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Archive for May, 2007

Finally, the promised pictures from our first beach visit of the summer. The kids have never swum so early.

Jasper loved the water, but refused to actually go so deep that his feet left the ground. I missed the photos of him at his wettest. He looked like those games little kids have, where you can mix and match the tops and bottoms of people. He was two entirely different dogs from top of his legs up and the top of his legs down.

Here’s one of Asher trying to convince Jasper to go deeper by throwing sticks he was chewing on. Jasper isn’t into fetching at the best of times, and his response was usually one of: Hey, look where my stick is. Huh. Occasionally he went after it, but once he realized it was over his head, he bailed.

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This is the best half-wet/half-dry shot I have of Jasper, with his skinny legs.

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Here’s a happy dog, digging a big hole in the sand:

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I saved this for the last beach shot because it appears to me to be an idyllic scene – a boy and his dog, hunting tadpoles:

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Here’s another idyllic shot. I created a large treasure hunt, which I love to do (with clues like ‘This clue is in the male cow’s eye” or “hurry before this clue is wiped away” or “This clue stinks” (bulls-eye on the dart board, windshield wiper on the car, in the garbage)). I lead them from the beach to the house, all around the house and then out to the back tree house J made with his brother. This is them puzzling out the last clue, which led them to a box buried by leaves behind a dead tree and filled with chocolate gold coins. (“North, south, east, west/ Look at all you see/ It isn’t X that marks the spot/ But rather a dead tree.”) By happy coincidence, when they split up to examine all the dead trees visible from the tree house, Maya got the one with the treasure, a birthday bonus.

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My baby is 11 years old today. I told her that since I was the one who gave birth, I should get the party, but she didn’t fall for it. At least she likes chocolate, so I got to eat chocolate cake. Even though it is hard to believe she is already 11, heading into adolescence with the speed of a locomotive, I also can’t believe I’ve only been a mother for 11 years. It seems much longer than that. Perhaps I need to add all the kids’ ages up: I’ve been a mom for 23 years. That makes more sense.

Having Maya threw us into the deep end of parenting. And that’s not because we didn’t know what we were doing. In many ways, we did, and it’s a good thing, too. Without that confidence, it would have been a lot tougher.

When Maya was 5 weeks old, she began to scream for hours at a time. She needed to be held all the time. She hated to sleep. She was incredibly alert, so much so that strangers were constantly commenting on it and I had no idea what they meant until I had Asher and took him to the doctor to complain that he slept all the time. She said gently, “That’s what normal babies do.”

She was easily bored and by the time she could walk (which she did at 10 months, after 3 months of determined work, refusing to crawl at all) would demand we go outside all the time. I have video tape of her banging on the front door and shrieking as I said, “I am not ready to leave.” She was pre-verbal, but that didn’t stop her from making herself understood. When banging didn’t achieve the required results, she found her shoes and put them on. Then she found my shoes and put them on. Then she tried grabbing my hand to pull me up and when that didn’t work, went back to banging the door. She was a nag, even then, although I guess it would be nicer to call her persistent

She was also incredibly mature and caring at a young age. Once, when I was 9 months pregnant with Asher, making her 3 months shy of her third birthday, she got herself a bowl of Cheerios, then spilled the box. We had just returned home and I had dropped my massive bulk onto the couch and the sound of the cereal scattering almost brought me to tears. I held back, though, sighed a big sigh and said, “Don’t worry about it, honey. I’ll get it in a minute. Just give me a chance to rest.” She said, “It’s okay, Mommy, I’ll do it.” I winced inwardly at the greater mess I’d have to face after a two-year old had stomped through it, but it would keep her happy for a few moments, so I agreed. I heard crunching and sweeping sounds and after about 10 minutes, she came out, flushed with pride, to announce the job was done. I hauled myself off the couch and waddled into the kitchen to discover … a spotless floor! She had successfully cleaning everything up.

When she was just barely three, I was driving somewhere and she asked, “Those red signs at the side of the road that start with S, what are those for?” I told her they were stop signs. She said, “I thought so. You need to do a better job of stopping when you come to them.” Then the annoying kid reminded me every single time we approached one for months.

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(my favourite picture of Maya at 3)

At another point, she took J’s VISA card to daycare and when the caregivers discovered it and asked why she had it, she explained, “I took it in case I needed to buy something.”

Really, nothing has changed, she’s just gotten bigger. She’s still remarkably caring, and will at times see that I have a headache or am feeling ill and take it upon herself to get her siblings ready for bed. She co-ops Asher, reads Boo stories, brushes teeth and sings lullabies. The first time she did this, while I lay in a darkened room trying to get the energy to deal with toddler Boo, I had no idea what she was doing until she came and announced the other two were asleep. I cried, I was so grateful.

She’s also a great assistant mom, doing things like saying with great artificial excitement, “Yeah! I can’t wait!” when I announce something her little sister is likely to object to, like going grocery shopping, knowing that Boo will then be swept up in Maya’s excitement.

She’s also annoyingly over-cautious and anxious and still checks up on me. She’s given up on the stop signs, but not a single Friday went by in winter that she didn’t remind me her school closes early. And she’s still a huge nag incredibly persistent, like a dog with a bone, when there is something she wants. She also still hates sleep, finds it difficult to achieve and would prefer to hang out with us. At social gatherings, she likes to sit or stand very quietly near the adults and eavesdrop.

She has developed some new skills, as she’s grown. The one I’m most impressed with is her story-telling ability. She tells Boo the most remarkable bed-time stories. For a writer, I am surprisingly bad at that sort of thing, so I’m always amazed by how inventive her stories are. Unfortunately, she’s recently discovered the power of storytelling when she reduced Boo to tears telling a story about a kingdom under a curse where no flowers could grow. She now loves to toss in some drama before the story ends, delighted and amazed that she can make her sister cry simply by telling a story. They always have happy endings, though, and Boo cannot resist an offer for another.

My beautiful girl:
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The neighbourhood garage sale is today. We temporarily lost our minds and allowed Asher to go out alone with Boo.

He had money with him.

The result: a Cabbage Patch doll, the biggest, ugliest necklace ever, another frisbee, another ball, a dress for the Cabbage Patch doll (because the drawer in the basement crammed with dolls’ clothes couldn’t possibly have anything to fit her) and this:

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A bargain at any price, I’m sure you are saying to yourselves.

I’m now drinking my Coke out of it. Yes, it is 8:30 in the morning – what’s your point? And yes, of course I washed it first. Several times.

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8 random things

Yogamum tagged me to write 8 random things about myself. I’m going to do it, but I’m not tagging anyone else. So there. It’s not that I’m hostile to the whole meme concept, just can’t figure out who to tag.

1. I don’t drink any tea or coffee, although I learned how to force down tea while in Journalism school when I realized that sometimes people who you are interviewing really want to be hospitable and refusing both makes them feel badly. I am addicted to coke, though.
2. I saw Santa Claus and his reindeer flying away when I was 5 years old. We were at a birthday party at Christmas time and Santa visited. As he left, the parents said, “Go look out the window and see if you can see him flying away!” So I ran to the window and saw him – sled, reindeer and all – flying up into the sky. I have a very, very clear memory of it. Thanks to that memory, I am sure people who see Jesus or are abducted by aliens as children are completely sincere, just wrong.

3. Up until recently, I tended to think anyone who told me they had Fibromyalgia was a flake or hypochondriac, despite the fact that I am neither and have been diagnosed with FMS for 20 years now. Which makes me very self-conscious about how others might see me. I mean, if even I think people who say they have it are nuts …

4. I can read extremely fast and once got in trouble in English class in high school when were were supposed to be reading our books for a book report. The teacher yelled at me for not paying attention since I was turning the pages too quickly.

5. I can also write very quickly. In Journalism school, a friend and I pulled an all-nighter to write our law essays together. When we started, he had 3 pages written and I had yet to look at my notes. I started writing about 1/2 hour later and blew past him by page 5 at about 11 pm. I finished the 11-page paper at about 3 am and got a few hours sleep. He stayed up all night. I got a B+ and he got an A. I thought the 5 hours sleep I got was well worth the lower mark. So that’s my skill – I’m not the most brilliant writer, but I’m damn fast.

6. I frequently dream entire science fiction stories that my unconscious brain invents. Often, they scare the hell out of me.

7. I saw someone jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. Well, we missed the actual jump, but as we were discussing whether people actually jumped as we stood in the middle of the bridge, J spotted someone swimming. I said, “He’s awfully still for a swimmer.” Which is when we realized he’d just jumped over the other side of the bridge.

8. I frequently feel as though I failed to inherit some ‘femininity’ gene. While I feel entirely female, I mostly hate dressing up, fancy shoes, make-up. When I do dress up, I feel like I’m a child playing dress-up and look ridiculous.

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I’ve been away for a couple of days and have lots to write about. Yogamum tagged me for a meme that I have to get to, and I have cute photos of Jasper swimming for the first time, as we went up to the cottage to celebrate Maya’s 11 birthday. But that all has to wait just a bit so I can tell you of our excitement last night.

After dinner, Maya was heading out to do her paper route, but after she walked out the door, she turned around and walked right back in. She said, “There’s a cop next door and he told me to go inside.” Then she panicked because my response to this was to go right outside to see what was going on.

What I saw was an entire SWAT team – although I think they are actually called a Tactical Team – in full gear and big guns, coming out of our neighbour’s house. That was cool. They didn’t seem to mind me being out – I think they just maybe didn’t want a kid out alone, or maybe it was because they’d discovered their quarry wasn’t at home. Either way, we all came out to watch the fun. As we watched, car after unmarked car pulled up (8 in total), and out came more cops, these ones clearly undercover guys, in regular clothes and all scruffy, putting on police vests as they got out of their cars.

Maya was freaked out and J finally dragged her off to do her paper route. I gardened and chatted with my neighbour, and tried to answer Asher’s questions. At one point, a cop got out of his car right in front of our house, putting on his vest, and Asher asked, “Why is he putting that on?” I said, “I think it is a bullet-proof vest.” The cop heard and said, “It is. Want to come see? I just can’t show you my gun, though.” (He must get that question a lot, I guess.)

So the neighbour and I and our sons went over to the cop, who showed us his pepper spray, handcuffs, collapsible stick for whacking people. He even showed us his extra magazine for the gun (the bullets were surprisingly big). He said to the boys, “When you grow up, you can have something like this too if you become a police officer. It’s the greatest job in the world.” His enthusiasm and friendliness was really quite sweet.

Then he told us he was with the drug unit, and I said, “Yeah, we kind of knew that.” He rubbed his stubble and said, “I guess this gives it away, huh?” But that wasn’t it at all. The reason we knew that is that everyone in our neighbourhood ‘knows’ that the guy in that house is a drug dealer. When I say we ‘know’ that, I mean it is a persistent rumour, fueled by the fact that the guy has no obvious job and men in vans and beat-up cars come to the house constantly. I have no idea how it started. All I know is that when we first moved here, a couple of neighbours informed us.

One did so in a way to suggest that he’s a very scary man, but he isn’t. He’s the one I mentioned in my last post, who gives us his excess cucumbers. When my cats appeared to be using one portion of his garden for a litter box, he was very nice about telling me so, as opposed to the anonymous neighbor who called bylaw on us. Maybe he is a drug dealer. If so, what he does for a living is bad, but I have seen no proof and he is a good neighbour, so we remain friendly. But it means that we weren’t completely surprised when the police tactical team showed up.

The only awkward thing was that Maya was still terrified. Asher wasn’t, but he was still full of questions. Playing dumb but providing reassurances did nothing for Maya, so I finally told her that they suspected him of dealing drugs, stressing that we have no idea if they have any proof at all and he’s still a perfectly nice neighbour.

It lead to an interesting conversation with the kids about the legal system, how just because they arrest people that doesn’t mean they are guilty of a crime, how people get out on bail, about how the police are allowed to search houses (they were a bit appalled that the cops could flip the bed and strip it, then just leave it leaning up against the window without tidying up the mess they made).

It also allowed me to get in a bit of a discussion about illegal drugs with Maya, which I’ve been looking to do for a while. Did I mention it was an interesting evening?

Anyway, I took a couple photos on the sly, then my neighbour took my camera and took a couple more right out there in the open. To my surprise, the cops had no problem with him pointing a camera right at them. Here’s one of the tactical team, just to prove I’m not making the whole thing up. I don’t know how to do the traditional sort of blur photos usually have when you want to disguise someone’s identity, but I did manage blur out identifiable faces. Even if they didn’t complain about having their photos taken, it seems sort of unfair to show them here. Check out the huge gun the guy in the middle is holding. Asher was so impressed.

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Did you know that if a dog eats lots of asparagus, he too will experience asparagus pee? J swears so, and he was the one who walked Jasper the morning after that rotten dog ate three-quarters of the plate of asparagus I had prepared for dinner. I was smart enough to place the hamburgers I’d just BBQed (all by myself, yay me) on top of the fridge, but I underestimated the appeal the veggie would have on the dog. Stupid me.

When I walked into the kitchen to see the almost-naked plate of asparagus, I was about to blame J, until I realized that even he would not suck back that many before dinner. And the children were still outside. Sad thing was, no one trusted him to have avoided slobbering on the rest, so Jasper got those for breakfast.

I made up for it today by buying way better asparagus and not giving the dog any (well, he expressed great interest in the raw, snapped off bottom bits, so I did feed him those, but he got none of the good parts). I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have her to thank for the superior asparagus, although despite the delicious veggies, I’m not sure if reading that book has been a positive force in my life right now.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. It was a fascinating read, but I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I just picked it up on a whim because I love Kingsolver and the book was way cheap at Costco. I read the cover – how charming, she and her family decide to live off only what they produce themselves for a year and chronicle the adventure. Well, it was charming. It was hard not to drool as she describes the meals they had. But she sneakily slipped in all kinds of information about how we are going to hell in a hand-basket one more way.

The veggies we buy aren’t just full of pesticides, but bred only for their ability to last until they make the long trip from far away to here. They are mere shadows of the real thing with regards to flavour and have far fewer nutrients than their organic counterparts. The variety of food is disappearing and the best isn’t winning. Oh, she goes on and on and on.

It isn’t like I don’t already know most of what she said. Not only have I read books like Fast Food Nation, but my parents tended a huge veggie patch when I was a kid. They didn’t do it to lessen their footprint on the earth or for organic food. They did it because it was cheaper and tastier. I didn’t appreciate some of their choices. I hated the beets and chard and I think I didn’t like the green beans back then either. But I loved the peas, both snow and snap. And the carrots were probably my favourite. We’d pull them from the ground, give them a good wipe on our shorts and eat them without even washing. No wait, maybe the tomatoes were my favourite. There is nothing like the taste of a fresh, lightly-salted tomato sliced on toast for breakfast. And lunch. And a snack.

As soon as I had a spot of land to call my own, I began growing tomatoes. In my first house, I went for a whole wee garden, which was colossal flop. It was a great deal of hard work for about 4 carrots, thanks to the rainiest summer on record and a back yard that just did not have enough sun to pull it off.

When I moved to my current house, I was very pregnant with Boo and had been a bit scared off by my previous failures. I decided to concentrate on the flower garden, which is much easier. But I couldn’t completely let it go. I’ve always grown tomatoes and my kids love to keep watch for the first cherry tomatoes of the season. The first year, I over-estimated how many we needed and we were awash with the things. I couldn’t pay the kids to eat them by the end. But they still get excited when it comes time to plant the tomatoes in spring.

I also have container herbs and made an unsuccessful attempt at cucumbers. I don’t need to repeat the cucumber experiment because our next-door neighbour always over does it on those and passes them on. He’s an old, very over-weight, heavy smoker with a deep gravelly voice, with wild hair and permanent stubble. It is funny to see him beckon my children with a smokey, “Hey kids. Come ‘ere. I got something for you.” And he starts handing out cucumbers of all sorts. Not what you’d expect.

My mother’s good for zucchini – lots of it.

My point, as long-winded as it is, is that my kids and I know the difference between the anemic flavourless tomatoes, cucumbers and apples you can by at the grocery store. But I’d kind of put it out of my head that all that other stuff – the asparagus, the lettuce, the broccoli – is also a pale imitation, only I don’t know what the real thing is supposed to taste like.

Kingsolver tells of a friend who had no idea that a potato is the root of a plant, her point being that urban North Americans are so divorced from the source of their food that they have no idea what it is before it hits the supermarket shelves. My kids aren’t that bad. They know what it is like to put a tiny seed in the ground and harvest a big pumpkin 4 months later (I forgot to mention we do also grow a pumpkin plant each year.) We also are lucky enough to have friends with a small farm, so they’ve gotten to go potato hunting (it’s exciting, like a treasure hunt) and pull their lunch from the ground, bring it inside and prepare it.

But on a regular basis, we eat shit. I’m busy and tired and usually don’t make the effort to shop beyond the supermarket. But Kingsolver and her stupid book gave me a little kick in the head and now I can’t do that any more. I’m not going to go nuts, but we are planting carrots as well as the tomatoes this year (and I’ve put in the asparagus, but that’ll still take a few years before we can eat it). And I’m mulling over where to move some of my flowers to start a decent little veggie garden for next year. This time I do have the sunshine I need. I just have to figure out how to keep Jasper out or we won’t get to eat a thing.

And I found out where the closest farmer’s market is. It isn’t very far. Still feeling like crap, I dragged myself out in the drizzle to see what they had. I brought Maya, who was very impressed. She wanted it all. There weren’t a lot of veggies yet, but I got local greenhouse tomatoes that were better than anything in a grocery store and the asparagus Jasper didn’t get to eat. Plus some lovely homemade bread and local honey. Maya bought fudge, of course.

My life has just gotten more complicated thanks to Kingsolver. But it was the best asparagus I’ve tasted in years.

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Flaring

It is a warm, sunny May long weekend, which is when us south-eastern Canadian go gardening nuts. So far today I have planted my tomato plants, chives, asparagus, a new hunk of decorative grass and some woolly thyme. I have also moved a big hunk of not-so-decorative decorative grass from a primo garden spot to the garden equivalent table right by the bathrooms to make room for some pretty stuff like echinecea.

It sounds impressive, if you ignore the fact that it was only 3 tiny tomato plants and the chives and asparagus are about 2 inches high. The truth is, it is a pathetic showing for a gardener with a lovely day. My fibromyalgia is flaring. I am utterly fatigued. All The Time. Every muscle feels weak and overused and a 70-year-old man would beat me in a foot-race right now. I sit on the ground and plant for a bit, getting my kids to bring me soil and plants, then I go inside to lie down for a bit, then back out to the garden for a bit.

It’s pissing me off, I have to say, but I’m trying to be positive about it. At least it is a lovely day. At least the children like to help. At least no one is suggesting that I should be washing dishes or doing laundry instead of being outside on such a beautiful day (or, at least, no one in this house). At least I can still get out and garden a bit.

Okay, back to the dirt.

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