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 .