Friday, December 05, 2008

Deck the Halls

We have been busy getting the house spruced up for Christmas this week. I'm amazed at how fast the boys set out all the decorations - they remembered exactly where we put each item and had most of it done before I knew what happened!

I had some fun rummaging through our Christmas Book Box (you can see it tucked in there behind the chair in the photo). All the standard seasonal favourites are in there (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Polar Express) along with some books that are more obscure but that have become our family favourites over the years.

Snuggling up together and reading our seasonal favourites in the glow of the Christmas tree is one of the things I cherish most about this time of year. If you're looking for some new books to add to your holiday collection, our family gives "two enthusiastic thumbs way up" to the following:

Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas by Jack Gantos - quite possibly the most-read Christmas book in our house!

Joel Schick's Christmas Present - a fanciful twist on the Twelve Days of Christmas featuring whimsical illustrations of dorkle bugs sneeds-a-slavering and many other very hungry critters.

Woodleigh Marx Hubbard's Twelve Days of Christmas - this one has the traditional verse along with playful and bright illustrations.

The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas - our favourite version of the Christmas story, hands down. Beautifully illustrated, with some gentle humour.

I Spy Christmas
- okay, this one can't really qualify as "obscure" but it's certainly provided many hours of holiday entertainment at our house.

Happy holiday reading, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Snow Joy!!

We got our first significant snowfall yesterday. Noah and Nathan started doing the "Snow Dance of Happiness" as soon as they saw the flakes starting to come down midafternoon. We walked home from the library enthusiastically catching snowflakes on our tongues. We then ran around the yard grabbing bikes, scooters, and all manner of outdoor items we hadn't quite got around to bringing in the house for the winter yet.

The boys tried to scrounge up enough snow for a snowball fight while they waited for their friends to get home from school. The whole gang then proceeded over to the toboggan hill (a 5 minute walk from our house) and I didn't see Nathan again until after dark. The snow accumulation was not huge but the kids were determined! By the end of the day both boys were rosy cheeked and wet from head to toe, full of sparkly-eyed excitement at the official onset of winter.

I have no photos to mark this occasion because my camera batteries died again. We picked some up last night, but by this morning the sun had come out and melted away most of the snow. I'm sure there will be more soon so I don't think I need to worry too much about getting a good photo op!

With the arrival of the snow I feel the stillness of winter settling in. It's a welcome feeling, as life has been particularly hectic of late. In the space of five weeks (between the end of September and the beginning of November), we celebrate both of the boys' birthdays (involving 2 parties for *each* boy) plus Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween. This mama is looking forward to some quiet days snuggled up under lots of warm blankets, reading books and watching movies together! Of course, it's time to start thinking about Christmas celebrations as well, but I am determined to keep our holiday as peaceful as possible this year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Late Summer Potpourri

A hollyhock in our front garden

So much for life slowing down! We have been incredibly busy since I last posted at the end of August. And yes, it's still technically summer until the equinox tomorrow!

Since I last posted, our family was interviewed and photographed for an article in our local paper. I was not entirely thrilled with it, although it was generally favourable towards unschooling. They left out all the most interesting and relevant stuff I told the reporter!

In the last couple of weeks we have also cheered Nathan on at his end-of-season soccer tournament in the pouring rain, celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary, and attended our local homeschool group's Not Back to School picnic.

The most exciting thing we've done lately is visit our unschooling friends at their farm in Upstate New York. We all had a blast - that includes the dog who seemed totally in his element as a "farm dog" despite his entirely urban existence. We made butter and mozzarella cheese with fresh-from-the-cow milk, and Nathan learned how to pick up a chicken and groom a donkey.

The boys engaged in lots of swimming, gaming, and trampolining!

Aric helps Nathan groom Jenny the Donkey

Kirsten milking her cow Becky

Joe getting to know Rumpus (Marley looks interested, too!)

During this flurry of activity, I have tried to stay on top of the fall garden, whipping up several batches of tomato sauce and wondering what the heck I am going to do with several dozen jalepeno and banana peppers (the only crops in my garden that seems to have really thrived during this cold, wet summer). Suggestions, anyone?

As if all that wasn't enough, yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an Abraham-Hicks workshop in Toronto - what a thrilling experience that was!

Life is so full and so good here and there seems to be a perpetually long list of upcoming events on our calendar!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Olympic Learning and a Pizza Box Solar Oven

Now that the Olympics are over and the outdoor pool is closed for the year, I might actually have some time to blog...

We absolutely love watching the Olympics around here. I am not normally one to watch a lot of sports on TV, but there is something so irresistible about the Olympic spirit. We spent many hours in front of the TV together in the last couple weeks (and I spent a few nights up by myself until 1:30 a.m. to catch the gymnastics competitions!)

It's fun to reflect on all the learning that occurred as we enjoyed all those great Olympic moments. What a perfect, real-life illustration of time zones - the kids were quite fascinated by the fact that when we were watching something on Wednesday night, it was Thursday morning in Beijing! We had our atlas sitting on the coffee table during the entire duration of the Olympics as we were regularly looking up where countries were located. It really amused us to discover that there were a number of countries off the coast of Australia with populations far smaller than our city. Solomon Islands' population (441,000) is very close to that of our city. It's fun to think of our city being an entire country, LOL! The kids picked up quite a few different country's flags during the course of the Olympic coverage, too. We also had lots of great conversations about the rules of different sports, sportsmanship, why Michael Phelps is so much faster than all the other swimmers, and many other things I've already forgotten!

In between all our Olympics-watching, we also found time to build a pizza box solar oven and test it out.

This was a really fun project - I got the instructions from Family Fun magazine. Here's the oven construction in progress.

Testing out the finished product! We measured the internal temperature - it got up to 139 degrees Fahrenheit (59.6 degrees Celsius) in 20 minutes. The air temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

Yum! Melted cheese on crackers - very tasty! The cheese was thoroughly melted after 15 minutes but didn't bubble and spread the way it normally would in the oven. We want to try making s'mores in the solar oven next.

If you want to try this project yourself, the instructions are here.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Where Did July Go???

I am sitting here in that rather fuzzy-headed state I always get into around this time of year when I start hearing all the back-to-school ads (blech) and realize that we're well into August already. Although our standard "schpiel" is that summer doesn't end until Thanksgiving when school is not part of your family life (that would be mid-October here in Canada), there are certain things that will only be around for a couple more weeks this year (like our outdoor community pool and most of my kids' friends). Of course there is plenty to look forward to in the fall - in September alone there's my wedding anniversary, a trip to visit unschooling friends in New York State, an Abraham-Hicks workshop (for me) and Nathan's birthday!!

But I'm still wondering where July went! Lots of lazy afternoons at the pool, a couple of nights a week on the soccer field, a family camping trip, and BAM! There she goes!

We did manage to acquire a new camera in July as well, so I suppose it's about time I posted a photo or two:

Noah and I chilling out on the rocky shores of Awenda Provincial Park (on Georgian Bay)
This is approximately the 3rd photo of us together in Noah's entire lifespan as I am the unofficial family photographer. Okay, there might be upwards of half a dozen, LOL!

We're pretty sure this is a young plainbelly water snake that was slithering along the beach.

We located what is possibly the last teeter-totter left in North America at our lunch rest stop on the way to Awenda.

One Happy Dog!

Noah lounging in the pool at our friends' house!

Nathan reading to Paige (to whom I am unofficial if not biological Auntie)

I guess we did do a few things in July after all :)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Living, Learning and Gaming!

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that both of my boys are passionate about video games. Over the years, I have been amazed at how much their gaming has been an integral part of their learning process. I feel so strongly about the many ways in which gaming has expanded the lives of everyone in our family, that I decided I needed to write a book about it!!

My vision is for the book to include dozens of stories from unschoolers all around the world who have joyfully expanded their lives in a variety of ways through their love of video games. In true unschooling fashion, I'm learning as I go on this whole thing - right now I have no idea how or when it's going to be published, just that I intend to make (um, LET ) it happen!

I am seeking submissions from unschoolers of all ages about how a passion for video games has expanded your (or your child's) world!! Stories can be about skills learned from playing video games, or how playing a certain game acted as a springboard to a new passion and other (non-gaming) living and learning, or any combination thereof.

As this project is in the early stages, there is plenty of time to pull something together if you're interested in submitting a story (or 2 or 3 !!) I'm anticipating that certain themes will emerge that I will structure the book around.

If you are an unschooler with a blog, I would love it if you would link to this post from your blog, or even copy the whole post onto your blog if you feel so inclined :) I also have a Squidoo lens set up that you can link to. Please feel free to forward this information widely among the unschooling community - the more contributors, the merrier!!

As the book approaches its final form, I will contact all submitters to let them know what portion of their story I wish to use and what (if any) personal information (such as name and city/country you live in) they would like included.

If you have any questions about what I'm doing, or are interested in submitting, please contact me at karen_mclaughlin AT cogeco DOT ca.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Summer Fun & Festivities

[No, we still haven't replaced our digital camera - this photo's from last year, but Joe and Noah still look exactly the same!]

This week has been a busy one!

On Sunday, we attended It's Your Festival at Gage Park - the oldest and biggest Canada Day festival in the country! We hung out at the park's splash pad and playground for a while, then had a relaxed picnic dinner while we enjoyed live performances by The Spoons and April Wine.

[Cool fact: the Spoons' keyboardist, Scott MacDonald, happens to be my across-the-street neighbour's brother, and was visiting from China, where he's lived for a few years now. Scott's son was playing in my backyard the afternoon of the show!!]

Tuesday was Canada Day, and therefore two traditional activities were required: strawberry picking (at Lindley's Farm in Ancaster), and fireworks (at Bayfront Park). Joe and I managed to squeeze in solo bike rides as well - I rode 25 km and Joe squeezed out 45!

The Canada Day weather was perfect; sunny and mid-twenties (that's Celsius!) with very little humidity (nearly a miracle in July in southern Ontario). We picked 18 quarts of strawberries in about an hour. The kids got bored of picking after a while, so Noah started investigating the environment a bit more closely and noticed the irrigation pipes. He asked what they were, and we ended up having a rather interesting discussion on farm irrigation systems (we pointed out the farm's irrigation pond on the way back out). Nathan entertained us by making up a story of King Berry and his plot to take over the world (yep, the kid's watched a lot of Pinky and the Brain, LOL!)

We all rode our bikes along the Waterfront Trail to the fireworks display. I was in the lead keeping up with Nathan the speedster. Joe and Noah were quite a distance behind us, and were lucky enough to see one of our local beavers swimming in the Desjardins Canal!

Much of the rest of this week has been spent either wrestling with strawberries or loafing at the community pool (a mere 5 minute walk from our house). I now have 1 1/2 dozen jars of strawberry jam - with any luck these will last us until next year; I only had to buy 1 jar of storebought this year to get us through to the new season! I still have 6 quarts left to hull and freeze, which I should probably be doing right now instead of blogging....

This afternoon, the whole family went for a ride down to Pier 4 Park - we brought a couple of the boys' friends along for the ride, too! We were lucky enough to catch the end of the Dragon Boat Races as we'd been meaning to attend but the event had slipped my mind. The boys played at the splash pad and playground while Joe and I took a stroll around to soak up the Harbourfront atmosphere and relaxed on a bench by the water with our books.

And now, I believe it is time for me to go deal with those strawberries!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day!

I've been far too busy picking (and eating) berries and riding my bike to think about doing a long and involved post, but here are a couple of my favourite Canadian things on the internet, in honour of our country's special day.

Oh Canada
No, this is not an incorrectly spelled link to our national anthem, it's the Yarn Harlot's traditional Canada Day post, devoted to all things Canadian (in a most amusing sort of manner). Take time to link through to previous year's posts if you haven't read them before (maybe even if you have) - they're all great!

I AM CANADIAN - the ultimate classic Molson commercial, required viewing every Canada Day!!

Wishing all my fellow Canucks a fabulous day!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Days are Just Packed

To borrow a title from one of my favourite cartoonists (one of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes collections), the days have felt completely jammed full lately - thus a lack of recent updates here!

Aside from all the laundry, cooking and eating (all of which seem to have increased exponentially of late) here are a few of the things we've been up to:

Water: The boys spent the entire month of June playing with water - water gun and water balloon fights, swimming in the neighbour's pool, squirting the hose at each other, and generally remaining as wet as possible for the majority of their waking hours! The neighbourhood pool and splash pad opened last week, so I don't expect to see them fully dried off until September :)

Nursing languishing electronics: It seems that our house has turned into a graveyard for electronic thingamajigs in varying states of repair. We now have four (yes, four) printers of dubious vintage and degrees of functioning taking up space (I am still determined to get one of them to work - cross your fingers for me!) Anyone know what's the best way to dispose of dead printers?? Our digital camera also bit the dust recently (so expect a dearth of photos here for a while). Luckily, it seems we will at least be able to trade this in locally and get a portable CD player for the van (to replace the one that got stolen last summer). Joe has also been trying to revive a TV he dragged home for free - not sure how that one's going to end yet!

Learning piano: Our one successful revival thus far, we finally have our music keyboard functional again. We just got it up and running yesterday, and all four of us have been clamoring around, eagerly awaiting our turn tickling the (non) ivories. I haven't played in over a decade now (I can't BELIEVE it's been that long!) but so far I've managed to bang out a half-decent Ode to Joy and stumble along with Edelweiss. I'm looking forward to spending some regular time playing - I was never a natural by any means; I have to practice, practice, practice on even the basic stuff. Nathan is already gracing us with his own spontaneous compositions!

Writing (other places than here!): I've been devoting what little blogging time I've had lately to my cooking blog, The Speeding Kitchen, which I hope to expand on in a few directions. I've also got some other (offline) writing projects going - more news about that soon!

Playing with EFT: I've known about EFT for a while, but never really delved into it further, or learned how to do it. In the last couple of weeks, I've spent a lot of time reading about EFT, watching YouTube videos, and tapping like a fiend. So far, I am very excited about this process and think everyone should know how to do this!!

Now we are gearing up for some Canada Day celebrations, lots of fun things planned over the next couple of days, so I should have plenty to report by July 2nd!!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Yard Sale Booty!!

[SPOILER ALERT: If you or someone you are related to is on my gift list, please don't read this post, you might ruin a surprise or two!!!]

I am a die-hard yard sale shopper. Every spring I wait impatiently for the fun to start again. I've been out almost every Saturday morning for the last 4 or 5 weeks now, and I'll be going until the end of September - then the fall church rummage sales will begin, to keep me going for another month or so.

I love the "thrill of the hunt" - you never know what great bargains you might find. I have a knack for finding the exact things we need, when we need them. This season, I've already replaced our languishing drinking glass collection with an entire set of gorgeous matching glasses (identical to the kind I had in mind!) and found a replacement winter jacket and snow pants for Noah for next winter, along with quite a lot of other great stuff.

It seems every week ends up having a bit of a theme to it, and this week it was "books and stationery week".

Yesterday's haul included:
-2 unopened boxes of Christmas cards (cute ones that I really like!)
-4 brand new, still in the package fancy greeting cards (2 are new baby cards and I need those right now!)
-BRAND NEW copies of Eat*Pray*Love and Rodney Yee's Yoga: Poetry of the Body
-2 like-new condition children's books (one hardcover)
- a felt story board with 2 sets of felt figures
[these last 2 items are for a certain toddler's birthday and Christmas gifts]
-a set of plastic dishes (to replace our really old and beat up camping set!)
-a set of "magic boxer shorts" (add water and watch them grow!) for Joe's Christmas stocking

I estimate this lovely collection of items would have cost me $125 at retail prices. My yard sale total? $16.00

Have I mentioned that I love yard sales??

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Simple Pleasures of City Living

While much has been written about the simple pleasures of living in the country, I'm not sure enough has been written about the simply joys of city living! We haven't done anything "big and exciting" lately, we've just been sharing lots of those small but enjoyable moments that make life so worthwhile.

I never expected to end up living in a city of a half a million people, but I've been here over 15 years now and love it. While we live in the city proper (not a suburb), the neighbourhood we live in (about 16,000 people) has a really small-town feel to it, despite the fact that it's only a five minute drive or 30 minute walk to the downtown.

Our neighbourhood was one of the first "planned communities" in Canada, which means it's extremely walkable. I do most of my day-to-day errands on foot, which means I often end up stopping to chat with a neighbour or two, or even one of the library staff, who know all the members of my family on a first name basis!

Nathan has started soccer for the season, and the soccer field's a 10 minute walk from our house, at the large community park. Along the way are all manner of flowering shrubs and trees (they planted over 150 new trees in the park last year alone!) and it's just such a beautiful community space I feel blessed to live so close by.

And then there's our front porch, which we lovingly refer to as our "summer living room". I can (and do!) spend hours out there, reading, knitting, drinking coffee (iced, if the temperature climbs too high), playing backgammon and Uno with the kids, and generally whiling away a hot summer afternoon. It's also the place we sit and eat ice cream when we get back from our daily afternoon swim (another great bonus - our community pool's a five minute walk from our house!)

The street we live on is located adjacent to two major bike routes (one of which is the Waterfront Trail, which is also popular with walkers, runners and Rollerbladers) so a lot of that "traffic" ends up going down our street. It's all part of the fun of porch-sitting to watch the community roll right by our doorstep (and often, someone we know will be going by and stop for a chat!)

I also spend a lot of my porch-time just watching the kids play - there are about 20 kids on the block, and they are out on the street playing until after dark every night now that it's nearly summer. Sometimes scooters and bikes go flying down the sidewalk, often there's a street-wide game of hide-and-seek going on, or there could be some sidewalk-chalk street art being created.

You never know what might happen next around here - a few nights ago I poked my head out the front door to see what the boys were up to, and found them talking to a cockatiel named Gonzo!! His owner lives around the corner from us and had brought the bird out to enjoy the gorgeous early-evening weather.

I can't imagine not being a part of this thriving, friendly, family-loving, diverse community and all the daily blessings, large and small, that go along with it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Toronto Unschooling Conference 2008

Whew! We've been so busy lately that I hadn't even realized it's been two entire weeks since I've posted here. Last week flew by as we were preparing to attend this year's Toronto Unschooling Conference this past weekend. I finally feel recovered enough today to get back to my normal activities like blogging and catching up with laundry!

While words can never convey the intensity of an experience like an unschooling conference, I will share with you some of the highlights for our family:

The fun actually began Thursday night with a pre-conference ball game at the Roger's Centre (which I still prefer to call the Skydome, thank you very much!) Anne O., Nicole P., and their families joined us to watch the Blue Jays take on the Tampa Bay Rays. Little did we know the game would go 13 innings! We ended up leaving in the middle of the 12th as the boys had had their fill of baseball (final score: 8 to 3 for Tampa Bay - 5 run inning in the 13th!!)

[Note: although the conference officially began on Friday evening, we drove down early Saturday morning, so I have no idea what transpired on Friday, but I'm sure it was fun!]

Our day started bright and early at 6:20 a.m. on Saturday as we sprang out of bed to race to Orangeville by 9 a.m. (that's a joke, BTW - NO ONE around here springs out of bed at 6:20 a.m., even for something as fun as an unschooling conference!)

We had a smooth and uneventful drive there, and, rather miraculously, strolled into the lobby of Hockley Valley Resort shortly before nine o'clock. Wonder of wonders, I managed to make it to my friend Anne Ohman's 9:15 talk with a few minutes to spare! While I was reuniting with a few of my friends from the Shine With Unschooling list, Joe and the boys were downstairs setting up our gaming equipment in the designated Gaming Room. The boys were in heaven - a room full of Unschooling Gamers to play with all day! That is where they spent most of the day Saturday, with a short break at lunch for a swim (I hung out in the hot tub, of course!)

I attended 3 of the 4 major talks at the conference (Anne's, Carlo's, and Francette's) and all of the speakers were great. They each brought their own special perspective on the world of unschooling. In between speakers, I had the opportunity to chat to a bunch of the other conference attendees. After Anne's talk, I went to speak to a man who had asked some questions about starting to unschool his seven-year-old son. I found out he was from Hamilton, and lives about 2 km from me! I suspect we may be seeing more of each other...

After sitting for so much of the day, I was ready to move around, so I headed to the Belly Dancing Funshop. I've never tried belly dancing before, so this was a bit of an adventure! The class was well-taught and I enjoyed myself (even if I was a bit slow to get the hang of it). I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out there is more belly dancing in my future...

Joe's not exactly the belly dancing type [grin] so he decided to head to the Guitar Funshop instead. He quite enjoyed himself, and got some helpful input from my lovely friend Marji, the Guitar Goddess.

I took the boys swimming again while Joe went in search of dinner in town. We ended up with just enough time to eat before the talent show started up. The talent show is always one of the best parts of an unschooling conference, and this one was no exception. I didn't get to see all of it, as I was bouncing between that and the movie room where the boys were hanging out. There was lots of singing and guitar playing, a magic act, dancing, and martial arts (including a performance by Joe, Mr. Black Belt!)

After the talent show, Joe spent the rest of the evening jamming with other guitarists. I alternated between listening to them, and keeping an eye on the boys, who were hanging out with their new buddies.

Sunday morning, I attended one-and-a-half roundtable talks (didn't quite make it to the beginning of the first one!) while Joe and the boys packed up our room. After lunch (picnic in the minivan!) we went on a 2 hour guided nature hike of the Bruce Trail. There was one section of the trail that was positively blanketed with trilliums (Ontario's flower) - we even got to see a few of the much rarer red trilliums. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the van, so no flower photos!

Once the hike was over, we were all exhausted and ready to head for home. It was a jam-packed weekend of unschooling fun, but we were ready for a bit of down time!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Teeth, Tegus and Tasty Treats

View from the upper level of the Hamilton Farmer's Market

Yesterday was a busy day! I was far too worn out to write a blog post until now :)

We started our day MUCH earlier than usual. I was up at 6:30 a.m. to ensure that the boys and I were ready to leave the house by 7:30. We were aiming to catch a 7:39 bus since we were due downtown at 8 a.m. for an appointment at the Canadian Institute of Dental Hygiene. The graduating students are required to do a certain number of teeth cleanings independently (I think it's 20) and they do the cleanings for free (with a *very* small annual fee). Since we don't have dental coverage right now, we decided to check it out. The appointment was very long (4 hrs!) but the students were excellent with the boys. The examinations were incredibly thorough, and we all learned a lot more about Noah and Nathan's mouths than we ever had before at a regular dental appointment. I was surprised that Noah still had several baby teeth left (they showed me where they all were). I thought he had maybe one or two left. Nathan had fun taking rides in the dental chair and answering math problems (one of the student hygienists was working overtime to keep him entertained!)

Despite the great care we received, we were all pretty relieved when it was time to go (4 hours is a really long time!!) After a quick snack, our next stop was the Reptile Store just a few blocks down the street. They have many different kinds of reptiles there, including some very large critters that are "show animals" (used for their reptile shows) and not for sale. We visit fairly often, since we need to buy food and supplies for Spark (our Bearded Dragon). Most of these animals (including a gigantic Tegu) feel like old friends to us now! They had some month-old Beardie babies this time and it was fascinating to see how small they were as we're used to the size of our full-grown lizard.

From the reptile store we hopped on a bus down to Jackson Square to hit the Farmer's Market for some lunch. We feasted on chicken-and-vegetable samosas and jalaybee (also spelled jalebi), as well as M&M chocolate chip cookies. It was the first time the boys tried jalaybee; Noah didn't like it but Nathan enjoyed his first taste enough to ask for more. I find it extremely sweet, although that's not necessarily a bad thing after a spicy samosa!

After all that activity, we were ready to head home and relax for the rest of the afternoon - I needed a nap after getting up that early and the boys chilled out with the Ratchet and Clank game a friend lent them.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A-Hikin' and A-Fishin' We Go!

Nathan in his natural habitat

Hunting for frogs

We found one! There were many other smaller frogs hopping into the water as we walked along the bank of the stream.

We have spent a lot of this week outdoors, enjoying the glorious, unseasonably warm weather! On Tuesday we spent the afternoon hiking in the woods (the dog enjoyed himself at least as much as anyone else!) We did one of our typical hikes in Cootes Paradise, along the Ravine Road and Caleb's Walk trails. Along with the frogs, we spotted two garter snakes.

Time for a dip in the creek? Maybe not...

Noah about to take a flying leap off a giant log!

Reclining at leisure in the log chairs! Marley's waiting for Noah to throw that stick :)

Noah does his tightrope act

Wednesday afternoon we went fishing off the Waterfront Trail with our unschooling friends. We didn't catch anything, but I did take a dramatic tumble off an unstable log into the shallow water! Since we were already nearby, we took the opportunity to watch them lift fish out of the Fishway. The staff there are pretty cool about letting us get a good look at the various species of fish they release back into the marsh (Cootes Paradise). I tried really hard to remember all the different fish; we saw channel catfish, white suckers, carp, largemouth bass, a brown bullhead, shad, and a brown trout. There were probably a couple of others that I forgot as well.

We are so blessed to have so many fun things to do outdoors, right in our own neighbourhood!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Our Indoor Rock Climbing Adventure

Yesterday we went to Gravity Climbing Gym with a group of local homeschoolers. This was the first time I had tried out a climbing wall - the boys had a little experience from trying it out at a local festival last year. I was excited before we left, but once I got there and saw how high the walls were I started to have second thoughts!

After watching the boys both climb up right to the top of one of the beginner walls, I decided to give it a shot. I was pretty nervous, but part way up I started to enjoy it and got all the way to the top. Once I got that first climb over with, I was feeling much more enthusiastic and ready for more! The boys both really took to it. Noah surprised me by climbing all the way to the top of one of the walls I had found pretty challenging. He said "I was really sweating up there mom, but I decided I could do it, and I did!" YAY Noah!

I lost count of how many walls the boys climbed through the course of the afternoon. I went up three fairly easy walls, and two that were tough enough that I wasn't sure I was going to make it all the way to the top once I was part way up (but I DID IT!) I also tried out two other more challenging walls that I knew I wasn't going to get to the top of, but I wanted to see how far I could go. The staff were really helpful and coached me on the way up. At one point I slipped right off the wall about 25 or 30 feet up - that was a bit scary the first time it happened but it's actually kind of fun hanging from the harness! I gave that wall a couple more tries but kept getting stuck at the same spot.

We will definitely be going back for another climbing adventure, which is a good thing since I forgot my camera (yes, again!) This time it was a case of group camnesia as every single one of us parents had forgotten our camera (and my cell phone, which has a camera, had dead batteries!)

The best I can do right now is a shot of what my left knee looks like the day after:

Note the bruises, scratches, scrapes and general beat up look :) While my knee shows the only visible effects of yesterday's adventure, I'm surprised at how much my entire body aches! I am pretty active (cycling, yoga, strength training, walking, hiking, and assorted other random physical pursuits) but climbing seems to use just about every muscle in your entire body. My hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, triceps, hamstrings, quads, glutes, lats, and core muscles are all feeling abused today (I kind of feel like I went tumbling off the side of a cliff, lol!) The kids aren't feeling it at all, of course! Despite the discomfort, I definitely want to give those tricky walls another shot, and I know the kids are game for more.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Making a Thaumatrope

We finally got around to making a thaumatrope!! Since the weather has been so much nicer lately, we haven't been doing too many indoor activities. Yesterday was cold and rainy, so it was the perfect time to break out our animation books and try this out.


It doesn't take long to make one of these simple animation devices. The most creative part of the process is deciding on the images you want to use.

This is the design Nathan came up with:

When you spin the thaumatrope, the two images appear to combine together into one. This happens because of the phenomenon of Persistence of Vision.

I think we'll likely be creating a few different thaumatrope designs! If you'd like to give it a try, too, there are instructions here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Honouring Our Children's Learning Styles

One of the many benefits of unschooling is that we trust that our children know what they need to learn best. This is a real blessing when your child happens to have a learning style that is not well understood! Both of my boys are extremely visual spatial (which fascinates me because I am most definitely NOT!) Their brains work in an entirely different way than mine does, and I'm glad that I have taken the time to understand their learning style. Since the first thing *I* do when I want to learn something new is read a book (or 5...) about it, it's really helpful for me to know that usually that is not what my boys need or want to do!

A visual spatial learner in action!

I have made a new lens on Squidoo called Celebrating Visual Spatial Learners for those who would like to know more about how VSLs learn best.

Reading maps comes more naturally to VSLs than reading books.
Eight-year-old Nathan drew this one.

Visual spatial learners are known for their high degree of creativity (and the general level of messiness that goes along with it-they are also known for being disorganized, lol!) It is exciting to watch their vivid imagination come to life in all their creations. Being the mom of two VSLs has definitely been a world-expanding experience for me!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Announcement Time!

I've spent a lot of time at the computer over the past couple of days, pulling together a few things I've been working on for a while.

My BIG announcement is my new blog, The Speeding Kitchen, which is finally ready for viewing. If you're interested in tips, strategies and recipes for getting tasty, inexpensive meals on the table quickly, this is the blog for you! Please come check it out and leave me plenty of comments and suggestions. Remember, it's just getting started, so there is not a lot of content there yet, but be patient. I plan to blog there several times a week, so there will be lots of great stuff there soon.

I have also started a couple of lenses on Squidoo: The Speeding Kitchen and Raising Boys. Please come by and check them out. If you like what you see, please make sure to rate them! Feel free to make suggestions for additional content you would like to see there, too. If you are a fellow Squidoo lensmaster, please consider adding my lenses to your lensroll. And let me know about your lenses too - I'd love to check them out!

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Under Construction"

That seems to be the theme of the past week or so around here! Noah and Nathan have been busily building forts of many varieties: kid-sized forts out on the porch, and stuffed-animal-sized forts on the living room coffee table. There's been quite a lot of Lego construction going on as well. I have also been working on some "construction" of my own - I'm not ready to share yet, but I will be unveiling my project very soon.

Yes, I pictures AGAIN! We got new camera batteries today (at long last - don't ask me what was up with that!) so I promise my next post will contain some photos!

What else have we been up to in the last week or so?

-Watching movies (Surf's Up, Next, Gremlins, School of Rock)
-Going swimming at one of the community pools
-A trip to the SPCA (it's so hard not to bring home a new dog every time, lol!)
-Random experiments with Dr. Dreadful's Drink Lab
-lots of playing outside!
-reading Commander Toad books
-playing with Spark, our beardie, who has now fully awakened from his winter brumation many other things I've already forgotten!

Ive also been furiously trying to catch up on the events of Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica by reading the plot summaries on Wikipedia. Season 4 starts tonight and we haven't managed to watch Season 3 yet! Joe and I have been eagerly anticipating the fourth (and final) season - only an hour and a half to go until it starts!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring Has Sprung!

Signs of spring have officially arrived! The sun was out today melting away what's left of the snow, and the air finally had a delicious springlike quality to it. The boys were out until after the sun set, playing with friends on the street. It was light out until well past 7:30 p.m. And when I went out for my hour-long exercise walk, I didn't have to bundle up in mitts, hat and parka - hurray! While I was out walking I saw about a dozen robins, and I also spotted a large number of an unfamiliar-to-me waterfowl while on the Waterfront Trail. Turns out they're Common Goldeneye. Considering as how I don't recall seeing any before, there sure were a lot of them around!

Welcome Spring!!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

98 Seconds on YouTube Leads to Hours of Fun and Learning

We watched this video on YouTube last night. Actually, we ended up watching it several times because the boys found it so amusing. We had some interesting discussion about cat behaviour (our Jessie cat could have starred in that video!)

I happened to mention to Nathan that he could use his lightbox (a birthday gift from several months ago) to help make some basic line drawing animation like that used in the video. The boys ended up breaking out the lightbox and spending several hours last night and this morning working on creating crazy characters with the lightbox and the drawing templates that came with it.

Noah and Nathan also did a live performance of the video last night for me! Noah was Simon and Nathan was the cat. They really nailed the whole thing, and remembered almost all of the little details. Of course Nathan totally had the cat's attitude right down, too.

Nathan is now interested in learning more about how to do line-drawing style animation so I have been spending some time tracking down appropriate resources on the internet today. So far, these look like two promising sites to get us started:


We will probably try our hand at making a simple thaumatrope later today. I have found a couple of good books at the library to help us get started with some basic animation as well.

It still amazes me sometimes how one simple thing can spark the boys' imagination and interest and they're just off and running with a world of new things to explore. That is truly unschooling at its finest!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March Break Mayhem

You wouldn't think March Break would be all that relevant to our lives, since the kids don't go to school. But since all the other kids are off school for a week, it definitely has an impact! Places we can normally go to during the day and find it relatively calm and quiet are now packed to the gills with overexcited children. I usually plan to avoid most of the "hot spots" during this week, as it's just too overwhelming, and we can go anytime we want.

We did venture out to a couple of the library's March Break programs, both of which the boys really enjoyed (and the mayhem factor wasn't TOO bad). On Tuesday afternoon, it was a Wii Bowling tournament. Although Noah and Nathan have had the opportunity to play games on the Wii on a few occasions, this was the first time they had tried the bowling. Nathan devised an interesting strategy for getting strikes that was a bit counterintuitive, but it worked! Yesterday, it was the Mac Fireballs, a group of students from McMaster University, doing loud, explosive chemistry experiments. The boys came out of that one all excited and impressed with the "BOOMS" they got to experience!

There is still a lot of snow here, and the enthusiasm for it is definitely dwindling. The boys are still hitting the toboggan hill with their friends, but not as often or for as long as they would earlier in the season. I think there may be a neighbourhood snowball fight going on as I type, though. I am enjoying hot beverages and warm blankets as I start to think about plans for this year's garden and wait for the arrival of spring (I know it has to show up sometime soon!)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We Know How to Rock in the Hammer!

One of the biggest shows ever hit our city Monday night - none other than Bruce Springsteen! We were fortunate enough to get tickets and man, were they worth every penny. This was our first time seeing The Boss, and I sure hope it wasn't our last!

Judging from the reviews of the show, this was one of his absolute best, rating right up there with the legendary Boston '99 show: "Badlands" has become the standard song before the encore break. Except the crowd wouldn't allow the break, even though the band was lined up taking bows. The hypnotic rolling roar of "whoa-whoa-whoa" continued, louder and louder, until Bruce started his guitar going again and motioned everyone back to their instruments. This so-called "Boston ending" coda, which began as Bruce's way to thank the legendary 1999 Boston crowds' vocal calisthenics, was earned this night by a crowd that would not have been out of place in Boston (still the gold standard for North American audiences) then or now." Springsteen decided to slip another song (Dancing in the Dark) into the encore set list to reward our enthusiasm. Another reviewer reports, "this was "possibly the best audience in North America for the Magic tour -- including Boston shows," one regular concertgoer reports. The sold-out 19,000 seater still had an intimate atmosphere, and in a chillingly perfect moment, Bruce stepped back as the whole place became a choir on the second line of 'The River.'"

All I know is that was one of the most incredible shows I've ever seen. Rock on!

Friday, February 29, 2008

An Unschooling Moment inTime

When people find out we are unschoolers, they often wonder exactly what it is we do all day. That's a hard question to answer, as every day is different. Some days we have more structured experiences (like attending a class or field trip), but much of the time we are just living in the moment and flowing from one discussion or activity to the next. Here is a moment in our lives from yesterday afternoon:

When: 2:10 p.m. on a frigid (-10 degrees Celsius!) but sunny Thursday in February 2008
Where: Living Room of McLaughlin Manor
Who: Karen, Noah (10) and Nathan (8)
What: Iggy Arbuckle is playing on the TV, the Juno soundtrack is blaring, Nathan is on the couch playing his DS (still in his pajamas, as is Noah). I'm helping Noah play with the Geosafari Laptop our neighbour gave us this past weekend and reading snippets from half a dozen different books I hauled home from the library earlier today. We're all working intermittently but with great zeal on a poster size Pokemon puzzle.
How: Loud (very loud!) and silly
Now, maybe nothing about that moment seems especially noteworthy to the casual observer. But I can tell you, there was definitely a lot of learning going on at several different levels. It just so happens that what it looks like from the outside is a family having a joyful, carefree time together. Half an hour earlier or later, and the scene would have shifted to something else. But the undercurrent of living and learning in joy and freedom while enjoying each other's company is what runs through ALL of our days together.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Cure For the February Blahs

February is usually one of those months that seems like it's never going to end (despite the fact that it's always the shortest month, even when -like this year- it's a leap year). This has been a particularly challenging year, though, due to the persistent sub-zero Celsius temperatures and the regular delivery of more snow. Needless to say, we've had a bit of cabin fever lately!

That's why yesterday was such a glorious gift. No, it wasn't suddenly beach weather, but it was definitely bright and sunny. Joe cooked up a batch of waffles, and we sat in our cheery, sun-filled dining room and enjoyed the waffles with homemade syrup and hot coffee. We then headed down to Princess Point for a family ice skate. I'm embarrassed to say that we've lived in Hamilton for over 15 yrs (and in our current neighbourhood, within walking distance of Princess Point, for over 10) and this is the first time we've skated there in the winter. Now I'm wondering what took us so long to get around to it! Unfortunately, I was suffering from "camnesia" (forgot the camera AGAIN!) but we had a fantastic time.

It's interesting to see what a different perspective you get of the area when you're skating around on what is usually marsh. The views are quite different than when you're on shore. There were several games of shinny going on, and Joe joined in on one for a while. The boys and I skated out towards the Carp Barrier. It was fun to take a look at it from the other side. While we were way out in the middle of the marsh, I noticed what at first appeared to be a very large dog walking along the adjacent Waterfront Trail. As I turned to get a closer look, I realized it was a horse pulling a small sleigh along! That's definitely something you don't see around here every day. There were many other families out there enjoying the beautiful late-winter weather, too. In Canada, we know that if you can't beat the weather, you might as well join it!

After we were all skated out, we came home for leftover pizza (and more coffee for the grownups). We had a nice family laze-around for the rest of the afternoon, then after a leisurely dinner, Joe headed out for his usual Sunday night hockey game, and I watched the Oscars while the boys amused themselves with Legos and DS's (Nathan joined me for the final 45 min or so of Oscar excitement).

All in all, it was one of those days you wish could go on forever.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Circus School!

Yesterday I took the boys to Zacada Circus School for the afternoon. This was a group outing with a bunch of other local homeschoolers. I had no idea this place existed before the trip was posted to our local homeschooling list. We were so excited to go check it out!

The boys had a blast! They got to walk a tightrope, swing on a trapeze, jump on a big trampoline, and do some cool stuff with these large fabric "ribbons" they had hanging from the ceiling. I really wanted to try it out myself (they do have adult and family classes, so we may be back!)

Unfortunately, my camera batteries died so no pics :( I think I would have had trouble getting good shots of my guys in that setting anyway, but it's a bit of a bummer that I wasn't able to at least give it a shot. If we go back I will definitely check the camera batteries well in advance!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Telling Stories with Lego

Both of my boys are very much visual-spatial learners. That means that they don't tend to gravitate towards reading or being read to all that often. They still enjoy a rich sense of storytelling through watching movies and TV, and creating their own fantasy worlds.

Building with Lego is something they have both been doing for many years. Their designs have become increasingly complex, and lately have expanded into very detailed sets for fantasy play and story telling.

This is one of Nathan's latest creations, inspired by his experiences playing Runescape. He also made a great Indiana Jones-inspired set the other day (unfortunately it got "loved to death" before I thought to snap a pic). I thought the set he created was actually much more detailed than the "official" Indiana Jones Lego that's just been released. He designed the whole boulder-chasing-Indie scene, along with the plane escape scene, and I thought it was extremely inspired( I should add that he's only seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom once apiece, so I'm also incredibly impressed with his memory!) Even though I've been watching my boys build and create with Lego for most of their lifes, I am continually in awe of their creativity and attention to detail as they execute their designs. They also demonstrate a great deal of patience and planning as their more complex designs can take several days to complete.

I enjoy sharing their excitement when they unveil their newest creation. Their vision is usually pretty sophisticated, and their Lego worlds give me a window into their rich imaginations.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our Family "Cold Comfort Kit"

While everyone in our house is blessed with exceptionally good health, we are still occasionally felled by the odd cold virus. I prefer to avoid using over-the-counter type cold remedies for a variety of reasons (including the fact that they're fairly expensive and they make me feel weird). I have found a few gentle low tech/natural remedies keep us quite comfortable while we're on the mend. Here is what I keep on hand for soothing a raging cold:

-a big box of tissues with lotion (these are pricey; I keep them squirreled away so they only make an appearance when they're really needed- the last box lasted me at least 2 yrs!)

-hard candies with vitamin C to help sooth sore throats

-a hot water bottle

-eucalyptus essential oil for steam inhalations (see below for instructions)

-epsom salts (add to a hot bath to ease muscle aches and soreness)

-thyme and honey for homemade cough syrup (recipe below)

Usually, these simple solutions, combined with lots of hot tea and soup (and lots of napping under warm blankets) are enough to see us through a typical cold without feeling too miserable.

Eucalypus Oil Steam Inhalation (to relieve nasal and sinus congestion)
Boil about a litre (4 cups) of water and carefully pour into a heat-proof bowl (such as Pyrex). Add about 6 drops of eucalyptus essential oil to the water. Drape a large towel over your head to form a tent and carefully lean over the bowl, keeping a few inches away from the water. Stay under the towel for as long as is comfortable, taking short breaks if necessary. Aim for 10-15 minutes or so total.

Thyme and Honey Cough Syrup
I have found this to be more effective than over-the-counter cough syrups. Honey should not be given to children under the age of one.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water and 1 tbsp dried thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn off heat. Let steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain the liquid into a jar (I use a small canning jar) and add 1/4 cup honey. Stir until honey is completely dissolved. Take 1 tbsp as needed.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lentils to the Rescue!

I'm finally back from my holiday blog-break. Now that the new year is underway, it's pretty likely that either your budget or your body is trying to recover from the excesses of the holiday season. Fortunately, since lentils are both cheap and nutritious, they can help out on both counts. Here are a couple of my favourite quick and easy lentil recipes - you can have either of them on the table in less than 1/2 an hour! Both of these dishes are great paired with your favourite cornbread recipe.

Sausage and Lentil Stew
This is a great way to stretch 2 sausages to feed four people It's still plenty filling and hearty because of the lentils.

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
1 cup red lentils
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 Oktoberfest style sausages, cooked and chopped (I use a Bavarian-style turkey sausage)
1 tbsp Braggs or Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large saucepan, saute onions and garlic in oil until tender. Add celery and carrots and cook until they start to soften. Add lentils and broth. Cook for 10 minutes (until lentils are nearly soft) then add tomatoes, sausage, Braggs and parsley. Simmer over medium heat until carrots are tender, adding water if needed to keep stew from drying out. Serves 4.

Quick Lentil Soup
The ingredients for this are very similar to the stew, but the lemon and spices give it a bit of a different flavour. You could add some leftover diced meat to this if you want to make it a bit more robust. Extra leftover vegetables make a nice addition as well!

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried red lentils
1 tsp cumin
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large saucepan, saute garlic and onions until tender. Add carrots and cook until they start to soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook until lentils are soft. Serves 4.