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!