Monday, January 31, 2011

Mind The Cap

Do you live in Canada? Then this new CRTC ruling will affect you. So get out there and bitch about it, because if you don't, you'll be letting someone else decide how YOU spend YOUR time on the internet. If this form doesn't work for you, click here.

In Which I Spend Some Time In The Garden

Look! Irises! Ignore those buttercups...and that persistently obnoxious grass. Makes me feel quite faint, all those interlopers, because it reminds me of what I'm going to be spending the next 10 years digging up, assuming I don't win the lottery and do the Grand Tour with FDPG (this is her fondest wish at the moment: start in Egypt, move to Rome, Alexandria, Greece, India...ending up at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Japan), because of course that SO could happen.

Wait. How did I get to Studio Ghibli? From irises?

(just call me the Queen of the Segue)

It was cold on the weekend, but not cold enough that I couldn't go out side and do some sawing of fruit tree limbs, or digging of weeds under fruit trees, or mulching with straw, or putting terracotta cloches over rhubarb (sticking its red little buds out of the ground already). So I did.

I made plans to make paths for easier walking, dug drainage trenches, dug holes for more fruit trees, and had a change of heart and replanted the Horribly Rust-Prone Pear Tree that I'd flung into the bushes last year when the crop of pears went funny for the THIRD TIME. Yes, I admit, I had a Fit of Pique. My Jane Austen self is rather mortified at this lack of restraint but there's only so much rust a girl can take before Flinging Stubborn Trees Into Bushes becomes a highly viable option. As Richard said "That'll show it!" (contrary to Richard's sarcasm I think it MIGHT show it)

I hope no one saw me out there. I wore a down vest, a down vest I think my dad used to own. My hair is in need of a cut and looking quite scrubby. I also wore my Garden Outfit (yes, I DO have a Garden Outfit, doesn't everyone?) and it's getting distressingly decrepit, so of course I looked totally dorky.

Totally dorky. If I didn't already guess it I would have known it by the looks my early 20-something neighbours gave me when they went off to their carefree university gym/chick-watching experience: incredulity mixed with a little unbridled mirth, and a touch of horror.

Good thing I've had kids - I can take a little public humiliation now, without even flinching.

But it was fun. And there were lots of little surprises. Like that clump of irises. There is very little to rival the blue of an iris. And I'm not even a blue sort of person. And look at those primroses up there in the last photo. I LOVE those primroses. I can't believe I spent so many years buying those grocery store primroses, the ones that never seem to come back after their brief gloriously colourful twenty seconds on my porch. Even my little lemon trees are doing nicely, considering how horribly cold and biting it's been of late. They look glossy and bright. The lemons are, dare I say it, getting larger? It's a bit wet under all that Reemay, and I'll have to work in some sand once the weather warms up, so I'm still in Holding Breath Mode. Lovely Lemons...wasn't that a Strawbs song?

The upside to cold weather: nice sunrises and sunsets...

Buttering You Up

I make the world's best garlic butter. I know this sounds horribly pompous of me, (and even more embarrassing: I've typed that boast before on this blog) but it's true. I've had a lot of garlic butter in my lifetime, and I feel confident saying that mine rocks.

Here's a close-up of a batch I made the other day. Look at all that creamy, oozingly garlic-studded salty sweetness...mmmm.....don't you just want to poke your finger into that mess and have a little taste?

Trust me, you won't regret it. I've said it before and I'll...

Oh shut up, Sheila. Hand out the recipe already.

Fine, then.

Roast several heads of garlic (broken up into cloves) in several tablespoons of oil, oven temp. about 350ºF, for maybe 35 minutes. You want each clove to be soft and mushy, but not hard. Hard won't blend. Soft and mushy will.

Let them cool briefly, at least until you can squeeze the little buggers out of their skins. Put them in a mini blender container (I have one that goes with my immersion blender - looks like a mini food processor) and purée til smooth. Add a little salt (I use Spike) and then, depending on how much garlic you used, some butter. My ratio is 3 heads = 1 cup of butter. If the garlic is still warm the butter will almost-but-not-quite melt to a soft mess. Then you can scrape that mess into a ceramic dish and either chill for later or leave on the counter, so everyone can get a piece of baguette and scoop up a taste.

People will love you for this garlic butter. Trust me.


Guess who had a sleepover on the weekend? In a bedroom of all places? In a teeny tiny little IKEA tent that's on it's last legs (in that bedroom)? With about a zillion Webkinz along for the ride?

Happy little twinnie-oings, that's who. And as Richard said, they won't be doing this for much longer. Enjoy it while we can.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Review: The Thirteen Clocks

"The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in the ticking thicket of bickering crickets. Farther along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, green and vivid on their lily pads. From the sky came the crying of flies, and the pilgrims leaped over a bleating sheep creeping knee-deep in a sleepy stream, in which swift and slippery snakes slid and slithered silkily, whispering sinful secrets."

Now if that doesn't make you want to read this book, I don't know what will. Wait, I do: it's really, REALLY excellent. Short AND sweet. Don't forget fun.

There, will that do?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Which Sheila Is Menaced By The Recycling Man

This is my new recycling man. I didn't have the nerve to snap a photo of him glaring down the driveway at me, so I drew him instead, from the safety of my house. Trust me, this drawing makes him look rather benevolent. Paper tigerish. Merely grouchy. Mildly annoyed.
But he wasn't.

No, no, no. He wasn't.

Why was he glaring at me, you ask?

Well, from what I can gather, I didn't sort my recycling carefully enough.

That's right. I did not sort my debris to his liking.

Usually I am meticulous about sorting the recycling, but what with the frivolity of Christmas and Max's birthday I had delegated some of the recycling tasks to those who shall remain nameless...cough cough...MAXFDPGDOMINIC...cough cough...but let's just say that those nameless culprits aren't as, um, ZEALOUS about sorting as I am. There was some - GASP - paper in the plastic section. And the plastics were carelessly bundled together in a big mess.

So, because we happened to be in the family room, doing schoolwork when Recycling Man came by with his recycling truck, and because that family room happens to overlook the road where the recycling truck was situated, we saw Recycling Man stomp around the blue box, glare at the blue box, pick up the blue box and shake it towards our house, then stomp around a bit more and glare down the entire length of the driveway (whereupon we all fell instantly to our knees in case he saw us gaping out the window), and, finally, slap a giant fluorescent orange sticker on our blue box, giving us one last venomous gaze before he barrelled away in his truck.

We picked ourselves up. We giggled a bit, mostly from shock. I asked Max to go out and see what the sticker said, but he refused, until Recycling Man had left the vicinity. And mostly we all cowered in the family room, slightly shocked by that glare.

That glare.

That terrible awful glare.

Is this what our city means by "implementing new recycling policies, more in line with current trends in community management"?

Recycling Man Goes Rogue?

You can bet I'm going to be sorting my recycling more carefully this week.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Me & My Tools

Okay, here's the million dollar question: do you treat your garden tools kindly?

(key Jeopardy music)

Now, who said ME, I DO! and who shuffled their feet and looked uneasy?

If you were in the first group, you get to sit this session out. Go out that door behind you and have a coffee or something. Don't forget your scarf. You are evidently more assiduous when it comes to taking care of your tools...than, If I avoid eye-contact with you from here on out, please don't take it personally.

If you are in the second group, well, sit down and start feeling some residuals of sympathy shame, if only for my benefit. And bear with me while I drone on about that handy trick of keeping a bucket of oily sand in the basement in which to plunge your garden tools - and how I kept intending to actually DO it. If you have one of those oily buckets I do not want to know about it, because I spent a good deal of my afternoon, an afternoon I'd earlier earmarked for Outdoor Garden Work, doing something about the shocking state of my tools.

My poor rusty, dirt-encrusted tools.

Let's just say that it took a bout with blight to get this party started. I had segregated a few odd tools from the others, tools I'd used in a part of the garden that got late blight in the summer, assuming I'd wipe them later with a 10% solution of bleach, like the magazines all tell me to oh honestly sheila you live in a little world of make believe, who did you think WOULD clean those tools? AND get that 10% solution mixed up? Huh? Huh? Huh? In the end, it wasn't the blight that did it - it was Richard mixed with the really dirty tools in the basement. Nothing like a little encounter with Richard's patented "Your tools are taking over that basement again and they look a MESS! How am I supposed to have a workshop when all your crap takes over this place?" (note that he doesn't use any expletives whatsoever, I think he'd like it if I pointed that out).

So today saw me filling a bucket of hot water and dish soap, and arming myself with a scrubber. I washed and dried. I oiled. I used rags. I even did some sanding with steel wool. Yes, there's nothing like a little horrorslashguilt at seeing what bad shape one's garden tools really ARE in to galvanize one to action.

And if you need yet more convincing, lookee here at this picture I took, of two shovels. Let's just say that one is more than likely to outlast the other...

And if you need some really meticulous advice, here it is from the Martha's Mouth:
Routine Care
The best way to keep all of your tools in great shape is to take care of them year-round. To keep them pristine, do the following after each use:
1. Tap tools to remove clumps of soil.

2. Remove soil from blades and hinges with a clean cloth and brush.

3. Always use a proper cleaner to remove sap from tools after use.

4. Clean metal tools by plunging in a bucket of oiled sand. To make oiled sand, pour 3/4 quart motor oil or mineral oil into a 5-gallon bucket of sand (the sand should be damp but not moist). Push blades of tools into sand. This helps clean and condition the metal.

5. Store tools in the oiled sand, or hang on pegs.

6. Establish a regular schedule of maintenance. Once a month, you should sharpen blades, oil springs, and replace failing parts.

7. Create an area for tool storage and maintenance -- once you're organized, keeping tools in pristine condition will become an easy habit.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Books In The Family

We went to the dentist today. I've blogged about my Dental Woes before (put the term "dentist" into my blog search engine and you only come up with a few but I prefer this one because it expresses how dreary Bad Teeth can be) but today it was just the kids who had appointments.

Three checkups, one crocheted dishcloth, several games of Plants vs. Zombies, several ROCKIN iTunes songs, one bloody nose, several scuffles over seating arrangements, and several new reels of dental floss later we were done. Phew. And no cavities. Double phew. Guess all that ExcessiveDivaDrama I exude after each of MY visits paid off, because the kids seem to be flossing and brushing very cleanly. And FDPG charmed the hygienist, who came out and told me how POLITE and SWEET and FUNNY and WITTY and WONDERFUL FDPG was.

FDPG, to her credit, tried to look modest.

So after all that frivolity and fun, I took the kids to a bookstore near the dentist office. I felt the need to celebrate somehow and Max's idea of milkshakes at McDonalds didn't seem appropriate somehow, given that we had just come from a place that frowned on excessive amounts of TOOTH DECAYING FOODSTUFFS.

First off: Sheila's Pick.
I tried to find a quote from this book to show you why I picked it, but soon realized that I would have to type a lot of words show you could see the SCOPE of this woman's humour, and I'm just too lazy to do that, so trust me when I say that this is one exceedingly amusing book. Wit AND charm rolled into one tidy little volume.

Dominic's Picks: Dominic likes animal stories. He would have preferred Owl Stories but other than Guardians of Gahoole there didn't seem to BE any Owl Stories in the kid section. So we took this one, although I noticed that it's now sitting on FDPG's bedside table...

This is the story of a young boy who goes to live with his aunt, who happens to be a Beastologist. Don't know what that is? Neither do I - I'll tell you when I finish reading it. Well, as soon as I wrest it away from FDPG and Dominic.

The artwork is pretty much what sold me on this little story - it's perfectly charming.

This was his other choice. We've just skimmed this volume, but so far it looks pretty fun. There is a LOT of artwork in this compilation, too, something that always gladdens the heart of the Easily Overwhelmed By Print Dominic.

This was actually MY choice for FDPG, but that was only to wrest the Bone series away from her Grip Of Death. Not that I don't like the Bone series, but I've noticed that she'll read them in about an hour, and then that's it. This irks me, I have to say, for reasons of which I can't quite voice, but it seems, err, umm, wasteful, for lack of a better word. So I sat FDPG down and went dashing about the bookstore, until I found, quite literally, a pile of alternative options for her. I had books on mythology, books on astronomy, art books, drawing books, graphic novels, more bloody Warriors books, etc, etc, etc. Then I saw this book. Contrary to instructions (we're programmed to, aren't we?), I OPENED this book. I was glad that I did, because it looks really fun. It reminded me of the Reader's Digest Strange Stories & Amazing Facts book my parents gave me when I was about nine: I kept that thing by my bed and read it every single night, then I'd turn out the light and be TERRIFIED that zombies, werewolves, vampires, or shipwrecked corpses would sneak into my room in the middle of the night with Obvious Evil Intent. And when I showed this DO NOT OPEN book to FDPG, she had the same recognizable look of glazed & fascinated terror that I we bought it. She has it by her bedside and she says it's "FABULOUS."

And what did Max pick, do I hear you ask? Well, he was tempted by a Mythbusters Science Project Ideas book, mostly because he liked the idea of trying to rip apart two phone books, just to see if it could be done, but in the end, after also rejecting a programming magazine for Macs, he picked a magazine about model trains, because he is in the process of constructing a new table top setting for his HO track.

So there you go: Fun At The Dentist tempered by Fun At The Bookstore.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Today Was Too Much Fun

Like Ricky Gervais, I am being highly ironic. I am most definitely NOT having too much fun today. Why not? I hear you ask, because you are that most wonderful of Blog Reader: good at sympathetic pretension.

And if you're not, well, by all means pretend. I'm okay with that.

First, I slipped on some really slimy Post-ModernTimes Garden Produce out on the deck. I fell into a towel from when I'd cut the boys' hair, which had been sitting out on the deck in the rain (for longer than I care to tell you about but they had hair cuts over two weeks ago). It was, umm, airing. In the rain. That takes all the hair off it, you know. One less thing for the laundry. Anyhow, the two intersections were more than my Jane Austen self could stand: slimy compost + yucky towel = BeamMeUpScotty-itis. And when my bruised vanity whined to the kids they said what Richard had said earlier "You should have put that stuff in the compost LAST YEAR. That stuff is OLD. No wonder you slipped on it. It's already composted. And Dad's been telling you not to leave hair-cutting towels on the deck - remember that time the bees started nesting in that towel last spring?"

Hardy har har. Funny, my family.

Then, the printer ink ran out. At a Desperate Moment. A Critical Juncture. The black cartridge, it seemed. I refilled it. It left a residue over the next page I printed. A really gross BLACK residue. I should have refilled the COLOUR cartridge, I thought (note to self: let the printer know next time you refill a cartridge so you won't do this again). I then refilled the colour cartridge. Turned out I was - SIGH - wrong when I determined that particular thought. It was NOT the colour cartridge. It was my printer being ornery and old and exceedingly cantankerous. I dripped my florid way into the bathroom and watched the cartridge drip into the sink. My bathroom sink, my lovely white and clean bathroom sink, was suddenly awash with dark green ink, a peculiar green which diverted me temporarily with its amazingly lovely greenness, at which point I tossed the blotting tissues in the toilet to watch the colours diffuse and gosh was THAT fascinating but it didn't fix the printer, so I returned to the Scene of the Crime and contemplated its imminent death.

A few Q-tips, a couple of "Clean Printer Heads" commands, and some "Why don't you keep track of when you refill the cartridges?" comments from the Teenager later, my printer was like Lazarus - returned from what had once seemed Certain Death.

Phew. I won't mention what the Teenager said when he went into my bathroom and saw the green and yellow unflushed toilet water. Suffice to say he wasn't quite as enchanted with the idea of Colour Experiments in the toilet as I was.

But it WAS cool.

Then lunch beckoned. For my kids - I was still reeling from The Towel On The Deck Incident and, not for the first time, wished there was someone else here to make lunch.

And dinner.

And maybe even breakfast tomorrow.

But alas, it was not to be. I might be a Jane Austen Heroine but I do not have Jane Austen assistants or servants around to maintain the fantasy, sadly.

So I made lunch (the humble tortilla, rolled up with peanut butter and jam). Afterwards, we went for a walk. Blustery winds. Blustery rain. Cosy hats and mitts. We threw many a stick into many a raging creek. We watched the clouds scutter. I contemplated my new boots and, for the first time that day, felt glad.

When we came home I watched this video ( mockumentary about eating sushi in Japan). FDPG and I laughed rather immoderately, considering. More gladness.

And finally, when I was standing in the kitchen thinking that I wanted to eat Japanese food for the rest of my life but wondering what the hell a Japanese dinner looked like if it didn't involve sushi or noodles, a very large pileated woodpecker landed on the deck.

On my hair-cutting towel. He preened a bit, then glanced over at me and squawked a couple of times.

He didn't sit there long enough for me to get a photo of him, but it was long enough for me to realize one thing:

He liked my towel. My horrible, wet, hair-covered, hair-cutting towel. He was complimenting me on my Towel Leaving Habits. It meant that he had a nice soft landing pad for his giant toes.

I KNEW I'd left it there for a reason.

It's Been Six Days

Since I last posted.

And what I have done since then?


Well, I bought some seeds. They were on sale at my local Garden Centre and me being the Cheap Soul that I am, I couldn't pass up a sale on seeds. Now FDPG has some Goblin Eggs gourd seeds to aid and abet her in her Market Garden Stall Plot; I have some mesclun and corn salad seeds because I have this idea that I can whip up a little salad centre on the back deck just like that (once I get the stand, the lights, and the heating mats, that is); and then I bought some pea seeds because I am trying to find the peas I grew last year that were so very heavenly. I also discovered that there are three categories of pea seeds out there in Seedville: snap peas (the completely edible pea, pod and all, and which divide further into two subcategories: stringless and stringed); snow peas (a flat pea, which looks as though the peas have suddenly lost their air); and pod peas (which rise up in the night and turn you into Pod People). Last year I grew some snap peas and they were incredibly amazing but somehow I lost the packet they came in. I have been looking for them ever since, because as we all know I keep excellent records of everything I grow.

So now I have three different varieties of snap peas. Cross your fingers I have the one I'm looking for.

Oh, and you might have noticed from the photo of that box on the floor that I have upgraded my Superior Seed Filing System. One of my New Year's Resolutions was this: hide my messes more strategically.

I also watched my Superior Foil The Starlings container...well, foiling starlings. A satisfying venture if there ever was one. These are bushtits, the cheeriest of birds. They can hang upside down, rightside up, inside out, and well, you get the picture. An amiable bird.

And that's about it. Oh wait. I watched my eldest sift his cereal this morning, because it was apparently ALL EVIL DUST. He shook the sifter and scattered dust all over the sink, then, when I remonstrated, he shook dust all over the floor. Then all over the counter. Then he cursed the sifter for being so incompetent.

I also I watched Ricky Gervais, a man I usually find utterly hilarious, poke fun at Hollywood celebrities, but he was a little off last night (and Hollywood celebrities are rubbish at laughing at themselves which makes it all the more depressing). The only good thing to come out of those few hours was me crocheting a dishcloth. Yes, you heard me right: I can crochet. No very well, but well enough to make a dishcloth. And not just any old dishcloth, but a LIME GREEN dishcloth. I guarantee you that Martha will be featuring them any second now in her magazine...

And I read some more from The Box of Delights, a perfectly delightful book by John Masefield. We're halfway through and everyone is riveted. It's even better than The Midnight Folk. I'll review it when I've finished it, but in the meantime, if you see it, snap it up. It's wonderful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What My Chocolate Icing Does To People

It really IS that good...

Either that or I paid my kids to lay like that while I took photos of them...

Who would do THAT?



Trust me.


Time: 9pm
Place: back deck
Date: January 11, 2011

And no, this is NOT dandruff falling from the sky.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jane Austen Meets The Music of My Children

I had to laugh when I saw this, because Taio Cruz is one of Max's latest favourites (and this song is one of MY favourites so what's not to like). Then I remembered how perfectly lovely Ciaran Hinds was as Captain Wentworth...

So check this out - it's a great montage for Austen fans.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Allée Takes Root(s)

And I mean that quite literally: I hauled away two wheelbarrow loads of old roots today, in my bid to create a nice, flat walkway here. See this shot? See how slanting the grass is? It's not the sort of walk one takes when one wants to contemplate the sky, or the weather, or the clouds, or indeed anything that takes one's attention away from where one puts one's feet.

So today I went out in the chill sun and started skimming sod. I tell you, living on a hill has done wonders for my terracing abilities. I can skim sod like, well, like someone who can really skim sod. The skills I have, I tell you.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear, under all that sod?

Not reindeer. Nope.
Not a sled. Nope.

Roots. Tree roots. Lots of them. The people who owned this house had a penchant for planting trees right against the house. Then, when the trees became problematic, they cut them down, although they left one for us to cut down when we bought the house (a rather large and overbearing birch). Today saw me digging up some old and rotted tree roots, some almost old and rotted tree roots, and some not so old and still clinging rather grimly to life tree roots.

Fun fun fun.
Here's a shot from the other side. If you look carefully you can see a root knot in the middle of all that dirt. Amongst my tidy skimming job...

The grass was so smooshed up afterwards that it no longer resembled a lovely grassy down, although that might have had something to do with all the sand and compost I sprinkled over top.

For now, I will walk and look up, contemplating the sky.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The First Lemon of Winter

Look what I found in the cold frame this afternoon. The Meyer lemon trees are in blossom. There's a few lemons, even. One minute I was slogging and slithering around in the wet grass, thinking how muddy and slippery it was, and the next I was opening the most magical, fragrant gift possible. Hard to believe, really. Those old Christmas lights are pretty effective.
Here's where the two lemon trees are living: covered with the cold frame and tucked in with straw. My dad is building me a frame into which he's putting his old glass deck door, and it's going to go on top of some 4 X 4s and some concrete blocks to create a Lovely Lemon House (stay tuned for the sign, lol). I didn't think they'd do so well, to be honest. I was sure they'd be shrivelled and brown by this point, but those Christmas lights are doing an amazing job of insulating them. I've even got lights in the greenhouse, keeping the broccoli and cabbage seedlings going.

Here's what started it all: my allée. Yes, I can blush modestly, for this IS my future allée. Anyhow, there I was, contemplating my future allée, because I'd been looking at pictures of Martha's allee (note to Martha: there is an accent on this word, get your minions on it, stat) and thinking to myself, "I need an allée in this area" (yes, I DO think with accents). Then I got sidetracked by the mud in front of the cold frame and wondered how the lemons were doing.

And now we know.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Avian Notes

Here is our Primary Bird Feeding Station (and yes, we DO happen to have a Secondary Bird Feeding Station, as well as a Third and Fourth, but that's only because these bloody birds are all so bloody territorial).

This is where we have a suet feeder (which is more properly a peanut butter/bacon fat feeder but that's such a mouthful I tend to say suet feeder instead) and a seed house. The other stations involve large bird feeders and hummingbird feeders. I've also started scattering seed on top of an annual pot on the other corner of the deck, for when these feeders get too crowded. Because they do, especially with this cold winter we've been having.
At the moment it doesn't look like much, but that's because I shooed everyone away so I could get a picture without the frenzy that it usually is.

What I'm noticing this year in particular, more than last year or the year before, is how rotating the bird schedule is. Some birds are here all the time; some move around and only come here at certain times in the year. Right now it's Pine Siskin time. They hunch together on the seed feeder, even when it's windy. They are rather large to be hunching on such a small feeder, though, and tend to be the subject of great mirth to the kids as they swing about in the wind, clinging grimly. Last week it was Stellars Jay time. Most of the time, though, it's time for all the little birds: nuthatches, sparrows, juncos, towhees, bush tits, and chickadees (the black-capped version, according to some, is not on this Island, a fact I find rather surprising). And in between we have starlings, flickers, Northern flickers, woodpeckers, and the odd owl.

But I am feeling rather triumphant today, because I have foiled the starlings at long last. It only took me three years. I am nothing if not obsessed with thwarting these stupid piggy birds tenacious.

Here's my latest tip for keeping the starlings out of the suet feeder. I call it:

How Me and My Suet Feeder Managed To Foil The Starlings.

Take a large piece of chicken wire and wrap it around your suet feeder, leaving little spaces for the smaller birds to sneak in. Make sure there is at least 6" all round the suet feeder, including the top bit. The bush tits will be able to get in through the holes, but the chickadees and sparrows can't, so leave little slitty openings at the corners. If you know what a hamentashen is, well, that's the shape you're aiming for here. Birds with a long beak (flickers, woodpeckers) will be able to perch anywhere on this mess and access the suet feeder, but the starlings will have distinct difficulties getting hold without the entire thing swinging around madly. Once in a while you will find one makes it inside, but if you dash out when he's trapped you will scare the sh*# out of the entire flock when he finds he can't just fly away. If you are like me you will find this highly amusing. Eventually they will cease and desist, a thing you never thought possible.

The Midnight Folk

Here's our latest read aloud. I'd meant to start it by November so I could read The Box of Delights in time for Christmas (because of the Christmas theme) but what with a late delivery from Amazon and us not finishing our other read aloud until mid-December (The Red Pyramid), it never happened.

But now we're almost finished this book and so far it's a definite hit. It's a period piece, though, so if you're looking for something for the younger crowd this might not be your best choice unless your listener has an ear for arcane diction because Masefield's writing style is fairly antiquated. I found myself editing speeches once or twice. Not that it's boring, more that the topics of conversation are likely to confuse to anyone unfamiliar with the diction of your average 1840's highwayman, plus some of the characters tend to go on rather, um, impenetrably. I had to stop here and there to explain terminology, something I never do.

But those are only small things in comparison to the thread of the story, which is bursting with imaginative details and clever characters and exciting twists and turns. It's a literary forebear to books by the likes of Diana Wynne Jones and JK Rowling with its talking cats and paintings come to life and mermaids and witches and flying potions. Plus, there is some crazy dialogue, mostly along the lines of "What a jolly fun day I've had!" — dialogue my kids adore. The characters are all so wonderfully unambiguous, too: Plucky Boy, Bad Governess, Cruel Witch, Strange Guardian, Rude Game Keepers, and so on. Refreshed my palate after the characters in The Red Pyramid, who were all so very, well, predictable.

Enchanting? Not In My Kitchen

In my ongoing mission to ensure that the kids have a Serious Movie Education, I screened the film Enchanted yesterday, as part of my Fairy Tale Adaptations course. It was a bit touch and go, particularly at first, particularly with the boys, who were dubious (in the case of Max) and verging on horrified (in the case of Dominic) at the idea of watching a Disney Princess Flick.

Then we settled in and everyone mostly enjoyed it, although FDPG had a few moments when she was overcome by the cheesiness of the situation. After a bit I went into the kitchen to make lunch. In the other room Princess Whateverhernameis was singing a Cleanup Song. Cockroaches and rats were helping her clean up. It was cute. Weird, but cute.

Then I went into my own kitchen. I looked at the stove. I looked at the counters. They did not look good. They looked, dare I confess it, repellent. Where was my Clean-up Fairy?

Not in my kitchen, that's for sure. Sigh.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Someone's Got A New Toy

In a strange twist of gift giving synchronicity, my mother and I bought the same item to give Max, except she'd bought it for his Christmas present and I'd bought for his birthday a few days later. Luckily I had saved the receipt (don't ask me how many times I haven't done this, sob) and we were able to return it. Then he and I trolled the stores wondering what to get him. Just when we were starting to get mildly irritable at the lack of Cool Birthday Ideas presenting themselves to us, we happened upon a selection of these: electric keyboards.

Now he's working on the soundtrack to a new stop-go LEGO animation.

Imagine lots of weird noises, times three hundred.



Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years Comes In Crisp & Clear

Downton Abbey Takes A Shortcut Across The Pond

I was all set to gripe about the subject of this article in the Daily Mail when I noticed that someone already has.

Still, I feel rather exasperated. To chop two hours off of this really fabulous miniseries on the basis that certain inheritance procedures in Britain might leave viewers "baffled" is almost insulting. What ARE the heads at PBS thinking? Have they succumbed to the Dumbing Us Down mentality?

"For the land of the notoriously short attention span," the article claims, "TV executives have taken a knife to the...series, slashing its running time and simplifying the plotline..."

"American audiences are used to a different speed when it comes to television dram and you need to get into a story very quickly [said Rebecca Eaton, head of PBS programming]."

"Ms Eaton insisted that any changes were minor and did not affect the quality of the programme."

Nice. Thanks for that. Given that I've seen what you're going to cut, well, all I can say is shame on you for expecting so little of your audience.

Want to voice your disapproval? You should. Click here.