Thursday, September 30, 2010

The fog comes in on little cat feet...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Houston: We Have Compost

I don't know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods cast-off wooden palettes are outside every kind of building shop, and businesses are always trying to get rid of them. They seem to reproduce rapidly in this climate too, so it takes about 5 seconds to accumulate a couple dozen of them should you have a yard project that needs doing (and needs palettes).

This being the Crunchy West Coast, where everyone has a compost bin and a spirulina smoothie with bee pollen and wheat grass, these palettes have evolved into the most popular material with which to make compost bins.

I've been wanting to build a new compost bin system for about, oh, maybe 5 years. But since we've always been renters, I've had to make do with those black plastic tub-like barrels everyone seems to have in their back yard. So yes, I did have two serviceable compost bins, but really, they aren't the best of designs, particularly when one has vigorous compost putter outers (CPOs) in the family. Mine have looked rather shell-shocked of late. So I started accumulating palettes. Much to Richard's unease. "More junk!" I think might have been his exact quote. "Oh, ye of little faith!" was my retort (which I realize doesn't really mean anything but at the time I couldn't think of a wittier reply).


Free + Palette + Labour = A Good Thing.

Here we have the most popular style in compost bins. Also known as the Three Bin System, this trendy little number has a bin for each step on your compost's journey: 1) Beginner, 2) Intermediate, and 3) Fully composted. May or may not come with garden fork.

This one just appeared in my yard over the weekend. Magically. Really. One minute it wasn't there and the next minute - hey presto - it was. And look, there are already some compostable items inside! *

* item in question may or may not have had a little help from a handy guy named Richard, who would rather have been cleaning out the pigsty also known as the basement, so he could install some shelving he received many months ago, but we won't get into that because that isn't very productive, now, is it?

Now that the compost is in one place of the yard, instead of in several black plastic bins which migrate around the yard (and are usually in the most inconvenient places come winter when my CPOs are least interested in slogging around the yard with a heavy pail of vegetable trimmings).
Which leaves this part of the yard devoid of activity. Not being one to leave handy areas like these empty, I'm thinking chickens might look good here. Chickens or a really large greenhouse? Chickens AND a really large greenhouse?

Hey, was that Richard I just saw running down the street? Wait! Richard! Can't you help me build that chicken coop first?


Friday, September 24, 2010


What is everyone out there going to use now that Bloglines is closing down shop? Don't know what I'm talking about? Read on, Gentle Reader, read on...


As you may have heard, we are sorry to share that Bloglines will officially shut down on October 1, 2010.
More detail can be found on the blog -

Thanks again to all of our loyal users for their support through the years.

The / Bloglines Team


So what's going to be your new RSS feeder?

Between The Rains

It's raining here again.

Again it's raining.

Oh look! It's raining.

I'm wondering which of those sentences I prefer but they all boil down to the same thing: it's bloody raining.

I suppose it's fortunate to have inclement weather right now: it allows our school day to move along more fluidly than it would if the sun were beckoning. It's hard to focus on algebra or long division when the sun is warming the back yard swings and glittering off the smooth soft grass and calling to us in between the noises of the bees and the birds.

Oops, sorry. Let me just adjust my rain resentment a bit. I think it's showing.

And so we move along: the kids in their various school pursuits and me in my quest for more reading time. And yes, before you ask, I really DO like reading about Martha's chicken coop in the latest issue of MSL. It fills the spaces between the more difficult stuff. And really, who doesn't like reading about a truly superior chicken coop? That's what I admire about Martha - she always does it one better than we mere mortals. That said, I'd better get going on my pumpkin detailing if I hope to finish it by Halloween.

By the way, in between rains I managed to paint. I realize this might not be quite as gripping as Martha's chicken coop but some of us have to take our thrills where we can get them.

And though I did say I was going to use a Martha colour, in the end I settled for a small mistint of deck paint from the paint shop. It was cheap and available and as you might already have realized I am all about the cheap and available...

I'm going to call it Pavement. Or does Concrete sound better?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thinking Carefully

Last year Max joined a group that uses the Thomas Jefferson Education methods. It wasn't my first experience with this philosophy but it was my first direct experience. I can't say that I read much into the literature, but that's mostly because it seemed so in line with how I already approach our homeschooling, so reading all those many many books (not to mention purchasing all those books) seemed rather, err, redundant (not to mention expensive). But this year he joined a study group that goes further into the whole philosophy and requires the student (as opposed to me, the parent) to be prepared to discuss theories and ideas. So we invested in the Publishing Empire, oops, I mean, we bought some of the books.

While I am not a person to jump on homeschooling bandwagons, I quite like the TJEd philosophy, which stresses the idea of personal responsibility in ways I can appreciate as a parent. It's particularly applicable for that dangling-on-the-edge-of-adulthood phase of one's life, when one might be more inclined to encourage lazy brain patterns and spend one's time at evening debaucheries (something at which I have quite a bit of experience). So while I might joke about funding someone else's Hawaiian holiday, I think this whole experience might be just the thing Max needs.

Take today for example. One of the assignments was a writing assignment: What is your responsibility to Canada?

Max's initial response was typical silly teen boy: "Huh?"

His second response was only slightly more thoughtful: "Um, be a good citizen - obey laws, help people out?"

I sighed a bit, but it had all the hallmarks of becoming a Really Useful Conversation so I stuck it out. Besides, in some ways I was curious. We homeschooling mothers always think we're encouraging critical thinking skills in our kids but I'm sure most of us wonder how far our efforts have penetrated. I know I do. Frequently. Particularly with my charming teen son.

So I opened with my first salvo - it's an oldie but a goodie.

"What is a citizen? What does the word mean?" I asked. "Look in the OED or the etymological dictionary."

It was then his turn to sigh, because he hates it when I say that. I think he'd like it if I went and got the OED* and opened it up for him, but I never do. Besides, this way it reminds him where we keep the OED and the etymological dictionaries. Charming motherly stealth methods we can all relate to, right?

So it was that Max looked up the word CITIZEN. And had to go a little deeper with his thinking, which isn't such a bad thing for a thirteen year old. We spent a long meandering afternoon, actually, discussing the concept of citizenship.

Which along the way led us into history: Athenian democracy, the Latin word CIVIS, who voted way back then, who didn't, and what it meant to be a good citizen, not to mention who could be a citizen. Which also led us into theories around personal responsibility in ways I won't labour over, but let's just say that it did turn out to be a Really Useful Conversation after all.

* Oxford English Dictionary The only dictionary there is, really.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

And I Say HEY! What a Wonderful Kind of Day!

Guess who's going to be on Arthur? You can find more details here. October 25th. I am so there. I've always wanted to be on Arthur. It's a personal ambition of mine. I know, some people want to publish a Great Novel or travel to the moon or even learn to make the perfect florentine.

Me? I want to be on Arthur.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Books

With it being the start of our school year, today saw me being Last of the Big Spenders with the credit card. I've taken to giving the kids a little 'kit' of fun things to start off the year with, nothing very expensive: toiletries, a book, new erasers, maybe something in the candy line. The glee with which they are received is probably the reason I don't begrudge buying the odd incongruous item. Besides, who doesn't like a gift bag to start off a new adventure?

Today we went to a local bookstore and everyone chose a book as a part of the whole Going Back To School venture. I had only one rule: it couldn't be a comic compendium that we could find for $1 at the second hand store (which ruled out a surprising number of choices, surprisingly, even though it was a rule I'd thought up on the spur of the moment when someone thrust a Garfield book into my face).

One of these choices I picked up to supplement an outside class one of us is taking. I'll leave you to guess which book and which of us will be using it...

FDPG had a gift certificate from Guides for this same bookstore so she bought several more of those Warriors books. Since they all look alike to me I didn't try to find a book cover to include in this post. Suffice to say that there were cats on the cover - earnest looking cats with odd yet deadly serious names like Masher and CloudKiller and Ferocity. FDPG likes this series. She seems to have about 300 of them, but still they appear in the bookstore - and each time FDPG exclaims "Gosh! I have to get that one!" I used to love this enthusiasm of hers, but since she can read one in an evening my fascination for finding new Warriors books has paled somewhat. Anyhow, she struggled mightily about settling on just one book. She passed up Binky To The Rescue, Amulet: The Cloud Searchers (we already ordered this from Amazon), a couple of cute anime books about cats, Ottoline At Sea (an excellent series), The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and about a billion others, with HUGE regret at each and every one because she really wanted each and every one, but when we got home and I was asking Dominic why he hadn't chosen the Binky book she shrieked "WHAT? THERE WAS ANOTHER BINKY BOOK? WHY DIDN'T SOMEONE TELL ME?"

Some of us like a lighter vein of reading. Quick yet engrossingly odd facts we can blurt out at the dinner table. Statistics we can impress/revolt/charm/shock our friends with. Pages with short and easy to read sentences. Lots of pictures.


Fortunately some of us also like engaging our brains a teensy bit more than that. This is a short read, but so far it's been almost as popular with the masses as the Perplexus.

And some of us like the truly odd item. Here is a math calendar. A math calendar. One of us chose a math calendar. I assumed it was because this person knew about the Penrose book we have in the bookcase, and had a fondness for that poorly drawn yet personable feline, but no, this person knew nothing about that Penrose book in the bookcase. This person was shocked and amazed when I pulled out the Penrose book, from the bookcase, and exclaimed "WHAT??? That's the same cat?!! How could that be?" I shouldn't be surprised, really, because this person is a quirk of nature. A charming but quirky quirk of nature. Just like their father (another charming but quirky quirk of nature). So I left out the Penrose book and said "Why not compare the two?" and this charming little quirk said "But that's not a calendar. I like the calendar because then I know what day it is."

Um. Right. Sure thing, little quirk.

Things I Will Miss When Summer Leaves

We had a most peculiar summer this year, though if I'd paid more attention to the almanac I wouldn't be so stunned, but I didn't so I am...

For example, last summer I had a zillion ripe tomatoes by the end of July. I had another zillion by the end of August. I canned, I roasted, I dried, and I saladed tomatoes every day for weeks, or so it seemed.

This summer?

I have had perhaps 30 ripe tomatoes up til now. Lots of yellow pear tomatoes but very few that have been larger than that. The vines are loaded with fruit, but it's mostly unripe. Green. Unred. Unyellow. The only thing getting ripe in the garden in this cat. He looks about ready, don't you think?

One thing I will remember about this summer is the roses. The roses were enchanting. I feel faint with alliteration when I think about them: billowing, beckoning, burgeoning.

And let's not forget the mallows.

And this charming Rose of Sharon. It's called Bluebird. If you look carefully you might see why...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Revealing The Depths of Obsession

Back in the spring I was given a greenhouse. This little structure, in its previous home, had barely survived a mid-winter windstorm, and the ensuing repairs didn't do much either for its aesthetic appeal or its future durability should another storm come along, but I ignored those aspects, preferring instead to concentrate on the fact that it created a hot environment for the tomatoes I'd planted in it.

I present my first witness. A large tomato.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the roof ripped. It slid along slowly over the month of August, until even I had to admit that it was not the roof it used to be.

So I did something that surprised even me.

I bought some thick plastic and made a new cover. Look - sewing machines and zippers were even involved, not to mention 2 rolls of Gorilla tape.

It's still not a thing of beauty but there is more of a sense of symmetry to it, although there was a brief moment late in the afternoon when I thought it was done for:

I was inside, applying large quantities of Gorilla tape to the inside when there was a sudden thump on the roof. Something sizeable had landed on it. I whipped around, feeling fairly confident that it would be something dead, something that slipped from the talons of a hawk. We have a lot of hawks in our neighbourhood - hawks, eagles, big birds of prey that don't hesitate to, um, prey on all the little birds in the nearby bird sanctuary. Sometimes they drop things...

But it wasn't anything dead.

It was Toffee, the cat.

He evidently thought he was being cute and playful. He has this thing where he likes to take a giant run at a tree, climb as high as he can go, then pose while we either laugh, take pictures, or, in some cases, climb up after him. It's a game he loves. He's also extremely good at climbing. He was probably thinking while Sheila's inside this seemingly solid structure, why not leap onto the top of it and amuse her? She will think I am very clever and daring. She will pat me. Perhaps catnip will be involved.

And, as I looked up at those little paddy paws, digging into the roof of my lovely newly sewn greenhouse structure, and that little pointy face peeking cheekily down at me, I am sorry to report that the only things I thought about that cat were too coarse to print here. Much too coarse. Many swear words might have exited my mouth. I might even have dashed outside and swatted at him vainly as he clawed his way to the peak and paused, claws doing irreparable damage while he contemplated my sudden change of mood (alas, he is a cat of very little brain). My hand might even have connected, at last, with his furry body, sending him flying wildly into the tomato bushes, but we won't get too deeply into that. Suffice to say that both the roof and the cat survived. One might have needed more Gorilla tape and the other might have needed a few hours hiding time in the bushes, licking one's wounds, but again, we won't delve too deeply. We'll just keep our fingers crossed that the two don't come together like that. Ever again.

On another note, see this concrete staircase? I'm giving you, Gentle Reader, the opportunity to choose the colour of it, because, let's admit it, it's not a thing of beauty. I can see at least 3 changes of colour from the previous owner of this house: brown, red, and yellow. Without getting into someone else's colour choices and offering up some (because they'll have to be rude) personal comments, let's just say that it's not a good look. I'm doing a gray palette, with a view to one day painting the entire house, so your choices are these:

These names are from Martha's new line at Home Despot, and while the idea of choosing a colour like Artichoke Heart, Spud, or Pink Sea Salt is tempting, I need to be somewhat practical (I can hear Richard the Always Practical gasp at this shocking revelation). But, in a wonderful twist of strangeness, Tempest was FDPG's Hippie Chick name, so in a way I could combine practicality and my penchant for cheery flaky idiocy at the very same time.

So go to it. This message will self-destruct in 10 hours. And someone's choice will be forever emblazoned on my front steps.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Which We Start The New School Year

I might not talk about it much but we really do homeschool. Really.

At breakfast we talked about how it was the first day of school for many people, including us. This came as somewhat of a shock, despite the fact that I had mentioned it the day before. "What do you mean?" asked the Child Who Likes To Question The Obvious, "does that include ME?" "Why yes, funnily enough it does," I replied.

Being the diva that I am, I allocated a new Chore Chart, incorporating the twins more, err, effectively (they alternate breakfast dishes while their brother does dinner dishes and no I am not thinking about purchasing a dish washer why would I when I have three manual dishwashers already? besides, I AM too cheap, just ask Max)

The kids did math while I hauled 10 tonnes of post-County Fair craft-making residue out of the Family Room. The Family Room is where we do school stuff. It had had a table in it but that seemed to have disappeared. After what seemed like hours (but was only about 45 minutes) I paused for a break of sorts, mostly to see what FDPG and Dominic were arguing about (FDPG: "The new Harry Potter exhibit is in ORLANDO, Dominic, NOT Los Angeles! How many times do I have to tell you this?")

After all that frivolity we drank hot chocolate and looked out at the rain and reflected as to how the first day of school was going so far.
Max = good.
Dominic = "do we have to do this tomorrow too?"
Sheila = I really hate cleaning can we do something else now?

Then we went out, ostensibly to buy a bookcase for the tottering piles of books I had unearthed when clearing out the Family Room, but somehow we ended up in a toy store.

We bought one of these. The kids wanted me to buy three but I said it would be a good lesson in learning not to fight about something sharing. Then they all fought over who got to use it first. FDPG the Teary Defence Method, a stealth weapon she is rather partial to, but the boys have learned to deflect this quite skillfully - they ignore her.

We went to a few places where I foraged for bookcases while the kids sat in the car and fought over played with the Perplexus. I also purchased a few items for the kids' Back To School Surprise bags (more about that later).

Then we went home and I learned that my Hippie Chick name (HT to RainboeBrite) is Caraway India. Richard is balking at calling me Caraway, sadly. He doesn't find it refreshing or fun or amusing; he thinks it's weird. At that point I discovered that his Hippie Chick name is Autumn. He is not partial to this either, but that's because he's more of a Spring than an Autumn.

After that I went to a meeting, leaving the children at home to wrangle pleasantly over who got to play with the Perplexus.

And guess what? Tomorrow we get to get up and do it all over again!

Forgot to add this bit, which came in between the bookcase hunting and the Perplexus Wrangling. A local radio station had a segment on Going Back To School today, and asked for everyone's stories. I sent mine in. Lo and behold they read it out loud, prompting my eldest (whose Hippie Chick name is Moonjava) to hug me, so overcome was he by my coolness.

Dear ______,

Today was the first day of school for my three kids - with a slight twist: we homeschool.

If someone had told me seven years ago that I'd be AT HOME with ALL THREE of my kids one day (and liking it), I'd have laughed out loud (and maybe rolled my eyes a LOT), but here I am, homeschooling for the 7th year. One kid is entering grade 8 and the other two are in grade 4. And you know what? It's been great. I wouldn't have missed these years for the world. I have three kids that people enthuse about and I am constantly challenged, whether it's researching Egyptian mythology, looking at taxonomic classification systems, or hanging out at the beach while everyone else is - well, somewhere else. And my kids are pretty fun people to hang out with.

It's all good. Even if we're not part of the 'regular crowd.'

I'm still cringing a bit that I was so humourless. Not like me at all.


Caraway India