For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

We're in the middle of preparing our Wigilia feast, which seems to be turning out quite wonderfully.  The house smells marvelous, and I can't wait to try that goose!

I'd like to take a moment in the middle of all the preparations to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May Christmas be a day of joy and contentment, and may 2011 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for you and yours.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Almost ready!

Well, we're almost ready for our Wigilia!  The tourtierre are done.  We may pick up a few last minute gifts.  Otherwise, I've done my wrapping, though the girls have some to do.  The goose is thawing out right now, and the rest of the groceries needed will be picked up on the 23rd and the 24th will be spent preparing. 

In deciding on a menu this year, we've decided to cut things back a little, even though we've got a 5th person joining us this year.  We have a tendency to produce a huge menu that would feed an office party rather than just ourselves. *L*  We've dropped the cheese and soup courses completely.

This is what we've decided on for this year.

Bacon and Cheddar devilled eggs
Fruit plate

Greek salad
Caesar salad
(we're doing two, as Youngest and I don't like some of the ingredients of a Greek salad, but Dh and Eldest love it)

Roast goose, basted with orange juice and red wine (no stuffing)
Cheesy mashed potatoes
Broccoli, Julia Child's style

Whatever tempts us at the bakery

Cranberry punch (cranberry juice, ginger ale and frozen berries)
Wine; probably a red, but whatever strikes our fancy

Yeah, we're "cheating" with some things.  The fruit plate will be something pre-made at the grocery store, and I'm quite content with their bakery offerings.  The rest won't require a lot of time or attention.  Even the goose won't need a lot, once it's in the oven.  The less time spent tending pots and pans, the better!  Eldest will be doing the salads and the broccoli.  We don't usually cook broccoli, but when I did, I usually either steamed or stir fried it.  After watching a Julia Child episode, Eldest was inspired to try out the method (first cooked covered in a small amount of water, then pan fried in garlic and butter).  It is SO incredibly good.

I think I'll need to take out those Julia Child dvd's again.  We could use some kitchen badassery.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Before I head to bed...

Well, I'm happy to say today's cooking of the tourtierre filling went quite well!  Aside from tormenting my eyes with a dozen onions, everything went quite smoothly.  After peeling the onions (and keeping the skins for dying eggs at Easter) I had to take a break.  Eldest was kind enough to premeasure all the spices and herbs for me while I did, then youngest took care of putting the 24 cloves of garlic through the press for me.  I prefer the pressed garlic over the minced garlic for these.

The cooking was actually done by about 6 pm, though it took quite a while longer before it was cool enough to set the pot outside.  It was still quite warm, actually - warm enough that I think it would have melted the snow I put it in and we'll be having to yank it loose from ice tomorrow - but it should be okay. 

You know, we'd never be able to do this sort of thing any other time of year!  For the number of pies we make (I got 24 pounds of meats this year, which should be about 20-22 pies), unless we had a chest freezer, we'd have some serious concerns about safely storing the filling until it cooled down completely.  Being able to put the entire pot (or pots, as we've done in the past) outside in temperatures below freezing works out rather well.  Then, on baking day, the pies get moved through a series of cooling areas before finally ending up outside.  In the end, after they're wrapped up in foil, we put them outside to freeze, leaving them stored in a sealed bin.  Without a freezer bigger than whats on our fridge, outside is the only place we can freeze and store them!

We need to decide on our menu very soon.  Aside from a goose and tourtierre, we haven't really thought about it.  It should be fun!

Before I head off to bed, though (seeing as how it's past 2:30 am as I write this), here are a few photos of this year's Christmas decorations on our tree. 

This one was made using glow in the dark yarn and some gold metallic crochet thread twisted together as I wrapped it.   The centre is a mostly hidden flower cut out from some scrap booking paper.  The stamens are highlighted with gold glitter glue, applied with a fine tipped paintbrush.
This one is made with some leftover alpaca yarn and silver metallic crochet thread.  The centre is some blue card stock with a glittery finish, a self adhesive gem and some silver glitter glue to add some extra sparkle.

We made a total of about 30 of these, each one different from the other.  Three of them were wrapped "backwards" for an effect I think I actually prefer.  I wish I'd thought of it earlier.  As it was, I seriously considered cutting out more forms (rather than gluing two squares of cardboard together, as per the instructions at the site I linked to, I cut the start out of foam core) to do more.  In the end, I decided we already had more than enough.

We've got so many decorations now, even considering how many we give away every year, we can't fit them all on the tree!  I really like our busy, eclectically decorated tree. :-D

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tourtierre weekend

This is our weekend for making tourtierre.  I picked up the meats yesterday.  Most of it was frozen (the butcher shop slowly filled my order over the space of a week as supplies came in), with the ground turkey finished up shortly before I arrived to pick it up.  I got our Christmas goose at the same time, which will stay in the freezer for a while longer.  At about $90 for a 10-12 pound bird, it had better turn out! LOL

Right now... I'm procrastinating.  The dishes are done, but the kitchen isn't anywhere near ready.  I need clear stuff away to make room for prep and the food processor.  Everything still needs to be wiped down.  The stock pot still needs a scalding and rinse, since it's been in storage since the kids used it to make apple juice.  Of course, there's also a long list of things that also needs to be done, but no one's doing it and I have no energy to nag at people to do what should be obvious.  I've got a mild cold - not enough to be much a problem, but enough to make me reserve what little energy I have to things that won't drive me nuts.

What I really want to do is crawl into a corner and nap for a week.


Time to hit the kitchen.  Wish me well.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A few brief moments...

It's becoming increasingly difficult to find uninterrupted time to write!  I've got a few brief moments now, but from the sounds of things, they won't last long, so we'll see how much I can catch up.

Though I haven't been putting up any library lists lately, it's not for lack of going to the library!  Eldest has been going several times a week, sometimes a couple of times a day, even after completing the studies she was working on.  As I write this, she and Youngest are there right now and I've got an open invitation to join them for coffee later on, if I want.  The branch we use has a Second Cup in the same building, next to their little free art gallery.  It's been a great place to get some quality time in together while having all sorts of discussions and doing some people watching, too.

Sadly, in noting the time, I won't be able to join them today.  As soon as I finish this, I need to get a stew going.  Ah, well.  Maybe this evening. :-D

Dh, meanwhile, is home sick today.  He seems to have finally caught the stomach bug I suffered with not that long ago. I hope that's not it, because whatever bug I caught, it seems to have completely messed up my digestion on a long term.  I'm guessing it effected my intestinal flora in a bad way, because even though I'm feeling fine now, no matter what I eat or how little, I've been suffering from bloat ever since.  Dh has enough problems without that on top of it!  Either way, he's just gone back to bed.

Raider King is still living with us.  He's still looking for work and has a job interview coming up, which is encouraging.

As a family, we're slowly trying to get ready for Christmas.  This year's Christmas decorations are based on these instructions.  They went over so well that both girls ended up making some, and even Raider King made a few as gifts for his family.

Our tree is up, as well as a few decorations, but very little else; a frustration of mine.  We're also behind on getting our yearly group photo that I use to make our digital Christmas cards.  It was supposed to be done yesterday, but between people being sick, in pain or just plain snarly, it just didn't happen.  It was going to instead happen today, with the girls and I meeting Dh near his office during lunch and getting some outdoor shots, but with him home sick, that's out.  So I have no idea when we'll get the photo taken now.

I've pre-ordered the meats for our tourtierre (24 pounds this year) and will be picking it up on friday.  We'll be baking like crazy over the weekend.  If things work out, we'll freeze a few and mail them to Dh's parents through Express Post.  Packed properly, they should still be frozen when they arrive, but even if they're partly thawed, it just means they can eat them faster. :-D

While ordering our meats I looked into getting a suckling pig, having been inspired by watching old Julie Child shows.  She recommended a 10-12 pound pig, which would be more than enough for the 5 of us.  No such luck!  The smallest available was 30-45 pounds.  I don't think our oven is even big enough for a pig that size, and it would be way too much for so few people.

So what I'll most likely do, then, is a goose.  I've never done goose before, and it's not the same as other birds.  One of the things I've learned while reading various cookbooks was that the skin needs to be pierced to allow the fat to drain.  The one time my mother cooked domestic goose, we found it so fatty, it was almost inedible.  I now suspect she didn't know about the skin piercing thing.  Having so successfully cooked a Canada Goose previously, it never occurred to any of us that a domestic goose would need to be treated differently.

Well, I've just lost my quiet time.  Oh, well.  At least I got this much done. :-P  Hopefully, I'll be able to catch up more soon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unexpected changes and opportunities

The last few days have seen a few changes and stuff outside our normal routine.  The first major change was some bad news for Raider King.  He and Dh have both been home sick a lot with some sort of nasty bug - one that a lot of people seem to be fighting, but which the girls and I have managed to avoid.  Unlike Dh, Raider King's health troubles did what we're always slightly afraid will happen to Dh.  He lost his job.  He'd only been there a couple of months.  So now he's back to job hunting.  He had been looking for his own place, using the savings he's managed so far, and had some good leads, but I told him not to worry about it until he's actually got an income again.

I got all autocratic on my family recently, booking medical appointments for all of us.  Dh has been procrastinating getting the medical release his physiotherapist wanted to see before doing any more work on his back and Eldest has been looking at the possibility of being gluten intolerant.  None of us have gone for physicals in ages, so I booked appointments for all of us.  We had to split it up between two days, with Eldest having her appointment this morning.  Our appointments were supposed to be me, Dh, then Youngest, over the cours of 1 1/2 hours.  Youngest, who wasn't comfortable with the whole thing, came in with me for my physical (we skipped a certain invasive examination in the process).  Our doctor ended up just getting her file and doing her physical right after, then he saw Dh, and we were done before the time Youngest's appointment was booked.  Kinda nice, when it goes all so smoothly.  We've all been written up for blood tests, plus Dh is to get a chest Xray because of the cough he's been having so much troubles with lately (and the reason he's been missing more work lately).  No appointments necessary, and all can be done in the same place, so the next time Dh can take a morning off, we'll spend a night fasting and all go in at once.

After this morning's appointment, I dropped Eldest off at the library so she could do her studies.  Today, she was focusing on feet.  She's a bit perturbed by the differences between the reference images and real feet and hands, though.  The length of the fingers and toes, space between them, even the directions they lean, all seem off to her in the books.  The toes on the men's feet, for example, were all sort of leaning inwards towards the big toe in the reference photos, but when looking at our own feet, they don't do that.  I thought perhaps it was because we never wear fashionable pointed toe shoes - ever.  It's a possibility, anyhow.

Youngest, meanwhile, is going to be doing some hair modelling soon.  Through one of the local home schooling families, we've been in contact with a woman who it taking a beautician course.  Students always need real heads to practice on, and she's got exams coming up.  Youngest has long thick hair that's never been dyed, so next week she'll be having her hair and make up done.  The woman doing it has to do 5 different upswept styles, plus make up.  I think we'll have to split it between two days, but we'll see how long it actually takes.  As I was chatting with her, we got to talking about commercial colours.  She told me how, since taking this course, she now will never use boxed home dying kits - some pretty nasty stuff in them, apparently.  I told her Eldest is currently bright pink, and it turns out she and I both have also gone quite the variety of bright colours.  I mentioned my own hair is currently half coloured - I'd used henna to colour my hair, but the store I found the powder in no longer seems to carry it.  I haven't found another place that sells it yet - at least not just the powder.  I've found some mendhi kits, but I just want the powder.  Anyhow, my hair has grown out quite a bit since then and is quite long, but the henna colour is still very much there, so I'm half a red-head right now.  *L*  I mentioned it in jest, but I seemed to get her wheels turning, because she started saying that perhaps she could colour my hair for me - something else she needs to be tested on.  We'll see how that works out once we finally meet in person.  Should be interesting.  I've got very thin hair and it's going silver, which requires different time and attention than she might have available.  Some of her tests have to be done at the school within a time limit, but the work she'll be doing on Youngest is actually for her employer, and she can do it in her own home.  She just has to get all 5 styles done and photographed by Dec. 6.  I might even be doing the photography for her, as she was planning to use her little point-and-shoot.  It should be interesting.

Another recent event has been a spice mix exchange we hosted in our co-op.  Counting myself and Eldest, 7 people took part, so we all ended up with 7 different spice mixes.  We decided on having 1 cup of each mix per person.  The recipes, of course, didn't come in even 1 cup quantities, so we all had to recalculate our quantities.  The recipes were all in Imperial measurements, so we had to figure out things like how many teaspoons in a tablespoon (3), how many tablespoons in a teaspoon (16), work out how much we had to increase our recipes to get 7 cups, then work out how much each ingredient had to be increase individually.  What I found funny is how we'd go from fractions to decimals and back again.  Then, when it came time to actually but the spices, everything is sold in metric quantities.  It could get rather confusing!  One of the participants did an extra mix for her husband, who'd made a mistake calculating one of his ingredients, and she ended up way too short.  Thankfully, I had enough at home I could give her.

We all got together at one of the multi-purpose rooms at our co-op, where there was plenty of space to spread out, then put together our mixes while drinking tea, having cookies and chatting.  It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we did it.  I'll be jarring some of them up to make gift sets, but we've also been using them in our own cooking.  I'll have to share some of the recipes here later on. :-D

The next few days should be a little more routine.  We do need to get going on some of our Christmas plans.  I'm not sure how we'll rearrange the living room this year to fit the tree, since we've got a couple of armchairs now.  We've also got to get started on this year's Christmas decorations soon.  I've got stuff to crochet for a craft sale first, though.

Speaking of crochet, Youngest has been rather productive.  She made a great scarf for Raider King in a fluffy pink yarn he picked out.  She's making another giant blanket for herself, all in variegated yarns, plus she's starting another shawl.  This will be the first shawl she's making for herself.  All the others have been gifts.  It's been a bit difficult for either of us to get the work done, though, since our usual work space is now Raider King's bed. *L*

Tomorrow is our regular errand running day, so I expect to be quite busy.  I don't like running around, but it needs to be done. :-P  I like things when they're quiet and boring! *L*

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Movie Review: Expelled

Normally I post things like reviews on my other blog, but I think this one is more appropriate for here.

Title: Expelled - No Intelligence Allowed
from: Ben Stein

While reading another blog, I saw this movie recommended.  I was happy to find it at our library and have it put on hold, and today I finally sat down and watched it with Eldest.

First, my expectation.  I didn't really know what the movie's subject was specifically, though I noticed it had two very negative reviews on our library website - one actually chastising the library for having it at all, and how they shouldn't have it available, while the other mocked it.  I got the impression, however, that neither commenter had actually seen the movie. 

When I saw the dvd cover, I thought it might be a sort of mockumentary.  It has Ben Stein in a suit with his collar popped up, short pants, knee high black socks and running shoes, spray painting the X into the word "expelled" with "No intelligence allowed" made to look like it had been spray painted onto a brick wall as graffiti.  I knew by then that it tackled the Intelligent Design controversy and had an idea that it was going to point out the hypocrisy of not allowing ID to be taught.

Just a bit of a background on my own views.  Having been educated in the public school system, I was taught evolution.  In fact, I came out of school believing that Darwinian evolution was it.  Basically, evolution = Darwin, Darwin = evolution.  It really wasn't discussed a lot, but Darwinian evolution was treated as a truism.  As a Christian, I have never had a problem meshing faith with evolution and found it rather frustrating when people automatically assumed creationism equalled young earth beliefs; that all Christians believed the universe, the earth and everything on it was created in seven 24 hour days (actually 6 days, since the 7th day was a day of rest).  The word "day" has never meant only 24 hours, but is often used as a metaphor for other lengths of time, both in modern language use and in the Bible. The general definition of evolution is gradual change over time, which I didn't see as conflicting with belief in God.  This is actually more common an interpretation among Christians than the belief of six 24 hour days (I don't even like to call that view a "literal" interpretation, since I don't find it literal at all.  The Bible doesn't actually deal with time all that much).

Recently, however, Eldest developed an interest in evolution and began investigating the field herself.  It's probably a good thing she never turned to me for answers, as I wouldn't have had much to tell her other than what Darwin's theory was - or at least what I'd been taught it was.  This meant that she explored the theory in much greater depth than I ever had the opportunity to do in school.  As always, we discuss the things the girls study, and this lead to my own increased interest in the field.  I was shocked to find out that what I had been taught as Darwin's theory of evolution was actually an amalgamation of his original theory (which, it turns out, had been disproven during his own lifetime, though he certainly never accepted that) and mutationism, which after the discovery of genes went on to form neo-Darwinism, aka the synthetic theory.  Since then we've discussed other theories, which I'd love to link to.  However my brief searches for different or alternative theories of evolution, I've been finding a lot of Darwin and mutationism vs creationism as contradictory concepts.  Eventually, there are references to ID and, not surprisingly, the majority of the sites I'm finding disparage both creationism and ID.  Eldest has been finding her sources through old fashioned books, and finds the symbiotic theory particularly promising.  It should be noted that neo-Darwin dogma is largely limited to the US and Canada - other countries have little problem examining other theories as being far better explanations for evolution.

At the moment, Eldest is reading Moral Darwinism.  I'm reading Shattering the Darwin Myth, which has been a fascinating read and one I highly recommend. I never thought I'd find reading about uranium/lead and potassium/argon dating techniques to be quite so interesting!

As we've been studying the subject, I've become increasingly frustrated, and sometimes angered, by the shoddiness and dishonesty within the scientific community.  Like many, I had this image of "science" as being filled with people who strove to understand the complexities of the world around us; people who's ultimate standard was to follow where the evidence lead them, with a willingness to change their minds if something appeared that contradicted previous beliefs.  I imagined people willing to discuss, even argue, various points, all with the ultimate goal of increasing knowledge and finding the truth.

I first got an inkling of how wrong that notion was when I read The First Americans, which described the problems of ego, status and emotional outbursts within the archaeological community.  Then I began researching the science behind anthropogenic global warming climate change global climate disruption (well,whatever it's being called now) and delved more into the science behind medical claims we hear so often in the news.  What I discovered was a world of "science" that was filled with politics, deception, contradiction and even outright fraud, with people more interested in feeding their reputations and getting grants than finding the truth, while anyone who questioned "consensus" would find themselves losing grant money, their jobs and getting blacklisted for daring to pose unpopular questions.

I've become incredibly cynical about scientific claims in general but, like the theories of anthropogenic global warming, I was particularly disturbed by what I was seeing outside the scientific community.  Darwin has surged in popularity lately, and questioning neo-Darwinian dogma (most of the people supporting Darwinism don't even realize they're actually supporting neo-Darwinism) resulted in the most amazing, emotional responses.  It's been astonishing to see.

With this background, I suspected that I would like this movie.  I was totally unprepared for what I actually saw.

Right from the start, we were impressed by the quality of the movie.  The opening credits were truly well done.  Yes, the opening credits.  The movie hadn't even started, and we already liked it.

My expectations for a mockumentary were quickly proven wrong.  This was a serious movie.  Stein began by talking to various academics - scientists of note and accomplishment - and even reporters who found their careers at an end just for mentioning ID.  They didn't necessarily believe in ID but, as in the case of a reporter, refused to be anything but neutral on the subject.  What ID is - and isn't (it is NOT creationism, by the way, in any way, and supporters of ID include people of various religions as well as atheists and agnostics) is defined.

Stein also talks to opponents of ID.  The difference between the two is quite striking.  Where people working in the ID field repeatedly stated that all they wanted to be able to do is be allowed to have an open discussion and be able to follow the evidence where it lead them, opponents vociferously attacked opposing views and those who held them.

As the movie progressed, things shifted somewhat as Stein explored the idea of what could be the result if we just went along with the consensus of neo-Darwinism; if we agreed with the Darwinists (who were all staunch atheists, with some, like Richard Dawkins, actively attacking religion and belief in God, determined to define supporters of ID as being creationists), how could this be bad?  Stein answers this question by looking to history, and of what science's social Darwinism lead to.  He gave only a couple of examples, but off the top of my head, I could give several more.  I won't cover it in detail here.  See the movie.  Seriously.  You need to see this movie.

The movie does end in a lighter note, and Stein gets to interview Dawkins in person.  As I've seen in several other interviews with Dawkins, he gets owned.  Badly.  It was laughable, really.  When confronted with the question of "what causes life to happen" (and again, see the movie to understand the context of how that question is asked), the followers of ID were very clear.  We don't know.  They didn't quibble or try to come up with something.  They didn't know and weren't going to pretend they did.  Darwinists, however, gave answers liked molecules piggy-backing on crystals and even panspermia.  No, not the "microbes from space" version.  The aliens version.  That's right.  God or some creator couldn't have had anything to do with the creation of life and evolution, but aliens!  That's much more plausible.

In fact, when forced into a corner about the question, Dawkins himself actually said that, theoretically, it is possible that life on earth may have been seeded by some super intelligent race - but that if it was, that race had to have come into being through Darwinian evolution.

Yes, you read that right.  Dawkins would rather suggest the possibility of aliens of great intelligence designing life on earth, than entertain the possibility of the existence of a god of any kind.

I suppose this should not come as a surprise, since this is the same person who suggested that it's more theoretically plausible for the atoms in the arm of a statue to spontaneously vibrate all in one direction, then immediately vibrate in the opposite direction, thereby causing the statue to wave, than the possibility that, if a statue suddenly waved, it could be a God directed miracle.

I must say, the more I hear and see of Dawkins, the more I think he's a fool.  An intelligent fool, perhaps, but so dogmatic in his beliefs, he's an embarrassment to himself.

The movie started with Ben Stein going onto a stage to give a lecture.  It ends with his closing remarks of that lecture.  Remarks that had the audience give him a standing ovation.

The entire movie was really well done and, at times, quite moving.  Whether or not one agrees with ID, the core notion of his movie - that science must allow academic freedom, including the freedom to hold such controversial ideas as ID, to thrive.  He demonstrates how that freedom no longer exists in the sciences.  The dogmatism that has replaced it is harmful not only to science, but to all of us not in the sciences as well.

I look forward to watching this movie again, and make sure that I watch the extras, too.

Now that I've seen the movie, I find the negative, censorious comments left at our library website about it far more disturbing.  Whatever your opinions of ID, if you respect scientific integrity, this is an important movie to see.

About those plans...

What was that I was writing yesterday?  Something about plans gone awry?

I didn't even get out of the library before they changed again. *L*  For starters, my plans to write a post on my other blog fizzled when the low battery indicator popped up on the laptop.  Once I got home, there just wasn't an opportunity to do the kind of writing I intended.

Eldest's plans to do studies at the library almost panned out (yesterday, she was focusing on hands and was rather pleased with the results).  Before she left, we got a call from Raider King asking if she could meet him at the library.  I won't explain why until after I get the okay from him, but it certainly changes the entire day for her.

This morning was supposed to be a quiet day to catch up on the writing I didn't get done yesterday, but instead I'm going to have to focus on cleaning.  Our townhouse is getting its annual furnace and hot water tank inspection.  Both are in the laundry room, which is also where the cat's litter and food/water bowls are, plus it's used for storage.  I'll have to shift things around a bit and will take the opportunity to wash the floor.  I've got a couple of days to get it done, but we've got dr's appointments for the next couple of mornings (and those usually end up taking far longer than expected, if only for sitting in waiting rooms), so I want to get the big stuff done today.

So much for the writing I planned to do.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The best laid plans...

You know, it had been my intention to post here more regularly, now that the "school year" is officially started.  I'm reminded again of why I make to few plans these days. :-P  I swear, there is some sort of cosmic force that, as soon as I make plans and work up a schedule, everything that can happen to screw it up, does.

I'm trying to not let that happen this time, though.  Which is why I'm sitting in the library with Dh's work laptop (I hope he doesn't need to log into the office while I'm away), listening to some guy loudly talking on his cell phone, whining and begging his dad for a ride and making excuses for not being able to take the bus.

This is what was supposed to happen today.  Eldest was supposed to go to the library herself do work on some studies.  She's noted particular areas in her drawing that need work, so she plans to bring her sketch pad along with some reference books from home, as well as using reference books here at the library, and work out the areas she is having problems with.  Youngest would probably have joined her later and they would have gone for coffee before coming home.

I, on the other hand, would have been working on some writing, including posting on this blog, at home on my own.

So what changed?

Both Dh and Raider King are home from work today.  They'd both been quite sick a while ago, and neither have fully recovered.  Raider King had tried to go to work; he even went out to the bus stop.  Then he turned around and came home, and is now passed out on the couch.

Dh also was up as usual to go to work, but when I left he was busily trying not to cough up his lungs, heart, liver and entire digestive tract.

I'll take the guy whining on his cell phone, thanks.  I'm not sure how much more I can put up of the guy farting behind me, though.  There's also the joy of typing on a laptop.  I brought the mouse but didn't think I'd need a mousepad.  It never occurred to me that the infrared mouse wouldn't work on the tables here.  Thankfully, Dh has a book of some kind in the laptop case than I can use as a laptop.  I had considered bringing the full size keyboard, too.  Now I wish I had.  I'm not sure what happened, exactly, but as I was typing this paragraph, a huge section of my text suddenly disappeared, putting my cursor near the top of my post and replacing what was missing with the letter h.  I'd pressed something on the laptop touchpad with the heel of my hand.  No clue why it would result in what happened!  If all else fails and the distractions cause my muse to flee, I've brought my crochet project bag, too.

As for the girls, they headed out together this morning.  They've gone to the river, will eventually make their way to the library and, eventually, we'll all go for coffee a non-denominational beverage of choice.  I do appreciate technology at this point.  At the time they left, I had still expected to be catching up on my writing from home.  Eldest grabbed my library card to pick up a hold I've got.  When I got here and tried to lop onto the library wireless network, I discovered I needed my library card number.  I was able to send a text to Eldest, and she was able to text back my library card number.  Handy!

You know, as much as I love Dh, it's amazing how much his being home sick completely throws off everything.  Having both him and Raider King home sick is even more disruptive.

Oh, thank God!  The loud cell phone user's dad just showed up.  I know this because his dad called from wherever it is he pulled over and the guy spoke loud enough to announce it to everyone on the entire floor.  I love my technology probably more than the average person, but there are times when the users of said technology make me wish it wasn't quite so common!

So that's where I'm at now.  I'll save catching up on what we're doing that's home school related for another time.  I've got a post I want to write on my other blog (see link under my header) before the edge of the laptop completely cut off circulation to my hands and I can't type anymore.

I apologize now for any bizarre typos I might have made in this post!

update: Oh, God, I almost had a heart attack!  I guess the library wireless disconnects after a certain length of inactivity.  When I hit "publish" for this post, I ended up back at the wireless log in page.  When I checked my blog, there was no sign of my post; not even in the drafts.  Thankfully, the laptop held my post in its history and I was able to use my browser back button to find and publish this. *phew!*

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The official start... sort of!

Well, we have now officially started our school year.  Sort of. *L*  We just had our facilitator visit.  It usually happens about a month earlier, but since we did our registration during our spring meeting, it doesn't matter quite so much.

It was, as usual, a great visit.  We're fortunate to have such an excellent facilitator.  He's a great guy, and we all look forward to our visits.

For the first time since we've home schooled, we're actually looking for some sort of formal assistance from our school board.  I've mentioned Youngest's interest in learning trades skills earlier.  It turns out that our board can help us take advantage of an apprenticeship program our province offers.  What it basically amounts to is, if we can find someone who would be willing to take Youngest on as an apprentice, our board would help us work out a formal arrangement that would satisfy our province's legal requirements.  They could do something similar for us with a work experience scenario, too.  So, in the next while, we can look around and see what we can find locally.  Even if it's just a day or two a week, I think a local source would work out better.

During the visit we told our facilitator about our trip to the ranch and how that all worked out, what we liked, what we didn't, and how things were different than what we'd expected.  He ended up sharing his own story of how expectations and reality didn't quite mesh.  His wife had been interested in becoming a midwife and one of the options they were looking at was for her to train at The Farm.  The was quite a few years ago and he wasn't sure he was remembering the name right, but as soon as he described it, I knew where he was talking about.  They'd driven out there for what was supposed to be a one week stay.  They knew a bit about the place before they got there and were prepared for a few inconveniences, like no electricity or running water, and having to use outhouses.  Still, they weren't quite prepared for the reality of it.  He recalled going to use an outhouse at one point and discovering a HUGE spider on the toilet seat.

He decided he didn't need to use the facilities quite that badly after all.  *L*

Ah, that brings back childhood memories!  Except in our outhouse, it was the wasps nests that were a concern.  We liked the spiders, as they kept the other insects down.  Mind you, I don't think our spiders got quite as big as they do in warmer climes. ;-)

In the end, the deal killer turned out to be something totally unexpected - body odour!  It seems cleanliness in general wasn't exactly a high priority, to the point that they had concerns about how safe it would be for women to give birth in such unsanitary conditions. 

Their one week visit ended up being just one day!  They left the next morning and drove back to Canada.  (Looking it up, it was an almost 40 hour drive one way, not counting stops to eat and sleep!)  His wife did go on to become a midwife, but trained under very different conditions!

He tells us some of the greatest stories.

Aside from apprenticeship discussions, we also talked about Eldest's plans with her art, job hunting and eventually living in her own place.  At the end, we did our paperwork and got all the official stuff taken care of.  He stayed for about 2 1/2 hours, and it probably took less than half an hour to do with paperwork, even with all the talking we did in the process.

As far as our official stuff goes, we still need to submit our education plan for the year.  I wanted to wait until after we visited with the ranch, since that would have changed things quite a bit.  Now, I just keep forgetting about it.  We've got until the end of November, though, so there's still time. 

I do like home schooling in our province.  We have to jump through more hoops than in other provinces we've lived in, but they've been fun hoops to jump through.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

I've been nominated!

Wow - for three categories, too!

If you like my blog, please vote for me. :-)

My site was nominated for Best Parenting Blog!

My site was nominated for Best Education Blog!

My site was nominated for Best Hobby Blog!


Monday, November 01, 2010

A new month

Well, we're getting into a busy time of year for my family!  Christmas is coming, and it's time to prepare.  I've already chosen the decorations I'll be making this year and planning out the things we need to do in advance, like order our meats for the toutierre, and possibly order a roast suckling pig for our traditional Christmas feast.  Watching old Julia Child episodes has inspired me.

Right now, the girls have gone to the library and for coffee.  We still try to have our regular Wednesday library days, but in the last while, have been going a lot more often.  Especially Eldest.  She's been going on her own, with Raider King, with Youngest, or with me, several times a week.  So many books, cds, dvds and lectures have been taken out and returned, I've lost track of them for the library lists I have been trying to do.  Eldest has found that listening to books on tape or lectures while painting has worked out quite well.  Currently, she's listening to The Great Influenza, The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, which has tied in rather well with others she has been listening to.  I'm actually reading one of the books she's taken out, Secular Sabotage, which has been very interesting.  Enough that I've already renewed it a couple of times, because I haven't have much time to sit and read, but I'm really interested in it.

We almost had some major changes with Youngest.  She's been interested in learning things like mechanics and carpentry, and a friend passed on a link to an amazing opportunity.  A ranch almost an hour out of the city was looking for apprentices in a number of fields - how many depended on how long the apprentice stayed.  It was free, but accepted apprentices were expected to live on the ranch and contribute to the daily running of the place.  I would have stayed there with her, and we were looking to try for the minimum of 2 months.  We went out to check the place out and spent the morning and part of the afternoon there.  We helped out with some thing while being shown around.  Some other potential apprentices were to arrive later that day and stay for a few nights.  In the end, Youngest and I were the one they (the owner and his current apprentices, a family with a toddler) thought was a better fit.  In the end, though, Youngest decided against it.  She was really torn in trying to decide.  On the one hand, she loved the idea of living on the ranch, working with horses, and learning all kinds of things.  She would have focused on mechanics, which would have started with rebuilding an engine, but she would also have learned machining, carpentry, etc. as time went on.  It sounded really quite perfect.  Unfortunately, she wasn't quite comfortable, and the high level of disorganization in some areas were too much.  She knows herself well enough to know that it would have driven her bonkers.  As for me, I had intended to actually be an apprentice as well (for carpentry in particular), but I would have been relegated to the cabin as cook and administrator.  While there was an obvious need for someone to take this on (freeing everyone else up to do the rest of the work needed, from tending and training the horses to working on the house that's being built by the apprentices), and I certainly would be able to do that, the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea.  Part of it is that, I didn't intend to just be a tag-along with Youngest.  I wanted to be another apprentice.  However, based on some comments made in passing, and not necessarily directed at me, I can't help but suspect the main reason I would have been relegated to the kitchen was because... well... to put it bluntly, because I'm fat.  I think he assumed that because I was fat, I was not physically capable of working.  Which may be true when it came to the horses, but that's because of my foot and knee injuries, not because of my lack of strength or stamina.  The other issue I had is the reason I don't know a lot of this stuff in the first place.  As a child growing up on the farm, I should have learned most of this.  Instead, I had a chauvinistic mother who insisted I stay in the house and do "women's work."  Even as an adult, she would admonish me for doing "men's work," like when she swung by one day and I was in the back yard with the lawnmower half dismantled, fixing it.  I would rather have been out with my brothers doing manual labour than in the house cooking and cleaning.  If Youngest had decided to go to the ranch, I would have had to have a little chat with the owner about that. 

In the end, it was a moot point.  There was just too much discomfort with the circumstances.  Perhaps if the place were closer and we didn't have to live in, it would have been different. 

So now, I'm looking for other ways to get her involved with some sort of program to learn this stuff.  I've even contacted my sister, who has a farm in Manitoba.  They don't have a lot going on this time of year, though, and won't until spring, at the earliest.  It would still be a live in situation, but at least it would be with family, and not for 2 months.  On top of that, we'll be talking with our school board to see what they can steer us towards. 

Beyond that, Eldest is still slowly casting about for what she can do for an income.  A friend again helped us out, pointing her to a leisure arts centre as a possibility.  Eldest would be teaching watercolour techniques.  They already have watercolour classes, but nothing like what Eldest does.  Not even close.  In looking at their programs, I'm thinking I should look into becoming an instructor for crochet.  They've got knitting classes, but no crochet.

That's pretty much where we are now.  Oh, and it sounds like I've finished just in time - the girls are coming in the door right now!

Until next time...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The past couple of weeks...

For someone who's supposed to be using this blog as a record of our home schooling journey, I really need to post more often. *L*

So what's been going on in the couple of weeks since I last posted?

The biggest thing first, I guess.  Raider King has moved in with us, so we're now a family of five.  We can only offer him a couch, but by gosh, it's a comfortable couch! ;-)  He's got a full time job and is saving his pennies to get his own (shared) place, hopefully by the end of November.  At least that's his goal.  He's more than welcome to stay with us longer, if needs be. 

Eldest had her first job interview.  She showed up a bit early, only to be told they'd phoned to reschedule for an hour and a half later.  Except she never got the call.  She had her cell phone with her, and there were no missed calls, nor was there any message on the home phone when we got back, so I don't know what happened there.  She's not too impressed with herself over the interview, but we find out next week if she's got the job or not.  Getting a first job from a first resume drop off and first interview would be quite the thing.  Raider King dropped off more than 70 resumes before he got any calls, and for the job he did get, he took full advantage of their desperation for staff. *L*  So we'll see how that works out.  There's time.

Youngest, after saving up her allowance and birthday money for almost a year, finally bought herself an acoustic guitar.  In fact, after trying different ones, she was able to get a guitar and soft case (with back-pack straps), with money left over.  She was planning to figure out how to play on her own, but things didn't work out as expected, so we'll be looking into lessons for her.  I was really happy with the store we bought it from, and the salesman that helped us . I'd made a point of telling her she didn't have to get the first one that caught her eye, and that we could look in different stores, take time to think about it, etc.  What had me convinced that this store was the right place to buy from was then the guy started listing the lifetime care they give to any guitar they sell.  There's an automatic one year warranty with every sale, but they will also do free tuning, neck adjustments, string changes, and so on, for the lifetime of the guitar.  Then, when we started asking about picks (we made a point of telling him from the start that we knew nothing about guitars), he ended up giving Youngest one each of all the different types of picks they carried.  Picks don't cost a lot, but we're still looking at about $10 in free picks.  Then he tuned the guitar, polished it, and showed her how to place it in the case, putting the neck support where it belonged for her in the process. 

She was so happy! :-)

Ah, well.  I tried.  Time to stop writing.  Dh is waiting his turn on the computer. *L*

I'll catch up again later.


Monday, October 04, 2010

I could get used to this

My, how things change.

It wasn't that long ago when having kids meant lots of hustle, bustle, noise and business.  Sometimes, it still does.  Now, however, the girls are older and so much more independent.  As I write this, they've walked to the library and I expect they'll go for a coffee or something afterwards.  Maybe wander around in the mall nearby, or just go for a walk.  Eldest has her cell phone, so I can reach them if i need to.  Otherwise, I only have a general idea of where they are right now, and that's just fine with me.

Dh is home from work/working from home today.  His back is acting up again, but he's mobile enough that he can long onto his office computer from the work laptop at home and actually get things done - at least until he can't sit anymore.  The muscle relaxants he takes to control the spasms also make him loops and sleepy, so he's now napping.  Later on, he'll be back "at work" from home. 

Which means that, right now, there is almost total silence in the house.  Even the cats are napping. 

I could get used to this!

Okay, so it won't last long.  I need to start supper soon, Dh will be getting up and the girls will be coming home, and we'll be back to the hustle and bustle.  I'm okay with that, too.  Still, I'm becoming increasingly aware that it won't be too much longer before it's just Dh and me.  Eldest is on the hunt for a job (she had an interview next week, and I have every confidence that she'll be accepted for the position).  Raider King has a job, too, so if things work out for them, it won't be too much longer before they start looking for an apartment to share.  Youngest has a few more years, yet, but when the time comes, I know she'll be well prepared for independent living.

Which means we'll be looking at an empty nest before very long.  *sigh* 

I'm going to miss them, but they're going to be just fine.

I'm so proud of my girls. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

At long last... a library list

Our library days have been touch and go for the last while, with too many things taking precedent.  We've been managing to get back into them again.  Eldest in particular has been going more often, as it's where Raider King's bus stop is, and he's as much a bibliophile as she is. :-D 

So here's a look at some of the stuff we've got right now (though Eldest did return a bunch of stuff today while picking up her holds).

Film & Video Budgets:  Eldest got this one, as she and Raider King are planning to make a video.

Semantic Antics - How and Why Words Change Meaning: One of Eldest's choices, and quite interestings food for discussion.  Did you know, for example, that the word "meat" used to mean all foods, not just animal flesh? 

Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis: one of many dvd's Eldest has been taking out and watching with Raider King.

Argumentaion - The Study of Effective Reasoning: This is one of those course lectures on cd.  Another she just returned was Creating Humans - Ethical Questions Where Reproduction and Science Collide.  This is what Eldest listens to while playing WoW in the mornings.

Damp Squid - The English Language Laid Bare
Seeing Salvation: images of Christ in Art
The Arts of China

The above three are also Eldest's choices, though I don't know that she's have much chance to look at them yet.  Some more recent additions to her pile are:

Leonardo's Lost Robots
Maybe I'm Dreaming (cd)
Ocean Eyes (cd)
Castle in the Sky (dvd)
Princess Mononoke (dvd)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (dvd)
Paprika (dvd)
Them (dvd)
Fallen Angels (cd)
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (dvd)
The History of the English Language (cd set of lectures, part 1)

Youngest has finally started to take more stuff out again, mostly with dvds.  Here are her current selections.

The Annotated Brothers Grimm :  She's taken this one out a few times now.
The Saga of the Volsungs - The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer
Sundays With Vlad - from Pennsylvania to Transylvania, One Man's Quest to Live in the World of the Undead (we've actually taken that one out several times)

The Professionals
Nothing to Lose
Midsomer Murders - set twelve
Get Carter
Agatha Christie, Miss Marple, Series 4 Volumes 1 (Pocket Full of Rye) and 2 (Murder is Easy)

As for myself, I got tired of going through the craft section and only seeing books I've taken out several times already.  Instead, I went searching and put a bunch of stuff on hold.  This is what's come in so far.

Sexy Little Knits - Chic Designs to Knit and Crochet:  I'm afraid we got this more for amusement then anything else.  Like the fuzzy underpants with caterpillar thingies on the butt.

Party Crochet - 24 Hot Designs to get you in the Party Mood:  This one I've actually taken out before, but quite a long time ago.  I wanted to revisit it.  There isn't much I'd actually make in there, but I do like almost all of the designs.

Lost Crafts - Rediscovering Traditional Skills.  I'm actually kind of disappointed with this one.  I'm always on the look out for new crafts to learn, and picking up older, traditional crafts greatly interests me.  The title is a bit of a misnomer. I'd never thought of "farming" as a craft before, nor did I expect things like stone walls.  It's interesting, but you're not going to actually learn how to do many of the crafts and skills from it.  Not enough information, I found.

Glorious Crocheted Sweaters.  This one was a pleasant surprise!  While I'm not to keen on some of the patterns and colours, it's got more to do with my personal preference for solids and textures over multi-colours in funky shapes and patterns. 

The Simple Art of Japanese Temari - 45 Traditional and Contemporary Designs.  There aren't a lot of temari books in the library system, so I was glad to find this slender book.  I'm thinking I need to start doing temari again.  It's quite fun.

The French Chef 2.  I actually found this one by accident.  I've recently read Julie Child's My Life in France and really enjoyed it.  Of course, I've heard plenty about her show, but had never actually seen it before.  What a hoot!  It would never make it on the air today, and that's a shame.  We could use more geese trussed with knitting needles, suckling pigs closed up with 2 inch finishing nails, giant hunks of swordfish below a mallet, cleaver and hacksaw wielding Julie Child, and demonstrations on how to flay a duck and using the skin to make a pate.  Gosh, what fun to watch!  I think I'm going to renew it, as I've yet to watch the 3rd disc.  Then I want to find out how many other sets are in the series and put them on hold.

Scared Sacred - Unwrap the Darkness, Reveal the Light.  This one piqued my interest when the description talked about how people turn sites of mass tragedy into sacred spaces.  It was filmed over 5 years, in the middle of which 9/11 happened.  Considering recent controversies about the "Ground Zero Mosque" and people mocking those who oppose it for considering the space sacred, I thought it worth checking out.  I watched about half of it before I had to stop it to do something else, and I've got no desire to go back to it.  The topic is interesting, but the narration of the guy who did it was driving me nuts.  The video wasn't about the any of these sacred places and the horrors that happened there.  It was all about him and his personal, self-indulgent journey.  I didn't want to hear how these places make *him* feel or what *he* thinks about them. What little he covered about these places and the people affected by them still managed to be more about him then about them.  Totally self-aborbed and annoying. 

Well, I think I've got most of what we have right now listed.  I'm pretty sure I've missed a few things, though.

Oh, well.  Tomorrow is library day.  It's probably all going to change, anyhow.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A quick catch up

It's been a while since I've updated here, but it's not for lack of activity.  Unfortunately, I've only got about a 20 minute window to write.  I figure I'd better do it now, because I don't know when I'll get 20 uninterrupted minutes again next. LOL

The biggest change for us lately is that Eldest's best friend, the Raider King, has moved back to our city.  He's 18 now and can live where he wants, and this is where he's chosen to be.  He's living with another friend while he looks for a job.  Eldest is job hunting with him.  At the same time, they've been taking every chance they can to spend time together.  As I write this, they are exploring our river valley, where Eldest is taking still photos that will be used for a stop motion movie she's working on.  She has to get them done before the seasons change too far.  They've also put together the post-apocalyptic costumes they've been working on for the past (three?) years and gone out in public.  It's been a hoot.  The reactions have been interesting.  Mostly, it's people avoiding looking at them at all.  The reactions from children have been overwhelmingly positive.  One guy driving by in a car yelled out "nice mask, fa***t" at Raider King (who's costume includes a real gas mask), then actually turned his car around so he could drive by and yell the same thing again.

Perhaps most amusing of all is the number of people approaching them for mundane things, like asking directions, or striking up conversations.  Totally unexpected.

With the new school year kicking in, we need to put together an education plan for the girls.  For Eldest, this is going to involve preparing her for independent living; putting together a resume, applying for jobs, and eventually getting her own apartment (she and Raider King plan to share an apartment to cut costs), and all the things that she'll need to know to live on her own and support herself. *sigh*  This will be on top of her usual studies, which she is in complete control of.  The variety of subject matter and the depth of her research is far greater than anything I would have come up with, so I just let her do her thing in those regards.

Youngest is getting restless.  She wants to go into mechanics of some kind, but I don't know how to facilitate that yet.  We're also going to be looking at riding lessons for her, but that'll just be one month of lessons, not the whole year.  We're also looking into the possibility of her taking one of the online courses available through our school board, on one of her favorite topics, Fables and Fairy tales.  I still need to look into that.

However, my 20 minutes is up.  Time to let Youngest have the computer while I start on supper.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

(Not) Back to School

Well, it's official.  At least it is for most of the local schools.  The kiddies are back in school - just in time for the long weekend.  Actually, at least one local school started their year over a week before anyone else. 

For us, it was our annual Not Back to School Picnic.  While other kids were getting up early, backing their bags and heading for the classroom, we headed out to a park, pita wedges and hummus in tow (both store bought), where we met up with a whole bunch of other families.  Everyone brought snacks to share; store bought cookies and home made, fresh fruit and raw veggie trays to brownies and peanut butter squares, and plenty more.  The kids ran around, climbing trees, using the play structures and checking out the huge jackrabbit that paid us a visit.  The ground hog seems to be done, though, the opening to its den now blocked by a burdock plant.

My own kids were among those visiting the riverbank and came back with thoroughly muddy boots.  Youngest got mud up to her knees.  Today she spent her time scraping off the dried mud, washing, the spit shining her boots.  Both my kids enjoy polishing their boots, but Eldest is keeping hers muddy for now, in keeping with a costume she's working on.

Our focus for this year is going to be different than any other.  Eldest's best friend has moved back to the city, and they've been having a blast.  They're both working on costumes and plan to do a film.  They're also both job hunting, and eventually plan to share an apartment, since that's about the only way anyone just starting out can afford one out here.  *sigh* 

Youngest wants to go into mechanics this year, but I'm at a loss as to how to go about that.  Hopefully we can find something for her.  Meanwhile, if her goal to be a mechanic doesn't pan out, there's still her back up plan of becoming a singer. She's still got a few years to work things out, though.

It should be interesting to see how things work out this year.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In the Eye of the Beholder

Y'know, I have a real love/hate thing when it comes to art.

Okay.  Hate may be too strong of a word.  How 'bout irritation?  Frustration?  Exasperation?

I enjoy art.  I appreciate art.  One of the things I love about our city is the large amounts of public art scattered all over the place, sometimes in unexpected places.  I may not actually like an individual piece, but I like that it's there.  I think art is a vital part of culture, and that it's a good thing for everyone, even the "non-artistic" to dabble in the sheer creativity of making art.  Art can be fun, thoughtful, lively, morose, silly, deep, and a whole bunch of other things.  Two people can look at the same piece of art and perceive it in totally different ways.  Ten people can look at the same piece of art and perceive it in as many different ways.  In many ways, art is very subjective.

What, however, makes art good?  Sometimes the better question is, "is this art at all?"  In a country that spends billions of federal dollars on art, on top of the money spent by provincial and municipal governments, I think that's a valid question.  If someone creates a piece of art and can find someone to buy it, more power to them, but if the art in question is being pair for with our tax dollars, I think the definition needs to be a bit more limited.  Finding out that some guy calling vials of his own semen "art" was given a grant to do it - essentially being paid taxpayers' money to wank off into containers - bothers more than a few people.

There's the rub that I have with the art community.  It sometimes seems as if the less likely the general public would like it, the more likely it's being marketed as being "artistic" (as if art was something we plebeians are just too low to be able to get), the artists more "daring," and therefore they must be supported by grants.  Lord knows, they wouldn't be able to make a living off their work any other way.

A couple of days ago, Youngest and I took in the local art gallery.  Usually, we enjoy the many small (often free) galleries and displays around our city featuring local artists, but this is THE art gallery for our city.  The first time we went to it, it was just before the building was mostly demolished  and rebuilt (the city insisted part of the building be kept and "recycled," even though doing so was actually more expensive and wasteful... but hey, no one asks the demolitions and construction crews their opinion on the subject).  They had an open free for all, where local artists were invited to send in their work for display, which was then made available to the public for viewing for free.  Eldest had some of her early work in there, as did a friend of hers.  It was pretty fantastic, actually.  Some pieces did seem to be made by people who thought they had more skill or talent then they actually had, but the vast majority of art was really excellent.  We live in a city full of talent.  

The gallery is open again and has one free admissions day a month, so we went to take advantage of it.  Unfortunately, when we got there, we discovered the free admission was only during the last 3 hours of their day.  So we paid, and I found that the admission rate was quite a bit higher than before they rebuilt.  Oh, well.  The new building might look like a giant potato chip, but it's a very lovely potato chip. ;-)  I think they got their money's worth.

Anyhow.  Off we went.  There were quite a number of galleries on several floors.  One consisted of mostly oil paintings of landscapes, many in tacky, ornate frames.  At least we're told some of them were landscapes.  Some of them were... pretty abstract, to say the least.  Without a sign telling me, I would never have thought that that's what they were.

Here's where things got rather amusing.  As we wandered around, we'd come upon some paintings and be rather perplexed as to why it was there.  They looked like paint-by-number pieces, or finger paintings done by children.  Then we'd read the plaque and discover they were actually Group of Seven.  I admit that oil is not my favorite medium when it comes to art, but I can still appreciate skill and talent when I see it.  At least I thought I could.  These didn't seem to display either, but they're considered high art and the epitome of Canadian art in particular.  Exploring why that is would make for an interesting discussion.  Another less than stellar example of art turned out to be an Emily Carr piece.  Having lived on the West Coast for so long, I knew who she was, but I can't say I like her work all that much.  Each to their own.  This sort of thing is a matter of personal taste, but the pieces are still clearly art.

Then is was off to a different gallery.  The next one we visited was an M. C. Escher display.  Now that's art I really enjoy!  Not only are the subjects fascinating to look at and the skill required to produce them amazing, they required a fantastic mind just to conceive of these pieces, then plan and execute those ideas to produce images that look like they should exist, but can't.  I look at those and, not only am I impressed by the art itself, but I find a strong desire to get to know the mind behind it.

While we were in this gallery, however, we caught up with a guided tour.  It was a very small group, and the facilitator was trying to engage them at least somewhat interactively.  I don't remember the exact words she used as she spoke, but several times she's say something that had Youngest and I looking at each other in amazement.  Not because she'd revealed some spectacular piece of information about any particular piece, but because of the "dumbed down" language and phrasing she used.  In trying to get people to talk, she asked what should have been a simple question ("why do you think Escher used colour in this piece?") that got no response.  Had we been in the group, we wouldn't have responded, either.  I would have been too busy wondering if it was a trick question or something.  Was there some sort of symbolism I was missing?  Some deeper meaning that we hadn't grasped?  Nope.  The answer was, "so you could see it [the details] better."


More wandering around.  The new building itself is a work of art, with the potato chip shapes continued inside.  Quite striking, really.

Along the way, there were a number of sculptural pieces and some... others.  As we approached one piece, Youngest commented that the shapes hanging from the ceiling and knotted on the floor looked like intestines. Intestines made out of someones drapes.  Which turned out to be pretty much exactly what they were, except it was upholstery fabric, not drapes.  It was a huge piece, too.  Another consisted of a long wooden pole with wooden handles hammered into it, like some sort of hedgehog.  Two other displayed consisted of glass rods that looked like those bamboo garden stakes at the hardware store, in bundles and leaning against the wall. 

A couple of displays were behind black out curtains.  One was supposedly a recreation, of sorts, of the artist's bedroom, except it was an almost empty room with some sheets and pillows on the floor, and their weird two-headed creature covered in black flowers coming through a pair of blackout curtains that made up one of the walls.  Off to the side was an opening that was supposed to be a closet with some long underwear hanging in it.  The write up claimed the long underwear (hand made by the artist) could be viewed as any number of things, including sacred robes.

Uhm... no.  There was nothing robe like about them.  They looked like somebody's full-body undies.

There was one display behind a blackout curtain we skipped.  A video presentation, a quick glance through the curtain at the screen had me dropping it and continuing on my way.  I'm rather open with my kids about sexual themes, but some things I'm not about to drag my daughter through.  The mom with a 5 or 6 yr old caught a bit of a view through the curtain as I looked, too, and she was quick to steer her daughter away, too.  Funny thing is, I'm not even sure exactly what I saw, other than it involved the sex act.  At least I hope that's what I saw.

One piece had us standing and staring for a while.  We must have looked pretty confused or something, as one of the security staff came over and gave me a brochure describing the displays.  The images being projected onto the wall that make me think of my old Spirograph game turned out to be imagery of the brains of the 2 artists who made it, taken while they were sitting still, thinking, but not speaking.  I was actually more impressed when I thought it was some sort of interactive lights display.  The idea of medical technology being used to record the brains to two guys just sitting there seems so... pretentious to me.

Actually, that's a word that comes up an awful lot when I think of the "art community."  Pretentious.  If a piece is so confusing and obscure it has to be explained to the viewer, is it really art?  When you're standing there, wondering if something is actually one of the gallery pieces, or if someone forgot their lunch on the counter, is it art?  Is throwing in images or phrases that are insulting to Christianity enough to make something art?  Are a bunch of photographs of different versions covering an entire wall art?

Some art is instantly recognisable as such, whether it's a bunch of metal pieces welded together, an eclectic variety of objects piled onto a shelf or an exquisite rendition of something that can't possibly exist in the real world.  One doesn't have to actually like it to recognize it as art.

Other pieces, I just don't know if I'd be willing to call art. I recall one display I saw with the kids years ago.  It was made up of shopping carts full of garbage.  It was apparently some sort of commentary against consumerism and waste.  Except it was still just a bunch of garbage in shopping carts.  Other infamous displays I've heard of but, thankfully, have never seen include blenders with goldfish in them.  Viewers were welcome to turn the blenders on and kill the fish inside.  Another artist got in trouble because his "art" involved putting rats between two pieces of canvas, then dropping something from above to squish them flat.  The artist claimed it was okay because the rats were instantly killed, but the animal rights folks were up in arms over it.  The artist probably got more of a name for himself from the controversy than he ever got from his actual art.

So the question remains: what is art?  Is it just stuff that we can hang on a wall or set on a pedestal?  Or is it crucifixes in urine or squished rats?  Is it just the pretty and safe things, or dehydrated fetuses turned into earrings? (gosh, that one was so long ago, I'd forgotten about it completely until now!)   At what point does something cross the line from being art to being junk?

This is where the art community starts to irritate me.  How does an artist or art critic get to a point where they don't consider something "art" unless it's obscure, offensive, bizarre or incomprehensible?  I swear, some of these "artists" must just throw things together, make pretty speeches about how it "evokes" this and "represents" that, while in private they're just taking the grant money and laughing over what fools they're making of the hoity-toity set oohing and ahhing over their "work."

I do want to support local art and artists.  I do appreciate the hard work and effort that can go into any individual piece.

But sometimes, I just wanna throw up my hands in exasperation over some of the things being passed as "art."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Princess MeMeMe!

I say an interesting article in the news about "princess culture." I thought it worth passing on, with a few of my own thoughts on the subject.  Here's the link to the article.

Princess culture turning girls into overspending narcissists.

The article starts with a mom who is concerned about her 4 yr old daughter's obsession with princesses.  She laments;

"I have a four-year-old who is completely into princesses, but she doesn't know their stories. She knows what Belle's hair looks like and what her dress looks like, but she doesn't know the story," Shuler says.
 So what does she do about it?

A communications professor at Creighton University in Nebraska, Shuler decided to take a sabbatical to study what academics are starting to call "princess culture:" young girls inundated by films, books, toys, clothes, and enabled by friends and family who encourage them to see themselves as bona fide blue-bloods.

 Excuse my confusion here.  Her 4 yr old daughter knows all about Belle's fashion and hair styles, but doesn't know the story.  This is identified as a problem and... Mom goes off to study princess culture?  I don't know, but to me, the obvious solution would be to tell her 4 yr old the story.  It could be the Disney version.  It could be the watered down modern versions.  It could be one of the many older versions, though those might be a bit frightening for a 4 yr old.

Well, maybe she's getting paid for it.  Fair enough.

The article goes on to talk about how increasing numbers of little girls are growing up believing they really are princesses - or that they should be treated like fairytale princesses (real princesses have duties and obligations, and while they might have a lot of material wealth, there usually isn't a whole lot of freedom).  It seems there are adult women who still think of themselves as princesses, manipulating the people around them, going into debt, and generally being royal pains to maintain the lifestyle they believe they are entitled to.  So many, in fact, that there's going to be a TV show about them, Princess, on Slice Network.

The article examines some of the reasons for this.  Of course, Disney figures largely in this, having heavily marketed their Princess line since 2000.  The wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles is also viewed as a contributing factor.  Finally, Disney is again brought into the picture with their boutique aimed at girls aged 3 and up.

I actually encountered someone who's daughter apparently was convinced she was a real princess.  She'd shown up at one of our home school group park days.  We'd started talking about helping our children have a healthy self esteem when she described how it was possible to go overboard.  They had always told her daughter she had a lovely singing voice, but in reality, she had a terrible voice.  Because they always told her her voice was beautiful, their daughter had no idea she was actually a terrible singer.  Hmmm... Then she said that they'd always called their daughter a princess.  They didn't realize this had become a problem until she started preschool.  She started telling everyone that she was a princess - a real princess - and no one could convince her otherwise.  I wasn't sure what to make of the conversation.  On the one hand, the mother was acknowledging that this was probably not a good thing, but on the other, she seemed to me to be rather proud and amused by the whole thing.  I don't know what came of it, as she didn't continue to go to the park days.  This was a few years ago.  I wonder how it worked out.

One thing I don't think this mother did was overindulge her daughter as described in the article.  The money spent on parties, clothing and accessories, even furniture, by the parents of these princesses is pretty staggering.  The money these adult princesses are spending is also staggering.  One woman is described as having US$25,000 worth of shoes and handbags (which I found interesting, considering this recent post on Sociological Images), while also being $25,000 in debt.  Another woman is described as planning on dumping her $20,000 in debt on her fiance.  One of my nephews had a fiance that tried to do that to him - and it was just a car payment.  He broke off the engagement.  Wise young man that he is, he clued in that if she was willing to do that before they were married, chances were she'd be willing to do far worse after they were married.  One of the primary reasons given for divorce is financial problems. 

Anyhow.  Back to the article.

Four factors are identified as contributing to narcissistic princess behaviour.  Overindulgent parents, a culture of celebrity, the Internet and easy credit.  To me, these factors would certainly be enough to create Princess MeMeMe - but I also see them as being easily countered.  The parenting... well, maybe not.  If a parent doesn't really know any better, they wouldn't know that what they're doing is a problem.  Our culture has a significant lack of parenting role models, as we no longer have the extended families and close knit communities that used to be the source of parenting knowledge.  Now, people are more likely to get their parenting advice from their doctors, books, magazines and TV shows. :-P

I've found it rather easy to ignore our culture of celebrity.  I have little patience for it.  I think it's easier for me because I never really grew up with it in the first place - one of the side benefits of growing up on a farm two sticks ahead of the stone ages.  The Internet?  That's neutral.  It's how one chooses to use it that can be the issue.  Easy credit?  Yeah, that can be a problem.  Lord knows, it screwed us up back when we were younger, and we were far from being big spenders!

The mother at the beginning of the article is brought up again...

Shuler has never been successful in entirely banning princesses from her daughter's life. She believes the biggest danger to little girls is that princess images are separated from the stories of smart, resilient young women.

Confusion again.  Why try to ban princesses entirely?  Why would she even want to go to that extreme? If she recognises that this separation of the image from the stories is such a problem, how is banning the image going to solve the problem?  Why doesn't she, as the parent, tell her daughter the stories?  My kids watched princess movies, too.  They even had Barbie dolls and princess dress up stuff.  I let them put on make up (though I did insist on it being real make up, not that disgusting crap being marketed for children as dress-up stuff).  I also read them the stories.  We had the Disney versions.  We had other versions.  What has developed over the years is an interest in fairy tales, and discovering the earlier versions, or finding that there are several different versions.  That led to them exploring other stories, then delving into mythology, and searching out stories from other cultures.  One of Eldest's favorites is a book of fairy tales where all the heroes were elderly.  Youngest has developed a love for Irish folklore.  All of this grew out of watching Disney's princess movies.

Shuler is then quoted;

"I don't think these images are inherently harmful. When they're drained of context, that's the harmful thing. When we strip princesses out of the story, we miss many of the potential good lessons.

"It's all about how to navigate it with our values without being killjoys."

Uhm... yeah.  Banning them would certainly be viewed as killjoy behaviour, and she's back on missing the story.  I'm still not getting her.  She recognises the lack of context as a problem.  The solution is pretty obvious.  Quit "studying" the problem and tell your kid the flippin' stories already! 

As the article continues, it's at least acknowledged that the marketing is taking advantage of an already existing potential market.  The corporations didn't create the princess niche, they just filled it.

I found this part rather odd.

Twenge herself has had limited success in stomping on her own daughter's princess ambitions.

"When she was two, she said, `I'm a princess.' I said, `No, you're not.' So she went on eating her breakfast," says Twenge.

More than a year later, at the age of three-and-a-half, her daughter admired her mother in a dress and offered what she thought was the ultimate compliment.

"You look like a princess."

First, there's the idea that a 2 yr old has "princess ambitions" and that they need to be stomped on.  Then we're apparently supposed to view having a 3 1/2 yr old compliment us by saying we look like a princess as being a bad thing.  Why couldn't that just be viewed as a delightful comment from a very young child?  Personally, I would have found that rather sweet.

The article goes on to talk about the upcoming show and some of the women that will be on it.  There are media comparisons, such as a character in Sex and the City - a show I've only ever seen one episode of and could never understand how it became popular.  The article ends with three things to blame for the Princess MeMeMe culture.

1) the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles.
2) Disney's massively marketed princess line.
3) Disney opening its Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques, marketed at females aged 3 and up, from make overs and hair styles to wedding dresses.

I can somewhat agree with the first one.  The royal wedding was a worldwide event, in a way no other royal wedding had ever been before.  Lady Diana was almost a commoner (she was still a Lady, after all, but not royalty).  She caught the eye of a prince and became a real princess and was expected to someday become queen.  It was the fairy tale come true, complete with horse drawn carriage and all the glamour a princess wannabe could imagine.  I can see that the young girls who watched this fantasy turned reality (even though the fairy tale ending was far from Happily Ever After) would grow up to have little girls they'd want to treat like the princesses they imagined themselves to be.  I don't think it's quite enough, though.

As for the other two, I think blaming Disney is far too simplistic.  Yes, their Princess line is being marketed to death, but as was briefly mentioned earlier in the article, they didn't create the market, they just took advantage of it.  Blaming their boutiques, however, is even more of a stretch.  Just how many people live near one of these boutiques?  I'd never even heard of them until I read this article.  Looking it up, I see that there are only two of them, and they are part of the the theme parks.  They even have a "Cool Dudes" package - gel hair and confetti!  To me, that makes it even more of a stretch, since the theme parks are all about the fantasy.  These are highly localized services, not available all over the place the way the merchandise is.  It would make more sense to me to blame the creepy child beauty pageants or helicopter parenting.

I don't know.  My family is so far out of the mainstream, I have a hard time imagining the combination of things that would create a Princess MeMeMe.  How is parents playing along with the Princess fantasy any worse than playing along with the Easter Bunny fantasy or Santa Clause fantasy?  At what point does it cross the line?

Where is the line?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

This and that...

Okay.  Summer is winding down, and things are slowing down for us with it.  Granted, it's been a rather tumultuous one for us this year, with extremes of good and bad in a very short time.

Time to start writing about some of it.

This summer has been one of significance for Eldest.  She can now call herself a Professional Artist.  Yes, she has actually sold some of her work, and we are most thrilled for her.

It was a series of fine threads that led to this significant change in her artistic status.  One of the local home school groups we are members of held a "learning celebration," where she displayed some of her art.  She got a positive response overall, and one of the other home schooling teens suggested that she should show her stuff in an upcoming art festival.  We'd never heard of it before (well, I probably had, but it wasn't something that stuck in my memory), so when we got home, we looked it up.  Eldest was, indeed, quite interested, but we were pretty much at the deadline for booking a location.  She contacted the appropriate people and before we knew it, she had a spot - a most excellent use of some birthday money she'd been hanging onto. It wasn't the best of spots; all of those had been snapped up long ago, but it wasn't the worst, either.  In fact, as we talked to the organizers and got the location map, we realized that it was a really excellent spot, all things considered.

Eldest had plans worked out for some new paintings she wanted to do for the festival, but then the bad part of the summer happened, and everything got put on hold while the girls and I found ourselves road tripping for a funeral. We left for home early enough in the day to drive straight through, rather than overnighting it like we usually do.  It was a long and exhausting time, though more emotionally exhausting for me than anything else, I suppose.

This gave Eldest a couple of days to do what she expected to have at least a week to complete, so those last couple of days were pretty full.  Things got just a bit more stressful when we found out the grid wall we'd ordered wasn't in yet - and that when we ordered it, we should have been told there was no guarantee that this particular order would make it in in time.  It turned out we should have ordered earlier, but with how late we'd registered in the first place, there wasn't much chance of that.  It worked out in the end, though, as some people who'd placed orders earlier never came and picked them up.  After a certain number of days, those orders were released for sale.  The sales staff were even able to put together four the same colour, even though they weren't the colour Eldest had ordered.  Having them was the important part - without the gridwall, Eldest wouldn't have had any way to display her paintings.

Then there was the festival itself, which was a 3 day event. The first day was pretty horrible, as storm after storm passed over the city.  We'd been told Eldest wouldn't have room for any sort of tent or shelter, but when we talked to an organizer and was shown where we could set up, we found it to be quite different from where we expected, and we were told there would be no problem to set up a shelter.  That lead to a hunt for an adequate shelter within the size restrictions.  We ended up buying the floor model of a folding gazebo.  It didn't have walls, but it had a roof and was surprisingly inexpensive.  Easy to set up, too.  Even so, Eldest was glad to have the roll of plastic we'd picked up (we were given a list of recommended items, and clear plastic to protect artwork from the weather while still allowing potential customers to see, was suggested).  The downpour was so severe, water actually started dripping through the shelter roof!  She was able to drape the plastic across the top of her gridwall display, and when I came back with some lunch for her, I was able to secure it better with some zip ties while she tended to some people who'd stopped to look at her work.

With the terrible weather and lack of customers, Eldest had a chance to talk to her neighbours (and find out she was in the wrong spot!).  Most had been taking part in this festival for at least a few years, and they were quick to tell her that this was very unusual.  One of her neighbours sold a single painting.

When I came back to help her pack up for the evening, we hung around a bit longer, as someone had shown an interest in one of the paintings, but said she needed to pick up some cash, first.  She'd chatted with Eldest for quite some time, leaving her business card as well.  It turns out this woman was an artist herself - and a medical scientist.  She loved Eldest's anatomical paintings, and encouraged her to keep it up.  One of the reasons she went into art herself was due to the lack of technically accurate art that appealed to medical scientists like herself and her co-workers.  She also told Eldest she was undercharging for her work, and when she came back, she just handed Eldest some cash and told her she didn't need change.  It wasn't until later that we found out she'd paid Eldest almost 50% more than Eldest was asking for!

Based on the advice she'd received (her customer wasn't the only fellow artist to tell her she was undercharging), Eldest reworked her prices that evening, and in the morning she was set up in the location she was supposed to have been the day before.  It was a much more pleasant day, which was great, because this time, she didn't have the shelter.  The space was narrow, this time being on a stretch of sidewalk, and the shelter was big enough to cover the whole thing.  Unlike other sidewalk locations, though, there were no shops behind her; just one of those temporary fences and an open space with some rubble in it.

She sold another painting that day.

On the third day, more storms were predicted.  After talking to one of the volunteer organizers, we were told to go ahead and put up the shelter.  Protecting the art was the primary concern, and with no shops behind her, she didn't have to worry about shop owners getting upset.  With high winds predicted, we pegged the back legs into the dirt just off the sidewalk, but the front was on concrete, so I ended up tying it to a tree on one side, and a lamp post on the other.  In the end, the predicted storms never came, but the shelter was still appreciated for its shade - and it was big enough that it pedestrians and potential customers could pass through as if it wasn't there.

She sold two more paintings that day.

Eldest's goal had been to sell three paintings, one for each day of the festival. The sales were enough to cover the cost of the spot and the shelter, had she needed to do so, with some profit.  She was also able to finish off two more paintings during the festival (artists are required to be working on something during the event).  So all in all, it was quite a productive time!

It was also great exposure for her, with invaluable direct feedback.  Because this festival took place along a very busy area, there was a lot of pedestrian traffic that had nothing to do with the festival - they were just people on their way to somewhere else.  It was gratifying to see people hurrying along, not really paying attention to the displays they were passing, only to suddenly stop, do a double take, then come back to look more closely at Eldest's display.

Eldest is now looking forward to taking part in the festival again next year, armed with the experiences of this year.  For starters, she'll have a lot more time to prepare!  Rushing to find frames for her paintings at the last minute was quite the challenge - her paintings aren't exactly "standard" measurements, and custom framing wasn't an option.  She'll also be registering much earlier, and booking one of the larger spots, like where we'd ended up on that first day.  Getting business cards printed up is something else we'll need to do.  We couldn't even print some out at home, since our printer is broken and I've no idea when we'll be able to replace it.

All in all, it was an excellent and exciting event.  Even though she was surrounded by paintings, talking about paintings, and working on paintings continuously for 3 days, she came out of it wanting to do nothing more than paint and paint some more!

I'm really quite thrilled for her.