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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On books…

We have a tendency towards keeping busy around here. Rarely do we find idle hands, both child-sized or adult. If we aren’t actively doing something together, we’re busy with our own projects that span a huge variety of interests.

If you walk around our house on any given day, you’ll find little vignettes here and there that show just what has been occupying us of late. From this Mama, you’ll see puddles of yarn with knitting needles or crochet hooks at the ready, bits of embroidery, the remnants of baking (for it never seems to last long), and the beginnings (or endings) of a project being shared with 30 girls at our weekly Girl Guide meetings.

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Elsewhere, you’ll find art projects and latch hook projects, beading, jewelery making, and little bits of origami.

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But one thing you can be sure of is that everywhere you look, there will be books.

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We have bookshelves all over the house. The family room sports three huge ones plus two skinny ones. Each child’s bedroom sports at least one, and the bedroom I share with The Man We Call Dad has two (and desperately needs another). In the basement, our craft room has an entire shelf dedicated to books of a crafty nature while The Man We Call Dad’s office and my office add another 4 to the count.

And yet despite all the bookshelves in the house, we constantly find ourselves running out of room for books.

A few years ago, I dove into the world of e-books and bought a Kindle. I love my Kindle. It’s the most amazingly wonderful way to carry a whole library with you wherever you go. I add to it regularly, using the Amazon free books list and subscribing to a couple of newsletters to acquire books for free or nearly so, but I also do spend my hard-earned dollars regularly on authors I love and books that come highly recommended by friends.

But as K pointed out last week, there’s nothing quite like the feel of a real paper book in your hands and as nice as the Kindle is, it just isn’t the same. Shortly after he made that statement, B reminded him that they both received gift cards to Chapters for Christmas that they hadn’t spent yet. And immediately after that, The Man We Call Dad announced that it was time for a trip to the bookstore.

You might think, knowing that our bookshelves at home are full to overstuffed in every room, that we had enough books. You might also think, knowing that our Kindle is practically a full-featured library in its own right, that we had more reading material waiting to be read than we have spare minutes left in our lives. And you might remember this post from just over a week ago where I mentioned having just gotten an entire pile of new books from B’s Scholastic book order at school.

Do we really need more books?

Silly question! Of course we do! And, armed with gift cards and spending money, we filled not one, not two, but three shopping bags full of books to read.

There was much debate about who was buying what since we all want to read almost everything the other people bought, but in the end it was all sorted out and everyone is eagerly anticipating reading and sharing and borrowing all around.

I had wondered, once upon a time, whether it would be weird watching my children read books I myself love to read as an adult. Whether I would worry about the violence in the books, or the sex, or the heart-wrenchingly sad moments that leave a tender-hearted person feeling just as devastated by fictional events as they might be by real events, if only for a moment.

But I find myself so crazy proud of my young readers and thrilled to be sharing my most favourite books with them as well as discovering new ones together. It provides so much fuel for conversation and thoughtful exploration of the world we live in, with all its good bits and bad, its sorrows and joys. When I see my children tucked into a corner with a book in hand, expressions intent and focus absolute, I am certain that in this, at least, I have done something right.

“Take your kid to the library” has a day?

Tomorrow, I have learned from Twitter, has been dubbed the official “Take Your Kid To The Library Day.”  I was only a little befuddled when I read this.

The first thing that crossed my mind was “what, only one day?”  That was quickly followed by outrage as I remembered that there are, in fact, many families who never ever use the library. There are kids who only ever go to the library at their school. That there are people who not only didn’t get a library card when they were two, they still don’t have a library card at the age of 22 or 32 and probably never will. Ahem. Sorry, I get a little passionate about books and reading sometimes.

I like libraries.

When I was a girl, the library was a place I visited almost every week. Rain or shine, whether I had a drive from my parents or had to walk there myself, it was somewhere that I went.

All. The. Time.

I knew the sections of the library the way other people know their way around the grocery store. I knew which books were always on the shelves and which ones I had to request in advance if I wanted to get my hands on them anytime soon. I even knew the Bookmobile‘s schedule and would visit it often even though the library had a branch within easy walking distance, just because it was fun to climb inside an RV filled top to bottom with bookshelves and chat with the librarian for a while as I picked out books.

When I started taking care of my brother and sister after school and on weekends, I would often throw N in her stroller and take them to the library with me, even if the little old ladies who went to the library for a coffee and a gossip thought that it was absolutely shameful that a girl my age had a baby and a little boy and no wedding ring. I gave up trying to explain that the kids were my siblings and not my children after only a hundred times or so.

To this day, I simply cannot go in to the library and come out with only one book. Even if I only have one book that has come in as a request and I have a dozen at home in the library book bin (yes, we have a bin. It helps us not lose books.)… it is physically impossible for me to exit a library with a single, solitary book. Three is a bare minimum, I’ve found, though 6 to 8 is better. And if I have the kids with me? Well, let’s just say we really like books around here and leave it at that.

Nowadays, the library offers so much more than just books. Homework help, book clubs, free lecture series, computer classes, e-books, language lessons, access to newspapers and journals, museum passes, pedometers, energy meters, genealogy services, help for small businesses, career help, computer and internet access, audiobooks, animated “talking” books for kids, board game clubs, storytime for kids, and workshops of all kinds. We’ve had all sorts of fun, thanks to the library, and only some of it has been centered around books.

Someone told me recently that they get the same feeling walking in to a library as they do walking into a church. That sense of hush, the need to be quiet and reverent, the need to tiptoe down the aisles and let the presence of so many books just sort of wash over you before you can start to make a few choices.

I get it. I do, really. I love that library smell. I love the stacks of books. I love the peacefulness of spending a quiet hour or two at the library.

But I disagree.

To me, walking into a library is less like walking into a church and more like coming home and finding all your old friends sitting there chatting while drinking a cup of cocoa, and a whole bunch of new friends, freshly scrubbed and faces shining, eager to hang out with you for a while, combined with a candy store where every single shelf is marked “Free! Help yourself!” and they really, really mean it.

I don’t feel a reverent hush when I go to the library. I feel like I’ve just been handed the keys to the universe and told to go ahead and take it for a test drive.

So what are you going to do with your kids tomorrow?

The optics of books

When you are studying the properties of light, mirrors can be a lot of fun. Especially if you put them in a periscope and use it to spy around corners. Or watch the birds at the feeder.

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Or spy on your brother without him knowing.

Spying is, after all, the very best thing to do with a periscope.

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Other than decorating it.

It does have a rather lot of decorations. Monochrome decorations, I’ve been informed, since she felt like building a minimalist periscope and colour just wouldn’t make it truly minimalist.

(Where does she come up with these things?)

She put an awful lot of love into those decorations. Book love. See?

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I Am Number Four and The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore are her current favourites, and she is desperately hoping The Rise of Nine will find its way onto our bookshelves soon.

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We had borrowed the first in the Lemony Snicket series from a friend months and months and months ago, but the kids managed rather successfully to ignore it the entire time. Then, just as it was to go back, K announced that he had been reading it in French at school and it was really, really good. So B read it, and loved it, and we instantly had to find the next 2 books at the library and then watch the movie.

I had thought the others in the series would be close behind, but they weren’t. Curious to find it here on the periscope of favourite books. Maybe she doesn’t realize there are 13 books in the series, not 3.  Well, she does have a birthday coming up. Perhaps between her aunties and uncle and grandparents, she will acquire the entire series, or at least a start on it.

If not, there is always the library and a Mama who can exert a bit of gentle influence and strew the next few books around.

In the meantime, I keep finding a silly grin on my face every time I spy that periscope and all the book love it contains.

What we’re reading

Yesterday, we walked to the library. This is not an unusual occurrence for us, despite the fact that the library is rather farther away than most people consider an easy walking distance, and yet it is an easy walk. First, there are sidewalks the entire way, and the road is entirely lacking in hills or valleys to make your legs work hard. Second, there are ample trees along the path to shade your head and provide a lovely cooling effect, never mind the ever-present joys of seeing this one in bloom and that one producing seeds, the squirrel chattering away over there, the chipmunk running along the branch over here, and the birds’ nests oh-so-very-high in the canopy of leaves.

It is not unheard of for us to stop dead along the way and crane our necks in an effort to catch a better glimpse of this creature or that. Or to reach up and examine a leaf with its odd spiky fungal growth that spreads back and forth from the cedar trees to the crabapples in alternating years, or marvel at the tiny round green marble-sized galls that infest the undersides of the oak leaves. Some days, we bring a small sack of bird seed and leave little piles here and there as a snack for our avian friends. The squirrels and chipmunks like the seed too, and often find it well before the birds do.

There is a corner store on the way to the library too. And a bakery – the most delightful little bakery that makes wonderful breads and pastries and croissants and quiche and tortiere. We go there a lot (is that any surprise?).

Sometimes, with all this looking about and stopping to watch and purchasing of snacks, the walk to the library takes about an hour. Yesterday, it took us 33 minutes. We were determined to get there, you see, for I had two children who were eager to track down the next book in a series.

B reads voraciously, and lately she has been reading the Magic Keepers series. She has also been reading the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, and is loudly proclaiming to anyone who will listen that they must read the books too, because they are simply that good. K leans more towards non-fiction if you leave him to his own devices, but he is easily swayed and gets completely absorbed in fiction if he gives it half a chance. It isn’t unusual for him to judge a book solely on its cover, however, and despite weeks of begging him to read it for himself, B has not yet managed to get him hooked on Maximum Ride.

Yet.

I have faith.

In the meantime, he took a dive into some old favourites this week, bringing home two Zac Power books (which he inhales in half an hour flat) and the most recent Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which he hadn’t read yet. He only meant to get three books, but before I could blink, he had a stack of five.

It was, for once, a rather restrained trip to the library.

A more normal visit has us filling our oversized library bag with so many books that we can’t fit them all in. A dozen books each is more typical of my kids, and I’ll often have a half dozen of my own plus another half dozen I think they would enjoy, too. We like to read around here.

We like to read so much that we don’t bother with trying to carry our bag of books all the long walk home from the library, oh no! We have a wheelie cart. We like our wheelie cart. It can easily hold twice as many books as we usually get. And yes, we know this because we have done this — more than once. In fact, we overfilled our poor little wheelie cart so often last year that the wheels fell off.

We try not to load our new wheelie cart quite so heavily. We want it to last a bit longer.

It probably isn’t going to last much longer.

Every so often, I look at our giant stack of books and think how on earth are we going to get through all of these books in just three weeks? For three weeks is how long the library lets us keep our books. Our dozens and dozens of books that we take out from the library every time we visit.

Time is a funny thing. Three weeks can feel like a century when you are waiting out the last three weeks of school before summer vacation starts. Three weeks can also feel like the blink of an eye at all when you are squeezing out every bit of joy from the last three weeks of summer vacation before the school bell rings once more. And when you are staring at a stack of books that is almost as tall as your children and a good bit taller than your four-year-old niece, three weeks feels like it is most definitely not nearly enough time at all.

This week, we decided to be good. Reasonable, rational, and restrained.

This week, we decided to get three books each, one for each week, because really, we have so many things to do and play and make, and school starts up again next week, and errands need to be run, pants that reach the ground instead of four inches above need to be bought, and shoes. Every season, it seems, K outgrows his shoes. His pants, too, but he doesn’t mind pants that are too short (though I most definitely do). He is going to be tall, that child, like his uncle M and Auntie N who both stretch way over my head despite being my younger siblings.

No, we have too many things to do over the next few weeks to get so many books, so three seemed like the perfect number.

We aren’t very good at being perfect, apparently, and each came home with 5 or 6 books and a solemn vow that we would try our best to finish them in time.

Hah.

Hahahahahahahaha.

What on earth was I thinking???

K zipped through both Zac Power books after lunch, and finished the Diary of a Wimpy Kid this morning. He has two more books in his stack, plus Divergent on the Kindle, and judging by his progress, I suspect he’ll be done all three by Friday. B finished Magic Keepers #2 yesterday and is almost done #3 today and it is not even noon.

As for me? I’ve been working and embroidering — I finally finished the umbrella girl — and crocheting for a very special little boy who came into this world just a few days ago, and so I am only about 100 pages in to the first of my 3 books, but it is a good book, so I am sure I’ll be done in no time.

It’s a good thing the library is within walking distance. I have a feeling we’ll be heading back there before long.

 

 

What we’re reading

This week, we have embarked on a new adventure. Instead of listening to Mama read or reading to ourselves, we have embarked on a listening project. B is listening to a LibriVox recording of Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maude Montgomery, and K and I are listening to Divergent by Veronica Roth thanks to the library’s digital media and audiobook collection.

It is an interesting experience.

The kids are thoroughly enjoying themselves, but it turns out that I am not a comfortable listener. The rhythms are wrong, in my opinion. Anne of Green Gables is being read far too quickly, and Divergent is somewhat lacking in… something… I am not sure what, but it just isn’t quite what I had hoped it would be. Given how rapt the kids are, I rather suspect the fault lies not with the recordings, but with me.

I have always preferred to sink into a good book in silence, letting the words sweep me away to a place of imagination and possibility without outside distractions. I have always felt more comfortable expressing myself on the written page than in person. I do like to talk, and listen, but the written word is something else entirely, and nothing else quite compares. It is almost like I can taste words, their shape, their smell, their emotion… they take form in my mind in a way that spoken words do not.

I love Anne of Green Gables. Truly, I do, and I have since I was a girl of about B’s age. But I am not enjoying the experience of listening to it, though B is loving it. Neither am I enjoying Divergent, despite having it recommended to me by several friends who adore reading YA and raved about Divergent. But K is loving it.

And so, I am dutifully listening away for a time each day, sharing the experience with my children and enjoying the quiet time to get some stitching done or watch the kids sketch what they hear, and I know that soon, Divergent will click for me and I will love it just as much as my friends did — I’ve requested the ebook from the library, you see, and soon I’ll get to read it.

I have a feeling it will all be better then.