Happy Samhain

Last night was Hallowe’en and I have to say, it was the most fun I’ve had on Halloween in a while. K is now officially “too old” to dress up (says him! “Never!” says I!).  B went as a ninja (and was out the door to meet her friends so fast, I never got a photo). She debated adding an onion and a kitchen knife to her costume (in tribute to those onion-chopping ninjas who sneak up on you during certain episodes of Gray’s Anatomy just to make you cry), but after discovering we were out of onions and pondering the wisdom of bringing an 8″ long blade to a party, decided a plain ninja would have to do.  I was a witch, as I often am–when I’m not wearing a hazmat suit and handing out terribly “toxic” candy with BBQ tongs that is. This year, I added battery-powered copper stringed fairy lights wrapped around my pointy witch hat for good measure and I quite liked the effect.

But the house…

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The house was done up in fine style with a graveyard on the lawn, a Harry Potter-esque dementor hovering just below the tree branches, and a quirky magic shop set up beside the porch. (I apologize for the terribly blurry picture).

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I had, as I often do, left the garden to grow wild and unkempt and suitably spooky for the season.

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And of course, as I do every year, I had the fog machine going with its sound effects, strobe light, and smoke.

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So what did my magic shop sell? I had candy galore, of course, and stickers promoting Girl Guides of Canada, and books.

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A whole table full of children’s books, plus an extra bin under the table with more. All for free.

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The reactions of the kids when they realized I was giving out books was fantastic. It truly was amazing.

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One little boy said “Oh! It’s a shop! A book shop! How much are the books?” When I told him they were free, he could pick one to keep, he turned around and ran over to his parents, yelling “Mom! Dad! Books! She has books!”

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Many of the kids expressed how much they like to read. Some shyly, some loudly, but all with sparkling eyes and absolute sincerity.

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Those who chose to take a book often lingered over the table while making their choice. Some lingered so long it prompted their parents to come closer to see what, exactly, was going on at that spooky house with the witch behind the table and a lovely set of Griffindor robes hanging off a dressmaker’s dummy.

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Another group of tall teenaged boys in various gruesome costumes all took some candy and laughed at the kids’ books on offer until one of the boys reached for the pinkest, prettiest, girliest book on the pile. His friends started teasing him, but he ignored them and asked me “Is it okay if I take this one? I have a little sister who would love it.”

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Suddenly their teasing turned to “Oh yeah! Great idea! Way to go, man, she’ll love that. That’s really awesome of you!” and I thought to myself, yup, they’ll turn out just fine, those boys.

All in all, 65 books and 175 snack-sized pieces of chocolate later, it was a very fun night for me and probably the best Samhain celebration I’ve had in a long time.

After all, books really are the very best sort of magic.

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Delicious autumn

There’s something about autumn that inspires a flurry of baking. Maybe it’s the fact that the apples are plentiful and need preserving. Or maybe it’s a prelude to the long hibernation of winter. Whatever the reason, there’s an absolute deliciousness to the season.

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This year marks the first year in several years’ tradition now that The Man We Call Dad did not take the kids apple picking. It didn’t bother me that they didn’t go — we’ve been busy with all sorts of other fun things, not the least of which has been long, lazy moments devouring chapter after chapter of Kevin Hearne’s Hounded together.

At least, it didn’t bother me until we went to my sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving dinner and she happily showed off cupboards full of canning jars filled with apples in various forms, including an absolutely delicious apple pie filling.

Just that fast, I was bothered.

Really bothered.

In fact, I was positively nostalgic for the year The Man We Call Dad went just a little overboard on the apple picking and brought me home 80 pounds of apples.

So nostalgic that when we arrived at the grocery store to pick up a few essentials like milk and cheddar cheese, pita bread, and ice cream, I was pleased beyond measure to find the annual autumn bins of pumpkins and apples.

They’re huge, those bins. You could get lost in there if you aren’t careful. But they are filled with most fragrant, sweet, juicy MacIntosh apples you’ve ever seen.

Lots of them.

So we brought a few home and I immediately put them to good use:

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Isn’t autumn delicious?

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Well, another pumpkin season has come and gone with all that it brings with it: last-minute homemade costumes, pumpkin carving parties with the neighbours’ kids, a street filled with Elsas and Annas and a variety of other characters (some spooky, some not), and more candy than we could possibly eat in a month. Or maybe even three months.

Today, I find myself awake before everyone else with a few moments to spare and an urge to write. Maybe it is just that it is November, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, and writing has been on my brain. I’ve been missing this space, this digital memory keeper of mine.

So many other things have taken precedence for the past six months and life has been good. We have had some wonderful firsts over the past few months, including first airplane rides, first Disney visit, first teenager in the house, and more. It’s been a delightful end of spring, summer, and early fall.

But now, now I have the almost daily urge to be back in this place, though I don’t know how long it will last. Perhaps I’ll be here more regularly. Perhaps, having taken on the role of Girl Guide leader and having so many other things happening around here, I’ll just pop in now and again. Time will tell, I suppose, but for now, I’ll just leave you with this thought: Christmas is coming, my friends, as is a new niece or nephew, and crazy amounts of crafting are in full swing.

Becoming Lyra Belacqua

It’s not too late to post about Halloween, is it? I hope not, for I meant to share some progress on a little project B and I undertook this fall. B had announced, oh, over a year ago, that she wanted to be Lyra Belacqua (from the movie The Golden Compass) for Halloween. A quick web search provided a few reference pictures and off we went on a quest to turn an ordinary white sweater into Lyra’s fabulously embroidered winter coat.

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A little bit of sewing and a whole lot of fake fur later, we had a Lyra of our own posing happily in front of our fridge.

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She was using a small makeup mirror of mine as her Golden Compass, her boot covers are the inside-out sleeves of a too-small fake shearling jacket, and we cheated on the embroidery by using printed ribbon, but I’m sure you can tell from that smile that she was not at all displeased with how her Lyra costume was turning out.

Especially the bear.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that Lyra has a guardian angel of sorts in the form of an armoured polar bear.

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B needed a polar bear. You absolutely cannot dress up as Lyra Belacqua and not have an armoured polar bear for a companion.

Now if the truth be told, B wanted to be Lyra for Halloween last year, but our lives being what they were (and with K busy building  a papier mache helmet so he could be Master Chief from the Halo video games), we pulled together a Katniss Everdeen costume instead. I had started planning, though, and I had ordered a lovely felt kit from Woolhala to make a miniature polar bear, confident that I could figure something or other out for the armour in time for Halloween.

It didn’t work out that way.

We ran out of time, was what happened, and Katniss Everdeen was ever so much simpler than a costume that required a fair amount of sewing, and a lot of it being hand sewing at that. Plus while I knew I probably could figure out how to make a suit of armour for a polar bear… well, I hadn’t exactly figured out the logistics of it, given that it not only had to be a suit of golden armour, it had to look more or less representative of what Lyra’s bear companion wore in the movie.

This time around, we started early, and we both were absolutely tickled pink with the results:

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The black cord attached to the armour let her wear him like a purse and not risk dropping him on the ground in the dark on what turned out to be a rather rainy and muddy Halloween night.

It was a lot of work for this one costume; probably the most effort we’ve put into a costume so far. We both enjoyed the process thoroughly (even if it did put my Christmas crafting on hold). What has me absolutely tickled pink is not how happy she was on Halloween night. Instead, it is the fact that she has worn that newly furry sweater and coordinating hat almost daily ever since we made it.

I do declare it just might be her new Favourite Thing.

Kids and trees

There is something magical about trees. I have always loved them. It doesn’t matter to me if they are the tall, majestic giants anchoring the forest or the small scrubby things that litter the forest floor. For that matter, I even like trees planted in orderly rows in an orchard. Trees are just the most comfortable old friends a person can have.

I think most everyone has a tree that they remember for one reason or another. Probably even more than one. It might be the tree in your backyard, or the one in your grandparents’ back field that had a rope swing tied to it. It might be the tree your mother photographed you with every year on your birthday or the first day of school. It might be the first tree you climbed, or the first tree you fell out of, or the spruce tree on your front lawn that your father strung with lights every Christmas.

As a child, my favourite tree was a lilac tree. It grew beside our house, along with several others of its kind and a plum tree or three. It was an tall, old tree that reached all the way to the gable window of my bedroom and I would go to sleep on spring nights with the heady scent of lilac inspiring my dreams.

By day, those trees made for the most marvelous place to play. They were old enough to have grown bare in their lower reaches, with only the outermost branches bearing leaves. It left a perfect little space underneath, carpeted with blue myrtle and false strawberry and marked by the little rabbit-trail pathways left by my feet and those of my friends.

We played there for hours at a time, day after day. There was no end to the things you could imagine in that little space under those trees, screened away from grownup view in your own living green world of wonder.

Nowadays, my favourite tree is the grand old man of the forest. An evergreen who rises far above the rest of the trees in the woods, I can see him from the window of my office. He towers over the houses at the end of the street. He towers over the other trees in the woods. He even manages to tower over the sky, drawing the eye away from sunshine and clouds and even the occasional rainbow.

He is grand, that old man. I love him so.

But he’s got some competition for my affections, right here in my own backyard. I have planted several dwarf apple trees, and Oh! how I love them so! Their blossoms in spring bring me so much joy. Their fruit in fall is so eagerly anticipated. But this year, mother nature conspired against us and gave us a hard frost right after the blossoms had opened, and all the blossoms fell off.

A bad year for apples, it seemed to be, without even a single fruit on our trees. How was I going to make applesauce? What would I use for apple pies?

It’s a good thing The Man We Call Dad came to the rescue. Our doggie friend Ginger’s Dad called us up and invited us to go apple picking with them, all the way on the other side of town, over an hour’s drive away for us. The Man We Call Dad said yes, of course (despite the fact that there is a huge pick-your-own orchard not 10 minutes down the road from us), and off he went with the kids in tow.

Apple trees aren’t that tall, unless you are four. Then they are impossibly tall.

Of course, to pick apples properly, you’ve got to get right up there inside the apple tree, or as near to it as you can get. Some kids climb the trees. Some kids fall out of the trees. Ours… preferred to use ladders.

 

Not long after they had arrived, I got a phone call from The Man We Call Dad.

“How many apples do you want us to get?” he asked me. They were sold by the bag, you see. Each bag was rated for 20 pounds of apples.

“I don’t know. Enough to make some applesauce,” was my oh-so-scientific answer.

They brought home a lot of apples. See this bag?

That bag holds a lot of apples. If you are really observant, you’ll have noticed that The Man We Call Dad is in the background, and it looks like he is carrying another giant bag full of apples.

He’s not.

He’s carrying three more giant bags of apples. Yes, its’ true. They brought me back 80 pounds of apples. In truth, I suspect it is more than 80 pounds, because those bags were awfully full.

It’s a good thing I like making applesauce.

Ginger in the woods

A couple of weeks ago, we had company. It was company of the canine sort, and she was a delightful visitor.

Within seconds of arriving at our house, she claimed a spot on the floor beside the loveseat, and so that was where we laid her dog bed. From there, she had a clear view of the door, the living room, the dining room, the back door, and the stairs.

She likes knowing what’s going on, that dog. If one of us were to walk into the family room, she would wander over to see what we were doing. If we appeared to be settled, she would settle there too. If not, she would return to her dog bed and wait us out. Saving her energy, I suppose, until the pesky humans stopped walking all over the house and picked one place to be.

We like having doggy visitors. The kids enjoy having companions who have as much energy as they do, and I enjoy having a warm, fuzzy lump by my side as I work at the computer while the kids are at school. We like the walks, too, despite the necessity for picking up. And we like having visitors who are so fun to play with for a bit and then go away again before we get tired of taking care of them.

Ginger, though, is a doggy visitor in a category entirely her own. She is silent almost all the time. She doesn’t bark, she doesn’t howl, she barely says a word at all. In fact, most of the time she merely sits and observes from the comfort of her dog bed, those eyes wide and wise and calmly knowing.

At least, until you take out her leash.

That leash inspired a flash of action. Tail starts wagging, bum starts wiggling, and she literally bounces up into the air a little, so excited is she about the idea of going outside for a stroll. Once outside, she likes to sniff and sniff and sniff. Everything smells interesting to Ginger. The leaf that fell off the tree. The rock beside the curb. The weedy thing growing at the edge of the grass. The lamp post. The stop sign’s pole. The fire hydrant, of course. All of it gets a thorough sniff.

Unlike our crazy dog friend Waldo who bounds ahead in excitement and drags us along for the ride, Ginger never pulls. She explores in her calm, quiet way, usually a step or two or five behind us as we walk. Sometimes, she stops dead and we find that it is us who are suddenly pulled up short as she decides to dig in her heels for a moment to better smell something or other. Even squirrels fail to elicit much more than a quiet look, sort of a “yes, I see you, silly squirrel. And no, I am not going to bother chasing you. Run along now. I’ve got things to sniff.”

It quickly became evident that this lovely, quiet dog has a deep love for the woods. As deep a love as mine, I would wager. The woods set her tail to wagging and her nose to sniffing like nothing else. As soon as we would enter the woods, her whole being would both perk up and relax, all at the same time. She looked happy in the woods. I can relate. I am always happy in the woods. And I come out the other side feeling calm and centered and joyful, every single time.

I like the woods.

I like bringing things home from the woods and placing them in our nature bowl. A bit of bladder campion. A sprig of wild camomile flowers. A leaf, newly red with the snap of cold weather.

Ginger approved of everything I brought home, giving it a good sniff before wandering off to find the next thing to smell.

I like walking in the woods with Ginger. I like walking in the woods with Waldo, too, though it is a completely different experience. Waldo leaps and pulls and strains to reach whatever he happens to notice. He bites branches. He barks at squirrels. He wraps the leash around trees constantly. He is oh so very excited to be in the woods, and oh so very excited to be on a walk, and oh so very excited just to be, I think, for he is that sort of dog. Mind you, Ginger is also 12 years old and Waldo isn’t even 2 yet.

Ginger is calm. Ginger is quiet. Ginger takes her time and doesn’t jump or pull or wrap her leash around trees.

At least, not unless she sees a chipmunk. Chipmunks, apparently, are her calmness kryptonite. The very hint of a chipmunk sends her into a frenzy of jumping and pulling and straining to catch that speedy little thing that just went racing across the rocks. Chipmunks turn Ginger into a puppy again.

Oh, what joy can be found in the woods!