Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review by Albus

Max Finder Mystery: Collected Casebook, volume 5, by Craig Battle and Ramon Perez, published by Owlkids.

It's a bunch of different comics, and they're mysteries. Some of the clues are hidden inside pictures--they're not always words. I like how the artist draws the characters. I found out about Max Finder in Owl magazine. I like mysteries because they're fun to try and figure out who did it. I like comics because it tells a story with pictures.

I also liked how you could find clues on the way while you were reading it, as if you were the detective. Then you could find out if you were right or wrong at the very end of the mystery.

I think it's made for 7-13 year olds. It's made for multi-gender (boys and girls). This book is cool.

by Albus, age 9


Some food stores well in our cold cellar. Some food does not. The sweet keeper squash is still going strong, but all other squashes are turning, uh, squishy. Squishes. We've kept them past their prime. Note to self: buy in bulk early in the season, eat lots, and by January at the very latest, shred and freeze the rest. Late February is too late. Although also note: some slightly squishy squash may be peeled and turned into soup.

Excellent keepers: garlic, stored in brown paper bags (I love my Ontario garlic! If you think you know garlic, and you've only ever met grocery store Chinese-grown garlic, I would like to introduce you to a whole different vegetable [is it a vegetable?]); potatoes, as long as you root through the big bag and compost any soft specimens--they keep best stored in smaller amounts in brown paper bags; beets, just like potatoes, only everyone gets much more tired of them, and kind of wishes they wouldn't keep so well (though they do make good pickles).

Good keepers: apples. Our cold cellar can't preserve them as well as Martin's, our local apple farm, but we buy half a bushel or more at a time, and, stored in our cold cellar, they stay crispy 'til eaten. But we can go through half a bushel in two weeks, so it's hard to put a fine end date on their cold cellar lives.

Decent keepers: yams, turnips, green cabbage, napa cabbage, pears. Lower your expectations. Don't leave them to linger all winter long. Eat within the month (even sooner for the napa). We store them loose on wire shelves, with the exception of the pears, which are stored, like the apples, in a handy bin. The pears must been eaten within two weeks, we've found, and they rot deceptively, from the inside out.

Not to be kept in the cold cellar: onions, which apparently have an ill effect on apples, so we store them in a dark cupboard in the kitchen; and carrots, which keep best in the refrigerator. It's not practical to have more than 10 lbs in the bottom drawer of the fridge, but luckily, through Bailey's Local Foods, I can buy a new 10 lb bag every month. And when that's not enough, I can drive to Martin's farm and buy more.

In the freezer, which I'm digging into with ever more gratitude for last summer's kept harvest, I wish there were more: corn and green beans. And less peas and beet greens. I am absolutely thrilled with the amount of plums and apricots, and the happy surprise of blueberries, (enough to get us through til April or May). But the frozen applesauce is wasted space. Note to self: can the stuff! My canned pearsauce has lasted til now (last jar opened last night). My tomatoes are hanging in there, but with an upswing in soup and stew production, the jolly red jars are beginning to dwindle. I must do a head count. I want them to last through May, and it's time to start rationing. The frozen roasted red peppers continue to delight. And finally, I am happy with my frozen herbs, but could have frozen far more cilantro and basil, the latter particularly, because there is nothing like a heaping bowl of pasta with pesto to make a winter's supper sing. But I would like to critique my own freezing method--packing fresh leaves into ice cube trays and covering with water to freeze, then removing to store in bags. Note to self: less water, more leaves.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More Sayings

CJ's newest excuse, when he doesn't want to do something: "I too weak to do it, Mama! I too weak!" This applies to everything from picking up a game thrown in a fit a of pique, to walking instead of strollering, to climbing into a chair when he'd prefer to be helped. So far, I must say, it's totally working. Who could resist helping a weak two-year-old?

CJ is also throwing more fits than he used to, a surprisingly endearing phenomenon. His feelings are much more sensitive than they once were. Yesterday, at supper, he crawled off his chair and stomped to the kitchen and declared: "I not eating supper ANYMORE!" No one knew what had happened, but he finally told us: Albus had been "interrupting!" With an apology from Albus, he climbed back into his chair and joined us again, entirely cheerful. His declarations of refusal are many, and are set off usually by hurt feelings, by someone telling him he's doing something the wrong way, or by being ignored or not included, or not included in the way that he wishes: "I not eating cookies ANYMORE! I not be your son ANYMORE! You not be my mommy ANYMORE! He not be my sister ANYMORE!" etc. Maybe it's because he's my last, but man, I just love this stuff. It kills me.


Our house is so exquisitely trashed that I don't have the heart to tackle the mess all at once. So today I decided to do one room at a time. I started with the office/playroom. Phew. One done. Next up: the dining-room, so we can eat supper together. AppleApple is going to cook with Kevin and they plan to make vegetarian lasagna with garlic bread.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bonding, Part Two

Non-screen bonding. Still in pajamas. This is our Saturday, so far.


Did I ever tell you (confess might be the more appropriate word) that we got our children a wii for Christmas? Yes, despite my determined rhetorical stance against electronic gadgetry, screentime, and giving in to the whims of trend, after much consideration and discussion, Kevin and I decided to get a "family gaming system." Even just typing out those last three words makes me sigh. Kevin was the more enthusiastic of the giving parents, but I did indeed agree. What swung my vote was the fact that the children were already exposed to screens in a variety of forms. They watched movies, and played games on online sites like Poptropica and TVOkids. Albus played a computer game on Saturday mornings with the others gathered around the tiny screen to watch. We had limits in place on these other uses of the screen, so we figured we could treat the wii in the same way.

And it's been ... fine. Actually, in some ways--not to endorse family gaming systems--it's proven to be a place of bonding between siblings.

Here's what's happening right now: Albus is playing a game with CJ that is easy enough for CJ to play, too. They are active and bouncing and laughing and taking water breaks. I'm not saying this bonding couldn't happen in many other ways, because it can and it does. But this is okay, too. Okay. Guess that's as enthusiastic as I can get in my acceptance of the family gaming system.

Compromise. Even I can do it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Morning Sitting Around

So far, this morning has been less than productive. I wonder, is it the post-reading feeling of calm? Is it the three previous mornings of rising well before dawn? Is it the empty house, children successfully breakfasted and clothed and shuffled off in their various ways to their various schools?

Whatever it is, I am not cutting with efficiency through my writing day. There are a few small edits to make on a few of the Juliet stories. Otherwise, I'm facing brand new projects. One is a bit like poetry, and can't bear more than an hour's concentration at a time. I am taking photos from the 365 project and pairing them with words. But I can't tell whether or not they're any good. The results have so far been rather koan-like. Mysterious. Do they bear scrutiny? How can I tell? Any visual artists out there willing to look and to comment?

My other projects are in the thinking stage. I have two ideas for two different novels. Yes, novels. Not stories. I know, it's so unlike me. But after reading Kate Atkinson's Left Early, Took My Dog, I have a hankering to write a mystery. It's an old hankering, actually. I have long admired the tidiness of mystery plotting. When I'm down and out, a mystery is what I turn to.

During my last yoga class, an entire plot plunked itself plain and simple into my brain. This is unprecedented. Characters plunk themselves into my brain. Emotions. Landscape. Props. The colouration of scenes. But the solidity of plot has never been my gift. So I am intrigued and curious to begin, and yet I think, not yet. I've jotted it down for later.

The other novel project is based on an older manuscript that I discovered when we cleared off a shelf in our bedroom. I couldn't stop reading it. It's funny and light and particular. It was written as entertainment, not to be deep. Which isn't saying it's superficial, just that it isn't The Juliet Stories. It isn't quite so literary. And it's really funny.

All these projects seem so different from what I've been working on. Scattered. I need to find focus. But maybe that's not what's meant to happen on this Friday morning. On this Friday morning, I'm treating myself to a second cup of coffee and a lazy happy drifting mind.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading Tonight

I couldn't get the poster to upload, but wanted to let you know that I'm reading tonight in downtown Kitchener at The Museum (formerly known as the Children's Museum). Doors open at 7pm, but the readings don't start till 7:30. It's a free event. I don't know whether or not there will be drinks available. Should have asked.


Back from my early morning swim, feeling buoyant. Seems to be the feeling I get after my early morning swims. Could also be due to a piece of good news received in the mail yesterday. I opened the non-descript envelope hurriedly, on my way into the house to turn down the crockpot, with CJ waiting in the truck outside in the driveway (yes, I'm that kind of mother; but the truck wasn't running). I was running late for an appointment, and didn't want the lentils in the crockpot to scorch. Then I saw the envelope. It was from the Ontario Arts Council, and I knew what that might mean--grant application denied. Or, the opposite. Ripped it open, read the first line, saw the cheque, and began bouncing and screaming. Remembered to turn down the crockpot. Raced outside to tell CJ. Wondered whether I had indeed remembered to turn off the crockpot. Raced back inside to check. Yes, crockpot turned down. Raced back to truck. CJ mildly interested. Should I really be driving under the circumstances? I asked. It was a brief spell of intense joy, and I've learned to embrace those spells full-on when they come, because they don't last, they can't, and the intensity quickly dissipates. That's okay. But the huge smile and feeling of goodwill toward all humankind--that was nice. I will try to keep the feeling of goodwill going.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I've been re-reading old blogs as I attempt to organize them into a format that is printable, and I'm wondering, fellow bloggers, do you do this, too? Do you keep your blog entries in hard-copy? Do you have a method for organizing old material? Or do you trust in the online world to hold your posts in perpetuity? In looking back over this blog, it feels like a public diary, like a scrapbook of our family's life, and I want to have it available to leaf through. There's nothing like paper. But then, I'm an old-school girl. I like my books as books.

Which is not to say that I don't like reading online, too.

In reading over the old entries, I was struck by how much this blog has changed. It used to be much more about the children, and it's shifted over time to be more about me. I'm not sure whether that's because as my children get older, I feel less inclined to invade their privacy by recording things that they may disagree with; or whether I've shifted in my own priorities away from the daily parenting. When I started the blog, CJ was four months old. Fooey wasn't even three. We grow. We change.

In the spirit of the older blogs, I have to record a few CJ sayings. He's just so articulate and lovely, my almost-three-year-old big boy. "I'm a big boy. I'm a little brother."

As I was putting on his socks this morning, he looked at me, and said, "I see you down there!" It was the down there part that pleased him especially. It made me realize how in his world, he mostly sees people up there.

He is usually the last one out of bed, and a few mornings ago we were treated to the sound of his door opening and closing, and his sturdy feet hopping down the stairs (yes, he hops from stair step to stair step), until he arrived on the landing where he stopped and, taking in his admiring audience in the kitchen below, he began to sing. He sang a full verse and chorus to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, but with made up words, his long blond hair fluffed around his head like a halo, wearing his red footie Christmas pajamas. Then he jumped into my arms. I asked, "Did you learn that song at nursery school?" and he said, "No. I just made it up in my bed!"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Days of Play

Big boy reading to little boy. The lovely thing about this was that it happened after supper, when CJ was begging for entertainment, and Albus right away offered to read him a book: Green Eggs and Ham. Albus has become such a reader over the past year or so, devouring chapter books, but reading out loud is yet another step.

I gave the kids a mental health day awhile back, and this is one of the activities we did: colouring, water-colouring, and drawing on a large single sheet of paper. The end result was not overwhelmingly amazing (I did not hang it on the dining-room wall, as the kids requested), but the process was a lot of fun. Reminiscent of the kind of hands-on directed-activity parenting I used to do on a regular basis, that is now fairly rare. It's nice that it's rare, because it means the kids play independently and creatively all on their own, but occasionally it's also nice to get to be a part of that play, too. But only occasionally).

Snow day/P.D. day play.

Fooey was out for an hour, along with several other kids (I was babysitting that day). They ended with a game that involved jumping off the porch and swinging on the chain that in summertime holds up one of the hammocks. I didn't find out about that til later. Hands-off parenting/babysitting has its downside. Though everyone came in unharmed, glowing, and happy, and devoured a snack of hot chocolate, marshmallows, and apricot cake. Is there a lesson in this?

Tuesday and Thursday mornings. As soon as the big kids head out the door, the little kids throw themselves into play. (What will we do next year when Fooey goes to school all-day, every-day?). This morning. Started with puzzles. Moved on to cooking and baking.

Followed by eating, of course. And nope I'm not involved in this game. I'm sitting at the computer nearby, typing this post. (They've moved on to naptime right now. Sounds good to me ...).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Red Herring

I've been writing more regularly on my side-project blog, Swim/Run/Bike Mama (yup, it's on the triathlon project), and less regularly, perhaps, here. Since finishing the 365-project (apparently, I thrive on projects), I've hardly picked up the camera. I am giving myself a full week of breathing before even thinking about what to do next, photography-wise; but one interesting discovery is that out of 365 photos, there are about thirty that stand out, and among those, a few that might just come together to tell an interesting story quite apart from the project and apparent subject matter: ie. I can make something else out of them. Maybe that's reason enough to continue taking a photo every day. Because at any moment, something lovely is waiting to come into existence (surrounded by a lot of other moments and attempts).

I'm linking to a piece in the National Post by my former boss, Noah Richler: he argues that funding the arts provides a public service quite beyond what can be valued monetarily. The salient point is: some things aren't done for profit--how do we measure their value? And what does what we value and support say about our country?

And, you know, on a very personal level my thinking has been heading this way, too: questioning my compulsion to evaluate what I do in a very black and white, cost-versus-profit manner. I wrote a few posts back about wanting to be independent, financially. That's not a superficial desire. On the other hand, it doesn't take into account--or value--all the ways that I do support my family and contribute, ways that aren't and probably can't be compensated in a "fair" way. In our marriage, we try not to do too much horse-trading, ie. I did the dishes so you have to put the kids to bed. Because that just creates a feeling of unfairness: maybe the dishes are worth only two kids being put to bed; or maybe on that particular evening, the kids need a bath, which is more time-consuming, so it should be worth an extra round of dish-washing; or ... well, you see where I'm going with this. In the same way, there is no way of measuring the effort that goes into, say, writing a book, and compensating it "fairly."

Do I need to be financially independent? That's a really personal question, I guess. I haven't got an answer yet. But I'm interested in all the reasons that maybe, maybe that question throws me off track. Maybe it's a red herring. Maybe the question is: can I accept that the work I've chosen to do may never be compensated at a rate that would allow me to be financially independent? What matters? Is it money?