Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Week's Books

While I like the text of these two books, I love the illustrations. Therefore, I have more to show than say about them.

Paper snowflakes taped to the window
and mittens drying on the radiator.
Mama, Is It Summer Yet? by Nikki McClure

As with most books I adore, this one captures both an air of simplicity and little details that I appreciate. The format is large and square and the illustrations alternate between full-page spreads and right -page illustrations with text on appropriately muted color pages on the left.

The illustrations are clear, quiet, and have an effortlessness about them though the author's note tells us that they were created with great care and diligence. "First, I draw the image on black paper, and then I cut it out with an X-Acto knife. I try to keep everything connected with a path of black paper... There is no erasing, so if I make a mistake, I just have to keep cutting and find a solution."

Flowers in Mama's pocket
and polka dot boots.
McClure has a talent for choosing just the right details to portray a boy and his mother working and playing in their garden during the long wait for summer. Many of us can identify with this wait during these dreary February days; it feels like forever until the grass will be dry enough to sit on. But, as this book tells us, if you focus on what is going on in the moment (or the season, as the case may be), then the grass will be dry before you know it.

Picking berries with a colander and bare feet.

Boats Speeding! Sailing! Cruising! by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy

I was instantly attracted to the dated color pallette and retro mixed-media illustrations of this series which, along with boats, includes books on cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes.

Hubbel's text echoes the lively feel of the exclamation point-heavy titles with various approaches to talking about it's topic. Various type of boats are named along with their parts and purposes and sounds.

There's nothing like onomatopoeic language to get a preschooler excited. "Yachts with flags both fore and aft. Dory. Dinghy, Shell. Raft... Rumble! Whistle! Roar! Toot! Chug! Hum! Sputter! Hoot! Rev the engines! Speed ahead! Deck. Cabin. Galley. Head."

The book is teeming with little cultural touchstones from old advertisements and the labelled pictures reminiscent of my childhood Richard Scarry books to classic tales of pirates and whales. The result is a book that adults may peruse more attentively than their children.

"Toy boats sail in ponds and streams,
in your tub, and in your dreams."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ante-Digital Dust Bunnies III

Shades of green. Envy, that is. Friends are escaping the dreariness of the wet coast in winter; they've flown or are soon to fly the coop to Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, India, Belize, and yes, Hawaii. So I thought I'd pull out of the ante-digital vault proof, real film proof, of my previous life living on the Big Island of Hawaii while providing a needed infusion of lively greens, a sight for sore winter eyes. 

Papaya and lilikoi

Spiky fern

Waipi'o moss and illi illi stones

Papakolea Beach, green with olivine

Rainbow eucalyptus

The many greens of Ohe'o



A new somewhat-weekly effort to record what we're eating titled after my son's joyful mealtime exclamation. No matter which meal of the day it is, it's always "dinnertime!"

I've been intending to post more recipes and I finally figured out why I've avoided it; I really dislike writing out the ingredients list. So I am writing up my recipes in the method that works for me (instructions and ingredients listed together, chronologically); I hope it works for you.

The only thing I ever craved while pregnant I craved during both pregnancies: real tequila, non-virgin lime margaritas. In lieu of the fact that I've been on the wagon  for nearly three years (as a side effect of my mothering condition), I've been making a lot more Mexican food in this time. My current favorites are chicken tostadas, baked eggs with tomato sauce and corn tortillas, and tortilla soup which I made last night.

Tortilla Soup for a Sodden Vancouver Evening

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 cups homemade chicken stock or good buillon
Handful of fresh herb stems

Remove chicken and cool. Using two forks or your hands, shred the chicken into bite-size strips and set aside.

In separate pan saute until softened:
1 onion
1 carrot
1 pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 zucchini

1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cloves

Remove herbs from stock and add the sauteed veg and spices, then add:
1 28 oz can of tomatoes
Most of a 19 oz can of black beans
1 cup of fresh or frozen corn
s+p to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Heat through. Serve with avocado, grated cheese or a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and a handful of tortilla chips.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mother of Men

I just realized that one day my boys will be men. I know, I know; I should have deduced this when my husband called out, "It's a boy" that first time nearly two years ago.

I did assume the day would come when they would learn to eat, crawl, walk, and talk but I hadn't really thought much beyond that point. My sister, a mother of two teens, warned me that their cute little toes wouldn't always be so kissable but I guess I thought that puberty thing only happens to other people's children. I've also recently concluded that way too soon they won't want to bathe with me anymore and before I know it, I won't even be allowed to mention that we ever bathed together. And then, not long after that, they will both be taller than me.

Alas, my sweet and soft-fleshed little bundles of joy are growing and will continue to grow up. The older one (nearly two) held his own at a four year old's birthday party yesterday and the younger one (five months old) is getting hair - finally! It just makes me a little dizzy to think that one day he'll be a balding middle-aged man! I've pictured them at 3 and 4, 8 and 9, and even maybe 11 and 12, but 45 and 46?

Admittedly, some days I can't wait for my boys to grow, to get to the next developmental phase, you know, the one where they stop whining. As I said to a non-parent contemporary the other evening (I had made it out to two hours of a dinner party before the frantic phone call to come home to a crying baby), "The days go slowly, but the months are flying by."

Tomorrow morning I will be woken before I am ready by a little voice calling to me down the dark hallway and soon I'll be in the swing of another day of diapers and nursery rhymes, cuddles and "snackies". For now, at least, I have my boys.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This Week's Books

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand
A quirky read with surrealistic illustrations by "one of the most influential and groundbreaking American graphic designers of the twentieth century" as the book jacket reads. I find some of the phrasing hard to wrap my tongue around simply because it's written not as I would say it, but this is part of the reason we read books, to have our thoughts put into others' words often more eloquently than we ourselves could put them. Overall the book is terribly enjoyable. The text speaks with a childlike imprecision that both adults and children find amusing: "I know I can dig a hole this big", "A book needs pages and a cake takes ages to bake", and "the moon is a light for the night". Though originally published in 1956, the bold, graphic illustrations feel quite contemporary despite, or perhaps due to, their capital "m" Modern aesthetic.

Only You by Robin Cruise Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Obviously written by a parent, this story follows three different child/parent pairs at different times of day. It is all about the priceless, tender moments that occur throughout the day when you live with a toddler. The narrator acknowledges how one can love actions ("I love each hop, each spin, each shout... I love your voice, the words you say - the songs you sing throughout the day" ) as well as the more predictable features of a child ("I love your knees, your toes, your feet. I love your skin - so soft, so sweet"). I enjoy how the words could be my words as I read them to my son as the examples are specific and the sentiments  universal.
The illustrations mimic the narrative perspective, zooming in from the view of another watching the pair walk down through the park or cuddle at bedtime to the parent's macro view of the child as they interact over the course of a day. Chodos-Irvine skillfully combines striking shapes, loud colors, subtle patterns, and over-sized images, (the full-page illustrations spill right off the page; see right-hand image). This is a book that I could read at every bedtime.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Date Night

Jessica Bromley Bartram's budgie
I feel like my sister's childhood pet budgie, Bert, who used to escape his cage every now and then and go for joy-flights around the house until he was cajoled into returning to his perch and accepting his lot in life. I just got home from my first movie theatre date with my husband in two years.

If you haven't been reading my blog, then the choice of film (The Adventures of Tintin) will seem particularly confusing, but I assure you, it was thoroughly enjoyable for both of us. As mentioned before on this blog, my husband won me over by reading Tintin aloud to me on picnics in the park back when we were first living together. Back when that post was written I lamented the lack of a Tintin movie, and now I am happy to report that I loved Spielberg and Jackson's rendition; in my opinion they can lay claim to possibly the best opening credits ever.

Sure, the popcorn and the hand holding were nice, being downtown (and at night to boot) was exciting, and the movie itself was a humourous, tumultuous roller coaster ride, (at one point I remarked that I didn't care if both kids were awake and crying and being complete pains for Grandma - it was worth it), but honestly, it was the reassurance that I can indeed go out and everything will be (more or less) fine. I didn't miss the boys much, Grandma only had to put up with 15 minutes of baby tears, and I got a moonlit kiss (and what a moon it was tonight)!

Thursday's moon. Photo credit: Perry 

The most uncomfortable part of the whole ordeal? Stepping into an elevator with two other couples after the movie and being the only one who couldn't/didn't/wouldn't whip out my iphone within two seconds of the doors closing. I know they were  just checking their messages, the score of the Canucks' game, texting their babysitter, checking the weather, reviewing the movie on their blog, looking up the fastest route home - whatever, I don't care. But boy, did I feel a decade behind the times.

Fortunately, coming home to a crying baby put it all back in perspective. My night out ended slightly better than poor budgie Bert's last flight which ended when he flew into a wall. I was glad to be back home, in my cage, despite the baby tears; I know what matters and it isn't your newest app.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Joy of Books

A team of bookish types in Toronto decided to shelve and reshelve books all night long and this is the result. Custom music by Grayson Matthews.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Smitten with "Sunshine"

Sunshine by Jan Ormerod

This book was written the year I was born and maybe that is why I find these illustrations so charming; they remind me of other narratives and images from my childhood. And, while the story is rather timeless, the unavoidable Eighties-ness of it is pure nostalgia for me even though I've only just discovered it.

Rise and shine

It's likely the spot-on quiet humour that endears this book to me.

Dad burning toast

Or perhaps it's the decided lack of sunshine in these wintry Vancouver days that makes this title and the warmth of it's plot so appealing.

A fine balance

Or maybe it's the apt portrayal of my current cozy reality that hits the mark.

Been there

It must be the precisely sweet embodiment of a child's routine motions and expressions that captivate me.

Page one of a two-page sequence

Indeed, this wordless story is poetic. The particular moments Ormerod has chosen to depict couldn't be more pertinent. There are no words and yet nothing is missing. There are dozens of images in her sequential segments and yet nothing is superfluous. I've said it before and I'll say it again, good editing makes any endeavor a work of art.

Whatever it is, I am smitten with "Sunshine" and currently looking for the companion book "Moonlight".

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beware the Beige

Lovin' the linen
It all started with the natural linen duvet cover. I was young and impressionable and in search of a calming element in our eclectic, eccentric east side abode. It cost too much but we were DINKs (double income, no kids) flying by the seat of our pants, flitting here and there: New York City one month, Galiano Island the next, and Okanagan wine country after that. All it took was a Long Beach sunset and the aforementioned duvet cover and the next thing I knew we were married and three months later, pregnant.

But it doesn't stop there. Oh no. Due to our expanding family and sense of adult achievement we went and moved into our current house: the clean slate we'd been searching for. The kitchen and bathroom floors are neutral ceramic tile, tub and sink and toilet are in a matching shade of cool eggshell, the walls are painted a uniform cafe au lait, the french doors are a breezy white, the silk living room drapes are champagne, and I have my first modern kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances and a travertine back splash.

Benjamin Moore electric blue
I now find myself somewhat surprisingly entrenched in a beige phase. I've been averse to wearing all black for as long as I can remember and I've always been a fan of bold graphics (the first blog I ever followed was the eye-popping print and pattern). In my single days I painted a bedroom with hearty "red desire" and within a year met my now-husband. In our common law days, I painted a room (and I've only ever admitted this to a select few) "Sex and the City" blue. Yes, I researched the exact color and brand that they used on the set of the movie, painted our living room and hung artwork in a similar format.

Indian block prints: color full.
Since moving into this beige house I haven't seen hide nor hair of my color-loving self; our two previous duvet covers (Indian block printed no less) have been retired and even my one-time favorite artwork (a Balinese dot painting) hangs in a dimly lit nook while a sepia toned black and white print takes centre stage on the dining room wall. 

I've made an effort to infuse color into my bland decor. I went looking for bold patterned curtains and came home with a print (!) on a beige background. We bought a sectional couch to fill up our big living room and the one that fit our layout was - beige. We got dining room chairs and those that were the right size and style for our table had beige upholstered seats. 

Fortunately we still have most of our old mismatched furniture and we do have kids (and their clutter) to liven the place up. The older one, nearly two, is, as Picasso once found himself, in his blue period. My only hope is that his blue period doesn't get all over my beige phase.

I'm beginning to think that beige may be the exact color I need in my hectic, messy life. It is a darn good backdrop for splashes of color (intentional and otherwise and two year old temper tantrums often result in the latter). Have you seen my blog layout?

Not all bad comes from being understated. Under this beige roof we've had our second child and will continue to raise our loud little family. So I will beware the complacency of a staid and comfortable (read: beige) existence while trying try to enjoy the simplicity of my staid and comfortable existence.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Quaint Things in Life

Photo credit: Keith Bloomfield
To my mind this very well may be the quaintest my life has ever been. Quaint, in the oddly picturesque or old-fashioned charm sort of way. I am indeed living small. I've had my days living large (and hope to one day do so again), but for now small is all I need (if not all I want). On these rainy days a single trip to the grocery store, the library, or just the front yard seems the highlight, an event to get dressed for each morning. My day is notched by meals and snacks, diaper changes and naps, hallway hockey and sofa bed snuggles. And it feels alright for this is how I remember my early childhood to be; predictable in all the right places. This allowed me, and in turn, allows my kids, to focus on the little things in their little lives, making mere chestnuts mighty in their minds.

This is a poem about my quaint beginnings based on memories and family lore.

Boulder Creek

rocking chair
record player

garden hose
swing set

black bears
apple orchard
birch trees

ice skates
toboggan hill

make believe
go fish

onion soup
bunk beds

broken leg
nap time

Radio Flyer

paper dolls
pencil crayons

barn house