The Lego mystique

A couple of weeks ago, Kerry called me up and asked if the boys would be interested in inheriting some of the Lego she and her brother had when they were kids. Her parents are moving and got tired of storing it in their basement. (I wish my parents had kept more of our childhood toys – I could pay for the boys’ college educations by selling some of the stuff we had in the 1970s and 1980s that has since become collectors items.) Of course I said yes, and shortly thereafter Kerry showed up at the house with two huge bins of vintage 80s Lego bits, mostly comprising the cool space sets with the micro-tiny pieces.

The boys LOVED it! They had been playing with the duplo blocks for a while, especially (of course) the Thomas the Tank Engine sets, and Simon has recently re-discovered the joy of towers with MegaBlocks, so I had an idea they’d enjoy the Lego, but even I was surprised how much they loved it. Tristan liked the building, and Simon liked the little figures.

I’m thinking of all this today because there have been a couple of stories in the news lately about Lego. There were reports of a Lego shortage in Europe, but the Citizen reassured readers this morning that there will be plenty of the popular toy available in North America this Christmas. And then there was another story about a 34 year old Ottawa resident and member of the Adult Fans of Lego club (snicker) who owns a quarter million pieces of Lego with an approximate value of $27,000. And then, of course, there’s the uber-cool Lego Factory, where you can design your own creation and then custom order the right bricks to build it.

All this to say that Lego must be number one on the list of universally-loved toys. I don’t know anybody who didn’t play with it as a kid – nor do I know many grown-ups who can resist joining in when a bucket gets dumped on the floor. What else would be on your list of universally appealing toys? Bubbles and marbles definitely have a place of honour. Crayons, markers and sidewalk chalk? What else?

The one with the coconut

I am, at the best of times, driven by impulse. Very rarely does an impulsive synapse fire in my brain that does not lead to some sort of indulgent action on my part. There is something in the pregnancy hormones that obliterates any sort of resistance I might have otherwise been able to muster. I am a walking whim.

And that probably explains why I went into Farm Boy the other day seeking only four litres of homogonized milk and a loaf of whole wheat bread, and came out $42 later with: a crate of mandarin oranges, salsa, cherry tomatoes, Florida oranges, gouda cheese, hot rods, mini blueberry muffins, garlic bread, and a coconut.

None of this was on any list, mental or otherwise. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s been years since I’ve bought a coconut. So long, in fact, that the Internet was not a part of my standard modus operandi for approaching any new task the last time I tried to pry one open. But I knew the boys would be tickled by the process of opening it, and would probably love the coconut itself as much as I do. A learning opportunity, and yummy too. What more could one ask of a lowly fruit?

Who knew there were so many schools of thought on how to best liberate that sweet coconut meat? How those people on Survivor ever managed to open one of these things using only a machete is beyond me. Suggested techniques on the Internet range from securing a stake, pointy bit up, and slamming the coconut onto the tip (!!) to baking it for 15 minutes at 400F before opening it to loosen the flesh to holding it in your hand and whacking it with the dull side of a cleaver along the seam. Perhaps luckily for us, we own neither stakes nor a cleaver.

I decided in the end that power tools were called for. For once, the rechargeable drill was actually at full charge; although I might not have needed it as the bit sank satisfyingly into the eye of the coconut before I even had a chance to pull the trigger. After watching the coconut water drip at an excruciatingly slow rate for about as long as I could tolerate – maybe 90 seconds – I remembered the suggested to drill a fourth hole at the top of the coconut to let in air and speed the process. Which is when I snapped the drill bit in half.

So I shook it like a maraca for long enough to dribble out maybe 15 ml of liquid (over about five minutes) before my shoulders started cramping and I asked myself what exactly I was going to do with the coconut water anyway. If I was any sort of a cook, maybe I’d use it in a curry, but mostly I was going to impress the boys with my ability to get sweet milk out of a coconut like some sort of magician. And since they had been watching the whole process with the kind of careful awe you usually reserve for crazy people on the streetcorner, I figured I had already blown that opportunity.

The method of coconut extraction that most appealed to me involved a hammer, a towel, and a very firm surface. Beloved was surprisingly reluctant to actually hold the coconut for me while I swung wildly at it with a hammer, but he did stand a safe distance away to oversee the operation. The first two blows were glancing, but the third one connected solidly with a gut-wrenching crack that made both of us cringe. The sound of a coconut shell being shattered by a hammer is entirely too reminiscent of the sound of a cracking skull, we agreed.

A few more therapeutic whacks (therapeutic for me, not so much for the coconut) and the formerly spherical tea-towel-wrapped coconut was looking decidedly lopsided. I had cracked it in half on a rather jagged equator.

Luckily, one half of the shell relinquished its meat without resistance, but the second half was more challenging. I took a paring knife and started prying chunks away from the shell, which resulted in several near-misses between said knife and the fleshy tips of my fingers. I began to wonder if I shouldn’t wait until Beloved’s return from the corner store to continue, and loosely calculated in my head the amount of time it might take my parents to arrive should I slice through a major artery – even as I continued to use said paring knife as a combination lever, spoon, and cutting tool.

It took a lot of patience and arm strength to pry reluctant bits off the shell before I had liberated enough of the meat to consider the operation a success. I did leave an inch or two in the pointy end of the shell, but since that was the end of the shell I had pierced with a drill-bit that I hadn’t even contemplated wiping off, let alone sterilizing before use – the drill bit I inherited used from my grandfather, no less – I decided it was not a great sacrafice to let some meat be discarded. Besides, I was now more than 45 minutes into Operation Coconut, and was fast losing interest in the project.

The last trick was to scrape off the thin inside shell from the coconut meat. Again, thanks to the Interwebs, I had read that a potato peeler will do this job nicely. Myself, I tend to use a paring knife to peel potatoes, but having so far eluded cutting myself, I didn’t want to push my luck, so I rooted through the utensil drawer to find the seldom-used (and regrettably dull) potato peeler.

So why is it that even perched over a large bowl, flecks of peeled coconut skin felt the need to launch themselves to every corner of the kitchen? I wondered this as I also wondered why exactly I chose today of all days to execute this task, a scant few hours after the cleaning ladies have been through on their bi-weekly tour. My formerly spotless kitchen had coconut husk threads all over one counter (from when I took the plastic off), coconut milk splatters all over the backsplash, shell particulate all over the counter where I unwrapped the tea-towel, and flecks of skin just about everywhere. Who knew a coconut would be even messier than a pomegranate? (Ha ha, I just noticed that in that post, I talked about opening a coconut with a screwdriver. Apparently, I never learn.)

In the end, it took me over an hour to liberate the coconut from the shell, and another ten minutes to restore the kitchen to a semblance of order. It was within a few minutes of bedtime when I proudly called the boys into the kitchen to share in the fruit of my labours, as they had long since tired of the spectacle of me opening the damn thing. The coconut pieces were in a fresh bowl (the other four bowls used in the process already in the dishwasher), and I even thought to run the milk through a coffee filter to get out the vast majority of the crunchy bits. They regarded my proferred offerings for a suspicious minute before saying, “No thanks. Coconuts are gross,” before running back to the television.

So I gulped down the coconut milk and ate enough of the fruit to give myself a righteous belly ache. And you know what? From now on, I’ll just buy the baggies of dessicated coconut to satisfy my cravings. There’s a lot to be said for convenience foods.

I’ve gone international! Now appearing in… Florida?

You’re probably going to laugh at this. You’re going to roll your eyes, and you’re going to try not to laugh at with me, but you’re not going to be able to help yourself.

Guess which newspaper I’m in today?
Give up? The Tampa (!!) Tribune!

Guess which section?
The food (!!) section.

Guess why?
C’mon, guess!
Why, candy swap, of course. It makes perfect sense now, doesn’t it?

Last week, a reporter from the Tampa Tribune was thinking about doing an article on candy swaps, and he came across my posts about the candy swap hosted by Andrea earlier this year. He interviewed both Andrea and I, and we’re featured in his article, “Gimme Some Sugar“, that appears today. Fun, eh? It’s not in the online edition, but the paper edition may feature this picture of Tristan and Simon, opening my candy swap bounty from Bethany, that’s in the original post. (I tried to copy the photo here, but after two hours – grrrr! – of fighting with Blogger Beta, I give up!)

Maybe it was my Canadian accent, but somehow he transcribed my candy beneficiary Nancy as Melissa. Sorry, Nancy, I really do know your name – honest!!

The interview was fun, as the writer and I compared childhood notes on such favourites as Pop Rocks, Bottle Caps and Fun Dips. But did you know they don’t have Mackintosh Toffee in Florida? Scandalous! Maybe it’s a Canadian thing? Anyway, the writer was very entertained by the idea of the very satisfying ritual of thwacking your Mack on the table to break it into bite-sized pieces of caramelly joy.

Speaking of childhood fun, please pardon the non-sequiter but I have to tell you about the Christmas present I bought for the boys yesterday online. Shhh!

It’s from Cranium, the company that makes Cadoo and Balloon Lagoon and our favourite, Hullabaloo. It’s called Super Fort: a 73-piece fort building kit. How cool is that? It comes with foam tubes – some rigid, some bendy – for building the structure, and magnetic connectors. It also has a handful of colourful cloth panels for walls, floors and ceilings, and clips to afix them. It’s all designed for little hands, ages four and up. I can hardly wait until Christmas to see them open it up!! I love that feeling, when you know you’ve found a perfect gift. The Canadian Toy Testing Council agrees – they gave it their highest rating. And best of all? No batteries and no volume switch!

Heck, I guess this resolves the two-beds or bunk-beds question. We’ll just throw a couple of pillows and blankets in with the box, and we’ll be golden!

I’m outraged!

I’m outraged! Outraged, I tell you. Is nothing sacred?

I got a set of documents back from an editor the other day, which in itself is usually enough to twist my knickers. (I’m not so fond of being edited. I don’t mind it when they catch actual mistakes, but I tend to bristle over suggestions of a stylistic nature. I suppose I should work on that should I ever want to actually get anything professionally published.)

Aside from the usual complaints about formatting and a couple of typos, I came across a note saying that I had too many spaces after each period and that the new standard is only one space after a full stop or other final punctuation mark.


Only one space after a period? Bah! One space after a comma or semi-colon, two spaces after a period, exclamation point, question mark or colon. If nothing else, I know that rule is sacred. It’s in the Bible, I think. It was certainly drilled into my head over an old Underwood manual typewriter in Grade 9 typing class.

So I hopped on the trusty Interwebs to gather evidence to support my cause… and to my great dismay, found out my editor was (gasp!) correct. I googled ‘how many spaces after a period‘ and found at least four pages of entries discussing the subject. How could I have possibly missed this debate before now?

Apparently, now that we have proportional fonts – thanks to online word processing – the old practice of indicating the end of a phrase with a double space is now rendered unnecessarily redundant. Even my most trustworthy Canadian Press Style Guide advocates only one space after a period. It’s a whole new world. I’ve never felt more obsolete.

I politely told the editor that after 25 years (ack!) of ten-fingered typing, it would take a lot more than a simple rule change to disabuse me of the satisfying double-thumb-thwack on the space bar at the end of a sentence, and that if she valued consistency, she would accept my two-spaced full stops. She took a long look at me, perhaps evaluating the extra white showing around the irises of my eyes and the little vein throbbing under my ear, and nodded silently.

There are some things that are simply sacred. I’m learning to deal with prepositions at the end of a sentence or split infinitives. I can live with or without a serial comma. But this is my line in the sand: I will never relent to a single space at the end of a sentence. Never!

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Okay, so I prolly should’ve written about this three or four days ago, since our Canadian Thanksgiving was on Monday, but I just never got around to it on the weekend. We were too busy apple-picking and playing with friends and eating turkey and visiting the Farm in the glorious autumn sunshine. I’ll have another too-late post full of pictures, if I can ever remember to upload the darn things.

But I had to comment on this article in last Friday’s Citizen. Some things just beg to be blogged. Indigo books commissioned a national survey asking which author Canadians would most like to host for Thanksgiving dinner. The answer surprised me, even though it would have been one of my top-three choices: Stephen King! The rest of the top five were, in order, Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Bill Bryson and Alice Munro.

So you know what my next question is. If you could invite three authors to dinner, who would you choose? It’s not so easy as you might think. Do you consider the compatibility of your guests? (I would dearly love to be seated across from Margaret Atwood and Stephen King and listen to them go at it for a couple of hours.) Do you choose exclusively from your favourite authors, or the most colourful personalities?

Okay, after very little deliberation on my part, I’d invite: Will Ferguson, Nick Hornby, and Stephen King.