Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Makeup is Delicious!

Would you eat your makeup? I would. I know exactly what is in it, because I made it myself with ingredients from the pantry.

Over past couple years I have experimented with going shampoo-free (or no-poo) for my hair, so I have gotten used to the idea of kitchen ingredients as beauty products. Apple cider vinegar, for example, makes a fantastic rinse that removes build-up of product and leaves my hair soft and shiny. It shouldn't have seemed strange then, when I saw a post in my newsfeed about making make-up (

The recipe that caught my eye was for a powder foundation. The ingredients were simple; arrowroot flour, and then a combination of cinnamon, cocoa and/or nutmeg to achieve the desired colour. It sound reasonable enough, but then I hesitated. Would it look "caked" on? Would I look like the mom in the cereal commercial who puts flour on her face to appear as though she has spent all day making those marshmallow cereal treats? Ultimately, I just had a hard time wrapping my head around going out for the day with food on my face.

My partner thought it was strange too. "Can you do that?" he asked. I had been asking myself the same thing. Then it dawned on me. Of course I can. Why is it any stranger than putting any number of chemicals mixed together in some factory on my face? Who is it that tells us we have to wear commercially manufactured makeup?

I went to the local bulk store for the ingredients and for under $0.50 I think I probably have enough to last a year. Then I got to mixing. I have a fair complexion, so I only needed a little cocoa and cinnamon. The thing that I really liked was I could keep trying it, and then add ingredients little by little until I had the perfect match for my skin tone. And it smells so good!

I have a powder brush that I really like, and a good brush is key to applying this makeup. You want to shake the excess powder off the brush before applying. Less is more. I find it evens out my skin, and it feels nice on. It can be a little drying, and you want to exfoliate first, or it can draw attention to problem areas (yes it can look a little flaky). However, I find the same to be true with any loose powder foundation.

I've been wearing it for a month now and I really like it. It is in  an airtight container and so far it still looks and smells great.  I felt nervous the first few days, still not able to shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong, or socially unacceptable.  Those feeling soon dissipated. Now it is just part of my routine and I love it. So that's my two cents worth. How about you? Have you ever made your own make-up or beauty product? Do you have any tips or recipes? A penny for your thoughts?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Patriotism and Scaresquirrels

Have you seen the new Canada 150 bulbs? This beautiful tulip has been developed in the Netherlands to resemble the Canada flag, in celebration of our upcoming 150th birthday. You can get them exclusively at Home Hardware. They need to be planted this fall so that they will be in bloom coast to coast in time for the big party.

Feeling especially patriotic, I decided to plant a bag of these bulbs in my tiny front flower bed. Then as a pest deterrent, I put a garden ornament over where I had planted.  I was telling my friend who is a manager at the local Home Hardware that I had planted my bulbs, but that I was a little worried that they would just end up being squirrel food. She told me that she covered her plants with chicken wire.

"Oh my goodness, chicken WIRE!" I exclaimed.  "I covered mine with a METAL CHICKEN to keep the squirrels away." Chicken wire...metal chicken. I was so close. I wonder if it will still keep the squirrels away. I guess we will know in the spring. O Canada 150 tulips, the chicken stands on guard for thee.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do You Believe In Magic? : Celebrating 100 Years of Dahl

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." -- Roald Dahl (The Minpins)

Today is Roald Dahl Day. Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916. I grew up reading his books, and now my own children are discovering his fantastical stories for themselves. To mark the occasion I dressed up as Mrs. Silver from Esio Trot.

My daughter and I also made dream jars for the BFG.

Could I say that the pound of World's Finest chocolate covered almonds that I polished off this week were in honour of Willy Wonka? (No picture as they have been consumed in their entirety.)

I hope that sharing my love of these stories with my children has helped them to have glittering eyes. Like Annie Dillard's pennies, there are secrets and bits of magic in hidden in those unlikely places. Happy birthday Mr. Dahl. Thank you for the splendiferous stories.

Do you have a favourite Roald Dahl book or film adaptation? Is there a particular scene that made an impact on you as a child? Share in the comments below. A penny for your thoughts?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Let Them Climb

My son is a climber. He is happiest when he is up in a tree.  I couldn't figure out why there were smudges on the wall in the stairwell, until one day I caught him going up the stairs without touching the steps. He spread out, a hand and foot on each side, and was shimmying up the staircase. After he finished washing the walls, I decided I needed to find a more appropriate way for him to work on his climbing skills. The children have discovered a love for the sport of rock climbing.

They have climbed rock walls at parties and events. Their favourite place to climb though, is a climbing gym about an hour from our home. It is an amazing place with forty ropes and over eighty climbs, as well as a bouldering area. The centrepiece of the gym is the chimney. At 100' it is the highest indoor climb in Canada.

When you first arrive at the gym you are given a mini-lesson on how to tie the knots and belay. Since this most recent trip was only our second time at the gym, it was good to have a refresher. My mother came along so that both children could climb at the same time. At one point my mother commented it was getting hard on her shoulders doing the ropes. I reminded her that you aren't pulling the kids up the wall. They do the work, you just keep the rope tight.

They hadn't been climbing long when they started asking to climb the chimney. I was trying to avoid it. The first time they climbed the chimney was absolutely terrifying--for me. My daughter made it to the top using the ladder, but I made my son come back down when he was only halfway up when I heard a clink, followed by "Uh-oh." I panicked. He was only six at the time. He never forgave me.

Here is the thing about the chimney--you can't go in there with the climber. The person holding the ropes sits in a chair in the crawlspace just outside the chimney. You have to keep the rope taut, so that if the climber slips they don't bang around in there like the clapper of a bell, and you have to do it all by feel. After a staff member came and did a safety check, my boy began to climb.

It seemed to take forever, and the rope just kept piling at my feet. One hundred feet is a long way up there. He wanted to climb using the holds instead of the ladder. He only needed to use the ladder for a few rungs when he wasn't quite tall enough to reach a hold. Finally he called down excitedly that he was at the top and that the view was amazing. I asked if he was ready to come down, but he wanted to stay up there and enjoy the view a little longer. When he was ready I let him down. I was so proud. My daughter went next, and although I was still a little shaky, I think it gets easier every time.

I guess it's kind of like life. I won't always have them in my sight, as they go off and explore the world, but I can be their safety support system. We have to trust each other, and trust that there will be others in their lives that have the skills and expertise to challenge them and help them grow. I can't do the climbing for them, but I can keep the connection tight. And one day they will be climbing mountains.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Update: How Does Your Garden Grow? : All Is Fair in Homecraft and Horticulture

We have been enjoying the fruits of our labour from our community garden plot for many weeks now. This weekend, the gardening experience culminated in our trip to the fair. The children each chose a vegetable to enter in the horticulture category for their age group. They were so excited to pick vegetables that they planted as seeds, watered, weeded and cared for all summer. My son chose his beets while my daughter chose her carrots. Then we gathered up all of the crafts and works of art that they have been working on this summer, and headed to the fair. This has been a family tradition for years.

I have fond memories of entering projects in the fair when I was a child. It gave me something to do all summer and I must admit I was motivated by the extra spending money. I thought it would be a fun tradition to pass on to my children. They have been both entering projects in the fair since they were old enough to finger paint. I get in on the fun too, and usually enter some photography, crafts or baking. This year I couldn't bear to turn on the oven, so I entered photography and some artwork as well: a page from an advanced colouring book, a hand-crafted bookmark and a watercolour painting.

We always enjoy going back to the fair on Sunday to see all of the displays. I was surprised and a more than a little excited to see that my watercolour painting came in second place! Then came the realization that mine was the only entry in that category. I'm still feeling pretty good about it though--I mean, I could have come in third, or not even placed at all. Right?

The big moment though, was seeing how the children fared with their homegrown veggies. Since they were competing against each other in the "3 vegetables not already mentioned" category, they were very pleased to discover that the carrots placed first and the beets were second. They were happy to receive their ribbons from all their various projects, as well as envelopes with their prize money. We ended the night with the demolition derby and homemade taffy. There were flips and flames and all kinds of drama. Thankfully no one was hurt. It was quite a show. 

The only thing I don't like about the fair is that it is a sign that the summer will soon be coming to an end. But we have tried new things and acquired new skills, we have seeds from the garden to plant next year and we have next year's Prize Book. Maybe we'll get started now. Summer 2017 here we come!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In a Dry and Thirsty Land

This summer we have been enjoying day after day of beautiful, hot, sunny weather. The downside of this is that we are experiencing drought that is devastating crops and drying up wells. Citizens are being asked to conserve water, and just this week, the city reduced the hours at the splash pads. Driving around the countryside you will see dead lawns, stunted corn fields and dusty cars. There are total fire bans all over the region. We need rain and lots of it. It is no surprise that water is one of the main topics of conversation around town. We so often take for granted that living near lake Ontario we have an abundance of fresh water, and this season's drought has made us appreciate every drop so much more.

The other day we went to check on our community garden plot. While we have enjoyed all the veggies our garden has produced so far, we are a little disappointed that what we were hoping would be a bumper crop of tomatoes is succumbing to dry rot. We were able to get a good pick of beans and cherry tomatoes though. Then we were delighted and surprised when the skies opened up above us and we had a beautiful soak of rain over the garden. There were blue skies around us and it literally only rained in the couple of blocks surrounding the gardens. I enjoyed getting soaked in the refreshing rain too. We were so grateful.

Pouring rain on the garden with blue skies all around

We were also grateful to discover a swimming hole at a nearby conservation area. We had driven past the sign countless times but had never stopped. Not only are there great hiking trails with numerous geocaches, but the conservation area also boasts a quarry. The quarry is tested weekly for water quality. It was a refreshing way to cool off and we enjoyed watching the turtles have a swim too.

The Quarry: their own little oasis
Driving home we were all very thirsty, so we stopped to refill our water bottles at a spring by the highway. Although signs warn that the water is not for human consumption, many locals go there to collect jugs of the ever-flowing, cold, clear water from the artesian well. It may not be the legendary fountain of youth, but I do believe it might just be a spring of kindness and happiness. Any time we have stopped there, if there happens to be another person there we are met with good humour that's like a conspiratorial wink. Everyone insists that the other can go first, it is always a great day, and there is invariably a one-liner ("I put an extra quarter in the meter for you").  It might just be the happiest place on earth, or in the county at least. For all the advances in technology, social media and communications, people in a community coming together over a well to meet the most basic of human needs is still a strong source of connection and joy. It is timeless and universal.

Hopefully the rains come soon. In the meantime, my thoughts are with those who are suffering the effects of drought on their farms and businesses. Well, that's my two cents worth. How about you? How are you staying cool? Are you making changes to conserve more water? Or are you in a region dealing with flooding? A penny for your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Road Trips and Rest Stops

Now that I am a parent, every destination seems so much further away. Gone are the days of driving straight through from point A to point B. I remember when my daughter was an infant, what should have been a two hour drive took closer to seven. That trip involved nursing in the car in a church parking lot, a diaper failure that necessitated finding a store to buy a whole new outfit...You get the picture. Now that the children are older, they still seem to need frequent stops, even for short trips.

Usually you can find a public washroom, but every now and then you are stuck stopping at a place where the facilities are for customers only. We've bought sandwiches, doughnuts, chocolate and gas, just for the use of the washroom. One time we had to leave a toll highway then buy something at the closest convenience store to achieve customer status. With the extra fee for getting back on the highway, it ended up being a $10.00 bathroom break. But when you gotta go, you gotta go.

The drive to my mother's house is just under an hour and a half. We have only made it there once without having to stop part way. Knowing that the rest breaks are inevitable, I have discovered all the places en route where we can stop to "freshen up." This weekend we were driving up and my son needed to stop. Of course he couldn't wait an extra five minutes to get to the next Tim Horton's. So we stopped at a cheese factory on the highway. I warned the children that this would be a "customers only" kind of place so while they used the facilities I went and made a purchase. They had a large display of curd, what my kids refer to as "squeaky cheese", made fresh the same day. We opened it up as soon as we were in the car. I must tell you it was the best paid bathroom break ever. It was the squeakiest curd we have ever eaten. If you have never had cheese curd, the squeakier it is on your teeth, the fresher it is.

The bag of curd only lasted a few blocks, and we were slightly giddy from the sheer delight of it all. It was then amidst the giggles and squeaks that my son exclaimed, "Look! Chicken swans!" I couldn't make sense of what he was saying. "What on earth is a chicken swan?" I asked him. "You know, they're like swans, but with black necks and white on them." He was of course referring to Canada geese, but we've decided we like the name chicken swans better. Oh for chicken swans and squeaky cheese; even if it takes a little longer to get places, I wouldn't trade my travelling companions for anything.

A bevy of chicken swans by the river

Gotta Cache 'em All

As Annie Dillard says in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, "the world is in fact planted in pennies." This weekend I discovered that there are actual hidden treasures all around us. They have been there all this time and I just didn't know to look. And so we have a new hobby--we have discovered Geocaching.

I had heard of geocaching before, but it didn't really interest me as it made me think of those agonizing hours spent orienteering as a Girl Guide. I have never really got the hang of map-reading and I am a notoriously bad navigator. However, my kids were getting a little impatient waiting for Pokemon Go to be released in Canada, and when I saw a friend post online about Geocaching with her children, I thought it might fill the void.

We watched a few videos to learn how it works and downloaded the app. I was surprised to learn that many of the caches are actually small containers filled with trinkets that other Geocachers have left behind. We were going to be treasure hunting! The kids were instantly hooked. We made a quick stop at the dollar store so that we would have some items to exchange when we found a cache. We picked up a bag of colourful ping pong balls, stickers and some tea light candles. A pen is also an essential part of a Geocaching kit, as once you find a cache you need to sign the log book, as well as marking it on the app.

My mother came along with us and we looked on the app for nearby caches, and then selected one and started navigation. Our first find was hidden in a old rotted tree stump in a park in the village that I didn't know existed. It was filled with little toys and the children swapped one of their trinkets for something in the container. We carefully put it back where we found it and were off to the next one, down the riverside trail. It was great to get out and explore, and exciting to find another hidden treasure box.

We then went looking for one between a lock and a dam. It was a good opportunity to remind the children of the purpose of the locks, and how they work. We searched and searched, however, this cache remained elusive. I decided to go down closer to the dam. A young couple was fishing down there, and the woman shouted up, "Gotta catch 'em all!" I guess we looked like we were playing Pokemon Go. There was poison ivy everywhere, and so we finally gave up. Geocaching in flip flops is not a good idea.

Over the weekend, Pokemon Go was released in Canada, and I did give in and download the game. So not only is there hidden treasure all around us, there are now tiny little creatures to be caught. Although the children have tried Go a few times, they said they prefer the Geocaching because they can find something real. We went again last night, this time with my mother in law, and searched up and down a trail until it was too dark to see and my cell ran out of batteries. We didn't find the cache, but we will be back again in daylight. The children also want to hide some of their own for others to find. We have found a new community, a circle of friends we may never meet in real life, but who share a common interest. We are getting out and walking and spending time together. This is the treasure; a world of adventures waiting to be discovered with the people we love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The BFG: Bildungsromans for Generations

Tonight we went to the theatre to see The BFG. This Disney adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel was directed by Steven Spielberg. We arrived at the theatre just minutes before the movie was to begin and people were lined up all the way out the door, as it was "cheap night." We were relieved that the show wasn't sold out and made it in just as the previews were starting. I suppose we needn't have worried about getting a good seat, as there were maybe a dozen people in the theatre. I guess everyone else was lining up for The Secret Life of Pets or something. There was no question what show we wanted to see tonight, though. My daughter (10), and son (8) are big Roald Dahl fans.

In the spring my mother gave the children a box set of Roald Dahl books and they have been devouring them ever since. At first my son was a little scandalized ("Mom do you know there is swearing in these books--and they're for kids?!"). He has now read almost all of them. I recommended saving Solo and Boy until he is a little older. The three of us read Esio Trot together. Who knew that kids would love a romantic story about two senior citizens and tortoises? That is the magic of Roald Dahl.

So in anticipation of the movie coming out this summer the children both read the BFG at least twice. I didn't get a chance to read it again myself. The kids would ask me what I thought of this part, or did I remember what happened in that chapter. It is then that it happened; I became my mother. I said those fateful words, "I don't remember, I read that book like thirty years ago!" I always thought it was the strangest thing when my mother would say that. What do you mean you don't remember every detail of some awesome book you read in childhood? How could you possibly be so old that you were reading books thirty years ago anyway? And I realized, oh my, I am old. The wonderful thing about stories though, is that while you might not remember every detail, a good story will stay with you, if only in impressions, and in the way it makes you feel. And that is something I remember thirty years later; I remember the way The BFG made me feel. I remember the humour, the suspense, the adventure and wonder.

In the theatre tonight, I realized that my children are also becoming me, in a sense. They would lean over to whisper, "That's different from the book." That is a particular habit of mine. It wasn't a typical Disney movie. It had a slower pace. There was a lot of dialogue. It was sentimental and really quite lovely. When it was over we watched the credits as everyone else filed out of the theatre. I was shocked to discover that mine had been the only children in the room. I can only guess the other movie-goers were people like me, who read the book decades ago and remembered the way it made them feel.

It was past bedtime when we got home, but I poured us all milk and started to get out a snack. My daughter was in hysterics. I couldn't figure out what was going on until she pointed out I had put the milk in the cupboard. I guess I was still in a daze from the movie. We sat in the kitchen and talked about the movie and the book and how they made us feel. My son said that it made him feel excited. He saw it as a great adventure.  I hope they take those feelings, and their love of literature and pass it on to the next generation. Those dog-eared Dahl books have many good reads left in them.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Wonder of Flight

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to go to the International Air Show. This was a fantastic event with lots of static displays and demonstrations. We got to go inside the cockpit of a Herc. We saw jets, the Harvard Formation Team, the Skyhawks parachute team and more. It was really hot and there wasn't much shade. People were huddled under the wings of the planes to escape the heat. It really gave new meaning to "under his wings you will find refuge." (Psalm 91:4 NIV).

The highlight of the day for me was seeing the Snowbirds. Most of the crowd seemed pretty relaxed, whereas my heart was in my throat the whole time. It was terrifying. They flew in various formations, wing tip to wing tip. The skill and precision of those pilots was truly awe-inspiring. The show made me so proud and grateful for the men and women serving our country.

After the show we stopped off at the community garden plot where I saw this little guy busily pollinating our garden.

After the noise and busyness of the show, the garden was stunningly quiet and tranquil. And for all the power, skill and technology of man, this little miracle of flight also filled me with awe and wonder. For all we accomplish, we still depend on these small but mighty workers. Fly you high, little bumblebee.

It seems that flight has been a theme for me lately. From bugs, to kites, to planes, my eyes have been turned upward in expectation. And I can think of no more beautiful words on the topic than those of John Gillespie Magee Jr., a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flug
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew--
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

It's a Fine Day

Thursday was a hot, humid day. We were sticky and cranky and needing a change of scenery. Luckily for us, it was "Psyched for Science" day at the library. Ah, the beautiful, air conditioned library. The children had fun making lava lamps, play dough, goop and disappearing colour wheels. We were messy and happy and finally cool. We were about to go, and noticed the challenge of the week: to make a picture based on a book they had recently read.  We borrowed art supplies from the Children's Desk and my daughter made a portrait of the BFG while my son recreated the scene from the temptation in the garden of Eden. Cognizant of the fact that we only had an hour on the parking meter, I encouraged them to work quickly. We were going over our time, but there is surely a window of grace.

Then it was time to check out. I needed to get a new card, and I had been feeling guilty about using my kids' cards for my books since my card had fines on it (I know, how embarrassing).  So I decided I would do the right thing and settle my account. Ten dollars later we were on our way, hurrying down the sidewalk in the soupy, sticky heat. We arrived just as the Parking Enforcement Officer was putting the ticket on our window. We were in the wrong; we were past our time and fully deserved the ticket.  I was still hopeful though, asking if we were too late to cancel the ticket. He explained once it is on the wind shield he can't do anything about it. He almost looked worried for a moment that it might turn into a confrontation. Instead I asked where I could pay it, and looking relieved, he gave me the information. I acknowledged he had a tough job to do, especially in this heat and thanked him for the help. 

We headed to City Hall to pay the fine. I started to get upset ("I told you kids to hurry up"), but realized I was the one to blame. I could have gone back at any time to feed the meter. This was instead now an opportunity to demonstrate to my children how to own up to your mistakes, deal with the consequences and move forward. We had it paid within five minutes of having it written. That's got to be a record. I mentioned to the lady at the wicket how helpful and professional the Parking Officer had been. She said he was new to the job so it was great to hear that feedback. It made me even more glad that I had kept my cool. 

So a trip to the library for a free program ended up costing $16.50, plus the money we put in the meter. I think it was still a great value. We had science fun, made "donations" to our library that we love and to our city, and the children got to see inside City Hall for the first time. We headed up to our community garden plot afterwards for a snack of peas, and were again reminded of all this beautiful city provides for us. It made me feel good about giving something back.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Up to the Highest Height"

A couple of weeks ago I told my father and children that they could go fly a kite. No, really, actually fly a kite. It has become a tradition the last few years to go to Kite Day at a nearby provincial park. It is a free family-friendly event put on by amazing volunteers. They had door prizes, a fund-raising barbecue and the chance to make and fly your own kite.

Even though this is something we have done many times, the children were still having a hard time getting the hang of it. There was a wide open field and no lack of wind; it was rather the technique that was lacking. If you have ever read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you know that the knack to flying  "...lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss." I think the same principle can apply to flying kites. Well, my son was doing a lot of throwing the kite at the ground, but each time he would "fail to miss it fairly hard" and it would drag and bob along the dried grass behind him as he ran for all he was worth toward the patches of poison ivy. Rather than the whimsical family outing I had hoped for, it was becoming more like a scene out of Peanuts.

Of course, he was not overly receptive to the advice of his elders. It wasn't until one of the volunteers came and offered his expert assistance, that he decided he would try doing it another way. We let out lots of string and I held the kite with my son at the other end. I threw it up while he pulled down, and ran a little, just for good measure. The kite caught the wind and up it went. We managed to get it so high in the air that we reached the end of the string. My daughter and father likewise were having success and the two kites danced and dipped in the sky.

At this point I was reminded of a book I saw once in a library. It was called Fishing for Angels: The Magic of Kites, by David Evans. As an experienced fisherman, my son really did look like he was trying to catch a big one, the way he worked the line was just how he would fight a trophy fish.  I love that metaphor, the idea that we are trying to catch a little piece of heaven, casting our gaze upward, as if to say, come, dance, play--we are here. It is exhilarating, and at the same time, when a kite soars high into the sky, the whole world seems to get quieter. If you haven't done so lately, I highly recommend it: go fly a kite!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Just Look at That Face

The other day there was a quite a commotion in the front yard. A group of neighbourhood kids had assembled and they were in a circle, looking down at something on the ground. They would come in close together, scream, and fall back. They repeated this strange dance several times, huddling close, and breaking apart with squeals and laughter. I braced myself and went over to investigate. Usually this level of excitement can only be caused by such wonders as chipmunks in downspouts, bird skeletons or strange insects, like the time a neighbour girl found a dead cicada.

The centre of attention this time was this furry guy (or gal?). The children were curious, but a little frightened at the same time. What could it be? As is often the case with children, the next logical step was to poke it with a stick to see what might happen. I quickly suggested that they put down the stick as not to hurt this furry friend. It stayed and posed for a quick photo. It was a very slow moving creature, and although winged it made no attempt to fly, but rather made its way to the wall and began to climb.

As far as I can tell from a quick Google search, this is possibly a tent caterpillar moth. That would make sense as the tent caterpillars have been in abundance this year, munching away on our trees and bushes. It's funny, because while I have been aware of the caterpillars, I have never given much thought to what they become. It made me wonder what other strange creatures I might find if I really just look, even in my own yard. Sometimes we just need a kid's eye view.

PS If there are any entomologists out there who can give a more definitive identification, we would be extremely grateful.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Update: How Does Your Garden Grow? One Month Later

It has been a month since we began planting in our community garden plot. Since I am new to gardening it has been as exciting for me as it has been for the children to watch as everything has begun to grow.

At first I couldn't tell the difference between the weeds and the vegetable plants. I ended up leaving everything for a while, and as things have grown it has become obvious what everything is. We lost some pepper and tomato plants. I think they may have withered during the heat spell. Other than that, things are growing as they should. In fact, we have already had our first harvest.

The leaf lettuce is doing extremely well and we have already had enough for two salads and to put on sandwiches and wraps for school lunches. My son, who is eight years old, was so proud to tell his school friends that he grew the lettuce himself. He reports that they all were really interested to hear about it and thought it was really great. 

Tonight we picked lettuce to make a salad for supper. The beets needed to be thinned out, so we also added some beet greens to the mix. I realized that we didn't have any dressing so I decided to make it from scratch. I was going to do a basic oil and vinegar, but realized I have no vinegar in the house. I opted instead for a Thousand Islands dressing. If you haven't had Thousand Islands, imagine you have a big juicy hamburger and you have loaded it up with condiments. When you take a bite, the condiments all squish out onto the plate. Now take a spoon and stir it up. That's the general idea. It sounds horrible, but it is so delicious. I made mine with Miracle Whip (I like that tangy zip better than real mayo), a little bit of ketchup and sweet pickle relish. I realized then that I still needed vinegar. I searched the kitchen for a substitute and finally settled on a clementine and squeezed half of it into the mix. It turned out to be a pretty tasty Thousand Island dressing.

My daughter, who is not a big fan of salads, actually ate her portion, excited by the fact that she helped to grow it. She informed me that she didn't like the "sauce" though. My son observed that it was quite amazing that all of this used to be just a pile of seeds. We ate with a sense of wonder and pride. I can't wait until our little garden produces even more ingredients for our suppers, and for our stories.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Environmentally Friendly Pest Control

Tomato Worm (photo:
One of the first paying "jobs" I ever had was picking bugs. My aunt offered to pay my cousins and me to pick the potato bugs and tomato worms off of the plants in the garden. It was a gold mine. We were given a penny for a potato bug and five cents for a tomato worm. While far more lucrative, the tomato worms were also disgusting. If you weren't careful they would squirt you with a gross green liquid that my aunt insisted was tomato juice. It didn't actually occur to me until this very moment to question what that liquid might be. At any rate, we worked hard that day and were rewarded for our labour, and the potato and tomato plants were saved.

Fast forward 30 years. Last summer was a particularly bad one for ants, especially when the doors weren't always getting closed when the children went out to play.  I told the children I would give them a penny for every ant they killed in the house, as long as they also stopped letting them in! It was a very effective, economical, and non toxic method of ant control. Of course since we no longer use pennies in Canada, they had to catch five before they could be paid. My daughter argued that she should have a nickel if she caught three, since without the penny, cash transactions should rounded to the nearest five cents.  She has always been quite the negotiator.

Then one night I heard a lot of thumping, stomping and laughter coming from the other room, along with gleeful exclamations of "We're rich! We're rich!" I ran in to see what the commotion was about. Hundreds of tiny ants were on the rug and rather than getting me, the children saw it as a money-making opportunity. Here were their pennies from heaven. So. Many. Ants. After dealing with the infestation and disposing of the rug, I gave them each $2.00, I suggested that it is in times like these that it is more appropriate to find an adult to help. They are natural born entrepreneurs though, I'll give them that.
Three Ants (photo:

How about you? Have you ever been paid for catching bugs? Do you have other non-toxic ways of dealing of dealing with pests? A penny for your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do you want arachnids with that?

This morning I went to my favourite (Mc)Cafe drive through for my morning cup of decaf. I pulled up to pay and rolled down my window. As the young man was about to pass the debit machine to me a spider dropped down between us on a single gossamer thread. It was a terrifying, heart-pounding and incredibly awkward moment. You see, I have a had a lifelong phobia of spiders.

I remember as a little girl, my mother tried to cure my arachnophobia by reading me Charlotte's Web. Charlotte was so clever and kind (if bloodthirsty). E. B. White taught me that these talented and self-sacrificing creatures were our friends. The illusion lasted just a few short months until I was bit on the leg by a spider. I no longer considered this an irrational fear--it is a very logical one.

Once as a teen there was a spider on me and I screamed. Dear mother suggested that I should scream, "Spider," rather than just screaming so that she can more readily and accurately assess the seriousness of the situation.

In university I turned down a job in a pet store when I was told that I would have to clean the tarantula cages. And I don't even want to talk about the outhouse in the jungle late at night without a flashlight...

Now that I am a parent I have had to be a little more brave and take care of spiders in the kids' bedrooms and so forth. This practiced calm helped this morning in the drive through.

So here we were: me, the drive through employee and the spider. All three of us were in a predicament. A light warm breeze kept blowing the spider toward me.  I asked if he had a napkin. He found a paper bag. I expected him to hand me the bag, but going above and beyond the call of duty, he rescued me from the car spider, exclaiming, "It's OK,  I really don't like bugs either. I hope it doesn't stick to the bag." But no, the spider was brushed away moved on. I paid for my order and was on my way.

I think they should give that young man employee of the month.  At the very least I hope that he felt good about helping the crazy lady in the white car, and had a funny story to tell his friends. As Charlotte said, "After all what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that." And mom, you should be proud of me; I didn't even need to scream, "Spider."
This is totally staged, but this is the actual coffee cup and I think the same species of spider. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A few weeks ago I won the lottery and the prize was some prime real estate.

I entered my name in my city's free lottery to win one of around 80 community garden plots. My name was drawn and I have been given a 4'×8' plot to call my own from May until October.

It seemed like a good idea at the time but the task is rather daunting. I have not had good luck with plants in the past. I actually managed to kill an aloe plant. But I want my children to have the opportunity to watch things grow, learn to care for the garden and enjoy eating the fruits (er, veggies) of their labour.

I still remember the first time I was given my own small corner of the garden. I was probably around four years old and I planted radishes. I didn't like radishes, but I was persuaded to plant them as they would be easy and relatively quick to grow.  From that point on whenever someone asked me "Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow," I would reply, "With radishes." I thought my children should likewise have their own corners in the garden.

Last week we were assigned our plot. The children were excited to discover that there is a playground right beside our plot. They had fun playing while I signed the waivers.

A few days later we returned to begin working on our garden. We had just begun pulling weeds when we were joined by two more children, who remembered my kids from playing together on the previous visit. They wanted to help too. Before I knew it, all of the children were leaving the playground to come and pull weeds with us. Eventually parents wandered over too to talk about the gardens, the neighbourhood and the kids.  Many hands made light work.  And by the time the last of our little helpers left we were ready to plant.

I divided the garden into squares and let the children plant the seeds: onions, beets, peas, lettuce, and carrots.  And while we planted and mucked about in the dirt, I thought this is the real prize. If you ask me now, "Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow," I'll reply, "with new friends and community, childhood memories, a dandelion for the bees, but no radishes."

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Dancing On Bubble Wrap

This was a tough week. My daughter was sick and missed a lot of fun events at school and at her after-school clubs. There was a lot of disappointment to deal with on top of not feeling well.  It was also a busy week with early mornings and long days.  Mid-week she lost a tooth, and I still haven't learned to make sure I always have loonies on hand, and did the mad scramble for change that resulted in yet another sandwich bag full of assorted coins under the pillow. (See A Coin from the Tooth Fairy)

Then there was this one golden moment where all was right with the world. My wonderful mother-in-law had been looking after my daughter while I was at work and invited us to stay for dinner. Just as we were about to sit down to eat the kids spotted two sheets of bubble wrap from a package that had arrived that day. It was providence. They asked if they could dance on the bubble wrap. Suddenly I am faced with a decision. I start to think, but it's time to eat, my head hurts, it will be so loud... But really, it was a moment that it was just as easy to say yes as it was to say no. And so to their surprise and delight I told them to go ahead. Ah, the sound of it! It was like a hundred firecrackers being set off by a couple of elephants; a sound only exceeded by the gleeful laughter of children.

As we were driving yesterday the Lee Ann Womack song "I Hope You Dance" came on the radio. I told my daughter to listen as it is my song for her. I proceeded to sing along, while crying, which I'm sure she really loved. I hope if there is anything my daughter remembers about the week, that it is not the pain or the disappointment, but that she had family to love and look after her, and that she danced in the kitchen with her brother.  So on this Mother's Day I mean every word when I sing to my children, "Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance, And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance..."(on bubble wrap).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tea and Empathy: A Eulogy for Helga

This is the story I should have written years ago.  When Helga passed away I wanted to share this with David. I never did and they are both gone now. Anyone who had the privilege of knowing them knows that they taught so much more than cultural studies, Spanish or Latin. I still think of them often and the impact they had on my life. So, as a tribute I'd like to share this story.  It happened more than twenty years ago in an old New Brunswick kitchen...

 I sat as straight as possible, my spine aligned with the back of the hard wooden kitchen chair. My friend Joanne and I exchanged nervous glances across the table as we anxiously surveyed the house that could potentially be our home for the summer. Helga, my Latin professor, had invited us to tea to discuss the potential of a house-sitting arrangement during the school break.  She was a stern school-marm type, with as much love, wisdom packed into her compact frame as there was efficiency and diligence. The home that she shared with her husband and fellow professor was a beautiful century home with large bay windows watching over a quaint street in a small New Brunswick town. It was furnished with antiques, an upright grand piano which was the centerpiece of a formal sitting room, and everywhere were artifacts of a long life of love and travel.
A china plate of butter cookies sat in the middle of the table. Helga poured tea and I noted that although the teacups were lovely, they did not match.
“Helga, your teacups are really pretty,” I commented, to break the tension and ease into conversation.
“Why thank you. They are all each very special. This one was a wedding gift from David,” she gestured toward the cup and saucer with small purple flowers in front of me that had to be at least forty years old. “Yours  was a gift to celebrate my first teaching job,” she said directing her attention to Joanne’s cup with the pale, butter-yellow daffodils. “And mine was a gift from my schatzie  on our very first date.” The evocation of the pet name for her husband brought a mist of reminiscence to her eyes as she lovingly traced her finger around the delicate pink roses, the dainty handle like a silver stem in her strong German hand. She quickly shook it off and abruptly said, “Now kiddos, down to business.”
The next half hour was filled with the expectations of the house-sitting arrangement should we be chosen. We would bring in and sort the mail. The house would be tidy. Yard work was not our concern as there would be a hired man to deal with that type of maintenance. Finally, we would each be expected to pay rent. She didn’t want any “freeloaders” as she called them. For a moment we were afraid that maybe we wouldn’t have a place to stay after all, until she explained quite sternly that we would each need to pay $20.00 per month. Even with my minimum wage job paying only $5.00 an hour, the amount was negligible and Joanne shared a quick look of relief and hope.
“I’ll let you know what we decide,” Helga concluded, signifying that the meeting had come to an end. Eager to make a good impression, I offered to wash the dishes and Joanne jumped up to help. Helga accepted the help with thanks and a satisfied nod. I filled the sink with warm soapy water   as Joanne cleared the table. I carefully washed each dish, placing it in the drying rack in the second sink. I was washing the cup adorned with pink roses, her gift from David, when the handle fell off in my hand. I held the teacup in the right hand, the delicate silver handle in the left, like the horn of a glass unicorn, unique in all the world and broken beyond all repair. The feeling of dread spread from my hands, up my arms, to my heart and down to my knees. “Helga,” I managed to speak my body shaking, nausea setting in, my head spinning, “I’m so sorry, I...I...broke a teacup.” I had ruined not only a precious object, but my chances of being able to stay and work in the town that I loved, in a beautiful house on a quaint New Brunswick street...
“That old thing, think nothing of it.”
“But...but, Helga,” I stammered, “It’s the cup that David gave you… on your first date!” The tears that had been welling up in my worried hazel eyes began to flow in earnest, hotter than the dishwater in the sink before me.
“Don’t worry, it was probably cracked already ; it’s just an old teacup,” she emphasized once again.
“And girls,” she added, “You can have the house.”
I don’t know if Helga cried after we left. I imagine that she did. I don’t know if she tried to glue it back together. I imagine that she would. The one thing I do know that as a young lady, I broke an old lady’s teacup, and that even if it broke her heart, she would never let it break the girl.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Coin From the Tooth Fairy

When I was little I asked my denture-wearing grandfather if he had fallen asleep with his head under the pillow. I thought I was quite clever. Imagine waking up without teeth and a small pile of coins in their place! As you know, teeth under pillows are meant for the fairies.

I still remember putting my own teeth under my pillow, and the wonder and anticipation of what I would find in the morning. I also remember when the magic came to an end. After sleeping on the same tooth for several nights I finally said to my mother, "Here's the tooth, can I have just have my money now."

Then there was the family down the road who's children claimed to receive $10 per tooth, which in the 80s was a substantial sum. I don't know who was more upset at this claim, the neighbourhood children or their parents. Everyone knew that the fairy brought a quarter.

My own children now participate in the tradition. Due to inflation their tooth fairy brings $1, which in Canada is a gold coloured coin affectionately referred to as a Loonie. When my eldest lost her first tooth (by extraction), she misplaced it before she got it home. That started a pen pal relationship with her tooth fairy Dentina, as she had to write a letter explaining why the tooth was not under the pillow.

I swore to myself I would never forget to put the coin under my sleeping child's pillow. And then it happened. Apparently if the fairy forgets, the next night you get double.

Both my children lost teeth in the last week. My daughter lost one first.  She put it under her pillow.  Late that night I realized that I didn't have a loonie. Neither did my spouse.  I had a toonie ($2.00 coin) but my spouse pointed out that if we do it once, the price of teeth will permanently go up. So I searched the house: under the couch cushions, on top of the drier, behind the toilet, until I had a dollar in coins. I put the whole lot in a sandwich bag under her pillow. When she awoke the next morning we could hear her laughing, "The tooth fairy left me a bag of money," she exclaimed. The fun, the laughter;  the world is planted in pennies.

The next day my son lost a tooth. Of course we still didn't have a loonie. So Dentina wrote him a teeny tiny note, "Sorry, Sam but I'm a little short," snort, "I'll bring your coin tomorrow night."

Maybe we should have chosen a different tooth tradition that doesn't require having coins on hand,  such as throwing your tooth on the roof, or burying it by a tree. But in keeping with the theme of the world being planted in pennies, here is another example of where a small coin can be of great value. It can bring a little magic and wonder. It signifies the milestones of growing up and leaving behind, like tiny baby teeth, the little bits of childhood. Perhaps that is why the tradition continues. Once the teeth start to go, you know that the days of innocent wonder are numbered, and a small chip of copper or silver can connect parent and child to the days of magic. I think that the kids know the truth, but they like to play along, and I am kind of dreading the day they say, "Mom, just give me the money."

So that's my two cents on the tooth fairy.  What are your family tooth traditions. A penny for your thoughts?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cleaning the Washing Machine: The Importance of Self Care

The other day I was doing laundry and noticed that the clothes weren't really coming out smelling all that fresh. Instead of that lovely clean laundry smell, things were, well, a little funky. I recognized that it was time to wash the washing machine.

The first time I heard of cleaning the washing machine, it seemed a little counter-intuitive to me. How could it be dirty? It is constantly having soapy water and fresh rinse water cycling through it. How could it not be clean? However, the icky stuff that you are wanting to wash off of the clothing can settle into the hoses and suddenly things don't smell so fresh.

When I say clean the machine I'm not just talking about wiping down the surfaces you can see. I mean cleaning the insides as well. I have a top loading machine and I do this by filling it with hot water and then adding bleach and letting it cycle through.  You can then run a cycle of vinegar and hot water. There are lots of great tips on the Internet and of course check your owner's manual.

However, even though I knew this is part of washing machine maintenance, and I knew what to do to fix the problem,  I hesitated. I looked at the laundry mountain before me and thought, in the time it takes to clean this machine, I could have another load of laundry done. If I clean it now I'll be even further behind. I had to stop myself there. Continuing to wash laundry in a dirty machine wasn't really getting the job done. I might have gone through the motions of laundry, but my end result would not actually be clean, fresh clothes. In order to get the job done right, I first had to look after the machine.

Isn't that the way with us too? How many of us work hard, cycle after cycle, wanting to be the best for our families, friends, customers and so forth? Sometimes other people's crud can seep in and settle in our inner parts. That's why it is important to take care of ourselves. Self-care will look different for different people. It might mean reading, praying,  exercising or a long, hot, body and soul-cleansing soak in the tub. To borrow again from the washing machine metaphor,  when everything seems to be spinning out of control and you are getting agitated,  it's OK to take a step back and look after yourself.  You will be more refreshed and able to help others.

I have an original piece of art hanging in my bathroom. My daughter made it in grade 2 as a public service announcement for health class. While it is meant to encourage hygiene, it also serves as a reminder to slow down and look after myself too. I think it is pretty good advice. That's my two cents anyway. What about you? What do you do to recharge?

"Just Bath Yourself"

A penny for your thoughts?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Good News About Public Libraries, or, 5 Reasons You Should Visit Your Library This Week

Libraries have always played a prominent role in my life. I have fond memories of going to the library as a child. I have worked in libraries in one role or another for well over twenty years. So I suppose that it isn't surprising that I have made visits to the public library a regular event with my own children.

In today's fast-paced, tech saturated society, many people have questioned the relevance and necessity of libraries. Why do we need libraries when we have e-books, google, and big box bookstores with high end coffee shops? Libraries have responded by finding new and innovative ways to attract patrons and thereby justify their existence. You can now find public libraries that loan musical instruments, power tools, seeds and there are even projects where you can sign out a person for a candid conversation about their life experience and world-view. You can go to a library to knit, draw, use a green screen or 3-D printer, create and learn. 

These are all fantastic programs, and it is exciting to see the possibilities for 21st century libraries. However, in the midst of change, it is important to remember what it is that has always made public libraries great. I also think it begins with children, who will grow up to be life-long patrons. Looking through the eyes of a child you can see what really is most important about a public library, and get back to the basics, the gospel or good news of these important institutions. So here are five reasons why I think you need to visit a library, with a child or on your own, and I hope that it serves as a reminder to libraries about what they are doing right (and what they have always been doing right).

1. Books (of course)
A little spine poetry in honour of poetry month.

Recently my daughter went on a field trip with her class. They climbed a mountain (OK Mount Pelion), they went curling and visited the public library. She came home bubbling over with excitement to talk about her trip. Did she talk about the beautiful view from the top of the mountain, or about the thrill of sweeping and throwing rocks? Those things didn't even come up. This child who goes to the library almost weekly could hardly wait to tell me about the library. "Mom they have a series there where you get to decide what happens in the story and the first time I froze to death. The next time I died from heat in the desert!" Ah, the good old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. A day of actual adventures with her class could not compare with a great book placed into the hand of a child by an enthusiastic librarian.

The library contains more than books to be read for entertainment. Recently I was discussing a controversial issue with my daughter and we had conflicting viewpoints. Of course, she was wrong (I'm only half-joking). We each gave reasons for our positions. I told her we could research to become better informed. But what if we went to the library and they only had books in the collection that supported the one point of view? The beautiful thing about libraries is that to the best of their abilities, all view-points are represented in the collections. The freedom to read is freedom for all. And by understanding the point of view of others, we gain a greater understanding of our own beliefs.

2. Belonging

I have a library card. My children both have library cards. We didn't need to pay to join the club. We live here, we belong here. It is a thrill for a child to have that card because it belongs to them. It allows them access to infinite worlds. Children are not lesser citizens at the library. They are given the same responsibility and access as adults. What is really owerful for a child is that they can choose what they get with that card. They will not be told that they are not old/smart/able/rich enough to choose a particular book. They belong. They have a voice and a choice.  Where else can you take a child where the answer will always be a yes? No matter your age, economic status, a particular book. No matter your age, gender, religion, or identity, all are equal, all belong at the library.

3. Being There

The library is a destination. We seldom go downtown for any other than reason than to visit the library. It is a break from Minecraft, and watching YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft. It is something to look forward to. One of the children's favourite things about going to the library is who gets to put the money in the parking meter. It's all part of the experience, the ritual. And if we get to the meter to discover that there is still time left from the last person, well, it's like we have won the lottery. It always feels like we are embarking on an adventure, all for just a few coins. Whether it is for a program, to get books, or just a quiet place to do homework, knowing the library is there means that there is always somewhere to go and something to do. It costs nothing to enter those doors, and one can stay all day. Literally, all day...on my day off... In the winter when it was dangerously cold on the street, the library was there. It was a designated warming station, free and open to all who needed to get off the street and get warm. Need a bathroom downtown? The library can be a blessing just by being there!

4. The Bibliothecary

Alright in keeping with the alliterative style of this post, I pulled out this impressive word for the librarian. Arguably one the library's most valuable resources, the library professional (including librarian, technician and assistant) helps patrons to navigate though the information overload in the modern world. They are skilled researchers, sleuths, and confidants. They are able to recommend a "just right" book, create fun and informative programming, and connect patrons to community services. A librarian just might be able to help you conjugate French "ir" verbs. The librarian is leading the charge for fun and exploration, critical thinking, higher learning and discreet and confidential assistance to all patrons.

5. Barks

Yes, I know, now I'm really reaching for alliterations, but bare with me. By "Barks" I am referring to programs at the library. My son has participated in a program called "Paws for Reading" where struggling or reluctant readers can read to a St. John's Ambulance therapy dog once a week. This has boosted his confidence and encouraged him to practice his reading. This is just one of many programs offered at our local library.  As mentioned above, the staff are what make what could be just a room full of books into a vibrant and active space through the programming that they provide. Just as being in a reading club was exciting for a child 30 years ago, the story times, craft days, puppet shows and summer reading programs are just as exciting today. Sometimes these programs incorporate new technology, sometimes they are constructed from cardboard costumes and imagination. Either way, it is fun and enchanting to the next generation of library patrons.  Remember, for the small children, it is all new to them. They are building memories, and when they are grown, chances are they will want to do the same with their own children.

In conclusion, if you haven't visited a public library lately, or ever, check it out. You will find an active community hub, with free access to information, helpful and courteous staff, and a place to belong. The things that have always made public libraries great are the same things that still make them great today, and so much more. Open your mind and enjoy every moment, right down to the clink of the coin in the parking meter. That's my two cents. What do you think of the role of public libraries in modern society? Do you have any memories of public libraries from your childhood? Did you have a favourite librarian?

A penny for your thoughts? 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Of Princes, Minecraft, and Matters of Consequence

This winter I read The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with my eight year old son. If you haven't read it before, stop what you are doing and visit your public library, favourite bookstore, or online bookseller and get a copy now. There may be spoilers below.

We began reading The Little Prince in anticipation of the Canadian release of the new animated feature film. It easily became our favourite time of day as we snuggled up and followed the interplanetary adventures of the little prince who loved a flower. It opened the door to many discussions about life, love and growing up. We talked about looking after the little things before they become big things, like the baobab trees. We talked about vanity and addiction. It opened up my son's imagination, while for me it became a challenge and even a chastisement of the sad state of grown-ups so consumed with the opinion of others, image,  and matters of consequence, that the really important things in life are ignored.

And then we got the end of the story. I could barely read as the tears kept catching in my throat.  Finally I got through it and closing the book I looked up at my little prince's face. With tears streaming down his face he said, "You could have warned me it was going to end like that." And we both cried together. It was ugly and messy and beautiful. I tried to make excuses, "I forgot it ended that way...I didn't know...maybe I hadn't actually ever read to the end before," I told him. He looked betrayed. And we cried some more--he for the prince he grew to love, I for the pilot and his needling anxiety. If you ask him now he'll tell you he loved the story, through the wonder, the adventure and even the grief.

It didn't end there though.  My prince got out his tablet and spent weeks recreating the book in Minecraft. This was completely his own idea. He built all of the planets, (including the tippler's planet featuring a witch who drinks a poison potion) and he recreated the important scenes from the story. His avatar can walk around the universe he has created, and so now he has immersed himself in the story. This has given him an incredible ability to retell and comprehend the big ideas of the book. I have never before seen him engage at this level with a narrative and it may have even won me over to Minecraft (a little). I've posted some screen captures of his creation below.

Unfortunately we missed the opportunity to see the film. It was here for a week and then was pulled from theatres and sold to Netflix. While we are waiting for the Netflix debut I hope to read it again. This time en français avec ma petite princesse.

And so for today I am thankful for the truth revealed through fiction, bonding over books, and soaring imaginations. That's my two cents' worth. How about you? Is there a book you remember reading as a child? Has a story ever reduced you to tears? Is there a drop everything, go to the library,  book that everyone must read? Share in the comments below.

A penny for your thoughts?

(Created by S. Chisholm using Minecraft Pocket Edition. Photo credit C. Chisholm)

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Planted in Pennies

Pennies have pretty much become obsolete in Canada. They haven't minted the coins in almost four years. While they are still legal tender, cash transactions are now rounded to the nearest five cents. I suppose many would consider them worthless. If you were to see a penny on the sidewalk would you bother to stop to pick it up? Well, I do. Deliberately. Every time.

This habit began about twenty years when I read Annie Dillard's Pulitzer prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perrenial: New York, c1974, 1988). In her meditation on "Seeing" she writes,

The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But--and this is the point--who gets excited by a mere penny?... It is a dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. (p. 15)

One day, shortly after reading this for the first time, I was walking down the street in a small border town in New Brunswick. A car slowed to a stop beside me and an older gentleman  rolled down his window and stretched out his hand. "Here, you can have these," he said handing me a small handful of assorted coins, "They're of no use to me." A little bewildered I thanked him and he drove off toward the border where he would shortly leave Canada, and his need for our currency behind.  It couldn't have been more than a dollar, but it was pennies from heaven to me. It sealed on my heart that tiny blessings are everywhere if we have open eyes to see them and open hands to receive them.

I've been considering for some time if I should blog and if so, what I should write about. Time and again I am brought back to the idea of the penny and of cultivating a heart that is open to seeing value in the ordinary, and the miraculous in the mundane.

This afternoon at work I found three pennies on the floor. Oh what joy that the world is indeed "planted in pennies!" I thought then of the significance of the three copper coins. For while we say that a penny can't buy anything anymore, pennies are still the currency for our deepest thoughts and strongest opinions. And so I offer you Thr3e Pennies: my two cents worth, and a penny for your thoughts. My goal is to share the little bits of wonder that are strewn throughout everyday life, and  I hope that you will do the same through the comments below.

A penny for your thoughts?