Saturday, 30 March 2013

Spring arrived today...I think

I sit on my front step, wearing some "spring" capris, rubber boots, sunglasses and a sweater.  It appears my fingers hardly want to grasp the pen, let alone write out the next blog post.  It appears my fingers hardly want to grasp the pen, let alone write out the next blog post, after trying to pound through ice for half an hour.  I hear the music of melting snow all around me - the slow and steady drip to my left, where we've noticed the eaves aren't quite level; the tinkling to my right as water tries to make its way down the downspout; the splashing of tires meeting puddles.  Oh spring, how could I ever have doubted your arrival?

We've been warned that most houses in our city will get some water in their basements.  I gaze around the foundation of the house and notice where the tiniest of puddles are starting to form.  And then I glance at the four feet of snow barring the way to the sewer drain.  The same sewer drain that is under at least 8" of ice, that I've been pounding away at, hoping I'm in the right spot.

Meanwhile, children down the block are playing outside.  I can hear Nicholas' voice from where I sit.  I can see snowballs being lobbed through the air.  I sigh and hope no one gets a mouthful of snow and the play comes to a sudden halt.

I hear Astrin cry inside and hope that means Chris will be up from his nap and out soon to rattle the bones of his upper body while chipping away at the ice covering the drain.  My body could do with an Astrin-speed walk about now.

And now all five of us are together outside.  Placing bets on where that drain is.  Getting advice from the neighbour, who has seen plenty of spring thaws and knows exactly where that drain is.  Watching in horror as melted water from the sidewalk starts to seep, and then pour into the hole that we've been making.  Quickly damming it up with snow, which is still abundant.  Pounding some more and damming again.  Finding a yogurt container to bail the water with.  Hitting what sounds like pavement.  Crestfallen when the water doesn't leave the hole.  Finding the pitchfork, when we fear we will break the ice chipper the neighbour lent us (for we've already broken one today).  Brightening into smiles and celebrating with high fives when the pitchfork pierces through the grating and the water starts to disappear - we were in the right spot after all!  Rushing inside for toothpicks so we can pretend they are boats, and see and appreciate the speed of the current we've created, as water drains from the sidewalk and the street.


I feel the need to babysit this hole we've created, and I'm aware I'm likely caring for this sewer drain much like my father would care for the drain by alley at my childhood home every spring.  Shepherding any standing water that will eventually find this drain and ushering it there just a wee bit faster. 

But I am reminded that it is nearing supper time, and the sewer drain will be fine on it's own now.  It doesn't need me.  It just needs the sun to continue to melt the snow.  I come inside to find dripping wet children with dripping wet socks stuck inside soaking wet boots.  We wrap them in towels to dry and warm cold feet, find dry clothes, cuddle the littlest one a bit and wipe her runny nose.  Their cheeks are rosy and their bodies are spent. 

I'm proud of this day's work and that we accomplished something.  This is what I envisioned welcoming spring would look like.  Thank you, spring, for arriving!

Friday, 29 March 2013

A week in pictures

Taking cover during another epic battle in the War of 1812

Playing dress-up with Jaelyn's clothes

Reading duo

Could this puddle mean that spring is on its way?
Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Hmmm...I do think that spring is making a valiant attempt to arrive here!  The sun felt just a bit warmer and the snow is perfect for snowballs.

With that in mind, Nature Club did a wee bit more to prepare for our pizza garden, by fertilizing and watering our young onion seedlings.

I provided Nature Club with bananas, carrots and hard-boiled eggs for a snack, with instructions to save their leftover peels and shells.  As we cut the banana peels with scissors, peeled the carrots and ground up the egg shells, we chatted a bit about the worms. 

I told them the story of how the ancestors of our worms entered our lives the same year that Jaelyn was born, and how those worms were of the revolutionary variety...meaning that we often found worms who had escaped from their container when we awoke in the morning.  And while we know it wasn't that worms wanted to escape from us but rather the less-than-ideal conditions we had created in their container, we struggled to fix it.  I had nightmares about walking across the floor with worms squishing underneath my feet.

We also talked about gizzards, which the worms use to digest their food.  The eggshells we crushed help them use their gizzards more effectively.

The worms don't escape anymore, thanks to a new container system, which is actually three plastic totes stacked one on top of the other.  The two top totes have holes drilled in the bottom so that liquid can escape.  The lid of the top tote also has holes so that air can circulate.

I'm pleased to see how nice the compost looks like!  I was also pleased at how the Club eagerly dug around among our kitchen scraps, shredded newspaper and worm casing to find some Red Wiggler friends.  Eventually we fed the fellows our snack scraps, then we pulled off the top two totes to see the "compost tea" that had collected.  This stuff is potent, so I demonstrated, using a syringe, how to drop just a bit (5 drops) of compost tea in each of the planter cells, followed by a good watering.  These onions are looking good so far!

With the worms were taken care of and the onions were tended to, we cleaned up our messy hands and made our way out to enjoy that glorious sunshine!

Here's a little poem I found (in case I needed it for the transition from snack to worms).

The Worm by Ralph Bergengren

When the earth is turned to spring
The worms are fat as anything.
And birds come flying all around
To eat the worms right off the ground.
They like worms just as much as I
Like bread and milk and apple pie.
And once, when I was very young,
I put a worm right on my tongue.
I didn't like the taste a bit,
And so I didn't swallow it.
But oh, it makes my Mother squirm
Because she thinks I ate that worm!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Today's learnings

Today I learned...

  ~ How awesome authors can be.  Nicholas decided to write to one of the author's of a book he just finished reading, Silver Dragon Codex.  She, the fabulous Ree Soesbee, responded within hours.  How cool, and gratifying, is that? 

  ~ How valuable self-care is.  After a month (or perhaps more) of living with a stiff neck, and years since a massage, I finally took some time and booked myself in for one.  All the kinks aren't quite out yet, but I haven't had this range of motion for a while. 

  ~ That my two-year-old wants to read to me!  Astrin pulled out a fairy book Jaelyn brought home from the library, opened it up to show me the pictures and words, and told me about how the fairies and "man" (Jack Frost) were mad.  Yes, everyone in that story was mad, even if they were smiling.  So cute.

  ~ Where Chris had hidden all the board games so that Astrin won't pull them out and toss all the pieces around the living room.

  ~ That Jaelyn has gotten really good at math.  I mean really good.  She shared her strategy for subtracting in her head, which, if I understood correctly, means getting one of the numbers to ten, and then subtracting from 10.  I remember having a similar conversation with Nicholas when he was in grade one, and it made my head spin.  And I do like numbers, really.

  ~ That it can be difficult to find simple answers to some questions, like "what is alum" as we embark on a science experiment to create our own crystals.  I'm disappointed that I can't explain why mixing alum and water makes crystals.  It might be one of those questions that gets passed Papa's way.  But I could regurgitate all it's uses, from cleaning water to making bread "whiter" and pickles crisper.  The next time I bite into a crisp store-bought pickle, I'll wonder if I'm eating crystals!

  ~ Where I might go to find more answers to the question, "what do I do with this toddler while I try to focus on the other two children's work?"  Check out Christopherus Homeschool Resources' conversation board.  Check out topic #3.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version.

Before I get into the details of our adventures in soap carving with the Birds of Prey Club, I must share how interesting the walk to pick up the boys was. 

As usual, Nicholas and Jaelyn ran ahead while Astrin and I walked behind at Astrin speed.  And the things we noticed while we cruised along at Astrin speed.  She stopped to show me "dirty" that was left behind by a car.  She pointed out a piece of garbage that needed to be picked up.  We saw that snow was slowly beginning to melt, despite the temperatures staying substantially below zero for over a week now.  And it looked like the trees were preparing themselves to start budding (though that could have just been some eternal optimism on my part).

Yesterday, I described how we prepared for today's meeting.  There were some things that I wish I would have been more prepared for.  For example, I would have ordered the book, The Inuit:  Ivory Carvers of the Far North, from an out-of-town library branchThis book was recommended here, and this blogger also provided a link for how to carve a polar bear.  This mama provided some wonderful tips, like using Ivory brand soap and making sure to have a tablecloth of some sort to catch all the shavings.

We got the idea for making our own tools from craft sticks here.  And because my children had so much fun making their own tools, I decided that the Club could make their own tools as well. 

Once the soap came out, I simply gave the Club a few tips, such as that scraping off little bits at a time to ensure the carving wouldn't break or crumble (which we learned the hard way yesterday).  I didn't provide them with any patterns, partly because I didn't think they would use them, and partly because I value providing children with opportunities to explore the given medium and create from their own imaginations.  I did, however, provide them with one resource that we could find at our local library on short notice:  Art of the Far North

Lastly, I wanted to get feedback from the Club on what activities they liked the most.  Here's what they shared:

  ~ Puppet making
  ~ Soap carving
  ~ Charades

Monday, 25 March 2013

Prepare and practice

Yesterday I was humming and hawing over what to do for the next Birds of Prey Club.  Nicholas had given me the awesome suggestion of navigation, and my mind was starting to wander with the possibilities...learning how birds navigate the world, particularly when most of them have such long distances to travel...learning how to use a compass and playing some compass games...doing some geocaching...perhaps getting into navigation of earlier times.

But something was holding me back, and I recognize now that it was my own need for order and flow.  My brain's desire for activities to tie to a central theme, and my gut churning because it felt that something in the winter session of the Birds of Prey Club just didn't get wrapped up.  This, of course, is okay.  There was plenty that we didn't get to, partly due to our brief need to bring some self-imposed order to our meetings, partly because of illness, and partly because I lacked energy to do the preparation needed to get to that end point I so desired.  Perhaps I was also reading that the group just wasn't into learning about the potential threats to the Arctic.

Somehow, inspiration came in the form of Inuit art, and opening the possibility of marrying an ancient craft with ancient navigation techniques.  We would briefly explore Inuit culture (including the role of Inuksuks and carvings) and finish with carving soap in whatever form the children chose.

I have never carved soap before, so I headed straight to the internet to learn more.  My first couple of finds made me reconsider the wisdom of this project.  For I saw a gentleman sawing away pieces of soap, and another using what looked like a very large carving knife.  This was not what I had in mind, and panic briefly struck me. 

Fortunately, narrowing down my search to "soap carving with children" provided some much more kid-friendly results, which I'll share tomorrow. 

For today, though, we prepared and practiced.  We brought out some craft sticks and some sandpaper to make some rudimentary carving tools.  We cracked open a couple of bars of soap to see if our tools would work, and to learn some of the hands-on "do's" and "don'ts".

Here's looking forward to tomorrow, knowing that at least the craft part of our afternoon is ready to go.


Friday, 22 March 2013

A week in pictures

Just one photo today, as this has been what's been happening in our house all week.  That's right...the War of 1812 rages on.  Luckily, this Lieutenant was only "just grazed" by a bullet.  I love all this play I'm witnessing in our house - I really do.  And it makes me smile to think the re-enactments that take place in and around our home may go on longer than the actual war did. 

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Typical yet special

While today was a seemingly typical day, I'm finding that tonight I need to acknowledge and give thanks to those little things that, while typical, also made today special.  Today...

...we played with friends.
...the tickle trunk burst open and I found myself amongst rabbits and rabbit hunters (but not the Elmer Fudd kind).
...I built a helicopter tractor out of Lego, with the help of my clever son.
...Jaelyn immersed herself in drawing swans.
...Astrin napped!
...Nicholas expanded his cooking repertoire.
...I started devouring Project-Based Homeschooling.  Oh, if only reality could keep up with my ideas for the future!  It's so hard to take baby steps!
...I brew some tea while my husband makes popcorn as we settle into this quiet night together.

Wishing you a peaceful evening!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

What? It's spring?

As I look out the window at the record-high snow and listen to the wind howl around my house, I must admit that perhaps Nicholas is right and spring won't be here for another 6 weeks.  What a glum thought.

Exactly how high is the snow, you ask?  Well, my two-year-old can easily stand on the sheet of snow in our backyard and have an unobstructed view over our six-foot-high fence.  And she's on the little side of the growth charts.  No, there are no crocuses making their quiet announcement that spring is here.  There are no buds on the trees and there is no conceivable way that grass could be poking out from beneath the piles of white that cover our world.  While I could have sworn I heard a robin sing "cheer-up" this past weekend, I'm now sadly convinced it was simply wishful thinking. 

As I dreamed about the experiences we would provide our children, I definitely envisioned a strong connection with nature and approaching the changing of the seasons with reverence.  I feel like I've dropped the ball on celebrating the coming of "spring", which I realize is the gift of opportunity to think about how well our actions are aligning to that vision. 

We've been through the changing of three seasons now, and I think we've fallen a little short by my estimation.  Granted, our lives are moving according to the seasons as they work in our part of the world.  Spring and autumn are short, if they exist at all.  Summer is a burst of four months of hot, sunny gloriousness.  And it's winter the rest of the time.  As I look back, our autumn equinox was spent preserving and I recall putting in a fair bit of effort in celebrating the winter solstice.  I know that we will be spending much time in the garden once the snow does finally disappear.  My husband and I have demonstrated a commitment to living with the seasons, but I don't know if it's sunk in for our children.  Somehow, it still feels like we're missing something.

Tonight, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage something special to commemorate the spring equinox, Jaelyn and I read The Story of the Root Children.  It was just what I needed - a reminder that whatever it looks like and feels like outside, Mother Earth is waking up her plant and insect children.  While Her sweet, sweet little ones remain hidden from our view, they are busying themselves underground to burst forth when the time is right to grace us with their delightful display.  Yes, we will remain vigilant in watching for Her children, and we'll celebrate when they arrive.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A sewing we shall go

Jaelyn has been perusing our book, Green Crafts for Children, for a wee bit now.  It's been in her room and she has been flipping through it, moving bookmarks every now and again.  It seems that crafting must have been weighing heavy on her mind, for upon waking, she announced she needed to show me what she wanted to make today.

With an inward sigh of relief, I learned that she had her heart on making a felt bag.  I was fearing she would want to make a salt dough tea set, partly because I knew it would take a fair bit of commitment on our part to stick around while it dried in the oven, and partly because I dreaded our toddler getting her hands on the pieces and breaking them.  But a felt bag?  Of course, we could do that!

Who doesn't love a project where all the materials are right there?   Yes, today we were on - no searching for materials here and there.  Everything was exactly where it was the last time we saw it.  It also helped that the materials list was short (sewing needle, yarn, a button, scissors, a felted sweater).  This was truly a quick and easy project to whip up.  Plus, we brought our work downstairs, which pushed me to do a little bit to get my sewing space into a more useable state.

I'm thrilled to report that my little one is very happy with how her bag turned out.  And I'm thrilled to report that I'll be heading down shortly to spend some time with my sewing machine now that it's back out in the open.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Our first spelling lesson

I find myself inside a quiet house after a morning of firsts.  There were some words being read for the first time by Jaelyn.  There was an introduction to calculating area and volume, and how to write square and cubic meters in shorthand.  And there was our first spelling lesson.

Before Chris and I kissed our children goodbye and sped out of town to our province's homeschooling convention last month, we asked the children what, if anything, they would like us to bring back for them.  Nicholas and I talked quite a bit about how practice makes all things easier (note I say "easier" and not "easy").  We agreed that we could up the time he spends with a pencil in his hand writing words.  Our agreement was that he would alternate between working on creative writing of some sort for one week and then spelling the next week.  He, in fact, requested that the structure of the spelling week be much the way it was when he was in school - a list of spelling words, followed by tasks for using those words, culminating in a "test" at the end of the week. 

My task at the homeschool convention was to find a resource that would be easy to use, provide guidance for varying ages and skill levels, and suggest engaging activities.  With the children's list of suggestions and my requirements, I scoured curriculum catalogues and researched resources on the internet.  I narrowed down the possibilities and let the children take a look at what I found too, as I've discovered that something that looks marvellous to me can look different in their eyes.  Finally, donned with my trusty list of curriculum leads, we made a break for the used book sale when the time was right.

Today we brought out the first of those resources for a try.  It is The Natural Speller by Kathryn L. Stout.  Why this resource?  I liked that it covered spelling words from Kindergarten to Grade 8, had various activities for using those words, and activities for creating more words using the root and prefixes and suffixes.  I liked that it grouped words with similar structures together so that basic spelling rules can be learned, applied and retained.  I liked that it could be customized to the child.

Best of all, it really didn't take me that long to put together five lessons for the week.  I simply found an exercise book (as I've discovered that looseleaf tends to get pulled out of binders much too easily by my little ones), chose 10 words from one of the lists, then adopted the activities from the sample lesson plan.

I know that Nicholas and I will need to tweak things as we go so that we find the right balance of just enough challenge and just enough variety.  We'll need to figure out how much handwriting and how much practice using dictionaries and thesauruses works for now.  We'll need to talk often, and listen closely to each other.  That's really what we've had to do to get to this point.  While the morning had it's share of firsts, it ended with a real-life practice in respectful communication.  And that's a life skill we'll all be practicing for the rest of our lives.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Spring training

There is about a month and a half until opening day for my fastball league.  But from the looks of things, opening day may be postponed a bit.

Nevertheless, we take ourselves indoors to get some of the dust off the gloves and bats, and the cobwebs out of those creaky shoulders and knees.  On my team, I've somehow become the person who finds the gym and organizes these practices.  While I am more than happy to find the gym, I'm less enthusiastic about telling adults what to do.  And often, as our team gets older and more busy caring for others, we have a small turnout.

In past years, I would be discouraged by the number of girls who would come out.  I would wonder what I could do differently in organizing the practices to encourage more participation.  I would take it personally when our numbers dwindled.  I would beg for suggestions of fresh drills and activities, and often hear silence.

This year, something clicked for me and I feel I've been able to let go of that burdensome feeling.  During a fleeting and rare tranquil moment, it is the same people who opt out of spring training.  Those who want to be there and see value in preparing for the season to come will be there.  Those who don't see the value, and don't step up to create something that will add value to them won't show up, no matter what I do.  So, instead of trying to create a practice for those who likely won't show anyway, I created a practice for me.  Drills that will get my feet moving, get my coordination back, and help me be a better player.  Drills that will make me faster, and increase my endurance so that I can still feel pretty good in the 7th inning in the final game of a tournament. 

As a result, we touched on more areas more efficiently today that we have over the past few seasons of spring trainings combined!  Added to the standard requiem of batting, fielding, and throwing were core and lower body work, agility and speed training.  In the past, I would have feared the response from the team if I suggested we run lines or do lunges.  Today, I felt satisfied with what we worked through.  Because, really, there will be a team of players on the field in the 7th inning of a final game, not just me.  What benefits me will benefit all.

And how does this tie to homeschooling?  It's a reminder that what I value and find important may not carry the same weight with my children.  I can try to enter into discussions with them, influence them, and set an example for them.  At the end of the day though, they have their own minds and they are developing their own beliefs.  They are working through which values resonate most strongly  and which ones can be dropped when need be.  I need to respect their decisions, and always offer them an risk-free "lifeline" if it's wanted.  And, I need to remember that the only person I can control is me, and that taking steps to live the authentic life that I want and need can feel awesomely liberating.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A week in pictures

A soccer medal admired by all
The owl at the museum
Mama, will the snow ever go away so we can ride our bikes again?
A nice cuddle
Kitchen concoctions
Keep our babes close
Have a lovely weekend! 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

I had an epiphany almost immediately after our last Nature Club meeting.  As it turned out, as the week came to an end, I could see ahead to the weekend.  And the weekend was to bring "Seedy Saturday", a local event for gardeners to get together, swap seeds saved from last year's garden, or peruse the offerings of heirloom or organic seed from local vendors.  Somehow, wires must have crossed in my brain, and I thought that an epic trek through a season of gardening would be something the Club could do all summer. 

It seemed perfect.  Not much prep work on my part - meetings would kick off with a story or poem, followed by observing our garden plot, weeding, watering, and generally enjoying the great outdoors.  Diving into the deep recesses of my memory brought back the idea of creating a pizza garden, from Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots.  While our garden would not be a massive, circular, pizza-shaped plot, one of our raised beds would hold the essentials for a nicely dressed pizza. 

Today's meeting focussed on getting some ideas of what the children liked for pizza toppings.  I was silently dreading that the only emphatic responses would be ham and pineapple, which I had no intention of trying to grow in my backyard!  Fortunately, the group came up with a pretty impressive list:

  ~ Peppers
  ~ Tomatoes
  ~ Carrots
  ~ Zucchini
  ~ Peas
  ~ Basil
  ~ Mint
  ~ Garlic
  ~ Onion
  ~ Cucumber (for on the side)

We also talked a bit about a pizza with an enormous amount of cheese.  And again, while it would be neat to have a cow in the backyard, it's illegal.  But, it got me thinking of a session where we make our own mozzarella cheese.  Hmmm....that could be interesting.  I'll need to look into that.

We finished off our reverie of all things pizza and garden by starting some seeds.  Today, we planted onions and the Club will care for them when they are here.  We agreed I should look after them when they aren't here (of course!).  We also planted some herbs in empty eggshells and origami newspaper cups (project idea from Alphabet Glue) that the clubbers could take home.

I'm looking forward to a yummy summer wrap-up party!


Wednesday, 13 March 2013


I'm likely going to sound like a broken record soon, but I really can't tell you how thrilled I've been with Nicholas' motivation as of late.  Perhaps we've hit that point I've read so much about where he has been "de-schooled" long enough to feel comfortable with being in charge of his own education.  Perhaps we're all feeling more energy now that the sun is gracing us with its presence a little more each day.  Perhaps we're hitting the right balance between focussed alone time and time with others or figuring out what works and what doesn't.  Perhaps it's all these, or perhaps none at all.  Whatever the cause, I'm thrilled we're here.

There were times during our journey thus far - time during the months of November and January, in particular, when I did mention to Nicholas that if he was not satisfied with his education at home, he could return to school.  It wasn't a threat, really.  It was permission for both of us to accept if this attempt at homeschooling wasn't meeting the lofty goals we had set out as we started this journey. 

And where are we now, having persevered and learned together?  Nicholas finished more of the badge requirements than he set out as a goal this week.  As we looked at the map of Canada that he coloured and labelled with provinces and capital cities, I asked him to point out where some significant landmarks were.  Where once he would have irritably answered a few and then stormed off, he is now willing to play the game with me.  He is so enthusiastic, in fact, he played the game on his own.  Where once he would have burst into tears if I asked him to re-look at his work and check if all the capitalizations were correct, he laughed as he corrected the few items that needed changing.  He's even asking to do more work in spelling. 

Now that I reflect a little more, perhaps Nicholas is simply trusting that I'm trying to put his best interests first.  He's trusting that when I ask him to look at a question again or to find a word in the dictionary, it's not punishment.  It's practice, and with practice, things do get easier.  A nice, gentle life lesson for all of us to remember.  Thanks, Nicholas.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey Version.

Ah, welcome back, Birds of Prey Clubbers!  And a most gracious thank you to my husband, who rescued me from the depths of a killer headache, chills, and nausea to take over the club this afternoon.  While I was out of bed for the club, I wasn't up for the short hike to the school and some of the negotiations that come along with a pack of boys all wanting to do different things.

We welcomed a new Clubber and welcomed back a veteran Clubber today, so we reviewed the Code of Conduct we created at the last meeting. With no adjustments needed, we were good to go with the main part of our meeting.

I've struggled to keep activities fresh for this group of older boys.  While most seem to like crafts in spurts, I don't sense it would be something they would like to do at every meeting.  And I've been wanting to find activities where they can use their bodies and get some of that energy out that I assume must be pent-up from a day sitting in a desk.  At any rate, today we played Birds of Prey charades.  I was hoping the game would get their bodies moving, allow for some free-flow creative thinking, and just be fun.

I think they did have fun, and we all had a few laughs.  Who knew that acting out a vole could be interpreted as a "constipated dog"!  There was lots of wing flapping and collapsing on the floor, as different species and their body parts all seemed to be acted out the same.  We did try to teach them some "shortcuts" to their charades - like showing how to communicate how many words would be acted out and using "sounds like" to give more clues. 

And I'm happy to report that the code was followed to the letter...except when all were shouting out their guesses during our game.  That was a welcome exceptions, however.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Return to routine

Ah, welcome Monday.  Yes, a Monday where each of us rose from our own beds and greeted the day in our own special ways.  A Monday where everything returned to normal.  A Monday where we fell back into our routine. 

Last night, Nicholas and I sat down together to look to the week ahead.  I'm amazed at how grounding this simple ritual has become.  And if it wasn't good enough to give us focus, clarity and a roadmap for the week that will be, it has also truly removed much of the conflict that used to arise daily.  The man who wants to be in charge is in charge, and the mama who would like to see him touching on certain subjects is getting her wish.

During our talk, Nicholas decided he wanted to work on the Canadian Heritage badge for Cubs.  He figured out which requirements he wanted to work on and when he would work on them.  Then, we worked out how his plans would fit in context with the rest of our week.  As it turns out, his selections led to a trip to the museum this morning and some drawing by all three of the children.

I'm noticing something happening in this family.  Just like last week at the zoo, I've noticed on the last two trips that we are no longer rushing through the exhibits at the museum either.  We are there for a specific purpose.  We are intentional in which exhibits we look at.  We spend more time searching for the details.  The pace is relaxed.  I enjoy the trips, and my children, more.  Could this be an unforeseen benefit of homeschooling?  Maybe.  I think I like it!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

A week in pictures

A day late, but it was a most magical week indeed!  Check it out...

Talking to the owls
The penguin parade
Ducks swimming in the snow
Meeting Portia
Meet Zodiac
In the sled
Trekking up a mountain
Going on a solo hike at home
Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


I look out my window to see the snow softly falling to the ground.  I reflect on how looking out this window, with a warm cup of tea and a roaring fire and knowing my little ones' tired bodies are snugly tucked into bed, would be a wonderful scene one holiday season. 

And I think about what a unique, amazing day we had today out in the wilderness.  My husband, who is always looking for that off-the-beaten path activity or place, suggested going mushing, or dog sledding, on this vacation.  We checked out the forecast and the weather looked good enough that complaints of the cold from the children would be minimal.  It was a go.

My children have a natural soft spot for dogs (and all animals, honestly).  So, having 24 happy, friendly Alaskan huskies as greeters this morning brought smiles to all our faces.  Nicholas had barely reached the sled teams when he declared that he had a favorite - Zodiac.  Jaelyn plopped herself down in front of a small, well-tempered gal named Portia, and they became good friends.  Astrin and I said hello to as many of the dogs that we could before hopping into a sled, and I discovered that some dogs preferred to be the centre of attention.  And who can resist a lovable gentleman who wears his heart on his paw?

Each sled was pulled by a team of 6 dogs.  That's 6 dogs that are likely around 60 pounds each pulling a sled that weighs more than 300 pounds!  Amazing!  They took us down the Great Divide trail at Lake Louise, right to the continental divide that also serves as the border between Alberta and British Columbia, then back.  They also pulled us through the forest for a little stretch, which was so quiet.  Nicholas and Jaelyn both had an opportunity to stand on the runners at the back of the sleds and be mushers, as well as feeding the dogs their treats when we returned to the start of the loop.

And what did we learn?  A bit about geography, a bit about the wild animals that live in the park, a bit about mushing races.  We also took home the affirmation that one can do what they love at any age, like how the mushers devoting their life energy to taking care of their dogs, while enjoying the great outdoors and some wonderful human and animal companionship.  We took home an appreciation for the amazing nature of animals.  We took home chilly toes and fingers, but warm hearts and smiling faces.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

It's feeling wild here

We travelled further west today, arriving in the small mountain town of Lake Louise this afternoon.  Our chalet feels very much tucked into the woods - indeed, there are animal tracks (deer, I think) outside our window!  Since the snow that fell over the last several days, it was quite easy to see the animals who had been roaming alongside the highway as well.  We noticed tracks of deer, rabbits, and other smaller creatures as we drove slowly along the twisty road.  And, those awake for the car ride even saw a lynx, which was a first for us in the wild!

And there is a little bit of wildness in these little ones of ours, too.  Tired bodies and tired minds are making the days harder for them, and us, to get through peacefully.  Even a quiet evening of reading in front of the fire was a bust!  So, it was an early evening for them (my littlest one's first night in a big girl bed is going well so far), and it will be an early evening for us too, after a little solitary reading and knitting in front of the fireplace.

Yes, rest is just what all these bodies need for a very active day tomorrow (which I'm very much looking forward to).

Monday, 4 March 2013

The little things

We did it!  We made it to our destination intact and met up with my husband to start our long-awaited winter vacation.  And while yesterday was nice and simple, with a trip to the skating rink, building forts with cousins and eating a homemade supper with family, today was field trip day.

Every time we visit my husband's brother and his family, we go to the zoo.  The children request this year after year and we are happy to oblige.  There is always something new to learn, or forgotten factoids to rediscover.  But this year, something pretty special happened.  For some reason, our pace was slow.  We weren't on a mission to meet all the animals this year.  There were a few special ones that we were drawn to and felt moved to spend time with. 

Our first stop was a bee-line to the owls.  No surprise there, right?  But the time we spent there was magical.  It started out like a game of hide and seek, as we tried to track down the owls that were out of view.  They stared at us with their large yellow eyes, and angled their heads to get a better look at us.  One hooted at us and Jaelyn hooted back.  An owl hoot!  This city-girl has never heard an owl hoot before!  But then this particular owl was a wee bit restless.  As we turned away from it to search the treetops for other owl friends, he silently flew over top of us, its wing brushing Astrin as her father carried her.  My husband only felt the rush of air pass by his head, but had no other clues that he too, was so close to an owl.

Later we visited the elephants.  Well, elephant.  It turns out that the four lady elephants that "Spike" shares the enclosure with were away, perhaps because Spike was in heat.  He seemed lonely to me.  He was rocking his immense body back and forth, and shifting from foot to foot.  While I felt sorry for him being all alone, his odd behaviour allowed us to take a really good look at the mechanics of a step.  We talked about how elephants walk on their tiptoes, as they have a cushion of fat under their heels.  This is why elephants walk so quietly, despite their immense size.  And it was really noticeable how well that "heel" fat acted as a shock absorber as Spike shifted his weight.  I could have watched him for hours, and indeed, we did spent quite a bit of time with him.

Lastly, we were chilled, yet fascinated, by the behaviour of the wolves.  We had six children with us, ranging in age from 10 to 1.  As the children crowded into one of the indented fence areas to get a better look, the wolves came towards us to get a better look too.  And their eyes didn't leave the little ones that they thought would be the easiest to hunt.  Several times, the older children ran past the front of their enclosure.  The wolves paid no attention.  But when the ones they had their eyes on ran past?  The wolves chased along their side of the enclosure.  Oh so haunting, but oh so cool too.

All these things made this particular zoo excursion a memorable one for me.  Yes, the littlest details that come to light when space is made for them make special things happen!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Unexpected peace

Today, I felt my jaw muscles unclench after a hard workout all week long.  Today, I felt my shoulder blades inch their way back down my back.  Today, we were on the road for an end-of-winter vacation, and I had nothing to do but sit and drive and enjoy the ride.  And a peaceful ride it was.

As the date to this trip grew closer, I felt myself becoming more and more apprehensive about it.  We're meeting up with Chris, and until then, I am the only one with a driver's license to take the wheel.  And I've felt myself wanting to nod off while driving across town, let alone for six hours on flat, mind-numbing highway. 

But the drive turned out to be nothing to fear.  We listened to some of our favorite Vinyl CafĂ© stories from Stuart McLean.  We laughed and guffawed together and the distance to our destination seemed eaten up in a matter of minutes rather than hours.  I wondered to myself how I missed some of the towns and landmarks I'm so familiar with on this long stretch of road, and then simply concluded that the company was far too enjoyable to be mentally ticking off all the landmarks along the way.

For the last half of the trip today, the children watched a dinosaur movie.  Not the Land Before Time variety, but the documentary kind.  They picked this out on their own from the library this morning - that and a movie about the War of 1812 (I kid you not).  I did try to encourage them to check out the kid's section, but the dinosaurs ruled out.  I wondered if their choices would have us pegged as weird, then I giggled as I considered that we were likely already weird in the eyes of mainstream society, so why not go for broke.

And how was the movie?  From what I heard, there was a scientist investigating whether Tyrannosaurus Rex was a communal hunter or preferred to be alone while scrounging up a meal.  I'm sure it was gory, but the kids were spellbound.  As we were pulling in to our destination, I think they were considering how the great extinction occurred, and there were many references about "history repeating itself" and "we should learn from the dinosaurs".  I was bracing myself for questions about the next great extinction, and whether we would be a part of it, but I don't think my children have quite put together that the scientists were referring to human extinction when they were making their comments. 

Now, most children are sleeping and I only need to figure out how to get to my final destination before I turn in early as well.  Here's hoping for more smooth sailing tomorrow!