Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Week's Books

I go to the library twice a week and though my local branch is miniscule it is a warm, dry haven on wintry west coast days when the kids and I get cabin fever and we're fed up with being only family at the park. Each week I take out a dozen or so kids books to keep our reading options fresh. My older son (not yet two years old) and I both look forward to the the little discoveries and laughs we will share in the unfamiliar  pages. He enjoys putting last week's books (and occasionally his library card) in the book return slot and the newly chosen books up onto the counter for the librarian to check out for us, then he helps me load the stroller with our book bounty. For him the other highlight of these visits is the big red button that opens the automatic doors.

While I really enjoy the treasure hunt that is our weekly trip to the library, I've also loved sharing my old books with my kids. Here are two standbys from the early 1980s that happen to both be by Eloise Wilkin. I've got each of them committed to memory (they were already half complete in my head from my childhood) so that I can recite them in those rare instances that we - Heaven forbid - find ourselves without a book!

"And then we say goodnight."
My Goodnight Book by Eloise Wilkin
This shaped board book is brief but I can remember some of what I felt when I viewed these pages as a child. I recall identifying with the little girl, liking the look of the mother in the story and thinking she was sure of herself and gentle, and I was excited by the candy bowl on the table next to the armchair where the father and daughter read their bedtime story. Most of all I found (and still find) that the nighttime view out the girl's bedroom window on the last page of the book (see image) made me feel like all is right with the world. The pastoral setting and the summer evening breeze evokes a sense of security and contentedness that relaxes me still each time I read the book.
"A guppy is a little fish."

The Little Book by Eloise Wilkin
The cover of this book pictures a little girl reading "The Little Book" which has a picture of the same little girl reading "The Little Book" which has a picture of... This was my first example of recursion and I remember being fascinated by the infinity of it all. The text of the book is considerably less existential but just about as sweet as Wilklin's illustrations, epitomizing her cute aesthetic: "A chuckle is a little laugh. A little cow is a calf. A quarrel is a tiff. A little sniffle is a sniff." It's hard to beat the simplicity of a list of rhyming words and informative truths.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This Year's Xmas Cards

I've been keeping busy in the brief evenings between putting kids to bed, cleaning up from dinner, and watching episodes of Boardwalk Empire by making Christmas cards out of my favorite material: old Christmas cards! You may recognize a snippet from a card you once sent me (it's a compliment really that I kept your card for such purposes) or see the card you're about to receive from me this year!

Birds and houses


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All I Want for Christmas...

For the boys:

A bath toy hammock or bag

Any art supplies from Clementine Art

Or any other toddler-appropriate art supplies

Push cart for baby

And as always, books, books, and more books are welcome gifts

For Mama:

Set of stacking cake plates or a frilly 3-tiered dessert tray

Stainless steel lemon juicer

 1 quart sauce pan

Natural soap - I like to stockpile

Gift cards for any of the following:

My favorite store

My hair salon

My local fitness studio

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pumpkin Seeds Galore and More

Okay, so it's a little late; Halloween was over two weeks ago but it just now occurred to me to share the story of our jack-o-lanterns (or "punkies" as my one and a half year old enthusiastically calls them). I walked down an alley the other day as I am wont to do (see posts Sept 5/10 and Nov 7/11), and I saw a garbage can; the lid was ajar and I could see a somewhat soft orange orb seated atop a bulging garbage bag. In another alley on another day I saw two pumpkins that had been placed in the overgrown grass next to a garage at the alley's edge, now slowly leaning into the landscape. These sights saddened me not because our city has bins for yard trimmings and compostables but because pumpkins are so delicious.

Gramps and Oaks at the bird sanctuary.
For me, the pumpkin is an integral part of Halloween. Back in my single days I had pumpkin carving parties even though I never lived anywhere that got trick-or-treaters; it was all about the resultant festive lanterns, roasting the pips, and drinking mulled wine. This September we took the kids and one set of grandparents on what is becoming my new pre-Halloween tradition, an annual visit to a nearby island bird sanctuary and pumpkin patch. We picked our pumpkins with care, checking out the full array before making our selection. At home, we placed them on our front porch as a seasonal display until they met their demise on the afternoon of the 31st.

Both my husband and I were naively looking forward to carving  pumpkins with our little guys looking on. The reality was somewhat less than ideal. The toddler had no interest in helping to scoop out the cold innards of the pumpkin and both kids commenced crying while we wrestled the gourds and wielded knives. I managed to get the seeds in the oven with a bit of salt and Old Bay (though they're equally as good with a little cinnamon and sugar). Pumpkin pips are also known as pepitas in Mexican Spanish or passatempo in Greek literally meaning "pastime" which I love.

This year I carved mine like this.
After the festivities of the big night I was left with these two gorgeous, homegrown, handpicked pumpkins that I couldn't just compost so I have been cooking, freezing, and baking up a glorious orange-colored storm. (I should note that I made a point to use soy candles with lead-free wicks inside our jack-o-lanterns as I knew we'd be ingesting them.) Last year, finding myself in a similar situation, that is, with masses of pureed pumpkin on hand, I discovered what has become a household standby, Squashy Mac n' Cheese (adapted from this recipe, it's essentially pasta in a chicken stock and squash sauce sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese and baked). As I had a teething seven month old last Halloween I also froze chunks of pumpkin skin for him to gum. This year my discoveries include pumpkin hummus, pumpkin ginger scones, and highly recommended pumpkin butter. And so I can happily report that my pumpkins did not end up in a landfill but were an essential part of filling up my family with a little compost leftover.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This Week's Books

A Winter Day by Douglas Florian
One boy is almost asleep and the other is almost awake; this is the time I should be napping myself but I'm just so warm and fuzzy from the book I just read before naptime. "A Winter Day" is one of those simple and nostalgic type of books that get me thinking about writing kids literature. The only thing is, I'm no artist and so many books are written and illustrated by one person, especially books with so few words. To quote the entire book: "A Winter Day. Cold and gray. Snowflakes. Pancakes. Cover your heads. Skates and sleds. A snowball grows. Warm your toes. Everything white. Orange light. A winter night." It is a poem, even if it wasn't written to be one; it's short, list-y, image-laden, sentimental but thankfully, with very few adjectives, in a word: perfect - or poetic - I often consider these two words to be synonymic anyway.

Little House, Little Town by Scott Beck
This is the other book that I just can't seem to return to the library. My husband recently remarked upon reading it for the dozenth time, "Why do all kids books take place in pastoral settings?". Well, for one, they probably don't it's just that I tend to favour the ones that do (and therefore, bring them home from the library) because it's what I like. Also, I grew up in a rather pastoral setting myself and wish to convey some of the freedom and security that I felt as a child due to my surroundings to my kids growing up in a rental house in the city. This book encapsulates the sentiment of a childhood realization that I assume is a common one for I remember it well. That is, that there is a world of other people going about their own lives every moment of every day and they are making the world go round. I clearly remember lying down for naptime at daycare when I was three or so and hearing the occasional car approach, accelerate, pass, and fade into the distance while feeling snug and cozy but aware of the world out there. While I have thought that I could improve upon Beck's particular words, a few lines really resonate with me. "Daddy turns the sprinkler on. Mama yawns a little yawn and pats her baby's back. Outside the train goes down the track." And later in the day, "People head home from the park. The mechanic puts his tools away. Children come in from their play. Now it's getting dark. Daddy rocks his boy to sleep. And with a kiss upon the cheek, he puts his baby down... in his little crib, in their little house, in the little town". I suppose it helps that Beck even uses our family's preferred parental pronouns, but there is something more that relaxes me when I read this book and it seems to do the same to my son. What more could you ask for in a bedtime story?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Different Scarf Style Every Day of the Month (Well, Nearly)

I just wish I could remember a few of them when I'm on my way out the door...

Monday, November 7, 2011

November Raspberries

Seriously. I happened upon a mature raspberry patch while alleyway walking in early Autumn and I've been visiting the spot every week for six weeks now and the berries are still there: ripe, red, tart, and not moldy. I pick a handful each time, the toes of my shoes glistening in the heavy dew, little drops of water splashing onto the brim of my hat off overgrown canes, and my nose and fingers getting cold. There are plenty on the ground and it is obvious that no one is overly proprietorial about them and so I marvel and savour their unseasonal appearance, thinking each indulgence will be my last of the year and yet they continue to surprise me. This type of surprise is the best kind: an unexpected find that, with a little effort for a small berry with big flavour, can totally make my rainy day.

Photo credit Leora Wenger