Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Two birds with one stone

I wasn't planning on sharing this little 20 minute adventure, as it isn't a pretty one, really.  It's quite filled with grime and messy build-up actually. 

I've been on a simplifying adventure.  I've been working on little pockets here and there - the mudroom, the storage closet that holds our luggage and children's clothes waiting to be handed down to the next little one, the dress-up bin, the pantry, the door of the refrigerator.  Well, now that I look at the list, most of them took quite a bit of time.  But they look and feel so much better now!  Anyway, my task has been to get rid of the stuff that is no longer needed or no longer fits with our lifestyle choices, then organize what's left.  It meant that we reduced the number of mitts and hats to choose from in the mudroom, that all the bulk goods in bags were moved into jars in the pantry, and that the boxes with the children's clothes have been sorted through so that only a reasonable amount of clothes remain.

Today's quick project was underneath my kitchen sink.  It's definitely not a glamorous spot that will receive a lot of attention, but my reason for cleaning it out had nothing to do with the mess or grime that was under there.

You see, we have a weekly chore day.  On one afternoon a week, Tuesdays this winter, all of us do some sort of chore.  Vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms are always on the list and Nicholas and Jaelyn alternate doing these.  I'm available to help, if it's needed, but I also do chores, whether it is folding laundry or doing dishes, or de-cluttering a corner.  What I discovered was that the person responsible for cleaning the bathrooms would inevitably disappear, citing that I hadn't gathered the cleaning supplies fast enough.  During a moment of clarity, I realized there is no need for me to keep the cleaning supplies up high because Astrin never was into eating or drinking our cleaning supplies.  As she watched me fanatically scrubbing the cabinet and we talked, it became clear the thought of chowing down on the stuff under the sink had never even crossed her mind.  And the cleaning supplies are baking soda and vinegar.  The same stuff we put in our baking and our pickles.  I think we're safe.

So, my quest for an accessible and logical place for the cleaning supplies led me to under the kitchen sink.  Here's kind of what it looked like before, once I pulled all the empty jars out (which I intended to use for pouring grease into - did I really think I would need that many?).  I couldn't get too close, as I didn't want to immortalize the mess under there!

And here's what it looks like now.  Minimal.  Accessible.  Simple. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

What is a habitat?  How does one explain what plants and animals need to seven year-old kids, most of whom have been inside lots owing to our string of cold days?  Reading a story seems to do the trick more often than not.  Or perhaps I'm just lucky that this group of Nature Clubbers seems to have a love for learning, whether it's after the school bell's rung or not.  At any rate, I introduced the concept of habitat by reading the book, On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole. 

On Meadowview Street is the story about a family who moved to Meadowview Street, but there wasn't a meadow to be found...only well manicured lawns separated by fences.  The heroine in the story, Caroline, finds a flower growing and asks her dad to mow around it.  Soon there are two flowers, then four.  And soon, the dad has decided there isn't much lawn left to mow and sells his lawnmower.  The butterflies and bees who find the yard pleasant appreciate less noise.

The seasons change and summer's hot sun beats down on the rows of houses and Caroline's little meadow.  Caroline observes there are no trees and soon a maple is planted with care, birdhouses are built, and a wren has moved into the neighbourhood.  Then they dig out a spot for a little pond and make sure there are lots of nooks and crannies for creatures to call home.

The neighbours notice Caroline's yard, and appreciate it's beauty.  Soon there are other families making their yards more friendly for the plants and animals who need a place to live.

Using the story, we talked about the plants, insects and animals that we saw in the pictures at the start of the book.  We only saw people.  Then we walked through the changes that Caroline made and what happened as a result.  When the grasses grew long and the flowers bloomed, who moved it?  Why did they move in - what was there for them now that there wasn't before?  Was it food?  Shelter?  Did other creatures move in once the tree was planted?  Why did they move in after the tree - what purpose did it serve?  Why would the creatures need a pond?

From that, we put together the portrait of what makes an ideal habitat - food (flowers for the insects, insects for the birds), cover (shelter, a place to hide), water (to drink or bathe in).  In order to have food, cover and water, there needs to be space - space for the animals to hunt or forage for food, space for the animals to move about, space for them to call home.

Taking all this knowledge, we then drew pictures of a familiar place.  It could have been a schoolyard, a backyard, a park, or an imaginary place.  Then we looked at the spaces the Clubbers created to see if it would make an ideal habitat for birds.  Was there cover?  Was there food?  Was there water?  Was there space?  It didn't matter if they could say "yes" to all these questions - if they said "no", then we talked about what could be added to make it an ideal space for birds.

Finally, we attempted to take a short walk to check out potential habitats in the neighbourhood.  But after being inside so much lately, they just needed space to play outside, with the crisp air freshening their spirits and colouring their cheeks.  What a lovely way to end the meeting!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Kung hsi fa-ts'ai!


The Year of the Horse galloped joyfully into our house last night.  After all the legends, folktales and stories telling of the Chinese New Year and its customs had been told, the crafts and decorations had been made and hung, music had been discovered, recipes poured over, and greetings and tidings had been recited and learned, it was time for a New Year celebration feast.

We invited family to join us.  We greeted each guest with an orange offering and shouted out a jubilant kung hsi fa-ts'ai!  Noisemakers and tangrams were ready to entertain the little ones while we put the finishing touches on the meal.  On the menu were potstickers, spring rolls (from our ReBar cookbook), roast chicken, Chinese greens and fried rice (from The Young Chef's Chinese Cookbook).  Dessert was oranges followed by peanut cookies.  Yum!  We sent the children home with Lai-See (Chinese lucky money).

May you enjoy good luck, good health, and prosperity in this Year of the Horse!