots accent heralding the appearance of McGonagall in a scene made everyone grin madly, while Fleur's "Ooo, 'Arry, zat was so sweet of you!" had the singular ability to make Max (now 12) blush and scowl at the same time ("She doesn't really sound like that, does she?"). And when it came time to see the movie I simply sat next to FDPG and covered her eyes when the scary bits came. She was more than okay with it, too - she'd read the book - she knew what she was missing: she plugged her ears and I plugged her eyes. "Books are always more scary than the movie, Mum" she said one time. "I don't need to see Voldemort, I can imagine him and that's scary enough."

And thus we moved along, through Order of the Phoenix, The Half Blood Prince, and finally, through The Deathly Hallows. There were times along the way when I found the words too sad to read, and Max had to take over, and times when FDPG decided that she read better than Max and that SHE would take over when I got all emotional. I said earlier that I thought I knew the story, having read it already, but as each book opened up I found all sorts of things I'd forgotten or not noticed on the first reading. I also noticed things I hadn't before: plot lines that, if one reads the stories back to back, make it quite clear who's good, who's bad, and who's in between. I'd been in such a hurry before that I'd raced along at my own breakneck speed, desperate to see who lived and who died at the end, and sometimes I was left wondering. And here I was reading it again. It was more fun this time. It was fun hearing FDPG shout "And then we apparated out of there!" from her bedroom, while she and Dominic played Harry and Hermione at Hogwarts. It was also fun pretending to be McGonagall during math: I'd wear a red satin cape, smack the white board hard with a stick and let it rip with the Scots accent. I sometimes added or deducted points from the houses, just for the heck of it (Maxendor, Katenclaw, and Dufflepuff). We pretended to drink pumpkin juice at lunch and the boys dreamed of multiple desserts after each meal. And it was fun reading the little notes FDPG left for Dominic in his room, promising an entrance to Hogwarts if he behaved himself ("Dear Dominic, Now that you are 11 you can come to Hogwarts, here is your book list").

Finally, I wish I could have made a sneak video of FDPG's face while I read the books, because every grimace, grin, scowl, and look of anguish every character manifested, not to mention each flick of a wand hand, was tested out on her face (and hands) each and every morning, over her cup of tea. You don't get that in the theatre, and you certainly don't get that when you read by yourself.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Flower in the Garden Revisited

I know I use this title a lot (if you've never noticed let's just pretend I never said that). I blame it on a cloth book FDPG had when she was 3 months old. She'd sit in her bouncy chair and glare at the book, willing the pictures to turn into words, I'm sure. And yes, we do have photographs of her doing that. How could we not take pictures of a 3 month old glaring rigidly at a cloth book? Especially one entitled Flower in the Garden?

Today was a day for the heralding of spring. It was t-shirt weather. It was dig in the garden weather. It was bask in the sun on the deck weather. It was even Watch Richard Read Academic Literature On The Deck Weather (not nearly as gripping as it sounds). It got so warm I even had to turn off the heat mat in the cold frame. If my neighbours hadn't been in their yard wondering where the stench of chicken manure was coming from I might even have frolicked a little, doing my Julie Andrews Hills Are Alive impersonation, tra-laaing with my new garden fork. But my neighbours aren't big on irony so I restrained myself. Plus, the stench of chicken manure was coming from my garden and I didn't really want to draw attention to the fact.
The weather is supposed to turn tomorrow (oh gosh, quel surprise) so I made the most of today: I paid asked the twins to help me push all the vegetable garden soil through a sieve so we can get the carrots and beets and root vegetables started soon. Last year I skipped this step and our carrots grew into rude manly shapes that no one could eat without bursting into hysterical laughter and the beets didn't do much of anything. Even the peas struggled for a while. So this year I am trying a new tact: I am doing what the garden books recommend. Novel of me, I know.
Look at that soil!

I also dug some trenches and planted a lot of potatoes (Russian Fingerlings, Desiree, and Yukon Gold). Emptied the compost into the tomato patch. Took all the sod from the front yard and lad it upside down onto the sloping lawn in the back yard so I can use it for garden at some point soon (see photo to the left). This part of the yard doesn't look very sloping here but it is quite steep. I nearly ripped my leg muscles trying to slide down the hill with my wheelbarrow full of sod. You'd never know that there are about 20 newspapers and two bales of straw there, under that sod and chicken manure.

It's still hard to tell what might have bit the dust over the unpredictable winter we had, but if I look really close, I can see the peonies, lilies, and hardy fuchsias coming up. This is a Star Gazer lily. When my grandmother died I dug it up from her garden. Some people like to have jewelry or books from relatives who have died, I like to have plants.

A primula. Primulas are like a People magazine for me: I always regret buying them (they never come back the same way twice and slugs live for them) and but they are fun for the moment.

The only kind I've ever had any luck with is the pure yellow variety. But this one? I think this is the first and last time I'll see this two-tone colour...

This violet is poking up everywhere. It's even in the lawn. Nodding purple heads attracting all the early bees.

And finally, the miniature daffs and the pulmonaria. More fodder for the solitary bees. Not to mention my camera.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Something Along Those Lines

The kids have a science fair this month, and we were going to do something pretty hilarious in the Greek line, but after the Multicultural Lunch we attended we all felt a bit Greeked out. My fault, I think, because I've been dragging this unit out for far too long, always seeing a new White Rabbit to dash after: "Ack, we forgot about Pythagorus!" or "We really should read this laboriously long 698 page Roger Lancelyn Green book" not to mention the old "But we haven't finished every bloody single story in Famous Men of Greece!" trail.

So when we sat down to reconsider our contribution to the science fair, I asked the kids if they were okay with our Greek plan, or did they want to explore something else. Max immediately blurted out "Something else!" That was that. While I have been known to flog a dead horse beyond belief when it comes to heated Jeopardy arguments discussions (especially when I am right and Richard is oh-so-wrong), I know enough not to mess with the interest levels of those of us in this house who are hovering on puberty the kids.

"So, what shall we do?" I asked.

"Gardening!" shouted FDPG (who has discovered that shouting trumps almost any voice).

"Butterfly gardening!" said Max.

"Pollinators!" shouted FDPG.

"Clone wars!" said Dominic, hopefully.

"Good ideas," I said.

So we went to the museum.

I like our museum: it's full of cool stuff, helps us clear our heads when there are too many things going on, and I've found a place where we can park for free for 4 hours that is right beside the museum. Free parking! What's not to like about that?

We wandered around a bit, saw some weird exhibits (believe it or not, Mr Museum Curator, but there IS such a thing as too many argilite carvings), rode up and down the very tall escalators a few times (dare I confess that this ranks up there with some of the Marine Biology exhibits for my kids?) and presented our Membership Cards several times just for the heck of it (FDPG finds it incredible that she now has real picture ID - I eventually had to confiscate it from her).

Then we hit the gift shop. Or, rather, I hit the gift shop. Max sat outside at the free movie centre with the twins. The twins hate gift shops. I'm not sure why. It might be because I love museum gift shops. And I like to have a whirl round after each visit in case something new (and educational) has appeared in our absence. Max loves gift shops, although he has taken to hovering so closely over me during these whirl rounds that once or twice I've fallen into him after turning around. (some people are close talkers; Max is a close walker) So I went in but about 3 seconds later all three kids followed me. Apparently someone near them at the free movie centre was sniffing too loud. Or something equally banal. Personally, I think they were worried about missing something.

After escaping the friendly but overly voluble docent, I rifled through the kids book section. And found this. It looked kind of fun. Nice cover. Combined bugs and experiments in a way I figured would work with both Max and the twins (not an easy feat some days). Looked fun as a science fair idea stimulant. So we bought it. And came home to a renewed enthusiasm for the Science Fair. Bugs, bees, butterflies and gardening. We had most of the makings already: homemade plant tags, lots of little, dearly beloved, tenderly nurtured seedlings, bee houses in varying stages of occupation, cold frames, heat mats, a worship of butterflies that borders on the near insane, and a passionate interest in growing and eating things that reside in our back yard. Or something along those lines.

Oh, by the way, remember me mentioning how I can flog a dead horse when it comes to Jeopardy discussions? Last night we were all watching Jeopardy, and when the Final Jeopardy question popped up ("Who wrote 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'" or something along those lines) FDPG shouted "LEWIS CARROLL WROTE THAT!" (as I said, she has discovered the power of shouting).

And what do you know, but she was right.

Art For Cats

I've posted before about this art blog and how much the kids like the projects she has. We tried a new pastel project today. It seems to really draw the kids, particularly Dominic, like a magnet. He loves pastels. We've almost used up my box of high school Reeves Oil Pastels in just a few weeks.

If you click here you can see Kathy's posting; here are my kids' interpretations. This was a very cool colour project - I love how vibrant the colours are with the oil pastels.

I'll leave whose is who's up to you to figure out...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Anyone For Tennis?

ServeReturn (same plants, just in case you're wondering if I've really, utterly, lost it)

Fairy Diva Pony Girl Gardens

The industrious FDPG, getting her garden ready for its close-up (I get to play Mr DeMille and document her). And yes, she is kind of glaring at one of those pots. I'd hate to be that Lumina pumpkin if it doesn't perform to her specifications. She's kind of like the White Queen in Narnia when things don't go her way. Just kidding. No, I'm not. You're not supposed to say things like that about your kids.

She planted the seeds (we wrangled a little about just how many millions upon zillions we were ready to see growing in my garden) that she'd chosen. This is only a small portion of what she wanted in that little plot of hers. In the end I gave her the option of ripping up the field where she and her brothers run around, or planting all those seeds. We compromised by me giving up more garden space and gnashing my teeth a lot.

Then she wrote the names of all the plants laboriously on the little wooden tags she'd made, and watered every single pot thoroughly.

We placed the trays on heat mats, on window sills, in sunny places and in aquariums. We even put some outside in the cold frame, which is a very cold frame at the moment, but quake not because we put them on another heat mat. An industrial strength one!

And now we wait, something FDPG isn't too excited about. She wants it all NOW.

I kind of relate. I kind of want it all now, too.

What Goes On Behind The Scenes

I'm not exactly sure what's he doing, but I liked the way the light fell on the floor at Max's feet and how all the colours in the room mixed together. And how my cluttered, too-small kitchen looks so, err photogenic (instead of cluttered and too-small). And how calm and quiet and pensive my teetering-on-the-cusp-of-puberty son looks. You can't see the dryer with its four day old load of half dry laundry, or the sink with its load of unmentionable dishes, or the kitchen floor with its muddy cat prints skidding across.

Nope, instead it all looks so calm and artistic. I must remember this moment. Cling to it. Like grim death. Don't panic. Women and children first.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Race To Which Mountain?

We went to the movies the other day: Race To Witch Mountain. I have vague recollections of a movie similar to this from when I was a kid, but they were so vague I didn't remember that the kids were aliens.

Or should I say beings from another planet? Hmmm, let's leave it at aliens. These teens used complete sentences and complex vocabulary; that's alien enough for me. Most of my teen relatives punctuate their every utterance with the word "dude" (which actually comes out more like "dewwwwwwwwwd").

The funny thing about going to the movies with kids is that most of my witticisms go right over their heads. I made some rude but appreciative jokes about The Rock, err, Dwayne Johnson, and Max said, rather incredulously, "Don't you like him? He's the guy from The Mummy. You love The Mummy." After admitting that yes, I did love The Mummy (one and two only, three was so terrible I nearly cried, even with the fab Michelle Yeoh), I fell silent. Mocking a muscle-bound smart-ass (with interestingly white teeth) who could scream around in a taxi AND backtalk Storm Troopers wasn't going to fly with the boys. They were too busy coveting those Storm Trooper costumes to find my wisecracks of any interest whatsoever.

Usually it's FDPG causing the distractions at the theatre; this time it was the boys. They both gasped audibly when the Storm Troopers appeared on the scene, and Dominic even shouted "Those are OLD Storm Troopers! From episodes three to six!" (I'm not a Star Wars fan so the fact that my 7 year old knows this obscure information sometimes floors me) When The Rock Jack Bruno wrestled their guns away from them the boys cackled. When Jack Bruno pointed at the sign in his cab that forbids passengers to carry weapons, the boys guffawed. When we glimpsed the Storm Troopers again near the end, Dominic sighed adoringly, then whispered "That was so funny, this is such a great movie" to me.

I chose this film because the only other choices of kid movies were Coraline and Inkheart and both of those seemed guaranteed to scare the bejesus out of FDPG. And yes, I do mean the bejesus. We could have seen that one about the chihuahuas, because I doubt that would have scared the behayzoos out of FDPG, but the previews gave me the willies. CGI dog mouths making witty remarks? Wearing pink outfits and parading up and down Rodeo Drive? Dancing? Ugh.

I prepped FDPG by showing her a few Quicktime previews. They looked a little suspect (Bejesus Meter Reading: 7/10), but she assured me that they did not scare her in the slightest. The boys were quite taken, as they usually are, by the explosions: "Cool!" "Whoa!" "Did you see that?" And since I had had it with school for that week (I think I have a case of belated Winter Blahs), Race To Witch Mountain it was.

I've already given away what the boys liked best about the film, so I won't say much more, except that the two kid actors in Escape To Witch Mountain (the original Disney film from 1975) have cameos. And the lovely Carla Gugino, who I've always had a soft spot for, was horribly misused here. They stuffed her into clothes two sizes too small, gave her a bad haircut (not to mention some dreadful lines), and expected her to shine, but she didn't. She looked tired and exasperated (maybe Dwayne's teeth hurt her eyes). Ciaran Hinds did alright though, despite lines like "I think we both agree it's been worth our previous failures," "Whatever they may look like, they are not children, gentlemen," and "Secure the perimeter!"

(When Richard and I used to travel with the kids and stop periodically at play areas, we'd get out our little walkie talkies and follow the kids around, whispering to each other in the playground: "have you secured the perimeter?" "yes")

And the two kids who played the aliens were surprisingly impressive: they had the right touch of oddly placed facial features and they could deliver such lines as "The information you are seeking is not within your realm of understanding" and "The urgency of our trip has not decreased" without sounding completely idiotic. They should have left out the Meaty Treat joke, though. (Sheila's Wince-O-Meter Reading: 7/10)

Yes, there were a lot of banal bits, and yes, some of it was utterly unbelievable, but on the whole I think my kids loved it. There were just enough action sequences and explosions for Max, just enough strange people in alien costumes doing frat boy things for Dominic, and the girls were smarter than the boys, which was right up FDPG's alley.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Those Goofy Greeks

A new homeschooling friend of ours hosts a Multicultural Lunch once a year. This was our first year. The general idea is that you pick a certain culture you like, or some country you've always wanted to visit, or even the historical period you're studying, and do a mini display about it. Then bring it to the lunch, along with some food from that period/country to share.

We'd just finished up with our Greek Unit That Refused To Die, so our food contribution was a little on the Spartan side. (oooh, Sheila, you don't really think that was funny, do you?) We made some hearty peasant bread, some hummus (as opposed to roasting chickens or goats and in lieu of fresh figs), and ground some dates and walnuts together with cardamon powder, and rolled them into little balls.

And then we had to get our presentation board together. We had the standard map, the usual art work (clay pots, mosaics, hand made coins, coloured drawings from pottery), and some written work about things the kids favoured most, but we were lacking something to tie it all together.

Until I glanced down at the picture of FDPG in her Halloween costume.

She was dressed as the Greek goddess Athena. In a white chiton.

"Max!" I said, "Quick, get this on (I handed him FDPG's white chiton), then stand over there and pretend to be pointing at something. Look mischevious."

So he did. I took a few photographs of him.

"Dominic," I said, "Do what he did."

And he did, too, although Dominic's 'mischevious' extended only to pointing and staring at me with a dead-pan expression. I took some photographs of him too.

Then I printed them out. Then we carefully cut them all out, ignoring Max's "I look like a geek. Don't use this one. Argh, do I really look like that?" remarks.

We put this picture next to an explanation of How The Greeks Ate.
The boys started laughing. They rearranged pictures so they were introducing things. FDPG started jumping up and down wit excitement. So far so good.

Max copied his favourite joke from Terry Deary's Horrible Histories: Groovy Greeks. I pasted a picture of him pointing gleefully at it. If your eyes are as bad as mine, then you might need me adding that his word bubble says "Now that's funny!"
FDPG did what she does best and acted like her charming, bossy self. Only this time she's bossing Zeus around. I had a restful reprieve.
This is my particular favourite. Dominic, aka Young Greek Boy, is saying "Isn't he a little overdressed for dinner?" while our cartoon hoplight's rebuttal is "Aren't you a little underdressed for the Peloponnesian War?"
It was a fun day, getting this ready. It was a fun lunch too. Nothing like a little light humour to go with your lunch.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Max Makes A Movie

And wouldn't you know but it has Lego in it? Imagine that.

He and Richard took about 48 pictures for this little office fracas. Then they loaded them into a magical machine and out came a real live movie. No, sadly, not my magical machine. My machine is not magical enough.

Gosh, the wonders of technology.

(reminds me of a Herman comic: Two cavemen stare at the flaming fire torch in one caveman's hand. One says to the other "That's fantastic! I can't keep up with all this modern technology.")

I feel like that sometimes.

Anyhow, here's his movie. It's short and, if I may say so, has a certain panache to it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crazy Garden Weather

Today was April Fool's weather. Yesterday I was out in the garden in my never ending quest to eradicate all lawn from the front yard (harder than it sounds), almost stripped to the waist (don't want to horrify the neighbours) because of the sunny heat enveloping me. Yes, the heat was enveloping me!

I managed to get all the sod off the Lozenge Bed (RIP Lozenge Bed), placed some stepping stones here and there so I could still get in without compacting the soil, and planted two new roses to go with my Granada and Honor stalwarts: Guy de Maupassant and Tahitian Sunset. I also moved the Princess Victoria Louise poppy over a little so there would be more room for all its enchanting gorgeousness (if you ever buy a poppy, buy this one). I piled on a little topsoil, some of Home Despot's finest, and bashed around happily with my new garden fork. Spring was around the corner, I could feel it.

I brought out the beach rocks we'd hauled back from our holiday over the past few years. There's a pattern in these collections: one year it was all green rocks, another year it was all spotted rocks, and yet another it was all round, smooth, flat rocks. Now they are winding around the Scotch moss, well, until the Scotch moss comes out of dormancy and starts taking over the garden again...

I stuck some bricks on a hill, to make a sort of staircase. It's very atmospheric, isn't it, even if the bricks aren't as, err, functional as I would have liked.

At least now I can get down that hill without sliding on my butt half the time.

Then, this morning, I glanced out and saw this, on my charming new topiary frame for which I thankfully did not pay $110.

Heavenly dandruff? I thought hopefully.

No, very very sadly, it was snow.


And that, very tragically, was nothing compared to what we looked out onto an hour later. At one point there was at least 4" of the stuff on the deck. The kids were thrilled. I, on the other hand, was SO not thrilled.

So instead I did a FDPG: I stuck my metaphorical fingers in my metaphorical ears and pretended the weather was more, err, metaphorically spring-like.

"I can't hear you, snow, I can't hear you."

If I click my heels together twice and wish upon a star, will this come back tomorrow?

What Temperature Is It, Mr Squirrel?

Usually I am not a big fan of overpriced-aimed-directly-at-kids garden implements, but this squirrel thermometer is pretty cute. It suctions to the window and on the other side (the part that faces into the room) is a large thermometer. FDPG got it at a gardening store that was closing its downstairs storage shed and selling everything off cheap. I'd gone there to see what they had left, because it's one of those garden stores that, while it's trendily expensive (plain old garden net that sells for $5 at the hardware store goes for $9 here), also carries the odd brilliantly cool new gadget. And I have a weakness for brilliantly cool new gadgets, even if I never buy them.

Anyhow, I'd received an email about the sale so we popped in. I found a great wire topiary base in the shape of a snail, that was originally $110 but was now on sale for $10 (gosh, I wonder why no one would buy it for $110? sheila wonders sarcastically) that I plan on filling with moss and baby tears. I also found some red metallic tape that supposedly deters birds for $1, down from $13.95 (gosh, I sense another sarcastic remark coming on). And then FDPG, who has a penchant for taking her fat little purse everywhere, scooped up this thermometer squirrel - for $1, down from $23.95 (we were giddy at this point, lemme tell you). If you look carefully at the picture you can see why: he has a slight chip at the bottom of his leaf.

But FDPG doesn't care. She loves him. And every morning she asks him "What temperature is it, Mr Squirrel?" Then she comes upstairs and tells me. And now I'm telling you.

Oh, and by the way, that red metallic tape that I bought for $1? It seems to be extremely effective so far. One side is silver, the other shiny red, and it makes a shivery noise when the wind blows it. It took some getting used to, though. We've all had more than a few moments when we've jumped at the feeling of it suddenly whispering in the wind. Kind of spooky.

Plant Tags

Finally, something to do with all that weird foam board people give us. FDPG has accumulated a ton of this stuff, mostly from people who don't know what to give her on her birthday. I know, I know, there is a whole sub-culture dedicated to this stuff, and I know I could find 4 zillion amazing craft ideas if I wanted to, but something in this stuff repels me. It's not as strangely compelling as this stuff was, either, so instead of wildly crafting our days away with it, it tends to get shunted to the back of the craft box.

But I digress.

(today I celebrate the foam board, not denigrate it)

This morning I was hauling out some books for a session of Garden Mania when the words PLANT TAG caught my eye. I don't know why or how, but suddenly a picture of a coloured wooden stick with some fakeplasticycutoutvegetables on it appeared in my mind. (really, it did) Aha! I thought, finally a use for all that weird foam board.

So I hauled out the wooden sticks, the glue, an indelible marker and that foam board. Boy, did we have a lot of colours. Perfect for all those red carrots, yellow beets, and yellow pear tomatoes we're about to grow. We outlined, clipped, examined seed packets to check verisimilitude, and thought long and hard about what colour matched which vegetable best...well, FDPG some of us did.

Plus, it's something fun for the twins. I often worry that they are dragged up to the level of their older brother a bit more than they'd like, in my never-ending quest to keep them all interested when we do group activities. And this was a pleasantly arty hour, drawing and cutting and gluing and writing in gold pens. I'm not sure how they'll survive the outside weather, but they should do just fine in the seed starter bins.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gardening With Kids

When I'm out in the garden I often get so involved in a particular project that I forget to take note of the kids, a fact which does not escape them. "You forgot about us, didn't you?" Dominic said accusingly to me the other day, as I trudged in from a few hours breaking up clods in the vegetable patch. "How could I forget that charmingly grouchy look on your charmingly grouchy face?" I wanted to reply, but something (some random snippet of maturity?) prevented me. Instead I smiled, and said "Why don't you start gardening too?" And then immediately panicked at the thought of having to find garden space for all three kids, because if there's one thing I can be sure of, it's that one of my kids won't ever get away with doing certain things while the other two are still sentient and within a 5 mile radius of the house. Some of those things include:

a) eating the last chocolate mint Girl Guide cookie
b) eating a cookie period
c) drinking anything carbonated
d) eating pepperoni
e) watching television
f) fiddling around on the computer
g) consuming anything from the bottom drawer in the kitchen, the one that contains all the baking ingredients

Hmm, there is a theme here, isn't there? The consumption of junk. These things just don't happen often enough around here for my kids' liking. Ah well, I tell them, blame it on me and my Puritan childhood. My mother was one of those Early Yoga slash Health Food slash Oddballs in the 60's and 70's. Along with her penchant for Dippety Do, she had a passion for Rye Vita, 'natural' yogurt, brisk walking, and celery. And she visited these leanings on her kids. I grew up dreaming of the day when I would be Grown Up, and have unlimited access to things like Pop Tarts and all the Godfather movies I could stomach. And now, somewhat disconcertingly, I'm just as parochial in my junk leanings with my own kids. They do have junk in their lives, let me hasten to assure you all, in case you think them deprived. They just don't have a lot of it.

Hmm, where was I?

Oh yes, promising Dominic a room garden of his own.

Anyhow, as soon as the words exited my mouth, and as soon as I could see excitement kindle in his eyes, I could feel the ears of the other two prick up, sensing that Something Critical was happening without them being present. Even though they were in completely different parts of the house, I knew they knew. They're like something from a sci-fi movie, this lot.

Before I could turn around, they were all in the yard with me.

"Did you say Dominic could have a garden of his own?" FDPG asked me, forgetting that I had already told her ages ago she could have a section of the garden, but she had shrugged it off at the time, seeing her Webkinz garden, which produces miraculous quantities of pumpkins, strawberries, and corn at the merest click of a mouse, as vastly superior to the real thing. Less work, too.

"Dominic has a garden?" Max echoed, "Where?"

I sighed. "You can all have one if you want one," I said, mentally adding "you bat-eared children, you."

And so it was that one fine day, a week or so back, we were all outside sieving soil and emptying compost bins. And mentally calculating whose garden was going to be the biggest.

Here is Max, assisting me in removing the roots of an unidentifiable and (to me) irritatingly invasive weed from the perennial bed. This was before he had to empty the contents of the compost bin on his garden plot. He wasn't too thrilled about packing great heavy wheelbarrow loads of compost up and down that hill of ours, so I refrained from getting too giddy with the camera. I may be an identifiable and sometimes irritatingly invasive presence in the life of my kids, but at least I know when not to take a picture. Yeah, right, who am I kidding?

Here are the twins, ensuring that no worm's tender body will be squished by the soil screen. A great deal of gentle shrieking accompanied this venture. And so it is with a clear conscience that I can assure you that no worms were harmed during the taking of this picture.

And here are their gardens, once we'd finished terracing, emptying compost bins, and raking nicely sieved soil all around.

Can you tell if one is bigger than the others? I hope not.
They go in this order: FDPG's garden, Max's garden, and Dominic's garden.

Then, once we'd ascertained that we all had a spot on the plot, we gave some thought to what we all wanted to grow. I had a catalogue from this place, with lots of helpful pictures and growing charts, and sat with the kids beforehand with the idea of making a vague list of things they wanted to grow. FDPG wanted pumpkins and watermelons, Dominic wanted carrots, broccoli, and lettuce, and Max wanted onions and garlic. My wants were more modest: I wanted to keep a firm grip on how much garden I'd be left with.

I drew a chart to show them how long some of these things would take to grow.
"A hundred and fifty days for a PUMPKIN?" said FDPG. "Yep," I said. "And it's too early still to seed half this stuff."

That put a bit of a damper on things, but once we got to the seed store they perked right up again. We bought seeds for pole beans (Fortex Filet), lettuce (Looseleaf Salad Bowl), tomatoes (Yellow Pear), and scallions (Pacific 22). We bought seeds for pumpkins (Rouge Vif D'Etampes), watermelons (Sweet Dakota Rose), and Butterfly Weed (for Max's Butterfly Garden Project). And then, in a twist of goofy fortune, Max found a 'Maximilian' Sunflower and things began to get fun. We found red carrots (Atomic Red), yellow beets (Touchstone Gold), some super green tomatillos and three kinds of potatoes (Yukon Gold, Desiree, and Russian Banana). "Why is it called a banana when it's a potato?" FDPG demanded of the not-quite-ready-for-us store clerk. They didn't have everything we wanted: the Pink Popcorn popping corn wasn't in yet, nor were the teeny tiny Ronde de Nice zucchini seeds that FDPG coveted. And the Lumina white pumpkin she had circled in the catalogue wasn't in either. So we made a note of the seeds we wanted and departed, still with quite a haul.

The kids were giddy at this point, even though I brought the chart out again once we'd arrived home, and pointed out when we could start seeding things and when we could start expecting a harvest. The idea of red carrots and yellow beets and white pumpkins superceded any intrusions by such mundane things as calendars and space requirements.

Instead we started Garden Guides of our own: I gave each kid a soft cover binder and some nice paper (some pages I printed with Dover clipart adorning the corners) and we began sketching sunflowers and pumpkins and tomatoes on the paper, along with the names of each variety they bought. The theory here is that we detail our growing seasons, sort of how we detailed our One Small Square experiment.

All in all, it was a good days' work. And I didn't forget about them for a minute.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Some Fall On Stony Ground

Well, technically that should be tiled ground, but somehow "Some Fall On Tiled Ground" sounds cheesy, so I'm falling back on that old 'poetic license' excuse. Again.

We were exiting our gym drills location today when we happened upon a massive container of tile samples at the tile store across the street. Usually this store leaves their cast-off tile samples leaning against the outside wall at the back. Still on their boards. Unbroken, mostly. And we take them home with us. They're irresistible, those tile samples. They recline against the wall, calling to me with their siren's song. I can only resist when I see plain, shiny white tiles. I'm not big on plain, shiny and white. It might be because I hate housework and something so shiny and white only serves to remind me how much work it'll require to keep it shiny and white, but I digress.

This time there was, as I said, a massive container there. Even I, the Adorer of Free Tiles, could not take every single one of them. For one thing, I could see that it was either take all the kids home or take all the tiles. It could not be both. And, if I must be honest, some of the tiles were not to my taste (NOW the truth comes out! picky picky Sheila). And you thought I was hesitating about leaving my kids, now, weren't you?

After sending Max in to the store to ask if we could take the tiles (it really did seem too good to be true), we rifled through to see what there was. I ignored Max reminding the twins, in a very world-weary and obnoxious older brother voice, not to wipe their dusty hands on their clothing LIKE LAST TIME because then they would get their clothes all DUSTY! (the horror of it) I found some beautiful samples. Some coloured ones. Some in what were called The Mermaid Series. Look at those colours! Tell me, could you resist those colours?

I also found a lot of these kinds: various shades of brown. Big squares, little squares, large rectangles, edging tiles, embossed tiles. And all with same beautiful natural look. (yes, I realize I am besotted with these tiles, but can you blame me?)

So we picked the lot up.

And Max put them in the trunk, while admonishing the twins THE ENTIRE TIME to stop messing with his packing methodology.


Some days are better than others, that's for sure. But these tiles more than made up for all the squabbling I was witness to today. And to think that they all SAID they were giving up squabbling for Lent.

And then, right at the bottom, I found these (what? you're surprised I emptied the entire container?).

Two very large pieces of black slate. Don't know what I might do with them, because I suspect they'll be too slippery for paths. But they were too perfect to leave in that bin.

Then, in a very strange coincidence, we came across some packages of paving stones. I say coincidence, because it was only yesterday that I was at the most charming wholesale stone yard, out in the middle of nowhere, laughing with the most eccentric Portuguese fellow (and his cat Gato) about his paving stones.

I have this idea, you see, to build a path down the middle of my front yard. I want to erase all that lawn and make something that looks sort of like this: I have visions of artistically arranged cuts of sandstone interspersed with swathes of Scotch moss and Blue Star Creeper, magically appearing out of nowhere surrounded by ferns and other exotica, which means that I need to figure out how to a) place cuts of sandstone and b) get me some Scotch moss and Blue Star Creeper (and other exotica). And to add a frisson of excitement to the whole venture, I am hoping to do this for next to nothing because I have next to nothing in my bank account for as cheaply as I can.

So, there I was at the stone shop, inquiring into the costs of large artistically shaped pieces of sandstone. I was led around by the charming Pietro, who was in turn led around by his cat Gato. Gato was mildly intrigued by Max and I and clearly alarmed by the twins, so he never came too close, despite Pietro's best entreaties. The twins often have that effect: they move too fast and speak too enthusiastically and dart about too much for some cats. Not that that stops the twins, mind you. The twins love cats (almost as much as I love tiles), and were quite devoted in their attempts to lure old Gato near them, but old Gato was having none of it. Or them.

After discovering that I would be able to get some artistically shaped pieces of stone for much less than I'd expected to, I left Pietro and Gato, and headed home with the kids. I wasn't quite sure what to do: spend next week's grocery money or get some stones for a path.
Then we came out of gym drills today and what did I find but the aforementioned whack of tiles. And, among them, these funny rounded squares. In little cardboard carrying cases. Like the kind the Fuller Brush man used to pack around. They were, according to their label, paving stones. Small, yes. Not enough for an entire path, true. But talk about coincidences.
It was though I was getting a message from up On High somewhere:

"Sheila you MUST make a path!"

(I just hope Emma Thompson doesn't descend from the heavens delivering this message though or I might have to hide because she was pretty scary in that show)

So there you go, My Date With Coincidence. Stay tuned for Part 2: The Path That Came To Stay.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Monday

Today I went in to the endodontist to see what my Bad Bad Root was up to. I had to be there at the ungodly hour of 8am, too. No rest for the wicked, obviously. Usually I am just sitting down to a couple chapters of a read aloud (in this case: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), while the kids are eating their breakfast and slurping (in this case: FDPG) their tea. But no, there I was dashing out the door as the sun was just cresting the clouds, pink and blue sky beaming down on me like a guillotine. I mean, like a benediction. Last rites. 

Yes, I know, I AM morbid. You would be too if you had my teeth.

I get to the specialist's office and park. I stare at the parking sign. I wonder what it means. I think my brain was fogged with nerves, because it took me an abnormally long time to figure out how long I could expect to park there without getting towed. Or ticketed. 

I wait in the Group Waiting Room. I am not a fan of the Group Waiting Room. It's a bit too impersonal. There isn't enough scope for existential angst in a Group Waiting Room. I glance around at the seating arrangements. I realize that everyone is covertly observing each other. I hate being observed. Deprived of my last chance to work myself into a tizzy of despair, I stare down the hall at the less-than-fortuitous colour schemes instead. Terracotta walls, pink ceiling, slate floor, and slightly rumpled brown plaid chesterfields. Once Max confided in me that he hates the idea of sitting where someone has been farting before. I'm sure I laughed at the time, but this time I perch on the arm of the chesterfield, just in case. I examine the seating cushions closely. I wonder why I listen to 12 year old boys. I glance at my waiting room companions: a couple of grouchy looking old men, a worried looking older man, an older woman with distressingly maroon hair (and pink highlights), and me (no highlights). I try to find something redeeming about sitting in an office at 7:45 am on a Monday morning but I fail, so I wait for them to call me. 

I have my Consultation, for which I pay the sum of $113. And once again I am privy to the historical inadequacies of my previous dentists. This time it's an incomplete root canal, which has since morphed into a fake tooth, which means Complicated. Expensive. It requires furrowed brows and warnings of Potential Increased Expenditures. I lie in the chair and stare out the window while the gentle assistant speaks to me. I watch the rain pierce through wide streaks of hard, bright sunshine. It pours briefly while I'm shown an x-ray that supposedly shows where the infection has caused bone loss but really just looks gray and blurry. Rain batters the window. The sun disappears as though someone turns off a light. Suddenly I am bored of my teeth. Fed up. They are taking too much of my time. I am no longer going to let them overwhelm me like this. I consider telling the nice assistant this but decide that she will probably think I am batty, so I don't. Of course, it might have been because the older woman with the maroon hair with pink highlights is in the cubicle next to me, telling the other gentle assistant about her reactions to sulfa drugs. Her reactions are detailed with an astonishing disregard for either privacy or dignity. No, I think, I will not tell the assistant that I am bored with my teeth. So instead I smile politely and agree to return in a couple of months time. 

Then I get into the car and drive through the rain and wind and sun until I get home. Where a 12 year old boy is waiting on the front porch for me, waving a piece of paper, excited that I have come back, bad teeth and all. He runs out to the car and hugs me. I tell him that I am bored with my teeth. That they take up too much of my time. That they have overwhelmed me. He nods. And agrees with me. The image I had in my worried brain, of myself as a potentially maroon-haired-with-pink-highlights-overly-indiscrete woman, suddenly dissolves around me and washes away. What the hell, I think, I can always get dentures.