Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
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.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
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
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
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
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
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
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
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
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."
Friday, November 4, 2011
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
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
Item #: 1068
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.
Item #: 7563
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
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.
Item #: 6525
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.
ADU (Alien Defense Unit)
Item #: 7892
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.
Item #: 4319
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
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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
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
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...
Monday, October 10, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
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
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?
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.
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
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
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
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.