Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chapter 5: In Which I Reveal My Inherent Idiocy

I spent the entire day on Friday jumping up and down beside a track, doing my best Stage Mother impersonation, screaming "GO! GO! GO! RUN! RUN! RUN!" at the top of my voice while watching the kids run and jump and sprint and throw with many many other children. It was our annual Track and Field Extravaganza, where we quirky homeschoolers compete with all the other independent schools in town for ribbons. Blue ribbons! Red ribbons! White ribbons!

And just to show me how much everyone has changed since last year, my kids went from wanting a ribbon of each colour ("I need a purple one!" "Now I have one of each colour!") to wanting only blue and red ribbons (1st and 2nd respectively), especially Dominic and FDPG. Max was in his Effortlessly Casually Cool Phase this year, and didn't care about winning so long as his pals were there to discuss important stuff, like all the Star Wars Lego YouTube videos they'd seen lately. And lounge on the grass in between events. And wander around cackling and acting Oh So Cool. Amazingly, even with the pall cast by he and his ECC cronies, he still managed to run faster than many boys his age and run with a certain panache, a fact that endeared him to a couple of girls in his age group. He appeared to be unaware of the female action admiring his little coterie until I teased him later that night, whereupon he said "Those girls followed us all over the place. Jeez they sure talk a lot." (note to girls: get acquainted with Lego YouTube, don't talk so much, and you will win the hearts of silly immature boys everywhere ... but do you really want to?) When we came home Max received some Really Important emails from his band of Merry Fellows, all in the same sort of vein: "How R U?" "R U OK?" "Howz it goin?" "Cool Dude!" The eloquence was almost overwhelming, as were Max's responses: "Hi" "Cool" "Hey there."

Gosh. All this rigorous classical homeschooling is really paying off.

The twins were in their Cutthroat Gotta Win Phase (FDPG adds a "Or I might cry" coda to all her events) and raced to win. Dominic managed to get one of the coveted Relay spots this year, a spot awarded to the two fastest boys in each age group. In a move that was guaranteed to shock and amaze us all, Dominic turned out to be the fastest boy in his age group, in spite of his short little legs. And let me tell you, the entire week beforehand was paced accordingly.

"Mum, are my track shorts clean?"

"Mum, have you washed my track shirt?"

"We need to practice!"

"Only 3 more sleeps until Friday!"

"Only 2 more sleeps until Friday!"

"Only 1 more sleep until Friday!"

Interspersed with that was FDPG and her Sturm Und Drang at not having been chosen for the relay team (she was 3rd fastest girl, sigh). It's hard when one's sibling gets chosen for something and one has to Bear Up and be a Good Sport while quietly gnashing one's teeth. It might have been easier if Max hadn't reminded her of it every few hours...

So while Max was being followed around by Admiring Females Dominic and FDPG were busy being Extremely Athletic. Which extended to me exhorting them to drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, keep their hats on when not competing, eat orange slices, and chew on the Horribly Expensive and Seldom Purchased Fruit Bars I had packed in their cooler bags ("This is the LAST TIME I'm buying these RIP OFF bars so enjoy them while you can!"). Because, Gentle Reader, I might have neglected to mention this salient fact right off the bat but let me tell you now: It was hot. It was really hot. Really really hot. So hot that I wore an hat all day. And it wasn't my HipCool Summer Hat, either; no, this was my wide brimmed Serious-Heat-In-The-Garden-Hat (SHITGH).

Hmm. Nice acronym, Sheila. You sure know how to pick 'em. My shitgah hat.

But even with that SHTGH hat on all day, I managed to get a ExtremelyWellDone rating on my arms. And my feet have a distinct cross and bar mark from my crisscross sandal straps. And the twins started to flag in earnest. Heck, everyone there started to flag in earnest. But we still managed to watch Dominic run like the wind for his relay team, run like the wind in his 100m race, watch several of our older runners run like wildfire in their relay teams, and have an awful lot of fun. We finished that long long day, wherein we won most points for an independent school AND won a trophy (Go homeschoolers!), declined a number of Immediately Afterwards Playdates ("No, Max, I am NOT driving you over to Oliver's house for 1 hour so you can show him your Lego movie, then pick you up when you've exhausted the possibilities of getting Oliver's mum to ply you with chips and pop. Instead I am going to go home, give you some hastily prepared food and maybe fob you off with a rental movie, after which I plan to drink lots of wine and fall apart on the couch because I feel horribly sunstruck") and wended our way slowly home, stopping off at McDonalds along the way, where they divested me of $7.11 for some cruddy ice cream, finally arriving home, whereupon I went out and turned on all my sprinklers because the poor poor garden was also feeling the effects of the day.

But I started all this as a Reveal Of My Inherent Idiocy, didn't I?

I suppose this is where it started...

I was standing in the vegetable patch about 20 minutes after we got home, staring dully at the tomatoes, wondering if I had a bottle of wine in the fridge, when something brushed my shoulder. My burned shoulder. My sun-burned shoulder. My crispy sun-burned shoulder. I looked down and saw an expanse of glowing skin. It wasn't horribly red, because I've spent a lot of time out in the sun, but it was glowing. More than it should've been.

"I know what will fix this," I thought, "I'll get some aloe vera!"

So I did. I cut a long slender rib, split it open, and rolled that lovely cooling gel all over my shoulder. It felt lovely. It looked soothing. Hydrating. I could see the red subsiding.

Fast forward to next day.

As usually happens with this sort of Exhausting Event, the kids had 4,351 activities they had to be at the very next day. Activities which required my Monte Carlo driving skills. Activities which required me to get up early and make lunches and be organized in breakfast preparation. Not my forte, lemme tell you. Nevertheless, we were out the door at 8:30am and off to Round #1. I dropped off one kid, whipped off to Round #2, dropped off another kid, then raced home for some Garden Watering. I changed my outfit because it seemed as though the day was getting hotter, and raced off to pick up kid from Round #1. It was when I was standing at the corral, watching kid at Round #1 get his things together, when a parent approached me. "Look at your shoulder!" she exclaimed. "That's some burn! It looks painful."

We both looked down. My arm was purple. It had dark purple streaks on it. It was red underneath. Red with purple streaks. It DID look painful. I glanced up at the mother, and we both exchanged the same look. That look said "You don't wear sunscreen. You are one of those idiots who doesn't wear sunscreen." In my case that look was tempered by a "But I think sunscreens are carcinogenic!" glint, whereas the speaker's look was pure and simple: "You are SUCH a dope, and now you have a weird and creepy striped purple arm!"

I went through the rest of yesterday with purple streaks on my arms. Purple streaks that everyone stared at, including the Really Cute Guy at the Green Barn Market. We both pushed our carts towards the yams at the same time, and his gaze fell on my Purple Streaked Arms. His gaze changed from Casual Fun Flirt to You Are A Creepy Looking Female (who probably doesn't know anything about Lego YouTube videos) in a matter of seconds. It was very sad.

Then I got home.

Yes, yes, I'm getting to the Idiocy Bit.

Richard stared at my arms.

"What happened to your arms?" he asked. He ran his finger down my arm thoughtfully. "Looks like you have paint on your arm. Weird."

"No, I got burned. Stop staring! It's not THAT weird."

"Didn't you rub aloe vera all over your arms yesterday?" he said. "Might it be that?"

"Ha!" I snorted. "Yeah, right, aloe vera gives me purple streaks. Good one."

But when he left the room I got a wash cloth and gingerly rubbed at my arms.

The purple came off.

So did the streaks.

My arm was left slightly reddened, but sans streaks.

No streaks.

At all.

I had normal arms.

Note to self: when using aloe vera, remember to wash it off afterwards.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life With The Penderwicks

We just finished reading Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy as our Morning Read Aloud (a writer after my own obsession with capital letters). It took us approximately 9 days to read, weekends excepted. And that wasn't because it's not very long, although compared to a Harry Potter or a Sea of Trolls book I suppose it isn't; no, we read it so fast because we all liked it so much.

This book sat on our shelves all year long. Some well-meaning relative gave it to us last summer, and after a quick glance at the subtitle I thought "Hmm, this might be one for FDPG's shelves, what with all those sisters and stuff." I couldn't see Max sitting in on this one very cheerfully. He'd loved the Little House books, but they had homesteading stories in them, and stories about bears and honey and guns and axes. He flagged a little when Laura went on about her trousseau at the end there, but he'd been sad to finish the series. The Penderwicks looked distinctly girlish. So it sat there and sat there, all through the Harry Potter marathon, all through some new Diana Wynne Jones, all through Half Magic, all through The Mysterious Benedict Society, and more. I'd pull it out now and then, study the cover, then reshelve it. Another time, I always thought.

Anyhow, a week or so ago I finally hauled it out and thought "It's now or never!" And the next morning, at breakfast, I brought it out and said "This is our next read!" I might have been imagining it, but I think caught a quick cringe. A scowl for certain. There might even have been some eye-rolling. But this is where my patented Jane Austen Homeschooling Heroine skills helped me out, because instead of quailing before the sullen glare that only a boy-on-the-verge-of-being-forced-to-listen-to-a-story-about-many-girls can muster, I opened the book and began reading, not in a hurried, nervous, oh-please-don't-start-twitching-and-sighing tone (which is sometimes my Backup Voice if the story, err, flags), but in a calm, measured, this-is-going-to-be-amazing voice.

You're all with me on the hyphens, I hope?

Well, let's just say that Max was willing to go along with it all in an effort to cultivate his inner Good Sport, so I read quite unchallenged for a page or two, with the twins listening most raptly, but when we hit the line "'We'll discover that when I'm in the backseat for too long with my younger sisters, I go insane and murder them,' said Skye" he perked right up. This wasn't just a story about four sisters, it was about four sisters who sometimes squabble. And argue. And call each other the odd rude name. And do silly things. And play funny games that involve rubber-tipped arrows and targets with the faces of Interfering Adults painted on them. And one of them was often quite disagreeable. These weren't Perfect Little Girls by any stretch of the imagination.

This was a story Max could really relate to.

It was even funny. I counted at least 15 occasions when the kids all burst out laughing. And each morning, when I'd haul the book from the bookshelf next to the dining room table, FDPG would sigh happily, readying herself for more delightful vignettes about all those girls. She loved that book. She loved hearing stories about groups of smart, clever, witty girls getting into mischief and helping the boys get out of trouble. Gosh, put that way, who wouldn't?

Dominic liked hearing about Jeffrey, the son of the Rich But Sadly Slightly Nasty Landlady, and what an amazing house he lived in, filled as it was with walk-about attics and trees next to windows to climb out of and cooks named Churchie who made gingerbread for lunch and ponds filled with goldfish and tunnels through hedges and and and...

And best of all, Max sat through it all, without the slightest scowl or frown or sigh. Not even a harrumph. And when we finished the story, he leaned back and said "That was way better than I thought it would be!"

So there you go, you just never know what you're going to get into with some of these stories. And sometimes it's way better than you think. Lucky for me...

Other reading aloud posts can be found here:

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

Reflections on reading a Little House Book

FDPG's Latest Read

Reading Harry Potter

The Water Horse

Monday, May 25, 2009

Camera Obscura

I was taking pictures of the garden tonight (because I happen like having 4,327 pictures of the same garden slowing iPhoto to a crawl) and trying to block out the houses across the street while at the same time get a picture of my cool new driftwood arbor. I like this arbor and I really like the fact that I built it with my very own hands, even if it did cause my 80 year old neighbour to come tottering across the lawn to ask if he could do the drilling (apparently I looked "unsteady"). Even if it did cause Richard to cackle on the front doorstep, while eating his lunch, and ask me if I needed help. Then hover behind the screen door where he thought I couldn't see him, worrying about the shocking treatment his drill and its bits were getting (turned out I had a concrete drill bit and didn't know it - the HORROR of it all). Even if my other neighbour did come over the next day while I was planting some cucumbers and scarlet runners at its base, to tell me that he had some "funky bits" to hang from it if I wanted (?). And punctuate his remark with a cavalier laugh.

The nerve of some people.

We can't all be handy. Some of us have to be lower on the Handy Person Bell Curve than others. And I, I bear my inability to build sturdy things like arbors and trellises (or is that trelli?) like a true Jane Austen heroine. My creations may not endure, but I am stoic. Philosophical, even.

Well, until things blow down. Or break. Then I resort to less noble behaviours.

Not that I'm going to get into that here.

Anyhow, all this posturing and crouching and leaning to exclude the less than aesthetic visions opposite reminded me of the time an acquaintance came to visit. She must have seen this blog at some point, because the first thing she said to me was "Uh, this is your garden? The same one I saw pictures of?" I wish I had Sound-O-Vision for this remark, because it was garlanded, nay, festooned with surprise. There was disbelief. A touch of shock. And a smidgen of confusion. She obviously thought she had the wrong place.

But really, does anyone thing I'm going to show pictures like this?
My messy hoses? The newly shorn nectarine, sitting nakedly against the wall? My grubby potting bench, built from scrap wood in California and dragged all the way up here to BC because I had a sentimental attachment to it? Oh boy, reading that makes me realize what a dingbat I am (note to self: don't mention how you brought your compost over on the ferry when you moved here).

I'd like to say I'm an amazingly gifted photographer, but then that would bring us back to my yard not really looking like this, wouldn't it? So let's just say that I am a selective photographer. Why show views of ugly stucco boxes houses like the one I live in when I could show pictures like this (minus the houses lurking just inches away from here).

Here's another shot. Richard says that I live in a little world of make-believe and sometimes I have to agree with him. This is way better than what you aren't seeing: cars parked on the road and more stucco boxes.

(sheila waves her smelling salts under everyone's nose)

There, there, this is so much better, now, isn't it?

Fleet of Feet

Dominic has spent a lot of years living in the shadow of FDPG. First it was because she was the only one who could understand his grumps, grunts, and snorts, then it was because she was the only one patient enough to actually endure some of his more, err, stubborn moments. And when she started reading and writing and learning foreign languages and getting into really complicated stuff at a very early age all he could do was watch her. Well, that and slug her every now and then for making him frustrated. Maybe yell at her a bit. Sneak candy out of her Halloween basket. Ask her for teeny tiny tastes of her ice cream then take a whacking great bite.

Fast forward 3 years.

We've joined a homeschool Track and Field group, and lo and behold but Dominic has discovered that he can do something FDPG can't: he can run really fast. He's almost always at the front of the pack, way way in front of the pack. It's kind of funny to see, really, because he's shorter than most of the other kids (we hail from the race of Short People) yet he runs like the Road Runner (but I don't tell him that because I don't think he'd know what I was talking about).

Meep meep.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Surprises

I think this was the only time I've ever known for sure who would win. And the only time the winner was so universally liked.

FDPG and I are equally admiring: he's a honey, this one. FDPG and Dominic both have plans to be on this show one day. Better hone up on your cutthroat, tear-free, all-rounder sports abilities, FDPG. You're gonna need them.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Extending the Season

If you listen to the local garden pundits, you'll hear that our garden season is greatly delayed. Depending upon who you listen to, this delay could be anywhere from one week to one month. Not that I like to listen to pundits, mind you, but over the years I've noticed that this is sometimes to my detriment (I do have my occasional moments of insight). Well, to my garden's detriment, really (yeah, we don't see you out there shivering in the cold, sheila).

But the thing is, we seeded our plants a while ago. I want that season to get a move on already. I do not want to hang about waiting until it warms up properly. Of course, this forces me to examine how immature I can be my ability to be philosophical about the outdoors as it pertains to my garden. I've never been very good at waiting. Richard jokes that the people who make the Little Miss and Mister books should have made one for me, titled Little Miss Impatient.

Some of us find that incredibly funny.

Some of us don't.

The Waiting Room, awaiting its closeup its eventual deliverance very patiently

Anyhow, the cold frame Waiting Room was getting rather crowded, as you can see, so I sent the pumpkins, mini-gourds, and watermelons off to their new homes one hot sunny day last week. I even went so far as to plant a few of the tomato plants, because they were too big for their pots too. And then my dad comes over and says "#@%, what are you doing planting THOSE now? They're going to FREEZE."

Oh, I thought. Should I tell him about Little Miss Impatient? How I channel a book character? Or will he laugh me into my compost pile?

I decided against it.

"They'll be fine," I said. "They face south. It's hot here."

He looked a little skeptical, but being my dad, he nodded and said I was probably right. And when he left, I felt a little panicky. Say they did shrivel up in the cold night? Say it rained for another 300 days? So I dug around in the garbage pile I have, a pile of old bags from Bag It Yourself soil places, and hauled out a few. Then I got a few tomato cages and fashioned a mini greenhouse.
Like this....
It's funny, in this picture they rather resemble a bunch of old ladies at the beauty parlour, awaiting their wash and set, don't you think? I might just nickname them Mary, Jean, Beatrice, and Alice. The Wash and Set Ladies.
As for the Tigerellas, well, since I only have about, uh, lemme see, maybe 4 million of them right now (why oh why did I plant all the seeds I saved last year? Sometimes I am SUCH an idiot) I figured I'd abandon some in the wilderness to forage on their own do a bit of an experiment with them: will this new Season Extender work better? Or worse? Will they live? Or won't they? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion to How The Tomato Grows (cue soap opera music). Gosh, the possibilities are thrilling.

Here's the Waiting Room after the Exodus. It's only been 4 days since I took the other WR photo, and already the zucchini (Ronde de Nice) have grown substantially (they are the 3rd row down if you start at the top of the photo). You could barely see them before.
So there you go. You too can ignore Experienced Garden Pundits! Live to garden another day! Channel weird little cartoon characters just for the heck of it! Am I Human? Or am I Gardener?

(guess I shouldn't listen to YouTube music videos while I write, should I?)

Lewisia Lately

I've written before about my Lewisia Love. I'd forgotten that I'd initially purchased them on an Escape From Renovation Hell expedition. And I wish I didn't remember how much of the renovation budget I blew on them, but when I went into the Greenridge Archives to get that link the price flew out at me and I turned into a pillar of shocked salt. Knew I shouldn't have looked.

Ah well. Look at that colour. Doesn't it singe your eyeballs just a little?

And this one. It's like living with a bunch of goofy old ladies with a penchant for gaudy eye shadow and radioactive lipstick.

Or a bunch of little girls, for that matter.

Heck, one of my sons used to like wearing nail polish. I'm sure I've seen that colour before. On someone's toes. Not saying who, of course.

Here we are again.


I feel a song coming on. A little something in Broadway, perhaps? Some tap dancing? A flirty skirt? Hugh Jackman to twirl me, lewisia in between my teeth?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

All Glass On Deck

The guy who owns the house across the street is replacing its rotting siding this week, and a greenhouse window, which had been attached to the house, was sitting in the middle of the lawn when I came home from swim lessons with the kids. I'd glanced at that window several times and thought it would be nice as a cold frame. Seeing it sitting there, in the middle of the lawn, made me think it might be going to the dump. But the landlord was just leaving in his truck. I dashed after him as he drove down the street in his truck and asked him if he was planning on reusing it after he'd finished the siding. And if he wasn't, could I have it. Sorry, he said, his neighbour wanted it. We'd never met before, so I felt rather guilty about giving him my best Sad Winsome Gardener In Need look, but I did it anyhow. "Oh, darn. It would be perfect as a cold frame," I said sadly but bravely. "Thank you anyhow." He waved uncertainly and roared off.

I shuffled dejectedly back up the road and over to where my other neighbour, an older fellow, was standing with my kids, watching me race up and down the street after the truck. For some reason I amuse this neighbour. "You have no shame, do you!" he said. "No I don't," I replied, "I want something like that for my seedlings. It's perfect. But his neighbour is going to take it. Drats."

"You never know," he said, "the neighbour might not want it." "Who wouldn't want that?" I said, trying to stifle the image of my husband's rolling eyes and comments about all the junk I attract to our back yard if I were to acquire that window. I could think of one person who would not want that window. Not that that makes any difference to me wanting it, though. Oh no, no.

A few hours later the truck neighbour was back. He knocked at the front door. "Want that window?" he asked.

Do I?

Do I?

You bet I do.

And here it is. Happy as a clam on my deck.

How To Turn A Crappy Old Plastic Pot

...into something moderately aesthetic.

Or, as Dominic said " When I first saw that pot I thought it looked really junky. Now it looks like something you'd buy in a store."

That's the idea, you clever boy you.

I needed a Mother's Day present for my mother, so I went to Home Despot, thinking I'd get a container and some little plants to put in it. I bought some annuals: Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas), Coleus, Bacopa "Taifun Mega White," and ivy geraniums "Pacific Merlot." I bought some soil. Then I went to the container section and did a double take. Thirty dollars for a pretty green planter? Ugh. Have I ever mentioned how cheap I am? (hope my mum isn't reading this) Or how tragic my bank account it? Or how cheap I —

Thus thwarted by ole Home Expensepot, and disinclined to go elsewhere in case it only got worse, I went home with the annuals and the soil and rummaged around in my garden storage area. No terracotta pots. Well, there was one, but it was the one I use to force my rhubarb every year. Couldn't get rid of that. No nice plastic pots either. There were two plastic pots that were the right size, but both of them looked pretty ugly: scratched and stained.

The wheels spin in Sheila's head while she considers various scenarios.

Then...a flashback...

Once upon a time, long long ago, I entered a garden competition for a Canadian home & garden magazine. It was a container garden competition. I was living in a little basement suite with lots of potted herbs and things, and it seemed like a fun sort of thing to do. I liked gardening, although at the time I knew next to nothing about it. But the second prize really appealed to me: an espresso machine. I could see that espresso machine sitting on my counter top. I could see it foaming and hissing. I could see me drinking espresso, laced with a little cream and brandy. So I entered that contest. In order to spice up my bland green and black nursery containers, I hauled out my acrylic paints and brushes (have I ever mentioned that I was a face-painting clown in another life?) and painted them with bright colours, wild animals, and geometric designs. They looked better than the plants did, to be honest.

And whadday know but I won.

Very sadly, I did not win the espresso machine. It was the second prize, and I won the first prize. I tried to convince the judges to give me the second prize, and to give the second prize winner the first prize (a gift certificate to a Colour Your World paint store) but they wouldn't go for it. So I gave my parents the paint certificate. Made me look exceedingly benevolent towards my poor, long-suffering parents and made their kitchen look pretty good.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Mother's Day presents.

After that little flashback, I knew what I could do. I hauled out one of the grubby, stained, scraped plastic pots (you know, the kind with the Faux Terracotta look) and gave it a mini power wash with my hose. I stared at it hopefully. It didn't look that bad now.

FDPG sauntered over to where I was standing, and stared at the pot with me. She chortled. "That's sure an ugly pot!" she said gleefully. "I don't think Nanna will like that much!"


And now, here it is, a few short hours and several coats of acrylic paint later. I'm not finished with it yet, but it's coming along. Instead of the Faux Terracotta, it now has a Faux Giraffe look. I'll post another shot when I'm done, assuming it looks better than this. If I don't post another shot, you'll know that you saw its best moment in time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

FDPG's Latest Read

I am fortunate to live in a town with a seriously good bookstore. It's good in that it: a) offers a discount (on all items) to homeschoolers, b) makes a genuine attempt to order in anything you ask them to, and c) puts on a lot of bookish events for people. And so it was that I found myself there the other night, in regards to the c) category. A homeschooling mother here in town convinced one of this store's employee's (a homeschooling mother herself, I realized rather belatedly) to give a group of us a semi-virtual tour through the shelves of the YA literature section (YA being Young Adult).

Now I've bought books for my kids solely on the recommendations of other people, and some of them have been fortuitous finds. Some haven't. And we're lucky in that we happen to live in a province that offers options to homeschoolers, most of them with financial attachments I can live with. And these financial attachments offer me the opportunity to buy books for my kids that I wouldn't otherwise. That said, we still spend way too much time in the library (at least, according to Max we do), because there is only so much of the house that I am prepared to offer up to books. I need space for my hat collection, for one thing. And my seed sprouting activities. And my CD collection (Billy Bragg! Ron Sexsmith! The Cure!). And my cookery implement collection (currently groaning in storage boxes in the basement). Not to mention my cook books. Oh, and gardening books.

Well, you get the idea.

Anyhow, back to the fortuitous finds and this particular bookstore.

Thanks to Becky, whom I hold responsible for emptying that homeschool purse more than she realizes (with this and this and this and this, among other items), we've accumulated a lot of fun stuff to read and listen to, items that have both lightened my load as a homeschooling parent and given the kids much food for future thought (that they might not have gotten otherwise). My kids are now serious devotees of that thing known as The Audio Story. When we first started taking them out of the library (because I didn't see myself EVER spending $40 for an audio CD when I could get it free from the library...come to think of it, I still don't) I thought "Gosh, how quaint! I used to listen to cassettes too" (because 5 years ago the library collections were still largely cassette-oriented). Now of course almost everything is on CD, which is nice because they sound better and behave better in the kids' creaky cranky Freecycled ghetto blasters. And the variety! It's incredible. The kids have their favourite readers even (Jim Dale reading Peter Pan was an early favourite. Ditto the lovely Dr Who David Tennant reading Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III). Call me antiquated but who needs a DVD player in the car when you've got Our Island Story, A Little History of the World, or Norse Myths all ready to go? Anyhow, we are all big fans of the audio story here. Sometimes the kids listen to the audio version and sometimes they happen upon the book. Either way it's good.

Max likes adventure stories: Silverwing, Garth Nix's Keys To The Kingdom, The Thieflord (when he first started reading he loved anything by Cornelia Funke), The Gatekeepers series by Anthony Horowitz, Lemony Snicket's stuff. FDPG likes fantasy adventures or anything funny with dragons and goofy princesses in them: the Magic Treehouse series was her first passion, then she moved on to Dragonrider, The Last Dragon, The Unicorn Secrets, Dealing With Dragons, Talking To Dragons, the Warriors series...well, you get it. She liked them so much she got the books out of the library and read them over and over again. Right now she's rereading the Harry Potter series AND listening to them at the same time, mostly because she can't wrench herself out of that world. Who can blame her. We're reading The Mysterious Benedict Society right now (HT to Suji for the suggestion), which they are all pretty enthusiastic about, but I can't help but compare it to HarryPotterWorld. I miss the HPW. And Dominic, well, he loves goofy fun-filled stories like Ralph Mouse, Mouse on a Motorcycle, and Horrid Henry. Or even Flat Stanley and Geronimo Stilton.

Anyhow, back to the fortuitous finds and this particular bookstore. (didn't you just say that?)

Here are some of the book suggestions the Fabulous Bookstore Employee gave us. I bought this one right away, for FDPG, and she read it in one day she loved it so much. It's called Ottoline and the Yellow Cat. It's a perfectly gorgeous book, with perfectly charming drawings in it, and some perfectly hilarious postcards at the back (in case you forget the Who's Who) describing the characters thusly:

Her Radiant Luminosity: Maureen of Eastphalia
Her Ineffable Elevatedness: Tina of Trondheim

And it's hard cover too, which I usually avoid (because I'm cheap), but in this case I think the HC really works. It's a very tactile object, this book.

Here are a few other titles. I've checked out one or two and I can see them coming to our house in the near future, all going well with the homeschooling purse strings.

Ronia by Astrid Lindgren
Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton
Van Gogh Café by Cynthia Rylant
A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond
The Nose From Jupiter by Richard Scrimger
Fly By Night by Francis Hardinge
The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
Wind Rider by Susan Williams
The Garbage King by Elizabeth Laird
Sceptre of the Ancients by Derek Landry
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

I'd like to add our own favourite Diana Wynne Jones, in case you aren't familiar with her.

The Game
The Chrestomanci series
House of Many Ways
Howl's Moving Castle
Castle in the Air

I realize I am not giving you links on any of this stuff, but you all know how to use google. And amazon. Go to it.

So there you, my action-packed night out.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Haul Soil

I've been gardening in a big way this week, mostly because my dad and his truck have been bringing me yards of soil. (oops, here I go blogging about the garden again) Anyone ever moved a yard of soil? I've done it twice now. It's a lot of work. I feel like flourishing my arm muscles at bit, except no one can see them (and I don't see me taking a picture of them because everyone here will snicker). But now I have two long beds on the sloping part of the yard where we plan to put the Lumina pumpkins, the Rouge Vif D'Etamps pumpkins, the Sweet Dakota Rose watermelons, the gourds, and everything else that is starting to spill out of that cold frame of ours.

I've been adding to the artichoke bed too, so we now have nine artichoke plants (I have to quell the sound of Richard's voice gleefully whispering "fartichokes!" to me everytime I mention them). But I love artichokes. When we lived in California you could get giant packages of baby artichokes at Trader Joe's, and we'd boil them until soft, then toss them in the oven drenched in pesto. Or just stick a fork in them and eat them soft and warm. They were always my pregnancy craving food. One reason why I remember them so fondly, I suppose, now that the kids are getting big. Funny how you remember those early baby days so fondly, even if you didn't feel so fond at the time. I know I didn't. I felt completely bewildered by what I'd done.

The twins are showing signs of developing Garden Obsession. Each morning they race outside, while I'm opening up the cold frame, still in pajamas, to compare whose potato plant is bigger. FDPG has her nose slightly out of joint because, for some mysterious reason, Dominic's beets are coming up and hers aren't. But we don't talk about that. Instead we discuss the new leaf that appeared overnight, or the tiny green loopers threatening to eatmy apple trees all up, or the tiger moth caterpillers that are spilling out from the fir trees where they should be, furry little beggars. Or even the new robin's nest in the willow tree, where the twins spend all their time swinging or climbing or hanging. One does wonder what made the robins chose that tree (Sheila clears her throat expectantly).

I have some sad news to impart: Henry the Pig From Guinea died on the weekend. It was very sad. FDPG and I cried, then we took him outside and held a funeral and cried some more. We buried him next to the monkey puzzle tree that died in the winter (oops, hope Sandy isn't reading this). He was very old for a guinea pig (seven) but it was still a wrench to see his hairy fat body lying in his cage, like that, so still. So final.

Max was at a Scout camp or he would've been at the funeral too. Richard wanted me to put Henry in the freezer so Max could see him but something in me balked at that. Besides, the freezer didn't have a lot of room in it. As it was, Max was surprisingly broken up about ole Henry. It was his pet after all. And to think I mistook all that grumbling about cage-cleaning and greens-gathering for indifference. Shame on me.

Here is Henry before he went off to join the Army. I think he was in the Rick Mercer Battalion, where they don't have to wear helmets unless they want to (Henry didn't want to), and where everyone is celebrated, regardless of sexual affiliation (luckily for Henry).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Going To The Museum

FDPG and I went down to the fancy museum in the provincial capital on Saturday. We went to see Treasures: The World's Cultures From the British Museum. I'd bought advance tickets for the curator's talk and tour for Max and I ages ago, but by the time the dates come up he was booked on a Scout camp at the same time, so I made FDPG go with me. She loves history, and was more than willing, but we both underestimated what the curator's lectures would be like. I had visions of a gripping, technicolour IMAX sort of thing (since the lecture was held in the IMAX theatre it seemed likely) and FDPG had visions of Corinthian helmets in a gripping, technicolour IMAX sort of thing (because that was the item she was most intent on seeing and that's how her mind works), but in the end neither of us were on the money. The curators were very nice, very erudite English lecturers, and they spoke in that way only witty English people can ("It rather delights me to see the Lewis chessman piece as the poster boy for this exhibit"), but it was a little on the dry side. No Powerpoint fireworks. No dramatic mood music. Just a few slides and a lot of talking. A lot of talking about Oceania and Melanesia, too; places we weren't sure had any connection with the items in the exhibit. And FDPG and I were the only people there under the age of 60. Good thing she isn't the kind of kid to give me a "What the hell are we here for?" look. Enough of the people around were giving me that very same look. I probably could've ignored her just as easily as I ignored them, but it was nice she didn't. I tend to quail under FDPG's fierce gaze.

After the lectures we were escorted on a tour of the items in the exhibit. Well, actually, I dashed off to plug the parking meter while FDPG elbowed the old ladies who tried to push her out of our place in line.

They had divided the items up according to continent and time period, and in the middle of the entire exhibit they had something called an Enlightenment Circle, where one could go in and play with various items: writing implements, listen to a Rosetta Stone inscription read out in 6 different languages, roll carved stone rolls across Silly Putty to see what they spelled out, and so on. But exhibit was quite spectacular. FDPG saw the Corinthian helmet she'd coveted, as well as some coins from Greece and Persia, and we both stood spell bound at the Egyptian items they had on display. And everything was lit so wonderfully, things seemed to glow. Only one item was a reproduction, which made everything else all the more magical.

But I couldn't take any photographs, sadly.

Afterwards we went to the place where they rob you of any remaining cash Treasure Shop, just to see what they had there, and discovered some of the things we'd seen on-line on the British Museum website. Umbrellas with Egyptian art on them, neckties with hieroglyphs, lots of kids educational materials, and lots and lots of beautifully painted mugs. FDPG was quite taken with these ones, until we up ended them to see their price tag, and even she knew better than to ask me to buy her one.

I have always had a weak spot for anything with Anubis on it. But this Anubis cost $1000. "Why don't you make one in papier-maché?" said Richard the Slightly Idiotic, when we got home and I showed him this photo. "Gosh," I said, "why don't I? I'm sure I have a spare 200 hours to whip one up."

I think he was joking.

I don't think I was.

FDPG and I got into a rather spirited conversation about Bastet, the Cat Goddess. FDPG got her mixed up with Seknet, the lion-headed goddess. So we wrangled pleasantly about it for a while, until we saw the tag on this baby ($1000 as well: don't see myself doing this in papier-maché, do you?) and it read BASTET CAT. Whereupon I crowed only a little. And FDPG glowered only a little.

Rosetta Stone bookends, anyone?

The chess sets they had for sale, while horrifically priced, were incredibly amusing: this one is Caesar and Cleopatra facing off. Another featured the Roman and the Greek gods squaring off.

And yet another featured the Poster Children of the Exhibit: The Lewis Chessmen. Here's what the BM says about them. And here's another view.

And of course FDPG had to get one of the replicas when we happened upon them. It's a very tactile object and we have all spent a lot of time holding it and rubbing its edges. "I LOVED these pieces. This knight makes up for that boring lecture," I overheard her telling her dad, later that day.

I bought a small papyrus, genuine-hand-painted-in-Egypt-specially-for-tourists print. I almost got the Bastet print, just so FDPG and I could wrangle pleasantly when we got home, but this one has a shot of Horus, and we all love Horus around these parts. I keep hoping we're going to see him strolling around the back yard one night, with his hawk's head sharply at an angle, eyes on the lookout for Osiris or Isis.

The one thing I was disappointed not to see was a book of postcards featuring all the items in the collection. There was a coffee table book, with lots of scholarly comments next to each photograph, but I wanted postcards, so I could tear them out and stick them up on the walls around here. So we could all look at the collection. And wonder. Because it's definitely a collection worth wondering about.

Even if I did have to resort to gift shop pictures.

When we got home, Dominic was waiting for FDPG with his Rock Monster Lego constructions. "Come see these!" he shouted at her as soon as she walked in the front door. Off she went. A minute later she was back in the kitchen, and Dominic was slamming his bedroom door. "What's up?" I asked her. "Oh, that Dominic," she said, "there was me having a really boring morning and all he can talk about it Lego."

Gee, FDPG. I'm SO glad you had a good time.