Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bird Business

I've had this post sitting here unfinished for at least ten days, due to the usual Christmas madness. However, after flicking through a few updates from much more regular bloggers, feeling slightly neglectful (and finding myself with a spare hour), I sat myself down in front of the computer and thought "finish this thing!"


 Here is our Official Resident Hummingbird. At least, I SAY he's our Official Resident Hummingbird but we're not on super intimate terms and I doubt I could pick him out of a lineup. He could be an offspring of our first Resident Hummingbird for all I know. Given how obsessed he is with keeping every other hummingbird away from his feeder, my rough estimate is that these birds can't last too long. 

Suffice to say that these are unusually territorial birds. It could be well below zero outside - all the feeders but his could be frozen and all the birds faint with hunger and cold - and  our bird would still say "BEGONE! This is my feeder and I don't share!" Every single time. Not a method I approve of, but there you have it.

Oh, and the feeder he's so intent on protecting? It's a good twelve feet away from all the other bird feeders. We've moved it three times, mostly so the other birds get a chance at the food in the other feeders. 

He dive bombs anyone who goes near his feeder, including me.


Here he is flying off, fed up with my constant camera clicking.

He doesn't suffer camera snappers fools gladly, sadly.

I like the way he sways his head back and forth as he surveys his perimeters.
Finally got a decent shot of a Stellar's Jay the other day. This is a moment of triumph, I tell you. These birds are rudely camera shy when in my back yard. Whenever they see that lens, no matter how I lurk, they let out an outraged squawk and fly away.                                                                                                                                     It's exasperating, particularly when there are twenty of them bouncing around on the Garry oaks.                                                                                                       Particularly when I've set up a special peanutty feeder just for them, just for our Camera Encounter. 
The other day I took approximately 78 shots of an odd encounter between a few Stellars jays and a Cooper's hawk - an encounter I've been told is quite common but I'd never actually witnessed before. I had no idea they were so fearless. This hawk, who single-handedly keeps the sparrow population in check, spends an hour most afternoons perched at the very top of the Garry oak, chewing on some unlucky small bird. He's very thorough, rarely leaving more than a teeny scrap behind when he's done. Ask me how I know? It was when I found a small yellow beak on the ground under the tree. Just the beak. Another time it was just a leg. A sparrow leg is a very small thing. Anyhow, he's thorough, our hawk.  

Here is the scene: hawk is that smallish body almost at the top of the tree. A jay is on the lower left branch, and you can't hear him but he's squawking loudly and looking very impertinently at the hawk. There's another one on the other major limb of the Garry oak but it's hard to see him. 
Looks kinda foolhardy, doesn't it, sitting there jeering at a hawk? The jay then makes his way up the tree to a branch about four feet away from the hawk. Unbelievably the hawk appears uneasy. He keeps glancing at the jay and has completely stopped grooming himself. 

Would you call this harassment? I think I would. Those jays are getting in that hawk's face. To clarify: our jays are migratory in these parts. They don't have a nest nearby. They aren't protecting anything. They're acting like my friend the hummingbird. If my kids acted like this I think I'd be dragging them off by the arm, to have a quiet word about getting along with others when on the playground in their ear.

And now look - there's suddenly five jays sitting there, clearly intent on Being Pests.

But it isn't until one actually pecks at the hawk's tail that something happens: the hawk leaves. The jays squawk pleasantly at each other for a few minutes, then fly away.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sperm & Fish

Yes, those two words DO end up together in this post. Trust me.

A funny thing happened this week. We'd signed up for a homeschool field trip a couple of weeks ago. It was a grades 4-7 trip to see the salmon spawn at a local provincial park. There would be a guide. There would be a film. It sounded fun. It was also a cheap trip - $2 a person - but a week before the trip FDPG and Dominic showed some concern that they were going to be WAY OLDER than everyone else there because they were in grade eight. This tour ended with grade seven, they reminded me severely. GRADE SEVEN. They are in GRADE EIGHT.  Surely I knew this. They expressed way too much incredulity (one was more polite about it than the other, that's for darn sure) at my signing them up for a tour that ended with a grade 7 period. How could I have done that?

Dominic was very firm. He. Would. Not. Attend. He brought up another trip we had attended where they WERE way too old and other the kids WERE all too young and the talk was WAY too juvenile (baby songs might have been sung). They reminded me how wildly embarrassing it was. I agreed, it HAD been embarrassing. I HAD felt bad for them. I HAD promised not to do that again. Solidarity.

I emailed the organizer, who was very nice and tried to find some more participants. No takers. I felt bad so I told the organizer that we would definitely show up, because I really hate it when people don't show up for organized trips and the organizer is left holding the bill. This happens a lot with our homeschool community: it's annoying and frustrating but there it is.

So we show up on the Appointed Day, my two reluctant ball and chains in tow. The organizer was waiting for us in the Nature House. As usual almost everyone else was late. I was standing idly in a corner of the Nature House waiting when I overheard a guide say "so, what songs should I do with the group that's coming?" Songs? I feel the icy grip of disaster grab me. I sidle towards the desk as surreptitiously as possible so I could hear the other guide answer. "Do the Fishy Song," she said, "the arm movements look like this and then you have them jump up and down for the next verse while pretending they are swimming. Then they can sing the final verse with you!"  They all beamed at each other, except for the male guide, who looked at me as though wondering why I was eavesdropping on such Super Secret Technical Information. I smile weakly and moved away.

I decide it would be best not to say anything to the twins about the impending song choices. Or the arm movements. 

Eventually we assemble at the back of the Nature House with our raggle taggle group of homeschoolers. There are tiny little kids chairs to sit in. Some of us sit. Boy, I thought, you sure can tell homeschoolers: one kid was in a medieval knight costume, two wore homespun knitted outfits that looked, well, weird, and the rest looked worryingly feral. Dominic was doing his If I Pretend Hard Enough I Just Might Disappear routine, staring hard at the ceiling. FDPG was making the best of what she clearly thought was a bad situation. She's philosophical that way.

Our guide walks in and sits down with a fish poster. An old, tatty fish poster. It's the Boy Guide, the one who thought I was stealing Nature House Secrets. He has a very soft voice. No one can really hear him. At least, I can't hear anything he's saying, so I decide to sit in one of the chairs right near him. He interprets this as a hostile gesture, I suspect, because he stops talking and looks at me carefully. I smile in what I hope is an extremely benign way. Fortunately he has no choice BUT to go on, so he does.

We sit through a lesson on how salmon spawn. He talks about the eggs, the fish sperm, how the salmon jaw changes while they spawn, how long they live, and so on. He asks the kids to speculate on the size of a fish brain, or how long they live, and stuff like that. He's a super low talker but he is genuinely interested in his topic. There has been no singing thus far, either.

There is, however, as there always is on tours like these, a kid in the group who knows all the answers and isn't shy about belting them out whenever the guide asks a question. He's very self-congratulatory which is even more irritating. At one point he asks the guide if he's wondering how he knows all this stuff. Awkward. His mother stands beside him beaming proudly, utterly oblivious. I can tell that the guide is uneasy but since no one else is even trying to answer any questions, he lets him go for it. If this were a Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel I would expect Bad Things to happen to this kid at break time out behind the Nature House, but because it's a Homeschool Tour nothing does. Well, a few kids start picking their noses but that's about it.

We then troop into the little theatre to see a film to "solidify" our knowledge about salmon. It's a really old film. I probably saw it when I was in school and that was a LONG time ago. I stand at the back and again, can't hear a thing. The film is ancient and grainy and looks as though the colour is leaking out as we're watching it. Everyone peers hard at the blurry images and tries to imagine the "brilliant colours" we're told we're looking at. Nevertheless the kids all listen carefully and quietly, mine included. Factoid Boy is mercifully silent. When it's over we go outside and down to the river to look at the salmon. I remember this part from my school days. We'd go in a school tour and I'd feel sick the entire time, watching the seagulls flocking on the edges, pecking and pecking and shrieking and shrieking, while the poor bloody salmon struggled along. I wonder, not for the first time, why I thought the twins would enjoy a tour like this.

Fortunately our guide is young and enthusiastic. He's also incredibly knowledgeable. He walks along the water's edge and points out various things: early spawners, old spawners, side markings on the fish and what they mean, the places salmon like to spawn in, the places where they likely fight. It's fascinating. Then our guide asks us if we would like to see inside a fish. Factoid Boy shouts out "YES WE WOULD!!!!" So he does. He walks around looking for a freshly dead salmon. There are a lot to choose from. He lays the salmon down in front of us, then drags his foot in the gravel, making a circle around the salmon. "We won't get in this circle," he says, "because this gives the salmon a dignified space." I'm not sure what he's getting at here but we're all willing to go with it, except for one of the nose pickers who interprets this as a request to get INSIDE the circle.

Then the guide gets out his knife and cuts a neat rectangle on the side of the fish. Oh wait, I forgot the good bit: right before he does this (it's a male fish) he starts milking all the sperm (err, milt) out of the fish. In great long creamy spurts. Over and over again. There's tons of milt in this fish. Gallons. It's graphically, wildly, improbably sexual in a strange and disturbing way. All the mothers stiffen. A snort escapes my mouth, causing the guide to look up. In one uneasy instant he realizes what we're all thinking and starts feeling self-conscious. The poor earnest guide, I think. I start laughing. Factoid Boy, not wanting to seem ignorant of ANYTHING scientific, chortles along with me. Fortunately the sperm stream, err, milt stream, ends, so we can all get back to normal. I wonder if anyone is going to light a cigarette then remember that I'm amongst devoted eco-West Coasters and if anyone is going to light anything it'll probably be an e-cigarette (or a joint).

We see the brain of the salmon, we see his kidney, his swim bladder, his heart, and his liver. It's a little graphic at times but everyone is clearly enjoying this part and they all jostle around, trying to respect the Dignified Space without missing too much. The best part is when he popped out the cornea, which looked like a miniature crystal ball, placed it on his palm, and showed it around. When we'd all looked as much as we wanted, he popped it back in, then replaced the organs and slid the flap shut. "For the next guide," he explained, "some of the girls aren't very good cutting open the fish." I wonder what else they don't do.

And that was that. One family had a seagull poop on them, Factoid Boy fell while balancing on a log (while shouting "look at meeeee!"), and FDPG got wet feet trying to ford a river, but all in all it was a remarkably good tour. We even got to meet a 900 year old tree, not to mention watching a dead fish ejaculate. Good times.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pictorial Evidence

This was the first Halloween that I didn't take photos of my kids in their costumes.

Okay, I did take a couple of shots of Eldest Son in his Deadmau5 head (which you would have seen on my Facebook page), but those photos were taken less as a result of it being a Halloween costume than they were because we were all so shocked that it was a) finally finished, b) being worn to - gasp - SCHOOL, and c) it was finally finished.

Sadly, its start in life wasn't great, as you might expect from a craftsman who wasn't interested in anything that required time, effort, or finesse, aka a 14 year old boy. They have Big Dreams, these boys, but the strenuousness of turning those Big Dreams into Cold Hard Reality is often just too much work.

I, being the (sometimes often) grimly realistic mother that I am, was confident that that piece of papier maché would live out its days as a Half-Made Prototype taking up space in the workshop, in someone's closet, on the kitchen table, or on the coffee table.

Then, after being closeted for close to three years, kicked once or twice in a fit of pique, and having way too much money spent on it (not by ME, I hasten to add), it was finally resurrected and completed. I documented the moment with a photo. Then Eldest Son went off to public school, with it on his head. Apparently he wore it all day. I know because he texted me a few photos. One of him with other dressed up highschoolers; one with our university lecturer friend who dresses up as a giant pink bunny each year (and yes, he DOES teach his classes this way). The two of them are standing side by side, one very tall in a very pink furry suit, the other made tall by the giant blue head with its equally giant blue ears. His arms were crossed and his feet stood wide. I could feel the cool burning out of that Deadmau5 head. This kid sure has attitude, I thought. Attitude made bright by the completion of an albatross of a project.

That was probably when I realized that I forgot to take photos of the other two offspring. At that point of course they'd already changed into pajamas, washed the make-up off their faces, and were scoffing candy.

And thus ended another Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday's Song of the Day

 I've been posting this everywhere because it's just so incredibly awesome, but I forgot to post it here (where it's way easier to find than on Facebook).

If you're one of those people who do a little swoon at the end of Love Actually, you'll love this new version. There is so much to love about it: singers, sets, music, and fantasy. It's got it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Early Mornings

 One of the benefits to waking early these last few mornings is the short burst of colour on the clouds one gets as the sun rises. I don't know the science behind it, but it comes and then it's gone. Just like that.It encourages magical thinking.

And the clouds are doing all manner of odd things.

The moon is even hanging around. All I can hear are the squawks of the Stellar's jays, the rustling of the nearby squirrels, the fall of the acorns hitting the neighbour's roof, and the tut-tutting of the little Bushtits on the deck. Lovely quiet morning sounds.

Well, all except those Stellar's jays. They sound like a grouchy rusty old screen door, creaking open and shut, over and over again. Funny that such a beautiful bird has such a jarring cry.

We've had an extremely long run of hot dry weather this summer, which has lulled me into a false sense of when fall should or shouldn't be here, not to mention when winter might or might not appear. It was 22ºC on the deck yesterday. We had every doors and window open. I made 12 quarts of spiced applesauce, turned the Thanksgiving turkey into stock, picked yet more raspberries, and got another tub of Juliet and bastard Sungold tomatoes. They've been the best producers here this year and they're STILL fruiting.

What I WANT to do is leave the soaker hoses out in case things need watering. Leave the tomatoes in the ground, in case they keep producing. Leave the greenhouse open, because it's so hot during the day. But I also know that just one single bout of cold rain, along with a few nights of damp, and the garden will be a mass of sodden mush, sliming the hoses, encouraging blight, and rotting my pumpkins. So today I'll wind up the hoses, drain the lines, pick a bucket or two of tomatillos, and plant the garlic.  

I will also trudge outside at night to close up the greenhouse. I might even place the Christmas lights, so I don't have to do it later, in a hurried panic at the limp orange and lime leaves.

The cold frame has been moved so it can cover up the rows of lettuces, cayenne peppers, and leftover basil. The long row cover is over the tender little green onion shoots, the last few radicchio (which REALLY look miserable after a rain), and some Holy Basil. Speaking of Holy Basil, I think it's my new favourite garden plant. You always know when you've brushed against it. I'm not prone to much whimsical thinking but this plant smells of magic. And happiness.

And in the meantime I'll look out at FDPG's remaining dianthus flowers, raggedy stalwarts of the fall.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Simple Recipes

One cheap Walmart ringbinder = $3
Stickers from Michaels = $4
Cardstock = $1
Printed nameplates = 25¢

Cooking experiences happen twice a week, and those recipes deemed INCREDIBLE will be printed up and glued into the cookbooks.

So far we've made cookies (Dorie Greenspan's Espresso Chocolate Cookies), brownies, focaccia, an apple pie, and chocolate chip cookies (seeing a theme here yet).

Funny how the simplest things go so far.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

School Schedules

We spent the last 5 days getting back into the rhythm of the school day, never a small task at the end of a long, hot, beach-drenched summer, particularly when most of the participants spent much of their summer sleeping in and lolling about. This is where Charlotte Mason habit training comes in handy: everyone knows the drill, everyone knows it's inevitable, and there's way less Sturm und Drang when assembling the day.

FDPG, Dominic, and I set a wake-up time (7am), a time to begin Read Alouds (7:30am, current book is The Canterbury Tales), and a time to start school (9am). Theoretically this gives everyone time to play Lego in their room until I yell at them get ready, feed cats and bunnies, let out chickens, brush teeth, get dressed, apply vast quantities of toothpaste to the sink and taps, and fling yet another empty toilet paper roll behind the door in the hope that no one notices (even though there are already 10 there).

We also printed up our Week At A Glance, which is nothing more exotic than a coloured Excel chart slipped into a page protector and stuck on the wall. I used to scoff at schedules, but they stop the day from devolving, not to mention quelling many an argument, so I've grown to appreciate them. FDPG likes a crazily busy schedule, and always begins the year with way too much on her very enthusiastic plate. Dominic prefers a more spartan approach, and would probably jettison everything that doesn't involve Lego or sports. I have two non-negotiables: everyone in this house must have more than a passing acquaintance with math and everyone must know how to write (and speak) well.

Once we got those things on the schedule we wrangled over what else to include: foreign languages, art, poetry, science, history. Now that I've seen what goes on in public school, I've added in another thing this year: timed assignments. It wasn't the English Lit math physics chemistry biology OR socials that Eldest struggled with when he joined the Brick N' Mortar public school crowd, it was the timed assignments and tests. I don't give timed assignments here at Greenridge Homeschool. Shocking, I know, but there it is.

Eldest's schedule was more complicated. Last year he was in grade 11 at a real live high school, so his day looked quite different than ours. Instead of listening to stories or nattering pleasantly with the twins over who had to do the dishes, he was leaving early with Richard and a giant bag of textbooks. Rain or shine. This year he's in grade 12 , which is new and exciting, or would be if the teachers would go back to work. They are on strike. There always seems to be someone on strike in this province. I sometimes think B.C. really stands for Bolshie Communities.

And seeing as how the strike doesn't look as though it's going to end any time soon, I told Eldest he had to make himself a schedule (and make some attempts to follow it) so that he didn't lose momentum, given his choice of courses (physics, chemistry, pre-calculus, calculus, English Lit., biology). He was not particularly thrilled. I think he'd envisioned a less, err, strenuous start to the day. What with the strike and all.

If Eldest had to write about his first week of school, I think it would go like this:

Dear Diary,

This week I had intended to sleep in every morning and generally do nothing, but my Mum heard that I could get this semester's textbooks NOW. She said I should be reading them every day, instead of sleeping in and generally doing nothing. They are all very heavy. I don't like the look of the pre-calculus textbook. I'm sick of people telling me about the Khan Academy. 

Then she told me to email my former English teacher (who likes me because I was the only student in the class who didn't eat and talk and text the whole time) and ask for a schedule for my literature class so I could get to work on the required reading. I didn't think he'd answer my email but he did. He even sent me a reading list. 

Now I have a bunch of textbooks and a literature schedule. Oh joy. 

Now that the week is over, I'm going to add a coda:

Now it's Saturday and the first week is over and done with. Phew. Sigh. Hurray!

Friday, September 5, 2014

That Time Already?


The tide of summer has suddenly turned and everyone is talking about back to school topics. I can't seem to avoid it, no matter where I turn my eyes. Makes me think about how different our homeschool world looks these days.

In the years since I first started blogging our life has changed so much: back then we had more play resources and fewer reference books. More Playdough, chalk, and markers. More fingerpaint paper. Heck, I even had different SIZES of fingerpaint paper. Thomas the Tank Engine loomed large in our world. The kids LIVED for backpacks with their favourite characters on them. We all knew who Mr Frumble was. We spent a lot of time, rain or shine, trawling around the neighbourhood just looking at stuff: diggers, trucks, signs, rain, cats, spiders, friendly shopkeepers. We had our favourite librarians. And many an afternoon we'd sit down at 4pm with a tidy little snack (there's another thing that has gone by the wayside: tidy little snacks!) and watch 30 minutes of perfect happiness with our favourite aardvark Arthur. Then it would be time for dinner and, eventually, off to bed, whereupon I'd plan activities for the following day. I frequented websites like The Crafty Crow and Art Projects For Kids, poured over books like Festivals, Family, and Food or All Year Round, and picked out rituals and traditions to start with my own family. In my spare time I read about Waldorf-inspired playrooms, with wooden kitchen setups, Circle Time, and drifting silk fabrics everywhere.

Nowadays we have way more reference books: Latin, French, Japanese, science, history, and grammar dictionaries fill the shelves. We have Shakespeare anthologies, geology textbooks, philosophy books, and precalculus DVDs. We could open a library with the origami stuff we've amassed. The Thomas table has gone and in its place is a long, flat table. Adult sized chairs. Larger scissors. Larger bottles of glue. More serious glue, too. Less tissue paper and more cardstock. Fewer glittery pencils. Less glitter all round, come to think of it, except at Christmas.

Everyone has an iPod now, a fact which has its pros and cons. The pros being some of us have learnt a ton about exploring the internet, finding interesting apps on learning foreign languages, taking better photos, and fun new activities like geocaching or studying the hundreds of ships that pass through our island waters. The cons are less tangible: less interest in playing or laying out in the backyard being simply and wonderfully idle. More chatter about the games they like to play: Minecraft, Brave Frontier, Modern Combat. I'm not so keen on the games. Mindless entertainment is my preferred terminology for all that, with a special emphasis on the mindless.

There's also way less little kid noise. I used to go about my day to the sound of shrieks, screams, and giggles following me around. Pattering footsteps. Constant chattering. The laundry could be done in one or two loads because all the clothes were so tiny. I spent more time scrubbing stains off the fronts of t-shirts. Meals were simple because they didn't involve much. One can of black beans was enough for an enchilada dinner.

All that's been replaced by skirmishes over who gets the bathroom (or who stunk up/hogged/ruined the bathroom), stereo loudness contests, and arguments (although they call them 'discussions') over who has to do the breakfast dishes (and sometimes, why). I'm conversant with names like Tiesto, Skrillex, Deadmau5, and Kaskade. I'm even knowledgable about WHO they are, and how much money they make in a year (trust me, you don't want to know). We still watch PBS a lot, but Arthur has been replaced by Mystery, Doctor Who, and NOVA. More adult fare. No one goes to bed right after dinner, either, unless it's me.

Perhaps the biggest change in our homeschool world has been the departure of one of the homeschoolees. Nowadays there's only two kids at home instead of three. The eldest is off at public school, doing Highly Complicated Math, and dissecting Formerly Live Animals. Places I decided I was no longer willing to go. That's the thing, you see: when you homeschool you either farm out the academics or you learn them yourself so you can help and teach. Ten years of homeschooling has taught me a lot: I'm much more enthusiastic about fractions now than I ever was in grade school, but I'm no longer willing to put in the long evening hours studying the higher grades stuff. Nowadays I want to put that time into my winter garden plan, dust off the sewing machine so I can finish off that duvet cover I started for FDPG 4 years ago, or just sit on the couch and read. I'm also less gripped by the politics of the homeschool world: when people start discussing terminology and placing themselves in the various positions (unschooler? lifelearner? homeschooler? enrolled? registered?) I find myself losing interest, and mentally adding termin-what-EVAH. All they do is divide us all at the end of the day. If only people could see it.

The youngest two are in grade 8 this year. Instead of Circle Time beginning our day we do math. We still have read aloud time every morning, because none of us wants to give that up (it's also an amazing way to get through a TON of literature), but now we start the day with the tough stuff, leaving the afternoons open for less cerebral fare: art, cooking, science experiments, crafts, museum visits, or history videos. I frequent fewer online homeschool groups, too, but again, I think that's just the way it goes as the kids grow up. I don't need the reassurance anymore. I don't care what someone's interfering mother-in-law said. We have our groove and we're happy with it.

And so it goes. Back to school. How time flies!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer's Daze

Some people in this house turned 13 this month
Is it me or has summer gone by too fast? I looked at the last post I wrote and it was written in JULY. A month ago. And now the days of August are heading towards the past tense. Seems hard to believe.

As you can tell from the photo above, some people in this house turned 13 this month. There are now three official teenagers living right near me. I hear a lot about how teens tend to be wildly annoying, wildly angst-ridden, and wildly histrionic, but so far all I've really noticed is how much they resemble ME in my menopausal, absent-minded, fog. They forget stuff. Lots of stuff, like phone calls (they forget there's a notepad on which to write messages too), where they left their bike key, why they never put their dirty dishes in the kitchen next to the implement with which we clean those very same dishes.

Which is mostly amusing. I don't feel like such a ditz. I've got company.

Here's a behind-the-scenes shot of the Birthday Duo swinging on our Beach Holiday Extravaganza. As you can see, FDPG likes a little danger with her swinging.

Dominic and I both watched this with our mouths slightly agog, after which I shut down the action immediately. She doesn't believe me but she really DOES want to grow up with her brain and skull intact.

 FDPG and Dominic departed from their usual Birthday Gift requests this year. Every year that I can remember they've asked for LEGO. This year they didn't. When I expressed my shock and amazement, FDPG offered up this excuse: "We thought you were sick of buying us LEGO." To which I expressed even more shock and amazement. An era has ended, methinks.

Note that I do not say "legos." Many of my (mostly American) friends do, and while I try not to judge them, I have to confess that I do. I feel like Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia: "I'm silently judging you." 

Go on Sheila, tell us what you REALLY think.

 So this year FDPG asked for, and received, a kayak. As you might note from this photo, provided you look carefully enough. In the middle, with the yellow, red, and blue striped sail, is her father and her brother in the Topper, while at the right is a teeny tiny little blue blip. That's FDPG. No fear, that girl. At least we were able to refuse to let her go out without convince her to wear a life jacket.

To the right is someone we didn't know, but who spent his afternoon following them around. Maybe it's a sailboat thing, I don't know.
 On this very same beach holiday some of us spent a lot of time looking up the status of the sea boats near us. There is (I say with some surprise though I don't know why in this age of Omnipresent Media Attention To All Things) a website where you can track all the ships in the oceans near you. It's quite cool: you can see the stats of the ship, what it's called, where it came from, and where it's going. Eldest Son discovered this site a while back and now spends much of his time tracking large ships then pestering me to take him down to there he can view them with a scope. Fortunately we live on an island so it's easy to get to a coast to view these behemoths. The ship in the photo is a Disney cruise ship. The cruise ships are easily the most impressive boats going up and down the coast, and as they usually glide past in the early evening, lights all aglow, it's an enchanting sight. According to Eldest Son's scope, this was a Disney ship, and he could even see the giant screen playing The Lion King.
 Another dreamy shot of the coastal range mountains on the mainland. We live in a lovely place.


Friday, July 18, 2014

More From The Trenches

  Yes, I am making a reference to being in the thick of it. Which I am. This is the first summer where I've - more than once - thought "hmmm, maybe there's too MUCH garden going on here. I might have to cut back next year."

I know. Can you believe I just said that?

Okay, let's move on, there are quite a number of photos today. I don't know how I ended up taking so many; all I'd gone out for was a shot of the Crown Princess Margarita rose, but the light was so good I ended up taking 67 shots.

No, no, I'm not going to make you sit through 67 photos of my garden. Relax. I've cut out 10.

Just kidding.

Trust me.

 I know it sounds nuts to say this, but fall planting begins now.

This six-pack contains Georgia Southern collards. I've never grown collards before. In fact I've never eaten collards before, at least, not knowingly.

These were given to me at by the lovely people at the Botanical Interests booth at last year's Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup. And no, they didn't give them to me so I could write about them; they were giving seeds away to ANYONE WHO WANTED THEM. It was like a dream come true for those few minutes I was collecting packets of seed.

 Some more trays of seeds, although these are mostly various types of lettuce. This is the first year I've managed to keep the kitchen regularly stocked with lettuce.

In case you skipped over that last sentence, let me blow my own horn a bit point out what an amazing feat this is. I've never fully appreciated what it takes to keep a regular variety of lettuces and greens in the kitchen at all times for five people: lunches, sandwiches, smoothies, dinners. Could be we just go through a lot of lettuce. Either way, it's been fun, even if it HAS tested my usual level of organization.

 If you don't eat kale you should. I know that sounds bossy but it's SUCH a good green and it is SO easy to eat. My kids refuse to eat it knowingly but genuinely love it in smoothies.
It also looks really cool:

 I was reading an article about garden furniture and garden art. Where do you stand on the topic?

I like having things besides plants in the garden - breaks up the view and add different colours.

It's also a good place to store things. One day I WILL use this broken wheel and that oddly shaped piece of tile, I just know it.
 This plant is commonly known as Goose Necked Loosestrife (no, not that loosestrife). Can you see why?

I've got it growing with some white Obedient Plant and a few hostas. The deer salivate over them every night at about 8pm. Fortunately I've also got a net around these puppies or they'd be toast.

Why yes, I do happen to be on the Stupid $#%*&@ Deer side of the fence. There are way too many of them in my neck of the city.

I had a better shot of this fabulous and weirdly coloured hydrangea, but it didn't include the charming Mr. T slinking by, so you're getting this one instead. His nickname is Lemur Tail. Not that he comes when you call him that, mind you.

There appear to be several permutations of purple going on here: the centres of some flower heads are different colours from others. Some are blue, some quite dramatically mauve, some even white. And you can see that heads themselves are all differing shades of purple.

You too can achieve this effect by mulching just half the plant with pine cones that fall off a nearby handy tree. You can even kick them under the tree when people come over and trip over them, thus saving yourself raking duties. At least, that's what I think happened here. It certainly gets no love from me the rest of the year. And yes, I do feel somewhat abashed admitting this. 

Look at the lovely green of these Holy basil plants. Apparently they are quite good as an insect repellant, but I've yet to try them. Right now we use catnip EO in a yarrow tincture - it's killer.

Holy basil is also known as an adaptogen, good in teas for stress. I'm not familiar with Holy basil but these seedlings are going in the herb garden, so we'll see what they do.

So far all I notice about it is that is has a faint lemonish aroma, is a gorgeous healthy green, and is much hairier than it's cousin Ocimum basilicum.

The Sad & Lonely Shelves of the Greenhouse

 Am I regretting not thinning the peach tree this year?

Perhaps a tad. There's a lot of medium-sized fruit on it this year.

As there is every year.

One day I'll thin. One day.
 Am I regretting not thinning the nectarine tree this year?

Perhaps a tad. There's a lot of medium-sized fruit on it this year.

As there is every year.

Hmm. I'm noticing a pattern here. I think I'm what they call a Chronic Non-Thinner.

 "Four Little Pepperonici Maids From School Are We!"

Squiggley, aren't they? These will get pickled soon.

I made asked Eldest Son to assist me in carrying this chunk of wood home from the beach the other day, because I plan on making some of the aforementioned  Garden Art with it. He'd been slogging along for about 10 minutes when he said "this is pretty junky - what are you going to do with it?" When I told him I was going to paint it so that it would eventually resemble something magnificent, he expressed rather obnoxious levels of incredulity and mirth. Evidently he could not see its striking resemblance to something alive (and swimming).

Can you?

Imagine me blue and spouting!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rambling About The Garden

 I was taking this photo yesterday, in what I thought were cloudy-ish conditions, but after looking at this shot on the computer I realized two things: first, the dry dry grass in the foreground detracts from what is otherwise a rather magnificent display of vegetable gardening (and one that I was hoping to boast about), and second, I need a more overcast day to take garden shots.

Oh heck, I'll boast anyway. In this shot are 13 types of edible plants or vegetables: tomatoes (Jaune Flamme, Juliet, Green Zebra, Tigerella, Black Krim, Sungold, Yellow Pear), beans (Flambo, Hutterite Soup, Blue Lake, Cranberry Bush, Scarlet Runner, Broad), beets (Touchstone Gold, Chioggo, Bulls Blood), radicchio (Palla Rosso), peas (Sugar Daddy), purple sprouting broccoli, onions (Kincho), lettuce (Valmaine, Tango, Tropicana, Red Sails), salsify, celeriac, artichokes, strawberries, and raspberries. Ignore that rude grass.

This shot was obtained by leaning precariously out my bathroom window, screen balanced carefully on my head, with a telephoto lens on the camera. My neighbour, who was exercising her dog in the back yard, looked a little uneasy when I shouted cheerily "Don't worry! just trying out the telephoto!"

Here is a perfectly amazing radicchio. Why did I take so long to discover them? Radicchio has it all: looks, taste, and style. Red Sails lettuce comes close, with its beautiful frilly, red green ruffles, but radicchio wins with those mesmerizing green swirls.

Little sweat bee on onion flower head.
 The box in that pot incurred some frost damage this winter, and is now sitting out the summer in a shady corner of the deck, trying to regrow.
 This bench is strategically placed to block the sprinkler from watering so much of the grass. I don't think it's aware of how useful it's being, but it's such a cantankerous bench that if it DID know, I feel sure it would crumble, just to annoy me. It flipped over in the spring - for no good reason - with a number of snapdragon starts on it, causing most of them to dangle perilously close to the fence, where they were eventually pillaged by marauding chickens. I was not pleased, so the bench was banished to the Really Horrible Dry Part of the backyard. Until now, of course.

Speaking of pillaging chickens, here are Prunella (roosting on the compost screen, hiding from Pip) and Pip (looking around for more seedlings to rip and shred). Pip and Prunella are sisters - they should get along, right? Last month Pip decided that she was sick of Prunella, no doubt because Prunella makes it a habit to shove everyone aside when they get their afternoon snack. She's a good size, too, so the shoving frequently gets out of hand. Sometimes it's accompanied by a peck or two (in the case of Fern).

Pip took to really tormenting Prunella, stalking her, pecking her, and attacking her in rather random ways. It put ole Prunella off her laying, which was when I had to get involved because if there is one thing Prunella is good at it's laying eggs. That hen lays every single bloody day, which is impressive given her very advanced years. So, just as Pip took to following Prunella around with malicious intent, I took to following Pip around, only instead of malicious intent  I had a bamboo pole.

(sensitive types may want to look away at this point) 

Whenever Pip attacked Prunella, I banged Pip across the back with the pole and squawked, trying to sound like I was saying "STOP THAT YOU STUPID BLOODY CHICKEN!" Eventually Pip decided that it wasn't worth having me shout and chase her around with a pole, and she stopped terrorizing Prunella, but not before Prunella decided she was really really really uneasy around Pip.

This shot shows Prunella lumbering up from her comfy roost and looking a little concerned. This is because she's noticed that Pip has noticed her, and she's no doubt starting to worry that it might be the Formerly Mean & Horrible Pip and not the Newly Chastened Bamboo Pole in Butt Pip.

Fortunately I was able to utilize my chicken language skills and tell them they are a pair of fools to put so much energy into fighting.
 Royal Wedding sweet peas. So far these take the top prize in the Best Smell In The Garden contest. They pipped the lemon verbena only because the verbena requires human intervention to release its scent, while the sweet peas can scent the entire top floor of the house in a matter of minutes.
 Toffee, who takes the prize for Most Fearful Cat On The Block, is sitting here, surveying his territory in a safe part of the yard (where he can dart in the cat door should anyone challenge him).

I hate to say this, but I think he thinks that concrete frog is looking out for him. Moments after I took this photo he licked Froggie, as if to say "you're a pal, thanks for looking out for me."

And I thought the chickens were weird.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Feedly Is A Hostage

Look, there's something wrong with the blog feeder I'm using. They are working to "mitigate" the issue, they tell me. Oh joy. Does this mean, dare I hope, that it will be easier, not to mention faster, to scroll through all my blogs after this? Because, Dear Feedly, I think you're being hacked because you're so darn ponderous to get through. You've created Annoyed Customers who can't forget Bloglines and all they did to make reading blogs fun and easy. The only silver lining to come of this event is that I get to see actual blogs again, as opposed to reading them on a feeder. Some of my favourite blogs have changed their visuals beyond all recognition! How did I not notice that? (umm, because you never click through to the blog ever?) I wish my new blog reader would incorporate this quirk, so I could see new changes to everyone's blog.

My blog, I should mention, has not changed a jot. I think I've lost interest in fiddling with colours and post dimensions, not to mention plain old posting. Clicking around to my favourite blogs shows me that I'm not alone in this.

Not much new going on here, although we did see X-Men: Eve of Destruction the other day. Oops, a little Googling shows me that I'm messing up the title - it's called X-Men: Days of Future Past. I think someone needs to make a movie titled The Rise of the Colon, but even saying this makes me wonder if anyone in Hollywood would get the joke.

Now, back to the important stuff, like the start of the World Cup.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How My Week Went

 Another in the "My Life As A Fabulous Cat" series 
by guest poster Toffee

This is how I prefer to spend my day: lying sideways on a flat surface. Not only does this position set my face off to perfection (as well as resting my ample girth), it also causes the slaves to exclaim delightedly about how cute I am. And who doesn't like a little slavish worship?

If only they would obey my Look But Don't Touch dictum, particularly the young slaves. 

This is my other preferred position, but for some reason the slaves don't like me doing this. They think it causes me to stay awake at night. Apparently I make too much noise while they're sleeping (but do I care? not I). Silly slaves: I make noises at night not because I am well-rested, but because it's the only time I get to claw the damn chesterfield. Note to Richard: that piece of cedar you screwed onto my favourite clawing spot? The one you hope I'll scratch instead of the material? It doesn't fool me. I'm a cat, not some dumb dog. Honestly.

When I tire of lolling, I like to sit in the window looking as atmospheric as possible. Here I am in the pose known as The Regal Egyptian. I usually sit like this until Sheila has the camera JUST about focused, then I move right when she clicks the shutter. This really exasperates her but it's so amusing. I do enjoy thwarting her. She's SO bossy.

The only trouble with annoying the slaves is that they get fussy about my Feed On Demand strategy and start paying attention to how much food I've had each day. Don't they realize that my ample girth doesn't get this way on a starvation diet?


Thus am I compelled to beg cutely.

Always a bit deflating to the old ego.

 To get back at them I resort to specific tactics.

Here I am biting the hand that feeds me.

Here I am hiding while they are calling me. This particular spot lasted well over an hour.

My extensive yoga moves always get a rise out of someone, particularly if I'm licking a certain part of my anatomy.

Right in front of them.

Right when they're eating. 

  Tip: make as much noise as possible.

Nothing like a little suction noise, combined with some gnawing and chewing, to really get them all stirred up.

 Sometimes it backfires on me and they find me hilarious.

I hate being laughed at. It's so undignified.

  Luckily I have my balls to play with. I find this very therapeutic.

When FDPG isn't around I use her iPod for Selfie Practice. Is it me or does anyone else struggle with the screen button when taking selfies? Steve Jobs obviously wasn't thinking about cat paws when he designed that thing.

I meant to get more of my face in this one.

And this one.

This is probably the worst thing that happened to me this week. For some reason no one heard me knocking at the door.

I sat there for ages.

I hate when that happens, don't you?

Never fear, I'll get back at them.

One day.

(For more in this series please click CATS in the sidebar section marked LABELS or type How My Week Went into the search bar)