Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Greetings!

I haven't posted here in a few weeks now -we've been far too busy enjoying all the fun of the Christmas season. Finally, here are our Christmas greetings!

Please join us in a friendly game of Christmas "I Spy", McLaughlin style. Use the clues below to learn all about what we did this year.

In the above picture, find the following:

2 soccer balls and 1 soccer trophy (Nathan played soccer again this year, and Joe coached Nathan's team as well as being the assistant equipment manager)

a pair of swimming goggles (we all did lots of swimming in pools and lakes throughout the year, Noah continued with swimming lessons)

a hockey glove (Nathan is playing "pond hockey" this winter, and there's lots of neighbourhood road hockey going on all year round!)

a baby blanket, a sleeping baby, 2 stuffed animals, and a large safety pin (no, we didn't expand our family this year; we welcomed our friends Jenn and Bruce's new daughter Paige into the world)

a flashlight, a lantern, and a water bottle (we took several camping trips this year, including a very cool trip to Watkins Glen with several other unschooling families)

2 dog biscuits and a large red dog toy (we added another pet to our ever-expanding menagerie; Marley, our lab-shepherd cross - who is still very playful even though he's 10 years old!)

the CN Tower (we spent a weekend in Toronto in May at the first ever Toronto Unschooling Conference, hanging out with friends and making new ones)

2 pinecone critters (the boys have been participating in a nature program at the Royal Botanical Gardens, learning about everything from insects to hibernation)

a Lego dog, a set of knitting needles, and a bead snake (we have all been busy creating and crafting a wide variety of projects all year long!)

That's it for our game of I Spy - hope you had as much fun playing as we did creating it.


From Karen, Joe, Noah, Nathan, and "The Menagerie" - Jessie, Chloe, Marley and Spark.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Learning All the Time...

As the great John Holt said, we really are learning all the time - I just haven't had the time to blog about it lately! Life has been all aswirl with busy-ness and most nights I have been falling into bed exhausted (but content) at the end of the day.

Earlier this evening, I was sitting in the living room knitting, the Just Like Heaven soundtrack was blaring, Nathan and the dog were wrestling together (loudly), and Joe and Noah were debating the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the Spongebob movie.

A short while later, we were all (including the dog!) packed into the kitchen making gingersnaps and goofing around. And I just finished snuggling in front of the fire and watching 50 First Dates with my honey while the kids drifted in and out intermittently to join in the snuggle.

I love my life...

And now I need to go to bed once more!!!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Ghoulish Halloween

A quick Halloween post to show off my two little ghouls. They definitely revelled in being very spooky, creepy and mysterious.

Here is our "Most Popular Pumpkin of the Year", the SpongeBob jack-o-lantern created by Joe. Almost every visitor to our door commented on it!

Happy Halloween!!!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fall Fun, Featuring Noah the Horse-Headed Boy!

We went on another jaunt to a local apple farm yesterday and I snapped this hilarious pic - the horse put his head right in front of Noah just as I snapped it! We were laughing so hard at the resulting photo that another family asked to take a look at our camera to see what was so funny.

Okay, so we are easily amused but this has all the makings of a classic McLaughlin family photo.

Joe also got a good photo of both boys (with their own heads!) hanging out with the bunnies at the farm. As you can see, Noah's already getting geared up for Halloween (Halloween runs a very close second to Christmas in holiday importance around here).

And oh, yes, I remembered to get a pic of this sign that I missed out on last time as we were sans camera.

Love it! I think I should make one to hang outside my house.

McLaughlin "Urban Farm" Gets Ready for Winter

Wow, it's been a month since I last posted here! That's probably because life has been very, very full in the last few weeks. I hosted a baby shower for a friend of mine on September 24th, then the next weekend we had two birthday parties to celebrate Nathan turning seven (one friends, one family) and last weekend was Thanksgiving here in Canada!

In amidst the flurry of all those activities, I've been busy harvesting, preserving and preparing my garden for winter. We had our first frost this week, so I got everything done none too soon.
Now I have green tomatoes ripening in a basket on my countertop, a fridge full of peppers and celery, and a variety of dried herbs stashed in my spice drawer. I also transplanted a bit of my oregano, parsley, and basil into small pots for my kitchen windowsill so hopefully they will thrive and I will have some fresh herbs throughout the winter.

Another project I've been working on in the garden is putting together a couple of cold frames to grow spinach and lettuce. This is the first time I've ever tried this, so we'll see how it goes. After looking at a few different cold frame constructions, I settled on a less-traditional but hopefully effective design. This is build with three layers of brick (it's a lot deeper than it seems from the photo). The white cloth at the side is agricultural cloth, which will cover the top to keep in the heat (held down snugly with more bricks). Nathan helped me lay some of the bricks for these. I chose this setup rather than the wooden frame with an old window type of design, because I have both limited storage space and garden space and I can totally disassemble these in the spring when I'm done using them for the season (I put the bricks and agricultural cloth to different uses throughout the course of the growing season).

I've also brought in two of my pepper plants to see if I can keep them going through the winter indoors; I've read of others having success with this and I have a large southern facing window so I figured I'd give it a shot. New peppers are still forming on the plants, so things look good so far.

Overall, I'm fairly pleased with the first season of my biointensive gardening experiment. The biggest success was definitely the bush beans (green and yellow) - they were amazingly productive and delicious to boot! The greens (lettuce and spinach) and the peppers also did very well. The hanging tomatoes were reasonably productive; I'm hoping to have some nice planters to plant some on the deck next year as well. My raspberry canes seemed to be thriving and produced a few handfuls of berries (not bad since I just planted them this year). We'll have to wait for next year to see how the blueberries do! I had a few failures too - the pumpkins, watermelon, and cucumbers all died off without producing. Next year I am hoping to add a dwarf pear tree to my mix of fruit; I've read they can be grown in large planters (such as a 1/2 barrel). What with my indoor gardening experiments, tending to my cold frame veggies, and planning for next spring's garden, I should be plenty busy all winter!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Community Connections

Yesterday was one of those days where you could just feel the forces of "abundance" at work.

First, we decided to hold a "freecycle" day to pass on all the stuff we no longer need. We got up early and hauled out boxes of toys, housewares, videotapes (our VCR finally died and won't be replaced since we have a DVD player), clothes, furniture, and lots of other good stuff. We put out a couple of big signs indicating that everything was FREE but we still got a lot of people coming up and asking us if we were sure we didn't want money for anything, or *why* the stuff was free. We've gotten a lot of good stuff from our local freecycle group (including a washing machine when ours kicked the bucket) so we were more than happy to "pay it forward" and pass on our unneeded items. Most of the stuff cleared out by noon, and the remainder was posted to our local list.

By mid-afternoon, we were up at a local farm (Myer's Apple Farm) picking - yes- apples! I was a bit disappointed that my favourites (empires) weren't quite ready for picking yet, but we came home with a large bag of Cortlands which are pretty tasty too. We forgot to bring the camera, which I was already bummed about, but I was really annoyed with myself when we got to the farm and saw this great sign: "Drive Carefully - Children Being Children". Hopefully we'll go back and pick some empires, and I'll make sure to get a pic then!

From our apple picking excursion, we continued on to our CSA (Plan B Organic Farms) for their end-of-season barbecue (we'll continue to receive shares until the week after Thanksgiving - that's Canadian Thanksgiving by the way). We got to take a tour of the farm, which has been expanding every year. There are now 400 shares per season; just a couple of years ago it was closer to 250. Plan B has made great efforts to develop relationships with other local farmers so we get the most variety possible in our food boxes - fruits and some vegetables that they don't grow themselves. They also offer a "local fruit box" option - although they don't grow any of the fruit themselves, it is all from local farmers.

After the tour we had a fantastic meal at Plan B - organic meat, a variety of salads from Plan B's harvest, watermelon and organic ice cream (Mapleton's - totally divine). There were about 200 people there (about 50 of them were kids!) and it was just a great community-feeling experience. We got to chat with a few friends we hadn't seen in a while, and make some new friends too! The kids all had a blast running around and playing with the assortment of friendly farm dogs. Again, really too bad we forgot our camera!

When we came home from the farm, the rest of the stuff we had left out on the curb with a "free" sign was gone, and my neighbour had left a bag of clothes on the porch for the boys (full of pants with intact knees, which my guys desperately need!) I had also received an offer from another freecycler of some books I was looking for - very cool.

The theme for the day was definitely Sharing Always Creates More - more friends, more fun, and more abundant living.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Joys of Not Back to School

Well, school's been back in for a whole week now, and I'm more relieved than ever that my kids don't go to school. I could sense the anxiety building in many of the kids around here as the big day approached. It's almost spooky how empty the neighbourhood seems after having the streets filled with kids merrily playing all summer.

Ah well, at least our family is not a slave to the school system! Although we can't exactly ignore the fact that my kids' best friends are now in school all day, there is still plenty of fun to be had. The weather has been unseasonably cool and wet the last couple of weeks, but we had a couple of nice warm afternoons and headed out to the park one day and for a nature hike with the dog another day. The boys have been immersed in a Wallace and Grommet game (for Gamecube)they borrowed from their babysitter (an awesome young man named Dan - the kids love him so much they ask us to go out so he can come over!)

Let's see, what else have we been up to? Many of our days are so unstructured I have a hard time thinking about what we actually "do" all day.

Noah recently built and painted a model of an AT walker all by himself. Nathan build Jengo Fett's ship out of Lego (with a little help from his dad).

I've been busy "harvesting" our bounty in the garden, and starting to put the garden to bed for another year. I'm hoping to find some time to build a small cold frame and trying to extend our season by growing some greens in it.

Joe has been working hard at sprucing up the place. We have been redoing both the kitchen and bathroom (not a gut-everything-and-start-over, but painting, new mirrors/lights, that type of thing). Now we're looking at the rest of the house and realizing it needs a lot of help too. I got the itch to rearrange/spruce up the dining room (adding several furniture repainting projects, plus a sewing project and a lot of reorganizing/general cleaning out of stuff to the mix!)

We have a few outing planned for the upcoming weeks as well. The boys are headed to the Royal Botanical Gardens this afternoon for a homeschoolers' program on "Bugs". This program is running every other Tuesday afternoon until just before Christmas, and I think the boys are going to really enjoy it as they both love anything to do with "nature".

Other planned trips/outings for the near future: our homeschool group's "Not Back to School" picnic on Thursday, a visit to a donkey sanctuary, a visit to Dutchman's Gold (a local honey producer), and a trip or two to the Ontario Science Centre. We'll probably also hit some local farms for apple picking and other fall fun. This Saturday we are attending our CSA's end of season barbecue; this includes a tour of the farm so it should be really cool (although we've been members of this CSA for a few years, we've never managed to get to this event due to scheduling conflicts).

(Blogger is not being my friend right now - for some reason it is not uploading my photos. I somehow managed to get one in, but it doesn't like the rest! How annoying - I will give it a try later on.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Summer Fun (and Frustration)

I've been a very naughty blogger of late - it's been well over a month since I posted here. In my defense, I'll say I was too busy trying to enjoy every possible minute of summer weather before it disappears for good. As today is cool and rainy, I guess I have no excuse but to get down to the job!

Some of the hilights of the last few weeks:

We went camping for a week at my dad's trailer up near Tobermory, ON. We had mostly great weather, with the exception of one day
of pouring rain. The boys had a great time kayaking with my dad (their first-ever kayaking experience!)

Lots of hanging out on the beach, swimming in the lake, and roasting marshmallows was done by all.

We also had a relaxing family day at Wild Waterworks. I wasn't sure if the boys would like the wave pool or if it would be a bit overwhelming for them. I needn't have worried! They were totally in their element and weren't a bit nervous at all (although I have to admit *I* was a bit nervous for them, since the pool was absolutely packed, and those waves are darn strong). Their favourite was the Tube Slides; special waterslides that you ride down on an inner tube.

We've also been trying to keep up with the veggie garden, although it's suffered in the last couple of weeks due to the extreme heat we had earlier this month (over 45 degrees Celsius with the humidex!)

Nathan's clutching the baseball-bat sized zucchini we came home to after our week away.

Yesterday, we went on our annual outing to African Lion Safari. We had a great time, as usual. Between the waterpark and the animal reserves, we can hardly go wrong (since two of the things our family loves most are water and animals.) The Birds of Prey show was really cool (did you know that Peregrine Falcons can reach speeds of 200 km/hr and are the fastest animals on Earth? Well, you do now!)

So, you can see we've been having a lot of good times. But there have also been some not-so-fun aspects of the last few weeks. We've been battling head lice (yes, eeeew) along with every other family on the street. This has necessitated an hour or two of daily head combing - I really will be happy not to see quite so much of my family's scalp sometime soon. To add insult to injury, the dog has fleas with an accompanying allergic dermatitis (we did have him on a flea medication, but obviously it didn't work) and is apparently underweight according to our vet. So he's now on antibiotics and a new flea medicine, along with a beefed-up diet. Yes, we get to purposely plump up the dog. As a final test of my sanity, I went into the bathroom last night and was just about to use the facilities when a mouse zipped out from behind the toilet and down the hall. I'd like to know exactly what my lazy old cats have been doing. Excuse me, isn't it their job to keep the place rodent free? I informed Jessie and Chloe I was going to have to confiscate their kitty kibble if they didn't shape up soon.

Lice, mice, and fleas - I bet we won't have too many would-be houseguests clamouring at our door anytime soon! We really are reasonably hygenic, I promise. Sometimes nature just seems to win the battle anyway.

I guess with all those goings on, that's how July evaporated and August is on its way to disappearing too. I have that rather melancholy feeling I always get in mid-to-late August when I can no longer deny that summer is drawing to a close. We still have one more big trip (camping in Balsam Lake for the week before Labour Day) so it's not like all our summer fun is done and over with yet. But I know it'll be fall soon. And even though there's lots to love about fall (my wedding anniversary, my kids' birthdays, the anticipated arrival of my friend Jenn's first baby, apple picking, and a hundred other good things) it still means winter (with its cold and dark ways) is not far off.

Ah well, time to get back to enjoying the little time I have left in Summerland.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I've really been consumed with my knitting projects lately, so I feel the need to make some sort of written record of all the projects I've got swirling around in my head. Now, just so you know, I'm not anywhere near the most talented, skilled, or creative knitter out there. I doubt, however, that you'll find anyone who enjoys it more than I do! So, here goes, all my dirty little knitting foibles revealed for all to see.On the needles these days: This section is a bit complicated by the fact that most of what I'm working on falls into the Top Secret (a.k.a. gift) category. Let's just say that a very close friend is expecting her firstborn in 2 1/2 months, and I'm also trying to get a jump start on Christmas gifts! I have a wee something waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for some grafting to be done and it's finito. Kitchener stitch intimidates the crap out of me so I've been procrastinating on this puppy forever and a day (ok, a few weeks...)-I have the first of a pair of socks about 1/2 way done (using Melanie Falick's Magic Spiral Tube Socks pattern from Kids Knitting) These socks are quick, fun and easy to knit, and are a very one-size-fits-all deal, perfect for when you're not too sure how big the recipients' feet are! Also, still need to finish a scarf for my poor old hubby (it was supposed to be his Christmas present last year - he got a box of yarn wrapped under the tree, and is still patiently waiting for the final product). He's not too worried that it's not done yet these days, what with the 48-degrees-Celsius-with-the-humidex weather we were having until very recently. Next up: Oh, Lord, I have far too much ambition for a knitter of my (not so great) speed and skill. Here are some of the projects I have planned once I get all that other stuff done:-Seed Stitch Beret and Scarf from Two-Stitch Knits in Knit Picks Elegance (alpaca/silk blend)-Einstein Coat from Sally Melville's The Knitting Experience: Book I in Knit Picks Sierra (wool/alpaca blend)-Not Your Standard Issue Sweatshirt from The Yarn Girl's Guide to Beyond the Basics in Knit Picks Main Line (cotton/merino blend)-a pair of dressy socks for myself using Knit Picks Palette (100% wool). Haven't picked out a pattern yet, but I have a few sock knitting books so it shouldn't be too much of a problem!Can you tell I went on a Knit Picks shopping spree?? And the best part is, all of those are going to be for little ol' *me*! I hardly ever knit for myself, so I figured it was darn well about time I gave myself a few treats.As if all that wasn't enough, I have recently unraveled three (yes, three) sweaters - one that I just didn't like anymore (in Paton's Beehive Shetland Chunky - kind of a turquoise green with a tweedy look to it), another that had all the pieces completed but that I'd never sewn up (and didn't like anymore) in some acrylic chunky yarn (yes, acrylic, I know, but I have a plan), and another that was my son's and was a very nice sweater (knitted by a friend) but had received fatal damage to one sleeve (I'm not sure at all what the yarn is, it's sport weight-ish and feels like a wool blend of some type). So I have a number of different ideas as to what to use all of these yarns for!To add insult to injury, I keep adding more ideas on almost a daily basis for "quick little gift projects that I can do in next to no time" ha ha ha and both of my boys want me to knit them a scarf since I'm making one for daddy. Oh, and hubby would like a nice knitted vest or two to wear with his dress shirts.Clearly, I'm as delusional as they come and will be up to my eyeballs in yarn for the rest of this year!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Veggin' Out!

After basically ignoring my garden for the past couple of weeks (except for not-frequent-enough watering), I spent the bulk of this afternoon out frolicking in my "cabbage patch".

Here's a photo of the main raised bed; as you can see it's quite a jungle in there! This side of the bed has spinach, bush beans, onions, carrots, and assorted herbs (you can see the mint in the bottom left corner).

Here's the view from the other side of the the bed; zucchini, pattypan squash, cabbage, and some more bush beans (also some lettuce that has majorly bolted!) Oh yes, at the very back you can see the pumpkin starting to climb up towards the deck. I'm so excited- the plants are starting to flower, and if we actually get some pumpkins to grow the kids are going to be ecstatic.

The green beans have arrived! I spent about an hour picking them this afternoon, and there are more on the way.

I've gotten into playing around with the camera and taking some artsy kinda shots of the veggies. Call me crazy, but I really think they are just gorgeous (the veggies, that is, not my pics!) I am pleased with how some of the photos came out, but my digicam is not that sophisticated and I can't get the closeup shots I would really like. These will do for a start; I particularly like this cabbage one.

Here's a pattypan squash just starting, with the blossom still attached

Today's backyard garden harvest! I cannot believe how many green beans I picked (there's got to be at least a couple pounds there) as well as a bunch of spinach and what I could salvage of the lettuce. There are a couple of wee onions too that had gotten mostly uprooted in yesterday's storms. We had some of the green beans for dinner - I cooked them to perfection and they tasted incredible!

I think I'm going to have to brew up a batch of Lettuce Soup to use up all my lettuce before it spoils. No, I'm not joking, I really do make a soup with lettuce, and it's actually quite tasty. Most importantly, it uses 16 cups of lettuce to make a normal-sized batch of soup!

The other really cool thing I did this afternoon (when I wasn't out communing with the cabbage) was teach Nathan how to knit! He was watching me work on my knitting, and asked if I could teach him how. You should have seen his face light up when I told him I would teach him right then.

This is as far as we got, but Nathan did a couple of stitches of cast on, plus most of a row of knitting, with me sitting behind him and doing a bit of hand-over-hand with him. Oh yes, and he specifically requested blue yarn to learn with (his favourite colour). He wants to work on it more tomorrow. He says he's going to knit Marley a sweater - gotta love that kid!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Life is Good

This weekend was one of those truly wonderful (and not-common-enough) ones of which summer memories are made.

Nothing spectacular happened. Just full of those simple, small but contented moments that, strung together into a couple of warm, sunny days, are exactly what we all long for when we're pining for summer in the middle of January. The kids ran up and down the street all day playing with their friends, and I got some time to do a few things on my own (in between intermittent supervision of the swirling mass of children).

I went for a glorious bike ride full of hills, puttered around the garden, strolled over to the library, and just basically did what I felt like for most of Saturday (is there anything better on a warm Saturday afternoon than sitting on your front porch, sipping a coffee, and knitting, while watching the world go by? No, I didn't think so.)

Saturday night we all went to see Ice Age 2 at Dundas Valley Conservation Area. This is a really cool thing - all summer long they do a "Films in the Forest" program, where you get to see movies outdoors on a giant, inflatable movie screen. And, if you have a Conservation Area membership, like we do, it's only $2.50 for the whole family to get in! What a great deal, and a whole lot of fun.

Sunday morning we got up late, strolled down to the park (with Marley of course) then came back to hang out on the porch when it got too hot. We did a bit of errand running in the afternoon, but as boring as that sounds, it was highly satisfying since we actually got everything we were looking for (how rare!) - and I snagged two new knitting magazines at Chapters.

Most importantly, the raspberries are here!

To my great delight, the canes I planted this year have yielded a (very small) but luscious little crop of raspberries. Not enough to do more than nibble off the bush this year - I don't know how long till I have enough to make jam, but I'll surely enjoy whatever we get. Did I mention raspberries are my absolutely, positively favouritest fruit of all?

The rest of the veggie garden is shaping up nicely for the most part too (although there are some scruffy areas in the main bed as I had to pull a bunch of bush beans which were succumbing to something or other, and all my broccoli bolted right off the bat without producing anything edible ::sigh::)

In this photo you can see a zucchini plant in the middle (it's enclosed in a mesh "cage" to keep it from taking over the entire bed, that's why it looks so tall) Potato plants (also in cages) are to the left, with bush beans, peppers, and assorted herbs somewhere in the mix too. In the hanging bucket is one of our "upside down" tomato plants, which seem to be doing all right so far - they are starting to flower and a couple of itty bitty tomatoes have formed. If all continues to go well, we should be up to our armpits in summer squash, beans, peppers, and tomatoes in no time.

Ahhh, summer!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Sticky Canada Day Tradition

Okay, I'm cheating a bit (all right, a lot) here by writing this post over a week after the fact, but hey, at least I've finally managed to get it done!

We continued our long-upheld Canada Day tradition - making strawberry jam. It is one of nature's cruel little quirks that it needs to be *hot* for strawberries to grow, thus forcing strawberry jam making activities (including the picking of 12 quarts of said strawberries) to be conducted in the most blistering heat ever seen in Canada. I swear there is nothing hotter on earth than the middle of a strawberry jam making session. I always feel like I've lost about 15 pounds by the end (yeah, sure).

While I was in the process of cleaning up my jars in preparation for sterilizing them, I came across this label still attached to one of the jars (I took it off and stuck it onto one of the completed jars afterwards).

Although you can't make it out in the photo (well, if you look *very* closely, you can just make out the swirly loop of a "J") it says in very faint ink "July 1985". In my handwriting! I was 14 years old in July 1985 - that must surely have been one of the first batches of jam I ever made. Cool. And the jar's still in service 21 years later. That's cool too. Canning is one of those activities that connects you to the past in so many wonderful, mysterious ways. And the jam is darn tasty too.

The final product:

We cranked out 20 jars altogether, plus a bit more which went into the "surplus" jar then straight into the fridge!


Happy Canada Day everyone!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The McLaughlin Menagerie Expands Again!

It's semi-official now - we have a new member of the family! We took our "potential" dog Marley for a test drive this weekend and we all fell in love (the dog seems to love us too). We were supposed to take him back Sunday night, and he's still here. The original plan was that we weren't going to take him for good until the middle of July or so (his current owner is moving to Mexico at the end of July). We've all bonded so much that I don't want him to leave us (and he's eating up the twice-a-day walking and ball throwing sessions we're giving him - he was only being walked once or twice a week at his old house).

Here's a couple of pics of our new doggie (he's a shepherd-lab cross, and yes, he is LARGE).

How can you not love that face??

Well, that's all the update I have time for right now! Stay tuned for the scoop on our Watkins Glen camping trip - as soon as I get a chance I'll upload some pics.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Neighbourhood Movie Night (and a Potential New Dog)

Yesterday was one of those rather pleasant types of Saturdays with nothing much formal on the agenda, and a lot of puttering around. What started out as a low key day ended up with a fair bit of excitement, though. We took a drive over to meet our potential new dog! Yes, dog. A colleague of Joe's has a client who's moving to Mexico and needs to part with her lab-shepherd cross, and of course Joe was all over that :) I was initially skeptical, but after going to meet him, I've warmed up to the idea. His name is Marley, he's 9 yrs old, and seems really laid back and friendly. He'll make a great walking buddy for me! We're going to take him for a "test drive" when we get back from our camping trip. We'll take him for a weekend and see how he fits in to our household. I'm most concerned about how he'll get along with our 2 cats (although I suspect the cats will be the ones giving Marley a hard time, and not vice-versa!) I'm not going to post a picture until he's officially "ours" - just in case things don't work out.

Not long after we got back from meeting Marley, the boys ran in the house all excited with the news that our neighbours were having a movie theatre in the back yard that night (complete with tickets and all!) The dad is a teacher and had borrowed one of those nifty media projectors from work. Most of the neighbourhood kids and a lot of the parents gathered to watch The Two Towers projected onto a bedsheet in the yard. It was a lot of fun (even if a few of the dads snuck into the house to watch the hockey game!) I love our neighbourhood!!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Vegetables and Treehouses and Chickenpox, OH MY!

I know I promised I was going to post at least 1-2 times a week on this blog - and it's now closing in on a month since my last post! What can I say, things have been *very* busy around here :)

The vegetable garden is coming along nicely, thanks to daily TLC from me.

Here's what things looked like right after my big past-the-frost-free-date planting (a three day long gardening extravaganza that left me with *very* sore knees, wrists and shoulders!)

Here's the way it's shaping up now - this was taken 3 or 4 days ago. We had our first salad with spinach and lettuce from our garden this week (it tastes so much better when you've grown it yourself!)

So what's growing in there? In the main raised bed in the photos, there's spinach, lettuce, pumpkins, watermelon (!!!), broccoli, cabbage (green and red), zucchini, patty pan squash, scarlet runner beans, bush beans (green and yellow), onions (white and red), carrots, garlic, thyme (regular and golden), garlic chives, peppermint, basil (green and purple), lavendar, oregano, and a few nasturtiums thrown in for good measure! In the side beds, there are some of the same things, plus strawberries, a blueberry bush, raspberry canes, potatoes, canteloupe (well, technically musk melon), pickling cucumbers, and dill. If all goes well, we should have enough to feed the whole street.

The other big project around here in the last few weeks has been construction of the boy's "treehouse". There's no actual tree involved, but it is up off the ground in typical treehouse fashion.

Here's day 2 of construction (day 1 involved wrestling the corner posts into correct position)

Here we are about 2/3rds of the way through the project (of course all the neighbourhood kids have been to check it out, plus most of the parents too!)

Ahh, what a beautiful site! The completed treehouse. Now I can get Joe to start working on the fence that needs to go across the back of our property (on second thought, our bank account needs to recover from the outlay for the treehouse first!)

Amidst all this flurry of activity, both Nathan and Noah came down with the chickenpox (just to add a bit more excitement to our life). Thank goodness they're on the mend and will be mostly recovered (just a few residual spots but no longer contagious) for our camping trip next week - we leave Tuesday morning!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

(Wo)man Against Nature, Part I

After all my excitement about getting serious with my vegetable garden, I had my first major setback today. I spent a couple of hours planting my very healthy looking seedlings yesterday afternoon. It then proceded to pour down with rain for a good while after that - I was hoping it wasn't hard enough to damage my seedlings. Early this afternoon, I went out to survey the damage. As it turns out, I needn't have worried about the rain. The &*#@^$$ squirrels had done enough damage that the rain was irrelevant. They had dug up almost all of the seedlings and had a nice little feast. Wah!! My beautiful scarlet runner beans, turned into squirrel food. I'm not a person given to violent tendencies, but let's just say I'm tempted to get a BB gun and become a squirrel sniper. I planted some beans directly into the ground to replace all the damaged bean seedlings. Most of the cabbage and zucchini were salvageable (apparently the squirrels have a fondness for beans). Joe rounded up a bunch of mason jars for me and I used those as "cloches" to protect the surviving seedlings. Meanwhile, the kids were trying to console me, and ready to join me in the squirrel hunt.

Okay, squirrels, I lost the first battle, but I'm not surrendering yet. Stay posted to see who wins round II!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Experiments in Urban Agriculture

Inspired by another unschooler's blog (Blue Skies Urban Farm), I'm going to try and document a lot of our adventures with growing our own food this summer. Previously, we've dabbled in fairly standard backyard vegetable gardening - a few tomato plants, peppers, and zucchini, with some herbs thrown in for good measure. I've been wanting to branch out a bit more for a few years, but the last few growing seasons have been crazy-busy for us, and it just hasn't happened!

This year, I found a copy of Small Space, Big Harvest by Duane Newcomb at the library and was instantly intrigued. Using his methods, the author claims you can grow more than 200 lb of produce in a 5' x 5' plot. Since space is definitely at a premium around here, I quickly dove into the book and started making some fairly ambitious plans.

We have 1 raised bed that's roughly 8' x 8', plus another long, skinny strip I've divided up into 3 sections, roughly 4' x 4'.

This is half of our 8'x8' raised bed (that's garlic chives starting to shoot up there in the bottom left corner)

This is one of our smaller 4'x4' ish beds.

The soil doesn't look great because I hadn't turned any compost or topsoil into it yet!

I also decided to try my hand at starting a few seedlings this year, which is something I've never done before.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, when the sunflower seedlings were just starting to come up. I've also got scarlet runner beans (which have gotten huge and really need to go in the garden ASAP!), zucchini, cabbage, thyme, oregano, and some morning glory and sweet peas growing away.

The last frost date here is May 20th, so any day now I will be heading to the nursery to get the rest of my vegetable plants! We are also going to try some strawberries and blueberries along with the vegetables, as well as a variety of herbs. The thing that attracts me most to the Small Space method is that you interplant everything close together in the beds, rather than growing rows of individual vegetables. It maximizes the space, and it looks a lot more eye-catching too!

Since it's the beginning of the growing season, my enthusiasm is high. The trick will be to keep up with the garden maintenance once I get it all planted!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Toronto Unschooling Conference

We got back last night from the first (and hopefully not the last!) Toronto Unschooling Conference.

It was quite the whirlwind of activity for us all weekend. I'm just going to do a brief recap!

We checked in to the hotel (Delta Toronto East) around 3 p.m., after getting caught in typical Friday afternoon Toronto traffic! The boys had their swimsuits on about 8 seconds after getting into our room. They'd been scoping out photos of the pool and giant waterslide on the hotel website for the last month and had come prepared to get wet ASAP!

After a quick dip, we got ready to meet our friends Jenn and Bruce for dinner. We had planned on driving to meet them (in the High Park area) but after checking out the traffic on the 401, we decided the TTC (subway) was the only way to go. Twenty-three subway stops later (yes, really, twenty-three, Noah counted them on the way there *and* on the way back!) we finally met up with our friends. The kids played on the castle playground at High Park for a while (a definite must if you're ever in the area with kids!) then we finally got some dinner at a local pub around 9 p.m. We made it back to the hotel around 11 p.m. and crashed!

Part of the castle playground at High Park - it's enormous! That's Nathan in the photo (although this one was taken in the fall, not this weekend - that's why the trees are bare)

I managed to get out of bed early enough to make it downstairs to hear Anne Ohman's "This is Where Unschooling Lives" talk. I need to remember to bring Kleenex to Anne's talks -they always make me tear up (and I notice I wasn't the only one!!) There were some truly adorable little babies in the crowd for me to make faces at too.

While I was listening to Anne, I left Joe and the boys in the kids' fun room. I found them in the pool after the talk! Joe and I did a quick switcheroo in the swimsuit department (me into mine, him out of his) and he headed off to hear Wendy Priesnitz's "The Spirit of Life Learning" talk, while I hung out with the kids in the pool (actually, I enjoyed the hot tub while watching the boys in the pool!) Somewhere in there, we also hooked up with John and Kim from Ohio, who we met at the Peabody Live and Learn conference in 2004.

We all regrouped for lunch (sandwiches and fruit cups in our room) then the guys headed for the fun room while I went to Sandy Lubert's talk on Crossing Over to Unschooling: If You Can't Build a Bridge, Try Flying. Afterwards, I went to check in on the guys- they were happily gaming with some new buddies. I then went to hear Anne speak again (reading her essays "I Am What I Am" and "In Search of Riverglass...Finding Unschooling") - more kleenex required! I have some photos of the kids gaming and playing Twister, but I'm not going to post them here since other people's kids are in them (and I know some people don't like photos of their kids on the internet).

After that, most of the rest of the day was spent in the pool and hot tub. Sadly, none of us made it to Pam's talk on Unschooling Passions or the talent show - we were all too comfy in the pool!

When we finally dragged ourselves out of the pool, we hit the dinner buffet (lots of tasty stuff!) then headed back for the pool yet again. We hung out there almost until the pool closed at 11 p.m. and I chatted with Sandy Lubert for a while.

Here's a very dark photo of Noah standing at the top of the very large waterslide.

Joe and Nathan in the pool together.

We were all really, really, tired when we got up after all the activity of the last 2 days. It was time to summon all our energy reserves and hit the Toronto Zoo! We were hoping to make it there in time to meet up with some other unschoolers, but we arrived just before 10:30 a.m. and no one else was in sight. It was sunny but a bit brisk, not a bad day at all for traipsing through the (very large) zoo.

Very cool "Wall of Fish" at the Toronto Zoo.

Noah and Nathan make a new friend at the zoo!

I think it's just about impossible to do the whole zoo in one day (particularly if you've just spent the past 2 days in a flurry of activity like we did). We managed to see all the important stuff - all the animals from Madagascar (including King Julian!) plus other funky critters like tree kangaroos and electric fish, plus Joe's favourite, the tigers.

As we were leaving the zoo, who should we see heading out behind us but Sandy Lubert and her gang! The only other unschoolers we ran into all day were John and Kim and their brood. Ah well, a good day was had by all. We didn't hit too much traffic on the way home, and arrived safe, sound and exhausted around 5 p.m.

Thanks to Pam L. for putting it all together - I hope it's the first of many Toronto Unschooling Conferences!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Since I'm going to be talking a lot about all of us, I thought I ought to introduce all the members of the family.

This is Nathan, age 6, doing a fine gargoyle imitation.

This is Noah, age 8, also doing a fine gargoyle imitation .

This is Chloe. She's looking really ticked that I took her picture. I had to chase her around the yard for a while before she finally plonked herself down and I snapped this one quick.

This is Jessie. She's a big suck. She's Chloe's daughter (not that you can tell by the way they behave) and we've had her since the day she was born (in our bedroom closet!)

This is Spark the Bearded Dragon. He looks kind of unimpressed that I'm taking his picture. What is it with the attitude on these animals?

He's been part of our family for 2 years now. Beardies rock!

Last (but certainly not least) here is hubby Joe busy painting our front porch. When you buy an 80-odd year old house, there's always something that needs to be fixed (more on that later!)

Well, that's the motley crew, except for yours truly. No pictures of me exist, because I'm always the one behind the camera . Well, you have a little one up in the corner there, that'll have to do for now. Maybe someone around here will take my picture someday.

That's all for now, got to go get everyone to bed!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Spontaneous" Learning

Sometimes (often, in fact) my kids astonish me by seemingly learning something "overnight". Such has been the case lately with Nathan (age 6 1/2). Up until about a month ago, he had on only one occasion (to my knowledge) picked up a pen or pencil and practiced printing letters. That was way back when he was four, and as a matter of fact, even that time he certainly wasn't "practicing". He wanted to write his name, so he asked me what it looked like. I carefully printed it out for him. He then proceeded to pick up a pencil and do a very admirable job of printing his name.

Back to the present. A few weeks ago, we were goofing around with the magnetic letters on the fridge. He then asked me how to spell "yes". We spelled it out together with the magnetic letters, then he wandered off (to do something entirely unrelated, I was sure - that's usually how our days go; flowing in and out of a wide variety of things and making connections here, there and everywhere). A few minutes later, he appeared with the word "yes" printed very carefully on a scrap piece of paper (and a big grin). WOW. Over the next few days, he copied a wide variety of words down, and continues to randomly ask for words to copy.

Around 11:30 last night, it was "treehouse". We were all up, having a late-night pow-wow about our plans for building a playstructure in the back yard. We had been surfing online, looking at a variety of pre-fab kits, but not only were they phenomenally expensive (some of them cost twice as much as we paid for our [used] minivan!) but they also weren't quite what the kids wanted, either. So Joe (dh) started drawing up some plans, trying to come up with something that contained a suspended treehouse, swings and a climbing wall, and that would also fit in the space available in our small back yard and not totally smash our budget. He came up with something that met all the requirements, and while Nathan sat watching the drawing take shape, he asked what the word "treehouse" looked like. So, as usual, I copied it out for him. He sat there happily printing it out, then observing that it was actually 2 words put together, "tree" and "house", and playing around with that.

Of course, all of these connections didn't really happen "overnight". Nathan's been watching, observing, and picking up all the skills needed to print proficiently in a million different subtle ways that I can't begin to imagine, since he was born. I have to think that all the furious Lego building he's been doing for years (with all those little bitty pieces) played a big part in building his dexterity and fine-motor skills. I've also noticed he developed an intense interest in colouring pictures a few months before this magical "burst" in printing ability. It's so wonderful to realize that it's not necessary to force a kid to slave over workbooks, struggling to print letters by rote for untold hours, until they finally get the hang of it. Like everything else that matters in life, they'll learn it in there own time, and in their own way. Naturally!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Finally, a Family Blog!

It's about time I got around to this. I've had my professional blog going for months, and haven't managed to quite get round to starting a personal blog to document all the many adventurers of our radically-unschooling family.

So, here it is! I hope to chronicle our many and varied experiences (on a somwhat regular basis)as we journey together through this amazing thing called life.