Monday, 29 July 2013

Little orange success

My former workplace focussed on celebrating successes.  Big or little, corporate-wide or individually, success was something to be acknowledged.

After I came home from the garden last night, I didn't think there would be much to celebrate, now or any other time this year.  There was more that needed to be weeded than not.  There were some plants that weren't looking too healthy, and many that looked too little for this time of the season.  It appears that we will be heading to the farmer's market yet again for vegetables to sustain us for this week.  Kind of depressing stuff.

I returned to the garden this morning with the goal to weed the pickling cukes and the carrots.  That goal is now accomplished!  But even better was what I brought home with me...

I can't remember if I wrote about our carrot failure last year, when we were successful at growing only one single, solitary carrot.  And this year, why there are carrots in need of thinning!  For goodness sake, this is the first year that we've grown more than one carrot...ever!  Those I picked today will saddle up to the table for one meal. 

So celebrate I will.  I will wash one of those carrots carefully and bite into it.  In fact, I will savour it, and chew slower than I ever have in my life.  That carrot will get the treatment normally only reserved for chocolate.  We did manage to coax some goodness from the earth after all.  We have carrots!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A week's reflection

I find myself sitting at the table looking out into the dark, dark night, reflecting on the week that was and the week that will be.  Here's a glimpse...

  ~ gazing at the cherry jam that is resting on the counter, which I made this afternoon.  There is a box of canned cherries and dried cherries ready to go downstairs into our empty "open concept" cellar.  I hope we're able to fill it back up again. 
  ~ putting the final few things away from our week away at the lake, and feeling the desire to seriously de-clutter in the hope to make our lives simpler.  I'm thrilled to hear that my husband is taking a couple of days off to tackle the garage, though I was really hoping our basement could get double-teamed by us.
  ~ having mixed feelings about our garden.  The one at home is doing alright...the popcorn has reached the top of the fence and we've been treated to a few cherry tomatoes.  The community garden is looking a little on the sad side...too many weeds here, spotty plants there.  At least the beans are doing well.  I know both gardens have been neglected this year, but I'm not sure what the solution is at this moment.  Working hard to be thankful for what we have been able to grow.
  ~ taking a peak at a lesson planner (I found it free here).  It may be part of the solution for garden neglect.  I'm very much looking forward to writing "plan garden", "plant seeds" and "tend garden" into our days, in the hopes that it may happen.  Also looking forward to penciling in "project time".
  ~  admiring my daughter and how she will refuse to stay bored for long.  She's turned to art during the lulls in the day - painting yesterday and beading today.  Kim John Payne (author of Simplicity Parenting) definitely has it right - something interesting is right around the corner.
  ~ sending thoughts of light and peace to a friend in pain.
  ~ wondering what it will be like with two children away for the bulk of the next week.  Nicholas is attending a scout camp and Jaelyn is in a Chinese culture day camp.  The days will definitely be quieter...
  ~ looking forward to more preserving...blueberry roll-ups and jam, black forest sauce, perhaps some drunken cherries thrown into the mix (check out Put 'Em Up)

Wishing you a week of gratifying work and play!

Sunday, 21 July 2013


Our weekend and the week ahead were planned out months ago.  We were to go to a wedding on Saturday and then head out to a nearby lake and provincial park in the week that followed.  I've been planning and cooking meals to feed 12, with my husband's family joining us at the lake.  I was daydreaming about dressing up and dancing with my loves while packing fishing rods and crafting things, raincoats and swimsuits. 

Things sometimes don't turn our exactly as we planned, though.  My son became sick and is still laying on the couch with a fever and no appetite.  So instead of wedding festivities, I got dressed up anyway, did some crafting and dined on takeout with a girlfriend who came over to keep me company.  Instead of heading out to the lake with the rest of the family today, Nicholas and I are hanging out at home, listening to the football game.  There's a pot of chicken broth on the stove, when he's up for taking a sip or two.  I'm enjoying a simple meal of the little odds and ends that happen to have been left behind after the others left.  Hopefully we will head out tomorrow on the bus.  If not, we'll keep on waiting this fever out until it breaks.    

It's been amazingly quiet around here.  And in the midst of the quiet has come the space to experiment in new territory...

   ...playing with shibori as I prepare a birthday present (instructions from the Living Crafts summer 2012 issue, silk scarf from Thai Silks)

   ...trying out quilting as I make a floor mat for our kitchen or bathroom (the Little River Rug pattern from Reinvention, material from our old holey jeans)

   ...reading up on beekeeping, as we've discovered beekeeping is legal in our city (cozying up to Beekeeping:  A Practical Guide and Urban Beekeeping while sipping on iced tea on the porch tonight).

I'm hopeful for a healthy week ahead of us.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

When we awoke this morning, things looked a little on the grey side.  I hurried over to the weather network and received a prediction that there would be rain in the morning - thundershowers, in fact.  Hmmm...that forecast wasn't what Nature Club called for this morning.  I headed over to Environment Canada's website, where they predicted rain in the afternoon.  Much better news!  And within ten minutes of reading that news, the skies did clear up and the sun was shining down upon us.  It was like an omen telling me to simply trust the latter prediction.

Now that it's summer and our Nature Clubbers are available morning or afternoon (or evening too, I suppose), we're soaking up the opportunity to be outside before our little part of the planet heats up too much.  I learned from last year's summer club days that the beautiful little people in our Nature Club tended to wilt under the sun's hot, hot rays.  We also have much more time to do an activity and have free time, so we can plan more elaborate outings.  Today's outing took us to a little berry patch just outside the city limits to pick some saskatoons.

Yes, our family has already picked many saskatoons this season.  Soon my freezer will be full and I'll be wondering where I can store the blueberries that will come in the next couple of weeks.  But the children who joined us today aren't as familiar with this humble berry, being from another province where they don't grow.  So what better way to learn about local, seasonal, good foods, diversity, and the joys of simply being outdoors than to experience it?

For those of you who aren't familiar with saskatoons, they look similar to blueberries but have a taste that is all their own.  They have a small seed inside them and while the seed is quite fibrous, it is edible.  Here are a few of the ways we enjoy saskatoons...

   ~ saskatoon berry muffins
   ~ mix fresh or frozen saskatoons with yogurt, cereal, oatmeal or granola
   ~ saskatoon crisp or crumble
   ~ dropped into pancake batter, or served on top of freshly cooked pancakes
   ~ saskatoon berry jam
   ~ saskatoon berry syrup (we will be mixing our syrup with club soda, as an alternative to pop.  A recipe for berry syrup is in The Homemade Pantry).
   ~ in fruit smoothies (but make sure there is a lot of liquid in your smoothie, as the saskatoons tend to absorb liquid and thicken the drink considerably
   ~ fruit popsicles
   ~ pie
   ~ just eaten by the handful!

The only thing I do not do with our saskatoon berries is dry them or make fruit leathers with them.  For me, the seed tends to take centre stage when they are dried and they do not seem to keep their sweet taste when they are dried.  Perhaps I dry them out too much, as I've read that others have successfully dried them.

If you're still not sure what to do with your saskatoons once they're picked, here are a few sites with recipes to get you started:

   ~ Recipes for tarts, scones, saskatoon berry loaf, crisp and syrup
   ~ Recipes including muffins, pudding, tea, vinaigrette, bars, squares and pancakes, just to name a few
   ~ Recipe for jam

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

When there were two

It's interesting to see how the activities that fill our days change given the individuals who happen to be around.  Yesterday was such a day.

My daughter was off to play with a friend who broke his elbow and was in need of play time that was slightly less physical.  While Jaelyn can be very physical (she's counting down the years until she can play tackle football, and she already has the makings of a great linebacker), she also can be calm and gentle and understanding.  That left Nicholas, Astrin and I, and we made the most of our time together by heading to a ball diamond that also had a tiny playground nearby.  Astrin toddled over to the swing while Nicholas got out his bat and took some swings while I pitched to him.

I must admit, I was a little nervous how our ball practice was going to work out with a toddler in tow.  Astrin is the type to be right in the thick of it, wanting a turn to swing the bat and stand out in the field.  And she did indeed want to play with us for a bit, after the swing and the slide got old.  We obliged by letting her wear Nicholas' helmet and swing the bat, and occasionally helping her when she wanted us to.  When she was in the field, I asked her to stand directly behind me, and for the most part she did.  Eventually, the monotony of pitching and swinging got to be too boring and she wandered over to my ball bag.  That is where she was free to take what was left in it out and pretend it was a bed.  Honestly, she can fit right inside!  She also found the pouch where my cleats are hidden, proceeded to put them on and then tottered onto the diamond once again to show off her new shoes.  Funny girl!

I imagine how our ball practice would have played out with three children.  Everyone would have wanted a turn to bat.  The pace would have slowed dramatically.  I likely would have gotten frustrated, and my son likely would have too.  It would have been harder to occupy my littlest one.  Her older sister may or may not have wanted to play with her at the playground.  In short, it would have been more difficult for me to give each child the individual attention he or she wanted when the others were vying for it too.  Which is often a lot like any other day.  So today we were given a true gift.  Jaelyn's bucket was filled up by visiting with a friend.  Nicholas and I shared an activity that he is interested and asked to do.  Astrin had space to explore and time to be with us.  Everyone won.  Grateful for today!

Monday, 15 July 2013

The fruit farm tour

I feel like right now we are in the midst of whirlwind tour of u-pick farms.  For we have been blessed with the time, energy and support to make our way out to several farms to pick berries in the peak of the season.

Our first trip was on Friday, and was a drive into a picturesque valley overflowing with the summer's bounty.  Our sights were set on saskatoons, the very berry that we were so eager to pick last year, but were so bitterly disappointed with.   Alas, last year we didn't make it out until the end of the season and had hard picking, with mainly wizened berries to choose from.  No saskatoon berry jam last year.  But what a contrast this year!  The berries were big and plump, juicy and sweet!  With the help of my sweet, sweet parents, the children and I found jackpot after jackpot (as Nicholas and Jaelyn call the spots with lots of berries for the picking).  We soon had eight pails filled between the six of us (though my parents had a head start and picked most of them on their own).  Thankfully, most of my crew did there part to help out too.

Our second trip was today, with an hour's drive to the east for strawberries.  Yes, that's right, we found strawberries, and they were closer than we thought they would be.  Eight must be the number this year, as we worked together to pick eight buckets of these beautiful, sweet, red orbs.  Nicholas was such an eager picker that he picked three and a half pails by himself and wound up with a job offer to pick berries for the rest of the summer.

Now, I find us in our warm kitchen, doing the first of the processing of 2013.  Saskatoons have been frozen and poured with abandon into fruit crumble.  Our experimental recipe for the year is strawberry maple jam with vanilla (from Taproot).  If the few tastes I got are any indication, it is wickedly good.  Strawberries fill my dehydrator and my freezer.  I'm dreaming of what I can whip up with the berries that have not yet found a home.

Amid all this making and dreaming, I made some new discoveries too.  Like that my husband wrinkles his nose at strawberry pie and strawberry crumble.  That's okay...I still may pop into the library tomorrow to pick up A Year of Pies by Ashley English.  I also discovered that it is so much easier to remove jar lids from a pot of water with a magnet secured to a butter knife.  So long tongs!  And I rediscovered the simple joy of mashed berries on ice cream.  Yum. 

Let the fruit farm tour go on! 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Camping food

There was a time, about a year ago, that I vowed we would eat well on our next family camping trip.  My husband whispered in my ear of all the merits of camping foods from our youth...Kraft Dinner, Pro Stars or Alphabits cereal, and lunch meat.  He talked of how convenient and easy the meals are to make (just add water!), and how it lessens the number of coolers we need to shuffle around and fill with ice every so often.  Oh, and the kids would be happy with a treat for a change.

Despite his best efforts, I just can't bring myself to buying it, let alone making a meal with it.  My rebuttals to he arguments went along the lines of, "Where are the vegetables? Do you know what is actually in that stuff?  Isn't camping a treat in itself?"

But he does have a point.  I would rather play at the beach or sit around the fire than cooking a gourmet meal over a Coleman stove.  I would rather spend less time searching through the several coolers that travel with us trying to find what I'm looking for.  I would rather go on a nature hike than stop at the camp store for more ice.

So out came The Complete Trail Food Cookbook.  Yes, the promise of "just add water" appeals to me.  As I flipped through the pages, it dawned on me that I in fact needed to have dehydrated many of the ingredients before assembling them together.  Which would have made sense to do as we were harvesting last year.  Which I now remember us vowing to do last year.  And I find myself making the same vow now.  No, I will not get tired of putting up food and will do just a wee bit more to have a fully stocked pantry of dehydrated fruits and veggies.  Next year's camping will be awesome.

And as for this year?  I just shrugged my shoulders and found a couple of things that we could make at home instead of buying from the store.  Like syrup for making our own soda. And marshmallows.  (Recipes from Alana Chernila's Homemade Pantry).  Totally not that far off of Kraft Dinner or Prostars or Alphabits or lunch meat in terms of nutritional value.  But I think we score stars for sharing a treat with the kids for a change.

Rhubarb ginger syrup - just add club soda...

The process of turning water, gelatin, and sugar into marshmallows...

Future happy camper!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Fortune teller

I found myself making lunch to the sound of a spelling bee today.  Nicholas and Jaelyn were busy making paper fortune tellers, after receiving one as a gift yesterday.  Nicholas folded up a few fortune tellers of his own, based on the construction of the one they were gifted, and the writing began. 

"Mom, do you spell 'red' R-E-D?"

"Mom, is this how you spell 'successful'?

"Mom, how do you spell 'athlete'?"  Upon which I would ask, "What is the first sound you hear?  What sound do you hear next?" "What makes the middle 'e' say its name?"  And voila - my child has spelled "athlete" on his own.

"Mom, do you have any ideas for a fortune?  The hint word can only have an odd number of letters." (This was because the hint word was used rather than a colour name or a number that is often used before the fortune is revealed.  If that makes sense.)  And so I make up a few fortunes, based on what is top-of-mind for me today.  "I am a kind person" is my response.  What follows is a discussion of whether people are born innately kind or if kindness is something that must be learned...whether people choose to be kind or whether they forgo kindness simply because they don't know how to be nice.  My writer ponders the question and determines for himself whether the fortune will read, "I am a kind person" or "I will be a kind person".

Maybe I should make up a homeschooling mom fortune teller for times when a reminder is needed.  Here's what it might contain today...

  ~ Trust that children will learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it
  ~ Just as Rome was not built in a day, a child's education will not be complete in a day, or a year!  Learning may just go on until their last breath.
  ~ Free time provides open spaces for exploring and creativity
  ~ Smile!
  ~ Choose to be kind!
  ~ Follow the children and they will lead you to extraordinary places
  ~ Let the children learn to follow their hearts and they will find peace
  ~ Be the change you want to see in the world

Monday, 8 July 2013

The notebook

Magic can happen when little hands find their way to a small notebook with a cute puppy on the front.  This is what my husband and I discovered this weekend after our daughter toted her prize notebook home from the library.  The library was holding a summer reading contest, and the notebook was a prize for completing four hours of reading.

The magic in that notebook transformed my lovely seven-year-old into a sweet waitress who painstakingly made up menus for her guests, set the table, and served us our three-course supper with a smile.  She refused to eat with us at the table because she was working, instead choosing to eat once all our dishes were cleared off.  She somberly told me that I would not have to pay because I cooked the food, but that everyone would have to pay a dollar for their meal. 

We had a repeat performance the next morning, too, for breakfast.  Oh, how I love when these spontaneous bursts of learning happen right before my eyes!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

I spy

Mysterious happenings...a case to be solved...searching for clues.  It sounds like a fun way to enjoy the summer, or at least part of it.  So when Jaelyn was invited to a birthday party and she was flipping through our issues of Alphabet Glue, she was taken with the idea of making a detective kit for her friend.

The detective kit we made contained secret code cards, an envelope of cut-out letters for writing anonymous notes, a detective notebook, and a magnifying glass.  I sewed up a little bag (from Green Crafts for Children) to put all the detective tools in, then Jaelyn wrote a note with birthday wishes with invisible ink (lemon juice).  We also found a copy of the first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of the Old Clock, for some nice family reading, and to help if her friend was having difficulty coming up with inspiration for a mystery to solve.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Keeping cool

I confess...while we have a fairly clean diet, I do have a couple of weaknesses - chips in the winter and ice cream in the summer.  During weeks like this, when the days are scorching hot and everyone feels as if they are melting by the time supper rolls around, I clearly hear the breezes softly whispering "ice cream" in my ear. 

While I know I could gather up ingredients to make home-made ice cream in individual portion sizes, as the kids have made with folks from the science centre, I wanted something a little lower in fat and with less refined sugar that I could simply pull out of the freezer.  Something less expensive.  Something that we truly could eat every day and not have an ounce of guilt over.  Something that had the creamy consistency of soft serve.

And then I stumbled upon this recipe for gluten-free, dairy-free ice cream sandwiches.  While I may not actually go all the way to make the sandwiches (though they do look super-good), I most definitely did find the time to make the "ice cream".  What's not to love about a recipe with only one ingredient...bananas!  I made up a double batch and have a stash of it in my freezer for those days when we need a little something to help us cool down.  I did stray from the recipe just a bit, by adding a bit of homemade vanilla flavouring while the bananas were pureeing in the food processor.  Maybe next time I'll see what happens if I add a touch of cocoa.  And if that works, we just may never need to buy ice cream again.

The happy news is that my entire family seems over the moon with bananas disguised as ice cream.  My son will more than happily volunteer to take it out of the freezer to thaw just a touch before serving, and he will be my right-hand man when it comes time to scoop the "ice cream" into bowls or dollop it on top of fruit crumble (at least two servings of fruit in every serving - yay!).

How are you keeping cool this summer? 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The difference two days makes

There we all were...the five of us sitting at the dining room table eating lunch on Canada Day.  Lunch was the only thing standing between us and the swimming pool, which we were all looking forward to as the temperatures continued to climb.  I was taking the opportunity to talk to the kids about the coming week and the start of swimming lessons.

"I don't want to take swimming lessons.  I don't like them.  They make us go in the deep end and I don't want to go in water where I can't touch the ground.  Why do I have to go?  After this year, I'm never taking them again," was my son's response.

Opinion heard.  I typically wouldn't force my kids to do something they are so dead set against.  But this one is different.  You see, my son is very excited to be going to a Scout camp this year, where the emphasis is on canoeing.  In a lake.  Where it might, at times, be difficult to touch the ground should the canoe happen to tip.  So I'm requiring a two-week stint of swimming lessons so that he will at least have some confidence that he will be able to help himself should he find himself treading water in a lake until help arrives.  It's a safety thing for me.

To be sure, I did take the time to dig into his concerns.  We talked about how he felt swimming in the shallow end.  He shared that he is able to swim across the pool without putting his feet to the ground, and that sometimes his legs can tire out.  We mused aloud about the difference between swimming in the shallow end and the deep end - if his feet aren't touching anyway, then did the depth of the water matter as much as it did before he became a stronger swimmer?  We talked a bit about technique - how straight legs kicking is easier than bent legs kicking (so much so that he could slow down his flutter kick if he uses straight legs), how closed hands are more effective than open hands, and how a face in the water makes floating easier.

Fast forward to today.  It's the second day of lessons.  His swim class is heading to the deep end for the first time.  I'm too busy playing with my younger two to sneak a peek at what the swim class is up to.  I find out at lunch that they were doing kneeling and sitting dives into the water, which was something my son refused to do last year.  Apparently it went well.  Later in the afternoon, as we wait in line to visit the pool again this afternoon (just for fun), Nicholas announced that he would be promptly heading to the deep end to practice some more dives.  And he does.  Over and over again.  He may be near the edge, but he is in the water and he hasn't substituted the edge for the pool bottom.  He has found the confidence from within that he can get around in the pool with only his arms and legs and with no assistance from the pool bottom.  Wow!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Circle time

Now that summer is officially here (read:  above 30 degree days, sweltering nights, sunburns, swimming pools), it seems as though we've been as busy as ever.  Whether it be sharing a meal with friends in the park, scrambling to keep our garden well-watered, or doing our best to help family affected by flooding, we've been going from sun rise to sun set and rarely seem to be at home.  Or rather, it seems that the chairs around our kitchen table have been oddly vacant. 

We have had a few moments, however, where I've had an opportunity to start in on my summer reading list.  The first books I've started in on relate to the Waldorf philosophy (Understanding Waldorf Education, Waldorf Schools: Kindergarten and Early Grades).  Despite the fact that I think I have a basic understanding of the Waldorf philosophy, I feel like I have no clue as to how to put it into practical application, especially for the older grades.  I know there are curriculum packages out there that could help, but I am reluctant to make such a large purchase knowing that we would likely only take bits and pieces of it to actually use.  So deeper I dive and the more I research to get my head around how it all works and what a typical day would look like.

One thing we did last year (for about a week) was our version of a circle time.  I remember hauling a pumpkin upstairs and using it as a prop for a story I shared.  And then later on that week it felt like it took a lot of effort to get everyone to the same place at the same time in the morning.  By the time everyone was together and seated I lost any sense of organization and it wasn't this magical, grounding way to start the day I'd imagined.  Shortly after, circle time fell apart.

I started thinking about how to bring circle time back after my last stint of research.  And then it hit me...perhaps circle time can be a little different than how I had originally envisioned it.  Perhaps not all of the children are present for circle time, although all would be welcome if they chose to attend.  Perhaps the type of circle time that I feel comfortable leading is one that meshes well with my youngest two children.  A circle time where we sing and dance and tell stories or share poems with props.  This way, my littlest one gets a wee bit of time focused her way before I start formal school work with the older children.  We get to move our bodies a bit before settling down to the morning's work.  We all receive a message to reflect upon before we jump into the rest of the day.

And then I thought about what my oldest might be up to if he chooses not to join circle time.  And I realized it could be entirely up to him.  He could start on the self-directed portion of his school work.  He could choose to spend the time working on projects that are meaningful to him.  He could read or draw during circle time and then spend time with his littlest sister.  Or maybe I could take the guesswork out of it and we could sit down so he could tell me what he would like his mornings to look like. 

Whatever ends up happening as we move forward, I'm very grateful for the space summer is presenting to us so we can explore possibilities to make our homeschooling experience even more enriching and enjoyable.