Thursday, 31 January 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

I was looking forward to an absolutely frigid day for one of our Nature Club meetings, and January didn't disappoint.  Today, we made a super-quick fire and ice sun catcher and (just as quickly) discussed a whole range of nature-ish topics.

I ran across the fire and ice sun catcher project in Amanda Blake Soule's book The Rhythm of Family.  The children and I gathered some winter animal edibles on one of our family walks earlier this week, before the deep freeze set in.  We tried our best to identify the plants so we could share that information with Nature Club.  We found rosehips, berries from a buckthorn tree, wizened crabapples, and chokecherries.  We also grabbed some fallen evergreen twigs and pinecones to add some variety to our sun catchers.  Finally, from the fridge, I offered sliced oranges, pumpkin seeds and cranberries.  All this information was shared with the Clubbers.

As we filled our bundt pans (which the Clubbers dropped off before the meeting so we could freeze a layer of ice in advance), we talked about the animals that winter here and we wondered about how hard or easy it was to find food. 

Lastly, we talked about the uniqueness of water, despite its ordinary appearance.  Specifically, we chatted about how it expands when it is a solid.  We talked about the sounds the ice made as we poured a layer of water over top of the goodies we'd just placed in the pan.  Yes, water is amazing.

And the sun catchers?  They'll shine brightly during these short, bitterly cold days and bring a little winter beauty into our lives.  Then, when the temperatures rise and the sun beats intensely on them, they'll melt and drop their bounty down for the birds and squirrels to savour.   They'll remind me that all in this world is temporary, and urge me to soak up every bit of loveliness that enters my world.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Educating myself

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a training session related to my former "paid" profession as an accountant.  As I sat surrounded by those who are immersed in the business world, I wondered what in the world I was doing there.  How was any of what I was learning - accounting standards - relevant to where I'm at in my life now?  Why was I clinging to the designation I earned years ago, but which bared little application to my daily work?  How had I managed to fall so far behind in the changes in my industry, and would I ever catch up, if need be?

At first, I concluded that the only reason I was in the room was to ensure I had a contingency plan - if I needed to return to the work force to make money, I could.  As the day went on, I discovered a couple more reasons. 

I thought about how my children may become more engaged, lifelong learners if they witnessed their mama making time to learn something new.  Perhaps the shiny binder I brought home from the training session would look more like "learning" in their eyes than when I learned how to crochet a hat or some new-to-me knitting stitches. 

Then I thought back to the days when I had completed StrengthsFinder 2.0, and how the author encouraged his readers to invest even more in their strengths than in their weaknesses.  I used to be really great at accounting.  I'm sure I could catch up to all the changes with relative ease.  And, I could use all that talent I've pushed to the side of my "teacher's desk" to help out some really worthwhile causes.  Choosing who I share my talents with could be a strong statement to my children about following their hearts and values, rather than the almighty dollar.

As I sat here tonight, I thought of one more reason.  I'm in a wonderful position to teach my children about money, about business, and perhaps we will even be able to stretch it as far as corporate social responsibility.  As we ate supper and listened to the news, we heard a story about a company that has been on quite the roller coaster ride - Research In Motion (of Blackberry fame).  From a short 30 second news bite came a discussion on financial statements, shares, net income, dividends, debt, and investments.  And it was a real discussion, with back-and-forth dialogue, questions, and contemplation.  The vocabulary would never allow us to pass a university class, but it made sense to the audience in the room. 

Yes, the book learning and the real-life learning shall continue for this gal.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey Version.

Today the Birds of Prey Club is starting a new theme.  I really have come to the end of pure birds of prey themes, so we are starting a unit on Arctic animals and peoples, inspired by one of Nicholas' much loved owls, the Snowy Owl. 

I stumbled upon this theme quite by accident.  I received an email from Greenpeace in December, advertising a new website they'd set up, Arctic Rising.  It's a toolkit that young and old can use to raise awareness about threats to the Arctic. 

I thought it would be too big of a leap to simply start exploring the issues facing the Arctic environment and Arctic peoples.  So, we're starting off slow by exploring some of the Arctic animals, including the adaptations they've made to survive in such a unique environment.  Our plan today was to identify some animals and then head to the park to see how some of the adaptations they've inherited help them to thrive.  We were going to explore camouflage, inspired by the colour changes of the Arctic Fox and Arctic Hare, by playing hide and seek with winter camouflage and without.  Then, we were going to explore a simple physical adaptation of paw size for walking in snow.  We were going to play predator and prey with and without snowshoes. 

But it was not to be today.  The weather turned bitterly cold, and not all the Clubbers were dressed for the outdoors.  So, we'll save those ideas for another day.

Today, we read the book Ookpik:  The Travels of a Snowy Owl.  It tells the tale of survival of a young Snowy Owl from its birth through its return to the Arctic after migrating for its first winter.  It has fabulous illustrations, and there was just enough factual material woven into the story that we could have a couple of discussions about adaptations of the Snowy Owl.  It was amazing how quiet this group of rowdy boys were for the entire story.  Then, we broke out the art materials and the boys had an opportunity to draw or paint something that touched them from the story.  This was a very open-ended activity, where they could draw a landscape, an animal, or what they thought it might feel like to be one of the animals from the story.

As I was scouring the internet for other ideas, I came across a website that shows promise for inspiring future meetings.  I think this little club will be the neighbourhood's foremost experts on the Arctic by the time we're done this theme!

Monday, 28 January 2013


I've been rather quiet in this space the last few days, and I've struggled to write inspiring posts of all the creative, fun, wonderful projects we've been doing.  The latter because we've fallen into a rut and aren't doing creative, fun, wonderful projects, and the former because I've been internally wondering how to break out of this blah spell we're in.  And I do believe we're all in the depths of this spell.  Children seem to be moving slower and slower in the morning, I find myself nagging more often, and I just sense a general malaise around us.

I find it incredibly hard to sit by and wait for things to just work themselves out, because while I do believe that some things are bound to happen simply because of fate, I also believe that one has the power to create their own destiny.  After all, if one is to create an intentional life, then one must know what they want that life to look like and take consciously decide to take whatever steps are necessary to get there.  So that is where I will start in delving into this problem - by asking myself, "What did I want this homeschool to look like again?"

My vision for this homeschool is a place where children are active learners.  In fact, they decide what they will learn and how best to solve the problems that may get in the way of that learning.  My children are curious - they want to learn more and they know how to find out the information they seek.  My children are resilient - if whatever they are doing doesn't lead them to their desired outcome, they will try again and learn in the process.  Their learning will be messy, experiential, and intrinsically rewarding.   

So, what to do when the ship isn't exactly sailing in that direction?  My head has been spinning around that question until a walk today helped to show me what our homeschool looks like in a better light.   Yes, there are little things I can do to reduce the conflict in our days.  I sat down with Nicholas yesterday and we talked about the bookwork he needs to complete by the end of the week and the consequences if it does not get done.  We also talked about goals he has set for himself and broken them into smaller activities.  I also let him know that I would prefer not to remind him about these goals.  Each of the children have been told when the kitchen is closing for breakfast and they have told us when they need to be woken up so they can eat their meal with enough leisure to suit them. 

And during my walk today, I had the little "aha" that I need to relax a bit and recognize that some of the stuff that happens in our house will not look like school and embrace what makes us unique.  Often, I find myself fretting that we aren't doing enough of a defined subject and worrying about the judgment others may throw our way.  Today, I paused long enough to see that all that stuff that doesn't look like anything is actually my children diving into the subject matter of their interest and devouring it.  They build fantasy worlds around the topics that inspire them.  They draw pictures.  They act scenes out.  They read about it.  They search for movies.  They are using all their senses to bring these topics to life.

Here's to keeping my chin up in the days and weeks to come!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Mr. Moon

There are moments that I'm so humbled to witness and where I feel in awe of the incredible complexity of my children.  The moment I experienced today blows my mind so much that I struggle to put into words what I saw in the window to the soul of my littlest Astrin.

All started out very harmless and routine.  I was helping Astrin on to the potty.  I usually sing to her while she sits, and for whatever reason, I sang Mr. Moon this time.  Here's how it goes:

     Mr. Moon, Mr. Moon
     You're out to soon
     The sun is still in the sky
     Go back to bed 
     And cover up your head
     Until the day goes by

As I finished the song, she frowned.  Then she asked me to sing it again.  This time, she frowned and her lower lip pushed out into a little bit of a pout.  But again, she asked for an encore.  Her eyes looked troubled.  After the fourth song, she couldn't contain it any more.  She burst into tears.  I held my little one as she sobbed into my shoulder.  "No go bye," she wailed.  Now I understood.  She thought I was singing of a farewell, which very well could be tearful. 

"Oh, baby," I crooned as I wiped those very real, sad tears away and rubbed her back.  "It's not good-bye.  It's just come back a little later.  Rest for a little longer.  Get a little bit more sleep until night time."

Our conversation took a turn as she became very concerned about the whereabouts of her cousins and aunt.  Where were they? she demanded to know.  While I told her factually where they were, in retrospect, perhaps telling her they were safe and we would see them again soon would have been more helpful to her.  I don't know.  

Such strong emotions for such a little one who often happily relishes the role of being the baby of the family and all the silly, clownish stunts being the baby entails.  Did I catch a glimpse of empathy for a moon being cast out?  Or sincere sadness for the farewell of a friend?  Or relating farewells in a song to the absence of family that she adores?  Again, I don't know.  I do know that I am thankful for the reminder of the fragile souls, hearts and minds that I live, learn, and grow with every day, and that they need and deserve every ounce of love and support that I can give them.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Things that made me smile today...

  ~ Fixing an oops in the knitting project I'm working on instead of having to rip it out and start again

  ~ Being in awe as Jaelyn dabbled with expressionism

  ~ Enjoying the busy sounds of little ones experimenting with balloon rockets
  ~ Checking out Jaelyn's art in a youth exhibition at a local art gallery
  ~ Brainstorming ideas for Nicholas' World Conservation badge project
  ~ The slow cooker that had a warm, delicious meal ready for us when we returned home today
  ~ Listening to my littlest one singing "One for my Baby" by Frank Sinatra

  ~ Overhearing excited chatter as a little one returned home from his Scout meeting

I'm so thankful for the joys in our life.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Minding a toddler

I admit...I still haven't got my head around how to manage all the children simultaneously needing attention.  And I only have three!  Today, I felt pulled away from focusing attention on the older children by the force known as Astrin.  From putting crayons in her mouth, to using said crayons to draw on the table, to repeatedly redirecting her other activities, I felt spent after an hour. 

What have I done so far to keep my littlest one happily occupied?  Colouring is the main activity that seems to keep her happy.  I wonder how many times I can go to the well with that one before it gets old.  We've also experimented with various toys, like block sorters, wooden blocks, building train tracks, and Lego.

Tonight, I find myself scouring the internet for tips.  It's interesting that finding just a couple of doable tips can inspire some of my own ideas.  Here are some that I plan to try:

  ~ providing a small stack of books for Astrin to flip through and read to us.
  ~ seeing what happens when I set up a small, Astrin-sized table for her to do her work and play at.
  ~ having a stack of sewing cards or a bag with beads and pipe cleaners handy.
  ~ plunging into the world of messy by having a bag of mixed-media items (pictures from cards, yarn, buttons, feathers, etc.), a glue stick and sturdy paper for art beyond the crayon).  Well, maybe not buttons - they'll likely end up in her mouth.  But you get the idea. 
  ~ adding watercolours to the mix of art supplies.

And where did I find such inspiration?  Here are a few sites I checked out:

  ~ Simple Homeschool
  ~ Se7en
  ~ The Happy Housewife

I'll also be perusing my copy of Teaching Montessori in the Home for other ideas of items we can make that are provide her with basic learning and keep her little hands busy.

What are your favorite toddler tips?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Chilly means get stretchy

We were greeted this morning to very chilly weather...-41C with windchill!  I called off our morning trek and we instead opted to do yoga in the basement, where there was room for all of us to spread out. 

We whipped up our yoga practice on our own.  It was somewhat of a challenge to find something to engage everyone, as well as safely practicing with the toddler zipping around and the dog believing that yoga mats are for him to flop down on.  Nonetheless, we prevailed!  Here are some strategies we tried to make our practice enjoyable:

  ~ Every child and adult had their own mat.  It was relatively easy to ask Astrin to return to her mat so that the other children could have the space they needed to get into the pose.  That being said, we didn't mind if she crawled through our legs while we were in Warrior II or under our backs while we were in reverse table-top.
  ~ Many of the yoga poses are named for animals, so we made the animal sounds to go with the poses.  For example, we went through a cat-cow sequence while meowing and mooing, we wagged our tails and barked while in table-top and downward-facing dog, and we barked and clapped like seals while rolling on our backs.  Silly, but fun.
  ~ While we explored the breath at the beginning of our practice, by seeing what it felt like to fill our bellies with the breath, I didn't instruct the breathing as we moved through the poses. 
  ~ The children picked a pose or two that they like to do and we did them together.
  ~ The children had an opportunity to create a pose of their own.

There are a plethora of books and videos out there that are tailored to doing yoga with children.  Some in our library include:

  ~ Yoga Kids ABC's with Marsha Wenig
  ~ Yoga Journal's Family Yoga with Rodney Yee
  ~ Storytime Yoga with Sydney Solis
  ~ Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford and Martina Selway


Friday, 18 January 2013

A week in pictures

Sorting pennies
The math game Nicholas created
Taking baby for a walk
The War of 1812 continues...hiding from the enemy in the bushes
Swings!  In winter!
Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Today we welcomed back the Nature Club for the first time in 2013.  Today we had a sweet-smelling time together.  The herbs we picked back in September were now very dry and we used them to make some home remedies, all of which are described in Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots.

We talked about how earlier in history people needed to rely on nature to feed them, clothe them, and make them well when they were sick.  Then we reviewed the herbs we had picked in the fall...peppermint, lemon balm, and sage.  We talked about how the chemicals inside the herbs seem intensified when they are dried because they are now not "watered down".

We used the peppermint to make some tummy tea.  The peppermint contains menthol, which has anesthetic properties.  We simply picked the dried peppermint leaves off the stems and crumbled them into Teeli Flip bags (unbleached empty tea bags used with loose leaf teas).  The tea can be used to soothe upset tummies or relieve indigestion.  The tea could also be used as a morning eye-opener.  The peppermint smelled so yummy - one clubber astutely exclaimed that it smelled like her mama's gum, and wondered if peppermint gum would also work to cure a sore tummy.  We wondered whether gum contains real menthol - sounds like a good experiment to me!

Next, we made a sage gargle by picking the sage leaves off their stems and placing them in an empty glass jar.  Then, we poured apple cider vinegar over the leaves.  This gargle is an infusion, and it needs to be shaken for two weeks to get all the good antiseptic tannins out of it - I hope all the clubbers remember!  The gargle can be used to relieve a sore throat.  It was interesting to learn that the sage leaves would still be quite soft, despite the long drying period.

Lastly, we made a herbal bath bag.  We raided my scrap basket for fabric for making the bags.  Then we poured lavender (the only herb that didn't grow too well last summer and I had to buy) and crumbled the lemon balm leaves off their stems into the middle of our fabric squares.  Lastly, we bunched the sides of the fabric together and tied them with ribbon.  Our bath bags can be used to relax muscles (and minds).  We talked about how it could be perfect for bath night, or perhaps saving for one of the flus that leave muscles feeling sore and achy.  We wondered if the bath bags could be reused, or if they were a one-time use thing - another great experiment!  If we thought the peppermint smelled good, the lemon balm was divine!

While I hope the clubbers don't get sick, I also hope that if they do, that these little remedies provide some relief.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dem bones. And a recap on Birds of Prey.

Yesterday, my husband took the reins for the day's homeschooling adventures, while I was on a training course.  When I asked him how the day went, his only word was "fast".  Coincidentally, the first Birds of Prey Club meeting of 2013 was yesterday.  So, he was responsible for coming up with an activity, sharing it with the club members' parents, and then following through on those plans.  I did ask him if he wanted to do a guest post, and while he didn't say no, he didn't say yes either.  So here's a little recap of their afternoon.

Chris wanted to introduce the Club to bird calls.  First though, he wanted to give them a sense as to what it would be like to track an animal in the wild.  Being in an urban area, there isn't reams of wildlife - squirrels, small birds, cats and dogs rule the day here - so they played Let's Go Hiking (see here for more on our other experiences with the game).  I understand the room quieted down quite a bit once they got into the thick of it, and they had to negotiate with one another a few times.

Chris found some bird calls here.  He gave the club hints, like what the bird looked like, where it lived, what it preferred to eat, then he played the call.  As I understand it, the boys were begging to try just one more call as the end of club time was drawing near.

Today, I led our homeschool co-op through some learning about bones.  The co-op moms decided we would focus on all things science during the winter.  With limited planning time (if a week and a half is limited), I was a little mystified with what I could do, and what I would feel comfortable teaching.  After all, the last time I did anything related to "science", beyond gardening and cooking, was...hmmm....when I tried to take a university physics course by correspondence, and stumbled all over Newton's laws.  But before that, I had a love affair with anatomy and physiology.  This too I hummed and hawed over, because I didn't know if the kids would be interested.  Then I thought about some of my awesome teachers, and how the subject came alive simply because they were so passionate about it.  And I remember how I became more amazed and in awe of the human body just by better understanding how it worked.  So surely, if I showed up with the same amount of enthusiasm, it would rub off on someone.

The next trick was finding a suitable level of challenge for all in our group.  It was possible I would be working with children whose ages ranged from 4 to 10.  I decided to have some very basic things (singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and "Dem Bones") while also providing challenge by introducing the words in a different language (French), and the scientific names.  We talked about how the scientific names helped scientists speak in the same language and communicate about the body very precisely.  Then we talked about how many of the bony structures in a human body are named the same as those in another animal's body. 

While I was planning, I found I was struggling with how to give the children something to explore with their hands.  I wondered if I could borrow a human skeleton from somewhere.  I wondered if using anatomy colouring pages would really give the children the depth I wanted to provide them with.  With my brow furrowed, deep in though as to how to make bones tangible, I stumbled across the last of our stash of owl pellets.  Yes - I had that hands-on experience I wanted to provide, just in the form of a rodent instead of the human form I was more familiar and comfortable with.  

There was some apprehension from some of the children because of the tactile sensation of touching wet fur (we soaked the pellets before dissecting them).  It seemed, though, that once they saw a peak of their first bone, the apprehension fizzled away.  And I had a great time sharing some of my knowledge with these little ones.  We had a few exciting moments - one was when we found a vole skull fully intact - we could see the opening where the brain stem would leave the skull, which was a first for all the pellets we've been through.  I heard one child shout out "I found a humerus!" (upper arm bone), and was delighted that the songs we sung may have helped her remember the scientific names. 

Here are some websites I found that may help you and yours dive into the world of bones:

  ~ Build a skeleton on-line
  ~ Spongelab Build-a-body
  ~ Student activity page for dissecting an owl pellet, with links to the human skeletal system

Oh, what a fun afternoon!

Monday, 14 January 2013

A peaceful compromise

Here we were today, all four of us gathered in the bathroom as we finished getting ready for the day - teeth brushed, hair combed, me wrestling with a little one's diaper as she tried to climb on the potty.  The children were about to start their quiet time work - no morning walk today as it really is too frigid (-30C). 

I asked Nicholas what he would work on today.  He mentioned he would work on Language Lessons, he would like to play a math game, and he wasn't sure what his writing work would look like.  I mentioned looking at the next Writing Strands lesson, for he might like it - he was to write about a friend.  He got a look of fear in his eyes, then brightened up.  "What if I made a game?"

I hesitated, feeling my gut twist up a bit and my mind revving its engine.  How was a game writing?  But I resisted the urge to blurt out the question and responded curiously instead with, "What kind of game?"

"I don't know....what about a math game?" Nicholas answered.

Still not sure how he was tying writing into this game, I asked, "What will you write about?"

"The instructions.  And I'll need to make cards with the questions on them, and the cards will tell the person how many spaces to move if they get the question right.  And I'll need to make a game board."  Nicholas replied, his voice sounding more excited and his eyes sparkling just a bit more as he continued to formulate what his game would look like.

Both of us satisfied, he went off to his room to start his quiet time work while I finished getting Astrin ready for the day and headed downstairs to help Jaelyn. 

Later, Nicholas brings down the instructions he's written.  I ask him how he would like us to go through the words he had trouble spelling.  This time, he would like to go through it together, admitting that there were a few words he had trouble with.  We go through spelling and punctuation, have a few giggles along the way, then he heads back upstairs to make the cards and board.

Peace ensues.  What a great feeling.


Friday, 11 January 2013

A week in pictures

Ready to go sledding
Our littlest one working hard while the others are working too
Best papa ever rockin out with his little one (the Christmas tree will get put away this weekend!)
Send in the clowns!
Fun in the snow
LEGO dino-world, by Nicholas
Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Adjusting routines

I cherish our routines, because it gives all of us something to look forward to - we know what's going to happen next in our days.  Upon entering January, though, I felt compelled to look hard at our homeschooling routine.  Some of the dynamics in our family were changing - having a potential non-napping toddler hanging around during our quiet time, for starters.  Plus, despite it looking like this winter will be long, long, long, I really want to commit to getting us all out and discovering the beauty of a crisp winter day.  So we're going to tweak things and see how they go.

Our first tweak is to go for a family walk once everyone is ready to face the day.  We've gone every day this week, and I've been delightfully surprised at all there is to discover in this neighbourhood we've called home for the past three years.  Tuesday's discovery was a little band of brightly plumed birds, and today's was a mysterious coniferous tree that is one-of-a-kind for our part of town.

The second tweak is to do our quiet schoolwork in the morning instead of the afternoon.  This change was mainly because Astrin is showing signs of outgrowing her afternoon naps and there tend to be more places to go or things to do in the afternoon than in the morning.

The third tweak is to our approach to math.  We were originally using workbooks to go through math concepts.  While Jaelyn is happily zipping through her book, Nicholas has resisted every step of the way.  He is a bright boy and understands the concepts, and while he complained that his class at school progressed through math too slow, he also complained that we were going to fast.  He's insisted several times that the grade fours were absolutely not going through concepts that we were. 

I don't feel I have the emotional energy to prod, negotiate, and so forth, yet I do think that repetition and practice is needed to "do" math efficiently.  So we're using several different tools to get in the repetition I want, in a way that suits Nicholas.  And where did these tools come from?  They were rediscovered while we were cleaning our basement.  One is called "Math Factory" and the other is called "Three Steps Ahead" and we purchased them when Nicholas was a newborn - some salesperson came to prey on us as new, tired, naive parents and convinced us that our child would have difficulty in school if we didn't purchase them.  And what do you know - almost ten years after we purchased them, we're finally using them!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Into the thick of it

Well, now that all the reveries into past and future are done, it's time to be fully in the present.  And in the present we are.  It seems that all the activities that we were on hiatus from for a month are now knocking on the door.  Plus a few new ones have been added to the mix.  I almost cringed as I turned the weekly calendar page, as we went from a week with very few markings to many.  On paper, it looks like bodies are moving in all directions.

In the fall, I felt like our pace of life was pretty reasonable, and I'm scratching my head as to why things feel so hectic now.  In truth, both children are only doing one more activity than they did in the fall, and they are doing it together at the same time and in the same place.  Perhaps it is because we have notices of new events entering our inbox more often and find ourselves torn but ultimately saying "no" to more - just the act of saying "no" signals that we are tapped out or short on time.  Perhaps it is because we've needed to figure out what we're doing in the spring at the same time that we're registering for activities for the winter.  Perhaps it is the extras that have hit the calendar - like Scouting camps and activities, a trip to visit relatives, clubs that meet occasionally.  Or maybe this is just how it always feels when returning to the fray after blissfully empty moments of time during the holidays.

As I was perusing my reading list, I was struck by the timeliness of an article from the author of Project-Based Homeschooling.  It discusses the huge value of granting a child (or an adult, for that matter) time to dive deeply into a given topic.  One of the reasons my son was dissatisfied with his school experience was because he was often being dragged away from following his intense, passionate interests.  As I imagined a hectic winter, I was only focused on how it impacted me.  I didn't even consider how it would be impacting the children.

So here we are, half a year into our rookie year.  I'm again mindful of my ongoing shaky walk to cover all aspects of balance in providing an environment for an enriching learning experience - balance between learning some fundamentals (math and language arts) and giving the children room to follow their interests; balance between learning from me and learning from other experts in our community; balance between private time and time with others.  And now this very timely article sends another spiral of questions my way.  If I give them time to explore a topic and they don't really use it to deep dive (but would prefer to use it to fight with one another), how do I right the ship?  Am I, indeed, giving them enough time?  Should I be looking for something tangible at the end of a dive, or during a dive?  How can I tell the difference between the "book" facts and "made-up" facts that my children share with me, and gently ask my children to consider the sources of their information?

I don't have any answers now.  I do know that I will strive to protect and honour my children's free time.  I will listen to my gut, for it often a reliable compass.  I will trust that my children are experts at learning and they will follow their passions.  I will accept that how they go about following their interests may look different that my preconceived notions.  I will be gentle and accepting of all of us.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A little farther out

I'm almost at the end of my annual look forwards and backwards (life vision, a retrospect into the year that was, and short-term goals for this new year).  Today my mind drifts a little farther out - into the five- to ten-year horizon.  The pictures are a little hazier out here - they're just blurry snapshots, rather than the vivid videography of what 2013 could look like.

I've been finding myself in a reverie about a farm more and more often.  Not a large farm - just enough land to provide all that we need.  In these utopian dreams we have everything we could ask for - land for a few animals to graze...a large garden...trees to provide firewood and a wonderful outdoor playspace and maybe even maple syrup if we're lucky... an orchard (or at least room for an orchard).  Oh, did I mention the gentle brook that winds its way through the property?  Or the charming century-old farmhouse?  Or how there are gentle breezes in the summer to cool us and the winters don't get too cold - just a brief sprinkling of snow around Christmas time?

Yes, I think about this farm often - while folding laundry I wonder if there would be a point in raising sheep if I don't think there will be enough hours in the day to turn that wool into yarn...I drift off with pasturing chickens and collecting eggs on my mind as I do the dishes...I weigh the work of raising dairy animals against the work of maneuvering a heavy shopping cart through a busy supermarket, as the cart slides uncontrollably through the parking lot and the milk cartons fall from my cart into the snow.

Moving to a farm would be such a big leap it is in the category of unimaginable.  We are city slickers through and through, and I suspect that helping butcher chickens at the tender age of 10 doesn't quite count as legitimate work experience.  While I understand intellectually that the work would be backbreaking, the days would be long, and all the romance I've conjured up ignores the tedious chores to be done, I haven't experienced how close it can come to breaking one's spirit.

We're closer to 40 than 30 now, and I wonder whether these weak bodies could handle the rigors of farm life.  I wonder how we could make it all work in every possible aspect of our lives.  How can one inexperienced adult and her children do all that work?  Where would this mythical farm be?  Close to home?  Far far away?  How do we take care of aging folks?  How do we maintain strong relationships between our children and their grandparents?  How do we get the occasional alone time we need without those much-needed and appreciated supports?

So where does all that leave us?  It leaves us with time to do more research about what is out there.  It gives us time to look at our financial situation and brainstorm different scenarios for income.  It leaves us time to find a mentor to teach us about how to do all those farming things we don't know how to do (or don't know exist).  It leaves us time to slowly increase the scale of our own garden and teach our children how they can help it to grow, harvest it, and put it up for the winter.  Perhaps in a few years, once Astrin is a little bigger, we can provide some labour in our own CSA, or perhaps we can use a family trip to become WWOOFer's

Other dreams tend to come and go, often depending on imbalances in my life.  I do dream of taking working holidays and volunteering to help those in need.  I do sometimes think of getting back into my profession.  I also sometimes think about honing my writing practice and seeing where it takes me.  There's plenty of time for all these aspirations.  For now, I'll keep moving in baby steps, keeping these larger hopes in the backdrop as I do my best to be mindful of the time at hand.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The year to come

After dreaming big and looking backwards, I'm now thinking about goals and ideas that are almost close enough to touch.  These are the things I would like to check off my to-do list in the next year...they are the little baby steps that when put together add up to a lot.  Plus, to satisfy my "business" brain, I think it will be fairly easy to evaluate at the end of the year whether I achieved these goals or if they didn't pan out.

I mentioned yesterday how there were two main challenges I wanted to address this year.  The first was self-care.  To me, self-care means taking care of my body so that it will be stronger and more resilient as I get older.  It means taking care of my mind and heart so that I can greet the day with a smile.  By taking care of myself, I will be better able to take care my little ones.  Staying active and healthy as I get older will also inspire my little ones to take care of themselves, as they see that it is just something that we do in our house - it is normalized.

So what exactly does taking better care of myself look like?  First, it looks like going to bed at a more reasonable hour.  That way, I can get up 45 minutes earlier to fit in a workout before the children get up.  My workouts are varied - I alternate between doing yoga and either running or spinning.  To keep me motivated, I'm planning to sign up for a mini triathlon (scheduled for June) and a 10 kilometer run (scheduled for September).

I also want to give more attention to my relationship with my husband.  We've been like two ships passing in the night, which isn't a good way to keep something good strong.  Part of it has been increased travel and a new role on his end, and mine has been squeezing those hours after the children go to bed for all their worth.  We're working on setting aside at least one night a month to go out together...alone.  Date nights for January and February are set.   We've also planned a family vacation for March, which will help us all connect a little better with this wonderful man in our lives.

What else is on the list for this year?  There are plans to expand the garden and process more of our food this year (as we try to help the Earth just a little more).  I'm planning to enjoy working with my hands by knitting up a sweater for me, sewing some awesome clothes for little ones here who continue to grow, and continuing to make homemade gifts for our loved ones (sending out lots of love vibes to those we hold dear).  It is my wish to continue learning this homeschooling gig with my children (because really, the world must be a better place in that very instant that a child is born, and it's up to us to model parenting and give them a childhood worth savouring so the next generation can benefit as well).

Yes, this list of goals for the year will lead to full days.  If something comes up and a goal needs to be postponed to another time, that's fine.  The definition of success may need to be adjusted to accommodate whatever life has thrown at us.  The goals aren't meant to restrict grabbing opportunities when they come up or be so inflexible that I feel bound and chained by them.  The point of the goals is to provide some focus and direction when making decisions about how I use my time.  Like I said, these are my small baby steps towards that life vision.    

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A glance behind

Yesterday I wrote about dreaming big and reaffirming my life vision as we roll into the new year.  While those dreams were future-oriented, I've also been reflecting on the year that was.  There have been successes, challenges and surprises.   There have been old cherished traditions kept alive and new ones added to the mix. 

Why do I spend a few moments looking backwards?  Part of the reason for looking in the rearview mirror is to see where we've come from and how we've grown.  The other part of the reason is to acknowledge areas I've struggled with and resolve to make changes to lessen their impact.

It makes my heart feel light, even gleeful, as I think about how my hands, heart and mind have worked together in ways they never have before.  I've learned to be more authentic in how I mother my children.  In fact, I feel that I've been privileged to observe the inner workings of these precious children - I'm experienced them like I never have before.  I've felt a peace settle over our home.  We've all learned by doing.  We've met new friends.  We've opened up the space to experiment and take chances, and we've made this place called home safe for flops to happen.  These are characteristics I want to make sure stick around in the coming year - and the first step to doing that well is to articulate and acknowledge them.

When I consider the challenges, I do not berate myself and feel down about them.  Rather, I like to consider the source of those challenges and whether adjustments need to be made so they don't happen as often.  As I think back on the past year, I can classify all the little things under one big banner - balance.  Our decision to homeschool was a big change for us.  It has definitely been with its rewards, and it has also moved to my attention to being focussed solely on the children.  As a result, I've neglected taking care of myself or my relationship with my sweetheart.  I feel the strong desire to raise my children, yet my mind reminds me that it takes a village to raise children and it is essential that they grow in a warm circle of caring, compassionate fellow "villagers".

Tomorrow I'll write about goals for the next few years, and we'll see how those big dreams and the glance backwards come together. 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Life vision

I like the act of removing last year's calendar and putting up the new one, especially when there isn't a single mark in it.  The year is wide open to us - no perceived commitments, places to go, items to be checked off the list.  A new calendar signals a fresh start, and grants permission for a mama like me to set aside some time to revel in dreaming about the year and years to come.

I've been finding little niches of time here and there to put pen to paper and articulate my dreaming.  And the first place my thoughts carried me was to what my vision of my life was.  The question itself is simple - when my time left on this Earth is over, what do I want to have left behind?  What do I want my legacy to be?  What is the end that I want to move towards, so that I can better spend my life energy?

I love this big-picture stuff, which I think I've always been good at but didn't really know it until near the end of my paid working days.  In my younger years, I remember knowing with absolute certainty where I wanted to be in five-years time and then laying out the path to get there.  Later on, I remember the luxury of hours researching trends, stakeholder needs, and being able to see the future of my department with such clarity.  In dreams, and in the future, things can be just about perfect.

The difference between those dreams and the ones I have now is that my time horizon is much longer.  I'm not confined to a five year strategic plan.  I (hopefully) have lots of time to take action to live out my vision.  Which means that my life vision needs to be broader than "earn a Chartered Accountant designation".  And I'm not confined to just one aspect of my life that I hold dear - whether it be caring for my family, caring for our Earth, living creatively, or being a productive member of society.  It needs to be a vision that brings all that together.

Some experts believe it takes a lot of time to craft a simple, meaningful vision statement.  And perhaps it does - maybe the fact that I haven't been writing down all my ideas and options misleads me in the amount of time I've spent pondering my life vision statement.  But in all my thinking and dreaming, I knew I'd found the statement that resonated with me most the second it entered my head.  My vision statement:

"I will use my life energy to make the world a better place."
I know this vision statement isn't laced with lingo, likely isn't remotely original, and lacks a way to objectively measure how well it's been achieved.  I simply shrug my shoulders at these minor inconveniences - indeed, I smile when I see my life vision statement in print.  It fills me with hope and promise.  It makes it worth getting up tomorrow morning.  It lets me stay true to my utopian soul.  It speaks to me.  It gives me room to maneuver and for it to remain unwavering, regardless of what twists and turns life throws onto the road.  I feel in my bones and deep in my soul that I've got my life vision right, as I consider that it hasn't changed over the past few years - it fits like a favorite pair of jeans. 

What's your life vision?

Friday, 4 January 2013

A week in pictures

The camera didn't come out often this week, so I give to you a favorite moment from the week where the camera did come out.
A winter walk with two of my loves

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Settling back in

The holiday season that was threw quite the kink into our normal routine.  Late bedtimes meant late risers.  While I'm so thankful that we're able to let our children sleep in and get the rest they need, I do feel the need to get on with the day, and that we're missing part of it if we aren't moving soon after the sun rises (which I must admit, I am happily enjoying right now as I write this post and sip on a cup of tea).

Today, my husband heads back to work, so the sleep-ins are definitely over for two of us.  Yesterday, we celebrated the last day of our holiday together by going snowshoeing.  It was a relatively tepid day in our part of the world, and there was enough snow for us to blaze our own trail in the park, which is always fun (and a little tiring).  We hid amongst the trees like animals, evaded the enemy in another scene from the war of 1812, and became naturalists when we found parts of a fallen wasp nest.  When all were done, we headed for home and enjoyed a cup of tea, some nuts, and cookies.  It was a pretty good way to end our holiday together.

Stay tuned for our dreams for 2013!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Cooperative games

We have an interesting mixture of personalities when it comes to playing games.  There are some that get very upset when things don't work out exactly as planned, there are some who like helping their fellow competitors, and there are others who thrive on being cunning.  While I would love for everyone to be happy and helpful every time we play a game, that's just not where we're at right now.

So, imagine how heart-happy this mama is when we break out a cooperative game.  What is a cooperative game, you ask?  Well, essentially, all the players are on the same team and have a common goal that they need to work together collaboratively to achieve.  Sharing is strongly encouraged, as is discussing strategy.   We have a couple of these games, both designed by Family Pastimes, and they can be challenging to successfully complete.

The latest game to enter our game cupboard is called Let's Go Hiking.  In a nutshell, the objective of the game is for the hikers to take as many pictures of wildlife, while simultaneously trying not to scare the animals away.  There are problems to be solved too and the hiking group eventually needs to make it to the guest lodge before nightfall. 

We cracked out this game for the first time today, and enjoyed our time together.  The game takes less than an hour to complete, there are a few learning opportunities scattered amongst the strategy, and everyone gets to participate in a meaningful way.  While the game is rated for children older than 9, we found that Jaelyn had no problem contributing in our team setting.

We wish you and your loved ones a wonderful 2013 full of new discoveries, old favorites, and time shared together.