Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tweets & Twitters

Why do your fingers wrinkle when they get wet? Here's a fascinating theory.

Consider sorbet. Even better: consider my lemon verbena sorbet. It's worth having to buy a lemon verbena plant every year.

We are going through a Japanese phase in the house right now. Pickled daikon tastes good but gosh it STINKS.

And finally, the incomparable Anthony Lane reviews the latest dreck out of Hollywood. "Why reach for the subtle...when the crunchingly obvious lies close to hand?" Why indeed?

Things We Learned This Week


— Learned about the dangers of mixing water and electricity from watching Doctor Who: Waters of Mars. "If I learned ANYTHING from Waters of Mars," she said airily, "it's that water and electricity DO NOT MIX."


That collecting squooshies, be they large, medium, or small enough to fit into one of those coin-operated machines in grocery stores, is a highly enjoyable occupation, because they are so very, well, squooshie.

Believe it or not, he even has a squooshie hat.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The First Visitor

Of the butterfly variety, that is.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How We Spent The Solstice

I feel compelled to talk about this eventful day, but not for the conventional reasons: first day of summer and so on. No, it's because it was such an eventful day. Who knows, maybe it was because of the solstice?
First of all, we went for a walk. Momentously, the sun was out. I'm putting "momentously" first because the sun has been so, well, neglectful of late. As in: we haven't seen it very often. So that was rather exciting.

In the distance you can see Dominic running. This is Dominic's M.O. He is usually either running or jumping.

Or both. He's a little springbok, this kid. Leap. Jump. Run. Leap. Jump. Run. Repeat.

My house may or may not be in this photo.

Sun. Clouds. Blue sky. The smell of grass and warmth and lilacs and roses and green fields and little drizzling creeks and willows and weeds and dragonflies and bees.

What's not to like?

But here comes the really cheering, magical part of the day. We were in a local drugstore, a Canadian institution which shall remain nameless, with the sole intention of wasting much coinage on LEGO minifigures. We were squeezing and fingering and poking and conferring which package held which minifigure. And, truth be told, we're all disgustingly proficient at it.

FDPG had money with her.

Dominic had no money with him.

I had only my camera case with me.

Max had nothing (or so he says) with him.

Katie found her coveted figures. Dominic, who was not intending to buy anything, was horrified to discover the Elf (a figure he has always wanted), and so begged his twin to lend him some readies.

She played his game and pretended not to have enough cash, then, being the charming, kind, solicitous sister she is, relented before he could get really weenie and said she would lend him some money.

Here he is jumping for joy. He is a very literal sort of person.

But then (there always is a "but then" isn't there?) we got to the till and discovered that the usually meticulous FDPG didn't have enough cash.


We counted out all the nickels, all the dimes, all the pennies, and emptied our pockets, and we were a dollar short.

We all searched our other pockets, and came up with what we thought was an entire dollar. But upon a second counting, we discovered that we were nine cents short.

Nine cents short.

FDPG offered to relinquish one of her precious choices, but only if Max would go hide it in the store so we could come back in an hour and get it, her purse being in the meantime magically refilled.

Dominic offered to relinquish his choice. We all stood and stared at each other. It was an awkward moment, both as a parent and as a Potential LEGO Minifigure Purchaser. Not one I generally like to find myself in. I felt bad for them both, but insisted we make a decision before the three people behind me, who up till that time had been relatively polite about our, err, Deshabille, reneged.

And then it was that the cashier said "hang on a second!" and dashed away. She slipped behind a counter, rummaged in a bag, and came back with a dime.

"I've never done this before," she said. "Ever."

She gave the dime to FDPG. Who beamed. I donated the extra penny to the Karma Fund on the counter (aka the Penny Dish). The three people behind us, even the Eminem lookalike, all looked delighted. After many profuse thank-yous, we walked out of the store, purchases much intact, thrilled with what had just taken place. We were walking through the little mall when Max came upon a dime. "Look!" he said. "A dime! Isn't that what you need?" FDPG grabbed it and raced off, pursued by Dominic. A few minutes later they returned, grinning and feeling quite pleased with themselves.

"What did she say?" I asked.

"She said we were the nicest politest kids she'd seen all week!" chortled FDPG. "And she couldn't believe we'd just found a dime like that!"

So that was our first day of summer. Good auguries all round, I'd say.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rose Sisters

David Austin Rose: Crown Princess Margareta
Climber: Westerland
David Austin Rose: Golden Celebration.
David Austin Rose: Evelyn

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Being A Father

We never see our parents as people, do we? People who might have had real lives before we came on the scene, people who had adventures, people who did cool things just because. We might have a glimmer of this when we're older, perhaps when we're looking at photos of them from long ago, but by that time we've got kids of our own and we've discovered ourselves just how uninteresting our former lives are to them. But in the meantime we see them as ladders to our next steps, or a form of bank manager, or even the camp cook.

I came home last night, having spent the afternoon up island with FDPG, and Richard was playing guitar in the family room. He is trying to master a song that we saw initially in a lipdub. It's a very catchy tune and it reminds me of many a British pop song, past or present. Given that Richard is from Britain, it doesn't surprise me at all that he likes this song, but it perplexes his teen son, who of the age where watching his father play a pop song on a guitar - and sing, for heaven's sake - seems just plain weird. He doesn't stop to consider his own long hours, sitting in his room, banging away monotonously on his keyboard, droning out the same chord over and over again, evidently.

As soon as I walked in the door he sidled up to me. "Dad has been playing that song all afternoon," he confided, as though we should be getting out the Advil.

"Oh," I said, "he likes that song. So do I. He just wants to learn it." "Why?" Max replies, still unable to comprehend that his father might have the same pop star leanings he does. I could say that his dad used to be quite the classical guitarist, that he'd even won competitions in his teens, and that when I met him he was the guy who played guitar and sang at beach parties, but I don't. It would probably cause Max to run screaming from the room. His parents - doing cool things? Eeks.

"Because it's a fun song and he likes playing the guitar," I say instead. I am laughing by this time, and so is Richard. It's funny seeing a 14 year old so unnerved by his aged, past it, should-be-sedate-by-now parents.

"Oh," he says, finally. "Hmm. IN-teresting." He then thumps down the stairs to his room, sits at his desk, and resumes his monotonous, bass-heavy, banging away. I file this memory away for another day, for the day when the grown up Max is a father himself, watched by his own puzzled children as he hauls out his aged keyboard and picks out his own tune, thinking of other times and other songs. A day I might not be around to see, but I know it will come. They always do.

Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there. And to all you potential fathers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Hungry Caterpillar

We had a wind last night, which meant that all the charming tent caterpillars on my neighbours' trees blew all over my yard. While I generally like my neighbours, I most emphatically do not like their tent caterpillars. This year I had finally cracked the code of the tent caterpillar, too: I BTKed the heck out of them. There were none on my trees this year. Well, none that lasted past the miniscule larva stage.

Then came that wind. That bad bad wind.

I went out this morning, unsuspecting, to water and inspect. As I trailed around with the hose, cleaning out bird baths and beds, I noticed them —

All over the place.

Tent caterpillars.

Horrified, I shook my fist at the trees they'd lived in prior to flinging themselves, via that fortuitous wind, into my yard for some wanton rioting. I sprayed a few with the JET function on my water wand. It was a pleasantly violent experience, but I realized that I couldn't very well blow every single caterpillar around to smithereens this way: Although my Constantly Showering Teen would probably say that I am a Obnoxious Water Nazi, I like to think that I am a Relatively Dedicated Water Conserver. Plus, spraying a gazillion tent caterpillars with the JET function might get a little silly after a while, not to mention all the holes in the soil as a result (did I mention that we have fairly intense water pressure?).

So I did the next best thing: I started squishing them. It was almost as satisfying as spraying them, but it also meant that I had to pull them off the leaves and fronds and flowers and ripening strawberries. Which was how I noticed the white spots on their heads.

Know what that means? That little white dot? It means that a parasitic wasp has laid its eggs on the caterpillar. Click here for a brief glimpse into this weird aspect of insect life (and be glad I didn't give you the first link I found on Google, which was, even by my standards, stomach-churningly gross).

Which led me into wondering what the whole cycle looked like. Well, other than really gross.

So I enlisted the assistance of FDPG, aka Indefatigable Caterpillar Squisher. "Let's put them in the aquarium and see what happens!" I said. Delighted at the idea of something so incredibly thrilling, she raced around the yard, capturing caterpillars with white spots on their heads.
Which was how we ended up with this.

Weeds and caterpillars.

And rocks.

A little soil.

Here's my Control Caterpillar. He doesn't have a white spot on his head, so he can show us the life cycle of a Non-Egged Tent Caterpillar.

FDPG doesn't know that I've introduced a Control Caterpillar.


We'll see how long it takes before she notices.

I don't think it'll take long, somehow.

She's keeping a very close eye on them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New LEGO Designs

I call this the Steampunk Bird, but since the LEGO designer here doesn't like the term "steampunk" I never use it when he can hear me.

It's a very cool looking bird, though, isn't it? I like the fact that it has a banana as a beak.

A Doctor Who Get Away car. This was made for Silence In The Library, because it can outwit, outlast, and outrun the Vashta Nerada.

Eeks, just typing that gives me goosebumps.

Hey! Who turned out the lights?

This little number is called Mummy In The Garden. It is, apparently, me in the garden, although I never wear orange and my hands (hopefully) aren't claws.

Oh wait, I jest: I really DO have LEGO hands.

And today we just received our long-awaited order of Brick Journal magazines. There was much rejoicing in the land, lemme tell you. And there will likely be more posting on this blog as a result.

Some of the LEGO items posted in this blog series were built using this kit, this kit, other Educational LEGO kits (can't seem to find them on that site anymore but they are in the catalogue), this book and this book.

ADDED: By the way, check out this link: LEGO Nomenclature. I think we need to survey our assorted LEGO builders and build our own chart.

Why I Love The Tonys

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Difference A Day Makes

To a rose...
Same rose, one day later.

(the colour difference was what enabled me to identify this rose, because when I was given it no one knew what it was, beyond it being a David Austen rose)
Those whitish spots on the leaves are from the sulphur I sprinkled on a few weeks ago: it's supposed to be one of the organic treatments for black spot. I'm not holding my breath but so far so good!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June Garden Tour

First of all, look at this rose. Isn't this the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen?

I call it my Divorce Rose, because I obtained this rose as the result of a divorce. Not mine, I hasten to add. The neighbour of a friend. They were divorced; she divested herself of his roses; I went over and with the help of my friend, dug them up. They were, very worryingly, growing under the driveway and when this one was uprooted there was every expectation that it would not survive the transplantation. Luckily it did. And now I have this spectacle each year, in the late springtime. Not only does this rose look heavenly, it smells heavenly. It's a David Austin Rose: Golden Celebration.

Next, the Princesses Victoria Louise. Hurrying off to some function or another. They have a very active social life.

Well, wouldn't you if you looked like this?

The new Otto Graut lavender. Alas and alack but apparently it doesn't last long, this new hybrid specimen of mine.

Boo hoo hoo. Now, that's what I call not playing fair. When one develops a new specimen one owes one's horticultural public a long-lived product.

We'll see. So far it's bonding well with the driftwood and the rock.

Our new Butterfly/Bee/Insect drinking bowl. Guaranteed undrownable! Fill your tray with sand, then add just enough water to make a slight puddle on one side. Refill daily. No one will ever go to an early grave from drinking at this font.

My Multi Blue clematis. Do you say CLEM-a-tis, or do you say clem-AH-tis? Or shall we call the whole thing off?

First Knight artichoke.

An iris. A lovely blue iris.

I want to trill "Three Little Maids From School Are We!" when I see these, but they are boy soldiers, so it's not quite the same thing, is it? Even in this metrosexual world of ours.

They are guarding the fig tree from our wild and crazy neighbours. The ones who own the wild and crazy Maximus, chewer of all things green and figgy.

One of the blueberry bushes. They are being amazing AND fecund this year, thanks no doubt to my constant application of BTK.

Last year they were neither; they were denuded and tragic because of the dastardly tent caterpillars. FDPG counts their berries daily, and exclaims daily how wonderful it will be to eat them.

I hope I make it to these bushes before FDPG does...

The Macintosh is also having a particularly fruitful year. When Max discovered the name of this tree, he asked if I'd planted it because we were Macintosh computer users.

Given that this tree was planted before the advent of the Macintosh, I decided to toy with him. I think, I replied, that this apple was the inspiration for the Mac computer. THIS. EXACT. TREE. IN. THIS. YARD.

He still doesn't believe me. Oh callow youth.
Finally, here is what I did with my Can't Throw Them Out Tomatoes. Yes, I, the person who hates having things-in-pots around the yard, now have a number of tomatoes in pots. Only, I hasten to add, because it was either this or throw them in the compost. And I am, I regret, unable to discard a perfectly good plant.

It's almost pathological.

See? I told you. Here are some more. No snickering when they look crowded and sad, now, you hear?

Some people like to rescue kittens - I like to rescue plants.

I'll take your kittens, too, though, come to think of it. I like kittens.

Alright, tour's over. Tea is served in the front lobby. No pushing now.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Bits & Pieces

Canucks vs. Boston. I will comment no further. Ridiculous game. Blah. And to think I call myself a Canuck. (I realize that a lot of people think 'Canuck' is a pejorative term but let me just say that I am not one of those people)

For some reason this made me sad. I read it aloud to the kids at breakfast, and at supper tonight, while the boys were watching Boston whup the Canucks' collective bottoms, FDPG and I watched this. And felt our hearts fly at the end, when Darcy walked through the emerging dawn light, dew dripping from the hem of his billowing coat, and held hands with Elizabeth Bennet. Lovely lovely lovely.

Nothing like lying in deep green grass, is there?

More garden pictures on the way. Am reading Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook (trying to get ideas for a new greenhouse but REALLY wishing I had one of these), using a lot of straw for mulching to save on watering, thinking about making some hypertufa butterfly watering bowls, planting pepperoncini (set in the cold frame), and watching the first artichokes pop through their mass of leaves. Also repotting the millions of tomato plants I have left over before they succumb to total neglect (drop by for a freebie!), wondering where to put the cucumbers and pumpkins we have sprouting, and watching the first of the lemons ripen.

And it's finally HOT. Hurrah. Dried 5 loads of laundry out on the deck today. Jane Austen heroines, indeed.

Two Little Monkeys Sitting In A Tree

You might have to squint really hard — or double-click on the photo — to see the monkeys.

Does This Mean That The Lazy Days of Summer Are Here?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Poetry — With A Twist

Today Dominic and FDPG worked on rhyming couplets. We started with helping & linking verbs, then, as these things do, our lessons morphed into poetry.

We're using a very loose blend of First Language Lessons, English For The Thoughtful Child, and Classical Writing Aesop this year. I say blend because there are days when I find one too constraining, or the other too predictable, but they are all fairly similar in method so it's easy to jump from one to the other with too much fuss.

Anyhow, we picked this poem and decided to fool around with it, because it's so charming and light-hearted and simple to memorize. And, well, they already HAD memorized it last year, so adapting a lesson for it was easy.

The Months Sara Coleridge

January brings the snow, 
makes our feet and fingers glow. 

February brings the rain,Thaws the frozen lake again. 

March brings breezes loud and shrill, 
stirs the dancing daffodil. 

April brings the primrose sweet, 
Scatters daises at our feet. 

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, 
Skipping by their fleecy dams.

June brings tulips, lilies, roses, 
Fills the children's hand with posies. 

Hot July brings cooling showers, 
Apricots and gillyflowers. 

August brings the sheaves of corn, 
Then the harvest home is borne. 

Warm September brings the fruit, 
Sportsmen then begin to shoot. 

Fresh October brings the pheasants, 
Then to gather nuts is pleasant. 

Dull November brings the blast, 
Then the leaves are whirling fast. 

Chill December brings the sleet, 
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.

After they wrote it out I had them make up their own rhyming couplets. "Pick two months," I said, "any month. Then make up a couplet for each month."

I went off to make lunch.

FDPG interpreted it her way, which meant that she made up more than one couplet for each month — because more is better, right? Here's her example:

Cold December brings the snow,
With it traffic cannot go.
They plough the streets with all their might,
But always snow comes back at night.

She had something started using August, her birth month, but at printing time it wasn't quite ready for publication. That's our FDPG, always not quite finished. I have suggested that she translate this into Latin as a motto but she doesn't find my suggestion quite as amusing as I do.

Here are Dominic's examples. Dominic is a man of economy. Why do two couplets when only one is required? This was perhaps the only example I have of Dominic listening carefully to my instructions, so when he corrected FDPG, in his inimitable way


we were all quite astounded.

January is cold and bright
So let's get in a snowball fight!

December is nice and loud and clear,
And let's fill the house with Christmas cheer!

Then we went in and had lunch. They were all sniggering when they came into the dining room, and Max asked me if I'd heard their other couplets. "Other?" I said. "You wrote more?"

I should have known better. I'm tempted to call some of this doggerel, but one of them is merely being observant. Nevertheless, I think this lot will stay in the Ogden Nash section of the library.

August is a garden time
For gin and tonic with a lime!

It's August, let's go to the petting zoo
Look — a cow— mooooooo.

(never mind that cows aren't commonly found in petting zoos)