New blog

I don't update this blog anymore, although I still read and welcome and respond to comments. My new blog, which doesn't have any puzzles, is here.



If only dead people understand hexadecimal, how many people understand hexadecimal?


Book Commercial - Treasure Island

As Jim Trelease says in The Read-Aloud Handbook, one of Oprah Winfrey's great contributions to a renewed interest in reading in the United States is her ability to function as a commercial for a book. This really struck me, and it's something that I've been endeavoring to do when I read aloud. Build the book up before you begin! I had a recent experience with my own children, who are sometimes reluctant to settle in to listening to a new book if the style is unfamiliar, that shows how “hype” can really make a difference.

My son was given Treasure Island for his 6th birthday last June. At the time, I hadn't read it, and — although I knew it had something to do with treasure (clever) and I thought there were possibly pirates in it — I didn't give my son any introduction. I didn't even know if I would enjoy it myself. I launched straight into it without preamble:

Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17--, and go back to the time when my father kept the “Admiral Benbow” inn, and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof (p. 3).

Ninety words in the opening sentence! My 6-year-old balked, and no wonder. But then one day I decided to read Treasure Island to myself. I couldn't put it down. And then I went to the Internet and looked up Robert Louis Stevenson and things like “black spot,” “Davy Jones,” and “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” Now I was prepared to be a commercial for this book.

Theo had seen me reading Treasure Island, and heard me “oohing” and “aahing” when it got exciting or scary, and he wanted to know what was happening. I showed him the poem “Fifteen men on a dead man's chest,” which was familiar to him from watching Pirates of the Caribbean, and I told him that it was written by the author of Treasure Island. I told him that there were vicious pirates and lots of danger. Now and then I would give him a taste, saying something like: “Oh no! The little boy in this book is making friends with a pirate – but he doesn't know he's a pirate! He should know! He was told to watch out for a one-legged man! And this guy has only one leg, Theo! What is going to happen?!?” When I finished reading the book myself, I immediately started it from the beginning again, this time reading aloud to both of my kids, who were hanging on to every word. And while I did skip over some lengthy descriptive passages, I didn't substitute any of the difficult vocabulary. In that first sitting, I read them eight chapters and they begged for me to go on. We finished the entire book in only five sessions, and it's over 300 pages long. Because I had done a little research, I was able to explain a bit about the black spot and other things that might have otherwise been a bit obscure. I wouldn't have been able to do that if my first reading and theirs had been simultaneous. We're now reading Kidnapped by the same author.


Waste / Waist

Note: I originally posted this a year ago and then deleted it. It's worth re-posting, I think.

Funny story. It involves homophones.

Today an acquaintance and I were talking about our various little strategies for maintaining our weight. I said, "I eat an egg every morning!" She said (or rather, I heard):"I measure my waste every day."


For four hours, I believed that this woman scooped her waste out of the toilet and either laid it down along a ruler or weighed it on one of those little scales. Do people really do this?? And if they do do it, do they mention it casually to an office acquaintance? It was only when I got home and was telling the story (with relish, I confess) to my husband that I realized my mistake. As soon as I heard the words leaving my own mouth, I understood what this woman had said:

"I measure my waist every day."

Still a bit over-diligent perhaps, but A Lot Less Weird.


Margot Hanington Obituary Notice

This will appear in tomorrow's newspapers in Vancouver BC, Victoria BC, and Halifax NS.

Hanington, Margot (Wallace)
Margot Hanington passed away swiftly and gracefully in Victoria B.C. on Sunday, June 15. A resident of South Surrey, she was born in New Brunswick in 1923, and grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Pre-deceased by her husband Rear Admiral Daniel Hanington, she leaves four children: Gillian (Bobby Korpi) of Ajijic, Mexico; Mark (Gloria Garvey) of Kailua, Hawaii; Brian (Deborah Johnson) of Ottawa; and Felicity (Larry Dawe) of Texada Island, as well as 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. She also leaves one brother, Lt. Cdr. Howard Wallace of Ottawa, Ontario and two sisters: Rosemary McDonald and Isabel Wallace, both of Halifax, N.S. Also surviving is her partner Robert Welland of South Surrey, B.C. and his sons, daughter and their spouses, all dear to her as well. The funeral service will be held at St. Paul’s Church in Esquimalt B.C. on Thursday June 19 at 2 p.m. Reception following at the Union Club, Victoria at 4 p.m.

Two Boasts

Two boasts about my relations' recent press:

My sister, Kyla Hanington, on CBC's The Sunday Edition. Listen to her amazing essay, Making Muffins.

A review of three pieces by my cousin, Crystal Pite, that were performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa as part of the Canada Dance Festival. The review appeared in today's Ottawa Citizen (June 16, 2008). Crystal appeared on CBC's The National on Friday, but I can't find a digital clip of it to share.


Atheist Game

Have you seen this game by Zefrank? Cute.



My nearly-6-year-old son loves the A-word. My fault, really, for teaching him and his sister Miss Susie Had a Steamboat:

Miss Susie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell
The steamboat went to Heaven
Miss Susie went to...

Hello operator
Give me number 9
And if you disconnect me
I'll kick you from...

Behind the 'frigerator
There was a piece of glass
Miss Susie fell upon it
And broke her little...

Ask me no more questions
Tell me no more lies
Miss Susie's in the kitchen
Making her mud pies

I love that song, and was relieved recently to see it reproduced in The Daring Book for Girls. Now no one will know it came from me.

Other than that, so far the only curse in my children's lexicon has been the I-word: I'm telling.

My daughter told me today, however, that the French word for seal is rather bad in English. This was the rumour on the playground, at least. My French is ghastly, so I just looked it up myself on Bablefish. A little trial and error was required to communicate the correct definition of the word. (I really need my old-fashioned paper-bound French-English dictionary.) I finally tried:

seal (animal)

.... and I see what she's getting at. But I can hardly forbid them to say the French word for seal, can I? I can already see them trying to work it into conversations. Soon they'll want to head to the harbour for "no reason" or make lists of the "cutest animals that swim."