Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snow Fun

Just a little fun in the snow with friends.....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Learning with Friends

Today the boys and I went over to visit some friends (and fellow homeschoolers) for a little play time and for a chance to share what we are all working on these days. It was a great peak into the similarities and differences in our respective families' styles of 'schooling'. The kids all enjoyed an afternoon of building LEGO (of course!) and marble run, playing on some amazing indoor monkey bars, math bingo, discovering how sound travels, and exploring how our senses work.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bugs and Birds

There is a wonderful Butterfly Conservatory about an hours drive from our home which we have gotten in the habit of visiting every January / February. The heat and humidity inside the conservatory, the beautiful plants and of course the butterflies are the perfect cure for the winter blahs. It is usually fairly expensive to go, but today they had a special 2 hour home school program that was much more reasonably priced. We all loved touring the conservatory, and solving the puzzles at each Bug Olympics station. Did you know that the spittle bug is the highest jumping insect? That the cicada is the loudest, and the rhinoceros beetle the strongest? I swear, I learn more homeschooling than the boys do!! It was brutal going back outside in the -7 degree weather afterwards, but still a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

I've watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! Indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless! - not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again.
-William Wordsworth "To a Butterfly"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chai Latte Concentrate

This is one of those recipes that you need to try on faith, because at first glance it sounds (and looks!) rather yucky. I came across it on this blog, and had to try it out. The results were this: you know those Chai Lattes that you buy at Starbucks or Second Cup that are too ridiculously expensive to admit to your husband that you buy, so you have to scrimp on groceries and make do with tuna casserole and spaghetti for a week so that you can grab one as a special treat for yourself? You know those? Well, this recipe makes them quick, cheap, easy, and guilt-free. Really. I have had two already this afternoon - stay tuned for my 3am posting as there is no chance that I will fall asleep with so much caffeine in my system now.

Chai Concentrate

1 - 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix together and store in the fridge. To make, brew one cup of strong black tea (I used regular Orange Pekoe since it was what I had on hand) and mix in 2 tsp of the chai concentrate. Stir until dissolved, and enjoy!

Beautiful Boy

A few days ago, Charlie hosted a birthday party for one of his Teddies. There was a favorite blue ball given as a gift, pizza and cake to eat, singing of songs, and many, many hugs and kisses. And oh, so much tenderness. In our culture, little boys are often characterized by their other traits - endurance, energy, strength, intelligence and courage. They are recognized for the 'war games' that they play, and the wrestling matches that they thrive on. Charlie loves all of that - he loves a good sword fight, and can hold his own against his older brother in any wrestling match. But there is also such a tender side of him (as I think that there is to most little boys, if we will only recognize and acknowledge it). His Teddies, of which he has close to a dozen, are treated with such kindness and consideration. They are bandaged and kissed when they are hurt, comforted when they are tired or scared, and sought out with so much concern, and very real tears, when they are lost.

I love this part of my boys - the sweetness, nurturing, caring and compassion. What a wonderful gift and challenge we mothers face - to protect and encourage these qualities, as well as strength, courage and intelligence in our boys, so they will grow into the kind of men who will really make a difference in this world.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beauty in Unexpected Places

I thought that I would share this true story...what an important lesson about how our priorities and preconceptions effect our perceptions.

Here is the link - the story follows.

A man sat in a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. It was a cold January morning. He played 6 Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people made their way through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later the violinist received his first dollar tip. A woman threw the dollar in the till without stopping and continued on her way.

A few minutes later someone leaned against the wall to listen to him. But the man checked his watch started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a three year old boy. His mother, hurried, tagged him along, but the boy stopped to hear the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the boy continued to walk, turning his head back all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All of the parents, without exception, forced the children to move on.

In the 45 minutes that the musician played, only 6 people stopped to stay a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk at their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out a performance at a theatre in Boston where the prices averaged $100 per seat.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing in the subway was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment looking at people's perception, tastes, and priorities. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate time, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate beauty? Do we recognize it in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop to listen to one of the worlds best musicians play one the the best pieces of music ever written, how may other beautiful things are we missing each day?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Paws for Literacy

Our local library had a Paws for Literacy Program today to celebrate Family Literacy Day. Each child was paired with one of six fabulous 'literacy dogs', for whom they could read stories for a half hour. William especially is a huge animal lover, so this was right up his alley. The kids kept running back to the shelves to pick out more doggy-themed books, and the dogs were full of cuddles and kisses.

William with Matisse

Charlie with Gimli

The Grotto

This morning we decided to take in the drop-in program at the local indoor climbing gym. William has gone climbing here before, and loves it. I figure if they are going to climb anyway, they had better learn how to do it safely. It was all the more fun because we ran into so many of the boys' friends from the homeschool group.

I am sure we will be going back in the near future - Will has his sights set on the top of the boulder - a huge climbing structure with a platform on the top. The kids climb up to the top, and then take a rest before coming back down. He made it most of the way up today, but still needs a bit of practice. I imagine that climbing down will be a whole other story, but I am trying not to think about that part too much!!

I believe that when we face challenges in life that are far beyond our own power, it's an opportunity to build on our faith, strength and courage. I've learned that how we face challenges plays a big role in the outcome of them.
-Sasha Azevedo

Friday, January 22, 2010

Postcard Collection

As part of an ongoing study of world geography, the boys have started a postcard collection. Our hope is to collect postcards mailed to them from each province and territory, state, and as many other countries in the world as we can manage. We are off to a somewhat slow start (it is amazing how many people we know who live in Ontario!!!) but so far they have postcards from British Colombia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Buffalo, Florida, and New Zealand. Others are on the way from Guatemala, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Hawaii.
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about as freely as possible.
-Mahatma Gandhi

A Little Bit of Pretty

It always amazes me how much we take for granted - this beautiful stream runs just outside of the town where we live. I drive by it almost every week, but have never stopped to really look at it before. Today I pulled over to the side of the road to take a closer look.

I was only there for a few minutes (little people were waiting at home for the milk that I went out to buy) but it was such a nice feeling to take it all in. Sometimes in the rush of our busy days, we forget how little time it can take to find a moment of peace: some fresh air, bright sunshine, clear water, and green trees. Nature really does have the power to heal.

There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds and for our overburdened spirits, there is strength in the hills, if only we will lift up our eyes. Remember that nature is your greatest restorer.
-Calvin Coolidge, 1924.

Cranberry Nut Bread

This is a new recipe that I have just tried (sorry - forgot to click a photo) to use up that last of the fresh cranberries left over from the holiday season. It got good reviews, so I thought that I would share:

Cranberry Nut Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange peel
2 tbsp shortening
1 egg - well beaten
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix together dry ingredients until well blended. Beat in orange juice, orange peel, shortening, and egg. Beat until blended. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Spread into a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for approx. 55 minutes, or until done. Cool completely before removing from pan.

Recipe from Ocean Spray

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Here is my rant for the day. Feel free to pass it by if you are in need of only happy thoughts.

On Sunday of this week, I was in the grocery store (on my own, thankfully) and noticed the front cover of the Toronto Star. Anyone local would likely have seen it too - not something that you can easily forget. The front page of the newspaper showed, in great detail, the naked body of a Haitian man, his legs bound (apparently after having been dragged through the streets). He was being beaten to death with a wooden plank as a crowd looked on. Now, I have many, many issues with this. First, I highly doubt that any of us need to see this sort of photo to bring home for us the reality of what is going on in Haiti. And apart from a total lack of respect and compassion for this man and his family, the picture appeals only to the worst aspects of human character in order to sell newspapers and make money.

But my biggest issues is this - As an adult, I can choose which media I turn to to gather information on what is going on in the world. If I don't like how a newspaper, e-coverage, radio or television show covers the issues, I can choose to go elsewhere. I also have an intellectual, experiential, and spiritual framework to help me understand photos like that. MY FOUR AND SEVEN YEAR OLD CHILDREN DO NOT!!!! I believe that the publisher has the right to print almost whatever they want, in an effort to tell their story. They also have a moral responsibility to think about where and how their product will be displayed (as do the shop keepers, by the way!). That photo was out, directly at a child's eye level, in every grocery store, convenience store, and sidewalk newspaper box throughout most of the province.

My kids know that there was a really bad earthquake in Haiti. They know that many people were hurt, and that their homes were destroyed. At their ages, that is all that they need to know (and many Mamas would argue that even that is too much, too young). They know that we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to help. If any small bit of good can come out of this tragedy, I hope it is that our children will find a sense of the power they have to help, and a feeling of responsibility to act that comes from their shared humanity. This is what we should be striving for, not using it as a chance to display all that is vile and violent in human nature.

Most importantly, to me that image feels like poison. It is in my mind, and I cannot get it out. As I am working on some mundane task of daily life, it flashes across my mind and I wonder about this man - about the people who love him and are missing him right now. I am struck by how terrifying and painful his last moments must have been. I am horrified by the looks on the faces of the witnesses in the crowd. Why on earth would we, as a society, allow our children to be poisoned like that?

I have written a letter to the editor about this, and I will share if I hear any response. If you are finding yourself with a few extra minutes today, I hope that you will do the same. Just maybe, it will give someone at the paper pause to think about whether they would want their own children or grandchildren to see photos like that.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Books, Food and Friends

My sister and I have belonged to a book club together in many different incarnations for many years now. Sometimes the club has had 20 members, sometimes only 4. Sometimes we have spent the whole time talking about the book, sometimes we have not even managed to finish reading it. We have read Atlas Shrugged, and Twilight. We have read Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Golden Compass. We have read and discussed ficton and non-fiction, biographies, political works, childrens literature and environmental studies. We share a running (although slightly disturbing) joke about chicken nobbies (any Atwood fans out there?) The group of women that we share the club with are fabulous - they have travelled with us into marriage and motherhood, in some cases divorce and loss. And they have always been there with a hug, a glass of wine, and a good book. What a lovely gift these ladies share.

Unfortunately, the last half of last year saw our book club slow down a fair bit - we were down to 3 active members (although three wonderful members, I must say!) and we seemed to have a hard time finding dates to meet. I have missed that group so much while it has been 'dormant' - I find that I get so much comforts and strength from having other women in my life. So this year, our book club is re-launching at full force. We have picked our dates for the whole year, so that we can plan our lives around them as best we can. We have made it a kid-friendly night, so that no one has to miss out because of lack of child care. We have introduced a gourmet club aspect every other month, so those women whose lives don't allow for very much book time have a chance to finish the book before we get together to talk about it, and we have invited many new wonderful ladies to share this adventure with us. I can't wait to get started.
Here is our planned year .....

February: Indian Food
March: People of the Book by: Geraldine Brooks
April: Breakfast / brunch recipes
May: One Night in Twisted River by: John Irving
June: BBQ and grilled foods
July: The Story of My Life by: Helen Keller
August: Local Harvest
September: The Other Boleyn Girl by: Philippa Gregory
October: Greek Food
November: Christmas Recipes (everything but the turkey)
December: Consumed by: Benjamin Barber

I have to admit, some of these books I am more excited about than others, but really, that is the point, isn't it? To pick up a book that you might otherwise leave on the shelf? To be able to talk about why you did or didn't like it rather than just casting it aside?

Happy reading ( and eating!!) everyone!

(some of my other suggestions)

LIttle Gifts

I am ashamed to say how frozen I have felt about the earthquake in Haiti. I have read about it, seen a few pictures, and still cannot hold the magnitude of the tragedy in my mind. It is inconceivable to me, as I snuggle up safe and warm, with my children healthy and whole in my arms, what families in Haiti must be enduring right now. I have been avoiding it, if I am at all honest. Like some books that I choose not to read now that I have children, I have chosen to turn off the news, and to look away from the newspapers. What a luxury it is, to be able to turn away from reality in this way.

But today, I have been inspired by all of the wonderful ways (small and large) that others are helping out. Realizing that each of the many families who are doing their own little thing, together make a very real difference in the experiences of people whose world has (literally) crumbled around them. It won't solve all of the problems that they are facing. It won't even solve most of them. But each little bit of help, every small measure of comfort (or at least reduced suffering) that we can offer is worth while. After all, doing nothing is in itself an action, isn't it?

So we did what felt best for us - cooking, which always calms my mind, and calling on our friends and neighbours, which gladdens my heart. William and Charlie set off this afternoon with a basket full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and hand written thank-you's. They came home with $143.50 to pass on to those who need it the most. And they also came home with a reminder for me - a lesson in how the only cure for paralysis, is action.

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

Mother Theresa

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Foot prints in the snow

It was a lovely day today to head for the woods - the perfect cure for the cabin fever that we have all been feeling lately. The sun was shining, and the weather was mild. This really is my favorite kind of winter day - lots of soft white snow, a little bit of a chill in the air, but still warm enough to not need 12 layers of clothing to venture out. We recently cashed in our hard saved Canadian Tire Money for a new field guide - Lone Pine Field Guide - Animal Tracks of Ontario. They were thrilled to go exploring for the signs of the many different animals that share the woods with us. William is also becoming a budding photographer, and stopped to capture some of the beautiful scenery.

Whitetail Deer

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

LEGO Mechanics

William has a bit of a LEGO obsession going on, fueled in good part by the many LEGO sets that he got for Christmas and his Birthday. Along with making his own creations, he loves following the instructions that come with the sets - seeing all of those little pieces come together into something so intricate and detailed, especially when they have moving parts. One of his favorite gifts that he got this year was a book that comes with LEGO pieces, teaching all about mechanics. It is full of gears, pulleys, cranks, and other goodies. This morning's projects included a spinney-top launcher, and this grabber.....lots of fun. He requested this morning that we just skip all of the addition and subtractions 'stuff' and move right onto physics........

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Glow in the Dark Mini Golf

Today's trip with the boys co-op was for a round of glow-in-the-dark mini golf. We had close to 20 kids there as well as many moms, and everyone seemed to have a great time. The paintings were fabulous, and made for way too exciting a game to play at a leisurely pace. For seven year old boys, I am told, patience does not come easily. So after a whirlwind round of 18 holes played in under 15 minutes, we retired to the arcade for air hockey, and Pac Man.

William sure looks like a gracious winner here, doesn't he??

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

Life is a succession of crises and moments when we have to rediscover who we are and what we really want.

Jean Vanier

Saturday, January 9, 2010

William's First Sleep Over

When I was a kid, often when I asked my mother if I could have my friends over for a slumber party (which was fairly often, as I recall!!) the answer would be "Not tonight - I am too tired". That answer would frustrate the heck out of me - what did the fact that my mother was tired have to do with my friends sleeping over? She didn't have to stay up late with us after all. After last night, I sooooo get it!!! My sincere apologies, Mom, and thanks for all of the sleep-overs that you did tolerate.

Over the past 2 years, we have been scaling back William's birthday parties from the "invite-everyone-that-you-know-who-has-a-child-the-same-age " sort of thing that you get into with your first child, to more reasonable celebrations. Now we have a family-focused party, full of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. The boys can then also pick 1-2 close friends to do something really special with.

This year, William really, really wanted to have a sleep-over. Sigh. So on Friday, Ben, Maddie, and Iain can over. As well as being a few of William's best friends, they are also neighbors, which made for easy trips home in the middle of the night, should they be required.

As it turned out, only Iain ended up actually spending the night - Maddie headed home at 9:30 after a Nerf Dart to the eye incident, and Ben lasted to a very respectable 11:30pm. By Midnight, when the rest of the boys went to bed, they had no problem falling asleep!!!!

Well, as you can see, I didn't manage to get a single photo of the event. In fact, under the circumstances, I didn't even try to get it out. But, just for a few laughs, I though that I would share a few of the things that I overheard while the kids were enjoying themselves...

*Welcome to the party, Old Man Jenkins!

*You dance like a chihuahua (I honestly don't know where the chihuahua thing comes from).

*Iain is getting married to my Mommy! We would be really old people by then.

*He put the cold fishy down my back!

*I shot Mommy in the bum!!!!!

*Say my Daddy's initials: P.P. (followed by peels 7 year-old of laughter)

and of course, More popcorn, please!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Letting Go...

Today's lesson, boys and girls, is all about letting go.

*Letting go of my hope of getting back into some sort of routine this week.
*Letting go of the expectation that I will be able to get somewhere, anywhere, on time.
*Letting go of my right to have a shower every day (or even to pee alone in the bathroom, for that matter).
*Letting go of my internal clock that tells me that it should not take 2 1/2 hours to make a batch of cookies.
*Letting go of my prejudice against Kraft Dinner.
*Letting go of my sense of urgency that we (still) have not made it even half way through William's math lessons for the year.
*Letting go of anxiety about problems and circumstances that are beyond my control.
*Letting go of my guilt at having to put myself into numerous time-outs today.
*Letting go of my belief that I am the only Mama who has days like this.

Hope that your day is going better than mine!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


One of the gifts for William's 7th birthday that the whole family got excited about, was some money from Pop to help pay for a membership to the Royal Ontario Museum. I am ashamed to say how rarely we get into Toronto to see all of the sights, but one of my New Year's resolutions is to make the trip more often. Today we went in to visit the ROM for only the second time since the boys were born. The last time we went William was only 3yrs old, and Charlie was still in a sling - not the best visit, I have to say. But today, they loved it. We spent a few hours on the Natural History floor, and then made a quick tour of the other exhibits. The best part was that because we bought the yearly membership, I felt no need to 'get the most out of our money'. When we were tired, we left, knowing that we will be back. The kids are definitely looking forward to a return trip.