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.