Saturday, March 25, 2006

spring and winter

Spring is here. Sort of.

Today, March 25, my two earliest crocuses - Korolkowii (above) and Tommasinianus (bottom) - bloomed. That's six days earlier than last year's April 1.

The snowmelt crocuses are tiny and beautiful. You get a sense for their scale when you know that it's the tiny fuzzy leaves of my creeping thyme they are poking out of here.

But the deer, as seen from the back window, attest to the fact that it's still very much winter here. Ever seen a deeraffe reaching the topmost branches? They'll eat cedar only when there's nothing else to eat. Which is why I don't plant deer-candy tulips in my garden.

But the still snow-covered ground makes the teeny tiny blossoms in the melted spots against our east and south walls even more luminescent and beautiful.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

note to self

Dear Self,

it is now the equinox. By the solstice you will not believe me unless I present the following evidence.

9 am. The rise under the cedar tree is the first thing melted in the backyard, apart from the failing septic field. Behold, it is also in full sunlight.

So please, this July, buy those bright yellow snowmelt crocuses to plant here. Or some brilliant, rich, intense purple ones. Please-o-please. They really will get enough sunshine here, however shady it looks in July.

12:15 pm. Still in full sun.

You can plant them right up in front of the tree, see? Up where the ground is a few inches higher. The base of the cedar is almost always in the sun, the whole day. I double-checked again this year. For a week now, running.

You aren't fussing about the price, are you, Self? If you succeed in this mission, you are bringing me out of the winter doldrums at least two weeks earlier, as I figure it now. That's two more weeks of vigorous cleaning and scrubbing and energetic re-organizing then you'll get this year. At least that's the theory. Hey, that's worth a $30 gamble, isn't it?

4 pm. Observe the sunshine. Which is still very much present. The house shadows are still a good ten feet away in front of the tree, and the tree shadows are still well away from the base.

Oh, and Self? Don't forget. Bright yellow or purple, as bright as you can buy. Ignore how much you may like pastel shades in the summer. Don't think about subtle tonings and gradations. Skip the bronze penciling and the mottled checkered patterns. Remember. In March you want color, and the more of it the better. OK? OK then. See you soon, I hope.

Thanks a bunch.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

international ring of camel thieves

BigE has read a lot of Boxcar Children mysteries in the past year, since he learned to read on his own.

It was not surprising at all to me when he came home from school this past September, talking about some mysterious marks he found on the science center table, shaped like a spider. Nor later, when he mentioned the mysterious scraps of paper left under his desk, NOT left by himself who always cleans his desk area like he is told to do. Who is defacing the science center table? And who is trying to frame BigE?

It didn't particularly surprise me when, by mid-October, he had recruited two of the other fourteen kids in the class to help him sleuth, 'Tom' and 'Jane'.

But now, after seven months of school, the detective work continues. Nearly all of the twelve kids (two moved away) have joined the ranks of 'detective.' Amusingly, it seems that when you join the detectives your name is erased from the list of suspects.

BigE, Tom and Jane continue to head up the detective work as shown in these two recent letters. Every stray mark on every table is analyzed to determine whether it was made by marker, pencil or crayon. Unusual colors of crayons are especially important, since not all the children have the same sixteen color box.

Time of day? Access of other children to the first-grade classroom? One suspect, or several children working together? These and other details are, apparently, discussed frequently at the top of the sledding hill.

The fact that it could be the work of twelve sometimes bored and sometimes sloppy first-graders who have no ulterior motives has not yet entered their minds.

Which is fine with me. Let it be an international ring of camel thieves, then. I'm enjoying the mystery too, and it is keeping three very bright children focused and alert -- even when they are learning addition again, only slower this time.

You never know when they might find another clue.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

high time

There's still snow on the ground. And snow in the forecast.

But it's time to take down the paper snowflakes in the windows. We need to hang up something more colorful.

And, apparently, a lot more fun.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


The Andfam gave us Pixelblocks for Christmas and only now had time to play, beyond using them as game pieces for imaginary games. Such fun! The blocks are about the size and shape of a single square Lego brick, only they're transparent and come in about 20 colors, and their sides slide together.

we used their online Digital Stained Glass image creator to turn a small picture of a butterfly (shown above) into a very large Monarch, shown below. Their stained glass creator is a slick piece of software, allowing you to tweak your image as you go for best effects, choosing which colors to use or not (we only own 12 of the 20 colors, so we had to turn off 8 colors.)

It gives you a parts list and estimated assembly time at the end, with an online order form if you need to order more of any color. After you're happy with the Pixelblocks version of your picture, it gives you a several-page PDF with a full-size pattern of where the different colors go, so you can assemble your picture right on top of the pattern. I was actually impressed.

It took us probably four or five hours to finish. We used every last orange brick we had (and nearly all our grey and brown) but we had a lot of fun doing it! Now we can't wait to make other things. Unfortunately we need to take the butterfly apart to do it, unless we can come up with a pattern that doesn't use any orange, grey or brown.

Now I want to try making another design using Perler beads (those little plastic tube beads that melt together when ironed or baked) ...another friend gave us a bunch of Perler beads and we haven't decided what to do with them. We could make a whole huge masterpiece, in fact, because Perler beads are cheap! And small! Better resolution! And come in lots of colors! And we could save it at the end! And it would only take us... oh, about a million hours...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

new eyes



After I was ridiculed in 5th grade when I got my glasses, I was a little nervous sending my son off to first grade with his yesterday. Turns out I didn't need to worry.

BigE's questions:

Do you think all the Andfam will think I look like Gark?
Do they make me look more like a Math Genius?
Do you think the kids at school will say I look like a Math Genius?

Yes, yes and no. The kids at school will probably just comment that you have glasses now. Most of them aren't as funny as our family.

BigE said that the kids at school *did* say they made him look like a Math Genius. I strongly suspect that comment was really just a 'yes' in response to a pointed question.

And I suppose even Math Geniuses are allowed to ham it up for the camera.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'm famous! (kind of)

My sister-in-law Karin on the west coast has a sister-in-law Tracy on the east coast ...who also has a blog. I've actually met her once or twice. So occasionally I pop over to my sister-in-law-in-law's blog* to see how she and her family are doing.

Imagine my surprise at seeing this at my last visit!

Tracy's making my quilt! The dancing stars I doodled out several years ago and blogged about last June.

She has an extraordinary eye for color; she went above and beyond the "yellow stars and blue background" I envisioned (below), and it looks beautiful. It's even made out of leftover scraps, isn't that fabulous?

It makes me so happy to see it become a real quilt! Someday I'll be able to make it too... I can't wait!

(*even funnier, my sister Kim also occasionally visits Tracy's blog... she would be Tracy's sister-in-law-in-law's sister! It's a small, small world... or else a big, big family!)

Monday, March 06, 2006

beads are for hoarding

We had some beads. We bought some more. Cheap plastic beads, seconds and sweepings from Nasco.

We love beads. We string them on strings. We make bracelets and necklaces. We let the babies play too, so long as we can watch closely. And at night after a week or so, mama cuts the strings and puts the beads back in the bucket.

Because beads are for hoarding. They are for making piles. For organizing by color, by shape, by size. For finding your eleventeen favorites. For trading with your brother. For digging deep into the bucket and letting the beads run through your fingers as you look for hidden treasure. Plastic beads, the poor person's jewel chest. There's just nothing like a huge pile of beads.

Until this past week.

Chickie made the above earrings (with very little help from Mama) as a gift for a very important visitor we're having this week.

I made the bracelet below, and Chickie promptly requested another one, only with the fish in rainbow order. And BigE picked out some beads for earrings for Mama.

So... suddenly beads are art. They are ornament. They are more than just treasure to be hoarded - they are to be used, to be combined together, to be worn, to embellish, to decorate.

And, per the kids' request, we're talking to a friend of ours who owns a small shop about whether there might be a market this summer for earrings made by a five-year-old and seven-year-old.

Two kids who would do well to learn a little about self-employment, money-making, consignment fees, pricing, tithing, budgeting, and the hard work that goes along with big dreams....

two kids who, if all else fails, would probably still welcome another excuse to play with beads.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

one font becomes two

A friend of mine gave me her handwriting sample in November, and I finally finished the font. Good thing it still looks like Christmas here in the North. It sort of disguises the fact that her gift is over two months late!

As I was working on her font it became obvious that she writes 'normal' letters that she writes when she's not thinking about it, and quite distinct 'fancy' letters that she writes when she wants it to look nice. These became two different fonts, and I set it up so that when she makes the normal one italic, it becomes her fancy font.

At least that's what I tried to do. I haven't quite figured out the font markers to tell the computer that "this" font is an italic version of "that" font. Apparently checking the "this is italic" box and saving it in the same "font family" isn't enough. Currently it works on my machine as I type... but whenever I save anything written in her regular font, it becomes italic when I re-open it. I don't think my friend will mind all of her writing turning fancy overnight, though I'd still like to solve the puzzle.

I now have handwriting fonts of several friends and family on my computer. Handwriting is a strange thing to have a copy of. So much of their personality is wrapped up in their writing. When I type anything in their "handwriting", even the silly sample text above, I can usually hear them "saying" those words in my head.

In theory, with a few clicks of the mouse I could have all my friends "tell" me how beautiful and creative and interesting I am as a person. It's a bizarre power to have, even knowing that it's an empty power.

Happily, I discovered the antidote to this unsettling feeling of power was to turn some of their emails into their font, and hear their own words in their own handwriting, restoring the "real" person to me. Huh. I'm sure that's not the first time truth has been an antidote.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

according to the groundhog...

...we should only have 14 more days of winter left here. I don't know about you, but I for one am not sure that I believe him.

Ordinarily we do not have a hill out our front window. My Crocus tommasinianus are located straight down from where BigE stands with his sled, about five feet below him.

Here's another reason to celebrate, quite apart from the good sledding: we shouldn't need our riding lawnmower (pictured above, front and center) for awhile yet.