Saturday, 29 June 2013

Looking forward to the year ahead

The last of the spring activities has come and gone now.  Ball equipment has been moved out of our mudroom, with the exception of a sole ball and glove in each child's cubby hole.  We've had a few days now to catch our breath.  I take a deep exhale and feel my shoulder blades ease their way down my back.  We have a lazy long weekend ahead of us.  And I'm loving the quiet moments here now as my children play at the playground with their father.  Oh, it's been awhile since I've had the house entirely to myself.  Loving it.

We've had a great year together, in this first year of homeschooling, and I find my mind wandering back to what we've done and where we'll go next year.  Oh, there were moments when I was low on energy and not at my best.  There were times when I wondered if this was the best decision for my family.  The children did some great projects and we met some amazing people.  I feel blessed to have had such an intimate seat to witness my children's learning from.

And now I turn my attention toward next year, for I'm happy to say the overwhelming majority chose to continue on this homeschooling path!  I'm looking forward to adding more rhythm to our days, as I found it difficult to navigate our days, especially in the last several months.  To do this, I plan to take the time to organize our days, weeks, and months in advance.  Nothing specific like, "we will learn about birds on the 15th of September".  But I will make sure that all of us are aware of the field trips, errands, activities, and other items that fill our calendar so quickly.  I will carve out spaces in our calendar for things that are important to us...project time, time outside, empty time where my children can simply grab an idea or a whim and let it take them on an adventure of the loud or quiet variety.  While this may sound overly restrictive, my intent is to provide some predictability to our days.  To provide a rhythm that we can move through our days to.  To bring about a sense of peace when it often seems that we are wobbling on a tightrope and are about to fall into chaos.

And perhaps this summer can be our practice time for developing a rhythm that works for us.  Because right now, our calendar feels gloriously empty.  We have the space to build our days from the ground up.  I have the freedom to exert discipline on myself to hold sacred the rhythm we create.  I'll be spending some lazy days reading and re-reading some books to focus myself (Simplicity Parenting, Project-Based Homeschooling, Rhythm of Family, Seven Times the Sun, All Year Round, Heaven on Earth).  I'll play around with some schedules to see how they look.  I'll start gathering materials now, and also schedule in time for gathering later.  I'll do a better job recording what topics my children seem to be enjoying and get some feedback on what they want to learn.  I'll start researching resources and projects now so that I don't feel drained when we wrap up one topic and are moving onto the next.

Even with all this organization, which I admit sounds a little too hyper-organized on paper, I will remind myself to keep flexible.  I'll remind myself to pause and re-look at our education plan to make sure we're keeping with the philosophy we aspire to.  I'll remind myself to listen to my children and their needs.  And I'll remind myself to listen to my own inner voice, and give myself the space I need to give my children the best of me.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version.

Today's post could have easily read something like "scavenger hunt gadgetry" or "jackpot denied".  We made the Birds of Prey Club navigation finale all about geocaching.  It seemed like an ideal way to cap off the work we had done on using compasses and understanding latitude and longitude.

Perhaps a definition is in order for those unfamiliar with geocaching.  In my own words, it is like a high-tech, world-wide scavenger hunt.  There are containers, "caches", hidden in various places in neighbourhoods, parks, urban, rural and wilderness locations around the world.  Inside the caches are a logbook and little trinkets - treasure!  Information about the caches, such as coordinates and clues, can be found via a web search.  The coordinates are plugged into a GPS unit, and you use the guidance of the GPS, plus your own smarts, to find the cache.  Once it is found, you sign the logbook and take a trinket, while being sure to leave a trinket for the next person to find the cache.  Oh, and you're supposed to do all this while not arousing the curiosity or suspicions of non-geocachers (known as "muggles" in the geocaching world).

The adventure started this morning, with Nicholas and I navigating our bus system (which currently has numerous detours due to summer construction) to our provincial Parks and Recreation Association to borrow GPS units.  They also provided some easy-to-follow instructions for how to enter coordinates, tips for finding caches, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching, and a tag we could place inside a cache once we found one.  All for free.  Sweet!

Nicholas and I discovered soon after that this whole geocaching thing sounded easier than it actually was.  In order to be inconspicuous, many caches are quite small and many are camouflaged and well hidden so they do not become accidentally discovered by "muggles".  The GPS is accurate enough to often get the searchers within 10 feet of the cache, but it can still feel like searching for a needle in a haystack, particularly since the GPS can't tell you whether the cache is hidden on the ground, dangling from a tree branch, or shoved into a tiny crevice somewhere in between (though the cache owner can provide hints or clues).  Many caches are also in quite public places (the ones we tried for a test drive were at a gas station and the library), so it felt impossible not to look a little strange while trying to track down these tiny caches.  Unfortunately, we struck out.

The two caches that were in the park by our house were labelled "micro" caches, which means they were similar in size to a roll of film.  Because we hadn't had any luck finding caches in the morning and I feared the same fate this afternoon, I pondered building a cache and hiding it in the park for the Birds of Prey Club to find.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time.  If I had the chance to do a do-over, I would have a contingency cache ready to go so it would be easier to set up a plan B.

At any rate, once the Clubbers were given a brief introduction to the GPS unit, we entered our coordinates and were off.  Of course, everything was easy until that last 10 feet - it appeared that our location was in between 4 trees.  We had a hint that the cache would be hidden about 3 feet high.  So we started our search by looking around each tree.  The Clubbers had interesting approaches to searching...some climbed trees to "get a better view", while others did a quick scan.  I tried to encourage them to think like the person who hid the cache - if it were them, where would they have hidden it?  We also tried to use other clues, such as areas where it looked like there was foot traffic where there shouldn't have been.  In the end, though, we had to wind up our search and we went home empty-handed.

The thrill of the hunt was definitely fun, though.  I think this thing could get addictive very quickly! 

Monday, 24 June 2013

My cheerleaders

This weekend, I did my first ever try-a-tri, or mini-triathlon.  It was a 300 yard swim, followed by a 12 kilometer bike ride, and finished off with a 3 kilometer run.  In a bid to get myself in shape, I had enrolled in a triathlon 101 class last fall.  At the time, I had no goal to compete in a race, though I new that entering one would help me keep up with training.  As training continued, I began to think I could complete one of these introductory races.  I knew that I had little chance of winning one - after all, my legs are quite content to move at toddler speed.  But I wanted to see how it felt just to do all of the events and finish a race.  I entered one on a whim.  And then race day was here. 

Early in the morning, I rolled out of bed and took one final peek into my backpack to make sure I had everything.  All was quiet in the house when I left.  I cruised the quiet streets to the pool, wondering if Chris would wake up and successfully rouse the others from their slumber as he mentioned he hoped to do.  When race time rolled around, it was impossible to see if they actually made it.

Fast forward through the swim and the last stretch of the first lap on the bike.  There they were!  With signs and cheers and smiles.  Oh, it made this mama's heart leap for joy.  I couldn't stop waving at them every time I passed them.  Thank you, sweet family of mine!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Summer solstice

I lamented about how we had difficulty celebrating the spring equinox, and we worked extra-hard to make the summer solstice special.  Here's what was going on around our house yesterday...

I made the children summer painting books.  The cover is made of felt and the pages are canvas.  The project came from Alphabet Glue.  These books greeted the children at the table in the morning.

After breakfast, we made whipper-whoppers, which is basically a paper propeller on a string.  The project came from All Year Round, and was in the "toys for summer air" section of the book.  Once the children finished making their whipper-whoppers, they ran up and down the street with their toys whirling behind them.  Then they hung them in the tree at the corner of our house.  Then they sipped some sweet iced tea and enjoyed a picnic lunch outside.

In the afternoon, we went to the playground, but not before the children began constructing a campground and I made a flying streamer bag (also from All Year Round).  I decided to use long fabric strips from my scrap fabric basket instead of crepe paper.  While the beanbag won't make the same noises without the crepe paper, I wanted it to be more durable.

While at the playground, the children built a sand fort, inspired somewhat by the Halifax Citadel we visited almost a year ago.  Astrin swung and slid, and there was so much joy and happiness surrounding us on this lovely summer afternoon.

The children finished their campground while I cooked supper...there was a dining shelter, children's games and activities, and of course the admission gate!

Welcome summer!

A week in pictures


Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Since the spring equinox and the lacklustre attempt I made to celebrate the change of the seasons, I made a commitment to myself to do a better job to welcome summer.  Given that the summer solstice is tomorrow, and with no other ideas really motivating me, I decided to flip through All Year Round for inspiration.  And after a bit of humming and hawing, I chose to lead Nature Club in creating a paper summer solstice spiral.

Before we made our spirals, we talked a bit about the summer solstice.  We talked about the equator and how it separates the northern and southern hemispheres.  We talked about how summer in the north is winter in the south.  We talked about the earth's axis, and how the tilt of the earth leads to the number of daylight hours changing throughout the year.  This led us to a little chat of how ancient cultures created stories to explain the changing seasons and the changing positions of the sun.  We talked about how some cultures believed that fairies would be full of mischief on midsummer's eve.  Then I read a story out of All Year Round called The Rusty Dirk. 

Once we finished the story and tidied up after our snack, we started making our summer solstice spiral.  It was simply two smaller spirals inside one large spiral.  The spirals stay in place by resting on top of wooden beads, which are secured with knots.  The instructions called for gold foil, which I could not find.  I replaced it with a gold translucent vellum paper, which was about normal paper weight.  Next time, I would experiment with a heavier weight paper, even though I think that a heavy card stock would be too heavy.  I found that our six- and seven-year olds were able to do the cutting fairly well, but some needed help with handling the slinky gold thread we used.

Welcome, summer!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Water movie

Today had the makings of the movie.  It started with me awaking with a start, afraid that I had overslept and wouldn't have time to get out to weed, replant and water the garden.  I rushed to get dressed and drain the peas and corn that I had soaked overnight, then grabbed the keys and walked out the door to the car.

Pan over to a peaceful garden scene with birds chirping merrily and a lone person happily on hands and knees with dirt under her fingernails.  After straightening up to survey the gardens around her, she sighs and appreciates the green growth all around her.  She shakes out of her reverie and unloads most of the trunk to pull out the hose and sets up the sprinkler.  A few harmless drops of water land on her hat and shoulders, and though the water is cold, she smiles as she thinks of how much those moist seeds and tiny seedlings will soak up the moisture.  She checks the time and hurriedly returns to the car so she can start supper and boil some eggs for lunch.

In our next scene, the family is bustling to get to the farmer's market and downtown library before the noon rush hour.  The clouds could spell rain, so our busy mom checks the internet to find out when the experts expect the clouds to overflow and send their droplets down to earth.  Not until the evening.  And with that news, the mother asks her son to start wheeling the bikes out of the garage.  As the final items are being shoved into bags, the family notices big fat droplets hitting the ground.  Just as soon as they started, they stop.  A quick family meeting results in a consensus that biking is still the way to go, and a little bit of rain won't get in their way.  The bike caravan shoves off and they are on their way!

With lunches happily purchased and enjoyed, our family heads to the duck ponds.  Our family learned that feeding bread to the waterfowl can swing their diets out of balance and cause damage to their wing feathers.  So the son happily pulls out individual bags of cereal he prepared (Red River, if I'm not mistaken), passes them out to the other family that has joined us and we start to make our way around the pond.  The children run ahead and the toddler tries to convince the geese and ducks that she has the best cereal.

As the group is rounding the corner and on its way to the nesting site of the swans, the mother sees out of the corner of her eye her daughter (the older one) reaching just a bit too far to feed the geese, and toppling into the pond head first!  The mother drops everything, but the little girl is back to the side of the pond, retrieving the bag of cereal she dropped, and pulling herself out in no time.  She is scared and cold and wet from head to toe, but she was quick-thinking and strong.  Her mama squeezes her tight and tells her so.  The group quickly comes up with a plan to get this little one out of her wet clothes and warm and dry...the friends will drive her home while the mama, son and toddler bike home.

As the family bikes furiously, the skies open up.   While it is likely a gentle rain and our family has brought rain jackets, they are soaked and out of breath by the time they get home.  The little girl and her friends greet them at the back step, like nothing even happened.  The little girl even cracked a couple of jokes on the way home about her predicament.  The fright of the event appears to be gone.

The family moves through the rest of the quiet afternoon with the little girl drawing a warm bath with scented bath salts, reading and sewing.  The rains continue off and on for the rest of the afternoon and soon the mother looks out the window to get a read on the likelihood of ball games that evening.  And what she sees startles her.  For to the east are sunny skies with harmless little white clouds dancing peacefully.  But to the west are darker, more ominous clouds.  A clap of thunder can be heard in the distance.  Is the storm coming or going?  As she looks closer, she sees that the storm clouds themselves are none too sure either.  For they start slowly swirling and one group of clouds has broken off to form a circle.  It's not a funnel cloud, but is this how funnel clouds, and eventually tornadoes, start?  The son has noticed the cloud too and is also suspicious.  He's ready to dart into the basement, and he quickly alerts his sister to the potential danger.  To help the children control their panic, for fear can lurk in the unknown, the mother calmly tells the children that the cloud is nothing yet, but that we have been afforded the luxury of time if it does turn into something.  Perhaps we could use our time to gather a few essentials...flashlights, a few bottles of water, super-special stuffed animals, the pet fish.  By the time all the items are gathered up, the cloud has broken apart and looks wet, but harmless.

Feeling all is safe, at least as far as the threat of tornadoes goes, and not receiving any messages about ball games being cancelled, our first wave of troops head out the door.  Only to return 10 minutes later lightly drenched (for the second time that day!).  For the coaches made a last-minute decision that lightening and lightening rods baseball bats are not a good combo.  Soon after, the second group of troops return home with the same news.  Better late than never, I guess.

We sense the day is now coming to a close.  And what a full day it has been!  As the older children are being tucked into their beds, their thoughts turn to what-ifs.  What if a storm had come and they were not safe?  What if they were safe but their parents were not - who would take care of them?  What if no one but the fish were safe - who would take care of the fish?  Big tears form in troubled eyes now realizing the mortality of us all.  Hugs are offered, along with comforting words and reassurances that they are surrounded by an extended family who loves them and will take care of them.  That, in fact, those who have passed before us are taking care of our four-legged friends while they wait for us at the Rainbow Bridge.

The evening draws to a close.  The house is quiet save the sound of the wind rustling the branches and leaves on the trees and the odd car that races past.  Thoughts turn towards brightening up the next few days, as we prepare for the summer solstice.  Enjoying every last ounce of sunshine in our short summers.  Enjoying all the mundane and outrageous moments of a family that lives and learns and loves together.  For our time here, like the summertime, is short. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tales from the garden

I was so hoping to write a garden post last week.  My husband came home from the community garden one evening and reported that the garden was doing well.  So the next day, with camera in tow, I was excited to capture all the wonderful growth and greenery happening there.

I humbly found I had a different perspective of our garden.  I searched for the corn he said had poked through the earth, only to find three plants.  I squinted to see if there were any carrots growing or if it was just weeds.  The peas and the weeds were so indistinguishable that Nicholas took to hacking at anything and everything green before I could even ask him to slow down, take his time, and be choosy before bringing down the hoe on the green rows.  Then the allure of painting and reading lost its sparkle for Astrin.  And it started to gently and sporadically mist once we had finished our weeding and what we thought was the rest of our planting.  It felt like too depressing a visit to write about.

Time has healed my bruised ego now.  We returned briefly today, so that I could look with objective eyes at the work and replanting that will be done early tomorrow morning, before the kids rise and their father leaves for work.  I can see some of the successes we're having, here at home and at the community garden.  The spindly little tomatoes we started from seed look stronger, greener, and lusher by the day.  The beans Nicholas planted came up beautifully.  The popcorn at home is looking splendid, and I'm happy that I've had a chance to do a little bit of companion planting, using the corn for the pole beans to climb.  The potato leaves have pushed their way through the earth, the pumpkin is hanging on, and the zucchini is well on its way.  And while it's still to early to tell for sure, there may just be a few carrots that appreciated me gently "stirring the earth". 

While I do have a list of "to do's" for next year...get out there earlier, water more often, sow the carrots a bit shallower...I'm once again reminding myself to be patient.  Both with the plants and with me.  The cool, wet spell we've just been through made the growth above ground come to a halt.  But all that moisture will benefit those plants later on.  The sun will be shining this week and the heat will help those plants thrive.  Not all growth goes on where it can be seen...there's equally important stuff going on below the surface.  My vibe can be seen and felt by my children.  They can learn that gardening is frustrating business or they can learn to take the ups and the downs with grace. 

It may be small, but it is a life.  It is growing.  It is beautiful.  I will keep it in that perspective.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Opening night

My little polar bear at FadaDance's The Crack in Everything concert.  I'm looking forward to stepping out from behind the scenes tomorrow night and enjoying the show in the audience.  It sounded like the dancers' efforts were much appreciated tonight!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Elusive strawberries

I've come across some unsettling news as of late.  It appears that strawberries aren't doing well on the local farms and I haven't found a u-pick that will be offering strawberries this year.  At least not yet anyway.  Strawberries bring just a wee bit of sweetness in a kissed-by-summer kind of way (think fruit smoothies, strawberry crumble, dried strawberries in your cereal), and help us to remember that spring will return again on those dark winter mornings.  So I'm calling around to literally every potential strawberry grower in the province to see if any will be offering strawberries this year. 

I'm also a little unnerved by the whole thing.  I don't know why the strawberries haven't come through in this particular part of the world, and I'm holding my breath as I wait to find out about what's going on in the other corners of the province.  I hope the reason the strawberries didn't thrive was our cool, and I hope it wasn't because of something more sinister...such as collapsing bee populations, increasing toxins in the soil, water and atmosphere, the broader and little known effects of GMO's...And I wonder what crop be next to fold and simply refuse to grow - wheat, corn, tomatoes? 

Then I wonder about how successful our garden would be in the face of all these threats.  How well would we be able to nourish ourselves when one seemingly tiny organism in the web of life disappears and causes the whole web to fall apart?  While I cling to the utopian hope that indeed one person, or a small group of committed people, can change the world (thank you, Margaret Mead), I wonder how one can avoid such a devastating tsunami as a global food collapse...where edible plants will simply refuse to grow.  Because we are all interconnected - the Monsantos, the organic and biodynamic farmers, the beekeepers and the city slickers...what one does has an impact on the rest.

The best I can come up with is holistic and integrated gardening, where the garden is not just the plot of land or raised garden beds, but all the helpers that go along with it.  Chickens to eat the nasty bugs.  Raising bees (and doing what I can to provide them a safe place to thrive) to help pollinate.  Animals to cut the grass and provide nutrient-rich manure to feed the soil.  And what to do when all of this is illegal in a city?  Ah, that's where I get stuck.

While I ponder the fate of the world, I'll again take some time out for gratitude.  I'm thankful for a husband that is willing to travel to the far reaches of our province simply to pick strawberries.  I'm thankful for children who are excited to join us on this excursion.  I'm thankful for the farmers who honour the Earth and put their souls into the food they grow.  I'm thankful for the community we've found who might know of some secret strawberry patch, or perhaps some guidance for those more daunting fears and questions.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Meals to go

The end is in sight for our busy, busy season.  As I look at the calendar, I see that there was not a single day in the last two weeks that someone wasn't off somewhere doing something in the evening.  Getting a home-cooked, fresh and nourishing meal into a youngster before he hops on his bike at 5:15 pm to head off to a ball game, or packing a supper for the rest of the crew to enjoy at the game, can be a challenge.  I thought that today I would write about a few discoveries we've had while adapting to a schedule that has been sped up faster than we've experienced before, in hopes that I can return to it next spring for a refresher.  Hopefully they can provide inspiration for your family too.

1.  Love thy slow cooker:
I really didn't think I would be leaning on our slow cooker now that we are out of the cold, frigid months of winter.  But we are.  And it's been a great way to get a flavourful, nourishing dish on the table right when it's needed.  Plus, the roasts we usually make will provide leftovers for lunch the next day.  Luckily, we've had an opportunity to experiment with new recipes when cooking our grass-fed beef "low and slow".  Below is a recipe for a simple dish I've made several times.  Check out Long Way on a Little for other slow cooker and grilling inspiration.
Slow-cooked roast beef:
 ~ Gather your ingredients:  roast, 2 cups stock, 2 bay leaves, freshly ground pepper, sea salt, thyme leaves, chopped garlic, and rosemary (to taste), 1 tablespoon olive oil
 ~ Place stock and bay leaves in slow cooker.
 ~ Place pepper, salt, thyme leaves, garlic and rosemary in a mortar and grind until it forms a paste.  Stir the olive oil into the paste.
 ~ Rub herb paste over roast.  Place it in the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
 2.  Cook extras:
We've had a few days where we've transitioned from an afternoon activity straight into an evening activity.  Having extra leftovers waiting for us has helped us to ensure our meals are balanced and provide all the nutrients and energy we need to do our activities well.  We have a couple of standby recipes that we love and that are easy to double.  Our tomato and bean salad from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian is one of them.  Cabbage salads also require relatively few ingredients, can be stretched for more than one meal, and require no cooking time.  We usually slice our cabbage thinly, then mix in some sliced carrots, peppers, scallions and raisins (to increase the allure of the dish for our littlest one).  We often finish our cabbage salad with an oil-based vinaigrette, or we will mix mayonnaise, yogurt, salt, pepper, poppy seeds and a wee bit of vinegar to make a creamy salad dressing.  Another unusual but popular option is popcorn - check out my favorite recipe here.  This recipe makes a lot - enough for lunch and an afternoon snack. 

3.  Love local:
Our local farmer's market already has quite a selection of veggies that we stock up on.  Cherry tomatoes and cucumbers are incredibly versatile and require little prep work.  A wash, a couple of chops with the knife, and a snack is prepared in less time than it takes the little ones to clear off the table.  Add a freshly baked loaf of bread and some market chevré, and we have the makings of meal - all we need to add is some fruit.  And there is very little that is quicker to cook than asparagus quickly stir-fried with butter and garlic.  Salad greens can easily be tossed with any of these ingredients to ensure we get a serving or two of veggies in our meals.  Yum!

4.  Preparing ahead:
When we are in a true rush and there are really only moments to grab and go, we send our little ones out the door with something we've prepared ahead of time.  Granola bars from Homemade Pantry and hard-boiled eggs are two items that have walked out in the hands of our little ones this week as they head out to ball games.  As an added bonus, the kids can make their own hard-boiled eggs, and they seem extra motivated if they can dye them, too.  Other ideas that have been popular in our house include homemade trail mixes or granola, combined with some type of fruit.  I make sure to stock up on dried fruit and nuts so the children have plenty of ingredients to choose from when they make a big batch.

5.  Soul food:
Most people need some down time...the folks in my household included.  While soul food isn't something we can literally eat, it is just as important for nourishing and reenergizing our bodies.  I can tell when my little ones have had enough and need to retreat from the rest of the world and the busyness.  And I earnestly try to make sure they get it.  They may hole up in their room or sit on the couch and read for the better part of the day.  They may take up a craft and work with their hands.  Whatever it is, I trust that my children know what they need to balance themselves and I try to give them the space they need to recalibrate during the day so they are ready to go if need be in the evening.

What do you do to nourish your family when you're on the go?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey Version.

We're winding down the Birds of Prey navigation unit with a couple of hands-on, outdoor activities.  I'm so thankful the weather is cooperating today.  For today, we went straight to the park and sat under the shade of the trees for our snack, and then we went on a quest for treasure, using some real compasses.

I learned how to use a compass way back in grade 7.  Needless to say, I've forgotten most of what I learned, but it came back quite easily, thanks to Nicholas knowing how to use a compass (from Cubs) and the few instructions that came with the compass.  I also found help at this Learn Orienteering website.  And we got some extra practice as we went out to the park to set up the quest.

Our quest was pretty simple - follow the orienteering instructions to locate each of the 8 flags scattered throughout the park.  Each flag had a letter on it, and when all the letters were collected they could be unscrambled to make a word associated with our activity.  Participants would take a flag from the last location and return it to me for a prize, to celebrate them successfully completing their quest.

I chose to use flags stapled to the ground instead of pylons or flags attached to poles or sticks because I wanted the group to rely more on their compasses than on using the visual cues.  I also chose to set up two different routes so the groups wouldn't follow one another and not use the instructions.  Lastly, I set up the teams so that there was one person with more experience teamed with one with less experience.

Here are the materials we used, and more thorough instructions for setting it up:

Materials for setup:
 ~ compass
 ~ clipboard with paper and pencil
 ~ scrap fabric for flags (one for each location, plus one for each child at the last station)
 ~ garden staples for securing the flags to the ground
 ~ permanent marker (if doing a word scramble)
 ~ pylons

Setup instructions:
 1.  Use the permanent marker to write a letter on each flag that will be used in the word scramble.  We left the starting flag and the last flags blank.
 2.  Determine where your starting position will be and secure a flag to that spot using a garden staple.
 3.  Set pylons in the other locations.  We used pylons to lay out the course so they would be clearly visible when we went to write up the instructions, and so that we could make different routes using the same locations for each team.  My children set them randomly throughout the park.  Some were close together and some were far apart - this doesn't matter too much.
 4.  Stand at your starting position and select the next location you will orient to.  Using your compass, determine which direction you will need to face, in degrees.  Then walk towards that location, counting the number of steps.  Write down the degrees and the number of steps in your instructions.  Replace the pylon with a flag and secure it with a garden staple.  Note the letter on the flag so that you know the correct sequence for the word scramble.
 5.  From your current location, repeat step 4 until all locations have been included in the instructions.
 6.  If you want to write up several routes, simply put the pylons back over the flags, then repeat steps 4 and 5, using a different route.  We made sure the start and end positions were the same for each iteration of the course.

Materials for orienteering game:
 ~ compasses (one for each child)
 ~ clipboard with instruction sheet and pencil or pen
 ~ prizes (optional)

Game instructions:
 1.  Review with the group how to use the compasses.  Go through a couple of examples before they start their quest.
 2.  Divide the group into teams.  I tried to match those more experienced with using a compass with those who were using one for the first time.
 3.  Describe the activity to the teams.
 4. Give each team a clipboard with an instruction sheet and a pencil or pen.
 5.  Show each group where the start position is and let them begin! 

I preferred using map compasses that had a travelling arrow for this activity.  The travelling arrow (explained at the Learn Orienteering website) helped the children understand and see the direction they needed to move in better than other types of compasses without such a prominent feature.  I also found that I needed to remind them to hold their compasses level, move slowly, and to pick out some sort of landmark to walk towards (instead of looking at their compass and wandering off course).

I think we will definitely do this activity again!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

My, yesterday was a busy day.  On top of the birthday crafting and celebration, there was also Nature Club.  Our mission yesterday was to make a driftwood boat that would float and keep its sail out of the water.  I loved this activity because it gave us plenty of room to experiment and try different variables, without being too overwhelming.

Supplies for this activity were minimal - smaller chunks of wood (that the Clubbers found by rummaging through our bin of kindling), small sticks for the mast, scrap fabric for the sails (courtesy my scrap fabric basket), plasticine, scissors and glue.  Oh, and buckets of water to test out our creations, of course.

I happened to have an already completed driftwood boat on hand, so we used it to kick off our meeting and to make a few discoveries.  The piece of driftwood used in this boat was quite narrow, and it was quite tippy in the water as a result.  This led us to discuss that perhaps a wider piece of wood would work best for our boats.  We also discovered that white glue is soluble when it gets wet, so we had best use a different type of glue when attaching our sails to the masts (we used a hot glue gun).

Our tippy example boat
Next, we attached our masts to the boat by wrapping the plasticine around one end of the stick, then forming a base so that the plasticine would stick to the wood.  We found that adding this weight, including its placement on the wood, could change how well the wood floated and how stable the boat was.

Finally, the Clubbers raided my scrap fabric basket and cut out their own sails.  I then glued them to their masts and they tried one final time to see if their boats would stay upright.  Some did and some didn't.  We found that sails that were centered on the masts worked best, as well as masts that were shorter.

A boat that floats!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Birthday wishes

The eldest in our family celebrated a birthday today.  And while we didn't get much of a chance to see him, what with work and ball games, a garden to be watered and children to put to bed, we did try to carve out a bit of time to show him how special he is to us. 

Chris had complained around Christmas time about our oven mitts wearing out.  We've managed to survive the last six months with what we had, by either strategically placing our fingers in just the right spots so as not to burn ourselves, or else just giving up on baking altogether.  It's time to change all that, though, so the girls and I made Chris some oven mitts.

The pattern we used was from Reinvention:  Sewing with Rescued Materials.  While we didn't do all the stencilling that the pattern describes, I found that painting the fabric was just the right thing for the girls to help out with.  Making sure all had their paint shirts on and the table was covered, we set to work using potatoes, cookie cutters and apples as our stamps.  We used standard fabric paint that could be found at any craft store (I think our paint came from Michaels).

To make a stamp from a potato and a cookie cutter, simply select a potato that is large enough for your cookie cutter.  Cut the potato in half, then press the cookie cutter into the cut side of the potato.  With the cookie cutter still in the potato, use a paring knife to trim the outside edge away from the cookie cutter.  Pull the cookie cutter out and voila - you have a ready to go stamp.  Paint the stamp with the fabric paint and you're off!

Astrin used an apple as her stamp.  We cut the apple in half horizontally, as the core will look like a star.  This stamp was ideal for a toddler, as it simply requires paint on the entire cut side of the apple.  It doesn't need to be pressed well to get the desired look. 

When it came to assembling the mitt, I found the instructions in the book needed to be tweaked.  Rather than placing the pockets on top of the wool, I found the fabric needed to be sandwiched together as follows:

  ~ painted full-length rectangle - right side up
  ~ pockets - right side down
  ~ plain full-length rectangle - right side down
  ~ wool

All in all, I'm hoping the  mitts can be used by all for a long time to come.

Happy birthday, my love!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tailgating at the garden

While offering young hands painting as an outlet during planting and weeding holds promise, we needed a plan for how to engage young minds while watering our large garden plot.  Whether managing turns for watering with the hose or waiting out watering with the fan sprinkler, it can feel a lot like watching paint dry.

Today, we added lawn chairs, snacks and library books to our gardening tool box.  After a short bit of weeding and our second interval of planting peas and corn (which Nicholas and Astrin lovingly helped with), it was time to water.  Nicholas insisted on setting up the sprinkler (and he did a fantastic job) while I got us set up for a lazy afternoon in the sun.  Oranges, cucumber and water bottles surrounded us as we dove into a Where's Waldo? book, followed by an animated retelling of The Gruffalo.  We capped off our tailgate party with testing out the water for ourselves...below are Astrin and Jaelyn shrieking as the cold, cold water finally reaches them.  What fun!

Lessons learned today: 

  ~ bring rubber boots for retrieving the sprinkler once the watering is done.
  ~ have a stick handy for scraping off all that mucky mud.
  ~ pick out a couple extra books to supplement the children's picks, as we could go through their picks quite quickly.
  ~ the garden would be a pretty awesome spot for practicing some of the writing tricks we learned on our trip through the Haunted Wood last summer.  Bringing writing and drawing supplies would be handy.  In fact, restocking and packing our art-on-the-go bags (from The Creative Family) would be a good idea.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Busy in the garden

It was a couple of weeks ago that I was feeling alright with the progress we were making in the garden, and that everything was on schedule.  Imagine my surprise when June came sneaking up on us and there was still a large patch of dirt without seeds or transplants or anything but opportunistic weeds growing in it!  Days that threatened rain followed by evenings filled to the brim with activities led to few trips to the community garden and a bit of a wild scramble this weekend.

This year, we built new pea fences.  The ones we used last year were too short and not strong enough to support the peas.  While the fences were built in plenty of time, they didn't quite find their way into the garden quickly.  We found that our rubber mallet wasn't quite up to the task of driving them into the ground.  While we borrowed a hammer shortly after, I discovered I wasn't strong enough to swing it up over my shoulder and land it accurately on top of the fence stakes.  So several didn't make it in until this weekend.  Which was okay for the peas, as I planned to experiment with staggered plantings this year so we could have a more continuous supply and space out our processing work when the harvest was ready.

What didn't work out was that I couldn't imagine how much space the pea fences would take up so I could plant the rest of the garden that would lay to the south of it.  The space itself was actually larger than I had planned for, which also changed my plans.  And I have a sneaky suspicion that I planted some things closer together than I had planned when I drew up my garden plan.  Yes, I could have used a tape measure to figure it out.  But in the heat of the moment, with a toddler wielding a paintbrush covered in red, another child asking questions about planting beans and a third starting to wiggle like bathroom time was just moments away, the tape measure was the last thing from my mind. 

Anyway, all those things combined led to tweaking the garden plan on the spot and some indecision.  Until there was really no time left for indecision.  I found myself at the garden by myself last night, while Chris set to work getting the children's weary bodies into bed.  I'm happy to say that I was able to get it planted and watered.  And I'm glad that while I let my disorganized self get the better of me, I still stuck with labelling all our rows and I did a better job in spacing the plants out.  Now we just need to weed, water, and ask the sun to help us out by sending its warm rays down on our little patch of land.

Please grow, little plants.  Thanks!