Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dig Earth Grow Food

But first of all, get your head in the clouds and check out this review of The Cloud-Collector's Handbook, complete with a perfectly gorgeous slide show.

Some links for garden-minded kids (or their parents):

Learn about soil here. And here. If you want printables, click on the Teachers link.

Did you know about the soilfoodweb in your garden? Discover it here. Or see this Canadian site.

Hear about pollinators and how you can help increase their habitats. About bumble bees in particular here.

Free Pollinator Friendly Planting Guides.

More on planting pollinator gardens.

Brought to you by Dominic and FDPG, the newest gardeners here at Greenridge Gardens.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Death of an Author

I should probably thank my children for leading me to the newly late Diana Wynne Jones because without our morning Read Alouds I might never have met her. And that would have been a tragedy. As it was, once we'd found her, she became one of our very favourite writers.

We were first introduced at the library, in the form of an audio CD: The Lives of Christopher Chant. It had a curiously fetching cover, featuring a squished ginger cat looking extremely grumpy. How could we resist?

It was, to use a well-worn phrase - such an original story. It had elements familiar to lots of other books - magic, witches, clever children - but they were combined in such a fabulous way that we thought about them long after the book had been put back on the shelf.

Then we discovered that one of our favourite movies, Howl's Moving Castle, started life as a book, written by - you guessed it - Diana Wynne Jones. The conjunction of Hayao Miyazaki and DWJ seemed charmed, blessed, far too fortuitous to ignore. And you know, Howl the book was even better (should I whisper this?) than Howl the movie. It was populated with wit and disaster and charm and scope, everything a good story should have. Plus, it had really excellent chapter headings, like Chapter Five: Which is far too full of washing. There was also a lot of mysteriously wonderful magic, like Seven League Boots and walking castles and the Witch of the Waste.

We read all the books we could get our hands on, as you can tell from the bookshelf photo. Twenty-four at last count. A lot of reading aloud, you might think, but all I can think is this: we don't have any more books to look forward to.

Which really IS a tragedy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Or as one of the kids used to call them: hatchlings.

We've been slowly moving all the little seedlings out into the greenhouse this week, because the grow lights and the heat mats can only go so far in simulating the outside world.

As soon as the little seedlings got out there, they went wild for the humid heat.

Tomato seedlings. Someone asked me for more clarification about transplanting, because apparently I was more obtuse than usual, lol. What I meant was this: transplant your seedlings very gently, then leave them in the shade, or a cool place, for at least 24 hours. Don't subject them to your greenhouse temperatures right away or they will WILT.

Tomatoes post-transplanting. I left them in the basement for the night, then moved them out into the greenhouse. So far they look really strong. I've got Moneymaker, Sungold, Tigerella, Green Zebra, and some seeds from a gorgeous giant plum tomato I grew last year (that I can't OF COURSE remember the name of).

Dominic's sunflower collection. Somehow we've managed to accumulate 7 different types of sunflowers. Beloved by bees and butterflies the world over, too.

Sucked in by advertising? Us?

Surely you jest.

Here's an interesting contrast: the difference a few days can make in the life of a semi-forced rhubarb plant.
Around about the middle of February, or whenever I see the little red nubs of the rhubarb plant start to pop out the ground, I take my terracotta pot and place it over top.

About a week ago, I took the pot off, and as you can see from this shot, the rhubarb looks ever so slightly blanched. This is called forcing. It's not bad for the plant, it just speeds up the ripening.

And here is that mass of blanched rhubarb a few days later. I kid you not - this is less than a week later.

We even picked some and made a crisp out of it last night.

Here's another one for the Weird Plant Stories book:

Dominic planted an avocado seed last summer - in this pot. It spent the summer growing happily, then, when the fall winds started blowing, I put it in the greenhouse just in case (my favourite saying).

I never watered it, and after a while it looked quite dead, but because I am constitutionally unable to throw a plant away, I left it in the greenhouse. Yesterday, when we were examining all the new growth in the other seedlings, I noticed that this avocado wasn't actually dead after all.

We're going to plant it with the lemons, and see what happens.

Another study in contrast: the red primrose is opening up quickly (difference between photos: 6 days).

The three sisters sweet pea pots reclining on a lovely garden bench as is their wont...
Finally, some little anemone blandas, sitting at the base of the clematis, looking picture perfect.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Here Comes The Sun

Look at that girl. It was warm today, though, so no one looked askance at her.

We were out transplanting tomatoes and sweet peas because they had outgrown their little grow-op in the basement. If you want to transplant your little tomatoes do this: put them in the shade, or somewhere cool, rather than back in a baking hot greenhouse. It will lessen the shock.

I even hung some laundry on the deck, and miracle of miracles - it DRIED.

Then I spent the afternoon hammering wood planks into the sagging beds where the bricks were, because, no surprises, the bricks were slumping. Now the beds are sturdy (I was going to say sturdier but they were never sturdy, lol).

Which meant that some of us got to use drills and exciting things like that. Some of us really like drilling holes in wood. Some of us even drilled a hole in an old My Little Pony toothbrush so it could adorn the bean bed (okay, so that was me, it's fun drilling holes in plastic toothbrushes).

And now we're sitting inside, gazing outside, with sun-scorched cheeks. What an excellent day that was.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dear Worried Reader

Here's an insightful retort to those of you who criticize Susan Wise Bauer for including stories from the Bible in her Story of the World series.

Read parts 2, 4, and 5, especially. Then try to reflect objectively before you send your next blast to the WTM boards. If only for my sake.

Alternatively, you could write your own history program for kids in 4 books or less, and see how it stands up to random, anonymous criticism from random, anonymous agenda-packing adults.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Omnivores 'R' Us

My family thinks of itself as omnivorous (listen to me, I make us sound like the Borg, don't I). But it's true: we are fairly wide-ranging eaters when it comes to food and we're all pretty adventurous in our own way. I like to think that we're discriminating omnivores but the truth is some of us (read: me) are far more discriminating than others (read: teenager with a taste for fat and sugar).

In my late teens and early twenties I was a rather militant vegetarian. I gave it up after a while, mostly because it was a lot of work being a vegetarian in the 80's. And then there was the lack of dinner invitations from friends who didn't want me giving the gimlet eye to their salmon (yes, sadly, I was that kind of vegetarian). There wasn't the embarrassment of options there is now - I think the soy bean has been turned into more meat-like products than a cow has, even. It was exhausting being a vegetarian in the 80's. We won't even mention the condition of some of the organic vegetables available in the shops. Let's just say I'd rather have eaten dirt than some of those carrots. Thankfully all that has changed, although my militancy still rears its head now and again.

When Michael Pollan's book first came out in adult form (note that this is the Young Reader's Edition) I tried to read it. I even put it on my iPod. But it was no good - I kept falling asleep every time I'd listen/read. Or gaze out to sea. Or wonder what to have for dinner. Distractions. Once I even wondered what a Tofurkey tasted like, at which point I realized that this book and I would have to part ways, because I can't be thinking about Tofurkeys. It's just TOO weird a food item, even for me.

But that was a while ago, and so, when I came across the Young Reader's Edition, I thought I would read it with Max. He'd really liked Three Cups of Tea, and this seemed a compatible transition. We would discuss, well, whatever it is Michael Pollan writes about (remember, I'd only got past the first sentence at that point). So I bought it and read the first chapter. I don't know how it differs from the adult version, but it is so excellent I'm reading it to all three kids.

During lunch.

Just kidding.

Well, no, not really. Sometimes we ARE eating lunch.

No Tofurkeys though.

But seriously, you must read this to your kids. It's not shocking in the way that Food, Inc is but it is distressing, and it will cause you to gasp at the way we've allowed our food to get so doctored. It will also make you feel more than a little sorry for farmers.

Perhaps it will even inspire people to garden more.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Has Spring Sprung?

"Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush"
(see the rest of this poem here)

Nothing is so beautiful as spring, particularly when it's been a long winter. And so it was all the more exciting to be out in the garden yesterday, digging and weeding and planting and peeking at all the new growth.

A slide show, you say? Of the new spring growth? I thought you'd never ask! But of course!

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin...

Nectarine blossoms. This is a Red Gold nectarine. It has a new friend a few feet away, called Hardy Red nectarine.

Violets in the grass.

Pockets of amethyst in emerald.

Miniature daffodils,




The first hint of a red primrose, peeking through. This is a lovely little number with a yellow centre.

Spotted Pulmonaria. I love this plant so much that I bought a red version last fall, called Raspberry Splash. It's a workhorse of a plant — blooming early in the spring and continuing well on into summer. And that delicate soft blue is just plain fabulous.

Helleborus. It's funny - this plant looks perfectly disreputable all summer, but in the late winter and early spring it comes into its own. Redemption time, I guess.

This looks weird (and slightly creepy) I admit, but it's a cool way to force rhubarb: you put a terracotta pot over it in late winter, mound up the straw, and when you pull off the pot in spring look what's underneath: early rhubarb!

And finally, what you've all been waiting for...

Lemon blossoms!

An enchanting smell if there ever was one.

But wait, there's more!


And this concludes your tour for today.

Happy spring, all!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This & That

Here's our newest read aloud. It arrived via an English friend of mine, who was here very briefly and was surprised that I'd never heard of it.

When she was young it was her favourite book. And before she left, she dropped off a copy she'd found in a used book shop. This is how our copy looks: dark green hardcover with a ship on the high seas, published in 1906. Arthur Rackham illustrations. As you might imagine it is a lovely thing to hold in your hands.

We started the first chapter (Weland's Sword) this morning. I was slightly concerned that it might be too young for Max, but once we got past the beginning, I knew it would be alright. The language of these old stories is always so, so, well, so beautiful: it's complicated and poetic and nuanced and educated in ways that so many modern books aren't. They drop references we've never learned and tuck in all sorts of sly humour. If you don't believe me, crack open Peter Pan. That's another one for the Impressive Old Books pile.

In other news:

—I knew there was a reason I bought that Pancake Pen at Williams-Sonoma (my favourite wildly over-priced kitchen store).

Shamrock pancakes!

They were even green.

For the first time in 3 years Max the Teenager ate them, then said, very profoundly "they taste like normal pancakes." Gosh, he's getting smarter and smarter every day, isn't he? (sheila breathes a sigh of relief, remembering many a scorned green egg tipped down the garbage)

—the spring might actually be arriving here on the Wet West Coast. It was the wettest, coldest winter we've had these past 4 years. Rain is very boring. I realize that constant snow can be boring too, but the puddles in my lawn are REALLY exasperating me right about now. Dominic and I are itching to get his Butterfly Mudpuddling Garden happening.

—there has been no looting in Japan. I find this a most impressive fact, even as all our hearts break for what they are going through right now. Too sad.

—we had more rounds of Public Speaking in 4-H and the kids are on to the next round. Does the fun ever stop? I have decided that Public Speaking is a Good Thing. It teaches essay writing, pronunciation, posture, and grace in one fell swoop.

—check out the big greenhouse at Martha's house. I've clicked on each and every picture twice. With envy. That is SOME greenhouse, Martha.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Photocopies & Fingerprints

Last week my poor beleaguered printer started faltering, which should have come as no surprise given its age (9 years), but I was still horrified when I shone a bright light into its innards: there seemed to be a lot of messy inky areas where there had once been clear plastic walls. I couldn't tell if this was because of me and my ink-refilling methods or just the fact that it is a very old printer, so I did what any Jane Austen Heroine would do: said a silent prayer, girded my emotional loins, and steadied myself for the worst. The next day the colour ink cartridge stopped eating refused refilling.

A couple of nights later Richard and I were in the Super Duper New Walmart near us (which is so industrial-looking we all hate to go there now) looking for another ink cartridge for me to ruin and we noticed that a new printer was only slightly more expensive than a new colour ink cartridge. So we did what any sensible, momentarily child-free couple experiencing the unusual sensation of being child-free would do: we bought the printer instead of the ink cartridge. It was a giddy sensation.

Then we brought it home, where our spendthrift ways created absolute chaos. Max was simultaneously shocked and thrilled that we'd actually BOUGHT something (we are apparently boringly cheap); Dominic was delighted that we bought something NEW; and Katie was thrilled that I'd come home to rescue her from the tedium of her materialistic brothers.

Tragically, when I took to Amazon to check reviews on our new purchase, they weren't very good. They were okay, but not great enough to make me want to keep it. The next night, we returned it. "Is there something wrong with it?" asked the girl at Walmart. "I don't know - you tell me," replied my sometimes-challenged-about-returning-things-to-stores mate, whereupon I kicked him under the table and said "No, nothing, we just want one that doesn't use so much ink." "Oh," said she, "this is the second one I've had returned today."


Eventually, after scouring Amazon for reviews, then scouring the stores around me for those very printers, I found one I liked, at a price I liked, and with reviews I liked. Even more exciting, it photocopies, scans, and looks very cool. What's not to like? Wait, I lie: it does have one fault: It's very shiny and very black, which means that it is a perfect fingerprint magnet. And given that I am close to the bottom of the list when it comes to World's Most Amazing Housekeepers, this creates havoc in my life in terms of its Reposing Glossily On The Shelf potential.

Other than that I love it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Goddesses In Our Midst

Did anyone watch the Oscars the other night? I did. There's something strangely fascinating about watching all those dresses and suits and bodies and hair styles wandering down the red carpet, dispensing their pearls of idiotic wisdom to anyone who asks. I know, I don't sound very worshipful about it all, do I. That's because I'm not. Not since I hit Old Codgerdom, anyhow. I used to love these shows when I was a kid because they were so over the top. Weird dresses and witty, slightly drunk film stars being, well, witty, slightly drunk film stars. It was all so gloriously decadent to my teenage self. Now it seems the men all eke out the same bland pleasantries, while the 20-something women look identical: coltishly skinny, highly made up, slightly manic look in the eye. They even dress the same - nothing remotely Bjorkish or Cher-ish in this politically correct wasteland (don't ask me to mention Madonna because it makes me cringe). The only thing still the same is the cigarette smoking, except nowadays everyone pretends they DON'T smoke. Dull dull dull.

The show this past week-end was a bit on the ho-hum side, I regret to report, after the imitation-Billy Crystal opening montage. James Franco wavered between a visual tic that rendered him unable to look the camera in the eye and acting just plain bored. I wanted to slap his ego more than once, and I'm sure Anne Hathaway did as well, judging from her desperate overcompensation. The one bright spot in the evening was when Kirk Douglas tottered on stage (tottering not because of his heels but because of his age) and teased out his moment in the fading Hollywood sun by making everyone wait while he clowned around a bit. It was sweet and charming and light-hearted, exactly how a show like this SHOULD be. There's a lesson to be made here, a lesson about Taking Oneself Too Seriously, but it's such an obvious one I don't think I need to make it.

Then of course there was the pre-show. Usually it's the most interesting bit. This is the moment when the Hollywood glitterati get to totter, stumble, trip, or glide along the red carpet (depending on who's done what beforehand, as well as what one is wearing, and perhaps of course how little one has eaten beforehand which affects one's tottering ability), and brave the reporters. When we lived near LA the hosts of this segment were the style reporters of the local LA television shows, and they tended to be excellent purveyors of glee and gossip. They were also loud and excitable in that way American reporters do so well (we Canadians are a buttoned-up lot). Now I live in the Pacific Northwest, where things of the Hollywood Ilk aren't treated with much reverence, and we had Seattle news anchors dispensing the action. No offense, but it added one more layer of dull. Of course, I might have been negatively influenced by Randolph Duke, the Style Host of the pre-show (who will be forever etched in my memory as the victim of a botched plastic surgery procedure years ago). He was a much less bitchy than he used to be, but what he lacked in vitriol he made up for with misplaced adulation. "She's a goddess!" he would boom every time someone under 30 walked by him. "A GODDESS!" I counted 15 goddesses in the first hour.

The first time he said this, FDPG darted into the room, eyes afire.

To FDPG, a goddess is something like this. Remote, dangerous, possessed of alarming magical powers or blue skin. Sporting several limbs, even. They wave snakes and wear necklaces of teeth.

Goddesses are capable of blasting holes in the sides of buildings when they're annoyed. They are bigger than life. Forbiddingly beautiful. They rampage up and down the Nile, their eyes shooting out flames in their fury. They rip the heads off mortals who anger them.

FDPG was highly disappointed to see that the "goddess" in question was not Isis. Or Sekhmet. Or even Kali. This goddess was a slight dark-haired girl in a pale dress. And she was wobbling along in sky-high heels, smiling uneasily. "Someone give that girl a lesson in deportment!" I wanted to shout, but I didn't, because that WOULD have been curmudgeonly. Besides, I was worried she was going to fall over. But really, when one wears 6" heels one really should know how to walk without looking as though one's knees can't bend, don't you think?

"What makes that girl a goddess?" FDPG asked me. "Has she got super powers?" She peered suspiciously at the television, wondering no doubt how a skinny girl like that came by super powers. I didn't like to tell FDPG this, but my suspicions were that that girl's super powers had less to do with innate talent and more to do with looks and a willingness to suck up to the bigger super powers of Hollywood. Unsavory stuff, really. We both watched that particular goddess weave her way down the red carpet and FDPG sighed at the lack of drama.

No flames. No shredded puny humans. Nothing.

According to Randolph Duke there were an awful lot of goddesses at the Oscars. It was rather alarming. He even told one or two of them how goddess-like they were, and I was delighted to observe how they took his compliments. Not a one seemed abashed. They all evidently agreed with him. Good thing no one asked FDPG what she thought.

But none of them looked like this.

Or this, although, come to think of it, a few WERE sporting the same, rather globular look about the bust line.

One of the perks of being a goddess, I guess.