Monday, 23 December 2013

Is it feeling harmonious?

I find myself writing this in front of my toes toasty warm from the heat of the flames and the blanket-like slippers and socks I'm heart warm from the visits with family and the joy we've joined together to create and share with others.

For yes, indeed, at 10 o'clock tonight, I found myself wondering what to do with myself.  Gifts made?  Check.  Gifts wrapped?  Some, but there's time to do the rest in the remaining days leading up to Christmas.  House cleaned?  Nope, but who wants to do that on such a lovely evening?  A cuddle with my love?  Yes, soon.

As I gaze at the fire, I find myself reflecting back on the week that was.  While there have been ups and downs, I can say that I'm feeling in a better place this year than last.  I let go of the expectation that I would follow the From Hectic to Harmonious Holiday Challenge to the letter this week, though I wanted to try my best to live in the spirit of it.  We had some celebrations that were planned months ago, like our Solstice celebration and several family gatherings, as well as some unexpected events, like saying goodbye to an extended family member, the acts of gathering and sharing with a homeless shelter, and what looked like the beginning of an ear infection with one of my little ones.  It was definitely a week of ups and downs.

Through it all, I found that we were able to offer ourselves - our time, our talents, our thoughts - with the emphasis on others.  My hope was that we were able to lighten the load and take care of some details so that others didn't have to.  We were able to be grounded but flexible.  And that was what I wanted to get out of the holiday challenge...I wanted to move away from the to-do lists and the manic rush to each day's deadline towards a more thoughtful, intentional, and peaceful holiday season.  Where the focus of the celebrations is more about the joy shared with others and authenticity than the actual items placed under the tree or on the table.  Where the spirit of "it's the thought that counts" can be found in every nook and cranny.

Day by day, as the holiday challenge emails arrived in my inbox announcing what would help me achieve that harmonious vibe I was after, I slipped it in my back pocket of activities to share when the time was right.  Building a snow fort turned into making a fort in the living room (day 21).  A solstice walk around the block (day 19) turned into walking to the corner and heading back, followed by a toasty fire and a warm bath infused with calming lavender oil.  Planning a vacation meal with my children (day 15) wove its way into a family meal, and shopping together for the ingredients happened at the last farmer's market of 2013 (day 16).  Making homemade cocoa (day 17) happened right after we arrived back from an extended family snowshoeing walk (day 18). 



So, in a nutshell...yes, it is feeling harmonious here.

I'll be away from the space for the next bit.  I hope all enjoy their holiday festivities, and have the ones you love best close in your heart.  Peace, light, and joy to you all!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Return of the light

This is the candle that stood in the middle of our Solstice spiral last night.  The single light that we used to light our own lanterns, and which together, illuminated the spiral.  The single light that reminds us that we each have a light inside us and that when we share that light, it grows and glows strong and bright enough to chase the darkness away.  The single light that reminds us that the darkest day of the year is now past us and we can turn our thoughts to the optimism of the days ahead.  The single light that exudes peace and encourages quiet reflection.

I wish you and yours a merry holiday season.  May you find your light and let it shine out into the rest of the world.  Peace. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

The weekly From Hectic to Harmonious catch-up

I haven't written specifically about the From Hectic to Harmonious challenges I've been completing, even though I have been doing them faithfully, or just not mentioning that what I was doing related to the challenge.  I'm finding that even though I would never in a million years say that we live in a zen household, or that we live in harmony, I think I've received proof that we live simply.  I've found that as the challenges have made their way to my inbox and I've looked them over, I've been saying to myself..."We did that yesterday!" or "Isn't it a coincidence that we planned to do that today!"  Now I'm trying to wrap my brain around the realization that all this simple living stuff seems to take a tremendous amount of effort.  Not that the effort doesn't have a soul-satisfying reward at the end.  But it's effort, and when it becomes a series of "to-do's" and a deadline is fast approaching, it takes on a hectic vibe.

For any of you who were interested in the actual challenges, here's what they were:

  ~ Day 9 :: Make something beautiful.  I blogged about our crafting here.

  ~ Day 10 :: Sing something beautiful.  We gathered for a short while around the piano.  I stumbled my way through playing some tunes while trying to sing them at the same time.  My little ones sang for a song or two then decided to read a book nearby.  That's the way it goes here.  I can say I felt filled up after playing The Christmas Song - my all-time favorite.

  ~ Day 11 :: Write something beautiful.  I blogged about it here and there was also some magical writing here.

  ~ Day 12 :: Make your giving wish list.  My son saw a gentleman riding his bike through the snow-filled alleys while balancing large plastic bags.  He was hunting through recycling bins for pop bottles to take back for a refund.  The next day my son was baking cookies to take to the homeless shelter, along with some winter clothes we plan to round up.  That son of ours has a big heart - he brings me such joy and I'm lucky to have him in my life.

  ~ Day 13 :: Ask for help.  Someone else washed and dried the laundry for me!  It's not folded, but it's a start!

  ~ Day 14 :: Make one corner just right.  Does stacking the load of firewood that was dumped on our sidewalk this morning count as making one corner just right?  When I saw this challenge, my eyes and mind started picturing the transformation that could take place with just 10 minutes of uninterrupted effort...the island in our kitchen...the top of our sideboard that holds some of our homeschool supplies, as well as a dwarf Christmas dresser in my bedroom...over by the printer.  And then my reverie was interrupted by the phone call saying the firewood could come today.  Three hours later, I have three lovely stacks of wood in my backyard and the sidewalk is now clutter-free.  So, in my books, stacking firewood does count.

I'm hoping you're settling in to the holiday spirit this week, friends!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Writing something simple and beautiful

Dazzling white snowflakes
Dance and flutter in the sky
Smile up to heaven

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Crafting up a storm

Making something with our hands is a daily occurrence around here, even if it wasn't 13 days before Christmas.  In fact, as I look around the living and dining areas, I'd be inclined to say crafting happens multiple times during our days.  Here are just a snippet of what we've been up to...

Painting with watercolours
Sewing with supervision
Making a gift for nature with bread, peanut butter and sunflower seeds
Rolling candles from beeswax sheets
Hanging a star each day until Christmas
A freezer-paper stencil work-in-progress
One of these nutcrackers will turn into a prince, but we don't know which one, so they all need a crown made of modelling clay
Paper snowflakes with Nature Club
A crocheted star for the one in our lives who shares his light through his optimism - see here for the pattern
A felted Christmas tree - because a wee bit more greenery is nice!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

About hugs

I'm pondering how something as simple as a hug can be so complex.  It can offer comfort or it can be given with a broken heart.  It can be shared in jubilation or it can signal the end of the day and sweet dreams for the night.

When I first saw the From Hectic to Harmonious day 8 challenge in the morning - share cuddles - I was pretty sure I would have many opportunities before lunch had been placed on the table a mere few hours later.  After all, I have two very cuddly little ones who seem to be magnetically drawn to my lap.  One is usually sitting on me for our circle time, the other will curl up with me for a book.  One will cuddle with me as we create homemade wrapping paper and the other will sense when I need a hug and beam her smiling face up at me as she wraps her arms around my waist.  Plus, as coincidence would have it, our Christmas countdown activity in the evening was to huddle up around the fire and read Christmas stories while munching on popcorn.  We had this challenge in the bag, without even trying.

But then I thought, what about that oldest one of mine?  The one who will (politely) decline a hug or an arm wrapped around his shoulders out in public.  The one who is growing into himself and prefers things kept at arms-length, most of the time.  The exceptions make me thankful for homeschooling and the opportunity to be present when the desire for a hug arises.  For I must say that I've noticed more hugs post-public school.  And I see the innocence and wonder in his eyes, and his passion and love for life when we do get moments of closeness.  He seems happy and at ease.  He can let his guard down.

As it turned out, Nicholas and I didn't have a cuddle that morning.  We did huddle up close to the fire in the evening and we had our ritual good-night hug.  But it felt that even though we didn't actually physically touch in the morning, we shared a closeness and a bonding as we worked together to create a story based on several pictures he drew and inspired by the ideas he'd read about in The Book of Fairy Princes.

Here is his story:



Once upon a time in a very, very colourful forest there was a great wise owl and a colourful oak tree with leaves of blue, green, pink, purple, orange, yellow, red and brown.  And that great oak tree stood in the middle of a castle’s courtyard guarded by a very, very wise owl.  But there was a demon up in the skies above that didn’t like the sight so one day he decided to go down to the forest of beautiful colours and he would try and burn it down or destroy it in some way.

So, when he went down, he said, “Hey, mister owl.  I saw a sick tree about two miles west.  I think it’s your job to fix it.  But, are you able to fix it?”

And the owl said, “Yes, I’m the guardian of this forest.  So off he went as quick as the wind could go.

Once he was gone, the demon, who knew that there was only one way to defeat this forest, and it was to burn down the great oak tree.  So he burnt down the great oak tree, and the fire spread so much that it burnt down almost the whole forest.  Only the drooping firs were able to survive.  And there were only two colours of this drooping fir – green and brown.

When the great wise owl got to about two miles to the west, he found no sick trees and all of his trees were shining.  Then, all of a sudden, all the trees stopped shining their beautiful colour and they turned into dull reds, blues, browns, pinks, purples and all the other colours.  So the great wise owl knew something was wrong when he saw that.  When he looked behind him, he saw a great fire raging.  So, he quickly acted, for he knew what the demon had done.  He collected all of the animals that knew him and lived closest to the water to tell him where the yellow part of the water lives.  All the animals said,  “there is only one lake, and it only has yellow water in the centre of the lake.”

The owl flew as quick as the wind to the lake and the lake’s name was The Lake of Colourful Treasures.  He flew over to that lake and he took a big mouthful of the yellow part of the water.  He flew back to the great oak tree and he sprinkled the water on the raging fire on the great oak tree.  Once this was done, the fire ceased all over.  And because the owl was mad with the demon, he decided he would put up a magical barrier using his magical powers.  But the only magical powers he had were to save this great colourful forest. 

So, he sat in the east side of the tower being very sad and letting his sorrow sweep away from him.  When he was done being sad, he went to the west tower and he collected all of his seeds that he had collected from the different coloured trees and he planted them where all the other dead trees were.  The only trees that were remaining were the brown drooping fir and the green drooping fir. 

Once he was done planting, he asked all the trees if they would let him know when the demon came back so that during that time, he could prepare a spell to protect the forest.  So, all the trees agreed.  But while he was preparing, he was also researching a way to make a red drooping fir, a blue drooping fir, and an orange drooping fir, pink drooping fir, purple drooping fir and yellow drooping fir – the most important of all the colours.  When he was done, he was able to make one of each colour fir but just to make sure that the demon didn’t come in, he decided to stay watch on the great oak tree.  But after the fire everyone called it the great dead oak tree.  And you may be wondering how the great wise owl was able to make a spell to keep the demon out.  All he did was he put a yellow fir on each point of the forest – north, east, south, and west.  Nowadays, if you go to the forest, you will see him perched on the great dead oak tree.  But now, for the rest of the story.

Once he fixed all the damage of the fire, he sat upon the great dead oak tree all the time because of all the trees, it was his favorite.  As a sign of respect and friendship, he sat on it to watch over the forest all of the time. 
But now the demon, he saw that the owl was smart and he fixed it.  And he saw that he could not get in and destroy it.  But he saw all the other forests around it and he thought, "What if I light a fire in each of the forests, north, east, south and west?"  So, he researched as well.  And he found out that the magical barrier could not let him in, but other forest fires could get in.  So, he decided he would go light a fire in each of the four forests.  He went over and he lit a fire in the forest of the north.  Then he went down and did the forest of the east.  Then he went down and did the forest of the south.  Then he went west and did the forest of the west.  But then he thought, “ Uh oh, how will I get out?”

He decided to fly north.  But the fire was too big for him to get back up to the sky.  So he went back to the west where it was just a small fire.  But he couldn’t get back up to the sky because his sky was in the east.  He went to the south but the fire was too big so he could not make his way back to the east (which is where he came from). 

So, the demon was stuck in the fires, and the fires were getting too big.  So he thought, “all I can do is trust my luck.” He flew through the southern fire and it burned his wings.  So he ran to the east side, but it burned his feet.  So then, he had to crawl.  But when he was crawling, he wasn’t fast enough.  The fire swallowed him up, and that was the last that was seen of the demon.

But the great wise owl saw all of the fires coming.  He acted quickly.  He went over to the lake of colourful treasures (in the centre of the forest) and he took four big mouthfuls of the yellow water in the center.  And he flew  as quick as the wind to each of the four points of the forest.  He got to the north point and sprinkled some water on the yellow drooping fir.  When he got to the east point, he sprinkled some water on the eastern yellow drooping fir.  When he got to the southern point, he sprinkled some water on the yellow drooping fir down there.  When he got to the western point, he looked and he saw not even a fire at all.  It had all burned out in the western point.  What he decided to do with his last mouthful was:  to sprinkle water on each of the other trees, for some animals did not want to live by lakes and then they could live in other places in the forest.

So, it stayed nice and peaceful, with animals eating dewdrops from the trees for quite a while.  But soon it was winter.  So the animals came to the great dead oak tree and said, “What will we eat now, for it is winter.” 

And the owl said, “Once a snowflake falls on the very peak of each tree, it will turn into a larger, bright-coloured snowflake.  But, after that, all the other snowflakes will turn into brightly coloured snowflakes that you can eat, though you may not to eat them because they look so beautiful.  But that is what you will eat in winter.”

So, they found that almost every tree had a brightly coloured snowflake, though a lot of people would mistake them for a star on top.  They looked down lower and saw lots of colourful snowflakes and they just stood there looking at them.  But one of the animals’ stomachs grumbled at them.  They knew they would starve if they just stood looking at them.  They went over and ate just a single snowflake and then they didn’t need to eat any more snowflakes, for a sudden burst of energy filled them, and they were full after the single snowflake.

So, then it came to the new year’s and the bright stars on the tops of the trees disappeared.  So they all went to the great owl and asked, “What will we do, for all of the stars at the tops of the trees have went away?”

And he said,  "Well, it is still winter, and the snowflakes will not be bright and shining, but they will still be the colour of yellow and you will still be able to eat them until spring.  In spring, you will eat dewdrops again.”

So all of the animals went back to the trees and ate a single snowflake.  And their bodies burst with energy and fullness so that they didn’t need to eat anymore.  So then the animals knew about what they needed to eat and when and they didn’t need to ask the wise owl any more questions.

So, now whenever you go out into the forest of beautiful colours, if you see a brown tree , after that tree you will see a path.  And that path will lead you directly to the wise owl.  You should only go to see the great wise owl when you need help from him. 

I think I’ve forgotten to mention, but there are four different trees in this forest of beautiful colours.  There is the drooping fir, the soldier pine, the house spruce and the tower spruce, also known as the church spruce.  There are some other reasons you might want to go and see the great wise owl, for he is a very good poet and he does excellent poetry.  So you may want to go to see him to learn some of his poetry. 

Here is a poem I learned from the great wise owl:
A forest fire -
An unpleasant one,
Disturbing the humble one,
But when it’s gone -
And there are few trees,
It’s time for me to plant the seeds.
My great oak tree is gone – alas,
It has also lost its giant mass,
On top of it I will perch,
Very sad and very hurt.
All the animals will come to me –
They are sad and have no glee,
They come to me and they say: 
“What do we eat?
For we cannot have the thing called meat!”
And I say:  “Look at the trees –
What do you see?”
We see snow: he, he, he.
Try the snow and you’ll see,
That the snow is good to eat.

Monday, 9 December 2013

From Hectic to Harmonious...days 4, 5, 6 and 7 and other delights

Alright!  I'm feeling like we're moving quite smoothly now.  There's been time for the elves to be working hard, time for magic-making, time for walks through the park with dinosaur personas fully donned, time for feeling cozy on the couch and whipping up a last-minute gift.  We're caught up with the activities on our Christmas countdown calendar (thanks, kids, for being so forgiving when our day goes a bit sideways and we agree to do the activity the next day).  Oh, and we've been keeping up with our homeschooling too.  It hasn't felt hectic.  It's felt more like a productive buzz.

And despite what appears to be me abandoning the From Hectic to Harmonious challenge after day 3, I'm happy to report I've preservered.  And I didn't squeeze days 4 through 7 into one crazy day either.  We've been taking it one day at a time and being somewhat mindful of the spirit of the season.

Days 4 and 5 related to the art of storytelling - the former being a telling of a favorite Christmas story, and the latter being the sharing of memories of our Christmases past.  As I was helping Astrin put together a few thoughts for her letter for Santa, it occurred to me that she likely hadn't the foggiest idea who Santa was.  We haven't made a trip to see Santa at the mall part of our holiday traditions, and she's too young to remember such a visit even if we faithfully did make a trip.  So out came the story 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, which describes the "plump jolly old elf" so eloquently.  We spend an evening around the supper table sharing little snippets of our favorite memories...mine being the drive to my grandparents (which meant stopping at a restaurant for lunch - a novelty in those days), my husband worrying about Santa not knowing where to deliver his presents while he was away from home, the year the Christmas tree came crashing down in our living room during the wee hours of Christmas morning, the year Boomer (our dog) was a puppy and tried to eat the glass Christmas ornaments...what a heart-warming walk down memory lane we had!

Day 6 was finding an anchor...something to reach for when things happen to get too crazy.  The idea is that this anchor will help me center myself and allow me to see what is happening around or inside me with a clear perspective.  I've chosen a cup of tea...preferably the "Calming" one made by Yogi Teas, but really...beggars can't be choosers when things get a bit hairy.

Last but not least is Day 7 - today.  And today was also easy.  We ate our supper by candlelight.  The intent was to bring a peacefulness and mindfulness to the meal.  I don't know if I will have a truly peaceful meal again while children live in this house, but it was nice to see the candles flickering against the backdrop of a dark, cold winter's night.

So, thank you From Hectic to appears that your magic is starting to work!   

Thursday, 5 December 2013

From Hectic to Harmonious...Day 3. And Nature Club too.

Today Mama was on a mission.  I'm in a bit of a race against the clock and when the clock strikes zero, gifts for out-of-town relatives need to be in the mail.  Today's project to start and finish was dying play silks.  We worked on yellow ones dyed with turmeric yesterday and they look fabulous - bright and bold.  Today I tried using Kool-Aid mix as the dye and the colours are soft and gentle.  We came home from supper tonight and were greeted by the strange scent of Kool-Aid infused vinegar.  I must admit, I'm feeling a little nauseous.  There are great instructions for dying play silks with Koo-Aid here.

Indeed, the pulse in our household had a "mission" vibe to it.  In a good way.  In a working with purpose kind of way.  There were homemade snacks to make for the birds.  There was an art class to be had at my kitchen table (our instructor today was Jaelyn, who tried out what I imagine wet-on-wet watercolour painting is.  Self-taught, that one).  There were books to be read and letters to write to Santa.  There were freezer-paper stenciled shirts to be painted too.

Somewhat ironically, today's From Hectic to Harmonious challenge was to remove three things from my to-do list.  Note that says remove things, not do them and scratch them off.  It's about prioritizing and letting go of the stuff that doesn't matter.

Today's challenge is tough for me.  I think I've already made great strides to make this year's holiday a little simpler than last year's.   The number of handmades is down, and what I have made was simpler to make in the first place.  There won't be a lot of Christmas baking going on here, and the holiday countdown garland hanging in our living room feels more like a way to be intentional about the activities we want to share with our children and prioritizing time to do them.  So while the garland is new, the activities in it would happen anyway with or without the garland to guide us as to when they happen.

So, after much pondering, scratching my head and furrowing my brow, here is what I've come up with:

  ~ I will turn off Facebook until December 28
  ~ I will keep the computer games turned off too, until December 28
  ~ I will only have one errand morning or afternoon a week.  All of us will need to be super-resourceful if there is some "gotta have" thing.  If something is needed right now, it will need to be found within the four walls of this house.  While I would love for this to apply to everything, I will be practical and reasonable...if we need milk because for some mysterious reason there is none left in the fridge, we'll go get milk.  But I'm not running out at 10:00 pm to get something like, say, glitter.
  ~ I will, without guilt, buy premade stuff if I need to.  The holidays will still be wonderful if we buy premade pie crusts instead of the ones from scratch.  Or if the whole pie is premade. 

And I'm pleased to report I've already had success in purging things from my to-do list.  I was planning to make snow crystals inside today with Nature Club.  This would have required me to pick up dry ice and Styrofoam containers, as well as get the experiment set up and, optimally, test it out.  But with most of our evenings full of other goodness, which I wouldn't trade for a second, I pulled the plug on making snow crystals.  Instead, we read the book, The Story of Snow and made snowflake cutouts from last year's left over printouts.

I knew there would be little nuggets of success scattered throughout this holiday challenge!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

From Hectic to Harmonious...Day 2

Well, today was definitely more hectic than harmonious.  It was harmonious enough, with kids happily reading, playing at our homeschool co-op and not putting up too much of a fuss as we tidied up before supper.  But I know I am not in a harmonious state of mind.  I'm finding my mind is working overtime when my head hits the pillow.  It's reorganizing and reprioritizing my to-do list...over and over and over again.  Which makes for a late, late night and a late, late morning before I get moving.  Our routine gets off, and then my morale plummets.  It's not looking like those ideals I wrote about yesterday, does it?

Still, I'm going to keep the faith that things will get better.  After all, we're only two days into the challenge and there are twenty-six left to go.  I will learn something during that time, won't I?  I will take some actions to change what's driving today's insanity, won't I?  I can resolutely say yes...I'm committed to what I want our holiday season to look and feel like.  I know I won't be perfect every day and that there will be slips here and there.  But we will grow and adjust and learn as we go.  Simplifying is a process and not an end state, is it not?

So, today's challenge is to think of how I want my children to experience the holidays.  Oh, I want so very much for them!  I want them to feel deep down in their hearts the magic of the holidays...that even if it is only for one short moment, all can be good and right in the world.  I want their eyes to widen in wonder as they ponder some of the mysteries of life...mysteries that perhaps need no explanation but simple acknowledgement.  I want their hearts to feel full of the goodness and light that they send out into the world.  I want them to feel smooth transitions throughout their days and weeks...that their days have flow and that it feels more like a graceful dance than a race.  I want them to experience the joy of giving and the graciousness of receiving.  I want them to be thankful for all they have...all the love that surrounds them, nourishment that sustains them, and material comforts that enrich their lives.  I want something in our holiday traditions, new or old, to resonate with them so much that they feel inclined to share it with the families that they raise of their own.

I guess I want them to be able to look back on their Christmases with fondness, knowing that they had experiences that fed their hearts and souls and that they will walk into the new year with a full cup.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Hectic to Harmonious...Day 1

A few weeks ago I thought it was a good idea to sign up for Nourished Home's 28-Day From Hectic to Harmonious Challenge.  I confess...there is a part of me that dreads - truly dreads - the Christmas holiday season.  I dread the loss of our rhythm or routine and how ungrounded that leaves us feeling.  I dread the day-after-day time away from our home, and little space for a breather in-between.  I dread the late nights preparing for the next day, sometimes admittedly due to my own procrastination, poor planning, or overly ambitious plans.

When I start feeling this way, I do try to put a positive spin on things.  I'm delighted that there are so many people who invite us to be in their company.  I smile when I see my little ones playing games with their cousins and reminisce of my own childhood Christmases.  I enjoy taking my time to make gifts for my loved ones so that they can linger lovingly in my thoughts a wee bit longer.

Still, I'm looking forward to a few "aha" moments where perhaps I remove my utopian ideals or come to the realization that really difficult decisions need to be made.  For now, I consider day one of the challenge - how do I want to feel this holiday season.

I want to find a balance between the excitement and anticipation of the holiday season and the opportunity for meaningful and thoughtful introspection.  I want meaningful connection with friends and family.  I want our days to be peaceful and relaxed - I want to be aglow with a serene energy rather than radiating a jittery, anxious energy.  I want to live in and experience the moment, rather than having my thoughts drift towards the to-do list.  I want to spend more time with my family than running errands.  I want our family to consider and live the spirit of the season.

What do you want your holiday season to look like?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Walking with purpose

As I was preparing for the week last night and flipping through the winter curriculum from Lavender's Blue Homeschool, I ran across a page titled Purposeful Work.  In my haste, though, I read it as "purposeful walk".  This phrase, mistaken as it was, stuck with me through today.  As we bundled up to head outside for a bit of (very) fresh air, I wondered how we could get into the headspace to enter the outside world with purpose when our main goal was just to, well, say we went outside.

Funny, though, if we open our eyes to the wonder of nature and Mother Earth, that in itself is purpose.  We hadn't even made it to the corner when our breath was taken away by the haunting beauty of the tree branches covered in prickly-looking, but delicate and intricate frost.  Our ears were treated to the rare sound of a jay's call and we caught a glimpse of the large blue bird as it was making its rounds of the neighbourhood. 

Even though I was surrounded by the rambunctiousness of my seven-year-old and the sorrowfulness of my toddler, I felt of hush of peace come over me.  My son felt it too, I think.  It was like seeing the world for the first time, even though we've traveled the same streets by foot hundreds of times.  There's always something to appreciate, whether it be something novel (like the jay) or something familiar, like the tall spruce trees that sway and creak and moan in the strong winds yet remain firmly rooted in the earth.

And that is why our morning walks and our outside time are so important to our days.  Besides the space to burn off some excess energy, they allow us to soak up all the wonder of nature, if we're open to it.  If we walk out the door with the questions, "What will we see today?  What surprises await us if we only open our senses to them?", we've walked out the door with purpose.  Our walks allow us to deepen our connection to the earth and to the seasons.  They allow us to surrender to the fact that the seasons do indeed change, with each being wildly different and uniquely beautiful and necessary.  They allow us to be reverent to all living things, both growing and dormant.  They allow our hearts to open a bit more when, at times, there is an overwhelming desire to close them tightly and hide away.  They give us the opportunity to learn...understand...appreciate what could never be done justice in a book or a lecture.  They connect us, in an indescribable way, to those who walked the earth before us and those who will inherit it long after we are gone and who have or will experience the same awe and wonder.

I vow not to shudder when donning my winter gear tomorrow.

Friday, 29 November 2013

About snow

In my last post, I mentioned that I decided to hastily put together a unit study on snow to carry us through the two or three weeks until we decide to pack homeschooling for 2013 away for the year.  This unit is mainly for Jaelyn, as Nicholas is happily writing about birds and is diligently watching his bird feeders for Project FeederWatch.

Jaelyn's reading has simply exploded over the last month or so.  While she's typically done a good job of reading the words in her readers, I was never quite sure if she was reading the library books she cozied up with on the couch or if she was looking at the pictures.  Now I know that she's reading them word for word and understanding them.  She reads to me or to Astrin, and is proud to tell me how many pages she's devoured during her day.

Since this little one loves to read, we started off our unit on snow with the tale of The Snow Queen.  We spent a little bit of time each day for a week doing some sort of activity related to this story...reading it, drawing a picture about something from the story, narrating a summary of the story, writing a poem. 

We're using blank sketch books to compile all of our work.  It's my attempt at a main lesson book used in the Waldorf philosophy.  While I have no idea whether I'm doing it "right" and fully intend to do more research at some point, it serves its purpose for now and Jaelyn is enjoying what she's drawing and writing in her "green" book, as we refer to it here.

I'm looking forward to getting into some learning about snow crystals themselves and how they are formed next week.  We will be reading Snowflake Bentley (a perennial winter favorite here) and looking at some of the pictures he published in Snow Crystals.  We'll be catching our own snowflakes (we're in for a big dump of snow early next week), photographing them and making sketches, making snowflake cutouts to decorate our windows, and creating our own snow crystals inside.  There are also a couple of books kicking around here on snow storms and blizzards that could be an interesting treat.  And of course there are all sorts of chances for building snow forts and snowmen in the fluffy white stuff.  But more on that later - stay tuned!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Rhythm revisited

We went through a funk a couple of weeks ago where my body refused to leave the house.  I'm serious.  Gloomy skies hung down over us, the temperature dropped, and I couldn't get myself out the door.  Knitting, toes tucked into wool socks and slippers, hot tea, and a warm fire were all I wanted.  Fresh air seemed overrated.

Yet all of us staying inside and only leaving our comfy abode to run urgent errands is a recipe for stir-craziness.  Thankfully my little ones will go outside on their own and they will, for the most part, get along with one another.  But I think I noticed that too much indoor time for mama led to my own restlessness and discontent growing.  Falling out of our daily and weekly rhythm left me feeling unanchored and like life was slightly spiraling out of control.

At the same time, we had finished up our unit on the human body.  All of the (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Samhain, Hallowe'en, and Martinmas festivals were behind us.  We now had an empty void of time that we weren't accustomed to.  And, I'm coming to terms with my littlest one being a non-napper and quieter afternoons for planning and prepwork (or knitting) being a thing of the past. 

So, I find myself in the midst of transition.  Of discovering that it feels like too much effort to get outside twice before lunch...once all the socks are found, the snowsuits are donned and the winter boots are laced up.  Of realizing that we won't be able to do that deep dive into the world of birds without a lengthy pause as we prepare for and celebrate Christmas and that we should postpone that to the new year and do something lighter and less intense instead.  Of finding my evening hours getting longer and longer with planning for the days and weeks ahead and striving to keep my head above water.

All this means that that lovely rhythm we had created in September and tried hard to follow through on in October is begging for a tweak here and there.  It means I'll need to be aware of the impact the physical change of seasons in this part of the world has on our days, instead of insisting that winter doesn't start until December 21!  It means I'll need to do a better job next year of building a skeleton for our whole year in advance so that I'm not surprised by this two or three week space I find myself now in.

I'm now willing myself to step outside again once a day.  We usually get out in the morning, after we've finished our formal bookwork.  And it's usually not as cold as I expect it will be.  We're spending the next few weeks in a unit about snow, as I come to terms with the white stuff being around for the next five months or so, as we bring our awareness to the changes happening in nature around us.  I'm now setting aside one afternoon a week to bake with Astrin.  I'm also trying to spend a wee bit of time in the afternoons, while the children read, working a row or two of what happens to find itself on my knitting needles.  I'm trying to get myself to bed a little earlier at night so I don't feel like the walking dead the next day.  It feels like I'm trying to regain what I lost by letting my own rhythm slide.  I know it's a good thing.

When the holidays are over and I find myself juggling less, I'll look a little more closely at our rhythm and whether it is still working for us or if it needs more of an overhaul.  Do we need to have a set day of the week for baking, making soup, doing laundry, painting, modeling, and whatever else?  How does this work when external factors seem to put flux into a predetermined schedule before the ink has even dried on the page?  Is it that I need to be more diligent or discerning about the things I allow to change our rhythm?  Is it just that I need to relax and go with the flow a bit more?  Have I thoroughly observed and thought about how my children react to changes in our daily and weekly rhythms? seems that while I have lots to think when New Year's approaches, I have a pretty good idea of one of the themes that may show up in my resolutions!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

In the busyness of our days I find myself writing this post a day late.  Amid making a supper on the fly, preparing for a homeschool co-op class the next day, dreaming up a little bit of science love to carry us into December, and casting on the next project, yesterday was full, full, full.  And that was just after 5:30!

Before all that busyness though, in the afternoon yesterday, we hosted Nature Club.  As I was tidying the kitchen before Nature Club arrived, I pondered that our part of the world looked much different than it did when Nature Club met last.  And that's where I took Nature Club this week - on a sensory scavenger hunt to discover just how much different our world is this week, with its heaps of snow, bitterly cold winds, and shorter days.  Different than the dusting of snowflakes, the mild days and evenings, and the rich smell of rotting leaves of two weeks ago when we made lanterns for Martinmas.

The Clubbers turned into feral wolves as they walked, ran, and crawled to the park.  They howled at passersby, pretended to be playful cubs, and snuck up on unsuspecting prey.  When it looked like they'd worked off all their pent-up energy, we started our scavenger hunt game. 

We started out by sitting in silence for a minute to see if we could hear different sounds than we heard last meeting.  We then walked for a distance in silence to see if we could hear any other different sounds.  And different sounds there were...the breeze, the crunch of snow under our boots as we walked, the sound of ski pants rubbing together, the sound of running noses.

We moved onto bringing our awareness to our sense of touch...whether we could feel anything different.  Most told me about how their toes and fingers felt cold.  We also talked about if we could tell which direction the wind was blowing from, whether we could feel the sun on our faces, or whether our skin felt itchy in our dry winter climate.

At about the half-way point of our walk, we turned our attention to what we could perceive with our noses.  Did the world smell any different?  When first arriving at the park we noticed the aroma of popcorn, which was an oddity.  I was hoping we could catch the smell of wood burning in fireplaces, but I think it may have been a bit early for folks to have lit their evening fires.  Further along, we did notice that the world smelled a bit there was an absence of smell.

Lastly, we used our eyes to look for differences in our natural world from two weeks ago.  As we turned to the west, we noticed a fantastic sunset (and noticed how different it was just five minutes later).  We noticed tracks of animals.  We noticed icicles hanging from the eaves of houses.  And yes, the obvious covering of snow, too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Pick up sticks

Our week has gotten off on a good foot!  That's always good news to share.  While it is still winter-coat chilly in our little patch of the world, the sun burned away the clouds and it's rays felt like streams of joy beaming down from the sky.

Our morning walk (which was sporadic on those grey days where I didn't feel like moving outside of our kitchen) took us to the park on a search for sticks of all shapes and sizes.  But more of that later.

You see, I won a Waldorf-inspired kindergarten curriculum from Lavender's Blue Homeschool.  And it has come in very handy for the circle time Astrin and I spend together as the other children start on their schoolwork.  The winging it on my own wasn't going very well, so new songs and verses, ideas for crafts connected to the stories, and the overall alignment of the activities with the seasons was very welcome!

Astrin has been loving the songs and verses.  I love that there is an opportunity for movement with most of the verses, and I love that the package comes with an audio file so I know whether I should be singing or speaking (though I may opt to do my own thing too).  She also seems more content to do her own thing after we've spent circle time together, which is great when the other children need my attention.

I haven't done any watercolour painting or modelling with my little ones yet.  This is partly because I'm too tired, lazy, adverse to mess, not sure how exactly to do it, or all of the above!  Perhaps in the winter though.  We also haven't done many of the crafts, mostly because I think they are above Astrin's ability right now.  It is a kindergarten curriculum after all, and she has a few more years before that!  But today I thought the curriculum had an activity that we could all enjoy.

You see, we've been singing and acting out all sorts of rhymes to do with the wind.  Last week, we enjoyed the story of the three little pigs.  And thankfully, it dawned on me that we could all do the activity of building a house of sticks.  So off to the park we went in search of sticks!

We could be making stick houses for days on end.  And it was interesting how we all took a different approach.  Astrin was satisfied to simply break the sticks into pieces and cut the string to shreds.  Nicholas made walls by weaving larger sticks and is now in the process of figuring out how to connect them all together.  Jaelyn made a teepee and is now decorating a paper cover to keep the wind out.  And I experimented with weaving many little sticks.  Yes, this was a learning project for us all.  I was very careful to express that this was a trial and error project, and that there was no "right" way to do it.

I hope your week is off to a lovely start! 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Catching up

My, I've been quiet in this space for the last week or two.  It's funny how I think that longer stretches of a slower pace are just on the other side of the figurative hill we've been climbing, but we never quite make it over the crest.  From tracking down skates or other miscellaneous gear, to planning games, crafts, and festivals for us to celebrate, not to mention the holiday season that is in my peripheral vision, it feels like the moments for quiet introspection are short and I prefer to spend them alone rather than in front of my computer.  I'm feeling the side of my brain that does all the list-making and organizing needs to be working in full-gear, while the side that spins a story and tries to see the interconnectedness and lessons in it all is asked to sit this one out.  I'm feeling the itch to be making tangible things with my hands rather than writing words into cyberspace.  A row or two of knitting or a snip or two of scissors on fabric is my chance to catch my breath before we start it all again the next day.

I'm at least happy to say that the last several weeks have been good ones...crafting beautiful things, enjoying the beauty of an evening lantern walk with friends and family, celebrating our wrap up of our human body unit with a field trip to the science centre, story telling, singing and smiling together, tailoring our "schoolwork" time so it really doesn't feel like schoolwork at all...good stuff.  And those moments of pause are spent sipping my favorite tea and knitting in front of the fire.  Or holding my breath as I take a knitted creation and plunge it into hot soapy water all the while hoping I have the intuition to stop felting it before it's too late.  Or thinking out whether that Christmas countdown calendar will really be started or finished this year, before brushing those thoughts aside and considering instead the creative possibilities we could explore together.

Yes, a pause in this space is necessary when I feel like I'm writing because I have to, not because I want to.  It's easy not to bring your best when it feels like you're just going through the motions and don't really have your heart behind it.  It could easily turn into a laundry list of what the day looked like rather than a place to think through why we do what we do, what we could do better, what might inspire or prove useful to others, and to remember the things that were awesome and beautiful in our days.

So, till next time...whenever that may be...

Monday, 4 November 2013

Surrounded by birds

We're winding down our unit on the human body this week, finishing off with my favorite...the musculo-skeletal systems.  And that means we're that much closer to a field trip to the Science Centre to finish it all off.  And it also means that we'll be moving on to something new.

That something new will be a wee bit of citizen scientist work.  We've joined Project Feeder Watch and will be watching daily to see who happens to show up at our bird feeders this winter.  We're fully stocked on birdseed and kicked off our birdfeeder project by adding a suet feeder as well. 

We were all ready to start observing this morning.  But what did we find?  High winds, blowing snow, icy's likely the birds were hiding somewhere where they would be well protected and weren't going to come out for a peck or two at the bird feeder (neither was the squirrel that likes to spill the birdseed all over the ground).  Despite the lack of activity, we did put together a hypothesis or two about our observations.  We'll see if our theory that ties the lack of birds at the feeder to the dismal weather will hold true throughout the winter.

We were also treated to a special event tonight.  An expert on the decline of the burrowing owl population in Canada made a stop for a talk in our town tonight.  Nicholas and I went together, with notebooks in hand for taking notes.  We listened intently, jotted little bits and pieces of information down, asked questions, and enjoyed the company of other nature lovers we hadn't met before.  Part of what excited me about homeschooling was the opportunity for my children to dive deep into the topics they love and the chance to learn from and connect with enthusiastic experts that they typically wouldn't have access to in school.  I'm so glad we're getting a taste of that now, and I'm looking forward to more of it in the months ahead!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A haunting good time little goblins are out haunting the neighbourhood while I stand guard over our stash of Hallowe'en goodies and treats and greet our little visitors one-by-one.  I'm also armed with warm Hallowe'en punch for when the little ones return from their adventures.  I can't remember the last time I stayed home and Chris took the little ones out.  But this is nice.

And what a busy day we enjoyed together too.  I retold the children the story of where many of our Hallowe'en traditions came from...the festival of Samhain that was celebrated by the Celts of long ago.  To honour some of those old traditions, we made Sussex soul cakes and shared them with family.  I have a funny feeling there will be a small plate of them sitting on the hearth of our masonry heater tonight too.  We dressed up right after lunch and shared our small homemade treats with grandparents, then headed over to our local homeschool-friendly and Waldorf-inspired school for a Hallowe'en dance. 

In a flurry of preparation before darkness fell, the pumpkins were carefully hauled to the steps, along with some jar lanterns the children made at a pumpkin festival this year.  Our little tin lanterns donned their wire handles (the finishing touch) and were hung where the hanging baskets of summer used to be.  Candles were lit.  Faces were re-painted.  In excitement, the little ones rushed out the door.  This adult decided to stop being a stick-in-the-mud and pulled together a little of this and a little of that for her own homemade costume (thanks Jaelyn for lending me your playcape). 

We hope everyone had a happy Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey Version.

Our meeting today was an experiment.  It was the "what will the Club do when I have prepared nothing for them to do?" meeting I thought we would try out a couple of meetings ago.  We came up with some interesting results.

Most of the boys decided they wanted to be silly.  Yes, that was an option that they wrote down on a list of things they could do.  And the one they chose.  So I politely asked them to get their shoes and coats on to take the silliness game outside.  I did follow them out too, at a distance, as sometimes this group doesn't quite see how fast they are approaching the line named "too far".  One clubber decided to build something while the others made up a hunting game.  I wasn't sure what to make of the division in the group, but let it happen and watched what would unfold.

Eventually, the Clubbers got cold and wanted to come inside.  This meant they all had to come inside.  And they all played together quite happily upstairs until the meeting was over.

And what do I make of our meeting today?  It's too early to tell.  It's too early to determine whether the odd man out thing will be consistent.  It's too early to tell how consistently the magic moments will appear, or if they even will happen consistently (magic has a funny way of appearing when you least expect it, I understand).  It's too early to tell how often the silly game will trump opportunities for creating either individually or together.  And I wonder if I will ever be able to figure out the triggers to the path they choose to take at our meetings, since I am not witness to how their day unfolds or to what extent they use the Club meetings as a time to decompress from the day.

So we'll take it meeting by meeting and see what we see. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Easing into fall

We've had a nice pace around here since the last of the fruit and tomatoes made their way through our kitchen.  Yes, there's been time for planning co-op activities, knitting, conspiring for Hallowe'en and the multitude of celebrations that follow over the next few months, amongst the everyday tasks that keep us learning together.

So what have we been up to?

  ~ making homemade candies to share with friends and family

  ~ making tin lanterns that we'll hang for Hallowe'en and use for a local Martinmas walk we learned about

  ~ making more cardboard shields

  ~ starting to get ourselves ready for the great Christmas crafting spree - dreaming, planning, gathering, and a little making here and there

  ~ cooking unique homemade meals, using up the bounty from our pantry

  ~ knitting, now that the first snowflakes have fallen and we've given up on an extended Indian summer

  ~ putting that masonry heater to work, as we experiment with a different type of wood

  ~ many stories as we cuddle together

I've gone through a bit of a funk as the days get shorter and shorter and the temperature dips lower and lower.  But I also find myself in a comfortable place.  I smile as I add another quilt handmade with love by a grandmother or great-grandmother to our beds.  I find myself enjoying wearing my woolen treasures.  And I think I'll have to face the fact that I'm a cold-weather cook - it feels comfortable to roast or slow cook, and make up batches of soups and chilis.

And I'm learning that there is much fun and celebration that can be had in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead and the light we'll send out into the world as the nights stretch out. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

I knew that neglecting to clean out the corn from our garden was a wonderful choice.  All summer and so far this fall it has stood guarding our potato patch and our back yard.  I loved coming around the corner and seeing all those long green leaves swaying back and forth in the breeze.  I loved the sound of the leaves rustling together.  I loved the splash of green colour it gave to an otherwise boring fence.

But we kept it in late for a reason.  Two meetings ago, Nature Club read the book We All Gather Together.  It describes the autumnal equinox and how various cultures celebrate the harvest at this time of year.  One such celebration is Sukkot, an eight-day festival of thanksgiving celebrated by the Jewish culture.  Often, a sukkah - a hut built by Jewish farmers in their fields so they could be close to their crops - is built and decorated with fruits and vegetables. 

Sometime between that meeting and now, I read an article in the Fall 2013 edition of Living Education magazine that described building a sukkah.  Hmmm, I thought.  That could be an interesting project that could tie in nicely with some of the other celebrations we could organize to honour the seasons.  But the actual instructions for how to build that particular sukkah felt a bit daunting.

Fast forward about a week.  My family was hiking around on a local hiking trail.  And what did we find?  A little fort built quite simply with fallen branches.  It didn't make much of an impression on me at the time, except that it was a cute little hideout for little ones in the woods.

Eventually, the two ideas came together.  What if we made a little Nature Club hideaway?  We could use our old, dried corn stalks for the walls and the longest piece of wood in our garage for the center beam.

Fast forward today.  We briefly reviewed the Sukkot celebration and I showed them the picture of Astrin and Jaelyn in the fort in the woods.  "Have you made one of these before?" someone asked.  "Nope, but we'll figure it out" was my response. 

We tromped outside after our snack, armed with a pitchfork and a couple of spades.  We worked together to pry the corn out of the cold damp ground and made a huge pile of definitely looked like a pile that would be fun to jump in, save the cement sidewalk lurking not too far underneath. 

Then we hauled the stalks over to the spot in our yard that Jaelyn and I had chosen earlier...a spot that would hopefully stand up to the elements until at least the next meeting.  A spot where the branches we wedged the end of our wood between would be high enough for people to duck into comfortably, and also wide enough to have seating for more than two.  We alternated the stalks as we stacked them - one on the left, followed by one on the right of the beam - and the leaves naturally tangled themselves so we didn't need to lash the stalks and the beam together (at least not yet...we'll see how it's doing in the morning). 

Once the space was nice and cozy, the Clubbers began to decorate and make it just right...the spot for the fire circle was created...any leaves on the inside of their hut were cut away...the tassels of the corn were cut off and gathered into bouquets to scatter around the hut.

And that was where Nature Club played for the rest of the meeting. 

Eventually, Nature Club was over, yet my children continued to enjoy the outside space that was created, expanding it to fit their needs.  They insisted upon eating outside, equipped with homemade flashlights (courtesy of a recent Cub Scouts meeting), camaraderie, and toques and mitts too, of course.

I certainly hope this little hidey-hole we created lasts for a while!  Thanks Nature Club for a bit of fun, and for helping stretch those corn stalks out just a wee bit longer!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


('Jambo' means 'Hello' in Swahili)

I'm not sure if I've mentioned how much I love, love, love our homeschool co-op.  I've loved how the children have been engaged about the countries we've visited thus far.  I've loved how the activity for the week has been played out by my kids once we've arrived back home, sometimes for days on end.  I've loved the challenge of learning about different places and weaving together aspects of history, culture, geography, and craft into a tiny 45 minute block.

Today our group learned some more about Kenya.  Last week, the children learned what the life of a typical Kenyan child might be like and finished their day by preparing and sharing a simple meal.  This week, we looked into symbolism that weaves its way into both fine art and utilitarian artifacts - how the shapes and colours used by a culture have special significance and learning about that significance so we could appreciate the story an artifact tells.

I started our discussion by showing a picture of the Kenyan flag.  We noticed the different colours and the shield and spear design in the middle.  We wondered why the country picked the colours it did.  Then, I shared the shortest history lesson I possibly could that explained the explorers, tradesmen, soldiers and settlers who migrated to the country at various times throughout its history and their influence and effect on the native Kenyan tribes.  The flag is directly linked to the country's history - you can see the flag and learn more about it here.

Then we talked about symbols in our own culture - what shapes, colours and animals might mean to us in North America.  The ages I was working with ranged from 4 to 10, so I picked pretty simple symbols - a heart, a dove, a dollar sign, a lion.  We compared this to what shapes, colours and animals might represent to one of the tribes that call Kenya home...the Maasai.  I found a wealth of information about the meaning of colours here.  Finally, before moving on to our craft, we looked at some pictures of Maasai artifacts and people (Living Tribes has some amazing photographs of tribes from all over the world) and took note of the colours and shapes used in the items. 

The children then dove into the craft of their choice...making a replica of a Maasai shield, mask or bead necklace.  Each of these projects required the same materials...cardboard and paint, and the design was up to them.  I made the pictures we looked at earlier available to the children to look at, and I shared copies of what the colours symbolized.  The children were free, though, to use the colours, shapes and symbols that meant something significant to them.  Instructions for the Maasai necklace were found in Super Simple African Art.


Another great day at homeschool co-op!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The wonder book

My daughter received The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book by Isabel Wyatt for her birthday, way back in April.  Sadly, we've just gotten around to reading it now.  But my, what an adventure we've been on!  This book is packed with so much goodness...tales that mirror the seasons, gentle tales that remind us to listen to our conscience, and all-round, feel good tales that spark the imagination.  It definitely brings a sense of wonder to our before-bed reading time, and the world feels like a simpler and happier place.

The book is about a girl named Sylvia, who is not quite seven.  She meets friends of this world and the imaginary world.  And she has a gentle, kind mother who is a marvelous storyteller.  Often, after an eventful day or listening to a tale her mother has woven, she pulls out her wonder book from under her pillow and chants the magic spell to the Rhyme Elves.  Leaving the elves a blank page, she falls asleep and by morning, her clean page is filled with wonderful drawings and a poem, always based on the preceding story. 

This book is so good, in my daughter's eyes, that she too desired a wonder book of her own.  And a flurry of activity began...finding a blank book that would be just right for the Rhyme Elves, and memorizing the magic spell to summon them.  When all was ready, and the spell had been chanted, she left the book by our piano downstairs and headed for bed, hoping for a visit from the elves.

And they came! 

We decided that Sundays will be the day that we ask the Rhyme Elves to draw us a picture and write us a poem.  We're happy to welcome them into our home.