1 0 Archive | March, 2013
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the tale of the teeth

This evening, Amelia lost her third top front tooth. She’s been missing one of her two front teeth for several years now; she had to have it pulled while we were living in Charleston. A few days ago, her second tooth fell out (though the tooth fairy apparently didn’t hear about it until a few days after she’d stuck it under her pillow, as she was late showing up with the change). Then, this evening, a third tooth fell out while she was playing. I told her to tell her friends at school that she’d gotten into a Kung Fu fight.

While Amelia learned to speak normally with a single tooth missing, and while losing the second tooth seem didn’t make much difference, she doesn’t seem to be able to make a solid S sound with three teeth gone. I have to admit, I hope it takes a while for her teeth to grow in, because it sounds awfully cute. Though don’t tell her I said that.

So for memory’s sake, here are some pictures of the progression.

Here’s a picture of Amelia from a couple of weeks ago, with a single tooth missing:

One tooth missing

One tooth missing

Here’s Amelia yesterday, with two teeth missing. She’s holding a nest that she made for the Easter bunny to take a nap in while he was out delivering eggs.

Two teeth missing

Two teeth missing

And here’s Amelia just now, three teeth gone… that’s a decent-sized gap.

Three teeth missing

Three teeth missing

I’d post a video of Amelia speaking, but I’d probably get in trouble for it. So instead, I’ll just wish everyone a “Happy Eathter!”

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31. Mar, 2013
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the hiking trails of Monthault

Ruins near Monthault in BrittanyThis past Saturday was one of the nicest days we’ve seen here in northwestern France in 2013. Today is certainly not one of those days… I went for a jog this morning after dropping the kids off at school, and it was only half a degree from freezing. Brr! Though I guess I shouldn’t complain… I hear my friends and family back in Ontario have been seeing snow.

Considering how nice a day it was outside on Saturday, we as a family decided to take a trip to the hills of Monthault in Brittany, quite near where we live. There are some really nice hiking trails near the town, including one that leads to an amazing megalithic site. A friend has hiked there, and she told me that to her, it felt like a place of great power. I definitely wanted to see that.

The hiking trail we took was called “Les Buttes de Monthault” – The Mounds of Monthault. We parked our car near the trails and headed up the hill. We had a great family walk, but I’m sorry to say that I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because after a nice long trek we ended up arriving back at the village of Monthault having wound up on a completely different trail… something about the colors of Monthault? I have no idea how that happened, but I certainly didn’t see any interesting mounds out there! On the plus side, we had a great time hiking up and down the hilly trails. The countryside in this region is quite beautiful.

Amelia was my stalwart hiking partner for the entire walk. She talked my ear off the entire time! She has become quite a creative young lady with the stories that she can spin, one after the other.

At any rate, it was a lovely day, and I’m looking forward to the return of the springtime weather we had over the weekend! Maybe when the sun comes back out I’ll try once more to find those ancient rocks…

Amelia on the trail

Amelia, my hiking partner, strikes a pose

The countryside near Monthault

the countryside surrounding the village of Monthault

The church in Monthault

The church in Monthault – I love the steeple!

A strange insect on my leg

This strange bee-fly hybrid insect that I don’t even know what it is landed on my leg; I should probably look it up and try to figure out what it was and if it was out to get me

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micronutrients and more

lately, I’ve been getting into the habit of making good habits. And of all the habits that I’ve been making, one of my favorites has been the habit of creating daily (or almost-daily) fruit and vegetable shakes in the blender.

we go through a lot of fruits and vegetables in this household… it seems that every time I hit our local grocery store I’m buying seven or eight varieties of fruits and vegetables. A lot of these get chopped up and mixed into crock pots or baked dinners, but where the fruits are concerned, a majority of them get put into fruit shakes!

a lot of people will say that blending fruits and vegetables will be diminishing their nutritional value, and that you won’t get as many micronutrients or enzymes out of a blended mixture of fruits and vegetables. But the thing is, I could never sit down and eat a whole bunch of apples, kale, raw carrots, and so forth, without mixing them into a tasty drink. So even if I am not getting the total nutritional value out of the shakes that I’m making, I’m getting a lot more than if the fruits and vegetables were left to rot in the fridge!

Fruit

an assortment of different fruits on the counter, ready to be mixed into a blended drink

in another post I’ll go into detail about some of the beverages that I’ve been making. The secret, I’ve found, is to mix a bunch of good fruits into the mix, a few vegetables (but not too many, as that will overpower the drink), add some frozen raspberries or strawberries (to make the drink more like a frozen smoothie), maybe toss in a small scoop of raw chia seeds, and then sweeten, if necessary, with pure honey. Here in France we get some really good honey made from lavendar which I really enjoy. I highly recommend it!

And now for an interesting aside… the greyish-green apples in the picture above found in between the two pears (you can click on it to make it bigger) are called “Canada Apples”. But they’re not from Canada, and as far as I know I’ve never eaten a Canada Apple (also known as a Reinette, or “Little Queen”) before coming to France. Supposedly these apples originated in England.

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24. Mar, 2013
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a cold and foggy morning

the weather this past week has been bizarre. Saturday afternoon it was warm and mild (as evidenced by my previous post). Then, two days ago, it got bitter cold, and it snowed all day and during the night, only to warm up by the following afternoon.

This morning I got up early to drive to Rennes, and it was so foggy outside that at times it was difficult to see much of the road ahead! But it was also stark and beautiful, so several times during my trip along the twisty roads leading into Saint-James I stopped to take a few pictures with my phone.

along a country road

along a country road

foggy fields on a snowy morning

foggy fields on a snowy morning

snow-covered fields in the countryside

snow-covered fields in the countryside

a grove of trees by the side of the road

a grove of trees by the side of the road

along the winding road leading up the hill into Saint-James, with the sun in the background

along the winding road leading up the hill into Saint-James, with the sun in the background

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14. Mar, 2013
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Mia at the park

yesterday we went on a walk through the public park in the center of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët. While we were there, Mia asked me to take a few pictures of her using some of the exercise stations situated at a grassy spot beside the lake. The pictures turned out well in that they seem to embody the “spirit of Mia”.

these pictures might also be some of the final examples of one-tooth-missing Mia; her second front tooth is quite loose and on the verge of falling out, and her two adult front teeth are starting to make their move. It’s been several years since Mia has had a single tooth missing after having to have it removed after an unfortunate encounter with the kitchen counter (here is a picture from nearly three years ago from when we were living in Charleston… it’s amazing to see how much she has grown up since then, but the tooth’s still gone). I’m looking forward to seeing what she looks like with two front teeth, because I find it hard to imagine!

Swinging

Swinging

Stepping

Stepping

Spinning

Spinning

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10. Mar, 2013
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self-published book reviews

For the past two weeks I’ve been subscribed to BookBub, a free service that delivers daily deals on digital books for the Kindle and Nook on Amazon. I’ve been enjoying the service so far.

One thing I’ve noticed – and I’m not sure if this is by design, or if it’s just the way it works out – is that most, if not all, of the books I’ve found on the service have been self-published books. The vast majority is self-published young adult urban fantasy written in the first person, with lots of angels, fae, hunky vampires, and time travelers. A lot of these books have been available for free, so I’ve downloaded a few of them just to check them out. I love to read, and reading other people’s writing is fun and frequently fascinating.

I should preface this next part by saying that I have great respect for people who write, self-publish, and market their own books. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a novel, and then to share and market your work online takes dedication, not to mention guts. I should also mention that I realize that I’m not the world’s greatest writer, so I’m certainly not trying to get across that I’m a better writer than anybody else. Finally, I should mention that some self-published books are fantastic. I’m not out to bash all self-published books, or self-publishing in general… I’m simply pointing out the trend I’ve noticed in some self-published material.

So with that out of the way, I will tell you that I’ve some of the self-published books that I’ve found on Amazon have been complete crap.

This post is not about those terrible books, however… it’s about the reviews for those books. I’ve noticed that a lot of these books tend to get their fair share of five-star reviews, even if by reading the preview alone you can quickly discover the terrible writing and stilted dialog. What is even more interesting is that the high number of five-star reviews is often accompanied by a high number of one-star reviews.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

A typical book’s reviews

First, here’s what I’d consider a “normal” distribution of reviews for a book on Amazon. This is the graphic novel for Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. It isn’t unanimously loved, but the distribution of ratings seems to follow what I would consider a typical pattern.

A typical book's reviews

A self published book’s reviews

Meanwhile, here is a book I started reading that, to be honest, I found awful, and couldn’t finish. The book did not have proper flow, the dialog read like it was written by a third grader, and the pages were riddled with grammatical errors. I won’t tell you which or whose book this was, because the point of this post isn’t to bash any particular individual’s hard work, but here are the reviews:

A self published book's reviews

Notice the major difference between these two sets of reviews. The self-published book’s reviews do not follow what I would consider a typical distribution. There are a number of people who adored the book, and also a number of people who detested it. What is interesting is that the two books have approximately the same average review score (4.0 compared to 3.8), but looking at the distribution of reviews, it’s not hard to figure out which one is the self-published book.

So why is this the case? I have two theories:

Friends of the author are writing the reviews

I think it makes a lot of sense that friends and family of the self-published author are writing many of the reviews that you’re seeing on the book’s page. And to be honest, I don’t feel that this is a deceptive or unfair practice – at least to a point. The author of this book has worked hard to create his or her personal masterpiece, and naturally his or her friends and relatives are proud and supportive of their loved one’s chef-d’oeuvre. They want to support the author however they can, and the most obvious way to do that is to buy a copy of the book and give it a five-star review. Perhaps it’s somewhat misleading, but such practice keeps friendships intact, and if it isn’t overdone I’d hope that the reviews would eventually even out over time. I think it’s most evident when books are first released online.

You can often tell when a five-star review comes from a friend or family member because it will read like an advertisement for the book. While a normal review might read:

“I thought this book was pretty good. I enjoyed the story, and the characters were believable. I liked Captain Spaceheart, though sometimes he was a bit of a jerk. I really enjoyed the action scenes where he fought the Ok’Bok (the aliens), though I felt the ending could have been better.”

A review might instead read:

“Terror in the Heavens!!! Captain Spaceheart and his valiant band of space marines must forage deep into the heart of enemy territory to fight the ruthless and deadly green-skinned Ok’Bok aliens in this stunning premier novel. Will he emerge victorious, or will the Ok’Bok turn him into space goo? Read this book and find out!”

Even books that many people seem to love – the books in the Harry Potter series, for example – don’t have reviews like this.

There’s also the notion that authors themselves are creating Amazon accounts to review their own books. Sometimes you’ll see glowing reviews from reviewers who have only ever reviewed one single book… this one. What’s funny about this is that in another review for the same book, you’ll see a one-star review from someone who said, “this is my first review… I normally don’t write book reviews, but this book was so terrible and all the five-star reviews were so misleading, I felt I had to let the truth be known!”

Naturally, while I think writing reviews for your friends and family is okay, writing your own stellar reviews is certainly not okay.

People don’t notice that a book is crap

I’ve read plenty of book reviews where the review itself is poorly written. This is frequently the case with young adult books. This doesn’t prove anything of course, but it does make me wonder if the people who are reading these terribly written books and giving them five-star reviews don’t realize that the books are terrible… that is to say that they actually are enjoying the books and giving them the reviews they feel they deserve.

The thought-provoking thing about this is that, in a publishing landscape where many people feel that the aim is to write polished, high-quality books featuring proper grammar and sentence structure, in some cases these things may not be all that important. If you’re writing a vampire novel for 12-year-old girls, for example, it may not be worth the time and effort to go back and perfect it – just get it out there, then go and write five sequels. If you’ve got the right mix of quirky protagonist, brooding love interest, and a healthy dose of teen angst, you may have a winner on your hands even if your writing is the pits.

Hmmmm.

Maybe I should go write a book…

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08. Mar, 2013
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seeds and bulbs

it’s that time of year again… the time when the persistent nip leaves the air, the sun starts lingering in the sky in the afternoons, and Callum catches the gardening bug.

this year we bought several different bulbs and some fresh soil from the gardening store in Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët; by planting the bulbs now, we should be able to see them flower in a few weeks or months. Some of them have already started to show signs of flowering, but it will be a while before they bloom.

we also have a variety of seeds left over from last year – mostly vegetables and herbs – that we have kept in sealed bags for his year. I’m hoping that they’ll still grow this spring if we plant them – who knows! It’s worth a try.

Callum gardening

Callum and his newly planted flower bulbs

Flower pots with bulbs

Some more of Callum’s plants

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gluten-free rice cake pizzas

while Callum and I spent some time outside doing a little gardening, Yvonne and Amelia made some gluten-free rice cake pizzas. At first I was a bit dubious about how good they might be, because to be honest, I’m not normally a big fan of rice cakes. I find them dry and relatively tasteless, and I’m not big on their texture. But these rice cake pizzas actually turned out to be pretty good.

here are the ingredients:

  • Gluten-free rice cakes (some rice cakes may contain gluten)
  • Roquefort cheese
  • Emmenthal (Swiss) cheese
  • Cooked chicken
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato paste (this variety was tomato-nut-pesto flavored)

to prepare the pizzas, Yvonne and Amelia sliced the tomatoes and cut the already-cooked chicken into chunks. They spread the tomato paste onto the rice cakes, added the chicken and the Roquefort, and then placed a slice of tomato on top. On top of that, they added the Emmenthal cheese and then cooked the pizzas in the oven at 180 degrees Celcius (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for 10 minutes.

not bad!

Gluten-free rice cake pizzas

Amelia and her creation

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04. Mar, 2013
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trees in Fougères

today was a pretty nice (albeit somewhat chilly) day, so we spent the afternoon at the forest of Fougères in the eastern part of Brittany. The forest is quite large, and within it there is a good-sized lake with a beach for the kids to play at and a short pier where people gather to fish. Around the lake is a hiking trail with exercise posts set up at intervals beside the path (as I mentioned in a previous post, this is quite common in France).

Trees in Fougères

Trees in the forest of Fougères

Moss on the trees

Moss on the trees

Shetland pony meets Shetland sheepdog

Shetland pony meets Shetland sheepdog

now we’re at home; it’s evening, and the kids are working on their crafts. Meanwhile, we’ve got the wood stove going to keep the place warm. And that’s the news for today.

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