Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Knitted Mini Purse

I have finally finished another of my knitted gifts! What a relief as Christmas is just over a week away now. I am making two of these purses for my nieces (in different colours); the second one is not quite finished yet - I still need to do all the seaming and crochet edging. I am planning to tuck a few goodies in the purses as well - lip gloss, hair accessories, etc.

This was a fairly quick project but a lot more involved than the lace bookmark! I think most people would need to spend a couple of evenings on this to get it completed. I am pretty slow at sewing seams and crocheting so if you are speedy with both of those you might be able to get the whole thing done in one afternoon or evening. This is another gift that was practically free to make - the yarn had been in my stash for a long time and the button came out of my rather full button box!

Here are the basic directions for making the purse:

Yarn: I used Bernat Handicrafter Cotton; any worsted weight yarn would work. If you use a wool yarn, you could knit the purse up in a bit larger size then felt it.

Needles: 4 mm (size 6 US), 1 pair straight needles plus 2 dpns (for i-cord), 4 mm crochet hook for edging

Other: 1 decorative button

Cast on 24 stitches. Knit in stockinette stitch for 11", ending with a purl row. Starting on the next row, K2tog at the beginning and end of every knit row until you have one stitch remaining on the needle. Pull yarn through the last stitch to finish off.

To make the strap, knit a length of 3-stitch i-cord using the dpns (mine is about 20" long but you can make it however long you want!) There are instructions here on how to knit i-cord if you haven't done this before. It's super easy and a really handy thing to know how to do, I use it often in my little projects.

Weave in yarn ends and sew the side seams of the purse together, attaching the i-cord at the top on both sides (make sure the i-cord's not twisted before you sew it into the second side!)

I decided to do a picot edging around the flap and the top (inside) edge of the purse. You could just leave it plain if you want but I like the little something "extra" it gives the project. I am NOT a crocheter so don't let that scare you off, it's really easy! There are some basic directions on how to crochet a picot edge here if you need some help. I chained a few stitches down at the end point of the flap to create a little loop for the button. If you're not going to do a picot edging, you will need to make a little loop of either single chain crochet or i-cord to attach for a button loop.

Now, sew the button in place and you're done!

If these directions are as clear as mud, email me and I'll try and help you out!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cookies & Chaos

It's that time of year again. Exactly 2 weeks left until Christmas. No matter how carefully I plan, no matter how many lists I make, no matter how ahead of the game I think I am this time, right about now I am always suppressing the urge to panic. You know it's a bad sign when your husband asks you at breakfast if you think he can teach the dog to warp the time/space continuum in your favour.

Despite the vast amount of evidence pointing to the fact that I better get my butt in high gear sometime real soon, I spent the afternoon baking and decorating cookies with the kids. Hubby was even around to help with the finishing touches! This is, of course, one of the most important family Christmas traditions (right up there with going out to cut down a tree, which we haven't done yet, but let's not go there...) So I felt entirely justified devoting an entire afternoon to this endeavour. Now if only I could teach the dog (or anyone else in the house for that matter) to knit, we might really start to get somewhere...

Oh, by the way, the cookies we made are White Velvet Cutouts and this is the very best roll-and-cut cookie dough ever. It stays soft and pliable to the bitter end, even when repeatedly mangled, kneaded and otherwise abused by small children. And in case you're wondering, the brightly coloured icing colours are achieved by using the paste-type food colouring (not those little bottles of liquid stuff).

On the making-stuff-from-scratch note, I would like to mention that I'm in this week's Make it From Scratch blog carnival. There are always some great ideas there, so go check it out!

Finally, for everyone else who's starting to feel their stress levels creeping up a bit (or, okay, a lot) here is something that I guarantee will give you a good laugh! Please go check out The Cavalcade of Bad Nativities and its sequel, The Cavalcade of Bad Nativities II. Don't you feel better now?

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Quick Knitted Gift

I was wracking my brain for an inexpensive yet "nice" gift to send to my Grandma. I had already selected a book to send to her, and eventually I realized I could knit her up a lacy bookmark as an accompaniment.

This turned out to be a "practically free" gift. I had some crochet cotton in my stash (which was either donated by a non-crafty friend or purchased for next to nothing at a yard sale; I'm not sure!) The lace pattern I used is from the book A Creative Guide to Knitted Lace; the "Evening Wrap" pattern on page 30. You could really use just about any lace pattern you like as long as the pattern repeat is fairly narrow. After I finished knitting the bookmark I decided it was too stark white so I threw it into a bowl with some leftover coffee and let it soak for a couple of hours. I then gave it a good rinse, blocked it out on a towel and let it dry overnight. I gave it a quick press with the iron the next day. You can see the difference the dye job made in the photo - the final product has a much "softer" antique look to it.

This was a very quick project and I'm pleased with the results. I think this would make a great gift for a teacher or any book-loving friend or family member. A knitter with a reasonable amount of experience could churn out several of these in a couple of evenings of TV viewing.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter Wonderland

We finally have a serious amount of snow! It started falling late Saturday night, and by Sunday morning there was lots of shovelling to do. The boys put on their snowpants as soon as they woke up yesterday and ran outside to romp around in it with their friends.

They hit the toboggan hill with their dad later in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it had started to rain by then and everyone got really messy and wet. I took the dog for a nice hour long walk in the rainy sludge so we were both soaked too! I thought the snow was going to end up disappearing but thankfully the temperature dropped later in the day so there's still lots of white stuff on the ground.

After we came in and dried ourselves off, it was time for some hot chocolate. We go through a LOT of hot chocolate during the winter, so I'm thankful I know how to make it cheaply. I use skim milk powder, with a teaspoon of cocoa powder and 2 teaspoons of sugar for each mug. A pinch of cinnamon adds that little "extra". I top each mug off with a few mini-marshmallows if we happen to have some around.

We all snuggled under blankets and thawed out watching Back to the Future II - it's been quite a while since I'd watched the BttF movies so I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We took a break from the movie long enough to get some bread in the oven (thank goodness I had made up a batch of Refrigerator Bread Dough late last week) and a batch of lentil soup bubbling on the stove. Hot soup and bread fresh from the oven - the perfect meal after a day spend outside frolicking in the snow!

The boys burned off so much energy playing outside all day that they are still sleeping right now at 10:20 a.m.! I'm sure when they do finally wake up they'll be ready to head right back out to the toboggan hill.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Countdown to Christmas

Now that it's officially less than a month until Christmas, I suppose I should start getting myself organized. Every year, by late August or early September, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I'm giving everyone for Christmas and I think I'm "ahead of the game". The problem would be that every year I procrastinate on starting all the homemade gifts (of which there are always several-to-many!) and round about now I start to get that panicky feeling.

[Warning: If you're on my Christmas list, stop reading this NOW please as major gift spoilers are coming up!]

I thought I would share my homemade gift plans thus far in case anyone out there is looking for ideas.

In the knitting department:
-mini-purses for 2 of my nieces
-a lacy mohair scarf for my Nan (grandma)
-cute little snowflake ornaments for assorted people (pattern here) - I'm knitting them in crochet cotton so they'll be quite a bit smaller than the ones shown
-I also want to make a pair of socks for each of my boys and hubby but I have a feeling this might become a post-Christmas project!

In the gifts from the kitchen department:
-herb vinegars are brewing down in my basement
-I have zucchini relish and pear chutney ready to go
-I need to make some cran-raspberry jam as my neighbour adores it (she always watches our animals for us when we go away and she won't let us pay her for it, so I always make her some yummy treats at Christmas)
-pumpkin spice loaves (still a lot of pumpkin in the freezer!)
-candied peanuts
-chocolate truffles
-Butter Toffee Crunch (this is basically my recipe, but they call it something else) I have yet to find someone who doesn't totally adore this stuff!

In the bath & body department:
(I'm doing a rosemary/mint theme this year so everything below will have that scent)
-drawer sachets (okay, these need to be knitted too!)
-olive oil & beeswax hand balm (I'm going to use the recipe from You Grow Girl)
-molded soaps (I know I printed off the instructions from one of the Make It From Scratch carnivals, but I can't remember which one!)

That's all I can think of for now, I'm sure I've missed a few but if so I'll post them later. This list doesn't look SO bad. I do have quite a slew of babies coming up in my life (friends due in December, January, March, April and 2 in July!) so I have to get a lot of baby knitting done too!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Santa Claus Parade

Today was the Santa Claus Parade here in the Hammer. Every year I think it's far too early to think about Christmas in mid-November, but by the end of the parade I've totally got the "holiday spirit". This year the temperature dropped several degrees during the course of the parade, and the snow started to fall - our first real snow of the season! Very festive.

Drinking hot chocolate while waiting for the parade to start!

One of several local dance troupes

Spiderman! Very important when you have 3 boys age 10 and under in tow :)
Lots of marching bands....

A Chinese Dragon (I just love those things!)

Clydesdales - very important! It's not a parade without some decent horses :)

Finally - the Big Guy himself!

By the time Santa made his appearance, my hands and feet were pretty well numb. Thankfully, my backside did not suffer the same fate as we are now smart enough to bring our Therm-a-rests along whenever we're going to be sitting on cold, hard ground. They work like a charm! A big thermos full of hot chocolate also helps to stave off the cold (well, provided you get some before the kids drink it all...)

Of course, the kids were so busy scrambling after goodies being tossed by parade participants that they barely had time to feel cold. Thank goodness I had an extra shopping bag on me! We dragged home 21 mini candy canes, 7 (full size) packs of gum, a couple of full-size chocolate bars, 1 bag of chips, 7 lollipops, 1 orange, 2 toothbrushes, 3 pieces of sidewalk chalk, a pencil, a CFL lightbulb, 2 balloons, and a coupon for 1 free admission to the local drive-in movies. That's not even counting all the stuff they tucked away during the parade!

It was a lot of fun, but I was definitely happy to come home and thaw out. Good thing I'm in a festive mood now, we're doing Christmas shopping tomorrow...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Noah is officially TEN today!

Ten years ago today, I became a mom. I don't think I had the first inkling of a clue as to how much motherhood was going to rock my world in just about every way. I have changed and grown so much by being a mom. My life has been incredibly enriched by having my sweet boy Noah along for the ride with me.

A "just arrived" Noah! He's less than a day old here. No, I was *not* a teen mom, although I look incredibly young in this photo!
Noah, age 1, with my Nan (his great-grandma!)

Noah, age 2

One of many photos of Noah in a tree (here at age 3)

Hey, it's Noah in a tree again, age 4!

Playing "Dress Up" has been a popular activity for many years (age 5)

Kids in a box (Noah is far left, age 6, Nathan is beside him age 4)

Noah at 7, enjoying some computer time (still one of his favourite activities!)

Up in yet another tree, age 8

Canada Day festivities, age 9

Enjoying his 10th birthday party!

Oh, and a cool little surprise for me - I was sifting through some old photos and one of me (somewhere around age 8-10, it's not labelled so I'm not sure) where I am wearing a look I recognize from Noah's face.

Hah! He does look like me,. after all!

After all these years of saying he looks exactly like Joe :)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Birthday Visit with Paige

My friend Jenn's little girl turned one today! We were lucky enough to get to see her on her big day. She treated us by walking 4 steps for the first time ever at our house.
This was kind of a duel-purpose visit, as Noah's birthday is tomorrow. So we got to watch both of the birthday kids open their presents. Noah got a second dog dictionary - do you think he has a reputation as "dog boy" or anything?
Paige is more interested in the dog than her gift.


Noah's 10th Birthday Party!

Last night was the big party! We had a large friends-and-family potluck dinner party, including the families of Noah's friends (could that sound more cryptic?) I'm not sure how many people that turned out to be, but our house was pretty full.

There were glow sticks and sparklers (a big hit with the kids!) and lots of good food. Noah also got some neat presents, including a dog breed encyclopedia and a foam-dart bow and arrow style thingy. Lots to keep him occupied for a while.

I think the kids and the adults alike enjoyed themselves. The birthday boy definitely had a great time! Noah is not "officially" 10 until tomorrow, and I'll post some more then about my sweet boy.

Harried Halloween Week

I know, I know, it's already 3 days after Halloween and I haven't yet posted the photos. What kind of blogger am I, anyway? The answer to that would be: a very busy one! The irony of blogging is that when life is most interesting you don't have enough time to post about it .

Not only was it Halloween, but Noah's 10th birthday party this week as well (yesterday). That's more than enough for me in one week, thanks! I love the actual celebrations but all that prep work is a bit much for this mama!

The boys were rather ghoulish again this year, this seems to be a several-years-running theme:
This was the first year that they went out trick-or-treating for a bit without either Joe or I. They went with an older friend along both sides of our block, then came back and got Joe for a second trip out further afield. When they returned home again, to my surprise they wanted to go out yet *again* with me! This is definitely the most trick-or-treating they've ever done (and they have the loot to prove it!)
The cutest trick-or-treater award goes to an adorable little Nemo-boy. He was so little that his fish tail-ensconced backside wiggled as he walked :) His mom said he was 17 months old. Too cute!
More details on Noah's party coming in the next post.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It Must *Really* Be Fall!

Although it's almost Halloween, it hasn't really felt like fall around here until the last couple of weeks, due to the unseasonably warm weather.

Now, the signs of fall are unmistakable. There are leaves on the ground at last! The frost is coming (probably tonight), and we went apple picking at a local farm this afternoon (the same one we went to last year).

One of my most favourite things to do at this time of year is watch Noah and Nathan romp around in the leaves for hours with their friends. Yesterday afternoon, most of the neighbourhood boys were in my backyard, building a HUGE leaf pile. They were very industrious, carting in leaves from all over the street in recycling bins and milk crates.

Ahh, FALL!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rushing to Beat the First Frost

Yesterday I was scrambling around in the garden like a madwoman for most of the afternoon. A check of the weather forecast earlier that day revealed that we were supposed to get a day of rain today, followed by frost both Saturday and Sunday night. Since I have been neglecting my garden for most of October, this meant I had to hustle to get around to doing everything that needed to be done before the frost arrived!!

I got a basket full of tomatoes (mostly green, but there are a few ripe ones hiding at the bottom!), about half a dozen small green peppers, a few jalapenos, a tub full of chard, another tub full of parsley and oregano, and two very full tubs of peppermint! Those are all 4 litre ice cream tubs in case you're wondering - I try to always keep a few around as I find them useful in a variety of situations. The brownish-yellow dried out looking things in the basket with the peppers are pods from my scarlet runner beans.

I'm also trying a little experiment this year, and bringing a few of my veggie plants inside to see if I can keep them producing. I dug up one of my tomato plants, a sweet pepper and a jalapeno pepper plant, and my rosemary and potted them all. It was a bit of an adventure wrestling the tomato plant into my largest terra cotta pot! I stationed them all at the back of my dining room, where I have a large south facing window. I just have to remember to water them!

Now I have to get all those herbs dried and stored away safely, and harvest and store the seeds from the bean pods. The chard is already tucked away in the fridge and will be part of this week's dinner menu. I'll use the tomatoes up gradually as they ripen. I think I'm going to freeze some of the peppers, although I might just make a big batch of stuffed peppers!

Oh, and in case you're wondering what on earth I'm going to do with all that peppermint? I am a big fan of peppermint tea, so that will be how I use most of it. I'm also planning to use some of it for some Christmas projects - more on that in future posts!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Our Unschooling Tribe

When we first started our unschooling journey several years ago, we didn't know a single other unschooling family. Now, through the wonders of the internet, we have met many other unschooling families from all over North America. Some of these friendships started at unschooling conferences and other "official" type gatherings, but many of them began as "virtual conversations" on email discussion groups.

We now have a group of unschooling families we have become particularly close to, and have gathered together with this group the past two summers. Since we all have so much fun together, some of us who live fairly close together decided to have another gathering this past weekend just outside of Detroit. As usual, there was lots of lively conversation and good food. The kids all enjoyed seeing their friends and making some new ones. There was lots of jumping on the trampoline and playing on the Wii and Gamecube, along with a wide variety of other kid-friendly fun.

Our world has truly been expanded by the relationships we have formed with our "unschooling tribe". It's wonderful how our group supports and nurtures one another through any life challenges we may be dealing with. Now that we are back home and the excitement has died down, we look forward to some fresh new discoveries as we start to explore some of the many books, movies, TV shows, hobbies, and places to visit suggested by our unschooling friends.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Unschooling Math

The boys have really been getting into numbers lately!! It's so fun to watch them "doing math" without any of the frustrations that most of us remember from struggling with multiplication tables, fractions and long division.

Even though I have plenty of evidence of how easily my kids learn when given the freedom to do it in their own time and in their own way, there are still times when I'm amazed at how their minds just pick things up. One of my earliest "unschooling math" moments was when Nathan was only 3 or 4 (this was related to me by Joe as he happened to be the parent that was home at the time). Nathan was sitting at the table playing with a bunch of Cheerios. After messing around with them for a while, he announced, "Hey dad, four 3's makes twelve!!" He had divided them up into nice little piles and counted them, all on his own.

Fast forward a year or so, and we're all in the car on our way to a holiday gathering. I overhear the boys in the back seat in some intense discussion. All of a sudden I hear Nathan heatedly announce, "Noah, I told you, infinity is the biggest number!!" Okay. I asked Nathan, gently, just out of curiosity, if he understood what "infinity" meant. He looked at me with that "why wouldn't I" expression and patiently explained "that means it goes on and on forever". Glad he got that figured out before the tender age of six.

Lately, I've been noticing both boys have an increasing comfort level manipulating numbers. When I told Noah that an event he was looking forward to was two weeks away, he promptly announced, "That's 14 days!". He easily told me that 3 weeks was 21 days, and 4 weeks was 28 days. One night we were on the couch watching cartoons when we mentioned that another show would be on in five minutes. Noah quickly informed us that that was 300 seconds. Another evening a few weeks ago, Joe came home with a wad of cash and Nathan asked to count it. It was a stack of 20's, and I watched as he easily counted it out: 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 120 bucks!!

Clearly they are mastering multiplication, without a workbook in sight!! Most importantly, they are doing it because they want to, because it has meaning to them in their life, not because someone told them they should.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hollywood Hits the Hammer!

Our city has enjoyed an increasing number of movie shoots over the past few years. Wikipedia's list of big name Hollywood actors who filmed in Hamilton in 2006 & 2007 include: Don Cheadle, Jeff Daniels, Michael Keaton, Harvey Keitel, Eugene Levy, Shirley Maclaine, Michael Madsen, Steve Martin, Edward Norton, Chris O'Donnell, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Plummer, Randy Quaid, Tim Roth, Martin Sheen, John Travolta, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Walken, Sigourney Weaver and Robin Williams. Some of the better-known films with Hamilton locations that have come out in the past few years are: Long Kiss Goodnight, X-Men, Four Brothers, and Cinderella Man.

With all this movie action going on, it's almost embarrassing to admit that we've never gone to observe a shoot before. So, when we heard that The Incredible Hulk was shooting downtown, we were determined we were going to check it out! As luck would have it, our schedule for the filming days made it tricky to get down there, but in the end we squeezed it in. It was actually very difficult to get anywhere remotely close to the shoot, there were cops and crew everywhere guarding the site, and they had guardrails up for quite a distance around the filming area. In the end, we found a multi-floor parking garage we could sneak into and watch the action from a few floors above ground. All the scenes being filmed here were night scenes, so it was difficult to get any good photos. A section of the street had been transformed to look like a section of Harlem in New York, and they had a number of yellow New York cabs in the street. We watched for about an hour; most of it was just them setting up props and lighting. We got to see them set a jeep and the shell of a burned-out bus on fire (if you look very closely at the photo you can just make out one of the smaller fires), and they engineered a small explosion. That's about it. Still, it was neat to watch the behind-the-scenes work of what goes on during the filming of a movie. Nathan was very disappointed that we didn't get to see any really big action shots (they have apparently been sending cars flying down the street, but I think they're doing that stuff in the middle of the night when next to noone is around). We are eagerly awaiting the 2008 release of the movie, so we can look for the scenes they filmed here.

This definitely whet our appetite for movie-making and we'll make more of an effort to try and catch more movie filming in the future!

Frugal Hostess Gifts (at last!)

This post (which I initially promised to deliver way back on the 7th) has now become long overdue! In hindsight, I shouldn't have figured I'd have any time to blog with our very busy Thanksgiving weekend and its aftermath.

Above is a photo of Hostess Gift #1: Pumpkin Butter & Pear Chutney. Both of these were homemade (the chutney was properly canned, the pumpkin butter I just put in a canning jar to match). To make the labels, I cut up an old brown kraft paper gift bag and (for the white) an old greeting card. I trimmed all the edges with my fancy-edge scissors, and tied the tags on with raffia (one package of raffia lasts approximately forever as far as I can see!) You can't see it in the photo, but I also cut circles out of wrapping paper and put them under the screw-cap lids of the canning jars to cover the canning (snap) lids. I brought this to my brother-in-law's (wrapped up all proper in a gift bag with tissue paper and ribbon), and it was very well received (as were the Baked Squash Casserole and Apple Crisp!) We had a great dinner and a relaxing visit with my hubby's brother's family.

The boys spent much of the time at their uncle's playing on the rope swing with their cousins. That is, when they weren't in the hot tub!! Yes, they were perfectly comfortable playing in their swimsuits at Thanksgiving, as we had summer-like weather both Sunday and Monday.

On Monday we headed to my brother's house (in the blistering heat and humidity of a 30 degree Celsius day - a new record for Thanksgiving!) Below is a photo of Hostess Gift #2: A Jalapeno Pepper Plant, Jalapeno & Banana Peppers, & Pumpkin Butter. The peppers were all from our garden, as was the plant. I dug it up carefully (leaving a few half-grown peppers still on the plant) and put it in a coffee can (these are very handy for a lot of gifting purposes, so I try to keep ours from ending up in the recycling bin!) I wrapped the peppers in cellophane and attached with raffia to the stake (an old piece of quarter round) supporting the plant. We also brought Oatmeal Dinner Rolls (this is close to my recipe) and Red Cabbage and Apple Salad (I used raisins instead of dried cranberries, and left out the nuts due to allergies). These were all very well received too!

All in all, it was a very satisfying and enjoyable weekend, full of good food and lots of time spent with family. Now if we could just finish off the (seemingly bottomless) bowl of cabbage salad...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Thanksgiving Harvest

We've been having some unseasonably warm weather this fall. Lured out by some nice warm sunshine, I managed to get some work done in the garden earlier this week. My tomato plants, far from looking like the season is nearly over, look better than they did all summer! It was so hot and dry in July and August that I struggled to keep up with their water needs. Now that it's been a bit cooler, they have sprung back to life with a vengeance! I think I might try bringing one of them inside in a large pot - now that they look so healthy I can't bear to let the frost take them!!
Although the overall vegetable garden yield was far from impressive this year (due to both the aforementioned weather and a bit of laziness on the part of the gardener - I never got around to planting a second timeline of anything!) I did fill a small basket with produce while I was out rummaging around. A handful of tomatoes (hubby loves those little yellow pear tomatoes!), about half a dozen each of sweet peppers and banana peppers, and a dozen or so jalapenos. If the weather holds out, I expect to get a bit more of everything before frost. The swiss chard is still going strong as well, and I harvested a bunch of that as well, to blanche and freeze for the winter.
In addition to our own garden harvest, I have also been trying to use up or preserve everything we've been getting from our CSA. As usual, we are inundated with squash! Since I still have a small mountain of frozen squash and and pumpkin in the freezer from last year, I am on a quest to find as many ways as possible to use up some squash and pumpkin so I don't have *two* seasons' worth in my freezer.
Since it's Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, I thought this would be the perfect time to go a little "squash crazy". We have been fortunate enough to receive invitations to not one, but two!!! Thanksgiving dinners this weekend. Tomorrow we are going to my brother-in-law's, then on Monday we are headed to my brother's place. This is the first year in many, many years that I haven't cooked the Thanksgiving turkey, so I am *very* excited.
But I digress...back to the squash. This afternoon I made a Baked Squash and Apple Casserole to bring to dinner tomorrow. It's the first time I've tried this recipe, so I hope it's good! I also made a batch of Pumpkin Butter (thanks to Dewey's Treehouse for the recipe!), using half squash and half pumpkin (I raided my frozen stash for this). This turned out very tasty and I am going to use this for part of my hostess gift for both dinners (more about my frugal hostess gift plans tomorrow!)
Between wrestling with all that squash, hauling around laundry in various stages of done-ness, and keeping two extremely hungry boys fed all day (hubby has been gone all day working - yes, on a Saturday) I am ready to get horizontal with my book, so that is exactly what I'm going to go and do now .

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nathan is EIGHT!!

Yesterday was Nathan's eight birthday. It's hard to believe the time has gone by so fast - and yet Nathan has always been one of those kids that is so much "larger than life" that it's also hard to believe he is only eight; he is so confident and self-assured. He is a kid who knows what he wants and is not afraid to go and get it! I am in awe of this incredible person who I have the honour of mothering. It's been a wild ride so far!

For his official birthday celebration, we headed up to Christie Lake (a local conservation area) with half a dozen boys for an afternoon of fun with some medieval weapons. This has been a big interest of Nathan's for the past few months. Using directions from The Art of the Catapult, Nathan helped his dad build a trebuchet and a couple of catapults (all kid-sized!) Nathan helped with drilling and sawing, and Joe figured out how to make it all work!

Here's Nathan getting ready to fire the trebuchet; the catapults are to the left.

Two of Nathan's best buddies give it a whirl. We had a few different sizes of projectile to experiment with. The projectiles hang from the trebuchet via a piece of string, and we discovered that the string length makes a difference as to how far the object will travel!

Some sword/lightsaber action rounds out the battle component of the afternoon!

A new Gamecube game!! I know what the birthday boy will be doing as soon as we get home...

The new lego sets needed to be built immediately!!
I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all! I love all of Nathan's friends (most of whom we have known for years). It's been so much fun to watch all these boys grow up together and discover so many new passions together. We are so pleased that they were able to share in all the birthday festivities!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

An Afternoon at the Farm

The Community Shared Agriculture farm we belong to (Plan B Organic Farm) has an annual "Farm Day" near the end of the season every year. Today was the day!! We had fabulous, warm sunny weather and enjoyed a menu of local organic foods: Sausages or burgers, salads (from farm produce of course!) and organic ice cream to die for (seriously, the best ice cream I've ever eaten - Mapleton's Organic).

The only bummer was that I forgot my camera. Waahh!! I missed some seriously good photo ops. The kids (and there were a lot of them!) piled bales of hay into various configurations - a fort, an "igloo", and eventually a tallish tower-like structure. This led to jumping off said tower into a loose pile of hay below. The kids were all just in heaven - literally radiating joy from their pores as they soared through the air into the hay pile below. The parents were all being totally cool and relaxed and just letting the kids revel in the whole farm experience.

We also got to take a tour of the farm, meet all the farm dogs (there were several - and yes, Noah was in his glory!), chase chickens and roosters, play with the farm cat, and pick a pumpkin to bring home. It's really amazing to have such a close connection with the people who are growing your food. I was walking by a field of salad greens, and realized I would be eating some of those very greens in a couple of weeks.

All in all, the perfect way to spend a fall afternoon.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bursting Back into the Blogosphere!!

It's been an embarrassingly long time since I've posted anything to this (or any!) blog. I needed to take a break from my cyberlife for a while to focus on some important things in the rest of my life - with my kids, my hubby, and well, a bunch of other things too.
I'm finally feeling like diving back in to a somewhat-regular blogging schedule, so hopefully you can count on posts appearing here fairly frequently once more! I am also going to stop trying to maintain multiple blogs and just use this one for everything and anything I feel like blogging about.

A quick update on some of the things we've been up to over the past few months:

In mid-June, we joined a bunch of other unschooling families in Watkins Glen, New York, for our second annual KOA Kamping Adventure together. It was great to see our friends from last year and meet some new friends too!!

The boys enjoyed hanging in their buddies' camper!! We hope to get a chance to visit them again before next year, now that they are moving a couple of hours closer to us.

In July, we went camping at Balsam Lake Provincial Park, and spent a day visiting with friends at their cottage on the other side of the lake.

Here's me with my friend Jenn's baby girl Paige, enjoying the lake

The rest of our summer was spent hanging out at the community pool, chatting with neighbours on the porch, and enjoying informal visits and spontaneous playtime with friends.
Nathan has developed quite an interest in medieval weapons in the past couple of months. This started with Age of Empires and a fascination with trebuchets. We are now exploring a book called The Art of the Catapult, and hope to have a few weapons constructed for a full scale boy-battle for Nathan's birthday party at the end of the month.
Noah is passionate about dogs right now and has to go "meet" every dog he spots when we're out and about (and that kid sure does have powerful "dog radar"!) He needs to know all the critical information about each dog - name, age, breed, gender. He then proceeds to tell each dog owner all about our dog, Marley.
Now that we're half-way through September, it's time to start thinking about the many holidays and birthdays we have coming between now and the end of the year, and do some advance planning so we're not completed overwhelmed. Oh yes, and I need to finish doing my fall preserving - more on that in the next post!

Monday, January 29, 2007

6 Weird Things About Me

I've been tagged by Zamozo for a game of "6 Weird Things About Me" that's going around the unschooling blogosphere. I have to tell you 6 weird things about me then tag 6 other unschoolers to do the same.

Well, first things first. 6 weird things about me.
1. I have freaky feet! Not only do I have Morton's toe (second toe longer than big toe) butI also have a way big space between my big toe and second toe.

2. I am a total library junkie. I know all the library ladies at my local branch on a first name basis. I frequently have very close to my limit of 50 books out at any given time. I put so many books on hold that I am always at the limit for holds on my card, and have quite a few on my husband's card too. Yes, it might be time for some sort of intervention, lol!

3. My husband and I have been together since we were 16 years old (we married at age 24). Based on past experience when people learn this fact about me, if you don't find this extremely adorable, you will most definitely find it weird.

4. I will fall asleep in the car (if I'm not driving) unless I knot or do some other type of activity to keep my brain alert.

5. I'm a bit obsessive about the cleanliness of my kitchen counters (crumbs-aaargh!!!) and the way my bath towels are folded.

6. My taste in music could best be described as "eclectic". If it's not rap, jazz, country, heavy metal or Whitney Houston, I probably like it (although I might not admit it). I have yet to meet someone else who enjoys both Beethoven and Abba!

Okay, now on to the tagging part. I'm pretty desperate on this, since I've been tagged pretty late in the game, and I honestly can't find 6 more unschooling bloggers I'm familiar with that haven't already been tagged, so I'm going with 4 because I don't have any more time to track more down!

Robin (I can't believe she hasn't already been tagged - if so I missed it - but her blog's still a must read anyway!)

Pam (who hasn't posted for a long while, maybe this will spur her to action?)

Billy Jean (a local unschooling mama)

another Chris (whose blog I've just found and who doesn't know I exist!)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Toboggans, Freezing Rain, and Blackouts

Today was one of those calm and peaceful winter days that make winter worth having! The snow finally showed up yesterday, which was fabulous; however, it changed to freezing rain overnight which left everything as slippery and crunchy as could be. The schools were all closed today, so the neighbourhood was much quieter than usual without the hustle and bustle of kids being picked up and dropped off from school. Once the freezing rain finally stopped after lunch, the local toboggan hill was booming though! We spent a good hour flying down the hill and clambering back up the slippery slope again and again.

Just as I was about to start making dinner, the power went off. We waited 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Nope, the power wasn't coming back on any time soon. We cooked and ate dinner by candlelight, which was kind of cool. Luckily for us, we have a gas stove, so we were able to cook on the burners, otherwise it would have been peanut butter sandwiches for dinner (not exactly satisfying after an afternoon on the toboggan hill!). After we cleared the dishes away, we decided to continue our game of "semi-perpetual Monopoly" by candlelight. We started the game a few days after Christmas, but because it takes *so* long to play the game to the end, we've just played for 1/2 hour or so at a time, and put the game aside until we're in the mood to play again. It's interesting how the darkness adds a totally different feel to routine, everyday activities. We hadn't gotten far with the Monopoly when the power magically returned - by then, the lights had been out for almost 2 hours and the house was starting to get noticeably chillier than usual. I wouldn't enjoy not having power on a regular basis, but it did add some interest to the day, and added to the quiet and calm feeling (no TV, computer, radio or lights for a couple of hours-ahh, peace!)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

An Urban Wildlife Adventure

Earlier this week, our local paper ran a story about a beaver (possibly *2* beavers) having set up house in the Hamilton harbour. This is very exciting for our community as it signifies a major improvement in the water quality (the last 15 years has seen a lot of work done on restoring our once extremely industrially-polluted harbourfront area).It's also pretty darn cool to have a beaver build a lodge in such an urban location (right on the edge of one of our biggest city parks). As soon as we read about it, we were all super excited to go check it out, but our family schedule didn't give us a chance to do it during daylight hours up until today. So, we all bundled up early this afternoon, and off we went to the Harbourfront to track down the beaver lodge. We didn't have any trouble finding it, and were able to walk up very close to it to take a good look. We didn't actually have a beaver sighting (they usually only come out at night) but we pointed out to the boys where the beaver(s) had chewed down small trees to build the dam (as well as one that had been partially, but not totally, gnawed through). This resourceful urban beaver also scrounged up several used planks of wood to use in building his lodge! The city is considering planting some willow trees in the spring to help keep the beaver(s) from taking all the shade trees. Apparently, willow is a favourite of the beavers (something I didn't know before!) We've seen beaver lodges in zoos before, but this is the first time we've seen one "in the wild" (if the middle of a city of nearly 500,000 people can be classified as "wild"!)

[Here is where I had planned to insert a photo of the beaver lodge; apparently blogger has other ideas right now as I can't get it to upload-arrgh!]

While we were down by the harbour, we also had some fun observing the winter waterfowl. We actually "discovered" a new species that we'd never observed before. When we got back, we got out our bird books (while enjoying a round of hot chocolate to warm us back up!) and identified it as the American Coot. We found out that we'd never seen them before because they overwinter on the harbour, but leave in early spring, and we're usually not spending much time down there until late spring/early summer. Up until we hunted down that piece of the puzzle, I had been wondering how there could have been such a large number of them on the water when I'd never seen even *one* before!!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Family Goals for 2007

At this time of year, I can't help but get very introspective. I always find myself (like many other people, I imagine) looking back over the past year, taking stock of what went well, and what didn't! Then, of course, I like to try and figure out where I'm going in the year ahead.

I always make a whole list of goals for the different areas of my life at the beginning of a new year, and I've set a lot of personal goals for myself already. What I've been pondering over the last few days is, what are the things I want to work on in my parenting and family life this year? Overall, I think we have a great family life, and I really noticed how relaxed and loving we are together over the holiday season. I think the biggest thing that I would like to change is that we have gotten into a habit of not spending much time together as an entire family. The boys are off doing their own thing (together or separately) and I am doing my thing, hubby is doing something else (or is just not here because he is busy working). We definitely still connect and share with each other over the course of the day, but I have often stopped and thought "gee,when was the last time we did something together, all four of us?". Over the holidays we had quite a few opportunities to do things as a family, and I would like to make sure it happens more often! I think what I will do is suggest we have a "family day" one day per week, where the general focus of the day is doing something together as a family. This will probably not be the same day every week, as hubby's schedule is ever-changing due to his work as a realtor (that also means he works a lot on the weekends, the usual time most families have their "family time!") So, we'll have to take it week by week, but I think it should work itself out once we get in the habit of planning for some special "connecting" time together.