Saturday, 29 September 2012


There was no "week in pictures" yesterday.  Partly because my busy day didn't end until the wee hours of the morning.  Partly because there weren't too many pictures taken last week.  And when there were moments that made us smile, I reached into my bag, only to discover the camera was at home.  The best "moment" was yesterday, ironically.  Yesterday was the day that massive amounts of leaves started to fall from the trees.  As I walked down a tree-canopied sidewalk and the children ran ahead, I noticed the leaves blowing and swirling around them.  It looked like it was snowing leaves.  It was beautiful.  I'm thankful I was living in the moment enough to see it.

For the rest of the week, my mind has been elsewhere.  The school my children attended is celebrating it's 100th anniversary and I was on the planning committee long before we had even considered homeschooling.  It didn't seem right to leave the committee with only a month until its most labour-intensive event - a 3-day festival.  So, last week, we spent a lot of time doing festival things - shopping for food and supplies, picking up cash for our cashier tills, making signs, organizing volunteers.  There were times when my children grumbled, and I don't blame them.  A big box store isn't the most exciting place to be when one is little.  Cutting out letters for hours can get tiresome.  Asking a Mama questions that she doesn't hear because she's deep in thought or on the phone or cutting vegetables madly and doesn't want to lose a finger is discouraging.

I think, though, that some of the effort the children saw me putting in rubbed off on them.  They wanted to volunteer and help too.  They moved tables and chairs.  They kept an eye on the box that held supplies I was responsible for.  They handed out food at a barbeque.  They were awesome and always asking what they could do to help.  I'm so thankful for such a supportive family.

A person asked me what I would be doing with my time now that the festival, or at least my role in it, was almost over.  I hadn't even thought about it.  I'm looking forward to more time spent with my children outdoors before the weather turns cold.  I'm looking forward to finishing up that Halloween costume that was started a week ago and starting on some other projects.  Perhaps that basement will get clean!

Part of me, however, is a little melancholy now that the work is almost done.  I've had an opportunity to work with some really wonderful people, and I know that I will see much less of them than I did while working on this project.  At the same time, I look forward to meeting new people in the local homeschooling community and building new relationships.  And enjoying more time with these amazing children of mine! 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Club Day. The Nature Version.

I, and I believe the Nature Clubbers too, had a marvelous afternoon together.  With Thanksgiving coming up, it just seemed right that we make corn husk dolls.  The children also had the opportunity to make a corn dolly, if they chose to.  Two, both boys, took me up on that one, which surprised me a bit.

I found that reading a story helped to ground the group before we started the craft.  Some chose not to have a snack, so to pass the time while waiting for everyone to be at the same place and ready for our craft, I read a story, A Pioneer Thanksgiving, about the upcoming holiday.  To get them hooked, I announced it was about my favorite holiday.  After hearing guesses of Hallowe'en and Christmas a couple of times, one finally shouted out Thanksgiving and we were off.  The room suddenly got quiet as the children still snacking listened in.

Once everyone was ready to craft, we put on our shoes and headed outside.  Each child got to pick their own ear of corn.  I showed them how to pick the corn first, and then they waded into our two-row deep patch and found the ear of their liking.  Next, we went to the patio table and I showed them how to carefully husk the corn, leaving all the husks intact for the craft.  Then, I asked the children if they knew how to tie knots.  For those who didn't I worked with them to learn how to tie one.  Finally, we went step-by-step through making the doll.  I was worried that I would actually end up making each of their dolls for them, but the pre-practice of tying knots really helped out.  Our dolls were based on a tutorial I found at the TeachersFirst website.

As we worked, we talked about the First Nations and first pioneers and their ability to use everything they harvested, including the corn" husks for dolls.  When we moved on to the corn dolly, I told them about the tradition or superstition of making the decoration out of the last of the harvest, and then tilling the decoration into the soil when planting the next harvest, with the hopes that the harvest would be bountiful. 

In the end, we had some lovely girl and boy corn husk dolls.  The children took home the corn they picked too.

The idea for making corn dollies came from the book All Year Round.  While they are called "corn dollies", I discovered that they were traditionally made from wheat.  You would think that living in the heart of the prairies would mean a plethora of wheat all around me, but I didn't have any, and most in this area was likely harvested already.  So, I improvised and used corn tops instead.  To make sure it would work, I experimented before the Club met.  From my experiments I learned that:

  ~ I needed to make sure to soak all the way up to where the stem meets the tops.
  ~ I needed to gently press the stalks between my fingers to break down the cellulose.  This would reduce the amount of splintering when braiding the stalks.
  ~ I needed to break off all the tassel top branches, except the middle one for an uncluttered-looking dolly
  ~ I needed a longer stalk if I wanted to do any of the more intricate designs, like hearts or loops.

Before my two Clubbers started on their dollies, I asked them if they knew how to braid.  One didn't, so we did a test drive with string.  He picked it up so quickly. It took us no time to finish them.  Well, actually, I didn't finish mine, unfortunately, because I needed to attend to my littlest one.  But there's enough corn still out there for me to try again.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

What's the use of handwriting?

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I wondered what relevancy teaching handwriting would be in this day and age.  I have now found the answer.  If one cannot read handwriting, one cannot make scrumptious recipes for things like zapple crisp, Thanksgiving rice dressing, or pumpkin pie.  That's because all those recipes are hand-me-downs that have been written on recipe cards.

We received a rather large zucchini from our CSA farmer.  We decided as a family it would be destined to some sort of dessert.  We were limited, though, by what we had on hand.  No chocolate chips for chocolate chip zucchini muffins.  No desire to mess around cutting up maraschino cherries for a cherry zucchini loaf.  But we did have lots of rolled oats on hand.  So we decided to make zapple crisp.  For those uninitiated, zapple crisp is pretty much like apple crisp, except there is zucchini in it instead of apples.  It's a great way to use up zucchini in a new and interesting way that everyone will love.

Nicholas decided to lead this project, knowing that the dish at the end of the rainbow was yummy-delicious.  So, I dug out the recipe from the recipe box and asked him to gather up the ingredients.  Shortly after, I heard grumbling from his part of the kitchen.

"Mom, this is handwriting.  I can't read it," was his response when I asked what was wrong.

So, we looked at it together, line by line.  It turns out that some of it was hard to read, either due to my handwriting style (why do "e" and "r" and "u" and "i" and "l" all look the same?) or because the recipe was well-splattered from repeated use.  Oh, and it was written with green pen, which hasn't aged so well.  And I had written abbreviations he hadn't seen before ("what does 'c.' mean, Mama?)  But when we went through it slowly, together, it started to make sense to him.

Once the zapple crisp was prepared and in the oven, Nicholas sat back.  "You know Mom," he started.  "You should re-write all of your recipes in printing.  Or at least print anything new you add." 

I smiled sweetly at him.  "You know Nicholas," I replied.  "I can write faster than I can print, so I think I'll keep on writing."  And, fingers crossed, here's hoping he'll keep on cooking so he can keep on learning!

Here's the recipe for zapple crisp:


  • 6 cups zucchini - peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/4" slices
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch or tapioca starch
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter or coconut oil

Method of madness:

  1. Lightly oil a 9" baking dish.  Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Simmer zucchini and lemon juice in medium-sized pan for about 15 minutes, until zucchini is soft.
  3. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Remove a few tablespoons of liquid from the zucchini mixture.  Dissolve cornstarch in liquid.  When no lumps remain, return the liquid to the zucchini mixture and stir.  Move zucchini mixture to the baking dish.
  5. Mix oats with remaining brown sugar, salt and butter until the mixture becomes crumbly.
  6. Spread the oat mixture over the zucchini and bake for 20 minutes or until brown on top.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Club Day. The Birds of Prey Version

Today's theme shifted in a different direction than we've had in the past.  Our first meetings started out with learning about birds of prey while combining art.  This meeting, and I expect the next few, started to explore animal symbolism throughout the world.  To start us off on this path, we made raptor masks that were inspired by the Pacific Northwest First Nations people.

This one took a bit of research.  I was fortunate to find a book at the library, First Nations Art Projects and Activities, which can be ordered from the Greater Victoria School District.  It provided templates for us to use and a guideline for how to introduce the project.  It also provided some inspiration for several future projects!  To supplement the book, I went online to find pictures of eagle and owl masks and I printed the out to show to the club.  Lastly, I did a bit of digging to find out the symbolism that various cultures attached to birds of prey.  I found a few really great sites:
  • All Totems has explanations of totems for most of the birds of prey we've looked at, then goes on to discuss each bird's symbolism for various cultures. 
  • Owl Pages is great site for reading about the symbolism of owls from literally every corner of the globe.
Once everyone was settled, I very briefly went over an introduction.  I mentioned that masks were used by Pacific Northwest First Nations in dances and ceremonies, and that often there was meaning and symbolism behind the animals the masks depicted.  As an example, I explained that owls could mean wisdom or death to the First Nations culture.  In other parts of the world, owls were associated with wizards.

I described how to do the project and gave them options (they could colour and cut out the templates provided, they could make their own, they could decide if they wanted eyeholes or not, and so on), and then let them just go to it.  Because some of the colouring and cutting was intricate, it took them some time, and some lost interest.  For those done early, I offered some books (also courtesy of the library), that had story lines that revolved around First Nations, owls and eagles.  Some declined, some enjoyed, and I hope all left happy!


Monday, 24 September 2012

Goodness from the farm

 Today was a pretty relaxed day, compared to the last week.  We took out the remainder of the produce from our community garden, which was mainly digging up potatoes - a perfect treasure hunt activity for children!  Nicholas made another zapple crisp to share with a friend at supper and I worked on sorting the good sunflower seeds from the grit and other stuff that was pulled out when harvesting the seeds on the weekend.  And, I prepared brussel sprouts for supper, which is kind of like a labour of love around here.

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be writing about brussel sprouts, I would have laughed myself silly.  I hated brussel sprouts and would likely have only one mean word to write about them.  That is, until I actually tasted them fresh from the organic farm we have our CSA share with.  And today, I mused over how much has changed over the past 10 years as I went about cleaning this year's batch.

I thought back to that first year we received them from the farm, about 4 years ago.  It was around Thanksgiving, and Chris had just brought all that fresh farm produce in.  I looked at these long stocks with green balls all over it - kind of like what I imagine jingle bells are, but green - and grimaced. 

"Why did you get those?" I asked. 

"Because I like them,"  he replied, not knowing that my tastebuds were already rebelling.  I found this hard to believe, because he had never in all our years together attempted to bring them into our house.  Nevertheless, we would need to eat them now.

Yes, I remembered what they tasted like when my parents cooked the store-bought frozen ones.  I also remembered that cheese sauce might cover up most of the taste.  But there was no way I was making the Cheez Whiz kind now that we'd weaned ourselves off of most industrial food.  So, I made a vegan cheese sauce, spent hours cleaning those little cabbages (they were so wormy), and prepared for the worse.

It was my Green Eggs and Ham moment.  I closed my eyes tight, bravely opened my mouth, and took a bite. And say, they were good!  Even without all the cheese sauce!  So good, I raved about them to our farmer that night.

I wondered if my tastebuds had just matured, or if it was truly farm-fresh stuff that was behind this sudden and unexpected change.  So, we bought some frozen ones from the store, gleefully skipped the cleaning part, whipped up a batch of that cheese sauce (just in case), and tried again.  Thank goodness for the cheese sauce!  These things tasted nothing like what we had experienced just months before.

The next year was too wet at the farm and they didn't grow, much to our disappointment.  The year after that, they were so wormy I couldn't make a full meal out of them.  The cleaning was time consuming, and it seemed that most times the worms got all the way to the core, leaving me with nothing but a big pile of unusable sprouts and a bit of disappointment.

This year, Chris brought them home again - two stocks.  He, Astrin and Jaelyn busied themselves with taking them off the stocks so we could fit them in the fridge.  I sighed, wondering how much time it would take to clean them this year.  And today, I discovered it wouldn't take that much time at all!  The sprouts were big and fat and they weren't too wormy at all!  They tasted as lovely as that first time. 

Now, I reflect on the seasonality of our food.  Eating in season just tastes better.  The anticipation of what will be coming out of the garden next makes the changing seasons so much more enjoyable.  It heightens my awareness of those subtle changes.  It reminds me that our Earth has so much to offer us, if we are just gentle enough to tread lightly.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The boycott ends

As I got more and more frustrated with the extreme number of things in our smaller dining area space and how un-pretty it looked, I announced that I would do no more sewing until we had cleaned out our basement and had some semblance of a plan for that much dreamed about studio.  Then, all the sewing, knitting, and crafting things could make their way downstairs and we could have an uncluttered dining room.  The picture in my imagination was delightful.

Then, the birthday owl needed to be made.  But did 30 minutes of sewing really count?  And besides, it was a gift for a dear little one.  No, that sewing didn't count.

Then, my husband needed a solution for the story staffs he was making for the Cub pack he helps lead.  How would we attach a wrist band that would work for every wrist?  How could we attach it so that it didn't need to be hand sewn on 25 different staffs?  The solution - one-inch elastic - the same kind that we use for waistbands.  We calculated we needed about 10 meters worth.  That led to a trip to the fabric store with my son.  We picked up one-inch wide elastic for the story staffs, and he found a pattern for a Halloween costume.  And then he found the fabric for the costume.  And then he found fabric for some bedsheets he'd like me to take a go at.  And then I found some sale-priced fleece material that would be great for a hoodie project that is part of a Craftsy class I enrolled in.  But I vowed that nothing - not the costume, not the bedding, not the hoodie - nothing would get done until the basement was cleaner.  I warned Nicholas that I would have trouble finishing the costume before Halloween.

The sewing machine came out again that week to prepare the wrist bands for the story staffs.  But that was helping out the Cubs, so it didn't count either.

My mind was troubled though.  That would it get done if I was officially boycotting sewing?  My son observed that I hadn't started anything yet - basement or costume, so he casually handed me the pattern envelope one afternoon and said, "If you started cutting out the pattern now, maybe you could have it done by Halloween."  Fair enough.  Cutting out a pattern wasn't sewing, right?  And we had donated things that were in the basement to the women's shelter.  So it was getting cleaner down there too, right?

After I cut out the pieces, I felt a little daunted about having a realistic chance of finishing it on time, regardless of when I started.  It's a more intricate pattern for a fairly rookie sewer like me.  And I like making things for my little ones.  So, I'm happy to announce that the boycott has ended.  The sewing machine came out yesterday to zigzag the cut ends of the fabric, which was then dumped in the washing machine.  It was ironed today and the costume bottoms are about half done.  It seems that the boycott did nothing but restrict me from doing something I love.  Yes, that basement still needs to be tackled, and we will get to it.  But this Mama still needs to sew in the meantime.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Autumn in the air

Yes, I can definitely feel autumn in the air now.  Despite the sunny skies, it's still cool enough for me to be reaching for a long-sleeved shirt and a bunny-hug to keep me warm as I flit outside to water our few remaining plants.  And the day has been long with preserving, and will go on for a while yet tonight.

First up were nectarines.  At the beginning of the week, I hummed and hawed over what we would do with those.  Salsa?  Fruit leather?  Can?  Freeze?  This worked itself out on it's own, as I admitted that we would be eating salsa verde for quite a while with all the tomatillos that grew this year.  And the freezer is overflowing as it is.  So, fruit leather and canning it was.

Next up were the peppers and tomatoes that have been waiting patiently to turn into a lovely, smooth sweet pepper ketchup.  Oh, our house smelled divine as the smokey peppers mixed with the tomatoes and apple cider vinegar, cloves, allspice and cinnamon.  Despite our children preferring the store-bought stuff, even Jaelyn admitted that it tasted pretty darn good.

And the last adventure of the day - canning plums.  This was a given, because our children loved the few cans of plums I put up last year.  We emptied a 20 pound case in no time, and I'm considering getting more next week to make some jam.

What did the rest of the family do while I stewed and stirred and filled jars?  A little of this, a little of that.  They scoped out the local used clothing sales, after we went through their winter clothes with them.  We weeded out the pants that were just a wee bit too short, the socks with holes, and checked to see if those winter boots that we thought would fit actually did.  Nicholas scraped the seeds out of our two huge sunflowers.  Later on, we dumped some ingredients into the breadmaker for our favorite home-made bread.  Jaelyn and Astrin helped their papa take brussel sprouts off their stem.  Astrin tried on every shoe and boot in the house (which are now plentiful), then helped her father in the garden while Jaelyn helped clean the dishes I dirtied.  I'm thankful for all the busy activity, and I'm reminded that we too must look a bit like the neighbourhood squirrels busily scurrying around to hide the last of their winter stash.

As the day draws to an end, I put up my feet to rest and rub that kink in my shoulder.  I wonder how families put up everything they would need for the winter in the old days, and I marvel at their incredible self-reliance.  I look around the kitchen to see what will be next - likely those tomatillos (Chris brought home even more from the community garden tonight!), and some pears once they ripen a little more.  Yes, although I am bone-weary, I'm happy that our shelves will be stocked with some home-made goodness for the colder days to come.  And I'm thankful for our free time day tomorrow!

Friday, 21 September 2012

A week in pictures

Another room conquered and cleaned

A little brother/sister love after the big surgery
Story staffs for the Cubs pack
Searching for an elusive blue jay - the first one we've ever seen!
Watchful eyes at the Field to Fork Festival

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Giving to others

Today, we took a lesson about giving to others.  We visited the women's shelter a friend of mine works and donated some clothes and toys. 

Our path to get to today was unexpected, as most paths usually are, I suspect.  And it started out in a less than giving manner.  It started when my daughter brought home a stuffed animal that she had won.  I can't remember if this was before the great purge or after, but I reacted in a less than hospitable way to the arrival of yet another stuffed animal.

"But Mama," Jaelyn whimpered.  "I love this animal."

I was less than convinced.  "Did you even know that such a creature existed before you won this?  You've only had it for 30 minutes - how can you love it when you really haven't had it that long?  What about your other animals?  Do you love this one more than those other animals?  Should one of them leave your room if you decide to keep this one?"

After bickering back and forth, I finally hit exasperated and barked, "There are children in this world, in fact, in this city, that don't have even one cuddly toy to sleep with at night."

This brought about silence, and then, "Where, Mama?  Where are the children in our city that don't have toys?"

The first thing that came to my mind was the women's shelter.  And it was what I tried to explain, in a gentle way.  I told them that some women need to quickly leave their homes with their children so that they can all be safe, and they sometimes don't have time to pack their things.  After answering a few questions, Nicholas and Jaelyn agreed that the new stuffed animal could go to the women's shelter.  I told them I would pack up some other items, like maternity clothes, baby clothes that Astrin had grown out of, and other toys that are no longer used and we would take them down together.

A few days before we planned to drop off our donation, I received a note that winter clothes were needed.  So, I went through those last night and dug out some hats, mitts, and a winter jacket.  By the time everything was packed up, we had filled a very large garbage bag.

I was still fielding questions the night before we left and this morning.  Would we ever need to go to a women's shelter?  Would I just go myself?  Would boy children be allowed to go to the women's shelter?  I answered what I could and encouraged them to ask questions when we stopped by.

The children didn't know what to expect, and were surprised that the women's shelter looked just like an ordinary apartment building.  They asked a few questions, answered a few, then we were on our way.

I hope that the items we shared today will make the road a little easier for a family learning to heal itself.  And that we can make giving a part of our everyday life.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


As we continue on this learning journey together, I'm compelled to notice the amazingness that is my children.  Was it there all along?  I think so - I just don't know if it was buried by all the tensions they faced in getting through a day, or if it is that we are together more and live at a slower pace that I can take the time to notice it.

Today, my children found a mouse in our garage.  I was disgusted, and simply wanted to let my husband deal with it - I deal with creepy-crawlies of the eight-legged variety in our house and he deals with all the others.

That was not to be however.  My children insisted this little visitor have a proper burial.  A grave was dug, the tiny body was covered, crosses were made, inscriptions were written, and they were placed in just the right place.  A quiet moment of silence, followed by a wish that the little creature find its way to heaven and be happy there.

Yes, they have as much to teach me as I have to teach them.  Today, they reminded me that all things, both big and small, deserve respect.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Writing stories

Last week, my son and I sat down for a little heart-to-heart about writing.  He clearly was not interested in doing the Writing Strands workbook I'd purchased for him.  From my perspective, it looked like a relaxed, interesting program.  From his perspective, it was an encroachment on his time and how he wanted to spend it.  So, I shared with him my feeling that writing is important in our world as a way to share information and express thoughts with others and we should still do writing work every other week.  He needed to tell me what would work for him.  He promised to think about it.

Then, later that week, I pulled up the story I had written while we were in Nova Scotia.  I read it to both my children, and told them I was planning on writing others, as inspiration would allow.  They were silent through its reading and said they enjoyed it.  Then, my son expressed his wish to write stories for his stuffed animals.  Done - I was ecstatic with this idea!  We brought out several notebooks for him to pick from (one that he could add pictures to, and several that were different sizes.  He picked the size and colour, wrote the names of the animals he was writing for, and set it aside for writing week.

Writing week is here this week.  Yesterday he struggled with what to write and how to build it with only a blank page staring back at him.  So, we walked through the building blocks of a good story...who did he want the characters to be?  Where would the story take place?  What would the problem be?  What was the solution?  How would the characters find the solution?  Did we want to jot down the answers to the question now or just think about them and start writing?

He preferred to write the story on his own, without any more coaching from me.  He preferred to think of the questions, and then just jump in and write.  He asked me to read his story out loud, and then share with him any spelling corrections.

He's now written two stories for his animals, both of which he was happy to run up the stairs and share with his animals.

I had promised to share the stories I wrote as they became ready.  Here's the first one...that same one I wrote in Nova Scotia and read to the children last week for the first time.

The Foxes Play

Little Red Fox lived in a den that was carved out of a little hill, right where the forest and the meadow met, and it was a lovely place for a little fox to grow up.  For in the meadow, she could playfully chase butterflies or nap on the warm rocks, and she could always smell the fragrant flowers and chat with the bees that visited every day.  And in the forest, she could wander amongst the tall trees and conjure up imaginary fox heroes of long ago, or whisper secrets to the wind that rustled the leaves.  What she loved most about where she lived, though, was all of the games that she could play with her brothers and sisters.  They could play tag, or hide and seek, or capture the flag, or Marco Polo.  Little Red Fox liked hide and seek the best.

One early autumn morning, when the leaves were starting to change colour and falling gently to the forest floor, Little Red Fox and her brothers and sisters romped out of their den, ready to play.  Little Red Fox held her nose up to the warm sun, hoping to cast off the chill from the night.  Then she opened her eyes and exclaimed, “Look at all the leaves piled up in the nooks and crannies of the forest!  Look how the grasses are so golden in the sunshine!  This is the perfect day to play hide and seek!”

“Little Red Fox,” replied White Chest, who was the oldest of the little foxes.  “We played hide and seek yesterday.  It’s time for someone else to have a turn picking the game.”

“No fair,” Little Red Fox grumbled. 

“I know, let’s play Marco Polo!” exclaimed her brother, Black Paws.  All the foxes, except Little Red Fox, cheered for Marco Polo.

“But we played Marco Polo yesterday too!  And Marco Polo will disturb the bees.  Let’s play hide and seek,” implored Little Red Fox.  But it was too late.  Black Paws had his eyes closed and was already shouting out to the other little foxes and they were shouting back to him.

“No fair, no fun, Marco Polo is dumb!  No fair, no fun, Marco Polo is dumb!” Little Red Fox chanted as she danced around Black Paws. 

“Stop it, Little Red Fox.  I can’t hear the others.  If you don’t want to play, do something else.  I’m sure we’ll play hide and seek later,” said Black Paws, frowning. 

But Little Red Fox didn’t stop.  She kept on chanting in her loudest voice, “No fair, no fun, Marco Polo is dumb!”  She ran tight circles around Black Paws as she continued to shout, “No fair, no fun, Marco Polo is dumb!”  Black Paws tried to get away from her so he could hear the others, but he couldn’t see where he was going.  He trotted right in Little Red Fox’s path and she ran right into him!  He fell down a gentle slope, tumbling head over heels.  When he finally came to a stop, he sat up and tears spilled from his eyes.

“Oh, I hurt all over,” he moaned.

All the little foxes stopped playing.  They quickly ran down the hill to where Black Paws was.  “Where does it hurt most,” they said, and they gave him little fox kisses all over – on his head, on his paws, on his ears.  Once they kissed his tears away, the little foxes slowly climbed the hill to take Black Paws into the den.  They silently walked past Little Red Fox, who was at the top of the hill watching in horror.   

“Oh no!” thought Little Red Fox.  “What will Mama say?”  Little Red Fox didn’t mean for Black Paws to get hurt - it was an accident!  But they hadn’t listened to her, and they hadn’t played her game.  It was their fault that Black Paws got hurt, not hers!

Once they were at the den and Black Paws was safely inside, White Chest returned to the top of the hill where Little Red Fox was sitting miserably.  “How did you feel when we didn’t play hide and seek?” she asked softly.

“Mad,” grumbled Little Red Fox.

“Why?” asked White Chest.

“Because it is my favorite game and I really, really wanted to play it,” replied Little Red Fox.

“We all have a favorite game we like to play, and we would get mad too if we always had to play the same game and never our favorite one.  That’s why we need to take turns deciding what game to play.  And besides, there’s still a lot of time for playing all sorts of games.  What other things do you like to do?”  White Chest asked quietly.

Little Red Fox cocked her head and paused to think.  “I like chasing the butterflies and chatting with the bees.  I like chasing the squirrels and weaving between the trees of the forest.” 

White Chest smiled.  “Those things sound nice.  Do you think that if there’s a game you don’t want to play with us, you could do one of those things until you feel ready to play with the rest of us?”

Little Red Fox looked at the ground.  She knew White Chest was right.  “I can try,” she said quietly.  She raised her head and looked towards the opening of the den.  She saw her brothers and sisters, including Black Paws, watching her and White Chest.  She sighed.  Then she slowly walked to the den to apologize to Black Paws.  For she truly didn’t want him to get hurt, and she forgot about the feelings of the others and sharing turns.

Later that afternoon, after a lovely rabbit lunch, all the little foxes again scampered out of the den.  They playfully tumbled in the meadow when White Chest shouted, “Let’s play tag!”  

“Yay!” all the other foxes, except Little Red Fox, cheered.  She wanted to play hide and seek so badly! 

“Could we play tag and then hide and seek?” she asked meekly.

“I think so,” said White Chest.

Little Red Fox brightened.  And she had so much fun playing tag that she almost forgot how much she had wanted to play hide and seek.  Finally, the little foxes collapsed in the meadow in a tired, giggly heap.  When they caught their breath, White Chest sat up and suggested they play hide and seek, and that Little Red Fox could be “it”.  The other foxes cheered and then quickly scampered into the forest while Little Red Fox covered her eyes and counted to ten, very slowly. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Caring hearts and hands

This morning was to be a traumatic one for my littlest.  She chipped a tooth at the beginning of August, and today was the day she was scheduled to have it repaired.  We needed to be up bright and early, she couldn't have anything to eat or drink, and she would be taken into the operating room by one of the nurses.  I would see her again when she had woken up, and we would need to stay at the surgical centre for an hour, with her IV in, before we could go home.

Things went better than I expected.  She woke up in quite good spirits, didn't mention wanting anything to drink, and was content to play with me in the waiting room.  She was content to be weighed, measured, and have her temperature taken with a stranger, so long as I was there.  She didn't cling to me too much when it was time for her to leave me, and she didn't cry for me at all.  What a brave little one.

The dentist indicated she came through the surgery quite nicely.  And then I could hear the screaming.  Yes, she woke up literally kicking and screaming.  When I took her from the nurses arms, she was quite clear that she was uncomfortable, disoriented, scared, and desperately wanting that IV out.  No, she didn't want a sticker.  No, she didn't want to read a book.  No, she didn't want to walk around.  She wanted that IV out.  And, something to eat, once we found the right words (because of course she doesn't know what a "popsicle" is, but she does know what a "snack" is).

My family continues to amaze me with their generosity, as I again witnessed when we arrived home.  A rush to the door to greet us.  A big sister painting a picture for Astrin.  A big brother sharing his owls and ready to play with Astrin.  A papa with frozen smoothie sticks at the ready.  Intentions of writing love notes and cleaning the kitchen for me.  All good, thoughtful stuff.

Thank you to my caring little and big ones for making a difficult day a little bit happier and nicer!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Giving a bit of ourselves

Today was my nephew's second birthday.  And what was planned to be a single, simple, handmade gift turned into 3 simple handmade gifts! 

I made that sweet little boy a stuffed owl based on the tutorial I found here.  It was quick to put together, as I did all the cutting and most of the sewing in less than an afternoon.  I stuffed it and sewed it up during the week as I helped the children with their bookwork, so they could actually witness me doing something I love to do. 

My children were thrilled with the little owl.  I think that seeing me make something from start to finish got them inspired to give from their own hearts and hands too.  Jaelyn made a card, then decided to give our little nephew a hot-off-the-table watercolour painting and a picture of herself.  Nicholas then got in on the action and brought down a painting he had done about a year ago.  It was a painting that was like a picture find - he had various objects scattered through the painting, and a legend at the top that indicated how many were in the picture.  He added the instructions, signed his name, and it was ready to go!

It was with full hearts that we packed these goodies up for this wee little one.  Happy birthday, sweetie!

Friday, 14 September 2012

A week in pictures

Running fast and free

Sour grapes?
Creativity in action
Creating a stop motion animation film at the Science Centre
Doing what children to!
Salsa helper
Sealed with a kiss

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Today was the Nature Club's first meeting after summer holidays.  The group was just as wild and crazy as the Birds of Prey Club earlier this week, except their shrieks hit the eardrums a little differently.  But they were happy shrieks, so that's okay.

After a snack, I was eager to get them out of the house.  Our task was to prowl the backyard in search of sweet little flowers and leaves for pressing that we could use at a future meeting.  The plan is to turn these little bits of summer into some sort of art, and is inspired by a project in Green Crafts for Children.  We also hunted around and plucked out some herbs from our herb garden - sage, mint, thyme and lemon balm. Some slowed down long enough to take in the herbs' gorgeous smell and we skimmed over how these herbs can be used to help little ones fall asleep or settle a sore tummy.  We tied them into bouquets that will then be dried and we'll use them for a couple of projects out of Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots.  I'll be adding lavender later on - it hasn't matured yet and may not in time, so I'll need to dip into the store-bought stuff.  Stay tuned to see the end results later in the fall!

I'll be honest...gathering them to do these two little activities was much like I imagine herding cats is.  So I've been wracking my mind for how to perhaps make the transition from play to the actual activity a little easier.  I'm thinking some sort of active game that could tire them out a bit...or backfire and completely wind them up.  Perhaps the Nature Club could take a page out of the Birds of Prey Club book and play a little Predator and Prey?  Or maybe we put more play at the beginning and save the last 30 minutes for the activity, if time allows?  Or maybe I take a page out of the Girl Guides' Sparks program, and transition to the activity by telling a story or singing a song to help minds focus on calming down.  I'm not sure right now.  Any other suggestions?  I'm glad I have two weeks to sleep on it.

I was thrilled to see the group enjoy some unstructured play outdoors.  They stumbled across my son's play bow and arrow set, and they took turns pretending they were hunting buffalo.  Some dressed up in the chest armour that was in the back yard, they found a place to put up the flag they found, and they all knew the playhouse was "home" for their game of make-believe. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Discovering others

Our time together from noon onwards was quite sweet.  The highlight of our day was the discovery of a homeschooling co-op, which a friend mentioned to me earlier in the week and I wasted little time contacting.  The group meets weekly, has children that are around our children's ages, and appears to have embraced similar values as us. 

We worked through our morning chores at varying paces, sat down for an early lunch, then hopped on our bikes and pedaled downtown.  The group meets at the park or library downtown during the summer months, depending on the weather.  I felt considerably less vulnerable to the judgment of others then I did even a short week ago as we walked to the park, even when I noticed one person do a double take at my children running ahead of me.  That in itself was spirit-lifting. 

And the group itself was very welcoming.  It was a low-key, relaxed get-together, where the children spent time playing, followed by show-and-tell, and finishing with a little more play.  There was time for a very welcome visit with other adults!  My family wound down the trip with a walk and visit to the library, where we could pick up more Asterix, the first book in the next series by Kathryn Lasky, and the next title in the Anne of Green Gables series.  We came back with slightly tired bodies, minds ready to drink up those books, and happy spirits.

I noticed things about my children during our time with the group, too.  Like that my son is still much more comfortable talking to adults than children his own age.  That my daughter was quite comfortable speaking about the item she brought for show and tell - she spoke so earnestly and passionately about her creation.  That our youngest was comfortable wandering off on her own to the slide she loves so much.

And I marveled at the wonderful children we met.  Some would patiently wait for the circle to be silent before starting to give hints about what they brought to share.  Some siblings had a dynamic that was remarkably similar to what I see at home, and further convinced me that there are just some things that can only be explained by birth order.  Many were quite comfortable sharing with the group.

Thanks, Mamas!  I'm looking forward to next Wednesday already!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Club Day. The Birds of Prey Version

Our club meetings took a brief hiatus while we were on vacation, and the first one started up today.  The boys were very enthusiastic to see one another.  Several were concocting a story to play out as we walked to our house. 

After a boisterous snack, we headed over to our rock pile and searched for a rock or two that we would paint or draw a raptor on.  We were inspired by similar art that we saw when we visited the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre.  These were our creations:

Our art session was intense, and the boys were thrilled when the last one had finished and could join the story that was in progress.  Basically, they picked and chose parts from the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series and tweaked it to suit their fancy.  We had a rogue blacksmith, several warriors, and I'm not sure what else.  It was a loud, crazy, and fun afternoon.  I was thankful the boys got along beautifully and occasionally included my youngest in their play, if she was passing by.  I was grateful they appeared to enjoy the craft.  But let's face it...they came to see each other and they had ample time to just be.  That is what I'm thankful for most.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Sour grapes...

...Yes, we were literally up to our elbows in sour grapes.  My parents grow grapes at their house, and they were especially plentiful this year.  And, after a couple of years of tediously plucking the ripe things off the vines, I think they were thrilled to pass the experience on to our brood.  So, that's where the kids and I headed today.

I've never picked grapes before.  It turns out it is easier than strawberries.  Just come equipped with a pair of scissors, a snip here and there, and a gallon pail is filled in no time.  I think we filled four gallon pails in less than an hour, and that was mainly me and Nicholas, while Astrin ate them and Jaelyn chased after her sister.

The cleaning and stemming them, though, does prove to take much more time.  But it can be made enjoyable work.  My children took turns returning the ladybugs that accompanied the grapes back out into nature.  We talked about grape-picking from the ladybug's perspective (what a terrifying event!), and contemplated even acting it out.  When their interest waned, I'm pleased to say that I didn't push them, and just let them go about the rhythm of their day, as they saw fit.

And what are we doing with all those grapes?  We originally had grape jelly on the radar.  It appears though, that cooked grape juice stains amazingly well (imagine my kitchen walls with grape juice splatter, as I poured it into our strainer).  It turns out that it stains almost instantly, and it's not showing signs of coming out easily.  So, I might need to research grapes as a natural dye agent for an upcoming project.

Despite the splatter mess, I'm still feeling upbeat about today.  We were outside.  We all learned something.  And I'm still holding out hope that my knight on a white horse will show up and turn this kitchen spotless.  If not on his own, then with a well-intentioned helper or two at his side.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Free time

Yesterday I wrote about the structure in our days and weeks and I talked about one day set aside every week as a "free" day.  Today was that day.  And what did we do?

 ~ The two older children ran in a kids mini-marathon, with two out-of-shape adults chugging along behind them.  Most of us are convinced we would like to have family runs in the evenings.  And we may enter two more events before Christmas.

 ~ Jaelyn went to a movie with a friend.

 ~ Nicholas read and played The Farming Game with his father.  In addition to the fun of playing a game, it is a great game for reinforcing math skills.

 ~ Astrin napped.

 ~ I canned tomatoes, hung laundry (this is so therapeutic, really), and got together the materials I'll need to sew a sweet little gift for my nephew, who is turning two next week.  Oh, and I wrote up this post in broad daylight!

 ~ My husband and I listened to the football broadcast today - the good guys squeaked out a win.

How did you enjoy your weekend?

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Over the past several weeks, I've been fantasizing about simplicity and what it would feel like if we ever mastered the art of simplicity.  A kitchen island I would always be able to see the top of.  A strong and steady routine to guide our days.  Plenty of free, unstructured time for young and old(er) alike.  Children free to just be children, without the cares of the adult world.

Today, I stumbled upon a little ecourse advertised on Amanda Blake Soule's website.  It is for a Simplicity Parenting Virtual Workshop, courtesy of Kathy Stowell at Bliss Beyond Naptime.  Her workshop is based on the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.  And while my husband and I are still talking about whether we will dive in and do the workshop, it was a good reminder to dust off the cover and re-read that gem of a book.

After being reminded of the book today, I took some time to consider what our days are filled with and whether they align to the principles discussed in Simplicity Parenting.  There are some things I've already set up that I'm comfortable with, like developing a routine so that our children know what to expect in their day and their week.  So far, a typical day looks like this:

  ~ Wake up and get ready to face the day
  ~ Story
  ~ Hands-on time, where there is time to explore, discover and play
  ~ Lunch time
  ~ Bookwork
  ~ Free time
  ~ Supper time
  ~ Clean up, wind-down and bedtime

There is also routine within the week itself.  We have a family meeting once a week to chat about the week ahead, particularly for the hands-on time in the morning.  We strive to have one day in the week (we've selected the traditional Sunday), that is a free day for everyone in the family to do what he or she chooses.  We aim to balance taking care of family work with taking care of the family's soul during our week.

Perhaps we will put the routine under the lens of a microscope someday, but right now there are other obvious areas in our home life that could use some more work.  Like finishing that massive purge and putting expectations in place so that major purges don't need to be so time-consuming.  I must confess, I cringe at going to work on my son's room.  But once it's done, and if it's done well, he should be able to manage it himself going forward, like my daughter has.

Another area we'll target is overbooking our family calendar.  While we've done well this summer, I wonder if we've overdone the fall activities, and how big the impact will be on that precious free time we've carved out of the day.  On paper, our activities look do-able, but we don't really seem to grasp how big an impact they'll have on our daily life until we're actually living it.

In the meantime, I'll revisit the book and pull out some new insights that perhaps I missed the first time.

A week in pictures

A little late this time, due to date night last night!

Creating art
The view on our nature hike
Cutting out the pattern for a felt fairy
Making sausage with Grandpa and Uncle
Little diva