Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Today's Club meeting could have gone with the tagline, "Just Play With Your Food."  Which is exactly what we did today.  But it was all with a purpose.  You see, we were experimenting with different bird beak designs and discovering that certain beaks are engineered specifically for the preferred food of its owner.

First, let me introduce you to the tools of our discovery snack.  We used toothpicks (for the birds that like to stab at their meal), spoons (for birds like pelicans that scoop up their food), clothespins and tweezers or chopsticks (for those that grab their meals) and straws (for those who suck their meals, like hummingbirds).

Next, let me share the exotic fare we dined on today.  Cheese transformed itself into caterpillars (you could use marshmallows too); raisins became grubs (any dried fruit would do, though); chocolate sprinkles were the most delicious ants I've ever tasted; puffed rice became insects; sunflower and pumpkin seeds were, well, seeds; oranges were for the fruit-lovers; and apple juice was nectar.  Other things to try include cooked macaroni and peanuts with or without the shells, but I opted to avoid those due to allergy concerns.

The table was set with each clubber having their own set of tools laid out on a napkin, a plate and a glass.  The morsels of delectable food were gathered in the middle which I served.  We tried each of the tools for each kind of food to determine which worked best and wrote our answers down on the chalkboard.  The only rule was to have one hand working the tool while the other hand was firmly behind one's back.  And we had a lot of fun as the Clubbers tried to slurp pumpkin seeds through their straws, stabbed their puffed rice with toothpicks, and attempted futilely to pick up chocolate sprinkles with a clothespin.

Yes, it was an action-packed, fast-and-furious snack.  And, as a warning to you if you try it at home, it will most likely leave a big mess on and around your table.  But such is the way of scientific experimentation!

As the club went about finishing their snack using their tool of choice, I read the book Beaks!  It has beautiful illustrations.  The reader can read the basics of the different types of beaks and their functions or can deep dive to learn about different bird species, what they eat, and how their beak has evolved to make it easier to enjoy their food of choice.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Turning a mountain into a molehill.

Many of our spaces are in need of a purge.  There's messy build-up in pockets, corners, and rooms.  In an attempt to just get a couple of spaces to the point that I could walk into them without cringing, I simply dumped what I could find into laundry baskets or totes and hauled them to my room, with good intentions to get through them in peace and without a little one wandering in and inspecting every item that was in the recycle/toss and giveaway piles. 

For the most part, it worked.  Except that there is now more messy build-up in my room.  Clothes that no longer fit, or need to be mended, or moved to the next stage of their lives (think pants that will now be shorts due to the holes in the knees), were piled on the chest at the foot of my bed.  I was feeling that exasperated, cringe-like feeling every time I entered my room now!  It turns out there is no escape from it unless it is dealt with once and for all.

So a couple of hours were spent with my sewing machine to reduce the mountainous pile down to a manageable molehill.  I think I put together a pretty well-rounded summer wardrobe for my older two, who now have an abundance of shorts. 

And what to do with the cut-off legs below the hole?  It turns out they are the perfect size for most of the panels in the Indi-go bag pattern that is in Reinvention:  Sewing with Rescued Materials.  My pile of jeans is now down to this:

Ahhh, now a wee bit more room for clarity!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version.

Yes, Birds of Prey Club is still happening, though my part in it is solely of the supervisor and snack provider nature.  Most meetings the boys conjure up fantasy roles and then spend most of their time talking about the role they've created for themselves, kind of like they're trying to one-up each other as to who has the most fantastical swords, grotesque bodies, or amazing superpowers.

Today, though, I was really hoping they would be up for some fort building.  You see, our neighbour shovelled the snow off her roof, and quite a bit of it landed between our houses...like four feet of it.

Having the sinking feeling that the folks the neighbour hired wouldn't be coming back to clean up the mess they'd left to seep into our basements, I took the kids outside, intending they would play happily and I would move snow.

But given that snow is everywhere around here, even though it is starting to melt, I quickly came to the realization that simply throwing the snow in the direction of the sidewalk would just be tiring.  And, as it happened that the top of the pile between the houses had a nice icy covering and the stuff below was being compressed by the stuff above, it was coming out in big chunks.  Perfect chunks for a snow fort to be built.  I called the kids over and suggested they start designing their fort.  And they did!

Here's what they built with about one third of the snow I hauled out.


Unfortunately, there was still quite a bit back there, and it needed somewhere to go.  But Birds of Prey Club was too lost in their imaginary world to be pulled out for a few blocks of snow.  Oh well.  They had fun.  They had a creative outlet.  And my kids have tomorrow to build another fort.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Playing with wolves

Jaelyn requested a deep dive into the lives of wolves when we returned to our normal rhythm after the winter holidays.  I must confess that I didn't put in a lot of effort into ordering our activities - they just sort of happened as the books we requested from the libraries started trickling in.  Here's a peek into the resources we used and the activities we did.

We started off our unit by reading Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George.  This is the story of a 13-year-old Eskimo girl who was lost on the tundra and resorted to befriending a pack of wolves in hopes they would bring food to share with her until she made her way back to civilization.  We learned a lot about how wolves communicate and the incredible loyalty wolves possess for the members of their pack.  In fact, there was one day that Jaelyn started giving me commands with wolf-talk - she put her hands on her head like ears, pointed them at me, and bared her teeth.  She was telling me to lie on my belly.  We also learned about the social structure of a pack, as well as Inuit and Eskimo traditions.  Later, we also read through the last two books of the trilogy - Julie and Julie's Wolf Pack.

When Julie met the wolves in Julie and the Wolves, there were pups in the pack.  We further explored the first year of a pup's life by reading Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary, also by Jean Craighead George.  This story describes the timing of a pup's development stages with changes in nature or important milestone dates children might remember.  It doesn't use specific dates, and we had difficulty relating to some of the milestones (such as when certain flowers or birds appear further south) so I printed out a calendar and we did our best to identify the development stages based on the milestones we did know (such as when the fireworks fly).

We learned about the important role that wolves play in maintaining healthy ecosystems by watching Wolves:  A Legend Returns to Yellowstone.  We supplemented this by reading When the Wolves Returned, which provided even deeper insight.  For example, it mentioned the detrimental effects of rising elk populations on the trees, which impacted the number of bird species and other animals in Yellowstone.  Since the wolf was reintroduced, there is more diversity in the park.  I really appreciated how a complex subject could be written about in simple terms.  The book ended with a simple food chain that showed the trickle-down effect of wolves on both plant and animal species.

Lastly, we watched several other videos:  Living with Wolves and Wolves at our Door.  Both these videos were shot by a husband and wife team (Jim and Jamie Dutcher) living in a yurt in the mountains of Idaho.  Their closest neighbours was a pack of wolves, which they were observing to learn more about their social behaviours.  This duo also put together a book with amazing photography called The Hidden Life of Wolves

For each book or video we watched, I asked Jaelyn to draw a picture from a favorite page or scene.  Later, she would narrate what she had drawn.  Other activities we did during our study of wolves was creating a wolf from modelling wax and building a diorama of a wolf pack's habitat.  And there has also been lots of impromptu play-acting - like the "pups" ganging up on the alpha male and trying to assert themselves as the alpha, or Jaelyn identifying herself as the pack beta and making sure all was well with each pack member.  This play-acting is by far my favorite part of homeschooling.

We finished off our unit on wolves with a trip to the zoo while on vacation.  Our hope was that the wolves would be active and we could try to guess what their behaviours were communicating.  Unfortunately for us, the wolves were communicating that they were sleepy.  I guess that happens in the life of a wolf too - it just doesn't make for good TV or reading.

What projects have your little ones been immersed in?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

After an extended hiatus due to family vacations and my own continuing professional development, Nature Club was back in business.  I committed to working through the Feathered Friends materials from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I started the program late, though - it is a program with activities for September to May, but we didn't really get into it until we started up in January.  Aside from the activity about migration, which is listed as an October activity that I will postpone until April, the topics haven't been too dependent on the seasons.

Our focus at this meeting was moving like a bird.  We watched a few select videos of birds that have developed distinct ways of moving (this link has a select video for each bird that highlights its specific adaptations, while this one gives you a whole library to look and listen through).  Each Nature Clubber got to act out one of the birds we watched, and then we talked about how the bird was built for its movement.  For example - the ostrich is built to walk or run because its size prohibits it from flying.  Loons are at home in the water, partly because their feet are built to make them excellent swimmers.

We took our bird movements one step further by heading outside to play "Birdy Says", inspired by Simon Says.  We worked out a few bird movements for other birds - hummingbirds, vultures and penguins, then had fun flitting and jumping and waddling around in the snow. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Dreaming of days to come

My, it's been a while since I've found myself in front of this blank page.  I think it's been partly due to my will extending my after-Christmas holiday, partly due to our ramped-up winter busy-ness, and partly due to the coldest February on record for these parts.

We do see signs of spring on the horizon, though.  We can feel that the sun's rays are warmer on our faces, and we rise earlier in synch with that giant yellow orb in the sky.  Our local Seedy Saturday event came and went today, and there was a flurry of garden planning and eager anticipation before we bundled up and headed out the door.  The seeds are now here, recorded in my handy little spreadsheet so I can track what will be planted inside, when it will ideally be planted, and where it will go once the time arrives to introduce it to its outside home.  Yes, last night included mad scouring of companion planting tables, wishing that potatoes and tomatoes got along better (or at least could find one friend they had in common to go between them), and resolute determination to try out the three sisters method of companion planting.  Fresh in my mind was last year's vow that this year would be better, and plans were made for preventing the onslaught of weeds and late-night waterings.  Oh, and ideas for a quick to put together shelf by our huge south-facing window have been hashed out and should be doable within the week.  I'm so looking forward to this garden!

Also on my mind is how to give this garden and it's much hoped for abundance the attention it needs with these three little ones in tow and a schedule crammed full of springtime fun and games.  The first question that I've been pondering is how I'm going to look after myself.  I remember the many late nights of preserving, chosen intentionally so as to avoid heating the house during the hottest part of the day, and partly because that was really the only time the work would get done.  And it seemed to go on for days.  And weeks.  And months.  So something to fill my cup is definitely needed to run the marathon that lies ahead.  Something like waking half an hour earlier and doing a bit of yoga (outside, when the weather's nice, perhaps?), and soaking in the quiet morning moments sounds so nice to me. 

Working out something do-able and sustainable for keeping an eye on the children while working in the garden will take a bit more experimentation.  While last year's ideals were lovely (yes, I thought the combination of gardening and art would be alluring and keep everyone nearby), I soon found myself just trying to make sure we had all the gardening essentials.  Potential fixes could include having the kids pack up their essentials the night before, having our circle time out at the garden, ensuring there are books and a blanket to curl up in, amongst other things.

In the meantime, I'll keep on simplifying here and there.  I'll take the time to get myself organized so that when the time comes to jump into action everything is there waiting.  I can stock up on stuff like Pamona's Pectin and lemon juice, vinegar and pickling salt, garden stakes and gloves, well before we're in the heat of the moment, and I find the rest of the city is also hunting for such goods.  After all, I have a couple of months before I get to see and feel that black earth.  The work done today will ease the load tomorrow. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Two birds with one stone

I wasn't planning on sharing this little 20 minute adventure, as it isn't a pretty one, really.  It's quite filled with grime and messy build-up actually. 

I've been on a simplifying adventure.  I've been working on little pockets here and there - the mudroom, the storage closet that holds our luggage and children's clothes waiting to be handed down to the next little one, the dress-up bin, the pantry, the door of the refrigerator.  Well, now that I look at the list, most of them took quite a bit of time.  But they look and feel so much better now!  Anyway, my task has been to get rid of the stuff that is no longer needed or no longer fits with our lifestyle choices, then organize what's left.  It meant that we reduced the number of mitts and hats to choose from in the mudroom, that all the bulk goods in bags were moved into jars in the pantry, and that the boxes with the children's clothes have been sorted through so that only a reasonable amount of clothes remain.

Today's quick project was underneath my kitchen sink.  It's definitely not a glamorous spot that will receive a lot of attention, but my reason for cleaning it out had nothing to do with the mess or grime that was under there.

You see, we have a weekly chore day.  On one afternoon a week, Tuesdays this winter, all of us do some sort of chore.  Vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms are always on the list and Nicholas and Jaelyn alternate doing these.  I'm available to help, if it's needed, but I also do chores, whether it is folding laundry or doing dishes, or de-cluttering a corner.  What I discovered was that the person responsible for cleaning the bathrooms would inevitably disappear, citing that I hadn't gathered the cleaning supplies fast enough.  During a moment of clarity, I realized there is no need for me to keep the cleaning supplies up high because Astrin never was into eating or drinking our cleaning supplies.  As she watched me fanatically scrubbing the cabinet and we talked, it became clear the thought of chowing down on the stuff under the sink had never even crossed her mind.  And the cleaning supplies are baking soda and vinegar.  The same stuff we put in our baking and our pickles.  I think we're safe.

So, my quest for an accessible and logical place for the cleaning supplies led me to under the kitchen sink.  Here's kind of what it looked like before, once I pulled all the empty jars out (which I intended to use for pouring grease into - did I really think I would need that many?).  I couldn't get too close, as I didn't want to immortalize the mess under there!

And here's what it looks like now.  Minimal.  Accessible.  Simple. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

What is a habitat?  How does one explain what plants and animals need to seven year-old kids, most of whom have been inside lots owing to our string of cold days?  Reading a story seems to do the trick more often than not.  Or perhaps I'm just lucky that this group of Nature Clubbers seems to have a love for learning, whether it's after the school bell's rung or not.  At any rate, I introduced the concept of habitat by reading the book, On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole. 

On Meadowview Street is the story about a family who moved to Meadowview Street, but there wasn't a meadow to be found...only well manicured lawns separated by fences.  The heroine in the story, Caroline, finds a flower growing and asks her dad to mow around it.  Soon there are two flowers, then four.  And soon, the dad has decided there isn't much lawn left to mow and sells his lawnmower.  The butterflies and bees who find the yard pleasant appreciate less noise.

The seasons change and summer's hot sun beats down on the rows of houses and Caroline's little meadow.  Caroline observes there are no trees and soon a maple is planted with care, birdhouses are built, and a wren has moved into the neighbourhood.  Then they dig out a spot for a little pond and make sure there are lots of nooks and crannies for creatures to call home.

The neighbours notice Caroline's yard, and appreciate it's beauty.  Soon there are other families making their yards more friendly for the plants and animals who need a place to live.

Using the story, we talked about the plants, insects and animals that we saw in the pictures at the start of the book.  We only saw people.  Then we walked through the changes that Caroline made and what happened as a result.  When the grasses grew long and the flowers bloomed, who moved it?  Why did they move in - what was there for them now that there wasn't before?  Was it food?  Shelter?  Did other creatures move in once the tree was planted?  Why did they move in after the tree - what purpose did it serve?  Why would the creatures need a pond?

From that, we put together the portrait of what makes an ideal habitat - food (flowers for the insects, insects for the birds), cover (shelter, a place to hide), water (to drink or bathe in).  In order to have food, cover and water, there needs to be space - space for the animals to hunt or forage for food, space for the animals to move about, space for them to call home.

Taking all this knowledge, we then drew pictures of a familiar place.  It could have been a schoolyard, a backyard, a park, or an imaginary place.  Then we looked at the spaces the Clubbers created to see if it would make an ideal habitat for birds.  Was there cover?  Was there food?  Was there water?  Was there space?  It didn't matter if they could say "yes" to all these questions - if they said "no", then we talked about what could be added to make it an ideal space for birds.

Finally, we attempted to take a short walk to check out potential habitats in the neighbourhood.  But after being inside so much lately, they just needed space to play outside, with the crisp air freshening their spirits and colouring their cheeks.  What a lovely way to end the meeting!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Kung hsi fa-ts'ai!


The Year of the Horse galloped joyfully into our house last night.  After all the legends, folktales and stories telling of the Chinese New Year and its customs had been told, the crafts and decorations had been made and hung, music had been discovered, recipes poured over, and greetings and tidings had been recited and learned, it was time for a New Year celebration feast.

We invited family to join us.  We greeted each guest with an orange offering and shouted out a jubilant kung hsi fa-ts'ai!  Noisemakers and tangrams were ready to entertain the little ones while we put the finishing touches on the meal.  On the menu were potstickers, spring rolls (from our ReBar cookbook), roast chicken, Chinese greens and fried rice (from The Young Chef's Chinese Cookbook).  Dessert was oranges followed by peanut cookies.  Yum!  We sent the children home with Lai-See (Chinese lucky money).

May you enjoy good luck, good health, and prosperity in this Year of the Horse!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Today's learnings

There was an ease that came with today...it was easy to smile, easy to work, easy to play.  I'm hopeful getting rid of some psychological baggage did the trick.  With its weight lifted off me, I found it easier to embrace the challenges as opportunities to learn and to look for solutions when conflict is wiggling its way into our day.

And I have had some aha moments I'd like to take the time to capture for future reference.  In no particular order...

...sometimes it is beneficial to print our recipes from the internet.  Like when you are preparing a Chinese New Year feast and the website you found with easy but authentic recipes is having technical difficulties.  Chalk it up to another opportunity to practice agility!

...when planning a cooking activity for a group to do, it really is okay to plan which person will do each part of the recipe.  In hindsight, this seems like a no-brainer.  But now I know for sure.  Plan out every little detail.  The experience will be a lot smoother.

...our minds are extremely powerful and one simple bend in our perspective can make enormous changes.  An exercise I participated in today was finding a way to balance two seemingly opposing forces.  Like, say, balancing the desire for an organized house with the desire for relaxed, playful experiences with one's children.  The trick is to literally have the "organized" part of yourself ask the "playful" part of yourself to share ideas of how to make "organized" more playful.  My playful side told me that singing and playing games during tidy-up time would be fun.  

...feeling a craving to be hooked up to social media is my mind's way of saying it's time to get out and be with people again.  The wheels are in motion to be line up a few skiing dates over the next couple of weekends. 

Yes, it's true that we never stop learning.  I'm grateful to have this lovely little space to capture some of the lessons life has fired my way.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A weight is lifted

I've found myself in a rut since writing about my aspirations for my children.  The intent of the exercise was to focus on what I wanted them to become over the long-term so that I could consider what they need from me today in order to grow into their future selves.  Once I truly understood this, I could focus my efforts and time to making it happen.  I would have a blueprint that I could lay my actions against and see whether they were in line or distracting me from my goals.

As I got to the end of my post, the thought dawned on me that I would need to model the behaviours I wanted them to develop.  After I looked over the picture I'd painted, I felt painfully ill-equipped to deliver on it.

Which then got me to scrutinizing some issues I've struggled with for years.  Was I turning into a parent that insisted on perfection?  As the years passed and my children showed no signs of developing one of the traits I wished for them, would my frustration and feelings of failure (in myself) lead them away from becoming confident individuals?  Then the nature versus nurture arguments started...Given their own innate personalities, was writing my wish list in the first place setting them up for failure?  Were they already pre-wired beyond my control? 

And how do I model confidence when I'm not feeling that confident myself?  How do I teach kindness when my eyes clearly flash red in the heat of an angry moment?  How do I model creativity when my creative hours are when they are in bed?  I was feeling like I needed to be one hundred percent "on" all the time, and the enormous pressure was weighing heavily on me.  It simply wasn't sustainable.  It felt like I was one-dimensional.

As I get all this pent-up angst out of my system, clarity and solutions start to unfold before me.  Every time I strive to model certain behaviours or values and fail, I have an opportunity to model perseverance and humility.  I get to model that this life is a journey and that while our bodies may stop growing, our minds and spirits are often blessed with miles of open space for growth.  I remind myself that while I am an important teacher in my children's lives, I'm not the only one.  Surrounding myself with others that hold the same values dear will help model those values through their actions.  Having their presence in my children's lives will support me when I fall short.  I need to keep reminding myself it truly takes a village to raise a child!

As the layers of pressure of the past week melt away and the insecurities are seen for what they really are, I find us in a playful place.  Where I can wrestle with Nicholas, and he's happy for the silly attention.  Where I can bestow compliments and warmth on Jaelyn as I hold her in my arms and her eyes shine with joy.  Where I can sink Astrin into fits of giggles with tickle kisses.  Somehow, they must sense when the pressure is lifting off me - us, in fact - and when we can immerse one another in the best kind of love and attention.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Welcome back, Nature Club!  It's been awhile since we've seen all of you, and we're happy you could join us today.

I've been planning for our winter Nature Club activities since attending a webinar with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the fall.  They were introducing a new resource - Feathered Friends - and as I flipped through the activities I felt they were just right for Nature Club.  Even though the activities are organized by month, the introductory activity, What Makes a Bird a Bird, could work in any month, whether it be September or January.

We read through the book What Makes a Bird a Bird? to get thinking about the characteristics that birds share with other animals (the ability to fly, sing, lay eggs, build nests) and the characteristic that is unique to birds (feathers). 

Then we donned snowshoes and walked to the park, stopping to listen when the songs of the chickadees caught our ears.  It was there we played a game of bird true or false.  We stomped a line to divide the field into two - one side of the field was the "true" side and the other side was the "false" side.  Then the clubbers took their places on the line.  I read out a statement and the clubbers had to decide whether the statement was true or false by running to the appropriate side of the field.  In their snowshoes.  By the end of the game, everyone was thoroughly tired.  But not too tired to hike over to the playground and pretend to be wolves.  Or a girl who lived with wolves.  A low howl from the alpha meant it was time to return to our den.  And while their legs were weary from trudging through the snow, they magically transformed into birds and their wings carried them back to our house just in time for their parents to come get them.   

Monday, 20 January 2014

Mama saver

We're getting put through our paces on Mondays, with less than an hour between the end of Jaelyn's dance class and the time when Nicholas needs to be at hockey.  And did I mention yet that both activities bookend the supper hour?  How to warm bodies up with healthy food, and in a hurry?

I've turned to my slow cooker.  I first cozied up to it when I wanted to prepare holiday lunches for family while having the goal to spend more time with family than with food.  Then we packed it up and took it with us on our holiday ski trip.  I wanted to make warming, hearty meals without asking everyone to wait for an hour after our return from the slopes while I prepared and cooked.  On this trip, I adapted recipes from Long Way on a Little, as some of the recipes call for the "low and slow" method of cooking grass-fed meats.  And then, as luck would have it, I rediscovered my Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook right after the holidays when we were all in need of a little detoxing.  The crockpot has been getting a workout ever since.  Here are just a few of the meals we've had over the last several weeks out of this miracle machine.

  ~ Roast leg of lamb
  ~ Slow-cooked pork roast
  ~ Minestrone soup
  ~ Pho soup
  ~ Vegetable curry
  ~ Maple-baked beans
  ~ Slow-cooked sausage
  ~ Vindaloo vegetables
  ~ Cauliflower and kidney bean stew with coconut milk
  ~ Chipotle red bean and sweet potato chili
  ~ Borscht
  ~ Baked beans with pork hocks
  ~ French white bean and cabbage soup

I'm loving that many of these recipes focus on ingredients that we have on hand through our CSA (community supported agriculture) share, which helps to cut down on our grocery bill.  Onions, potatoes, carrots, beets and parsnips make an appearance in many of these recipes, and are often supplemented by produce we froze during the summer, such as peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes and celery.  And all I have to do is have everything ready to go and the pot turned to "on" by 9:00 in the morning! 

Oh, little crock pot.  It turns out you're more than a mama saver.  You're a whole family saver!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Looking way out. Or not too far out at all.

I was challenged to imagine my children in adulthood.  What would I like them to be like?  How would I like them to feel?  Here's what I came up with:
There is a look of confidence and happiness in my children's eyes.  They know who they are and what they stand for.  My children walk with peaceful purpose - they don't feel the need to rush, but they don't dawdle either.  Their bodies are strong.
They show their interest in others by holding a calm, steady gaze with those they are engaged in conversation with.  They share a kind smile with all they see.  They are liked, respected and trusted.  They give generously and receive graciously.  They are a considerate partner to the person they choose to spend their lives with.
My children are curious about how the world works and know how to find answers to their questions.  They are skilled at looking information up using technology or books, and they can also talk to people or observe the world around them.  They are wise because they have seen much and learned much and experienced much.
My children enjoy being in nature. 
My children have discovered how they best express themselves...verbally, artistically, in written word.  They think before they express themselves, and they are thoughtful and articulate.  While they won't fear expressing themselves, they are considerate of the impact their message will have on others.
As I read this, I wonder if we'll ever get there from where we are now.  And while they hold quite a bit of responsibility for who they turn into and their own happiness, there is also a lot of modelling we can do for them as parents.  Perhaps what I would like for them is what I also wish to be. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Slow crafting

Awhile back, my mom mentioned to me that she wanted to frame a piece of art I'd made in high school.  I looked at her curiously and wondered what possible piece of artwork she could have in her possession.  Then she showed me the piece...it was a plant, a palm to be more precise, and it was drawn in ink using a technique called pointillism.  As I gazed at the picture, I wondered how I actually drew the thing - did I copy it from somewhere?  Borrowed someone else's sketch and then started putting dots of ink where it felt right?  As you may be able to guess by now, I don't consider myself to be much of an artist.

But there are some parallels between this drawing experience, and some of the other crafting we do around here.  I seem to recall that drawing taking forever to complete, and I wonder exactly how many dots of ink it took to finish it.  Likewise, the sweater I'm knitting is also taking forever, but the half that I've finished looks beautiful.  And so did the sweet little chicks that I needle-felted for Christmas last year.  Lately, the few items I've tried to model with modelling beeswax have taken a bit more time than if I had tried to create them with play dough or modelling clay, but they've turned out nonetheless.  And we tried out some introductory embroidery with the Chinese New Year in mind too, which is a vastly slower experience than painting the symbols on paper.


 So what is it that can make these slow crafts so accessible, with a healthy dose of patience?  I wonder if the pace of a slow craft makes it easier for someone like me - someone who was not born with the instincts and skills for being at ease creating tangible things - to create something identifiable.  I don't necessarily need a pattern in order to be successful.  I can design and create all on my own. 

If I were to sew a chick together, for example, I would be done in a fraction of the time it would take to knit or needle-felt.  I would most likely copy a pattern - someone else's design that I've simply followed the instructions to complete.  If I were to wing it on my own, I would essentially have one shot to get it right, and that shot comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  In the case of sewing, once the fabric is cut, it either works or it doesn't.  Sure, it could be tweaked, but it's also quite likely it would need a complete do-over.  With needle-felting, however, I found it pretty much impossible to make a mistake.  Fiber was added a little bit at a time.  There was time between needle strikes to pause and consider what needed to happen next.  The gradual evolution of a ball to a ball with a beak at a snail's pace allowed my clumsy hands to make mistakes and see them before they became unfixable.

And I've felt, as I've worked a ball of wax into a crown for our little Bruno the Bear (inspired by a story in the Book of Fairy Princes), my breathing slow, my muscles relax, my mind sharpen in concentration, my whole self honed in to the present moment.  And I see why exposing my little ones to such handwork is so great for them.  They get to experience, without being begged and pleaded with, what many adults flock to yoga and meditation classes for.  They get to see and feel their heads, their hearts, and their hands working as one.  For a moment, nothing matters but this expression of themselves they are working hard to create.  There is peace inside and outside.  It's a beautiful place to be.   

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

About that list for the week...

There must be some sort of mischievous spirit who lurks around to-do lists, or napkins where the plans for the week or month or year are hastily scrawled down, or in the hidden wires of cyber space where bloggers share with optimism what they are hoping for in the days to come.

And it is here that cunning spirit delights in wreaking havoc.  Maybe adding a few things to the list in invisible ink that will magically appear when it's least convenient or expected.  Maybe shaking up said list so that it is indecipherable.  Or hiding the list so it can't be found when it's needed, whether the need is focus, inspiration or something else.

I know intellectually that my follow-through on Monday's list of aspirations has only to do with myself...that I've allowed myself to be side-tracked and diverted from the list of things I had hoped to accomplish this week.  There is really no one out there plotting against me, willing me to fail.  As I look back on that list, only made two days ago, I see that I've actually accomplished quite a bit of it.  And more, as I prepare to facilitate a staycation trip to China and also plan a Chinese New Year's feast here for family.  Oh, and spending time taking pictures and writing up ads to sell a few items we don't need anymore.  And trying to organize a friend and family get-together when we go on vacation.

What's weighing heavily on me are the two things that were on that list for me and me alone...taking a bit of time in the morning to do yoga and sewing a shirt for myself.  Oh, and while my kids have been outside, I haven't found time to get out myself.  Why should these things be so difficult to do when I'll be the one who will benefit from them?

When I peel back all the layers...the excuses, the blame, the defensiveness...I think the source of the foot-dragging is that I feel it will be hard.  It will be hard to reach down and see I can no longer touch my toes or hang out in downward dog comfortably.  It will be hard to try to sew a finicky knit shirt with a technique I've never tried before.  It's hard to make the effort to go outside into the dark night after everyone has gone to bed when it's bright and warm inside.  Maybe "hard" isn't the right word...maybe it's more like fear that I won't succeed in the way I'm used to succeeding.  Maybe it's more like I'm selling out for the road that is more comfortable and not even batting an eyelash on the road that leads to the unknown...the road I'll never see if I don't try.

And it's here that I go through all my "push through it" reminders...I will do a better job taking care of the little ones who live here when I take care of myself...I am in the awesome position to lead my children by example, and I have the power to choose the example do I want them to see...there is much to be learned from a person's mistakes...

So long, mischievous spirit.  I see you for what you really are.

Monday, 13 January 2014

This week...

This week we are...

... baking bread of all kinds from 200 Fast & Easy Artisan Breads.  Today is naan, tomorrow might be a boule.

... making sausage with my dad.

... pledging to be outside every day this week.  Today was a lovely day for snowshoeing, followed by fort-building.

... hoping to take the first steps of taking better care of myself by starting off the day with a 15-minute yoga practice.  I may even be able to practice in my own bedroom, now that there are only two of us in there.  So long dingy basement!

... updating the calendar for all the birthdays and anniversaries we need to keep track of so we aren't late sending our happy thoughts.  Can you believe it took us two years to discover we have nieces born on the same day?  Our only two nieces?!?

... going to finish off that shirt I started sewing this weekend.

... kicking off learning about the scientific process so we can do our own scientific investigation about birds.  Our resources came from one of Cornell's Bird Sleuth programs.

... reading, acting, and drawing wolves.

... sharing the love of handwork with the littlest one, with an intro to hand sewing with sewing cards, then working up to using some burlap and wool.

... doing lots of reading, singing, cuddling, and sipping tea while the kids recover from their colds.

Wishing you all a wonderful week!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Another way to get outside

We took a few days to get away during the holidays.  We chose to go to a place that had a small downhill ski hill, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails.  Some of us (Chris, Nicholas and Jaelyn) are very excited to experience flying down a hill on two pieces of fiberglass and others would prefer level ground (me and my sidekick Astrin).

To prepare for our trip, I rented a pair of cross country skis.  And eventually I had some time to go out and try them.  Not having skied since grade school, and only having a fuzzy recollection of the sport as seen during the Olympics, off I went into the wilderness on trails that hadn't been groomed for awhile.  Keep in mind that Olympians don't fall that often, so I didn't have anything in my mental toolbox for how to right myself once I found myself lying on my back staring at the blue sky above me.  It should be intuitive, but it wasn't.

So in love I fell with it that I ventured to ask the kids if they would like to try it to.  I was met with eager responses.  Before we knew it, I'd planned a few outings where we could give cross-country a pretty good workout.  We watched a couple of videos to give the kids some tips on the to-do's and not-to-do's.  I found one video that explained and demonstrated how to get up once you fall down (and here's one that showed what I did).  We were prepared.  We had gear.  It was time to head off to the trails.

We are so lucky to have groomed trails a mere block from our house, which was where we headed for our first excursion.  Unfortunately, the trails were blown.  Fortunately, a class was out learning how to ski and had made some paths for us to follow.  Also fortunately, my kids were willing to blaze their own trails.  We spend a little more than an hour getting used to the skis, the terrain, and just having fun out at the park.  I think the only one who was not happy was Astrin, who I was pulling behind me in our Chariot (we have a nifty ski attachment that makes it easy to pull her).  And I can imagine her frustration - it would be pretty boring to watch everyone else having all the fun.

The kids picked it up extremely quickly - so quickly, I have no pictures to share.  They were up from a fall amazingly fast and showed none of the beached whale maneuvers I displayed out in the woods.  And they moved incredibly fast too.  They were so thrilled with their first experience that we tried an evening ski too, which was great.

We only have the skis for another couple of days, so I hope to take them to some trails out-of-town tomorrow and perhaps another park in-town on the weekend.  Then I hope to see whether their enthusiasm has waned a bit or whether owning a set of our own is an option for us.

Whatever the future holds for us in terms of being owners, renters, borrowers, or something else, I'm glad we tried out something different together.  It's one more thing we can do to avoid the stir-craziness of a long winter.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Queen for a day

I can't believe that I was nervous about how the afternoon would unfold as we returned from our after-lunch jaunt outside.  I was feeling unsettled that there was absolutely nothing scheduled for the afternoon.  While Nicholas had mentioned some things he wanted to do, I had visions of my girls running wild through the house with every possible costume we owned clinging to them in some fashion, tearing apart the basement my husband had worked so hard to clean up, then proceeding to leave mayhem in their wake in every other room they visited.  It would have looked something like this:

And then my Jaelyn, the Queen of the Day, led our afternoon activities.  Queen of the Day, you ask?  It arose from my attempt to bring in our Monday with some festive cheer.  I told them several stories inspired by Three Kings Day, and then I baked a cake with a dry bean hidden in it.  Whoever found the bean in their piece of cake was declared King or Queen of the Day!  The newly minted royalty was given the responsibility to call the shots - in an innocent, fun sort of way - for the rest of the day.  Today the bean was found by Miss Jaelyn.

First she led us through some painting.  She received some Glob Paint for Christmas and has been waiting patiently to try it out.  At her command, we mixed the lovely-smelling pigments with water and painted what came to us...stormy water with a compass, abstract toddler art, and a garden scene graced our walls once they were done.

Then Queen Jaelyn brought up our Create-A-Story game.  I love this game, but I haven't pushed it on my kids and it's only been out a couple of times.  It provides all the elements of a story - characters, setting, plot, descriptive words, resolution and a lesson learned - and it's the writer's job to put all these seemingly unrelated items together into a coherent story.  We played storyteller for well over an hour.  While Nicholas and I didn't get to actually write our stories, I'm looking forward to incorporating his story elements into an introduction to free-writing in the next day or two.  Jaelyn's story was about a team of scuba divers who travelled to the ocean floor only to find a city there.  It's inhabitants wanted the divers to take them to the surface, but the divers refused.  This angered the beautiful sea queen, who trapped them with blue slime.  Thankfully, there was a gorilla still aboard the scuba divers' boat who had a crystal ball and saw that his friends were in trouble and rescued them.  Later, our heroine (Jaelyn) and the gorilla travelled somewhere else and found a treasure chest.  They returned to land and gave it to the mayor, who rewarded them with a million dollars.  During the mayor's announcement, onlookers made fun of the gorilla, but Jaelyn decided not to listen to those people because the gorilla was her best friend.   Love it!

After that...well, I think the girls did run amok.  But most of the costumes stayed in their home and those that were brought out were back in their places before bedtime.  Thanks to the command of our Queen of the Day.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Starting slowly

We have such grand plans for this winter...learning about the scientific process and putting together an experiment of our own using the bird feeders we're watching religiously...discovering the world of wolves...exploring the world (or just the city parks) on cross-country skis...stay-cationing in a few new-to-us countries to name a few.  Plus there are the usual suspects for this time of year...sending out thank-you notes, dreaming up next year's garden, planning for birthday parties and winter vacations.  All good stuff that we're very eager to dive into.

I learned from the fall, however, to start slow.  So this week is planned to be a week of transitions.  I'm easing us into earlier bedtimes and earlier wake-up times.  I'm reasserting a weekly and daily routine to guide our days.  Our mornings are set aside for school work and our afternoons are meant for learning away from books.  Monday and Thursday afternoons are dedicated to project time, Tuesdays are our chore and Club afternoons, Wednesdays will be our homeschool co-op, and we round out the week with Field Trip Fridays.  Our morning and afternoon is broken up by a trip outdoors, even in cold weather.

Two days in and some of our transition has been hit or miss, which I knew to expect.  I think the kids were happy to get back to their schoolwork.  Jaelyn was so eager to get back to it she pulled out her math book on Sunday and started working through problems.  And then chore day came and foot-dragging began.  Or a writing lesson surfaced and using the dictionary to find out whether words were spelled correctly was considered a most unreasonable strategy. 

I now realize that part of our transition has to do with my own relapse back to old habits.  Over the holidays, I fell away from using song to move us through our days.  No, song definitely does not feel natural and it takes an incredible amount of effort to remember words, melodies, and go through the physical act of singing through the day.  So my goal for the rest of the week will be to get reacquainted with those simple songs I still remember and learn a few more.  And while the kids are getting to bed earlier, I'm still up as late and struggling to be up in the morning before the kids, bleary-eyed and dull-headed when I do roll out of bed. 

Hmmm, I think that some of this list of things for me to improve is much like the one I wrote about in September.  Those old behaviours that are so ingrained in us are difficult to change.  Yet the reward for changing is worth it.  It's worth the effort to be the mama I want to be and model the way I would like my children to treat my grandchildren. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Creating in the new year

I didn't do much in the way of reflecting of the year gone by or dreaming of the future ahead of us like I did last year (it started here and went on for several days after that).  I did, however, request that each of our family members write down two things on New Year's Eve.  The first was what we wanted to leave behind in 2013 (which were thrown into the fire that evening) and the second was one thing we wanted to bring into our lives in 2014.  Those little pieces of paper are sitting in our kitchen right now, waiting for a home so we can glance at them occasionally and remember the one goal we set for ourselves this year.

My goal for 2014 was to do more creating with my hands.  Sure, I have done much creating over the past month, and in little bursts here and there before that.  And as much as I love making for others, I became gun-shy about making things for myself after attempting to make myself a tunic that looked more like a potato sack (likely the most beautiful potato sack I've ever seen, but not very flattering).  After that experience, I found an on-line sewing class on Craftsy dedicated exclusively to knits, and impulsively bought it.  And there it has sat, a mere click and password away.

Well, the weather turned frigid, the basement was begging to be cleaned out, and so while Chris did the hard work of sifting through boxes of stuff, I grabbed some jogging fleece from my stash (my contribution to reducing the volume of stuff in the basement) and started to sew.

In the span of an afternoon, a garment was made.  While it may only look like a utilitarian hoodie, it's warm and cozy, it fits just right, and it's something I'm proud of.

With one success under my belt and a bit more confidence, I'm off to sew up a long-sleeved V-neck t-shirt next.  Fingers crossed this one works out as well as the hoodie!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The holiday that was

I hope you had a wonderful, peaceful, loving holiday season surrounded by those who matter most to you.

As we find ourselves on the other side of the Christmas season, I think today was the first day of returning to "normal".  Not that it feels normal yet in the least.  I'm not sure any of us know what day of the week it is yet, and our home is still in a messy, unsettled state.  There are things to be put away, furniture to re-arrange now that our Christmas tree is put away, and likely some purging as we consider the items we've lost interest in or grown out of to make way for the new things that entered our lives.

While I haven't spent a lot of time reflecting on the year that was, I have spent a wee bit of time thinking about Christmas 2013.  I'm happy to say that it feels like we got it right this year, after 10 plus years of trying to figure it out.  Yes, that fine balance between too much and not enough has been elusive, on all fronts - presents, food, activities, family, friends...while I know we weren't perfect, and I suspect that the unpredictability of life will continue to make perfection elusive (which is perhaps a good thing), it did a feel good holiday nonetheless.

Yes, now is a good time to sit back and think about what to replicate next year so that we can work to get it "just right" in future years.  Indeed, perhaps some holiday magic can stick around for those times when life feels a little too stressful, and we're in need of some tricks to rebalance ourselves. 

I know I spent a lot more time planning this year.  Yes, I made lists of presents to be handmade and purchased before we'd even celebrated Hallowe'en.  I made menus and grocery lists weeks before the meals would actually be prepared and served.  There were lists of things to be packed to take to activities.  And also dreams and plans for the traditions we wanted to create for our little ones.  Now that I write it down and see it on paper, it looks crazy, and perhaps it is.  In the end though, it allowed me to be out of the "what are we going to do" frozen feeling of panic and in the "this is the plan, let's get it done" mindset of action.

I think I also chose projects that were reasonable to complete.  While I think every year has an "opus" present (last year it was farmyard wall hangings with handmade animals for the littlest ones, this year it was the felted cloche for my sister-in-law), this year the projects were easy - knit hats, crocheted chainmail hoods, freezer-paper stenciled t-shirts (instructions in The Creative Family), pajama bottoms, a cowl (instructions in The Rhythm of Family), hand-dyed playsilks (instructions in the kindergarten curriculum at Lavender's Blue Homeschool).  They were all things that I could make in the evenings, or enlist help with (the t-shirts and the playsilks come to mind).  And the mantra of "reasonable" worked its way into everything we did.  Yes, we've done baking every year, but two types of cookies were reasonable for this year.  Yes, we've made gift baskets in the past, but this year most of the items were canned in the summer.  Yes, we've brought potluck items to family celebrations in the past, but this year we relied on the ease of the slow-cooker or brought pantry staples like pickles or made recipes with ingredients we could source straight from our cold storage or freezer - tasty, simple food.

I think the From Hectic to Harmonious Holiday Challenge helped to on a subtle level too.  It forced me to be intentional about not only how we chose to spent our time, but the quality of our time together.  It was a daily reminder that presence in the moment, with an air of calm lingering over our activities was far more important than what we actually did together.  It was a reminder to walk through the days with grace, and to share peaceful experiences with my children.  I think that on some level, doing the Challenge opened up the space for me to let things go.  I think I learned how to truly let things go - how to resolutely come to the conclusion something was not going to happen or was not worth doing and then not giving it another thought.

So, there you have it...four learnings that can be applied to every day and achieving balance when things can quickly spiral out of control.  Devise a plan in advance, make the plan reasonable, and know that how you execute the plan is just as important as the plan itself.  If something on the plan just isn't fitting, let it go, and all will be well.

And with that, I'll be working out a plan for what homeschooling will look like in our house this winter.  Happy 2014 everyone!