View From The Glen

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shiver Me Timbers

We like pirates around here, me hearties. But we upped the ante on Saturday, holding Erik's birthday party on board a pirate ship.

Aye. Sailing the blue seas of Mooney's Bay in Ottawa with Capt. Terrible Terry and his motley crew.

If you have kids check out Pirate Adventures in Ottawa. A great time was had hunting for treasure and making evil Pirate Pete walk the plank; drinking 'grog' and dancing pirate dances.

Shiver me timbers, shiver me soul
Yo ho heave ho
There are men whose hearts are as black as coal
Yo ho heave ho

We'll sail away on the ocean blue
A blood-thirsty captain and a cut-throat crew

It's as dark a tale as was ever told
Of the love for treasure and a lust for gold

Shiver me timbers, shiver me sails
Dead men tell no tales

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Decade Old

There are so many things you want to say to a boy on the verge of adolescence. It's so easy when they are babies and toddlers to think you will always be able to right each wrong, soften each blow, solve all the problems they encounter with a hug.

Now that he's going off to cub camps, and retreating to his bedroom to read books because he wants down time, I see that it is only going to get harder to stay present in his life. My instinct is to pull him closer and not let go, but instead I look for new ways to connect with him without hanging on. I invite him on my morning run a couple of times a week now. He doesn't always come, but on the days he does the sun shines brighter. We still have our imaginative midnight dream-adventures, and I ask for his help often enough to make him feel useful.

For his 10th birthday last week, as part of his cache of gifts, I gave him a copy of Rudyard Kipling's poem, If. It's a poem that Roger Whittaker sang, calling it "Song for Erik" which seemed apt. I don't think it really meant much to him now, but this is the same kid who has kept all the lunch kit notes I have left him over the years, so I have faith that one day he'll appreciate it.

This is what I want to say to him.

Song For Erik (If)
If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings -- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much...

If I sometimes long for those days when he was 4 and clung to me with a big smile whever we went anywhere, it's only nostalgia speaking. The truth is I couldn't be more proud of Erik, of this problem-solving, independent, thoughful, lone wolf son I have. This camping, canoing, bow-wielding, soccer playing 10 year old.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Girl with a non-pearl earring.

I want my ears pierced, Grace told me on the way to karate last week.

Why? I asked, anticipating a myriad of long reasons.

Because all the girls in my class have earring and I'm JEALOUS! she called out, emphasis loud and clear.

Talk to your father, I said, pleased to defer responsibility to him.

Then this morning, she came down with earrings. Hoops of string (with charms) that she had looped around her ears.

I can't decide if its adorable and innocent and a creative solution to a dilemma.

Or whether it's psychological warfare: she knows I'm not going to let her out looking so ridiculous and assumes I will, at some point, cave.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fairy Tales

Do you tell your kids fairy tales? The real ones I mean. Not the ones where the three little pigs and the big bad wolf make friends and go on a picnic with Little Red Riding Hood, but the ones where bad stuff happens, where evil lurks, where loss and heartbreak and death and dismemberment exist side-by-side with courage, pluck, resourcefulness, kindness, helpful woodland creatures, and yes, happy endings.

I have never shied away from these tales – we tell them to each other in the car on long trips, at bedtime, whenever a story is needed but no book is present. We mix the Brothers Grimm with Hans Christian Anderson and throw in Greek mythology or Aesop for good measure. And what I only half recall, I make up, but always remembering what I think are the big important must-haves of fairy tales:
  • They must be entertaining
  • They must include unpleasantness
  • They must have happy endings
There’s a lot I have to say about this. But I’ll stick to a few key points.
  • The wolf is the Big Bad Wolf, not the poor misunderstood wolf whom, in the name of inclusiveness, we must rehabilitate
  • The evil witch is truly evil. She really wants to eat Hansel and Gretel and it is their ingenuity that saves the day, not her latent morality kicking in repentantly
  • Death is often final. And ugly. And children are not immune to tragedy just because they are children.
It strikes me that we water down these stories (c’mon, you know it happens) at our peril. To me, fairy tales are an important rite of passage for kids. They snuggle up safely with Mom or Dad and experience the thrills and chills of these age-old stories. Through them they are exposed to a world that isn’t all pleasant, that is full of obstacles to overcome and hardships that need to be faced. They are able to put a face on evil, to personify it and understand that it exists in the world, that it’s real, and most importantly of all, to believe that we all have within us the power to defeat it and triumph.

We sugar coat so much of our children’s experiences. And then one day they learn to read and pick up a paper and learn the hard way just how scary the real world can be. Fairy tales can be a bridge between innocence and reality, allowing safe exploration of the good and bad that makes up human existence in all corners of the world. We often make up our own endings now – Little Red might use a well timed karate kada to help the woodman take down the wolf – because the kids have internalized an important truth: that they if they know their own strengths, they can succeed.

Little Red sorted out the wolf, learned a valuable lesson in who to trust along the way, and lived happily ever after.

Hansel and Gretel stood up for themselves, teamed up to outwit the witch, showed great resilience, and lived happily ever after.

Snow White broke free of the evil queen, let go of the issues holding her back, and lived happily ever after (well, apart from her prince’s predilection for singing which, though charming at first, got really annoying in later years).

Fairy Tales aren’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. But both are adventures. That’s a message I can live with.

Monday, May 17, 2010

24 Glasses

There were 24 empty wine glasses on my dining room table on Saturday night. 24 wine glasses for six of us to taste test four bottles of Shiraz ranging from a bottle I had on my wine rack (around $14) to a higher end $100 bottle.

For the most part, I know I can tell the difference between a $8 and $12 bottle of wine. If I'm really feeling like splurging, my favourite wine is a $17 Wolf Blass, but I usually buy wine around the $10-12 range. But I have long wanted to know if I could tell the difference between a $14 wine and a $50 or $100 bottle. And would it be worth it?

A casual mention around a campfire spurred a friend of mine into action and we rounded up a taste-testing party of people who would be willing participants in our experiment.

Truthfully, it wasn't difficult to find volunteers.

Andrew stuck to beer and scotch so he was Master of Ceremonies, delivering us a glass of each to taste and swirl and discuss over bread and local cheese (from Glengarry Fine Cheese).

Some of the party are true conoisseurs. Talk of lingering aroma of cherry, and aftertaste of dark chocolate, fruity undertones, and base notes. I just know what I like. But we all in the end were able to agree. The first wine was the best. I described it as friendly. The second was the worst. The third was lovely, but it took a while to grow on us and it wasn't until after dinner that we agreed it was a close second. The fourth was generally agreed to be good as well.

And when the labels on the four Shiraz bottles (all Australian, I should add) were uncovered:

#1: Two Hands - Samantha's Gate 2008 Clare Valley (South Australia) $56

#2: The Octavius - Yalumba 2004, Australia $100

#3: Red Belly Black - Angove's 2007, South Australia $15 (any local liquor store - my regular quaffing Shiraz)

#4: Pillar Box Reserve - Padthaway 2007, Australia $22

Personally, I was jsut thankful that the $100 bottle wasn't my favourite - weekends would have become a whole lot more expensive!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Drizzle Of Olive Oil

Let's face facts. Life sometimes goes pretty fast. There are parties to plan, bikes to ride, dinners to cook, books to read, calls to make, blogs to update...and that's just the fun stuff.

It can be hard sometimes to remember to slow down, to take pleasure in the moment.

But with the help of a bottle of olive oil, it's a lesson I remembered the other day.

It was the middle of the week, that time in between weekends when everything is in motion, when it can sometimes seem that one mis-step will have major repercussions on the subtle balance of the household (though I hasten to add it isn't actually true: we're a family not a covert military operation, and nothing is that important - it just seems that way).

I was making a quick salad to go with the banquet burgers we were having for dinner. And I was making salad dressing. With my new bottle of good olive oil at the ready, I made to mix up the ingredients. I turned the bottle of oil upside down and watched as it drizzled, slowly, out. Slooooowly.

My first thought, I admit, was I don't have time for this. We had a guest arriving, homework to finish, and a pile of laundry sat waiting to be folded.

Squeezing the glass bottle was futile - yes, I tried - so I had no option but to stand there and wait.

And something wonderful happened. I watched the oil drizzle slooooowly out into the cup, and I felt my shoulders relax, the world slow down, and the kitchen become suffused with peace and tranquility.

The only thing that mattered right then in that moment was the golden olive oil, the smell of garlic, the roasting cashews, the sunbeam that floated through the window bathing the red tiles in rich colour. Time stood still.

And it felt good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


When the kids were babies I was blessed with good sleepers. They always went down at 7 pm, and I'd nurse again around 10 or 11pm before I turned in for the night.

As they grew into toddlers I kept the 7 pm bedtime routine. They may not have needed it, but I sure did. Much as I love them, by 7 pm (None of them napped. Ever. The downside of sleeping through the night I guess) I was exhausted, and I needed adult time, time to unwind, to have a conversation with someone who spoke in polysyllables.

Even once they started school, bedtime for years in our house was 7:30. I liked it. I love the feeling of tucking them in and knowing they were safe and sound until morning. And I loved having two good hours of relative peace (and sometimes cleanng) before I too went to bed.

It used to bother me that one day bedtime would be later. I dreaded it. But the inevitable happened last summer when long days of sun and activity stretched bedtime out sometimes until 9 pm and because there was no school, I let it go. When September rolled around, predictably the kids buckled at the thought of 7:30 bed, and we stretched it to 8 pm. A good deal for the youngest.

And now, I can't imagine it any other way. Evenings are relaxed and unhurried. There's time for leisurely dinners, walks through the meadow, a game, reading, even a bath before bed. They are older too, less needy. I like having them around and our conversations are interactive and interesting.

Most nights they're in bed by 8pm. Erik reads until 8:30. The girls until 8:15 or so. And it works. Beautifully.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mad Hatter Tea Party

Grace wanted a Mad Hatter Tea Party for her 7th birthday. We had visions of setting the table outside under the maple trees, but Mother Nature had other ideas (rain, flurries) so we bought the party inside.

Yes. 12 kids. In my house. For three hours.

And it was amazing.

We set two tables end-to-end, laden with dishes: sandwiches, sausage rolls, veggies and dip, tri-coloured jello, jam tarts, berry tea, iced tea, and pink lemonade.

We made a cake in the shape of a hat. Well, sort of.

The White Rabbit showed up.

As did the Knave and Queen of Hearts.

Jam tarts were stolen, mad hats were made, croquet was played, food was devoured, fun was had.

The birthday girl was happy.

Mom was exhausted, but that's another story.

Friday, May 7, 2010

All Is Well

I've had a couple of people ask if everything is okay this week because I've been largely offline.

Yes, everything is good.

Better than good really, that's the problem.

There's so much happening that I'm busier than normal, and something has to give.

And this week, it was being online.

I was on the computer, make no mistake. I've been organizing parties (two of them), making invitations and cake toppers and fun crafts. And I've had three big editing jobs to do this past couple of weeks as well.

On top of that, work has been super busy with a big push for innovations, which happens to be the team I am on, so I've been organizing brainstorming sessions and breakout meetings.

And on top of that is spring. Which means there is so much to do around the house and garden that sometimes it feels impossible. But that sense of satisfaction that I got from spending an hour combing my asiatic lilies to find the murderous red beetles that were eating it alive makes it all worthwhile. As does the promise of new potatoes, fresh herbs and baby carrots and snowpeas in the months ahead.

So busy, yes. But good busy.

And today, I feel like I am on top of it all. I even have time to meet a girlfriend for lunch.

That's something to be happy about.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


As if by magic the trilliums have sprung up. Tiny flowers dotting the shadowy woods with their white light.
Pictures don't do them justice. They;re shy, but unmistakable. Popping out of the bracken and leaves, bright spots of spring. We stop, admire them, enjoy them in this moment. Before the moment has gone.
Notice the one red trillium. Beautiful.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, Grace!

Watch this girl.

Seven years old today.
Sweet and kind and helpful.

The best kind of trouble.
Knows how to stand up for herself.

Comedian, karate kid, math queen
Plans to be a rocket scientist.

Best 7 year old on the planet.
Happy Birthday, Sweetie.