Book Review – Elusive Moose by: Joan Gannij and Clare Beaton

Many of the books that are produced (I won’t say “written” because that is too generous) for babies and really small children are really really awful.   I have no love for books called “my first words” or “baby’s book of colours”.   You know the type, they have no listed author and all the illustrations were cut and pasted from a collection of stock photography.  “Reading” one of these books to the Boy is a special form of mommy torture – especially when he says “again, again” (car, truck, digger, airplane, helicopter, boat, sailboat, speed boat, ocean liner…”  ahhhhh!).  I have this need for at least some small form of narrative and at least a kernel of a story in my books.  Even Sandra Boynton at her worst, is better than these books (Yes there are Sandra Boynton books that I love, but many of her books also make me go ahhhhhh!! – but that’s another post).   This is why I was so happy when I was given a copy of Elusive Moose by Joan Gannij and Clare Beaton.  My mother bought this book for us at a needlework festival and it has turned out to be one of the best books that we have for babies/younger toddlers.

Elusive Moose

Elusive Moose

What does this book have going for it?

The illustrations are beautiful textile art created by a talented woman called Clare Beaton – I know nothing about her (she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry).  But what I do know is that she has created fantastic illustrations for a series of children’s books published by “barefoot books” (http://www.barefootbooks.com/).  I love landscape quilts and this type of textile art and as a knitter myself I can appreciate the work and ability it must have taken to create the scenes in these books.

Joan Gannij has written a lovely rhyming story about all the animals that the narrator has seen while always wishing to see a moose.  Our Boy has always loved books with rhythm and rhyme more than other books.  This was especially true when he was small.  Long before he could talk or communicate he would stop crying whenever I read him something with a nice rhyming story.  I think the sound of the words were just soothing.

Finally – I like this book because it features North American wild animals.  Many many children’s books feature animals.  Many of which are cutely anthropomorphized jungle creatures, or else cutely anthropomorphized farm animals.  I don’t really have a problem with that – these are books for babies after all.  But it’s nice for a change to read the Boy a book about animals from a bit closer to home that are just living in the wild and being animals rather than driving cars, etc.   The book is by an American but it reads as if could be set in any number of Canadian forests.

When the Boy was younger he just enjoyed the story for how it sounded.  Now that he’s bigger he likes to find the hidden moose on each page, and although he often likes to listen to longer stories, this one is still brought out before bed on a fairly regular basis.  The Boy’s dad also says that this is his favourite of all the “board” books that we have.  That’s high praise from a man with very strong opinions.

Clare Beaton has illustrated several books.  We also own and enjoy “Secret Seahorse” which is set underwater with a seahorse hidden on each page.  In general, Barefoot Books is an excellent source of high quality children’s books.

So, if you need a break from “Baby’s first words”, “1 million trucks on a page with no story”, or “shoot me now as I list things that are green” – I suggest Elusive Moose.

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Knitting the retrospective: Part III

As I mentioned at the end of my last knitting post – I didn’t want to knit an intarsia bike again.   However, significant friends continued to have children, and I wanted to keep knitting special custom sweaters for them to mark the occasions.  I had to find a way to knit for these milestones that didn’t involve quite so many little tiny balls of wool getting tangled up at the same time.  And so, the custom personalized Fair Isle was born.

Custom sweater – fair isle

I especially like this design and how the sweater worked out.  All the motifs on the sweater were chosen specifically for the parents.
From bottom to top:

  • Trees  because the parents met while working for the forest service.
  • Skiers because the mother had been quite a competitive skier in her youth and both parents enjoyed skiing and the mountains
  • Fish because both parents worked in fisheries in some capacity.
  • Houses – well these were a bit more random, however, everyone has a home and it filled in the space nicely.

I copied each of the pictures from a different pattern and made up the chart for the sweater myself, again using excel.  This sweater looks complicated but was actually much easier to knit than the bikes (or the skiier) because it is more of a fair isle type style sweater and so I only ever using two colours at a time  – yes it still got tangled up (I have not perfected the art of knitting without tangling) and yes, I had several million ends to weave in when I was done – but it was much much easier to manage and I didn’t vow to never knit it again when I was done.  This is an idea that I came back to again…   (to be continued!)

Spring? Come out come out wherever you are!

Drinking wine - outside - with now mittens.  Life is good.

Drinking wine – outside – with no mittens. Life is good.

I like winter- I’ll say this right up front – I like snow and the way it looks. I think that snow helps to brighten up the dark darkest time of year.   I like to do winter sports and I love the feeling of being outside, all bundled up skiing or skating. This being said – I am also human and there comes a tipping point in every winter where you are suddenly DONE. My winter 2013 tipping point arrived two weekends ago. We rented a cottage with five other families for the weekend and set off for a lake in Quebec. We had skis packed and snowsuits and sleds for the little boys. The weather leading up to the weekend had been warm – but we were hoping for wintery temperatures so we could enjoy some winter sports while we were there. We got the winter sports – but we also got the warm temperatures – that teasing little glimpse of the warmer weather to come that’s so amazing for a northern person living in a cold climate. On the Saturday of our weekend away the temperature climbed to 10 degrees! Normally this would not be considered warm – but after a winter when -10 become a regular thing, + 10 feels amazing. There is something magical to me about being out in snow with short sleeves on, and no coat – it just never gets old.  I think it’s a throwback to childhood when snow automatically meant coats, and boots. I don’t remember many times when I was a kid that I was able to be in snow with no coat (and the times I can think of are all significant memories!  But last weekend was one of those times. We skiied across the lake (the ice is still very solid) in light shirts – even short sleeves – and we sat on the deck in the sun drinking beer while the boys napped. It was amazing. Some of us even got sun burns. I figured, yup, this is it… it’s now going to be spring.

Note: Skis, snow, SHORT SLEEVES - this is the winter "sweet spot"

Note: Skis, snow, SHORT SLEEVES – this is the winter “sweet spot”

OK fast forward to this weekend. After getting back from the cottage we had a couple warm days, it rained, some of the snow went away. And then it got cold again. Really cold. -10 kind of cold. Wait a minute… that’s not what I ordered!

Knowing that March is unpredictable and can still be fully a winter month doesn’t make it any easier when the weather has come along and said “na na na na na-na”.  However; instead of crying and sulking,  my sister and I decided we’d better go skiing –  and so, we enjoyed a great downhill ski morning out at Camp Fortune.  Maybe I would have preferred to be sitting on the deck in the sun with a beer – but hey – I live in Ottawa now. I have to suck it up and embrace my inner Canadian for a little while longer.

That doesn’t mean that I was excited about when the forecast announced we were to get 15 cm of snow on Tuesday.   But when it came – I decided to try and be zen about it, and appreciate the beauty that snow can bring (and it was beautiful) – even on the first day of spring!   I know that soon enough I’ll be complaining about how hot it is… I’m Canadian – and that’s just what we do.

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If you can’t wear short sleeves… might as well go skiing!

Book Review: Scuffy the Tugboat

Since I have started reading to my own son, I have not only discovered many new books (both good and bad) but rediscovered many books from my childhood.  My parents didn’t save baby clothes and only a few toys, but they did save many of what they considered to be the best books that they read to my sister and I when we were young.  Most of these now form part of the children’s library here at our house.

I find it interesting reading the older books. They provide a window to the past and a snapshot of what was considered to be appropriate for children in different decades.  Not only do the illustrations show how the world looked decades ago, but these books can show changes in attitudes towards women and other cultural shifts.  One of the biggest things that I have noticed is the prevalence of smoking in older children’s books.  I don’t imagine that a book for children would be published today with a character who smokes.  As recently as 20 years ago it was not given much though, however; and the dads in almost all of these books smoke.  The Boy often wonders what is going on in these illustrations!  He doesn’t encounter smoking in his daily life.

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BUT… I digress.  “Scuffy the Tugboat – and his aventures down the river“,  was first published in 1946 (according to Wikipedia – it’s also the 8th best selling children’s book of all time (or at least it was in 2001).).   My mom remembers the book from when she was a child and I remember it from when I was young.  Now my son is enjoying this story too.

Why has this book stood the test of time?  It’s a nice story about a little toy boat, who believes that he is “meant for bigger things” than floating around in the bath-tub.  He is put into a stream by the toy shop owner and gets swept away by the current.  At the end of the book he’s rescued just before floating out to sea and decides that maybe a quiet life in the bath-tub is not so boring after all.  If you can take a moral to the story it would be “there’s no place like home”.  It’s an adventure story, at a child’s pace – there are a few tense moments, but it has a happy ending.

I will admit that when I was a kid, I didn’t really like Scuffy, there is a section where the river floods and the people have to come along to put up sand bags to save the towns and fields.  I found that part a bit scary as  a young kid (I was pretty sensitive as a child and quite easily scared by images in books and in movies).  However, as an adult, and a science major who studied water quality and hydrology,  I love that this story nicely describes the terrestrial part of the water cycle without overtly being a “science” book.  After reading this book kids will begin to understand how water flows to the sea through streams, and then rivers, which get bigger and bigger as they flow along until they reach the ocean. It’s a big picture idea that’s difficult to grasp as a small child who can only observe and understand the world at a very local and small scale.

While it’s obvious that the book was written in the past (I don’t imagine there are many places (in North American anyhow) where you’d find women washing their clothes in streams in 2013 (and to be honest, even the idea of the cows wandering around in the streams is a little bit contrary to my training in water quality preservation!)),  I would say that the story is not dated in a bad way.  While the characters in the book are all either men or boys (it’s obvious that scuffy is a “boy” tug boat and a toy for a boy) the story doesn’t present any terrible gender bias that I feel uncomfortable reading to my son.  The story presents a snapshot of life along the river that has definitely changed in the 65+ years since it was published but I believe that the adventurous spirit of the story, the fun illustrations that show the life along the river, the complete story of the journey down the river, and the safe happy ending have  helped this book to endure.

Scuffy is still published today and you can easily order a copy from Amazon or Chapters – and it’s only $4.99.  A bargain for a book that you will hopefully enjoy reading with your kids again and again.  Otherwise – give your parents a call and see if they have a copy of Scuffy in a box in the attic or the basement.   This is a classic book that is worth discovering, or rediscovering.

Knitting, the retropsective (Part II)

After I knit the skier sweater the next baby to come along was born to non-skiing parents.  I had to come up with a different idea for a unique sweater  – and after the skier, I’d set the bar pretty high for myself.  I came up with the perfect idea – a bike sweater!  I designed it in the same way, using a photo of a road sign, and excel. This one was knit using the same bulky cotton hand spun that I’d used for the skiier (I had a lot of this left over -and it was really lovely yarn, bulky enough to be worn as a jacket in Vancouver, but soft enough to be nice on a kid’s skin.)

Front of Bike Sweater # 1

Front of Bike Sweater # 1*

Back of Bike Sweater # 1

Back of Bike Sweater # 1

Bike Sweater #1 being worn on a bike ride!

Bike Sweater #1 being worn on a bike ride!

The next baby to come along (everyone I knew had babies in 2008) was born into another biking family so I made another version of the big bike sweater with a slight personalization for the family (there is a long, complicated story about why the back of this sweater HAD to say “I’m a Cretney” – but we’ll leave that one for now).
Front - Bike Sweater #2

Front – Bike Sweater #2

Back, Bike Sweater #2

Back, Bike Sweater #2

Bike sweater # 2 in action - it was worn a lot and now is being worn by her little brother.

Bike sweater # 2 in action – it was worn from about 4 months to 3.5 years (I think it had three quarter sleeves by the end) and now is being worn by her little brother.

The second sweater was knit with some gorgeous soft soft wool (I don’t record these things – so I have no idea what brand or weight or anything – with baby sweaters I don’t worry about size or gauge, I just pick wool that I like and figure it will likely fit the kid within the first two years of his/her life!)  It was the first wool that I’d purpose bought for one of my sweaters.  The green was a colour that the parents liked and the orange just seemed to make a nice contrast.  I probably spent the most on this sweater of any of them… so it’s gratifying that it has had so much use.
After knitting the bike twice I didn’t want to do it again.  I love the finished product and these are two of my favourite sweaters – but they were a lot of work.  A bike doesn’t really lend itself to being knit and it had to be done intarsia style.  I had so many balls of wool on the go (as many as eight at a time) and it was so tangly that it was a big headache to keep track of it all.  I had to come up with something a bit easier for the next baby to come along…
*(wow these photos show off the terrible state of the carpet in our old apartment!  I am glad to have hardwood now 😉  )

Spring.Bike.Ottawa

I am not a graphic designer – but I have ended up with the role of poster designer for the cycling advocacy group on which I am a board member.  It’s a role that’s well suited to my desire to help out from behind the scenes.  I enjoy the creative challenge and I like having a chance to use some of my photos in creative ways.

I just designed a poster for an upcoming event and I’m especially pleased with this one.  I’m also going to be speaking on behalf of the organization at the event.  I am normally not that worried about speaking in public, but have not done it for a few years now, so I think I’ll be a bit nervous.  Wish me luck!

SpringBikeOttawa

Snowbank Removal!

When these signs go up, we know that our snowbanks are going to be removed.

When these signs go up, we know that our snowbanks are going to be removed.  I used to have one of these signs on my wall during university, I picked it up the first time I lived in Ottawa, in 1997.

Look how narrow the street gets after a few snowfalls.

Look how narrow the street gets after a few snowfalls.

I have a small obsession with the snowbanks in this town and the process by which, when they get too big, they are removed.  I think it’s because I have never lived in a place where snowbank removal was necessary on the same scale.  I grew up in a small town in Ontario, and we got a lot of snow, but I guess because it was a small town, the houses were farther apart and there was always lots of room for the snow to be plowed. I’m pretty sure they didn’t take the snowbanks away in that town.  In Waterloo, where I lived in University the city didn’t even plow the sidewalks, let along take the snow banks away, again, I don’t recall this ever being a problem.  In Vancouver, well, they didn’t even plow the streets, let along the sidewalks and no, there was obviously no need to remove snowbanks.  (you may (or may not) be surprised to know that it snows in Vancouver. I’m pretty sure it snowed at least once, if not twice, every year that I lived there… but if it lasted three days, that was a long time and most of the snow was left on the roads with the thought that the cars driving over it, would get rid of it if the rain didn’t).

then we moved to Ottawa, and more specifically, to downtown Ottawa.  It’s quite urban here, with the houses close together.  We live on a one way street and when it is plowed, the city only does one lane. The front yards are small, and most people don’t really have anywhere to put all the snow from their driveways, so it ends up on the road too, and so the snowbanks grow.  Before the banks were removed last night, we had to execute a 3 to 5 point turn just to get the car out of the driveway.

I kind of like the big snowbanks.  I find it amazing how high some of them can get.  It feels sort of cozy with the street made narrower than normal.  Our street is much wider than it needs to be, it’s a one way street with parking only on one side, but the street is about three lanes wide.  So in when the snowbanks come along, it’s made more narrow, and feels pretty cozy.

Often the snowbanks are removed in the middle of the night.  We hear the trucks at around 3 or 5 a.m.  but last night they came at 9:30 p.m. – so I could endulge my inner two year old boy and watch all the big trucks and snow ploughs and snow blowers coming down the street and taking away all the snow.  I took a whole lot of terrible photos on my ipod which I am going to share with you now!

After the big storm, the banks start to fill up the street again.

After the big storm, the banks start to fill up the street again.

Here comes the big snow plow, blowing the snow into a dump truck.

Here comes the big snow plow, blowing the snow into a dump truck.

Almost to our house.

Almost to our house.

Here's before....

Here’s before….

... and here's after.

… and here’s after.

And the dump truck rumbles down the street.

And the dump truck rumbles down the street.

One side done, and the other side getting prepped.

One side done, and the other side getting prepped.

Where does it all go?

Where does it all go? – to a snow dump, of course.

The street is wide again.

The street is wide again.

It took three passes on the other side of the street to get all of the snow picked up and carted away.  Last year we had an easy winter, so the banks only got removed once, this year it was twice for our street, and a few more times for the more major routes in the city.  Overall, I’m pretty impressed with the snow removal in this city.  I can’t imagine what a job it is to coordinate it for the entire city.  When it snows, everyone wants their street done first. I don’t really mind if our street is not the first priority – I know that within a day it will be done.

Here’s what the city has to say about snow banks: Snow banks: Snow banks are removed or reduced in size when they begin to restrict sightlines, travel widths, and pedestrian and cycling traffic; to relieve trapped water on the road or sidewalk; and to create storage space for future snowfalls. Banks that restrict sightlines at intersections and at pedestrian, school and railway crossings are removed within 24 hours after crews are made aware of the situation. If the number of locations exceeds available resources, they will be addressed on a priority basis. When dealing with snow banks, crews push back, blow or place the snow within boulevards, which are part of the city’s road allowance. This is the most economical method, while snow removal and haulage is costly and time-consuming.  http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/road-and-sidewalk-maintenance/snow-removal-and-disposal