When else in the year would you get such an atmospheric shot? March? Methinks not. August? Ha! Look at that silhouette against that positively leaden sky. Wouldn't get that lowering sky anywhere else but November.
Quick! Spot the Pileated Woodpecker against those sodden clouds.
And look - a lost pea sprouting away under the protective plastic on the soil-less medium of my potting bench. In April such sprouting is to be expected; this time of year, given the winds, rain, and cold, it's a minor miracle.
Technically November has been here 18 days already, zipping along on waves of mist and birthdays and awards banquets and other busyness, which is probably why I've just noticed the cold weather and its impact on the garden. This is what started it all off for me (see Very Atmospheric Photograph above): the swirling mists of early morning out the kitchen window. It's like waking up in a well-behaved horror movie - beautiful but unnerving.
The garden looks different: the cold nights have suddenly stopped it in its tracks. Gone is the leafy green-ness of late late summer, with the odd ripe scarlet runner bean, the late summer strawberries, and the last clusters of raspberries. Now everything looks frozen in an Uh Oh! position.
Here I am feeling all nostalgic about the end of summer and hot weather and here are these little pieces of fungi, popping out of the ground and no doubt feeling all thrilled with themselves. All the other plants are dying by the wayside, drawing themselves in for the winter, and here we have a positive metropolis of little fungi, burgeoning. Yes, burgeoning. I could have said fecund, too, but I think burgeoning is more to my liking right now.
At last count we had in the neighbourhood of 7 bazillion pieces of your product in our house. That's probably because I have three kids, and all three of those kids have gone through phases of liking LEGO, adoring LEGO, reading books on LEGO, begging reluctant relatives for yet more of it, building entire LEGO villages in their bedrooms, and wishing they lived in a LEGO house. (I blame James May for the last) Anyhow, their confusion between WANTS and NEEDS have resulted in our house being filled, nay, jammed with your product. So, count me in as an enthusiastic admirer and supporter of the LEGO oeuvre.
But that's not why I am writing to you. Today I am interested in addressing an article I happened across, one that stated that your company's net profits were up 36% this year. That sales of the new "Friends" line have been, to quote chief executive Joergen Vig Knudstorp, "astonishing."
Well, Mr. Knudstorp, I can tell you why your profits are up: most of your best products are TOO EXPENSIVE. Yes, I realize there are smaller, cheaper kits. We've bought a number of them. But they have a paltry piece count, often fall apart when played with, and are exceedingly small when built. The new Star Wars LEGO Advent calendar is a case in point: $10 more than the City Advent calendar yet with half the interest level. This, I dare say, is why sales of the new Friends line have been "astonishing": they contain new colours, new and rare pieces, AND they are generally priced under $30. I'm resisting saying it's only a matter of time... oh what the heck, let's just get it out there: It's only a matter of time before the Friends line goes the way of the Creator/City line and prices most of its best kits over $130.
I have to say, I'm surprised you didn't give any credit to the Minifigure series (and accompanying display cases) when you were waxing eloquent about your new bottom line. It must be raking in the bucks, given that my kids probably account for at least 1% of the sales figures in Canada. It's the one new series I heartily approve of: cheap, interesting, full of rare pieces (pies! green fish! Santa Claus! bats! trophies!).
I don't know about your relatives, Mr. Knudstorp, but mine aren't the sort who can stomach paying $80 or more for a box of coloured plastic. Convincing them of LEGO's amazingness is something we've worked hard on over the years, but in the end we're still faced with the simple and rather distressing fact that a large plastic house, no matter how wonderful or intricate or technical, costs $200. We've had years where I've managed to get a few relatives in on one gift, or bought used LEGO, or had the kids chip in over and above what I'm willing to pay for a gift, but the whole concept of having to go to such lengths to get ONE present for ONE kid without giving ME palpitations is wearing on me. For the purposes of brevity I won't mention how hard it is to buy LEGO for my kids' friends' birthday parties without resembling the titular character from a Dickens story but I dare you to try spending under $15 on LEGO without looking (or feeling) cheap.
So there you have it. I love your products. My kids love your products. We love how geeky your designers' videos are; one of us even wants to be a LEGO designer when he grows up. That same kid has six years of magazines in his memory banks and can quotes huge swathes of price, piece count, and more from them to prove it. We do not love how the Canadian LEGO magazine is always at least 20 pages lighter than its American cousin but on the other hand we love Brickjournal so much that we're willing to pay exorbitant shipping costs to get it into the wilderness that is Canada, something we're unable to do with the LEGO magazine. But you, Mr LEGO Executive, are starting to look like your bottom line is more important than your fan base. And for that I do not love you.
We were having leftovers for lunch today and FDPG (whose tastes are so austere that she eschews almost all food groups that do not include either cheese or sugar) had seconds of a soup I'd made a few days ago.
"Want some more?" I asked her.
"Yes please!" she said enthusiastically.
"Wow," I said, "why do you like this soup so much? I'm surprised."
"It's good! I like the stuff in it, but I like that watery sludge stuff most of all," she answered.
That watery sludge stuff. Right. I think I might need a lapel pin with that on it:
And what do you know but we're supposed to have the wettest Halloween in 18 years. Gosh, how fun is that? What kid doesn't like slogging around the neighbourhood in the pouring rain in a soaking wet costume?
This is perhaps the first year in, well, years that we aren't Frantically Ready and Desperately Waiting for Halloween. When the kids were little I sewed spiders, lizards, fairies, Colorado Potato Beetles, kittens, and more. It was fun, mostly because a tiny costume takes seconds to make. Now of course they are far bigger in size, not to mention far more opinionated, and it's harder to work up the enthusiasm at the idea of spending a week sewing something wildly complicated for just one night. I spent the first part of the month arguing with Dominic, who had the idea of going out trick or treating dressed as an Angry Bird. The Boomerang Bird. The one with the long beak. "It will be super easy to make," he told me, "I have plans down in my room. I will show them to you. All you need is a box."
All I need is a box. If only life were like that.
Luckily the look on my face - when he added "You've left it a bit late, better get moving!"- managed to persuade him that he needed to pick another costume, given that it's THE DAY BEFORE HALLOWEEN. Now he's going as a ghost - the Charlie Brown kind: white sheet with holes. I don't think I will need my sewing machine, either. Nice.
FDPG is going as a Mad Scientist. She originally wanted to go as the Headless Horseman, sans horse, but I worked my persuasive magic and talked her into being a Mad Scientist, as such a costume would involve items we already had in the house and it is, after all, THE DAY BEFORE HALLOWEEN. Plus, we don't have a large suit I can cut holes in and at this stage I don't much fancy the idea of haunting the second hand shops for over-priced suits for her to hack at with scissors.
I'm sounding like a real downer aren't I.
At least their costumes will involve lots of glow-in-the-dark sticks from the Dollar Store. And FDPG gets to wear her Lucius Malfoy wig again, although for some reason she's decided to call it the Blonde Wig (odd considering that it isn't blonde). We had A Moment in one of those cheap jewellery stores today when I showed her some black-rimmed glasses and said "This looks very scientist-y!" and she said, looking oddly furtive, "I'm not going to be a dead scientist, or a diseased scientist, or anything weird looking, Mum." We stared at each other, me aghast at the idea that any child of mine should be so, well, so SEDATE at Halloween; she worried that I was going to insist she be a Dead Mad or Bad Scientist.
Fortunately we managed to compromise: she is going to wear a teeny tiny touch of white face paint and look ever-so-slightly dead (maybe with fangs) and I bought her an overpriced white foam stick that has an LED with 6 different lights in it to use as a Pretend Test Tube (it may or may not have a plastic skull stuck on it, evidence of An Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong). We are both happy with that outcome, although Dominic was annoyed that he didn't bargain harder about the Angry Bird costume.
I'm tempted to tuck Prunella the Moulting Chicken under my arm and walk around the neighbourhood in my dressing gown, telling the neighbours that we just woke up and we're not feeling very good. In all that rain we probably won't LOOK very good either.
Some of us are Renaissance scholars in this house, so when some of us saw that the latest LEGO minifig collection featured a Hamlet, well, it HAD to be found. Not by the Renaissance scholar, let me point out. No, he was, as usual, oblivious to the shifting sands of Popular Culture. It remained to me to shift them his way, as usual. So I did.
Some of us had to take a few Action Shots before it could go to the office, however. We cherish our amusing moments here at Greenridge Chronicles, especially with the dark days of winter fast approaching. Which reminds me, our Renaissance scholar has ONE grain of sand from the cultural tide stuck on the tip of his tongue: We've been reminded that Winter Is Coming for the past, oh, four billion months. SUCH a wit, that man.
But that's another reference. And another story.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, err, Hogwarts Castle...
"Alas, poor Voldemort! I knew him well."
As for the title of this post? Well, that is a direct quote from a kid I shared the aisle with at our local London Drugs, as we both searched through the mini-fig box. He was looking for a man with a bowler hat. I was looking for Hamlet. "That ruffle-necked guy?" he said, "the one with the head?" "Yes," I said, "the ruffle-necked guy." "My dad says it's Shakespeare," he told me very matter of factly. "Actually," I replied, "it's a character from a play Shakespeare wrote - this guy is named Hamlet."
"Weird name," said my friend.
And yes, we DO stand there for close to an hour sometimes, feeling those tiny LEGO packages. The clerks are used to us by now. I pride myself on my ability to differentiate a bowler hat from the Santa hat from the girl's hair. I tell Dominic that I can tell the DJ guy's disc from the bowler-hat man's newspaper but I can't really. Just don't tell him that.
"It's not like I wake up in a rage that there's only 84 keys on a piano"
(or something to that effect, it's hard to remember word for word at 4am but I was struck by the fact that anyone MIGHT wake up in a rage)
— Brian Eno
"The fog still slept on the wing above the drowned city, where the lamps glimmered like carbuncles; and through the muffle and smother of these fallen clouds, the procession of the town's life was still rolling in through the great arteries with a sound as of a mighty wind."
(a case, if there ever was one, for reading classics to one's children)
— Robert Louis Stevenson
"Ma'am, am I going to have to arrest you?"
— dismayingly idiotic policeman
(annoyed at me for daring to suggest that he and his cronies are doing very little about the obnoxious pit bull down the street that has, so far, mauled three dogs)
Warning: This post originally aired in 2009. All fires are now extinguished.
It was the Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend; wherein we celebrate, much as Americans do (but we do it earlier), with family and friends and many of us roast Very Large Items like turkeys or geese, and create many a side dish of potatoes or yams (no marshmallows please, I don't care what Nigella says about this) and other roastable products (maple-roasted parsnips anyone?).
So, this being our first house and all, we're having fun creating our own family traditions around all the holidays. This Thanksgiving the kids covered the front steps with mini gourds, white pumpkins, and giant Cinderella pumpkins, grown in the garden; they dipped leaves in beeswax, fragrant additions to the Seasonal Table; they made candle holders with colourful writhing dragons on them, surrounded with black paper, to remind us all of Michaelmas (which is often re-represented by St George fighting the dragon); and finally they brought in armloads of Michaelmas daisies and all the leftover flowers we have in the garden to float in bowls of coloured water with lighted candles. It was all very beautiful. Ethereal. Glowing. Warm. We invited some friends over, we set a turkey in the oven, I made bread and dug up potatoes and peeled many a parsnip.
It was the Yorkshire puddings that foxed me. If only I had put a cookie sheet under the muffin tins I would have been okay. The fire alarm wouldn't have gone off if I'd done that.
But I didn't.
I had to go and douse the muffin tins with generous amounts of oil, then set them in an already (sheila coughs self-consciously) oily oven and no it WASN'T filthy contrary to what Richard the Clean says, without anything underneath them to catch all the dripping oil. And let's face it, I was feeling pretty generous by this juncture of the day, filled with much bonhomie towards my friends and neighbours (and no, I was not drinking - not then at any rate) and it might have been about then that I thought "A giant Yorkshire pudding is much much better than a teeny tiny one, isn't it! I will FILL those muffin cups with batter! They will be giant puddingy puffs!" Sounded reasonable at the time...
So I used what one might call a glad hand with the filling of the muffin cups. All two and a half dozen of them.
Sadly, the oil oozed out all over the floor of the oven after I'd filled them with the pudding batter and slid them in the oven to bake. Not that I noticed, because at that point that I was standing outside on the deck, thinking "Gosh it's hot in that pokey little kitchen, think I'll just have a glass of wine out here in the nice cold air."
It was when I peeked in the window that I noticed the flames.
I dashed in, followed closely by Max (when Large Items are roasted he follows me very closely, because he likes Large Roasted Items and frequently accuses me of trying to starve him by not roasting them often enough for his liking). I gaped. I tried to quell the rising panic in my stomach. I opened the oven for a peek, then shut it. It was filled with flames. Really filled. I don't think I'd ever seen it like that. And it might have been then that I thought "OMG this is a PROPANE OVEN - we're all going to blow up!" But, being the stalwart Jane Austen heroine that I am, I did not shriek out loud. I did not even panic. And I did not faint into a heap on the floor. Instead, I calmly turned off the oven, and shrieked "RICHAAAAAARD!"
Now, accounts vary as to what I said after that. I thought I said "Richard - the oven is on fire and we are all about to die come and do something before that happens" Richard thought I said "I've put the fire out but it's still on fire!" And, since he didn't do anything right away, we both think I then said "RICHARD GET IN HERE RIGHT THIS SECOND THE KITCHEN IS ON FIRE!"
And we might be right. I think I did say that.
Fortunately that got him into the kitchen pretty quick. In fact, it got everyone into the kitchen. I remember wondering why everyone would come into a place that was about to blow up. And realizing that I couldn't very well cut and run with them all standing there, about to blow up with MY stove. It wouldn't look very good. But Richard took matters in hand and started doing something. "Get the Yorkshire puddings out of the oven!" he shouted tersely, "Shut the oven door! Quick!"
So we did.
The fire went out.
Richard said "Why don't you ever clean that stupid oven? Look at all that oil!"
Our dinner guests said "Wow, it's exciting over here."
I said "I need a drink. Stop talking about cleaning the bloody oven, Richard, and get me a drink."
Max said "Will the Yorkshire puddings be alright? Will we still be able to eat them?"
— KUOW's fund drive is managing to be far more amusing than usual this year. Peter Sagal and Alec Baldwin, not to mention Phyllis Fletcher, are making this year's pledge drive bearable.
— That I am not living in the United States during this year's Presidential Face Off. Those of you in the US have my profoundest condolences. Well, those of you who find this stuff as silly as I do. Those of you who don't know what I'm talking about...well, let's just say that it's pretty nigh impossible to avoid coverage of this crap when it's on television if you live in the US. It's omnipresent (and almost as irritating as the American Olympic coverage is). And yes, I DID choose the word 'crap' carefully. This stuff is not political in the slightest; it's plain old grandstanding from people who don't like doing it and aren't very good at it. Do. Not. Like.
— I was going to say I was thankful that the chickens didn't escape today, but just a minute ago one did. Sigh. Max thinks he's being highly strategic (and clever) when he takes aim at them with his long range water gun, but as I pointed out (just a minute ago): the chickens don't experience water gun jets and make an obedient beeline for the chicken run. They think "huh? what's that? eek! must run away now!" and make a beeline for somewhere else. Which is exactly what just happened. How DO I know these things? Just call it a gift I have. (sheila shines her imaginary knuckles on her imaginary shirt and preens an imaginary bit)
— That we have a schedule for school this year. It means several things, all blessedly positive. First, the twins are able to be busy when I am elsewhere (like canning tomatoes or blanching beans or hulling tomatillos). This they like. Next, we're able to motor through unit studies in ways we often floundered with before. This we all like. Finally, I'm able to do quizzes based on previously done work. This is manna from heaven to the twins. They love quizzes. They love the fact that they know what a cell is, where bile is stored, and what a saturated fat is. I blame Mr Ratburn for this. It's all his fault, him and his blasted Pop Quizzes.
— That it was 69ºF today in the house. All day. It was even warmer outside. This from the Pacific North West. In October. It's the kind of event I am highly thankful for.
It's getting cold in the mornings. And when we wake up it's dark - really dark - in the bedroom. I blundered into a borrowed cash box this morning, stubbing my toes and making a lot of noise. I feel safe in saying that I probably woke everyone up when my foot connected with that box.
I've mentioned that we're new chicken owners, right? Well, there's a lot about chickens I did not know. In fact, I won't admit this to Richard but if I'd known some of these things before we actually GOT the chickens I might not have been quite so insistent that we get chickens. I might have remained an Ardent Fan From Afar. Sad but true.
Allow me to regale you with my newly discovered Chicken Facts.
They are not very bright. It pains me somewhat to say this but one of our chickens is woefully stupid. This would be Prunella. Prunella continually forgets where the door of the coop is, and each evening she spends at least three minutes trying desperately to join her sisters, who are enjoying the dish of milk and oats I've given them. She flaps and clucks despairingly at the wire, peers resentfully at her piggy sisters, then paces back and forth with increasing unease, until someone walks around and shoos her to the side with the door. She leaps into the coop and you can see the visible sigh of relief emanating off her. And before you say anything - Prunella has lived in this coop for two years. Call me judgemental but the only logical conclusion to draw from this scenario is that Prunella is a bird of limited intellect.
They are alarmingly greedy. I think they see me not as Kind Owner but as Instant Food Dispenser. Spoiled my bucolic image of myself as Urban Chick 'n' Gardener, I have to admit. Prunella, Pip, and Fern will stop whatever they are doing (including pooing) when they see me and run pell mell in my direction. In fact, I think whoever invented the word pell mell must have had chickens, because it describes their food-seeking gait perfectly.
They are not always good at recognizing danger. Yes, I admit, they know a hawk when they see one, but a ground predator could walk up to them and bash them on the head without any trouble. Yesterday Pip escaped from her spacious Chicken Yard twelve times, and six of those times she was (unbeknownst to her) stalked by the neighbour's cat. Let me back up, and explain that a bit. Initially they had the run of the entire back yard, well, until we discovered the dubious charms of chicken poo everywhere (not to mention the sudden defoliation of the white sprouting broccoli). So we fenced off an area for them to use as their own personal toilet slash play area. All three hens were unhappy about this new development, Pip most of all. Yesterday she made it her mission to escape. And was stalked by the neighbour's cat. Pip was oblivious each and every time. Now, we can admit that the neighbour's cat is either really hungry or overly convinced of its own strength, but what about Pip? Does Pip want a kitty friend or does she have a death wish? Or is she just plain dumb and wouldn't recognize Danger if it jumped on her back and wrestled her to the ground then slit her throat with its claws?
They are murder on a garden. It wasn't enough that the Prunella, Pip, and Fern had a large grassy area and a compost bin to scritch around in, no, no, no. Both Prunella and Pip felt the need to dig up my pulmonarias, echinaceas, and Lady's Mantles to make way for a dirt wallow. A sizeable dirt wallow. I made them a dirt wallow in their Chicken Yard. It was scorned. They went back to the flowers, which meant that they had also discovered a way out of their Chicken Yard. I shored up the - ahem - chicken wire fence. Pip dug, I replanted, Prunella dug, I replanted. Pip dug, I replanted. Fern watched from a distance, gauging what strength I might have left, then made a beeline for my prize pulmonaria. Turns out Fern has a liking for Prize Pulmonaria leaves. I felt like the small organic farmer fighting the big evil Monsanto Corporation (Richard thought I was being melodramatic but I happen to feel very strongly about my pulmonarias). It was depressing. Almost as depressing as catching them in the neighbour's yard that afternoon, after they'd tired of their Monsanto Wallow.
So there you have it. Good times with chickens. I can hardly wait till they stop laying and start moulting. Or get caught by a cat...
I used to love receiving emails notifying me of your frequent sales but now I feel rather sad to inform you that I would prefer it if you could reduce the volume of email you send me, to, perhaps, say, once every month (as opposed to once a day)? I love almost all your products. I'd even buy them if they weren't so expensive. And that, my dear W-S, is the crux of the matter. I can't possibly justify paying $229 for a frying pan, even if it DOES have a charming copper lining and a lovely little bee perched on it handle. So I regret that I must remain a viewer from afar in your catalogue of treasures, unless of course you come out with another Bee and Butterfly cake mold tin. That WAS cute, and at $24 it was - even I admit - a steal.
Can I give you one further criticism? You're milking the Star Wars Cookie Cutter line even by the standards of the two obsessively fervent Star Wars fans in this house. The first set was, as Seinfeld's dentist friend said: "GOLD Jerry! GOLD!" The second and third sets caused us all to wince a bit. End on a high note, why don't you?
Dear Person Who Volunteers With Me,
You are, as the expression goes, an ass of the first degree. Your qualities of hostility and anger, combined with a rare gift for undisguised selfishness, astonish me by their sheer lack of subtlety. You make even a skinflint seem kind. If we ever have to work together again, it will be too soon. I am, dear sir, forever grateful that I will no longer have to endure your awful lack of grace and manners. By the way, now that I no longer have to spare your feelings (particularly since you have never once tried to spare mine) your breath stinks. So get it out of my face.
Dear Martha Stewart,
I love your devotion to your grand-daughter. I'm even getting used to the ever-present gray tones that accompany her every appearance in your magazine but it's got to stop, Martha, because my children want you to adopt them now. They want marzipan creatures on their birthday cakes. They want specially boxed animal cookies for their party favours. And they'd also like an entire restaurant booked for their birthday party. They're not big on the gray tones, though, which is probably the only bright light in this scenario. Please, Martha, let's see less of Jude and Her Amazing Life and more origami pumpkins or walls painted to look like jade, because we ALL need the distraction.
The days, I mean. There I was, sitting on the edge of the end of August a few seconds ago and now it's the middle of September. Fleet of foot, time is.
The days are oddly hot right now, causing my garden to think that it's early August. Barring the cool wet nights. Those wet nights remind us all that it's NOT early August in the Pacific Northwest, no matter what the days are doing.
Do I sigh now? Or later? Not sure.
Whatever the weather, we're back to lots of plastic covers over tender annual vegetables, copious watering during the baking hot days, and lots of canning and freezing. I'm picking the tomatoes as soon as they get a slightly overall red so as to give the others a chance to ripen on the vine a bit. I know, I know, I can hang the plant and let it ripen that way. Everyone tells me that. I just don't like doing it that way, is all. I prefer my method.
That's a gratuitous shot of some sushi we had the other night. I made a Fast Pickle because we had a deluge of cukes, and it was so fresh and crunchy we ate it in everything, including sushi.
We're now, like it or not, in Official School Mode these days, particularly with teen-agers doing high school courses and having to submit assignments and things like that. We're busy trying to figure out DL assignments, trying to retool our Activities Calendar (so some of us don't feel overwhelmed with all the action, ahem) and cleaning up the Family Room, which functions as the school room. The FM is rather a tip: bits and pieces from 4-H fairs lying about, binders and books and erasers and papers and even the odd scarecrow litter the floor. Don't even get me started on all those photographs everywhere.
We read about the city of Venice this week, and noticed a lion on all the online articles. So we looked him up (the lion) and I found this beautiful flag. I won't tell you what it means. Just google "lion + Venice" and you'll get your answer. It's very charming. At least, I found it very charming. And who doesn't like a red and gold flag like this?
In other news, we are the new owners of some chickens. That's right, you heard me. Chickens. Three of them. I might have responded a wee bit too quickly to an advert on a local listserv. Or maybe I was the only one responding to the advert. Anyhow, I bagged me some chickens. Three of them. Oh, right, I already said that. They came with a coop. Which is now in our backyard. With the chickens.
Here is one of them. I don't think this shot does her justice, really, because she's a good deal fluffier and chunkier than this.
Would that I took such slimming shots.
This one is Pip. In her former life she was called Dusty. I feel rather bad saying this but we were not a fan of the name Dusty. (Okay, so I wasn't and no one else cared) I admit, I have Dusty Baggage. That name was a bit too 70's for my liking. The rest of us had no idea what was going on in the 70's so they didn't give a damn but me, I grew up in the 70's. I remember way too many floral pantsuits. Way too many thick manly moustaches. Weird wide belts. Menthol cigarettes. Don't even get me started on those unisex names.
But I digress. A bit.
Dusty personifies the 70's to me. And that, as they say, is not a good thing. So it had to go. Pip she is.
The other two were known as Trixie and Fern. We kept Fern because of two reasons: a) she was named after the character in the series Arthur. We love Arthur. We love Fern. b) it's cute and short, just like Fern.
Trixie, despite her connections to a literary heroine of my childhood, morphed into Prunella, to go with Fern. The only trouble with Prunella is that I keep calling her Stella. And I keep wanting to shriek her name, like Brando did. Leaning back on my heels and wailing, even.
Needless to say, no one here gets my references. Sigh. It's a cultural wasteland here. I tell you.
Hot sand. Very hot sand. So hot you couldn't walk barefoot. We were therefore squished together on several towels, drying off from our swim.
Dominic was stretched out like a starfish, perhaps he was even pretending he was a starfish. He was doing his level best to ignore our repeated pleas to stop hogging the towels. FDPG was deep in an Agatha Christie novel, reading about her hero Hercule Poirot (or Pwa-Rot as we like to call him). Max was one log over, pretending he was a cool DJ Guy relaxing on his yacht after a sold out show. Every so often he'd sit up and fix his hair, using his reflective sunglasses as a mirror. I snuck photos of him when he wasn't looking.
Richard and I were reading. Richard - his usual deeply intellectual fare: The Origins Of Political Order. Me - my usual deeply unintellectual fare: Gardener's World magazine. I was just admiring a charming photo of Alan Titchmarsh, immaculate in a periwinkle vest, cutting a large handful of thyme with his equally immaculate pruners, pleasantly determined look on his face. There's something deeply comforting about Alan. Whenever I need a pick-me-up I read his Tales From Titchmarsh column. He's always so nice and encouraging. Black spot on your roses? Never fear! He has 10 top tips for that. Mildew on your squash? Ah, you haven't used your baking soda spray yet, have you? Wilting delphiniums? Try some cheery painted bamboo stakes - practical AND picturesque! Every problem has a happy solution. Even if it IS something you've already tried (and failed with), Alan makes it sound both easy AND feasible.
But I digress.
I was sitting on the towel, trying to ignore the elbowing starfish to my left and a sniffing FDPG to my right (both twins took up the completely irritating habit of sniffing every 20 seconds this summer) when a large flying insect showed up on the sand. Not a hornet. Not a wasp. Not a bee. A bit of all of them: large wings, stripey body, aggressively long torso. It would alight on a speck then fly off, very quickly and very unpredictably. It came closer and closer to us, even landing on my clogs at one point. It kept flashing its wings and waving its antennae menacingly, waking us from our torpor and causing us to skitter about on the towels in an effort not to be its first victim.
When it attacked the grasshopper we all gasped. It clung to the grasshopper's head and made some determined clicking noises. The grasshopper waved its legs feebly as we looked on, horrified. Dominic threw a little rock which bounced off the sand but the insect took no notice. We watched the poor grasshopper writhe and roll around on that hot hot sand, until finally I went over and smacked at the insect with a stick. It flew away and FDPG moved the stunned grasshopper to a little bark house, out of the sun and out of the way of the insect, which by then had returned and was scanning the sand for the grasshopper. It was even more insistent and alarming than before, so of course we all started dashing about and bumping into each other in an effort to avoid it. Even Richard (who is usually quite oblivious to anything but the most urgent of disasters) moved hurriedly out of the way. Things were getting a wee bit panicky. It was a very pugnacious insect.
Finally my stick managed to connect with the insect. I think I stunned it somewhat. I scooped it up in a clam shell and placed it on a log, where it could hopefully settle down and rethink its grasshopper-attacking strategies. Then I went back to my magazine, intent on learning the Four Ways To Banish Bindweed.
Dominic got up and went over to the insect. He picked up a large smooth rock and smashed the insect with it, hard. He banged and bashed for at least a minute while we all watched, startled. Then he put down his rock and went back to being a starfish.
We settled back to our sleepy sunbathing activities, albeit slightly uneasy should another winged terror appear.
A few hours later we were packing up when Dominic went over to the log where the by now completely unrecognizable remains of the insect were. It was definitely a Former Insect. He examined the tiny specks of shell and wing closely.
This is a container FDPG made up a couple of weeks ago for her 4-H Container Garden project. Right after she planted these lettuce and basil starts she left it on the deck. Where Puff the Lettuce Eating Rabbit happened to be lurking. FDPG didn't think Puff the Lettuce Eating Rabbit would notice this container. I tried to convince her that Puff would most certainly notice that container, and that in fact she was probably lying in wait, but FDPG was having none of that. "She's too busy trying not to fall off the deck!" she chortled.
(No rabbits fell off any decks during the planting of this post)
When we came out to have dinner, the lettuce starts were looking sorry. Very sorry. They were practically Former Lettuce Starts. Puff had evidently taken time out from her Not Falling Off The Deck activities to cement her reputation as a Lettuce Eater. FDPG didn't show any sorrow for the demise of her lettuce; in fact, she was thrilled. "That Puff! She is SUCH a monkey!" she said affectionately, squeezing Puff and ruffling her fur. Puff looked, dare I say it, quite smug.
Would that I could evince such delight when I see deer in my garden. I won't tell you what I DO think, though, because I'm not usually a Cougar Annie kind of gal (Deer Sheila doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?).
Some of us had a birthday this month. Two of us, in fact.
This is the card I made for FDPG. It combines her two passions: Angry Birds and Harry Potter.
Did you know that you can download the Angry Birds font free? I was inordinately thrilled to discover this. I might even have shouted this astounding discovery out loud to Richard (who was less than thrilled, sadly).
Now I not only have the Hogwarts Wizard font, I have the Angry Birds font as well. Oddly (and rather disturbingly), it's called Feast of Flesh, which I can only hope is mistranslated from the Finnish the way my Chinese grocer in Vancouver sold Big Bother apples and Super Parsley.
After the birthday celebrations we went away to our favourite beach. Here is FDPG in a kayak. And no, she is not wearing a life jacket.
Remiss of us, I know, but rest assured: it was very shallow water.
That's Dominic in the background.
Yes, he is wearing a mask. He likes to fall over the edge and do some impromptu snorkeling when the mood strikes.
Needless to say, the kayaks ran low to the water with all that water in them.
Here is FDPG snorkeling around a person lying on a floatie. Richard and I watched, initially perplexed, as she sidled, dived, and eventually edged nearer and nearer, breathing heavily through her snorkel the entire time. And I do mean heavily. We could hear her from the shore. She sounded like Darth Vader. She went under the floatie. She went around the floatie. She finally popped up and hovered, right next to the floatie, whooshing noisy gasps of air through her snorkel. She was unabashedly staring. It was then that I started taking photos. When I wasn't laughing unrestrainedly with Richard from the shore. What we couldn't figure out was how the woman could not have noticed this annoying child FDPG. Finally her head lifted and she regarded FDPG for a minute or two. They appeared to exchange words. FDPG snorkeled off. When she came ashore we asked her what she'd been doing. And if she knew what Snorkel Harassment was.
"I was using the floatie as a marker to dive under," she said. "It was really fun. I knew the person wouldn't notice because she was drinking a can of vodka and wearing ear buds."
It was in actuality a can of beer. We used binoculars to settle the argument, because FDPG insisted that it was vodka, despite the fact that she doesn't know her beer from her brandy.
Here she is with Richard, sailing.
And no, those white spots are not whitecaps, as FDPG would have you believe.
Today FDPG and I did a photo shoot of all her container gardens, in preparation for her 4H record book work, and despite the weird summer we've had so far they didn't look too bad. Thank goodness none of her containers feature the Solanaceae family in
any starring role, because our tomatoes and peppers are not faring
well this summer.
The worst bit was when we were uploading the photos on iTunes and I accidentally clicked on a photo of some Tigerellas from last year. Dripping with fruit, they were. It was enough to make me slightly maudlin, especially the photo of the scarlet runners draping over the lemon arbour. They were indecently rampant with blooms and beans. I was affronted, to be perfectly honest. They are not being indecent in the least this year. There's far too much self-restraint going on out there.
This pot thankfully has no idea that it's in the middle of a terrible summer. One side are the marigolds we grew from 2 year old seed (they reverted to a giant marigold I've never seen before but prefer in many ways because of their bushiness) and on the other are three cucumber plants with lovely lush leaves and perfectly formed cucumbers all along the length of the vines. I'm using driftwood to guide the vines. So far so good: aesthetically pleasing AND practical.
This shot was taken for the frontispiece of her 4H record book. She's added captions and titles and it looks quite charming. I like the fact that my trusty old watering can has a happy new life as a kale slash basil planter.
FDPG's old fishy watering can is hosting a marigold with Amazonian ambitions.Vigorous, those marigolds.
That gray trough on the right is another hypertufa creation. I'm rather attached to all this hypertufa: it weathers well and doesn't require as much water as I thought it would. Plus the herbs love growing in it.
See - now this is yet another indication that our summer is weird: we still have sweet peas blooming. August and the sweet peas are as fresh as if it were June.
Nuts, this weather is.
(I know, I know, I'm starting to sound like Yoda. If only I were as prescient as he was and I could figure out what the hell happened to my miserable tomatoes)
On the other hand, we've discovered a new fascination with the humble zinnia. Look at this one: I dropped a large pot of unhappy tomatoes on them and they didn't even blink. Now that's what I call a workhorse of a plant.
In the background is some comfrey, which I've chopped down three times so far this summer, to make some Super Powerful Super Cheap Super Stinky Fertilizer Tea. I got this idea from Mark Diacono's charming Veg Patch. He warned me that it would emit an odor like nothing I've ever smelled before. Sadly he was right. Truly awful, it is.
The jury is out as to whether it works better than fish fertilizer but I'm enough of a skinflint to take a chance on it.
Another oddity is this lemon verbena, which is happy as a clam. I've chopped it down four times and look - rampant as all get out. Not quite indecent yet, but I'm okay with that.
Our container zucchini is doing its best to, err, perform. I can see a certain indecency in all that growth, can't you?
We've had 10 zucchinis off the two plants in this oak barrel. The variety is Astia, by Renee's Garden. It's a quick maturing plant.
I won't say anything about the wilting Yellow Pear tomato, though.
Nothing at all.
Nope. Not a word.
Finally, a charmingly crooked metal bucket, full of oregano, chives, and geraniums. It's keeping company with the Seckel pear which seems to have withstood the rust that doomed its friend the Louisebonne Pear a few years ago. Hopefully it heard me when I said I was not approving of pears that get rust regularly.
Sad but true, I am, I confess, not tolerant of rust-prone plants. I used to be, but no more. After moving the Louisebonne seven times in two years in a vain attempt to avoid rust only to discover that it also suffered from constant incomplete pollination (sounds like it needed an adult diaper, doesn't it?), I hurled it into the Weed Landfill at the end of the yard where it died over the winter, no doubt crushed by my lack of commitment.
So there you have it - FDPG's container garden saga. No Valkyries or one-eyed gods, but I did my best to liven it up a little. Funny what goes on when the summer drags a bit.
Doesn't that sound like something you'd see on a box of impossibly cute (and super cheesy) Japanese candy?
Come play with your Huckleberry Friends!
We have super happy day!
(insert picture of dancing berries with vague humanoid features,
fake looking scenery
and smiling huckleberry bushes holding hands)
I blame my obsession with cheesy Asian candy on Choco Boy, the cookies I saw at a grocery once upon a time. "Have fun with your friend Choco Boy!" it advertised. And there he was, little Choco Boy (looking more like a mushroom) tongue sticking out and feet sliding everywhere as he attempted to hang on to the words. His sidekick, a tiny green-billed bird, looked as though he'd just been kicked in the head by Choco Boy and was spiralling off to the side, smiling in a rather dazed fashion, head surrounded by stars. The biscuits resembled mushrooms in the cover art. I was captivated. I bought the kids a box each. We exclaimed over their cuteness.
The cookies inside tasted like rancid oil. No one would eat them. That's hydrogenated palm oil for you.
While we were at the beach I managed to pick several quarts of huckleberries. These are the red variety of huckleberry, tart and juicy, and they were everywhere this year. I had some children (they might have been mine) helping me pick all those huckleberries, although sadly they were neither smiling nor frolicking when they were picking those berries. I closed my eyes a couple of times and pretended they were floating on little blue clouds over happy mushrooms instead of what they were really doing, which went kind of like this:
"How long do we have to do this?"
"How many huckleberries do I have to pick before I can go?"
"I could be swimming right now."
"Do you really need help doing this? Don't you like doing this?"
"How come you pick so much faster than I do?"
"FDPG is picking my bush!"
"Dominic is picking my bush!"
"I got here first!"
"No, I did!"
"Will you two stop arguing and start PICKING?"
"Wait! Where are you two going?"
Fortunately when we got home everyone remembered our huckleberry days in a more favourable light. Especially when we were eating the huckleberry jam. And the huckleberry crisp. And the fresh huckleberries on our dinnertime salads.
It started here. If this creature had kept quiet no one would have twigged. I'm sure he started complaining only because he was penned up in this cage. He'd far rather have been shedding hair everywhere, puking on someone's shoe, evading our grasp, and digging himself into safe places, like, oh, say, under the gas pedal. Or the brake. He's done that before. Which is why he is PENNED UP.
Then there was the teenager. He was sitting in the very back of the van, silently disgruntled at not being able to sit in the front passenger seat (which is MY seat). He thinks it should be his seat. He could have a career as a Professional Perfume Smeller if he weren't quite so melodramatic. As soon as the cat started whining he joined in:
"Something stinks in here. Mom! Mom! I said it stinks in here! Is that crab in here somewhere?"
I hate being called Mom. I've explained til I'm blue in the face that I am a Canadian mum, not an American mom. Evidently it amuses him to annoy me this way. I guess we all get our cheap thrills from somewhere. And yes, I do know that it could be worse.
Did you notice that he didn't ask if anyone else smelled it? That's teen spirit for you. He doesn't need anyone to confirm what he already knows anymore. Even if he's wrong he knows he's right. It would be charming if it weren't so irritating. That was when I decided to take a leaf out of his book and pretend not to hear him. I opened my window and pretended to usher an ant out, despite the fact that the open window - at 110 km per hour - considerably dislodged hair, newspapers, and card games. There was the added bonus of great wet sheets of monsoon rain spilling into the window. Dominic wailed in what I thought was an overly dramatic fashion while Katie shrieked "WHO OPENED THE DAMN WINDOW?"
A rhetorical question if I ever heard one. Who do they think opened the damn window? Again, I feigned deafness, chatted to my imaginary ant and shut the window, hoping that the brief influx of fresh air would change the subject.
Sadly, it did not. The whiff was still there. And yes, it was my crab. My lovely but also very dead crab. See it sitting there? It's in that cardboard box next to Richard (at this point still blissfully unaware he's sitting next to it). The crab itself is beside the moon snail shell in the plastic bag. Actually, it was in two plastic bags.
I guess it should have been in three plastic bags.
It did stink a bit.
But I digress. Here's where I found the crab. We were on holiday at this beach. This is the far off reef we were walking along. I won't tell you where it is because not many people go to this beach and I'd like to keep it that way. It's a very nice beach.
We were walking along this reef at low tide, observing all sorts of treasures: hermit crabs, spider crabs, moon snails, tiny eels, tiny shrimp, bullheads, and starfish.
Sorry but I just cannot bring myself to say "sea star." To me it's another example of idiotic political correctness run amok. And yes I DO know that it's not really a fish.
We saw 29 moonsnail collars (see photo below). Some of us counted them. Out loud. Each time. Every time. Sometimes some of us had to recount just to make sure we were counting them properly. Some of us might have argued with our sister over who saw which ones, too. Finally, I took a photo of one, hoping to silence the soundtrack of each new discovery, to no avail. In fact, it just encouraged more audible counting, more audible arguing, and included a plea to photograph each new moonsnail collar. One of us might have swore a little bit at this point.
And then I found the crab. It was almost completely intact. And very dead. It would be a perfect watercolour model. As long as I could get it home. Without anyone noticing. Evidently I failed at that part, because now everyone - including Richard (slightly aghast at the fact, especially after telling me five times that I MUST leave the crab outside the cabin on the fence until we went back up in August) - knew it was a) in the car, and b) in the car stinking big time.
I did the only thing I could have done under the circumstances: I wrapped it in another plastic bag and placed it on the floor near my feet, where no one could grab it and throw it out the window.
And we drove home. Another 94 minutes and 27 seconds in the car. The smell wasn't too bad.
When we got home my crab was the first thing out of the car. Here it is here, sitting on the deck rail, delighting the city flies, who have probably never smelled such a charming salty stench before.
When it dries it won't smell at all. Don't ask me how I know this.
Make strawberry vinegar! Simply described: steep slightly mashed strawberries in apple cider vinegar for a few days, then strain through a fine mesh (shown here, in a brand new vintage knee high from my very own sock drawer). Slowly heat, adding sugar, then boil briefly and remove the scum that forms. Seal or bottle.
The resulting vinegar is incredible: sweet and sour and shockingly fruity. You'll wonder why you never made it before. At least, I did. My only regret is that I made it with the last of my strawberries, so there's no chance of making more this season.
Here's a harvest basket shot. Purely gratuitous. There's something about the blend of green and brown that makes me feel very happy about having a garden, especially right before dinner, even though it's been raining, humid, wet, sticky, buggy, overcast, damp...well, you get the picture. I have so many plastic tarps slung round the garden it's getting hard to arrange tasteful photo ops.
This shot occurred between a thunderstorm and a monsoon. Don't let anyone tell you I am not wildly resourceful. I also work swiftly.
This is one of them. Looking over the deck rail I can see this little garden, which used to be the Garlic Bed. I can see the neat little rows of beets, carrots, lettuce, and shingiku. I can radishes. Kale. Chives. Onions. The rose that I dug out of the crowded front garden, which has inexplicably turned into a standard bush and is madly flowering, as opposed to last summer when it did nothing at all (no doubt protesting its undignified position on the edge of the Butterfly Garden). The stepping stone that Dominic spent an hour painstakingly making (arranging tiny rocks needs such concentration). The piece of driftwood Richard lugged off the beach for me, in a Stealth Mission that involved parking the van in a No Parking zone, me keeping lookout and him dragging it, all in the dark while the kids were at track (we liberated it from the posh beach across town, where they actually FINE you for removing beach wood). The other piece of beach driftwood that looks like a Beluga whale and has a vastly less dramatic story, mostly involving having it, along with the three kids a cat and a guinea pig plus assorted holiday items in the car with a grouchy Richard for 4 hours on a hot day. The remarks "Why do you always pack so much crap home every year? Are those beach rocks under that seat? Do you know how much gas it's going to take getting this junk home? If I have to stop suddenly that stupid piece of wood is going to slide forward and take my head off!" might have sprung from his lips but all that's water under the bridge, right? Then there's old CD rack my friend Andrew gave me. Not sure if he knew I'd be keeping it out here but with scarlet runners twining around the shelves it looks miles better than it would inside, although I could do without it tipping over every so often. Finally, the little sticks jammed in to keep Toffee from taking his, err, morning ablutions. Nothing like having to replant tiny seedlings with the odour of cat poo wafting past one's face.
All framed by the clumping bamboo, so green it's almost shocking. It's a short story, that little garden. A short story with a happy ending — on our eventual dinner plate.
tip: if you want to plant bamboo in your yard make sure it's this kind, it doesn't spread by underground runners, just sits nicely in tidy clumps
I wish I could tell you all what an entrancing week I had but to tell the truth it's been a bit of a grind. I don't think it's too much to ask that I be allowed a few romps with these foolish bunnies, but FDPG is ever vigilant with them, despite their obvious stupidity.
I mean, look at them. Look at me.
They have no idea I'm watching them.
No idea at all.
It's almost boring preying on them. Such silly creatures. I mean, they even POO where they sit. Ick. The things I do for an appetizer.
But I persist, because one of them is getting lovely and plump. Here I am while they are getting their cage cleaned. I thought they'd want to make a break for it, but no, they just sat there, still as mice. I can't think why, but I waited a good 30 minutes and they hardly moved once. Very annoying.
Then they had the nerve to disturb my nap. There I was, sleeping as sound as can be, when they barreled up and started SNIFFING me. Once of them even nibbled on my Build-A-Bear basket. Now the stitching is uneven. I will have to get FDPG to fix it for me and she's a rather unmotivated seamstress. Sigh. Good help is so hard to find.
The things I have to endure.
Instead I put on my Build-A-Bear sunglasses and tried to ignore the indignity of the situation, but it was hard with all the snickers.
Those bunnies are just jealous. It's hard to wear sunglasses when you have such a tiny brain, err, I mean, head.
As opposed to mine.
Fortunately, there were some high moments in my week:
For example, here I am, demonstrating once again why I am such an excellent fit with this house. Don't we go well together? I think they must have had this floor installed to set off the highlights in my coat. The only trouble was, I had to sit like this for at least 10 minutes waiting for someone to take a photo of me. I call that very poor service.
Even my iPod Holder is getting a little sloppy. Look at this photo! Don't I look like I'm in absolute agony? He hasn't a clue, tragically. He always forgets that I don't like Pitbull (the connotations are so odious, you know) and he never seems to remember that I prefer a little Arlo Guthrie in the morning, as opposed to Skrillex or Deadmau5. Arlo always looks so happy (if a little shaggy) on the covers of his CDs, and I like starting my mornings with happy music. Skrillex pains my ears, while Deadmau5 merely taunts me and my hungry tummy. Imagine what a mouthfull he'd be.
So I went and hid in Sheila's bedroom but FDPG followed me and started mauling me. I did my best to look aloof but it was hard with her squeezing me so tightly and saying idiotic things like "Who's a silky soft widdle pussycat?"
She doesn't take me as seriously as I would like. Must work on my glare a bit, I guess.
After that it was a simple matter of puking in the grass, killing a few mice, a dragonfly or two, and in for lunch.
Why they feel the need to document these undignified moments is beyond me. Just pretend I'm a lion in the jungle or something.
(oh, just a little feline wordplay - keep up with me, humans)
Finally, I gave up on everyone and went and hid in a tunnel in the back yard. Unfortunately I did not realize until it was too late that it was the bunny run and everyone - once again - was laughing at me. It was a tough week, I tell you.
Well, that's it. Until next time, dear Readers. Until then, keep those cards and letters (and small dead rodents) coming!