Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Does It Feel To Be Fifteen?

No sooner do we get Christmas over with in this house than we must start thinking about a certain eldest child's birthday. We move from Christmas wrap and Christmas tags to birthday wrap and birthday tags in one fell swoop. I know it's very unMartha-ish of me to say it, let alone DO it, but often the birthday wrapping paper around here IS Christmas wrap.

Fortunately this year I can thank Rampant Commercial Consumerism (in the guise of a car advert that ran simultaneously on television and newsprint) for providing me with some fairly glitzy vehicle wrapping paper. They slipped a whole sheet of the stuff inside the newspaper right before Christmas. It's actually quite nice wrap, too.

This year marks a new direction in the Birthday Cake Department. Since I am Chief Designer I get a lot of weird orders. Some suggestion I nix right off the bat (LEGO men that stand, anything over 18", too much black icing) and some I have to guide in slightly less sugary directions, but for the most part the kids can choose any kind of cake they want. I've made cakes that look like ferries, cakes that look like LEGO bricks, cakes with trains on them, and even cakes that look like Totoro, Oms (Miyazaki's Nausicaa) or hamburgers.

This year my instructions were to make a tall cake. A very tall cake. A cake at least two feet high. Which, if you are a careful reader, you will have noted is a direct contravening of the rules (no cake over 18"). That rule is there for a reason. Actually, three reasons:

1) the inside pieces totally lose out when it comes to icing.
2) the Chief Designer doesn't like to do dowels or supports on cakes. A cake over 12" high will require dowels or supports.
3) I don't have a knife that will cut a 24" cake. And I'm not sure I want to have one.

This year, instead of a 24" cake, I convinced the birthday boy to go for a DIY sundae, because it would combine brownies, ice cream, marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate, butterscotch, and strawberry sauces, and lots of candy in one go. I even took him to the bulk store and let him pick the candy. Well, perhaps pick is not the operative word...let's just say that I guided his hand fairly firmly past the Lindt Christmas truffles and towards the M&Ms and gummies. I'm what I like to call Cheaply Benevolent.

Happily, it all worked out. Right now the birthday boy and his pals are - there's no other word for it - gorging themselves on their creations. There's lots of laughter, choking, dribbles, spills, crunching, and jostling - a perfect mix if you're a teen-age boy.

How does it feel to be fifteen? I don't remember, but I liked the answer one of his friends had:

"I don't know! How does it feel to be 40?" (much laughter ensues)

Such a wit.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

If you've seen the December cover of the MSL magazine, you'll know what's going on here; if you haven't, well, you won't know what the heck is going on here. Never mind, go have some more eggnog.

Happy Christmas from all of us here at Greenridge Chronicles, including Angry Bird.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

I wake up in the dark, with the cat licking my hand and purring in the way he does. His purr sounds like he had a particularly bad case of pneumonia when he was a kitten; it's crackly and uneven and wheezy. If he were one of the kids I'd be inclined to say "get a drink of water for heaven's sakes.." or worry about incipient bronchitis, but since he's a slightly neurotic cat I thump his tummy instead, hoping to get him to shift a little and lower the decibels.

He doesn't. Instead he crawls up the bed until he's lying right in my face, which means his butt is right in Richard's face. He purrs louder, rumbling like a poorly maintained dump truck. Richard is sleeping so he doesn't know that Toffee's bottom is in his face, but the idea of it, combined with his usual reaction when Toffee does this ("Toffee, I do not find the sight of your anal glands very attractive"), causes me to start giggling. Toffee is pleased and starts licking my shoulder vigorously. Together we manage to wake Richard up. Richard is not pleased. He does not find Toffee's early morning wheeze amusing.

It is Christmas Eve. And this is the start of my day.

I don't know what Christmas is like where you live, but where I live Christmas is a big deal: stores close early on Christmas Eve, with signs posted that say things like "Our staff is having a Christmas party this afternoon so we're closing early! We reopen December 27th. Have a Merry Christmas!" Yes, you read that right - things actually shut down for more than a day. When I first moved back here from six years in California I remember feeling quite indignant ("What? I have to think ahead about how much milk I have in the fridge? How LAME is that!"), but the feeling gradually wore off. Canada is quietly and fiercely proud of its parochialism, and six years in the heady wilds of pre-recession California made me forget briefly that I was, for better or for worse, not an American.

We have spent much of the week on our usual Christmas pursuits: making things that smell good, baking things that taste good, crafting things that look good, and getting together, for better or for worse, with relatives and friends. Some of these get togethers are pleasant and we all look forward to them; some we simply endure, like we do the flu, hoping they will end swiftly and without too much trauma. This last instance is why we now have a Post-it note stuck to the answering machine, with various telephone numbers written on it; this is my version of the Do Not Answer list.

"It's _____!" shrieks FDPG (who lives to patrol the telephone) "Do I answer it?"

"NO!!!!" I shriek back, fear and horror gripping my heart like cold death.

Sigh. Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Countdown Has Officially Begun

The excitement of Christmas is progressing here - to the point that even the LEGO men are running around doing silly things. Whoever heard of skiing on wooden tabletops?

Only 5 days until Christmas! Whoo hooo!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wacky Christmas Gift Ideas

Look, it's a K-Tel sunset!

That's what I think every time I see a shaft of sunlight piercing the sky, particularly if it's early morning shafts or end of the day shafts. They have an unearthly radiance about them that screams I AM GOD LOOK AT ME. In a nice way, of course (I always picture God as a kindly old man with nice manners). I realize this sounds weird, but there it is. Every time I think: "that looks like a religious record cover."

Everyone seems to be blogging about their favourite gift ideas right now, and as I was trying to pilfer some ideas get inspiration I came across some, well, I'll use the politest word I can - odd ideas. First off, this came in my Twelve Days of Cookies email from the American Food Network (you can sign up for it here). Every day I get a Christmas cookie recipe from a famous TV cook. The recipes have names like Throw Down Blondies and Paula's Snowflakes and they all seem to involve triple amounts of everything. While I've never actually made any of these cookies I can't seem to resist reading about them. There is something rather compelling about all that excess.

Anyhow, I noticed in one of the sidebars that someone named Bobby Deen had a recipe up for Double Chocolate-Walnut Meringue Cookies. While my first thought was that any adult with the name Bobby Deen should really be singing religious tunes instead of baking (with my photo as his album cover) I couldn't help but be ever so slightly scandalized that he called his items meringue cookies when anyone could see that they were macarons. As in French macarons - more specifically Parisian macarons. Google the word - and if you see a hit from Ladurée click on it. Oh heck, let me make it easier...click on this link here. See what I mean? It's not a meringue cookie, it's a macaron, although in a pinch I will accept the term macaroon; I don't want to give the idea that I am a zealot about this, but this recipe makes me bristle with indignation. If we're not careful they'll be doing things like changing the name of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone to something like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Oh wait, they already did.

Next up: Fruit necklaces: $35 each. Someone has taken slices of real fruit (in this case a starfruit) and dipped them in glitter resin. These are part of the Holiday Gifts Under $50 series. I don't know about you, but wearing a piece of dried fruit around my neck sounds weird. I worry slightly that a bird might come and start pecking at me, or that someone will mistake me for a weird survivalist who carries emergency rations around with them.

Mr & Mrs Muse salt and pepper shakers: For the person unclear on the concept of the muse, evidently, because instead of a statue of a naked Greek goddess or two, this set consists of two smooth white heads, one moustachioed (evidently the Mr.) and one with lips (and the Mrs.) They will, we are told, keep our table "fun" and "playful." It's also $48. Hmmm. I don't know about you, but this screams fun and playful to me. Not.

Here's another in the Bad Idea File: Word Appetizer Dishes. "If you are what you eat" the ad announces, "then you should act how you serve." So, for $25, you too can act SHARE, LAUGH, and PARTY. Just don't ask me how to accomplish this. The idea of having serving dishes that say things like PARTY worries me somewhat. I am uncomfortably reminded of those wooden signs several of my outlying relatives have sitting on their cupboards, signs announcing things like FAMILY and LAUGHTER and LOVE LIVES HERE. I would, I can confidently say, visibly cringe if anyone bought me either these dishes or one of those wooden signs. Some of us thrive on cheese, some of thrive on irony. Give me irony every time.

Finally (I can only handle so much distressing consumerism at a time), there is the 3-in-1 Breakfast Maker. Yes, Gentle Reader, such a thing really does exist. It's here. It will make coffee, toast and fry and egg, all in one handy, space-saving unit. It's cheap and it looks it: $43.99. Gosh, can we elevate the art of cooking any higher? Given this object, I think not.

Now, I have to go. In the time it took to write this I have another Food Network cookie email, and I really must check it out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shades of Life

I was lying in bed this morning, trying to decide whether I really wanted to get up and go to the bathroom, braving the cold of the morning and more than likely waking myself up enough to prevent a return to sleep, but instead turned on my little bedside radio and put the headphones on, hoping that NPR's Morning Edition would distract me sufficiently.

Which did two things: drove all bathroom thoughts from my mind AND woke me up. Funny how these things happen.

Where were you when John Lennon died? Do you remember? Were you even born yet? I was. I was in Guatemala, adventuring as only the young and truly clueless can; the fact that I might need to learn another language to traverse South America only struck me when I crossed the border into Mexico and realized that I didn't understand anyone. For a brief moment I wondered whether the words TACO, SERAPE, and SOMBRERO, along with a lot of hand waving and facial expressions, might be enough to propel me around South America. I was a fan of Italian films and they always seemed to manage on few words and a lot of drama, surely I could too? This thought lasted about, ooohh, maybe three weeks before I realized that I needed more words and less gestures.

So there I was, four months later, working in a vegetarian restaurant as a cook, a fact which still mildly astounds me, given that until that month I hadn't ever cooked anything more than toast. I think I must have radiated a certain culinary confidence though, because I was also Head Cook. The fact that the owner of the restaurant spent all his time out backing smoking pot might have had something to do with my position: not only was he even more clueless than I was, he also operated on the premise that, because I could read The Vegetarian Epicure in the original English, I must be able to cook.

At this point I feel I should do a Burl Ives snowman shrug and say something like "Ah, youth."

This situation lasted about three weeks, then, one night, when I was walking down the main drag of the little town where the restaurant was (a hot spot on the Gringo Trail), contemplating the curious fact that every restaurant seemed to serve exactly the same menu: omelettes and fresh fruit, when I heard a tinny little radio playing Across the Universe. Until that point I knew who the Beatles were, but I wasn't a knowledgable fan. We were separated by a bit of a generation gulf. They were my brother's music. I liked the John and Yoko pairing, and in fact I still think Let Me Count The Ways is one of the more beautiful songs I know, but I didn't know much Beatles music. But there was that radio, playing that song. In a Twitterless, Facebookless world: news spread by (untyped) word of mouth back then. Soon all the gringo tourists were standing in the middle of the street, shocked at the news that John Lennon had been shot and was dead. I think I heard Across The Universe at least a hundred times that week, it was in constant rotation on all the radio stations.

So that's where I was when John Lennon was shot: growing up in Central America. I still remember it clearly all these years later.

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Skies & Christmas Books

Doesn't this picture —
— remind you of this author's work?

It does me (it's also a lovely inspiring Christmas read).

The Hunt Is On!

The Haggis Hunt, that is. More specifically: Farquhar's Revenge. Plenty more haggi where that came from!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who Doesn't Need A Beak Warmer?

Just the thing for the Angry Bird on your Christmas list!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Not So Dark Horse

If you're familiar with the film Love Actually you might know something of the obsession that afflicts Britain this time each year: the coveted place wherein a musical single, usually performed by some good-looking youthful quartet, tops the charts at Christmas time. Playing an aging rock star intent on a comeback of sorts, Bill Nighy muses, in one of the more sublime moments of the film, during a radio interview, "Wouldn't it be great if number one this Christmas wasn't some smug teenager but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price?" Wonder of wonders (spoilers!), he achieves his Christmas number one, in spite of himself.

This Christmas another group is attempting much the same sort of takeover for the Christmas spot: the Military Wives choir. If you've seen this series you will know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, well, you've missed some seriously brilliant television and I advise you to get yourself to it immediately. I'm a fervently devoted fan of Gareth Malone, the boyish choirmaster who likes to take on decidedly unmusical situations, so when I saw his latest series - The Choir: Military Wives - I watched with some interest. It was every bit as riveting as his other efforts; there is something charming about a man who believes, in this age of endless tweeting and too-much-information-via-Facebook, that the simple act of singing can change people's lives for the better.

This single was compiled from snippets of the letters to and from these military wives, women whose husbands were largely in Afghanistan, and put to music. They performed it in November at the Royal Albert Hall, then recorded it professionally in a studio, as you can see yourself in this YouTube clip. If you're as soppy as me, you'll need at least one kleenex. Then make a little wish that this group can get their number one single this Christmas, just like Billy did on Love Actually.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Know What They Say—

When life hands you lemons, make marmalade out of them.

(I like to twist up these sayings a bit)

Here lie the fruits of my 2 year old lemon trees, along with a couple of sour mandarins from the sour mandarin tree I acquired in the summer. There were enough lemons to make 5 pints of marmalade. If you come to visit I'll be happy to dispense toast and marmalade.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eating LEGO

Our neighbours across the street put up their Christmas lights today, which prompted my kids to exclaim about our lack of Christmas lights. We have a few advent things inside: an advent candle wreath on the table, the Mary's Walk tableau on the seasonal table, a few paper toys from here (from her book, actually) scattered around the living room. No lights yet. It seems too early.

I bought the chocolate-windowed advent calendars my kids love yesterday, but only when I found them for less than $1.25 each. I toyed with the idea of buying them each LEGO City advent calendar, if only to give my kids a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime never-to-be-repeated moment to reflect back on when they're older (and I'm either dead or rotting in a home somewhere wondering if they're thinking about me) and they're reflecting (hopefully) fondly on their childhood. "Gosh," they'll think, "Mum was amazing! I loved that calendar."

Sadly for my LEGO-loving kids, I only toyed with the idea. Picture me: a (LEGO-sponsored) devil on one shoulder, whispering "$40 is nothing! Think of how excited they'll be!" while on the other shoulder a prim angel stands, arms folded, tapping one foot impatiently, saying "Ohmygawd, another idiot has lost its village, hasn't it? Sheila, my dear, those kids of yours have enough damn LEGO to sink a couple of planets. Get them each one of those cheap chocolate things and get the hell home. And stop listening to that turkey on your other shoulder. You always were a pushover."

Fortunately I listened to my well-honed guilt complex and rescued our bank account from almost certain death. Cheap chocolate it was. The twins were thrilled with theirs. Max will do what he did last year: pretend he's too cool to have an advent calendar and let it languish in a corner until Christmas morning, whereupon he will pull it out, pretending he has just remembered it, and promptly eat all the chocolates in one go while the twins watch enviously, wishing they had the willpower to do the same.

Can't do that with LEGO.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reading Aloud : November

I've written before on reading aloud to my kids. It started as a fluke event then morphed into a Thing We Do. I used to read aloud at night, before bed, but the pleas for 'one more chapter' became a wrench, because sometimes it was ME who wanted the one more chapter. Also, when the book was on the, err, dramatic side I hesitated to read it right before bed, because some of us had night terrors. Black riders and blazing eyes in towers don't always go down well in dreamland.

Then I started reading in the mornings, while we were all still soft and malleable from our nighttime dreams. This is a good state for one's audience to be in; it's highly forgiving, particularly if one likes to experiment with thick Scottish brogues or there are songs or poems to be sung within the storyline. That time period clicked, because we could read for more than thirty minutes without the repercussions a lack of sleep invokes. Thus, every weekday morning for the past seven years I have read aloud at breakfast time. We've ploughed through a lot of books this way: books I wanted them to read; books they would never have read on their own; books that were above their reading level; and books that I wanted to read myself. One day in the future, when the kids are long out of the house and I'm tottering around here on my own, wondering how it got so quiet (and clean) all of a sudden, it will be what I recall the most clearly and miss the mostly deeply.

How do I choose a book to read aloud? I have three usual methods:

1) The book is something I read and loved as a kid. This works if you were a passionate reader or if you grew up with a passionate reader (presuming you paid attention to the passionate reader's choices, that is).

2) The book has a Newbery Award imprint on the cover and is languishing cheaply on the shelves at our local Sally Ann. This is probably my number one method of finding books. Someone in my neighbourhood bought a lot of good books for their children, for which I am thankful. Now if only I could find someone in my neighbourhood who would pass on their Williams-Sonoma cast-offs...

3) I've heard about it from someone, or FDPG has heard about it from somewhere and has recalled it for us to read. FDPG has the library collection data base on speed-dial. Kidding? Me?

Another method I am leery of mentioning, because it's not terribly reliable, is using Amazon as a search function: look up a book you know and like, then see what the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" has to say for itself.

Anyhow, Method No. 2 is how we got ourselves onto the James Herriot omnibus this month. I'm 479 pages into the book and we're all just as delighted with it now as we were on page 12. I don't remember being as struck by his prose style when I was a kid, reading it under the covers at night, wanting desperately to be a vet when I grew up, but reading it aloud now it's hard not to notice it. Every word counts in his stories. Not a single note is wasted. Then there's his comic skill; he's a very funny man who is able to tell stories so that the reader can see the humour just as clearly as the writer. At this point I feel quite confident in saying that my kids worship the ground Tristan walks on. Every puff of Woodbine smoke, every pint of beer, every hangover or silly antic, they love it all. He's probably going to down in our pantheon of Dearly Beloved Characters, right alongside Laura Ingalls, Frodo, Harry, Ron, & Hermione, Chrestomanci, Wol & Weeps, White Fang, Howl, John, Susan, Titty & Roger, and the entire Durrell family. But I think what I love most about this series is the resilient attitude the author has about the fact that he had to spend a good deal of his time in very uncomfortable situations: his car has no heat, he has to go out at all hours, he often works in inhospitable surroundings, with recalcitrant patients, and in unforgiving weather. And through it all he has the best of attitudes. These kinds of books are sneaky: they can't help but provide a contrast for my kids about how easy and cosy their own lives are in comparison, but they also show them another, more valuable lesson: life is what you make of it. I like that kind of lesson in a book.

For more on the topic of Read Alouds, click on the "Little House" or "Book Reviews" link on the left hand column of my blog, under Labels.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Puffballs & Japanese Snow

Meet the Lion Sisters, the latest additions to the Greenridge Household.

This one is Puff, or Her Royal Puffness. She's very gregarious and curious, which is good considering that her new owner is a fairly lively boy.

Full Frontal: Puff has black ears, nose, and feet, while the rest of her is one big poof of gray.

This is Yuki. I haven't been able to get a good shot of her, so this one will have to do. She's quite tiny. Yesterday we were worried she was shy or perhaps even ill because she was so quiet and still, but today she perked up and attacked her crust of bread relatively aggressively, considering it was almost as big as she is.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Which We Encounter A Moment From A Book

Yesterday we were sitting in a dentist's office, while one of us had some sealants put on our ridges and buckles. One of us has weird, convoluted teeth.

As we sat, some of us played Angry Birds on iPods, and some of us read a book we'd just picked up from the bookstore that morning. A book about bats. We'd seen the author at the library in the summertime, and he was such a charismatic and inspiring speaker we all wanted to read his books immediately. Max had already encountered this series, but FDPG hadn't, so with her characteristic competence she searched the library catalogue until she'd located the first four, then read them one by one, over a period of about three weeks. That FDPG, she doesn't mess around. From morning till night her nose was in a book. From morning till night she talked about these books.

Then Dominic decided he might like to read them. Dominic came later to reading than did FDPG, and we had to work on it for a bit via conventional phonics methods, but for the past two years he's been catching up to his twin, slightly slower but doggedly working his way through many of the same books. But where FDPG lives for dragon fantasies, magical creatures stories, and books like The Lord of the Rings, Dominic likes animal tales and adventure stories: Rudyard Kipling, Farley Mowat, and Jack London. He also likes bats, so I tried to entice him with this bat series. For whatever reason he never took the bait. I think the sheer size of the print intimidated him. Then a couple of weeks ago he started reading one of them - Darkwing. He also asked me to recall the first one - Silverwing - from the library, but when it arrived the print was depressingly tiny. It was a book for someone with a magnifying glass. So we went to the bookstore and bought a different version with larger print.

So there we were in the dentist's office, me reading Silverwing and the others absorbed with Angry Birds. I read the first seventy five pages before we were done with the dentist.

Today we were on our early morning walk, Dominic and I; it was just after seven o'clock on a cloudy, overcast day. There is something wonderful about the first light of day: if it's clear you see the stars and planets setting in the lightening sky; if it's cold you see the frost glinting on the bridge; if it's raining you see the birds huddled under the dripping branches. And it's so very quiet and still at that time of the day.

We were just walking down the hill to the house when a bird burst excitedly out of a Garry oak across the road from our house and whizzed past us into another thicket of trees. The noise it was making was startling; but what was even more startling was the owl chasing it intently across the road. Big and gray and deadly silent, it sailed within six feet of our heads, eyes swiveling over us impassively for a second or two before disappearing into the same thicket as the panicked starling. It all happened in seconds.

Dominic and I looked at each other. We were both thinking the same thing: the owls were out, keeping the law. We glanced into the sky, looking for a bat or two, but there were none. Dawn had already broken.

You can read more about the series we are reading here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

School Projects

Here's the latest in the Stormavenger oeuvre: it was part of a project he did for a class he's in.

A small glimpse into what makes Max tick:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making Things

Did I write about renovating the downstairs bathroom? The one Max was so repelled by he groaned and grouched about it hourly? The one room we didn't renovate when we bought this house five years ago? The only room that really showed its, err, age?

Wait, I did. Here. It wasn't a particularly ugly bathroom, but it was dated: plywood sink vanity with cheap melamine, ancient creaking taps with mould growing under the caps, bad wallpaper, and a shower stall that was unusable because, and I kid you not, it did not attach to the wall. We didn't notice it when we'd viewed the house, which was probably lucky, because by the time we noticed we'd already leapt into the house hook, line, and mortgage. At that point we were stuck with it.
So the kids took turns each day cleaning and grouching about the cleaning. We'd renovated the upstairs bathroom before moving in and our resident Shower King became so possessive about this new shower (not to mention the bathroom) that after a few years I threw down the Renovation Gauntlet to Richard: either we redo the downstairs bathroom or I go mad watching everyone but me use my bathroom.

Fortunately Richard is nothing if not a careful listener. And he knows when his (not very) long-suffering wife has reached a breaking point.
So we renovated. If Richard and I were an HGTV home design show duo, I'd be the Design Guy and he'd be the Tool Guy: I pick the tiles, the paint, and the fixtures while Richard does all the hard stuff like jackhammering and dealing with electrics and drains. I'm not so good with drains. But I am good at dragging logs off the beach so my dad can chainsaw them in half and Richard can stick them on the wall with embedded hooks for the kids' towels. Although, umm, I didn't actually drag the log off the beach...Max did. I chose it though.

Now the downstairs bathroom is so pristine and new I keep mistaking it for a hotel bathroom. And the Shower King keeps it so clean that we're all quite astounded. When he's not in the shower, that is.

He likes the shower, that boy.

I'm slowly adding little design touches to the room. Like this little sea glass and shell mobile. I collect these things during the summer when we go up island. We bring home little cartons of sand dollars, clam shells, moon snail shells, and driftwood. White rocks. Spotted rocks. Flat rocks. Some go to the garden. Some line the paths. Others sit on the front porch. Every so often Richard will say things like "That stuff is cluttering up the basement/carport/back deck/bedroom/living room. Are you EVER going to do anything with it? Or will it just sit here for the next 25 years?" or "How long is that box of driftwood going to sit in the carport?" or sometimes even "You are a packrat, you know."

Fortunately I am very good at tuning these rude remarks out. Because every so often I actually do something with all that stuff.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Seeing How The Star Wheel Turns

Sorry about the lunch series - something rather dramatic reared its rather, err, dramatic head into our lives and disrupted lunch posts, as well as a lot of other things, for the time being. The dust is slowly (and hopefully) settling.

One of the side effects of all this drama is a new regime: early morning walks. Not surprisingly, this doesn't attract a lot of takers, being so early any all. Nonetheless, two of us forge out into the morning's mists before the dawn has struck, flashlights in hand. We walk so briskly we can barely keep a conversation going. It's pitch black out (thus the flashlights). It's cold and sometimes frosty too, which means a clear view of the stars. We note the shapes and patterns and brightnesses, and when we get home we check the starwheel and the almanac to see what we were walking under. It's the best sort of star lesson there is, really. Even if it is dark and cold and — early.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And We Shall See What Can't Be Seen

On any other night...

The ghosts of paper bag lunches past, lining the stairs, lit by the happy memories of many a toothsome lunch. (I see someone spilled their wax, ahem)

More glowing ghosts, this time the ghosts of milk cartons past. Glug glug glug...
And here we have a knight from the twelfth century, a noble Crusader preparing to go riding in the dark, accompanied by his trusty mummy. And no, thank you very much, she is NOT a zombie, she is a genuine grade A Egyptian mummy. Some of our neighbours need to bone up on their undead/dead classification lore.

One two! One two! and through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker snack!

He left it dead and with its head

He went galumphing back.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LEGO Kits We'd Like To See

Those wacky twins have been at it again. Here's another in the series of kits we'd like to see in the next LEGO catalogue:

Item #: 1068
Ages: 5-12
Pieces: 275

This kit comes complete with a sailor, spyglass, fishing rod, and a fully stocked kitchen. Deck canopy protects against the elements while the sailor protects against fierce sea action.

Fish Bar
Item #: 7563
Ages: 5-12
Pieces: 525

This little fish shop has a menu board, an outdoor heat lamp, a light-up stove, and a skookum little get away craft moored right out front. It even has a diving board!

Mars Roving Robot
Item #: 6932
Ages: 9-16
Pieces: 274

This little robot can go up some pretty steep cliffs (was tested on van windscreens) so there's no worries about getting stuck in the red dust. Comes complete with a remote in case your astrosuit isn't ready in time for blast-off.

Miniature Train
Item #: 6525
Ages: 4-12
Pieces: 42

This little locomotive is a dead ringer for the Hogwarts Express, and indeed was modelled on it. Comes in red with black detailing, wheels optional.

Alien Conquest
ADU (Alien Defense Unit)
Item #: 7892
Ages: 6-12
Pieces: 396

Have aliens in your city? Get the ADU over for some fun and games! Blast them out of town with the roof-mounted rocket launcher or run over them with your low riding wheels. No danger of being harmed in this encased monster of a vehicle. ER assistance not included.

Graveyard Church
Item #: 4319
Ages: 7-14
Pieces: 478

This LEGO church comes with something you don't see very often in LEGO: stained glass windows! Sit down in the pews and experience a genuine LEGO service (host & choir optional).

Then, go outside and watch the grumpy caretaker sweep up the body parts from Halloween.

Well, wouldn't YOU be grumpy if you had to sweep up a lot of body parts and mummy limbs every morning?

"Stupid #@&*% zombies. I wish they'd go somewhere else, so I could get on pretending to be Harry Potter."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bedtime Stories

There I was, lying in bed, intently watching another gripping episode of Monarchy on my iPod. What better way to unwind at night than to watch someone at least 30 years older than you work like a dog? Even better, work like a dog while dripping with jewels and surrounded by glorious room decor? I find it strangely relaxing.

I was deeply absorbed in a particularly complex explanation of Black Rod when Richard came into the room, brushing his teeth noisily. He peered over and a wave of spearmint fumes hit me. He stared at the screen solicitously. I had earplugs (oops, sorry technologically superior teen child - earbuds) on, so he couldn't hear the commentary, but Prince Charles was shaking hands with someone and grimacing in the way only Prince Charles can. Without concern for any future Black Rod knowledge I may or may not have been stashing away for later (Jeopardy battles being rife around these parts), he launched into his usual nightly behaviour. This generally involves bouncing into bed noisily and interrupting me cheerily while he decides which book to read from the tottering pile at his bedside. Sometimes he brandishes the cover of each book so I can be privy to his inner deliberations (I tell him to pick the nice yellow book). Sometimes the pile falls over (clouds of dust ensue). Sometimes he yanks the covers about if he thinks I'm hogging the duvet (we wrangle pleasantly about who has more blanket). Sometimes he launches into a discussion about the complexities of the tile cutting saw he saw in the Canadian Tire catalogue (I remind him he already has a tile cutting saw). Every now and then he madly leaps up and races around the house, remembering doors to lock or bread to remove from freezers (I remind him that the kids are - or WERE - asleep). Once he's chosen his book and his page he clicks off. Abruptly.

After this evening's performance was over, I returned to my Monarchy viewing. We read and watch for a while. I am just getting into a particularly tense scene involving an irritated Queen and a number of sheepish looking Corgis when Richard blurts out of nowhere:

"Think he'll ever be King?"

"Huh? Who?"

"Prince Charles. Think the Queen will outlive him? Throne pass to Wills?"

"What? Are you kidding? She won't outlive him! Poor Charles."

"It's happened before. It's not unthinkable. There IS precedent."

"What? When has it happened before?" (the Corgis are forgotten)

"The Black Prince. His father outlived him. Throne passed on to Richard II."

"Who? The Black Prince? What? When was this? Recently?" (in spite of myself I am starting to screech a bit)

"Fourteenth century."

I burst out laughing.

"Oh my GAWD! That's only 700 years ago. Practically yesterday! I'm sure it's something that weighs heavily on Charles' mind. The Black Prince. You are INSANE." (I roll about in the pillows, feeling quite hysterical at this point)

Richard smiles smugly. "Don't laugh. It IS a precedent. I'm sure the Queen knows about it."

For some reason this strikes me as both wildly improbably AND hysterically funny. Richard goes back to his book, with a rather knowing look on his face. I return to my iPod. The Queen is traipsing up a very long staircase in a white evening gown, looking barely out of breath. Camera shifts to Prince Charles, looking red faced and rather less robust than his mother. I peer at his face on the tiny screen, wondering.

I glance over at Richard. He smirks.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mountain View Mystery

Come in, Mountain View, CA. Who are you? I have to say, at this point I am curious.

Consider The Lunch 2

Tuesday Edition:

Okay, this one was a bit of a quickie, I admit. We had next to nothing in the house and I didn't feel like cooking anything, so I hauled out the last of the graham crackers and grabbed a few apples, chocolate chips, and dried cherries. Then I used the mini bowl on my immersion blender to purée peanut butter, bananas, and a little Golden Syrup (takes the edge off the banana for the kid who isn't nuts about bananas). Spread, chop, arrange. That mini bowl is a miracle, I tell you. It's my own personal Almost A Vitamix.

Not shown: mango smoothie. Mango juice, ice cubes, over-ripe frozen bananas in a blender.

Rating: Very good (didn't fill the teen amongst us up and required some messy grazing afterwards, which was horribly tragic, but it WAS quick and easy)

Later that afternoon I went to the store and stocked up a bit. Ahem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And Then There's Lunch

I don't know about you, but making lunch in-house 5 days a week can be tedious, particularly if I've spent the morning assisting with math (grade 5 level), assisting with math (grade 9 level), talking about history, the periodic table, geometry, grammar and maybe even a little poetry.

I walk into the kitchen, most days around 11:30, look around and think "ugh." Or "why don't I have a personal chef?" Sometimes I even do an "uh-oh" depending on what's in the fridge or cupboards. Sometimes I walk back into the family room (where we do our schoolwork) and think "I'd rather be here. I wonder if anyone will forget about lunch?" knowing in my heart that no one will. Well, except for me.

There's something about the regularity of lunch that can be very creativity-destroying, don't you think? I have lots of ideas, but some days I lack the enthusiasm (not to mention the ingredients AND a flagrant budget). And don't forget the Taste Bud Considerations to, well, um, consider. Some of us adore sushi, some of us don't. Some of us love soup, some of us think it should be served no more than once a month, if that. Some of us like odd foods and exotic flavours, some of us would prefer a Heart Un-healthy diet (fries, cured meat subs, hamburgers).

So I'm going to start something new here on this blog:

Consider The Lunch.

I'm going to detail what we have for lunch for a week or two, which should, all going well, shame me into making more of an effort.

Here was Monday's offering: rice wraps. Stuffed with the previous day's leftover baked salmon, grated carrots, chopped sorrel, and a little soy sauce and sesame oil.

Rating: Excellent (and yes, I do say so myself)

And in the meantime, if you have any ideas, please send them. Quick.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Things That Say Fall

First, this coral bark maple tree. In the morning it glows a bright red; in the afternoon it's a transparent yellow and orange. Either way it's almost hypnotic. On the other side of the garden is a deeply red burning bush and I am contemplating moving one to the other's side just for this brief period of Late Summer Slash Early Fall brilliance: lime green red orange.

Next, some of us are in our high school years at this very moment in time. A momentous moment. Not that this actually says fall, but it's a new development in our homeschooling oeuvre. Not an entirely welcome one, mostly because some of our ways of spending the day have been, well, curtailed somewhat drastically, but I can already see that the challenge alone will be a good thing.

The early learning years are all about the fun and excitement of the hunt, sniffing out new paths and new scents, new interactions and new lands; the later years are all about settling down to something more earnest, more searching and serious. And that's where Max is finding himself these days. He's spending more time with assignments and computers and math texts, while his brother and sister are still in relative Frolic Mode. I expected more tension and Awkward Learning Curves, but so far there have been none at all, which makes us all very glad. New developments, indeed.

And in these colder days of autumn I am stretching my talents as a Baker of Pies. I've never been a big pie maker, for whatever reason, but I made one the other day and it was a new and unexpected thrill. It was so perfectly golden brown and crispy and sweet with soft apple flavour. So I made another one. We eat them for breakfast now. They are perfect with a milky hot latté in the first rays of dawn. I'm trying to convince everyone that a slice of cheddar wouldn't go amiss but they all think I'm nuts.

At night, what is better with dinner than a Yorkshire pudding? Some of us love my puddings so much they stick them with little paper umbrellas and drink the gravy and cranberry sauce as if they had a large, goopy, fruity drink.

Or maybe they just like having me take their pictures while they're doing silly things with frilly paper umbrellas. That FDPG, she loves a good camera op.

Although they were pretty good Yorkshire puddings...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fast Comes Fall

When the nights got colder and wetter last week, and we had a couple of rainy days, I decided to curtail the Wild Tomato Experience happening in the backyard and bring everything in, in all its unripened glory, because this is prime late blight weather here on the Wet Coast.

That's right, Gentle Reader, averting catastrophe is my new motto. No longer am I going to whinge about the end of the summer, about the mildew on my squash, about the cold wet rain smacking me in the face, about the winds whipping my plastic greenhouse into pathetic shreds. No, I will be a Jane Austen Heroine about it all even though it might make me cry a lot. I will look on the bright side. I will forge ahead. Fall is just another season, albeit a cold wet windy gray miserable dull one...

Anyhow, that's why I have a mini-greenhouse window full of green tomatoes, reddish tomatoes, and red tomatoes sitting on my deck. And newspapers strewn around inside the house with tomatoes and zucchinis and tomatillos and peppers strewn around on top of those newspapers. I am averting catastrophe. Makes for some fun conversations with visitors: "Don't you know you're supposed to pick them when they're RED?" (said with many guffaws) "Do you know you have a lot of tomatoes on your floor in there?" (um, no kidding Sherlock) or my own personal favourite "Why'd you plant so many if you had to bring them all in?" (there really IS no answer to this in polite company, is there?)

So, with this new motto in hand, I decided to revamp the vegetable garden (the one you see here on the left) because it is, and I do hate to admit this, poorly designed.

Who designed it, you ask?

Sigh. Me.

Look at it: those strawberry plants are positively plotting to trip up any hapless passer-by, while that cedar arbour is no longer upright by ANY stretch of the imagination. There's even a mouse in there somewhere. It's being chased around by the snake that lives in there with it. I see them periodically being chased about by the cat.

It is a mess. Well, it WAS a mess. Until my new attitude got a hold of it.

Here it is, greatly curtailed in its activities.

Gone are about 400 strawberry plants, several unsightly Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants (too covered with aphids to be of use to anyone but the compost), a lot of very boring couch grass, and some really nice beach rocks, rocks I had been looking for all summer and were apparently thrown in there by the Teenager, who thought he was going to rid the world of a mouse with the aid of a strategically placed beach rock. Well, several strategically placed beach rocks. We're not one for dead-eyed aim, evidently.

Yes, I said, a mouse will just sit there while you huck large beach rocks at it.

I am SO funny.

I also removed much soil, so that the upper section would be raised, as in A Raised Bed. No more hanging grimly onto the cedar arbour while picking scarlet runner beans.
Hmm, I think I know why the arbour is no longer upright...

I also added some beach rocks. Some steps. I'm still waiting for the rebar sides on the beds, because I need to get more lumber, which is why that bed suddenly ends like that. On the other end is a wheelbarrow path so I don't need to ruin my delicately arranged steps. I also dumped in some bark mulch so that the winter rains (gulp, steel yourself now) won't make a mockery of my new pathway. It's all tidy, tidy, tidy.
More tidyness.

The funny thing about the fall is that it seems to come all of a sudden. One minute you're basking in the sunshine, next you're shivering in the wind and all the trees are losing their leaves.

I wonder if these figs will ripen?

Or if these grapes will fatten up and get sweet?
No dithering for the coral bark maple. It's getting on with fall without any backwards looks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Compost 101

As the result of the need to present a short demonstration for the 4-H Fair, the Dirt Detectives dusted off their presentation skills and made a short video afterwards, so their mum had something to remember it by.

But guess what? It's also educational. So I'm sharing it, in case one of you wants to learn about composting. Because composting is, in the words of my old pal Martha, a good thing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Math Dictionary For Kids

The Essential Guide To Math Terms, Strategies, and Tables.

by Theresa R. Fitzgerald

Grades 4-6 (new edition)

When I first opened this updated dictionary, I wondered a bit at its method of organization. Instead of one large reference dictionary (as I was expecting) it was organized into the various mathematical categories: geometry, measurement, decimals, etc. So if I were looking for the definition of numerator I would have to go to the section marked Decimals, Fractions, Percents, and Ratios. I did, and there it was: “The number that is written above the line in a fraction. It tells how many parts of the whole are being considered.” There was an accompanying illustration with a fraction and an arrow pointing to the numerator. Which makes vastly more sense when you think about it, because not only does this contextualize the term for the student (numerator = fractions), but it eliminates the need to thumb through masses of other distracting concepts, as well as avoiding the possible pitfalls of having to cross-reference anything unfamiliar (ie: “Numerator: See also Fraction”). It was all there in one neat, concise, well-defined chapter.

In fact, it was so neat and so concise and so helpful I briefly bewailed not having had it years ago, when we first started homeschooling. The Quick Reference Guides, for example, were exactly what we’d needed. They remind the student briefly as to the hows and whys of some of the more trying math concepts kids encounter around grade 4: decimals, fractions, multiplication, and division. No long complex explanations or strange formulaic scribbles, either: this math dictionary does it simply and economically - just the ticket for most math students.

And if you’ve ever been confronted by that peculiar item known as the geoboard (as, ahem, I was), you will be thrilled to see that there is a truly excellent chapter entitled Learning With Manipulatives. Not only does the author explain the many (impressive) uses for the geoboard, she also demonstrates how to use graph paper, Base 10 blocks, hundred charts, mirrors, pattern blocks, tangrams and tiles. This section is, like the dictionary portion, generously illustrated with diagrams, pictures, and visual examples, so there’s no mistaking what to do with that bag of second-hand tangrams your friend gave you, or how to build geometric solids at home (tip: miniature marshmallows work great but leave the toothpicks rather sticky).

In addition, there are also measurement conversion tables, square root charts, prime number charts, and more. And it’s all in one neatly bound soft-cover volume. This dictionary is an invaluable and inexpensive guide for any young math student.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Long Time No Write

It's raining right now. Fall is a day or two away - official calendar fall, that is. The weather is still warm during the day, warm enough that light clothing is still the order of the day, so I'm not too sad.

Well, not yet. Give me a few more weeks of rain and I might alter that statement a bit.

We've let up a bit on 4-H summer madness around here, what with our fall fair officially over and school officially started. We're thinking about getting out the bird feeders so our resident bird population leaves off on the sunflowers, still waving languidly in the front garden, but these guys are grouchy about having to wait. Look at them - the glares I have to brave every time I go outside. Wait, is that a unibrow?

The garden did well, once the heat came our way. This was, as I've said before, the worst summer in memory. Yes, there were a couple of weeks there when it was hot, even at night, but for the most part most of my garden cronies are not thrilled with the state of their gardens this year. Things that did well? Tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, berries (the blackberries were positively rhapsodic), tree fruit, beans and peas. Things that didn't do well? Cucumbers (pathetic, sob), eggplant, hot peppers, gourds. That said, for once I got the jump on the rain (and by extension the Potential Late Blight season) by bringing in most of my tomato crop while we were still basking in sun. The rest - the giant Roprecco plum tomatoes from the seeds my friend Samantha sent me - I wrapped in large sheets of plastic. So they are all out there sitting snugly while the rains drip softly down.

And in the meantime the birds sit. And wait. Expectantly. No pressure now, guys.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Angry Bird Tomato

There he was, just sitting in the garden, no doubt plotting revenge on all the little green tomatoes pigs around him.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My How We Change

I know, I know, I've been AWOL. All I can tell you is that I've been disinclined to blog, disinclined to read blogs, busy with tedious 4-H bureaucracy, busy with canning and preserving and reading and getting ready for fairs, and wildly busy being outside in the garden.

That said, a couple of people in this house turned 10 a couple of weeks ago. Double digits! Look at them when we lived in another town in another year. A year when this duo were still but cute little two year olds. And gosh, how cute they were.

Funny thing is, they still ARE cute. Nice that, being blessed with cuteness...