Strawberry season

It’s official: Our own little strawberry season has drawn to a close. The last of the berries have been picked and there are no more to be had.

strawberries

You wouldn’t think this would bother me much, given as how I don’t like un-jammed strawberries, but I am curiously sad.

The Man We Call Dad adores strawberries, as does our dear friend B (who knows exactly who he is, and reads this blog, and probably is wondering why I’m teasing him with pictures of strawberries he won’t get to eat, seeing as how he lives on the far west end of town and we live in the east).

We had a surprisingly quick strawberry season this year. Last year, the berries came a few at a time over several weeks, not enough at once to contemplate making jam.

This year, they came fast and furious, cupfuls at a time, and completely finished a mere week after they first started to blush. And once again, not enough to make jam.

But little by little, our strawberry patch grows. I have hopes that someday in the not so distant future, there will be enough strawberries for eating and jam making, and both The Man We Call Dad and I will be able to enjoy sweet berry treats from our very own backyard.

mango chutney

In the meantime, I have been blessed with an abundance of fruit in our weekly CSA box and with the help of a well-loved book on preserving, have done up some mango chutney, and now with a little canning done and a batch of chocolate chip cookies cooling on racks in preparation for an end of year party for the grade 8’s, all feels right in the world.

 

What’s cooling on my kitchen counter

toffeesquares

They’re called “toffee squares,” they smell like pure sugary caramel goodness, and they contain a full cup of butter.

The base layer is a mixture of butter, flour, and brown sugar. The middle is sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla. And because that isn’t sweet enough, they’re then drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate.

I can’t wait to try them!

Base:
Cream together half a cup of brown sugar and half a cup of butter. Beat until fluffy. Gradually beat in 1-1/2 cups of flour. Press the mixture into a pan lined in parchment paper and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until golden.

Filling:
Melt half a cup of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix in one 300 mL can of sweetened condensed milk and 2 tablespoons of corn syrup. Stir constantly for 5 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Assembly:
Pour filling over base and let cool completely. Drizzle melted semi-sweet chocolate on top.

On mornings, bears, and husbands

This morning was most definitely a Monday morning. One seventh of my time here on earth has been occupied by Monday mornings and I have to say, after all this time, I still don’t mind them.

Mondays mark a return to school after two days off. Ditto for work for The Man We Call Dad. As for me, I work Tuesdays through Saturdays most weeks, so technically for me, Tuesday is Monday.

Though Tuesday mornings don’t bother me either.

Maybe I’m a bit of an odd duck (and those of you who know me well can stop laughing now), but I’ve never minded Mondays (even when they are really Tuesdays).  I’ve never minded birthdays, either. They are, like every other day, an opportunity to do something fun. Or something hard. Or something incredibly worthwhile.

And we only get some 30 000 of them in our lives, if we are lucky. Why on earth would I spend 4 285 of them being miserable by choice?

Every so often though, there comes a Monday (or Tuesday) that just needs a little extra grit to get through. Take this morning, for example. It began with a little bit of alarm ignoring after a busy weekend, was followed by the discovery that a thermos one was planning to use for lunch was not, in fact, as clean as it should be, and was topped off by the sudden and smelly discovery that the child on kitchen duty last night failed to take the compost out, much to the delight of the fruit flies that seemingly appear from nowhere overnight.

(The fruitflies, on the other hand, are most certainly having the sort of Monday morning that lottery ticket holders have when they discover upon checking the news one Monday morning that their ticket is worth 9 million dollars, or some other such staggering sum of joyful incredulity followed by much whooping and hollering and jumping up and down.)

After an emergency compost evacuation followed by thermos washing and fruit fly chasing, I plopped myself down on the couch and must have let out a sigh for the girl we call B gave me an empathetic look and told me I looked tired. Not as tired as a girl who spent the weekend travelling to Jouvence to perform with the band and then run obstacle courses, go kayaking, and participate in a kid-sized version of the lumberjack olympics, but Monday-Morning-Mama tired.

And so she gave me a bear.

Well actually, it was a stuffed cat which was then followed by a bear, but you get the idea.

The bear is a small one, white and fluffy (though it’s fur is now rather more well-loved and fuzzy than downy soft, and its colour is no longer pristine and snowy), and its legs have the most adorable curve to them that give the impression that the bear has knees.

I love that bear.

B handed me the bear in all seriousness, telling me how good the bear was at cuddling, and how the thing she loved most about that particular bear was how it was such a good cuddle bear, but not too big, and not too small.

I smiled, cuddled the bear, and told her that the thing I had always loved most about that particular bear was the fact that it had knees.

“I know, right?!” came the answer, followed by a frown and a puzzled “But I don’t remember when I got the bear or who bought it for me.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

I just might have hugged the bear a little closer, too.

For you see, our little Miss B did not get that bear at all. That particular bear is mine, and I have had it for a very long time.

Way back in the middle ages (or perhaps even before the age of the dinosaurs, it’s hard to remember exactly), when The Man We Call Dad and I were only 3 or 4 years older than our oldest child is now, he gave me that bear. We were walking down the street one warm summer evening, hand in hand, when he stopped and dug something out of his backpack and held it behind his back for a moment before presenting it to me.

“She’s got knees!” I exclaimed then, delighted. He smiled at me, that funny little crooked smile he gets when he’s feeling particularly vulnerable, and I kissed him, the bear crushed between us, before we continued down the street.

That moment, in the peculiar way certain moments do, engraved itself in my memory, though it wasn’t particularly significant in any way at all. I can still see the shine of the streetlights against the dark sky and feel the humidity in the air and the way my hair tickled the back of my neck, pulled up in a ponytail as it was, though I can’t remember if he said anything, or what else we might have talked about that night.

That bear has seen me through a quarter century of adventures… my first night away at university, my first time stuck in an airport in a foreign country trying to get home, my first apartment. It has seen me through some sad times, too, like losing our first baby, losing family members, losing friends. More often than not, it sat on a bookshelf in my bedroom rather than on my bed, but every so often as I passed by I would stroke those adorable little knees, or take the bear down and give it a squeeze.

And then my kids were born, first K and then B, and somewhere, somewhen, the bear stopped living on my bookshelf and started living in a child’s bed.

This morning, when B couldn’t remember where she got the bear, I told her the truth of where the bear came from. She had the funniest look on her face as I told her, half wondering and awe-struck, half highly amused.

“That bear is more than twice as old as you are,” I informed her.

“You’re so lucky,” was her reply.

“I am?”

“You are.” A firm nod of her head let me know she was serious. And then a hand went on her hip and her head tilted sideways.

Very serious.

And then came the Grand Pronouncement:

“When I grow up, I want to be lucky enough to have a husband who gives me teddy bears. Teddy bears with knees. A man who gives you bears is one worth keeping, I think. You’re very lucky, you know.”

There are moments in parenthood when it is extraordinarily difficult to keep a straight face.

Especially when I agree so wholeheartedly.

And lest you think the bear from our teenaged years was a one-time event, you should know that last weekend on our way home from camping, we stopped in at Mastermind Toys and spent fully 10 minutes debating whether or not it would be reasonable to acquire a gorgeous, soft, cuddly stuffed elephant for our family room. The softness definitely counted in its favour. The fact that it is life-sized and would most definitely block our view of the TV was a point against, but what can you do?

(Buy your wife a Metal Earth R2D2 model to build, that’s what. And a millenium falcon, too. And yes, he smiled that smile I love so much as he dragged me over to see R2D2 in all his shiny glory. And yes, I may have kissed him just a little.)

 

 

Teaching kids to knit

I have decided that teaching children to knit is, in fact, a very dangerous thing to do with kids. This realization comes many years after having taught my own children to knit, and about 7 months after having taught a group of 30 girl guides the fine art of finger knitting, so you might say I’ve got a little bit of experience with the matter.

Knitting is brilliant. Where else can you take a simple piece of string and turn it into a sock, or a sweater, or one of those pairs of mittens unique to Newfoundland that have not only a thumb but a trigger finger too?

And when you teach a kid to knit, they learn all sorts of great things about how difficult it is to learn a new skill, but how satisfying it is when you finally learn it. And how your brain might know what to do, but your hands might not be willing to get with the program until you’ve done wrong it a few thousand times in a row. And how if you want to make something worthwhile and not just another dish cloth, it’s going to take a while and you’re going to have to be persistent.

Knitting is also a form of meditation and brings with it all the mental health benefits of spending a similar amount of time chanting “om” while sitting in a complicated posture that really is just cross-legged with a twist, yet is practically impossible to achieve if you have knee problems or hip problems or dear-god-I-can’t-get-up-off-the-floor-after-sitting-like-this-for-an-hour problems.

In fact, knitting is so good for kids’ brains that teachers everywhere are starting to embrace it as a good thing to teach kids, alongside reading and math and how to stand up to bullies without getting sent to the office yourself because you punched someone.

You can, in fact, teach very young children to knit. I think my two were 5 and 7 when they first learned how to knit. They started out by making very skinny scarves for their teddy bears knit lengthwise, then skinny scarves knit width-wise, and then B went through a phase of knitting washcloths for Playmobil people.  Many, many washcloths.  And if you’ve ever seen how small the Playmobil people are, you’ll know exactly how tiny those washcloths were — about 5 stitches wide by 5 rows of garter stitch in worsted-weight yarn, if I remember correctly. They knit up really fast, which I think was the main attraction, especially after she tried her hand at making a scarf for herself and gave up about 30 cm in.

K was much more orderly about the whole process. He knit a skinny red scarf for his teddy bear.  Then he knit a skinny red scarf for his teddy polar bear. And one for his teddy lizard. Then he knit a skinny blue scarf for his teddy crow. And then he announced that he was done with knitting, having mastered it so thoroughly as he had.

And that was perfectly okay, because to my way of thinking, he had already figured out all the important bits of knitting; namely, not throwing it across the room in frustration when you realized that the 10 stitches you had cast on to make a skinny teddy-sized scarf had somehow mysteriously multiplied in the night and become 42.

So when I joined the Girl Guides of Canada this year as a Guider to a group of 30 girls, one of the things I had in the back of my head was that I should teach them to knit.

Because I’m clearly out of my mind to think that I could teach 30 girls aged 9 to 12 to knit in the hour and a half we have allocated to us each Thursday.

And then I did it, and amazingly, it all worked out okay.

I decided to simplify things a little and take the knitting needles out of the equation and teach them to finger knit. We had an entire bag of yarn of various fibres and colours stashed in with the craft supplies and I was confident that over the course of sleepover event, they could figure out how to finger knit.

And they did.

Oh good heavens, how they did! They quite happily made themselves a bracelet or two before we moved on to the next activity.  By the end of the sleepover, some of the girls sported bracelets from wrist to armpit on each arm, along with a knitted belt or two and a half a dozen headbands (all worn simultaneously, of course) and the yarn stash had gone from 7 oversized balls of yarn and a few dozen odd leftover bits to hardly anything at all.

When they learned the Christmas party was to be held at our house, they instantly sniffed out the fact that, since all the craft supplies were being stored in my basement, there must surely be yarn.

There was yarn, of course, since I had only brought twice what I thought we would use to the sleepover (I’m a firm believer in backup plans and extra quantities), and so there was knitting.

fingerknitting2

Periodically as the Guiding year wore on, a girl would show up for a meeting with a new finger-knit bracelet and would proudly show it off.

But the most amazing thing was that originally at that sleepover, I had only taught a very few girls to finger knit. Five or six in all, as the others had chosen to try their hand at other things. But as those five or six had their first successes and started showing off their completed bracelets, others suddenly wanted to learn how.

I told them to ask their friends, and before you could blink, the finger-knitters were teaching the non-finger-knitters how to knit with their fingers.

It’s quite easy, you see, once you get the hang of it. And once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s hugely empowering to teach it to someone new.

At the Christmas party, girls who had not been at the sleepover were being taught by girls who had, who had were enjoying their leadership role immensely. And before the party was over, I don’t think there was a girl in the unit who hadn’t learned to finger knit.

Here at home, I kept finding bracelets and headbands scattered around like raindrops as B dove into finger knitting with a passion. Well into February, I would find little scraps of this yarn or that and I would smile every time I saw them. But eventually, passion faded and I stopped finding little bracelets here and there, and I chalked it up to a project mastered and left behind, as many such projects are.

Until last week.

Last week, I found this lying on the family room floor:

knit1

When I unwound it, I discovered it was finger knitting made of a lovely, thick braided yarn that wanders gradually from orange to rust to almost brown. Curious, I straightened it out to measure it.

knit2

It was over 5 metres long. It measured 17 feet, to be precise, and is almost 2 inches in diameter thanks to the thick and luscious yarn she used (which I had earmarked for a thick and cozy scarf, but somehow found its way out of my yarn stash and into hers).

So I asked B what, precisely, she intended to do with 17 feet of finger knitting.

B: “Seventeen? Seventeen?!!”

Me: Yup.

B: “That’s SO COOL!”

Me: So what are you going to do with it?

B: Shrug. “Nothing.”

I think I blinked a few times at that. Nothing? She had no plans at all? I couldn’t help but ask her why she had made it, and she gave me the most amazing answer of all:

“Because I wanted to see if I could,” she said. And then she immediately asked if I had any other thick and bulky yarn in my stash that she could have.

So this weekend, we’re taking the Guides camping in tents, and I’m planning on teaching them to weave a small patch of fabric between the branches of a forked stick. I bought yarn in glorious multicoloured skeins for the project, 6 large skeins of it, though weaving doesn’t take all that much yarn, and we’re making small little projects, but I do like having extra just in case.

I rather do suspect I’ve bought too much yarn, if such a thing is possible.

Or at least I did.

One of my co-Guiders came over the other night and saw the yarn, and after admiring the colours and agreeing they would be perfect for weaving, she said:

“And finger knitting, because you know the girls are going to want to finger knit.”

And just that fast, I knew I was in trouble. Big, BIG trouble.

In part because I don’t think I’m bringing nearly enough yarn at all. But mostly because now I’m thinking it would be cool if I brought the unit’s supply of knitting needles and taught the girls garter stitch, proving for once and for all that I have lost my marbles.

And that, my friends, is why teaching kids to knit is a dangerous thing indeed. For once you’ve seen them succeed at knitting, you begin to realize how amazing they are, how well they rise to the challenge, and how generous they are in sharing their knowledge and wisdom and experience with others. In short, you begin to think that with this new generation of kids, anything and everything is possible.

 

 

The joy of secrets

Tonight, we have a secret. After a long night serving lobster dinners to hundreds of hungry people and then performing with the band to entertain them, our girl B is helping me with a most special surprise.

Almost ten years ago now, K started school and made a friend. For the last two years, that friend has been at a different school than K and they’ve spent rather less time together than they might wish. Tonight, they both turned out and helped their younger siblings serve lobster dinners to hundreds of hungry people for no other reason than they could.

Even though they weren’t in the band anymore.

When the event finally ended, K asked if his friend could sleep over since the stars had aligned and everyone was homework free and with no school in the morning to worry about. And when said friend arrived, I found out that not only did the boys spend the last few hours ferrying plates of lobsters around, they did it on K’s friend’s birthday.

So of course we have to mark the occaision, and what better way to do it than with a midnight surprise birthday party complete with chocolate cake?

So B and I scurried off to the kitchen and whipped up a cake which is baking in the oven even as I type these words. Shortly we will take it out, stuff it in the freezer for a rapid cool down, and whip up some icing. Our fabric garland will come out and get draped around the room and I’m sure I can dig up a candle or 14 somewhere, and together, we’ll sing and smile and eat cake at midnight in honour of a wonderful young man we’ve been priviledged to know since the ripe old age of 4.

 

Well, hello again!

Life has been rocketing along everywhere I look. In the garden, the first daisy of the season has bloomed, making a small flag of crisp white petals flying high over a sea of green and leftover brown from last year’s garden.

daisy

Elsewhere, the yard has been sprinkled with tiny flecks of blue and white as the forget-me-nots are in full flower, both the blue ones and the white ones. They used to grow down near the creek at my grandmother R’s house and have always been a particular favourite of mine since childhood.

forgetmenot

In another few weeks once the bloom has past, I’ll be mowing them down for another year as while I adore the scattering of tiny blue flowers, I’m not so keen on the messy foliage they leave behind. Once they’ve gone to seed, they’ll be cut back and eventually smothered by other things coming into their glory in the garden.

snowball

My favourite flowering spirea (whose name is, appropriately, bridal bush), once it’s tiny white flowers are done, is a lovely dark green cascade underplanted with stonecrop and cowslip and a dark-leaved lovely whose name I forget. For now though, the spirea is covered in little white flowers with perfectly round petals which it is prone to dropping onto anything nearby like confetti.

confetti

Every time I go outside, I find something new greeting me with a cheery “Hello! Did you miss me?” and I am hard pressed not to answer back as I run my fingers over stems and leaves, bend down to sniff flowers, and dig my hands deep in the soil that will soon be providing farm-fresh nourishment for our little family. I may only have a small suburban yard, but oh, I do love it so!

We still have snow

Apparently, it is high time for Spring to officially kick Winter to the curb. How do I know this? Not because the temperatures have been flirting with positive numbers every other day or so. Not because my kids have abandoned snowpants and scarves and sometimes even coats lately. And most definitely not because in the sunniest patch of the backyard, there is a flash of rich, brown earth speckled with last year’s grass.

No, not for any of those reasons do I think it is officially time for Spring to get serious about doing all her Spring-like things.

You see, yesterday was my birthday. Because of that, friends and family both near and far wrote, texted, emailed, and called with their birthday wishes. It was a lovely outpouring of love and joy and it made my heart happy, as it always does.

But a good proportion of them did NOT ask “Are you having a great birthday?” or  “What are you doing to celebrate?” nor even “What did you wish for this year?” with faces shining with curiosity and voices full of fun.

Instead, their faces were a little more threatening, their voices less fun and cheery, and more “you’d better do what I say or I might just have to find a shovel to bury your body with.”

And what they said? It ran something like this:

“Would you wish for the snow to go away?”

and “Wish for spring already, would you?”

and even “Did you wish for spring? You’d better have wished for spring…”

Apparently Winter has overstayed it’s welcome and Spring had better get off her lazy arse and start to green things up a little before someone gets hurt. Or moves to Costa Rica just to escape the white stuff.

We’re all tired of winter, it seems. That, and a shocking number of my friends actually believe birthday wishes do come true.

Except for that girl we call B.  She did not have any opinion about the weather whatsoever. She had zero curiosity about what I might have wished for. Instead, she wanted to know if I realized that this year, mathematically speaking, as of this moment, I am officially four times her age and will remain so until the end of April, at which time our ratio will become a repeating decimal.

I love that girl.

And yes, for those who are curious, I had a wonderful day full of joy and love.  I ate cupcakes for breakfast, spent an hour or two with the company of a great book, had phone calls from several people I love, and went out for dinner at the pub and listened to a friend’s band, The Fake McCoys, play for an appreciative crowd, then stayed up long after midnight chatting with one of my very best friends. It was a wonderful evening to finish off an enjoyable day.

But sadly, no, I did not wish for spring. Spring is already here, you see, though hidden a little under all the snow. The sun is so much stronger than it was even a week ago. The trees are budding, the sap is flowing, and the birds are flirting like mad from their perches in the tree tops. Spring is here, my friends, no wishing required.

Instead, I wished for Summer.