Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Angry Birds & Birthdays

Some of us just had a birthday.

Some of us are now 14.

Some of us really like Angry Birds.

So some of us made a card to reflect that.

All of us laughed, even the 14 year old. Nice, that. Another moment for the Fond Maternal Moments Repository.

Some of us also made a cake. Some of us are feeling particularly impressed with ourselves for getting that red so red and that black so black.
Funny how time flies.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Holiday Guests

Some people have family stay; some have friends.

We have a bunny.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Countdown Has Started!

It's hard to keep kids from bouncing off the walls this close to Christmas, so in an effort to protect my paint job, I am keeping everyone busy.

Some of us have been baking cookies.

Some of us have been icing them.

Some of us have been making soap.

Simple, melt in a pot glycerine soaps.

Grapefruit, key lime, lemon.

Christmas colours.

And some of us are making boxes. These are the perfect shape for a bar of homemade chocolate bark.

Dark chocolate with espresso powder.
White chocolate with peppermint oil and candy canes.
Milk chocolate with peanut butter and chopped peanuts.

Like this!

Monday, December 20, 2010

This Post Will Make No Sense

Unless you watch Survivor.

Did you watch the finale last night? We all did in this house. We sat there for 2 hours, the twins bouncing up and down on the floor hoping Fabio would win; me wondering if Holly would've won if she'd gotten immunity (my eventual decision was yes, and that excluding her from the final was probably the first overtly strategic move, besides winning immunity, Fabio ever made). We were glad Fabio won, even though he was a bit of a wingnut when it was all over. It reminded me of when the Hippies won The Amazing Race. It's nice to see happy nutjobs pleasant people do well in these sorts of situations.

But the best part of the finale is the final live bit, when Jeff the Host shines the Light of Public Disapproval on some of the more, err, complicated aspects of the contestant's behaviour. It's one of the curious qualities of this show: it attracts people who forget that the normal rules of society STILL apply. For the first couple of shows it was funny, because the contestants weren't terribly aware that their every comment or move would be broadcast for everyone to tut-tut over or laugh heartily at. Now though, it seems just plain odd that people would say dumb stuff to the cameras, stuff that will dog them for posterity, when they KNOW it might dog them for posterity. My Prim Inner Victorian cringes a bit, truth be told. And this is where this post is going: I'm going to do a Miss Manners on some of the Survivor contestants. Some of the contestants who really should have known better.

First, Dan, aka I Am Really Rich And Way Cooler Than You.

Holly, in a moment of HOW DID I GET HERE I HATE IT HERE-itis, stole Dan's expensive shoes (mostly because all he did was drone on about how expensive they were and how many pairs he had at home, where he was really rich), filled them full of sand and sunk them in the water. At the finale, Dan screamed "You're a thief and you should have your hands cut off!" at her. At the reunion show Holly gave Dan a pair of fancy cowboy boots, to replace the shoes she had torpedoed. Dan took them with great magnanimity and smiled as though he had never expressed a wish to see Holly's hands cut off. Here's what I would have said to him if I were an Unbridled Sheila:

Excuse me, Dan, but it was a TV show. A TV show. You're competing for a cash prize with a bunch of other people. She stole your shoes and hid them. Weird move, I agree, but you think her hands should be cut off for that? Methinks you're in the wrong game show - the one you want is The Running Man. And I hope Dynamo catches you, you irritating man. Even my kids know this Cardinal Rule of the Playdate: If you don't want to lose something leave it at home!

Next, Naonka, aka Official Nutjob.

Jeff went into the audience this time round, to talk to Assorted Family & Friends. He did what we all wanted him to do and talked to Naonka's mum. Naonka's mum was, we all noticed, sweating the proverbial bullets about this. She knew her daughter had Crossed The Line, not once, not twice, but pretty much all the time. But she also loves her daughter. So when Jeff asked her if "the apple fell far from the tree," giving her the opportunity to hang herself on her own rope, Naonka's mum had the decency to look sheepish but coy: "No," she replied, "but I'm the nice girl." Naonka looked momentarily stunned, because up till that point she'd been trumpeting the fact that she was the Smartest Survivor Of Them All. And there was her mother telling everyone that yes, her daughter WAS a bit of a loose cannon. I think we all sighed with relief that someone in Naonka's family might be giving her a [YouReallyAreA]Turkey sandwich for Christmas. But here's what the Unbridled Sheila wanted to say to Naonka:

Naonka, dahling, you're right, it was a game show. A game show where people compete for a cash prize. I get that. What I don't get is how your behaviour (targeting a woman with a prosthetic leg, talking trash about everyone, stealing Fabio's socks then giving him hell for asking for them back, stealing the cache of food and eating some of it yourself then blaming the girl who caught you doing it, doing that turkey neck waggle thing, convincing yourself that you are smart and savvy when really you're just an embarrassingly mean-spirited girl who needs to learn some manners) hasn't gotten you into more trouble in the Outside World, where you are apparently a teacher of SMALL CHILDREN (words fail me here).
Even Russell The Truly Nasty Man knew better than to say some of the stuff you said. The two of you grossly overgeneralized the Rules of the Game, so for your elucidation I am going to spell them out for you herewith:
1) it is a GAME not a free for all
2) you do NOT have carte blanche in terms of social mores
3) there is a camera shadowing your every move
4) every stupid thing you say or do WILL be broadcast to millions

Naonka, that chip on your shoulder is going to tip you over if you aren't careful. It's the size of the Space Station. I won't ask you if you know the meaning of the word humility because I sense that this an unknown direction on your moral compass. Fortunately Jeff wondered the same things I did - we all did - and called you on it. I sentence you to a stint on Running Man too, but I'm hoping Subzero finds you first.

Then Jeff awarded the Most Likeable Survivor cash prize to Jane. I think her daughter was more thrilled. But he never asked her why she was so hostile to Chase and Sash.

Jane, the Unbridled Sheila would have asked, why were you so mean to Sash and Chase? It's a game. And it's not like you don't know the rules: beat everyone out to final three then beg for mercy from everyone you've flattened along the way. What did you think Chase was going to do - take you to the end with Holly, then watch everyone vote for you and Holly? Of course he wasn't. I agree that Chase wasn't the sharpest knife in the block, but even he knew that you had to go at some point, if he hoped to win. Oh, and please, don't do that head-down-look-up-with-all-that-blue-eyeshadow-on thing you did at the final vote: that's not a good look for an older woman who has been starved a food for a while. You reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

So there you have it. A few things the Unbridled Sheila would have asked if she'd had the chance. As it was it was probably a good thing she didn't get the chance, because I sense that the Official Nutjob might have tried to beat her up.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things To Do With Paper

My intentions are good each year: I will be ready for Christmas earlier! I will not smack into the brick wall of December 23rd like I usually do! I will be more effective about my baking lists! If I do crafty things I will not be doing them right up until midnight!

Like I usually do is the operative phrase here.

Then mid-December sets in and I'm in the same place I always am: vaguely late. Slightly behind. Scrambling even. I am starting to suspect that this state of being might actually be my Modus Operandi, much to my chagrin.

One thing I did try to organize more this year was the Activity Side of Things. Most of the time I leave the kids to their own crafty devices, but this year the bookstores had their shelves full of really intriguing craft books, and both FDPG and Dominic love making things out of paper. So in November, even though it seemed MUCH too early to be thinking about such things, I bought one or two and squirrelled them away in the closet for later.

One was this book. Christmas: Paper Toys You Can Make Yourself. Do you know the Toymaker? We print a lot of toys from her website. They are old-fashioned kinds of toys: peep boxes, moving dioramas, pretty cards, and sweet boxes. There are holiday themes, storytime themes, games, and pictures, too. The colours are superlative, which makes printing them out highly addictive.

When I saw that she had a book out I couldn't resist it. I even bought two, so that I wouldn't be hearing things like "MUUUM! Dominic made the Nutcracker - I wanted to!"

When I brought them out last week both FDPG and Dominic were delighted. It was hard not to be, the artwork is fabulous, everything is perforated so there's no need for Serious Scissor Skills, and the card stock is glossy and stiff, perfect for paper toys you want to keep around. All of a sudden the mantle was covered with Nutcrackers, Happy Snowmen, Countdown To Christmas cards (with a little "thought for the day" on the back), Angel Elves, Snack For Santa boxes (with "I've been really good all year" on every side just in case)...

...Even a Santa and his sleigh (check out the gimlet eye on that reindeer).

Are they difficult to make? Well, you won't need any scissors, but you do need some dexterity with your fingers, as some of these projects require careful folding and gluing, but other than they aren't hard at all. And they are so charming.

The other book I bought was a Dover Stained Glass Activity book. I really like these stained glass books - they look amazing on a window. A while back FDPG did every single page of the Egyptian Stained Glass Activity book (the words Egypt and stained glass don't look right together, do they?) and stuck them up on her window. Now here's a Christmas Stained Glass book. It's been quite the hit.

Another thing the twins like to make are these: we call them Tinfoil Saran Wrap pictures. I know, I know, how imaginative of us. But it describes them perfectly.

You find a large drawing you like, here we chose a tree in a sort of stained glass tableau, you tape the picture to the table, then you tape a piece of saran wrap over top. Make sure both the saran and the paper are secure. Get out your Sharpies (other felt pens won't work) and colour the saran over top of the picture. Don't leave any blank bits, and if you like the stained glass effect use a black felt pen to outline everything. Remove the piece of paper and place the saran on top of a piece of foil (that you've crumpled gently then straightened), and sandwich the two items between some black paper.

Sharpies are also useful on those balloon-style pop bottles you might find yourself purchasing in moments of fond maternal madness (these hit me right about now, just when my kids really need more sugary junk). Here we've made some oversized ornaments. You can drill a hole in the lid and place some rick rack for a loop for the Faux Real Effect...

And then there's the Personalized Christmas Card For Favoured Relatives. FDPG made these this week. That giant pack of scrapbooking paper I bought half price at Walmart last year came in handy, as did some Martha Stewart snowflake punches and a ruler that makes circles (for the snowglobe card below).

Now all I have to do is get my own projects finished...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gifts & Things

Do you subscribe to Living Locurto? Well, I do, and lately she's become my Personal Papercraft Martha; not only does she have a lot of her own stuff available on her website (and it's really nice stuff, stuff I'm thrilled to use all my printer ink up on), she has links to other places, too. Today we downloaded some incredibly clever gift tags, some gift tags the kids can colour themselves, and I printed out some bookplates for my very bookish FDPG, to tuck into her gift at Christmas.

Then, the other day, at the bottom of a Living Locurto email, I stumbled across this link and FDPG shrieked (she actually did shriek) "I HAVE TO MAKE THAT FOR NANNA!" Because FDPG has become a Craft Queen For All Things Christmassy. She spends a good part of each day making Christmas cards, making Christmas gift tags, wrapping Christmas presents (she even uses her own money to buy these things, something the boys would rather DIE than do), and thinking about thoughtful gifts to give all the people in her life that she loves. She is a Martha-in-the-making, this kid.

That link will take you to an incredibly crafty blog called MomAdvice and a recipe for Candy Cane Bath Salts. You need Kosher salt, epsom salts, essential oils, red colorant, and glycerin. She's even given us a tag to attach to the top (but it wouldn't print out for us for some reason). So yesterday we got our ingredients together, in two bowls, and FDPG stirred.

And stirred.

And stirred.

Then she layered. And layered. (I might have helped here a little)

Then we glued ribbon to the canning jar rings and candy cane paper to the lids, with a little glitter on top for good measure, because who doesn't like a little gold glitter in their bath?

(um, me?)

See those layers of pink and white? FDPG and I were enchanted with those layers, although it might have been from inhaling all that essential oil...

Then we got some snowman ribbon, found another printable tag, and lookee here what we can do. We made us a nice present.

(I think I've been watching too much Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, I can now quote Yukon Cornelius)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ornamentalism 101

Everywhere I go lately everyone is talking about their favourite ornaments, so, now that we've got our Christmas tree up, I thought I'd talk about MINE. I certainly have enough of them - ask my family: at one point during the weekend Richard was looking distinctly nervous ("Um, are you almost finished? Aren't there rather a lot of things on this garland? Uh, is this room going to stay like this?" "Surely you aren't going to use all this stuff?") while the kids were equal parts astounded and excited. Dominic's reaction was "WOW! This looks like that Christmas store downtown! There must be ZILLIONS of ornaments in this room!" Even Max was impressed: "Finally. Cool." (trust me, he was impressed) FDPG followed me from room to room, talking and talking and talking and talking and talking ("I can hardly wait till Christmas!" "Can you hardly wait till Christmas, Mum?" "Dominic, can you hardly wait till Christmas?" "Max, can you hardly wait till Christmas" "I can hardly wait till Christmas!"). At one point I had to fob her off with a candy cane, or go mad.

So, in the interests of spreading Christmas Ornament Joy around, here is a Tour of Sheila's Favourite Christmas Ornaments.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin...
This is a gaucho nutcracker, at least, I think it is. Doesn't he look as though he belongs out on the pampas somewhere? He's got great pants, anyhow. I bought him in San Diego a long time ago, when Richard and I still found it wildly amusing to attend MLA conferences. I actually bought him as a gift, but when I got home I was too attached to him and his shiny green pants. There is something about him that screams I AM AN AMAZING GAUCHO. I like a nutcracker with that kind of confidence.

Here's another nutcracker - a Victorian chimney sweep. He came as part of a set I bought in the US last year. He was accompanied by an Uncle Sam nutcracker, of all things. Normally I am a big fan of most things American, but this Uncle Sam nutcracker was a hard sell. I tried to imagine us Canadians manufacturing Canadian People nutcrackers but I couldn't: we're all far too embarrassed by evident displays of patriotism to do such things. We Canadians are a wallflowery lot. The nearest we get to patriotism is making silly movies about curling. Or watching a man in bizarre coats talk about hockey on national television. Embedding coins in centre ice during Olympic events, even.

Hmm. Put that way it's even weirder than an Uncle Sam nutcracker, isn't it? Forget I said anything. Let's just focus on this charming Victorian chimney sweep.

Here's my ancient Burgermeister Meisterburger. I bought him with babysitting money when I was in my teens. He's small and wooden, but he too packs a lot of attitude. When Dominic first saw him he said "Why is that man smoking?" I thought about all the relatives I had that had smoked, and how none of Dominic's relatives smoke, and didn't quite know what to say, other than the banal "People used to smoke a lot back then." It seems a long way from those days. Gave me a pang of nostalgia.

A skiing snowman. Who doesn't like a snowman who can ski? He's another babysitting money purchase, and has a charming little gold tag on his bum that says MADE IN KOREA. Now that's old.

Some time ago I started giving the kids an ornament each year on the day we put up the tree. I tried to find themes that had caught them up each year: birding obsessions (Stellar's Jays), LEGO, Webkinz, even junk food. The theory was that we would have fun each Christmas as we pulled out all these moments of fond maternal madness, but the kids had other ideas: that the ornaments would be theirs to play with all through the year. So we wrangled pleasantly about this until I got my way we all agreed that if they weren't packed away each Christmas they would probably be toast by the time the kids grew up, because things like LEGO snowmen would be highly unlikely to remain LEGO snowmen, particularly if someone needed a black round brick or something...

So there you have it. Ornamental memories, 2010.

Strange Reverberations in Stormtrooperville

Here's another movie from Stormavenger12, aka The Teen Around Here.

We Three Kings: Webkinz Version

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Have A Holly Jolly Cookie

We had some friends over today, and we decorated cookies: trees and gingerbread men. You might not be able to tell from this angle, but these cookies were 7" high. I would have had pictures of the gingerbread men but they were all in such a state of disarray when I brought the camera in I didn't think I could present them properly. Poor men.

These trees are FDPG's. She took the longest time to decorate, the longest time to choose her colours, the longest time to squeeze the icing, and the longest time to eat her cookies.

Judicious. That's my FDPG. Judicious.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Come & Cheer Our Spirits By Walking In The Mire...

I'm reposting a few things during Advent. Here's one on carol singing.

Warning: don't read if you find levity during carol singing rude.

A long time ago, in a country far away...


Let's start that again.

A long time ago, I had high hopes of being a Musical Person. Someone who could fling themselves daintily around in meadows whilst trilling melodiously. A sort of Julie Andrews, sans nun's garb. Those hopes, sadly, were dashed after listening to myself on my guitar-playing then-boyfriend's tape recorder. I console myself with the fact that I was not the only one singing thusly, but there it was: I did not sound like Julie Andrews. I didn't even sound like a nun.

But I digress! I haven't let a less-than-delightful voice stop me from singing, or from helping my kids enjoy singing. We sing to Billy Bragg (what other 6 year old do you know who can wail "Shuuuuuurrrllley" in a Cockney accent?), we sing to Ron Sexsmith, we sing to the Beatles, we sing to the Beach Boys, in our last city home we sang hymns in a glorious, stained glass-drenched church, and now, with Christmas fast approaching (only 28 money-draining, err, shopping days left, O Gentle Reader), we have started singing Christmas carols. I wish I could teach my kids to do the Roches' version of For Unto Us A Child Is Born, but there's only two of us who have any hope of carrying a tune right now, so we're sticking with carols that don't require so many sopranos. And I, being possessed of many a carol book, have been singing all kinds of obscure carols with my kids, most of them not known to AM radio,and teaching them all the verses, although we've found some carols take the odd tack every now and then. Take We Three Kings, for instance:

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone cold tomb.

Cheery, isn't it? I usually sing this verse alone, while FDPG peers closely at the words in case they've changed to something more in the Jingle Bells vein. Max looks uneasy and shuffles a lot, worrying no doubt why people are bleeding gloomily and why he has to sing about it.

Here's another unusual song we came across, and I am somewhat abashed to report that initially we laughed rather immoderately, well, after we first gaped in disbelief. Do you know Here We Come A-Wassailing? I've always been partial to this song, mostly because of the lilting aspect of the verses, but let me draw your attention to the last verse:

Good master and good mistress
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children,
Who are wandering in the mire.

Charming, wouldn't you say? After I explained to my kids why other kids might be wandering in mire somewhere, begging food from rich people, we felt almost too depressed to sing this carol ever again, then decided to stick with the first, third, and seventh verses (and yes, there were more than seven verses of this stuff, no wonder the Victorians were depressed).

Happily, our clouds of gathering gloom were chased away by the inexplicably bizarre. Remember Jolly Old St. Nicholas? Well, listen again, O Gentle Reader, to the last verse. Max and Dominic are completely unable to hear this, let alone sing it, with a straight face:

Johnny wants a pair of skates,
Suzy wants a dolly.
Nelly wants a storybook,
She thinks dolls are folly.
As for me, my little brain,
Isn't very bright.
Choose for me, old Santa Claus,
What you think is right.
(emphasis mine)

Well, you have to love someone who owns up to their feeble brain, right?

And since I should probably cease with the irreverent and end on a more dignified note, I will leave you with a truly atmospheric verse, even if it's usually sung too low for my croak. I like the themes of hope and light and renewal here. Plus, it's just plain poetic. This is from O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.


So there you have it. Right now we're working on our second Advent stop-go video but given colds, busyness, and lack of time, it's been slow going. Read this and remember us when you're singing carols this month.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

This is a post I wrote three years ago. But I like it enough to replay it. Hopefully you'll like it enough to reread it.

Richard comes from a Dutch family, and a couple of years ago I decided, in the spirit of equality and all, that we would incorporate something peculiarly Dutch (because, let's face it, the Dutch are a decidedly odd bunch) into our family traditions. Most of what Richard remembers, from living in Holland, are things like speculaas (a spiced cookie), chocolate sprinkles on his toast (didn't believe this until I saw the box), krupok (a dried chip made from prawn dust and potato starch that magically puffs up 5X its size when you chuck it into hot oil), sambal oolek (a hot chili paste), ketchap manis (sweet & thick soy sauce), and nasi goreng (a rice dish). Notice a certain theme here? All this, coming from my skinny husband. All food memories. Proust and his madeleines would be proud.

Another one from the memory bank was the celebration of Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas. St Nicholas, so the story goes, was a young man born into a rich family in what is now Turkey (c.300AD), who was later orphaned when his parents died in an epidemic. He grew into a very pious young man, and according to the stories was responsible for many quiet acts of generosity. One concerns a very poor family, with three girls, who were too poor to give dowries to their daughters (so they could marry). Nicholas heard of this, and on three separate occasions tossed bags of gold into the chimney so the girls could later marry their sweethearts. There are other stories about him, ranging from restoring children to life to calming the waters so that fishermen would not drown in a storm. Nowadays he's the patron saint of children and sailors.

According to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas, his white horse Piet and his trusty sidekick Knutselpiet (or Swarthy Piet, a dark-skinned character who carries a large stick with which to smack bad children) arrive on December 6th, laden with candy and small treats for children, which they then hand out: slipped in through doors or tucked into shoes that have been left by the door (if you're a good little Dutch child you will have filled your shoe with hay and carrots for white Piet). At night the feast is all about fun and games: people wrap small gifts with accompanying poems that gently mock and tease, and at each place setting is a chocolate initial - the first letter of the person's name. Now you know why you always see those Droste letters in stores right about now!

So last night we had our own little celebration for Sinterklaas. We cut out little stand-up figures of him (in his Bishop's garb), made little boxes out of cardboard and tucked little treasures the kids had dug up into them, and made speculaas.

The twins rushed around being extremely excited, Dominic concentrating meticulously on his colouring work, FDPG, being the equine fanatic she is, was extremely concerned that white Piet would not have enough carrots, while Max, who is at the time of his life when kids begin to doubt the existence of things like Santa Claus and Sinterklaas - and even the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny (gasp!), watched all our efforts with a rather mournful skepticism. He doesn't want to, in the words of C.S. Lewis, "grow up out of the nursery" but it's hard straddling both worlds. He was extremely grumpy when he was finally dispatched to bed and both Richard and I rolled our collective eyes at his no-doubt coming adolescence. This morning, however, I noticed that he was the first one up, rather breathless about having discovered his chocolate initial and little golds coins where the straw and carrots had been. Habits die hard when you're ten years old, it would seem.


Here we are three years later. The twins are still rushing around being extremely excited, writing letters and exhorting the Webkinz Collective to keep watch for A Sighting, while Max has definitely passed that boundary between Believing & Wondering and is now firmly in the rather more melancholic Wishing He Still Believed But Feeling Vastly More Mature section of life, not that that means anything when it comes to leaving his shoes filled with carrots.

Oh no.

Not that that means anything in terms of not getting his chocolate Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet, either.

Oh no, no, no!

Fly & Hummingbird

Well, perhaps the title should be Fly Vs. Hummingbird. Normally this is a Hummingbird Only feeder, but with the recent cold snap they've been duking it out a bit. Hummingbird is a wildly territorial bird and the spot you see Fly sitting on is Hummingbird's Spot. Hummingbird's spot. His very own spot. This is no small thing. Hummingbird did not take kindly to this usurpation. He buzzed Fly. At first Fly was spooked, but familiarity eventually bred contempt and now Fly sits here, as you can see, no doubt driving poor Hummingbird mad with irritation.

Then one day Fly disappeared. Was Fly eaten by Towhee? Or has Fly gone to Greener Pastures? Only Hummingbird knows, and maybe that ACME van down by the creek...

Toffee Watches Maru

If you don't know who Maru is, click here.

Warning: for fairly obsessed cat people only.