Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting ready

It was less than three weeks ago that we found out Chuck could get enough time off in early February for a family vacation. We began thinking about what we could do. When we discussed it, the kids unanimously agreed that their favourite vacation ever was the one where we rented a cabin for a week somewhere fairly interesting and different from home, but where the pace of life was still slow and rural. That was in the fall of 2006 when we spent a week in September on a gulf island north of Vancouver. We haven't really taken a proper vacation since. We did a 3-day canoe trip on our hometown lake the next year, and then the following year we squeezed a train trip and a couple of days of sight-seeing into a family wedding excursion. But a "get away and relax" vacation? It's been well over 3 years.

We bumped into some local friends at our favourite café the day after we found out about Chuck's time off. They had done a trip they had loved down the west coast of the US via train to the desert and I'd kept that kernel of an idea in my head. We picked their brains about it, listened to their rave reviews and advice. And came home and started working away with Google Earth, Firefox and Google.

Within a couple of days it all fell into place. We'll be taking the train from the US city five hours south of us, heading out to the coast on one overnighter and connecting with another overnighter in Portland. And get this -- we'll have sleepers both nights! On Amtrak the sleeping berths are actually affordable.

We'll arrive in LA, rent a minivan and head out to the high desert, staying at a swanky owner-direct vacation rental near Joshua Tree National Park for a week. We plan to do lots of rock-climbing, hike around, explore the desert and some canyons, hang out, play games, play music, visit some friends who live nearby and somewhere along the way see Avatar in 3D, a luxury not available in our area. Chuck and I spent some time in Joshua Tree before we had kids and loved it. It will be colder this time, but it will be awfully nice not to be in the thick of a Canadian winter, especially the disappointingly warm one we've been having so far which has left us with little snow but a lot of ice and dirt.

I'm planning on running a lot! I'll have the time, and I expect the weather will be perfect with daily highs about 15 C. Desert running ... I can't wait. I'm managing to squeeze in 15 miles a week lately with no recurrence of my hip pain, feeling stronger and running faster week by week.

Two-day train trips tend to be fun and exciting on the outgoing leg, but not so much on the return leg a week later, so we'll being doing the environmentally nasty thing and flying home, saving a lot of time and a fair bit of money.

A formal dinner

More passages. Fiona had a birthday. Her choice for a celebration was a formal dinner where the parents wait on the children. We had done this several years ago for Noah, but she barely remembered it and wanted one of her own.

She invited her grandma. There was a brief discussion about whether grandma was first and foremost a guest and hence would sit at the dining table, or primarily a grown-up thus relegated to the kitchen and waiting staff. It was decided, quite rightly, that grandma was a guest.

A folding table was placed in the midst of the warm ambiance of the living room and laid with a real tablecloth, topped with full place settings of silverware including all those different sizes of forks and spoons for the various courses. There was a candle in the centre, and a choice of red or white "kids' wine" (sparkling grape juice) to start along with some rice crisps.

Then there was soup (cauliflower, the birthday girl's favourite) or salad with ume plum and garlic vinagrette. Followed by a choice of entrées: ham, jacket potatoes and peas for the birthday girl and any other meat-deprived omnivores living in this mostly-vegetarian family, or squash-stuffed agnolotti (fresh but store-bought, I confess!) with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and roasted garlic.

To finish we all enjoyed a Tiramisu Layer Cake which was also of her request, and decaf lattés.

Got her "L"

This is the magnetic decal that beginning drivers use in BC. The L stands for "learner." It gets placed on the back of the vehicle that, say, a newly-16-year-old girl might drive with her parent to get her first experience driving on public roadways.

Tomorrow I will be tweaking the insurance to cover her and afterwards we will set off on her first driving adventure around town. She's driven on our property and on other private roadways, but this is the real deal.

People ask whether it terrifies me. It doesn't. She'll be a good driver I think. And others ask whether I mourn this rite of passage because it means she's less a child and that much closer to being an adult. I don't. Maybe I'm just so sick of all the driving I've done ferrying this kid around to her lessons and rehearsals. Life will be good next year when she can test for her "N" and start driving herself places without me. But I'm also just darned proud to watch her growing up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mystery image

What is this? It's inspiring my whole family right now. We can't wait. We're stretching, working out at the gym, swiping our credit cards, digging out our passports, counting the days... nineteen, eighteen, seventeen....

Fairly blind luck

How lucky was this? I managed to buy something for my 16-year-old's birthday that she didn't even imagine she wanted, that it turned out was très cool and exactly what she wanted. Vintage Swiss army leather motorcycle spats. Who'd have thought?

I am definitely not this cool. Just lucky. She's hardly taken them off since she got them.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Building character

"I believe school really builds kids character. For example, I felt lonely and "on the fringe" in school and grew to be a very compassionate person for the underdog."

I disagree. I think people become strong like plants become strong -- by starting with deep roots. I think that childhood is a time to grow deep roots. Later you can challenge the seedling with wind, drought, and deluge and it will probably do just fine because it will have the firm grounding necessary to weather the hardship.

Much of what gets labeled "character building" is actually emotional trauma that kids, as thankfully resilient as they are, gradually get over. But I don't think that "getting over" happens without a cost -- often the result is a subtle emotional guardedness, a "hardening", a wariness, a fear of being hurt, a reticence to commit, a tendency to look to others for approval, to try to please peers or avoid attracting attention rather than stand up for what one believes. Growing up tough enough that you can shrug off others' hurts sounds like strength of character, but I think it's hardness of character. True strength of character comes of knowing deep down who you are, and knowing that you are supported and loved for who you are, so that hurts don't damage your sense of your true self.

Many of us view the traumas we went through as kids is something ultimately worthwhile because they made us stronger. I confess I used to believe that myself. But now I think we like to believe that because the alternate interpretation is to awful to contemplate -- that the traumas we went through were entirely useless and unnecessary and wrong, that they should never have happened, that we would have been emotionally healthier people if we'd been protected from those things. That's saying "I went through all that for nothing?!!!" It's not a very welcome conclusion, but I think it's closer to the truth.

Two of my kids are now teens. As youngsters they were very much protected from hurtful comments, abusive friendships, exclusionary social tactics, bullying, anxiety-provoking social situations, aggression, power-plays and such. They've grown into very strong people with strong senses of who they are. They shrug off the hurtful language and behaviour of others with little difficulty. They navigate the minefield of social relationships with confidence and matter-of-fact good sense. Strong roots, I think.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Me 'n my baby

I'm never in the photos in my own blog. We stopped for lunch yesterday, though -- we had been hoping to skate on the community rink at the café but it was too warm -- and one of the teens we had along for the ride was a bit of a shutterbug. Unlike my kids.

She took the camera I had brought and started snapping photos. Amongst them was a goofy one of Fiona and me. So here I am, in my own blog! With my "baby," who will soon be seven. Which is surprising in some ways, because it seems like just yesterday I was pregnant with her. And it means I'm getting close to 50. But in many ways she's seemed older than 6 for a long long time.

Genesis of a cardinal

Some readers were interested in more details about how we're making these birds. We're less than a week into this experiment with needle felting and are totally self-taught, but for what it's worth, here's how we're doing it. We start with a hunk of fleece about 12 - 14" (30 - 35 cm) long. We're just using stuff we washed and carded ourselves. If you're using commercially purchased roving, you might need to lay three or four such lengths of roving alongside each other to get a hunk about the right size.

Bend the fleece in half and turn it into a little ghost. Grab it by the neck. Using your felting needle, begin to poke all around the head, especially at the neck. Soon you'll be able to let go of your ghost's little neck and its basic head shape will remain.

You can continue felting the head, but at this stage you can also begin working on the body and tail, which encourages your ghostie to morph into a proto-bird. Here I use a foam rubber block. Thanks to electronics purchases long past, we have some of this stuff hanging around looking for something useful to do. I hold the proto-tail in my fingers on the block, and then felt it flat, atop the foam, where it narrows from the body ... first on one side, then the other.

My birds seem to have a tendency to obesity lately, so at this stage I start madly trying to felt them into more svelte proportions. I refer to my bird guides frequently at this stage, trying to get the shape right. Some birds have heads that are like little ping-pong balls sitting atop hackey-sack bodies. Other birds are more like airships. Some have distinctive shoulders and ample breasts, others are more streamlined. Judicious poking with the needle in the too-prominent areas will help shrink them down to more appropriate sizes and shapes.

When the basic shape is about as good as I can get it, I start adding colour. The tail will be made almost entirely out of the coloured roving -- it gets too thick if it has a base of white -- so in the photo you can see I haven't worried much about it yet. I lay bits of coloured roving on running in various directions until I almost can't see the white beneath and felt it on. Then I add another thinner layer if needed.

We've been making crests and beaks separately from little bits of coloured roving and then affixing them with the felting needle. We've occasionally done wings and heads this way too ... if the bird's head is more of the ping-pong ball type, or if the colouring of these wings is very distinct and contrasting.

Colour blending and detail work is much more an art than something that lends itself to how-to instructions, especially by someone who is as much a beginner as I am. Sophie has figured out a few things and taught me ... like how to felt a tiny bit of flat stuff and roll it up into an appendage like a bill or crest. I've discovered that needle-felting a line along the middle of a puff of embellishing colour and then folding the loose stuff back along the line is a good way to get clean boundaries between colours. I'm sure there are books and classes that teach these things and many more. We're just trial-and-error crafters here.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

More avian friends

Today's birdies are a red-breasted nuthatch, more than a little on the obese side, and a tree swallow. We didn't have these colours available to us in wool roving, so we dissected several bits of multicoloured wool yarn to get what we needed, then carded them together with related colours to get what we needed. For instance, the tree swallow is black roving with a bit of the deep teal left over from Chuck's multistriped Christmas sweater (below), while the nuthatch's breast is some medium brown mixed with leftover orange from Erin's hoodie. Sophie is at work on a Western Tanager. Fiona is making noises about an Oregon (Dark-eyed) Junco. The Ontarian in me feels the need to make a cardinal and a blue jay, but those will have to wait until we get to the wool shop for some bright red and steel blue roving.

Hearth bread

Chuck went off to the dump today to salvage an oven rack. Then it was out to the blacksmithy to forge brackets and arms to support it. In short order we had a lovely portable bread-raising rack above the woodstove.

It's too cold in the kitchen for efficient bread-making in the winter, so this will simplify and expedite things considerably.

Notice the nativity characters in view behind the bread dough. Worshiping it, to all appearances. I don't blame them. Fresh garlic bread for dinner -- almost a religious experience!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Felted birds


Sophie and I have been needle-felting today. We decided these guys might make nice Christmas tree decorations for next year. We still need to buy some little beads or bead-end push pins for eyes, and some pipe cleaners for feet, but we're pretty pleased so far. They're all winter birds we see around here a-plenty. Top to bottom: Bohemian Waxwing, Stellar's Jay, Black-capped Chickadee. More to come. Erin has threatened to make a turkey vulture for the top of the tree.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Tantrums and meltdowns

"How can you tell the difference between an emotional meltdown due to neurological over-excitabilities and a bratty tantrum the child is using to get what they want?"

I don't believe it's as simple as saying "either the child is subjected to neuro-behavioural storm totally beyond her control, or else she's being calculatingly evil and trying to manipulate me by purposely creating the behaviour." I think it's something in between, with elements of both -- the child is communicating, with inappropriate behaviour, something that she feels deeply. My job is to find out what she's trying to communicate, the root cause of feelings behind the behaviour, and help her de-escalate and find other more acceptable ways to communicate both now and in the future.

I dislike the term brattiness. I think that kids generally do the best they can with the communication tools, maturity and impulse control they've got at their disposal. If they're being "naughty" it's because they've got unmet needs somewhere. That doesn't mean you let them get away with the misbehaviour, but the onus is on you to stretch your empathy and figure out where the misdirected behaviour is coming from.