Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reading Not So Great Books

I've talked before about the Read Aloud Hour(s) we do around here. If you want a refresher, click here for the books I've either read to the kids or talked about or even, sometimes reviewed.

A while back I went to another of those Fabulous Homeschooling Mother's Book Nights at our Fabulous Local Book Store, where a Fabulous Bookstore Employee gave us a virtual tour of the kids reading world these days. Some of the books were for a younger set, and some weren't so new, but all in all it was fun to see what's out there, new and pristine and not in a second hand store (where I usually get our ReadAlouds). I'll list a few, in case you need some ideas:

Picture Books for Younger Kids

Dogger Shirley Hughes
Voices in the Park Anthony Browne
Wendell's Workshop Chris Riddell
Beyond the Deep Woods Chris Riddell
Katie Morag's Island Stories Mairi Hedderwick
No David MacPhail
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble William Steig (dare you to read this one aloud without crying)
Burglar Bill The Ahlbergs
Van Gogh Café Cynthia Rylant
Katie and the Dragon Mary Hooper
Binky The Space Cat Ashley Spires

Older Kids

Sea of Trolls Nancy Farmer
Wee Free Men Terry Pratchett (also Truckers and Diggers)
Elijah of Buxton Christopher Paul Curtis
Karlssen Astrid Lindgren
Tanglewreck Jeannette Winterson
The Book of the Maidservant Rebecca Barnhouse
Skellig David Almond
The Castle in the Attic Elizabeth Winthrop
Neddiad Daniel Pinkwater
Framed Frank Cottrell Boyce (also Cosmic)
Weedflower Cynthia Kadohata
The Prince of Neither Here Nor There Sean Cullen (yes, THAT Sean Cullen)
The Eyes of a King Catherine Banner
Blood Red Snow White Marcus Sedgewick

Sciencey Titles

Adventures in Sand David Baird
Car Science Richard Hammond (of Top Gear fame)

Christmas Titles

The Thirteen Days of Christmas Jenny Overton
Christmas in Noisy Village Astrid Lindgren
The Mummers Song Ian Wallace
The Christmas Cat Efner T Holmes (Tasha Tudor's daughter)
The Spirit of Christmas Nancy Tillman
Classic Christmas PJ Lynch

Anyhow, after this Fabulous Evening I picked up a few titles, because a) we needed another read aloud since our marathon love affair with Lord of the Rings just ended (two months to read all three books), and b) while I am cheap, I am also unable to resist a clever new book, particularly one that comes with a Big Fat Recommendation. Oh, and c) I needed a few Christmas presents. But SHHH! Don't tell any of the offspring in this house about these or there will be one highly irritable elf around here come Christmas morning (one that looks scarily like me, eeeks).

So, thanks to that Fabulous Bookstore Night, our newest Read Aloud the other day was The Eyes of a King, by Catherine Banner.

It was recommended.

It was enthusiastically recommended.

It had a cool cover. Max thought it looked really dumb but he was just creeped out by the eyes above the castle.

It was written by a teenage girl.

It was part of a series, which I always like: if it's a world we love we all feel comforted it won't be ending after that first book.

But we hated it.

We ALL hated it.

We didn't even finish it we disliked it so much.

We've only ever done that once before, with Edward Eager's Half Magic (a book everyone other than us seems to adore). That one we stopped reading because it never captured our interest. It was kind of ho-hum.

This one we stopped reading because it was too darn emotional. Too many pages were devoted to emotional outbursts, lengthy bouts of angst, and an unusual amount of wrenching emotional pain. The trouble with all this emotion is that it wasn't very, err, how to put this nicely? — interesting. And it didn't seem terribly genuine. There were descriptive adjectives that built up out of nowhere, but they were so over the top it was almost bewildering. I felt sad reading this book, because it had a lot of potential but not enough skill to carry it off.

As such, I had a lot of trouble reading it aloud and not one of my three kids liked listening to it. At one point Max even groaned aloud and said "How long is it going to take for his brother to finally DIE? This is AWFUL!" Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the death of a fairly major character arouses this kind of response, things can't be good, right?

So we put it aside. And now I'm warning you. I would hazard a guess that a 15 year old girl might enjoy this read, but really, I'm just going by all that emotion. Most 15 year old girls I know like their emotion served up in generous dollops, with cream on top.

And now we're reading The Wee Free Men, by Terry Deary. And yes, I AM reading some bits with a ripe Scots accent, if you want to know. It's a fun read. It's lively and reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones, what with all that chatty goofy witch lore. A much better read.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Names For Lego

Intriguing piece from The Morning News on Lego nomenclature.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Drying Flowers

FDPG got a flower dryer a while back, as a present from someone. It was one of those kits you make yourself, with two flat boards sandwiching layers of cardboard and paper. FDPG is generally quite enthusiastic about these kinds of things: the idea of floating around the garden like a giddy little fairy, gathering flowers willy nilly from the garden, and using them to make Truly Amazing Art Work really appeals to her. So we dutifully made the dryer, or rather, I made it under her very careful scrutiny, since she was a bit under the weather, and then we started choosing flowers to put in it.

At first she chose things like dandelions, lovage, and feverfew leaves, or grass stalks and daisies. And was a little, err, zealous about screwing down the wingnuts holding together the cardboard, paper, and flowers. We had lots of bits and pieces of squished brown items, or squished green skinny things, mostly with lots of ribbed lines across them (which one could easily spot as a Firm Cardboard Impression). We also had a few squished bugs, sadly, smothered forever in their imitation Pompeiian glory.

She was slightly puzzled, I think, because it wasn't quite as glamorous or voluptuously colourful as she'd expected. So we went for more adventurous flowers. We looked further afield. We took scissors. And baskets. We clipped. We examined for perfection. We even scrutinized, hands over brows, frowning across the lawn with the sun in our eyes. It was like being in an Anne of Green Gables movie.

Well, without the long dresses, bonnets, braids and Tennyson. FDPG would probably enjoy a long dress, or even some braids, but she finds Tennyson a bit, err, long winded at this hasty stage of her hasty hasty life. Unless it's his Christmas carol...
This new direction in Gathering Flowers For FDPG's Artistic Intentions was much better, especially after I reluctantly said "okaaaay" to my perfect cerulean blue pansies, the unidentified purple sprays of blossom from the herb garden, many many many Digitalis blossoms (they, umm, stick rather unfortunately to the paper) some stalks of Hypericum perforatum, Lady's Mantle, and our very fattest, most truly gorgeous, purple clematis bloom.

We even tried curling the tendrils and fronds, carefully posing them for Artistic Effect. Here is a curled Hypericum, which in its pre-Dried state was definitely a little long in the tooth, not that you'd know it now. Things were definitely looking up for ole FDPG and her Grande Passion des Fleurs.

Our sole surviving Digitalis

A sprig of Lady's Mantle. This is a really great subject for drying: they all looked charming and perfect, no matter how, err, hurried their interment was. Plus, they all seemed to come with such long stems - handy for overlapping collage work.

Hypericum before drying. This is another handily long-stemmed flower.

Hypericum after drying.

We even used some of the coral bark maple leaves, especially the fall ones. They held their colour amazingly well.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Truly Irresistible

I don't know why I have so much trouble resisting stuff like this. I should know better. I really should.

Here I wrote a post about a summer holiday we had one year, up island with the kids. I wrote about my penchant for reading the English version (as opposed to the truly terrible Canadian version) of Hello! magazine. I wrote about the British Stars I don't know and how strangely compelling I find them, in all their somewhat witless and oh-so glamorous conceit. Finally, I wrote about one 'aging rocker' and his wife and their miracle twins who convulsed me completely (the aging rocker, not the miracle twins) with some truly crackpot family poses.

Stuck in my head, that family did.

Well, I saw them again today. I tell you, it's like a Peter Greenaway/Helen Mirren film: The Aging Rocker, His Wife, Their White Outfits, and Their Miracle IVF Twins.

It almost took my mind off a Star Wars Jeopardy clip I saw on YouTube. Almost.

(warning, "Sean Connery" makes a lot of rude and completely unsuitable-for-kids comments on this clip)

La Triviata

Fall is heading our way. It really and truly is this time. No more balmy days for us: the poor crowded tarragon that I hauled out of the herb garden is headed back into the ground for good; the chilies have decided that ripening into fat red sausages of heat IS a lost cause at this point, despite the cold frame (there goes my plan to make Sheila's Colon Cleanser Hot Sauce); the purple sprouting broccoli plants are all happy as clams (good thing someone is in this weather, is all I'll say); and there are daily rounds of Leaf Raking Mania round these parts, which thrills Max no end, since it's his chore to rake. That Max, he sure loves raking up leaves. Not. Fortunately he's an incredibly tolerant kid. He rakes, I give him all the leftover Yorkshire puddings, apple crisp, pumpkin muffins, sliced baguette & garlic butter, and rice pudding he can stuff down. Then Richard mows up all those leaves and bags them for me for mulch. Max stays skinny as a - wait for it - RAKE; Richard curses the trees; and I bless the mulch. Win, win, win.

Rose coloured lenses, baby, rose coloured lenses

On the plus side, no one here has had the Dreaded H1N1, despite the vast numbers of people we know who HAVE been felled by it.

Hang on, I need to go knock on some wood right now

Of course, I say this, but we were all ill a few weeks ago, back when everyone was saying "If you're sick now it HAS to be swine flu because there isn't anything else going around!" So who knows what is going on. All I know is that that bloody flu has given my neurotic skittish side total rein to be even more neurotic and skittish.


Isn't that a lovely sunset?

And yes, I am the Segue Queen.

On another plus side, I finally caved and bought this for the boys. Look, there it is on my coffee table! It's reposing happily in its new career as Beloved Coffee Table Book.

I had looked at it on Amazon, and I had looked at it when we were at Costco, although I worried that it would be lacking if I ordered it from Amazon (this has happened to me with Klutz books, where they don't come with everything I expect them to), so when I saw it at Costco for a cheaper price than Amazon, I thought "this might get me more raked leaves" "THIS IS CHEAPER THAN AMAZON? OMG! WHADDADEAL!"

And what do you know but it bought me much good will. For many many many days. (Sheila's Parenting Tip #429: Disarm Them Completely With Random Gestures of Niceness) It's amazing (or should that be worrying?) how absorbed they are with these books. Even now one of them is sprawled on the couch with one, deeply engrossed in the wonder that is Ye Olde Lego Sette.

Warning: if you are cut to the core upon hearing statements like "OMG, do you know how OLD this set is? It's from - get this - 1989! (insert many disbelieving guffaws and cackles here) That is SO OLD! Mum! Did you hear how OLD this set is? It's REALLY OLD! I wasn't even ALIVE when it came out, it's so OLD!" you might not want this series anywhere near your house.

And on another plus side, Max's 4-H group had their final Dinner & Raffle Event on the weekend. It was fun. The boys in this group are a witty and oddly loquacious bunch, none too shy with the microphone. Max won 2 trophies, surprise surprise. I'm not sure who was most surprised: him, me or the usual trophy winners. And FDPG won some items in the Raffle, which thrilled her greedy little heart, even if they were things like Armor All and Handy Wrench Sets. I won a raffle prize too but as it was one of the things I had donated I sent it back into the melée ("Look!" someone shouted, "they're Homing Muffins!"). If you look below you can see my teeny tiny kitchen crowded with items from that day. I baked baguettes, I baked pumpkin cinnamon buns, I baked cardamon-sweet potato muffins, I made Minted Potato Salad, and I cooked great honking chunks of Rouge Vif D'Etampes pumpkins (incredible baking pumpkins, by the way) to freeze later in little ziplock baggies for when we're deeper into winter (or when I need a little something for the weekend morning muffins).
If you want the recipe for the Pumpkin Cinnamon buns, head over here. In their original form they are known as the UBC Cinnamon Bun and they are one of the more easy cinnamon buns to make, although, as is the wont of most sweet yeasted breads, they go stale rather quickly. I changed the recipe, after being inspired by Heather, by slathering some pumpkin purée over the dough after brushing on the butter and before sprinkling on the cinnamon sugar. They looked as though they would be BURSTING with worryingly-obvious-child-putting-off pumpkin flavour but it was surprisingly muted, although once Max discovered that there was pumpkin in them he decided they weren't as fabulous as he had initially claimed. Those hovering-on-the-cusp-of-puberty kids...all I will say is that they are at once whimsical and exasperating.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do Jedis Trick or Treat?

Something tells me that they don't. Something tells me they are a bit dignified for something so banal, even Mace Windu, that old trickster. Nonetheless, we had two in this house who went out trick or treating on the weekend. And as you can see from one of the photos, at least one of them spent a lot of time the preceding week practicing his Jedi Light Saber Swing. And glaring atmospherically. Nothing like an Atmospheric Glare, now, is there?

When he saw this photo he thought the purple glow in the dark light sticks took away somewhat from his Menacing Glare, but I told him that he looked perfectly fierce either way. A real Jedi can overcome such photographic hurdles, I said.

The other Jedi, much to the delight of his grandmother, is one of your more approachable Jedis: we nicknamed him the Happy Jedi. The sort of Jedi you might conceivably ask for directions if you were lost in space somewhere. The sort of Jedi you could see sharing his Space Snacks with you, even. He was less invested in being Supremely Menacing, or practicing his light saber swing, and more interested in using the Force to obtain many many items for his Halloween bag.

Then we had a Japanese girl in a kimono. And no, she was not a geisha, despite what some of our older neighbours seemed to think. I don't know why, because I don't think this particular Japanese girl even knows what a geisha is, but she did know that she wasn't one. So there.

And yes, those are chopsticks in her hair. Chopsticks with, ahem, geishas on them!

She sure knew how to pose. It was mildly alarming how good she was at posing with that red umbrella. And according to my Jedi sources she had some Serious Attitude when asked by some of the Door Openers to provide a Trick (as opposed to getting a Treat). I had to close my eyes when the Jedis related this (and even more distressing examples of her gleeful unGeisha-like Attitude) and grip my Jane Austen heroine hankie tightly, and hope that one day she WILL tone it down a bit, if only to relieve the distress of her poor poor mother (who according to her mother was just the same when she was little).

*Kimono courtesy of IKEA (who provided the curtains), the sun (who bleached the curtains so badly that we never used them again), and me (who left the curtains to languish in the fabric bag for several years, only to be unearthed when it was discovered that they had the requisite 4 yards of material needed for a child's kimono pattern).

*Attitude courtesy of FDPG.


A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose...

But this is not just any rose - it's a David Austin rose. And it's now living in my back yard, happy as the proverbial clam. A friend of mine has a neighbour who wanted to be rid of two David Austin roses: one pink and one yellow. Both highly fragrant. My friend, knowing me to be in the Take Almost Anything Especially If It's Free camp, asked me if I'd like them. "Oh you bet!" I said enthusiastically, "I'll even come over and dig them up!"

Which turned out to be exactly what this neighbour was looking for.

So it was, one day a couple of months ago, I found myself over at her house, with my (by now rather long suffering but really handy with a shovel) friend, tugging two rather ancient roses away from their happy happy home. First we pruned heavily (and wiped the blood off our arms), then we pruned some more (and wiped some more), then we shoveled out a lot of dirt, then we wrenched at the roots, which were growing under the concrete driveway. These old roses were none too happy to be moved and in the end we had to cut their roots off short. I got them home and planted them right away, but I didn't have a lot of hope: they were so lacking in the root department. But I gave them what I could: handfuls of bone meal, kelp meal, alfalfa pellets, and daily watering. I might even have done some leaf stroking, because according to Prince Charles it really works and since we were born on the same day I harbor a bit of a soft spot for him, even if he is nutty.

Then we went on holiday for two weeks. I gave my dad strict instructions to pay close attention to those two roses (I know, I know, what a dictator I am, eh) and water them faithfully. He rolled his eyes and sighed a lot agreed.

They seemed to take, thankfully. And look what's happening right now, with the yellow rose. It's been blooming for the last 3 weeks. It's beautiful, fragrant, and I have no idea what kind of rose it is. And being the stickler for garden nomenclature that I am, this bothers me. So help me out here. Are there any David Austin experts out there?

And no, I don't think it's called Gertrude Stein, or Alice B Toklas. Or even Tender Buttons.