Friday, 28 December 2012

A week in pictures

The Solstice spiral Jaelyn and I made
Adding a bit of light to the world
A lantern walk on a cold winter night
Relaxing at the end of a fun-filled day
Writing a note to Santa
A witch and monster come to visit
A scary monster at the haunted house!  Help!

I hope you and yours enjoyed some holiday goodness.  Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Gift of time

My husband's family - his parents, grandmother, aunt and his brother's family - have been practicing "the gift of time" for the last six holiday seasons.  It is a time where each family group picks an activity to share with the others in lieu of tangible gifts for the adults. 

This year, snowshoeing, bowling and making paper snowflakes were the activities that were shared.  In past years, we've gone tobogganing, learned how to dance, practiced yoga, played board games, painted, and others.  It is a nice time to enjoy precious moments with the little nephews and niece who live so far away, as well as time in a smaller setting with the adults.  Four generations play together, laugh together, enjoy one another.

We also prepare supper together based on a cuisine picked by one of the family groups.  This year Greek was chosen, and we all were grateful to eat such delicious food with such wonderful company, and that there was plenty for all.

I'll be taking a break from this space to fully enjoy the holiday moments with our families.  We wish you a peaceful, love-filled holiday season filled with many soul-satisfying, joyous moments.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Solstice lantern

Last year, we attended the Solstice celebration organized by our local Waldorf-inspired school.  We loved the solstice spiral and all it represents.  We will not be able to attend the school's celebration so we will be creating our own special, quiet celebration in our backyard on December 21.

The solstice spiral represents several things to me.  First, it represents the return of the light on this longest night of the year.  Second, and perhaps more profound, is that it represents the light within each one of us and how it can glow and bring warmth to those we touch.

We started preparations today by making felt solstice lanterns.  I found this project in the Fall 2011 issue of Living Crafts magazine.  I found this to be a challenging project to make with little ones - I don't think I would try it with someone younger than Nicholas, unless I knew what I was doing (which I didn't).  But we did learn a couple things along the way.  Some were practical learnings - like that the lanterns felted better when all the wool roving went up-and-down as opposed to horizontal and vertical, and exactly how thin a layer of wool was needed to start off with.  We learned little life lessons too - like not giving up, patience, trying again if it didn't work out the way it was supposed to.

Monday, 17 December 2012


Today was a quiet day at our house.  We all needed some space to recover from a few too many late nights in a row.  While that didn't exactly mean sleeping in for all, it did mean some quieter activities in our house, which I think is just the balance we need before the coming days of visiting with some special people and all the excitement that comes with the season.  Quiet also gave me some emotional space that I need, as I find my heart heavy and my thoughts linger on those little ones and their families in Connecticut.

What did quiet mean for us today?

  ~ the camera stayed put away today
  ~ shaving beeswax while Astrin gathered it in a measuring cup
  ~ teaching Nicholas and Jaelyn the basics of needle-felting
  ~ serving leftovers for lunch and supper
  ~ an after-supper walk in the brisk wintery darkness
  ~ playing Christmas carols on the piano while the children dried the dishes in harmony

Wishing you a quiet, soulful countdown in this last week before Christmas.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sharing day

Today was the last allowance day of 2012.  And what a lengthy allowance day it was.  It was a day for sorting coins, counting change, trading up those coins for paper money, and doing some sharing.

My children get their allowance twice a month.  There is nothing tied to this allowance - they do not need to do their chores, "be good", or anything else.  And while most of their allowance money is theirs to spend, we expect them to set aside a small amount for saving and another small amount for sharing with others.  If they receive money through the year, they are also asked to consider what amount of it will be reserved for saving and sharing.

The saving amount is "for a rainy day", and hopefully the rainy day comes when they no longer need to do paid work to support themselves financially.  Ideally, they will continue this practice when they get older and will (relatively) quickly set aside enough money to live off the interest or dividends of their investments.  Today, to encourage that practice, we counted up their savings and made sure it got into their bank accounts.

Then we talked about the sharing money they collected through the year.  Each of the children had an opportunity to consider what cause they would like to help and my husband and I matched their donation.  We started this practice when they were relatively young, when they really didn't know what a charitable organization was. To make it easier for them, we asked if they would like to help people, animals or the Earth.  From there, we would ask more probing questions (would you like to help people who are sick?  Who can't find a home?  Who can't afford food?  What kind of animal would you like to help?).  Then, we could offer suggestions and take them to websites to see what would be a suitable match.

I should also be quick to mention that this doesn't necessarily always happen at the end of the year.  If we run across a fundraising initiative that the children are interested in supporting, we'll happily open our sharing jars.  We do, though, traditionally do larger donations during the holiday season and this year kept with that tradition.

Lastly, my husband and I selected several organizations that we would like to support.  We find it important to also do these actions that we encourage of the children.  There are so many charities that do such wonderful work.  We had quite a deep discussion about where our support could be used most...local organizations, particularly those that don't have the large budget for advertising or aren't the media darlings, despite the tremendous work they do...strong national or international organizations that can advocate from a position of strength for environmental concerns...helping those who are victimized in war-torn countries...

While I know that our tokens of support are small in the scheme of things, I cling to the hope that small actions can make the world a better place, and that we can encourage three kind-hearted, generous souls to believe sharing with others is deeply meaningful.

Friday, 14 December 2012

A week in pictures

Reciting poetry at our homeschool co-op holiday variety show
Re-enacting a scene from the War of 1812, take 1
Mixing holiday concoctions
Baking bliss
Pizza helper
As I was creating this post, I learned of the tragic events in Connecticut today.  My thoughts and prayers are with those impacted most on this sad, sad day.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The final frontier

Now that the mitts are safely under the tree, I'm on to the last labour-intensive project.  We have two wee ones in our extended family and I'm making them each a barnyard wall-hanging with knitted animals. This gift is inspired by a project in Creative Play for Your Baby.

I've been knitting animals off and on between other projects, and I'm almost done felting the little chicks - hooray!  To be honest, I needed a break from knitting, so I started on laying out the barnyard scene on paper yesterday.  Today the big box of felt made its way upstairs and I've been chopping it to pieces all night.  I suspect I'll be sewing it up on the weekend - how exciting!

Each barnyard contains:
  • 1 hen
  • 2 sheep
  • 3 pigs
  • 4 people
  • 5 chicks
Later on, ducks can be added to the pond and vegetables can be added to the garden next to the house.

I've created the barnyard animals themselves to encourage parent-child interaction.  So many stories and songs can be shared using the animals - the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Hen, 5 Little Chicks, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Mary Had a Little Lamb...  The animals can also be counted and sorted.  Lastly, each animal has its own little home to make clean-up time a little easier. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Adventures in knitting

Ooh, this post has been a long time coming.  I'm even embarrassed that it is so late in the evening that I write this.  But, I'm happy to say that one more item will be under the Christmas tree tomorrow morning (bringing the grand total up to three).  I'm pretty sure the receiver of this gift won't be poking his nose around here, so I feel safe to share.

A while back, Nicholas and I were flipping through Taproot - Issue 3 :: Retreat together and we stumbled across the pattern for some mittens.  He mentioned that he liked them and would like to try making them sometime.  So, seeing as I would likely be the one teaching him, and suspecting that other things will likely distract him from making them, I set out to make them for him.

Feeling a little cocky from my elevated knitting status (I think I promoted myself from beginner to novice a couple of months ago), I decided to make an attempt at using double pointed needles to knit in the round.  The YouTube tutorial made it look easy enough, so I tried to dive right in.  And I found a wonderful tutorial to help me with making the thumbhole.

Well, I now know that I am firmly entrenched in "novice" mode.  As I was knitting the first mitten, I remember comparing the extra needles as mosquitoes buzzing around my hands as I tried to work.  As I worked the thumb, those extra needles became gossipy women getting in the way of my work, as they clanged together and simply felt like a nuisance.  I made mistakes that I haven't made since I knit Nicholas' baby boots ten years ago, and was authentically wondering how in the world those mistakes happened.  But now the mittens are done and ready to be wrapped and placed lovingly under the tree.

The mitts are by no means perfect.  In fact, it is quite easy to tell which mitten was knit first, as I was learning the ways of knitting in the round, and which came after I'd dealt with all the learning curve aches and pains.  But I intend to keep them as they are for now.  I would like Nicholas to see what can happen with practice - how one can learn and grow by leaps and bounds by being okay with mistakes, and practicing until it feels (almost) as natural as breathing.  Having a real, tangible, touchable example of learning through practice is actually quite a significant gift in itself.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Silky smooth

Today all of us were in the elving spirit.  Nicholas made some trail mix for his Scout leaders.  Jaelyn and Astrin drew some pictures.  And we all worked together so make some excellent body care items for our loved ones.

All the recipes we're using came from Action Pack:  The Family Apothecary Issue.  While I don't want to spill the beans, as family might be checking in here from time-to-time, I can say that our kitchen smells wonderful and our hands are soft and silky smooth.  We've made three recipes so far, and have had to do a bit of re-melting to get our goodies to the right consistency, but I think that is simply a matter of us learning how packed our solid ingredients need to be to ensure the right mix.  I think we'll be experimenting more in the days ahead to make other delightful items for ourselves and others.  And I think the recipes in this issue will come in handy for Nature Club when we start up our formal activities in January

We were able to pick up all the ingredients we needed for the recipes from our local health food store, who happen to sell an amazing assortment of herbs, dried flowers, butters, and oils.  We are so lucky to have them here!  I was a little worried of what we would do for items that needed to be poured into containers smaller than a half-pint jar, and wound up finding some aluminum tins with plastic or glass lids from our local craft supply wholesaler.  The tins are marketed for storing beads, but they worked just fine for our purposes.  There are also tins that can be bought on Etsy, but we were under a tight timeline and couldn't wait for them to ship here.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Painting day

We enjoyed a very intimate and special holiday variety show with the friends and family of our homeschooling co-op.  I think this is the first holiday concert I've been to where I want to weep with happiness.

Our co-op did a short skit loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on The Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett.  Each child chose what animal they would be and was responsible for putting together a costume.  One of the mama's narrated the story while the children acted it out.  Then, each child could perform anything of their choice, if they were so inclined.  We had dancing, violin, drums, singing, a poetry recitation...a true variety show!  After, we shared treats, tea and juice, chatted, and further strengthened the bonds of our small but amazing community.

When the concept of what we would do as a group really started to materialize, Nicholas was less than enthusiastic.  One of the other mama's in our group picked up on that and suggested he do some set design.  Then, of course, Nicholas got very intensely involved in designing and constructing his costume, so the set was pushed to the wayside.  Then, Friday began, he was satisfied with his costume, and both he and Jaelyn were excited to start on the set.

I found a sheet at the thrift store and laid it out on the basement floor, and they gathered all their painting supplies.  After that, my sole job was to keep Astrin and the dog out of the basement.  We accomplished that by taping some kraft paper out on the table so that Astrin could paint to.  I, meanwhile, drew some tree pictures that would eventually be stencils for another paint on fabric project.  These trees were intended to hide the kids while they waited for their turn to go on stage, and will later become temporary walls in our basement studio.  The project came out of Imagine Childhood by Sarah Olmsted.

Here's how it all came together (well, how half of it came together):

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Holiday mantra

It's funny how when you read something that inspires, intellectually at least, you often get an opportunity to practice that lesson in the real world shortly after.  Such an experience just occurred here over the last couple of days.

I love reading Amanda Blake Soule's blog, SouleMama.  Yesterday's post had a link to a post she had written about a year ago about making the holiday season simple and special.  My take-away from that post was that my children, and grown-ups for that matter, can sense the vibe I'm giving off and I need to be mindful of what that vibe is.  Am I being short and snappy with people because I've got too much going on and feeling the pressure of it that I don't realize the impact of my attitude?  Are there things that I think are must-dos but really wouldn't be noticed if I didn't do them?  What is the payoff that I'm getting for sacrificing the joy of the season.  What am I teaching my children by my behaviour?

So now, in the late hours of the evening, I'm sitting back and contemplating where I'm at.  Yes, I need some more rest.  I don't feel that awful churning in my gut that the list is too long or the pressure is too much (and I know that feeling well from past years).  I think we are pretty well balanced right now.  And I will need to keep being mindful in the days ahead to make sure this season of elving, festivities, family, friends and fun is still as magical as I would like it to be for those I love so much.

Yes, I think simple and special will be the mantra here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Remembering Christmas trees

We celebrated my birthday last night by decorating the Christmas tree.  In fact, the whole day had some sort of Christmas connection to it - gathering what we needed for our December science projects (which just happen to be gifts for our extended family and goodies for all), writing letters to Santa, and more costume-making.

But back to the tree.  As we decorated, each of us was taken back to a Christmas past.  My husband and I have an "Our First Christmas" decoration that we hang together, and that was a gift after we were married.  I asked him if he even remembered our first Christmas after we were married.  He could at least remember where we put the tree - I couldn't even remember that. 

But I do recall the first Christmas we celebrated together in our own place...and how we realized that our Christmas tree was actually a fire hazard in disguise.  I also remembered one of our puppy's (Boomer's) first Christmas, and how he ate the glass ornaments after knocking them off the tree with his tail.  We've never had to child-proof a tree like we did for that dog!

I also remembered, as I watched the little ones put all the one-of-a-kind decorations on, how I had loathed homemade, uncoordinated decorations in my younger years.  I wondered how in the world my parents could keep putting them on the tree year after year.  Now I know the satisfaction that comes from a tree that is unique to my family, their passions and their experiences. 

My son was taken back to a Christmas two years ago, as he pulled out the decorations dedicated to our four-legged friends.  You see, two years ago our other dog, Moose, became seriously ill very suddenly and it became apparent to us that he would need to be put down.  It was on Christmas Eve, and was a very sad day for us instead of the joyous one we were all looking forward to.  When Nicholas pulled out the Moose decorations, the memories of that beautiful dog came back to him.  All the kisses he so generously gave to anyone who walked in the door.  How we miss those kisses.  Whether Moose is happy now that he's crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  Whether we'll wait on the bridge for Nicholas when we pass.

Such deep thoughts for such a little one.  We try our best to comfort him and answer his questions, and we don't always know the answers.  We can only simply come to terms with the fact that our holiday season will be a bit about celebrating the return of the light, and a bit about honouring those who have passed before us.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Getting ready to count down

As we turned the calendar to December, our thoughts have moved ahead to Christmas.  Talk of activities and events, traditions and food has been echoing through the halls.  It's a great time of year!

While we aren't a religious family, I do like the idea of counting down to Christmas Day in a meaningful way. I'm not sold on the chocolate advent calendars I see at the grocery store, and I didn't have time to make an advent calendar with little surprises hidden behind doors and windows or in little pockets (though I would like to one day - maybe for grandchildren).  So, we're starting a new tradition with something that is doable for us.  We'll be reading new-to-us Christmas stories before bedtime every night until Christmas arrives.

So, what's sitting on the ottoman waiting for us these frosty winter evenings?  I found a book while we were on our summer vacation - Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories by L.M. Montgomery.  I also picked up a book at the library that looks promising - An Atlantic Canadian Christmas Reader:  Stories and Traditions by various authors.  And then there's the stack of other books that only come out at Christmas time.

How are you counting down to Christmas?


Friday, 30 November 2012

A week in pictures

Checking out the milking cows at Agribition
Digging trenches
A tea party
Snow angels
Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A designer is born

Yesterday, our homeschooling co-op put the rest of the structure around the holiday skit we will be sharing with friends and family.  We will be offering an interpretation of Jan Brett's The Trouble with Trolls.  However, we will be exchanging the trolls for various creatures.  The children will be preparing their own costumes and props and we'll be gathering together one last time for a dress rehearsal before the big night.

As you may have guessed, Nicholas has decided he would like to be an owl.  And, some of you may know that he is very detailed and craves a realistic interpretation of the things around him, owl costume included.  So, there would be no cardboard wings or paper plate masks for him.  He's taking to designing his owl costume and has set his sights on sewing it himself.

We found some large paper in the basement and he drew the general layout of how his costume would look.  We talked about the need for seam allowances.  We talked about considerations when taking a two-dimensional object (the pattern) and making it three-dimensional (the finished piece).  We talked about how the fabric might fray and how the fabric choice needs to be considered in the design.  We talked about the weight of different materials and how weight impacts how the fabric will hang and the finished garment will look (and how hot it will be underneath).  He was very open to hearing about what he would need to consider and problem-solving.

He has settled on constructing wings, a full head mask, talons for his feet, and a tail.  All the pattern pieces are cut out and some of the fabric has been cut too.  Tomorrow we'll work to squeeze in a little sewing time.  What an exciting time!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Baby chicks

I'm planning to make barnyard wall hangings for the two littlest ones in our extended family.  I first attempted this project last Christmas for my nephew, who is a few months older than Astrin.  The project was inspired from Creative Play for your Baby, which is an extremely rare find I happened to track down in our provincial library system.

One of the barnyard animals I made last year was a pom-pom baby chick.  It was constructed simply by making two pom-poms out of yellow yarn and sewing them together.  I discovered, however, that this wasn't the most sturdy chick for a soon-to-be toddler.  This year, I set out to find another way to create a sturdy, yet natural and lovable (and recognizable) baby chick.  I think this year's attempt is a winner too, as everyone I flashed it in front of could identify it as a bird of some kind (some said "canary", others said a "chick", and Astrin herself called it a "hen").  Here's a quick tutorial:

Materials needed:
  • Yellow wool rovings
  • Large bowl with dishwashing soap and warm water
  • Felting needle
  • Sponge
  • Optional:  black or blue wool rovings (for eyes) 
How to do it:

1.  To make the body:
  • Take a handful of the yellow wool rovings and wrap it tightly into ball form
  • Dip the wool ball into the bowl with dishwashing soap and water
  • Roll the wet wool ball in your hands, applying gentle but steady pressure.  Think of the action you use to roll play dough into a ball.  As the wool ball cools, dip it in the water and continue to roll it until a ball forms to your desired firmness.
  • Wrap additional wool around the ball, if necessary, to achieve the proper size.  Something about the size of a ping-pong ball is good.
  • Let the ball dry (likely overnight)
  • You could likely needle-felt the body, I just chose to go with what I knew for my first attempt!
2.  To make the head:
  • Take a slightly smaller handful of yellow wool rovings and wrap it tightly into ball form
  • Select where the head will be placed and start to needle-felt the head into place, starting with the neck.  Use the sponge as a base for your work, so that you can pierce through the head and not damage the counter-top or table underneath.  Experiment with using different angles when using your felting needle.
  • One the head is attached, needle felt around the rest of the head to shape it more and make it firmer.
  • Select where the beak will be.  Place the beak position against the sponge and concentrate your needle-felting on this spot.  Consider felting on both sides, as well as the top and bottom of the beak, to give it further definition.
  • Optional:  Take a very small amount of black or blue wool rovings and wrap them tightly into a ball.  Put the ball into the eye position and needle-felt the ball in place.
3.  To make the tail:
  • Take a small handful of yellow wool rovings and wrap it into a tight ball, square or triangle - either of these will work.
  • Select where the tail will be placed and start to needle-felt the tail into place, similar to how you attached the head to the body.
  • Use different angles with both the needle and the tail on the sponge to create a pointed tail.

And you're done!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Runs and sets

To carry on with the card-playing post from yesterday, I'd like to share another card game that is near and dear to my heart.  Runs and Sets is a game I learned to play at my grandparents' house, and was a ritual every time we visited.  Now that both my grandparents have passed on, and visits with my own parents are not all-weekend affairs (we simply do a 10-minute drive home to tuck children into bed), it is a very rare treat indeed that we play Runs and Sets.  I hope to get a couple of games in this holiday season, though, and perhaps your family would like to try it out too.  Here's how to play:

What is involved:

  • The game works best with at least 3 players.
  • Have one deck of cards for every two players - round up if you have an odd number of players.  So, if you have 4 players, you need two decks.  If you have 5 players, you need 3 decks.  Remove jokers.
  • Paper and pencil for keeping score
  • Optional:  Each player chips in 15 cents to the pot.  

How to play:

  • There are 7 rounds in this game, involving different combinations of runs and sets:
    • Round 1:  2 Sets
    • Round 2:  1 Set, 1 Run
    • Round 3:  2 Runs
    • Round 4:  2 Sets, 1 Run
    • Round 5:  1 Set, 2 Runs
    • Round 6:  3 Sets
    • Round 7:  3 Runs
  • All players are trying to put together the combination of cards for the same round - sets are at least 3 cards with the same number; runs are at least 4 cards in a row of the same suit.
  • Each player is dealt 11 cards for every round.  Then the top card from the deck is turned up (start of the discard pile).
  • Each player takes turns (clockwise) and can either take the card from the deck or from the discard pile.
  • If a player would like a card that is discarded, but it is not his/her turn, it may be bought.  To buy a card, the player declares they would like to buy.  If no other player before them wants the card, the player takes the top discard card, plus 2 cards off the deck.  2 buys are allowed per round - the maximum number of cards a player can hold in one round is 17.  Once the round is done, the number of buys resets, and all players can buy twice in the next and all subsequent rounds.
  • Once a player has completed the combination, the cards in the combination are laid down in the space in front of the player.  So, if the combination is 2 sets, both sets must be laid down.  Then the player can add to other players' laid-down combinations.  
  • A player cannot lay down more than what is required in the combination.  For example, if a player has gathered 3 sets, but the requirement is only 2 sets, only 2 sets can be laid down.
  • There are no wild cards.
  • Play continues until a player can go out without putting a card in the discard pile - the last card in the player's hand must be laid on a player's laid-down combination.  This often means that a player is holding a "play card" (a card that plays somewhere on the table) and must draw a play card.  While the player is holding a play card they are "on the pot".  This must be announced by the player.
  • A play card can not be discarded, even if the player has not laid down.  It must be held in the player's hand until he/she can lay down, or the card is no longer a play card (i.e. someone else played the play card).
  • When a player goes out, all others must count the points in their hand.  Face cards are worth 10, all others are worth their number value.  Aces are low and worth 1 point.  If you are playing with money, the player who went out gets 5 cents.
  • Play then moves to the next round.  For example, once round 1 is done, all players would then move on to round 2, even if they did not lay down.
  • At the end of the game, the player with the lowest number of points wins (and gets what is left of the money - the pot).
I hope that's clear.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Enjoy!

Monday, 26 November 2012


After having my husband unexpectedly home for most of last week, combined with a seemingly endless number of errands to be run, I found myself waking up to today a little disoriented.  Nothing on the calendar.  No field trips planned.  A week that is pretty much an empty slate. 

I was also expecting the children to sleep a little later than normal.  After a sleepover this weekend and a late night watching the last CFL game of the season, I thought they would be loving the chance to catch up on some much-needed rest.  So, imagine my surprise when everyone was up at about the same time!  A little grumpy, a little restless, a little mischievous.  And me a little groggy.

We got into our groove this afternoon.  After finishing up our little bit of schoolwork and reading about Zeus, we settled in to some games.  The old-fashioned kind.  We played Sorry and then we played a new, homemade favorite, which was a gift a couple of years ago.  It's a card game called Sticks

Sticks is aptly named, as the game is simply a few decks of cards and a bag full of sticks.  Each stick has instructions describing what you will be collecting for the hand - examples are 2 sets of 5; the ace, king, queen of hearts; 4 runs of 3.  If you can collect what is on your stick, you lay down and then try to get rid of the rest of your cards by laying down other runs or sets of 3 or more, or adding on to runs and sets laid down by others.  If you can't you try again the next hand (and the next and the next) until you get it.

It's a fun game that works best with three or more people, and usually with those with larger hands to hold all those cards (each player is dealt 15 cards to begin with!)  That being said, Jaelyn's little 6-year-old hands are more than capable of playing - she just puts the cards she no longer needs face-down on the table until she is ready to show what was on her stick.