Monday, December 29, 2014

new addiction

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you already know that I've developed a bit of an addiction to sewing. After my first and second sewing projects, I made curtains for the kids' room this past August. And a bag made out of old wool blazers.

Then I discovered the Charley Harper fabrics come in a knit. I usually try to get my kids new pyjamas every year for Christmas Eve, but last year I couldn't find any decent ones. I hate putting my kids to sleep in polyester drenched with flame retardant. Anyways, when I saw the Charley Harper knits, I wondered if I could make my kids' pyjamas this year. It was a lot of work, especially because I wanted to surprise them with it, so I had to wait until they were in bed every night. And it was a major learning experience: I really felt like the pants and the curtains were beginner's luck, as this time I had needles break and tension problems and I lost screws and various other challenges. But I did it, with two days to spare.

And they loved them more than I could have imagined. I really didn't think they'd be that excited but they were. When Youngest woke up on Christmas morning, one of the first things he said, as he looked down at his new pyjama shirt, was, "This shirt has a lot of love in it."

I also wanted to make things for my nieces and nephews, but I ran out of time in a serious way. And now Eldest's birthday is just six weeks away and I have a ton of things I want to sew for him. No rest for the wicked I guess.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I’ve been wanting to celebrate winter solstice for years now. But every year it seems to sneak up on me and suddenly it’s the day and I’ve given no thought to what, specifically, I want to do. Last year we ate dinner by candlelight but I wanted something more intentional.

This year, we are lucky to have people in our lives who already celebrate solstice. We were invited to two different solstice parties weeks ahead of time, so the day didn’t sneak up on me. However, last week I realized we had a major conflict. My dad’s side of the family, which has been prevented from getting together at Christmas for the last several years by bad weather, was having its annual gathering a couple of hours away from our home; for once the forecast was totally clear, so we had to go. Eldest, who had made arrangements with the host of one of the solstice parties to light the solstice fire, was disappointed when we discovered the conflict.

As we were preparing to head off, though, I thought about where we were going. My uncle lives in the country with ponds and woods behind his house. Surely he would have an outdoor firepit and we could at least light a fire, even if it was short. And we did.

It took much longer to light (Eldest hadn’t brought enough milkweed fluff and we didn’t have a good bridge from the milkweed to the kindling at first, so we had to forage a bit), and by the time we had a fire going, it was dark. The timing turned out more perfectly than we could have planned. So we enjoyed the fire in the dark for an hour or so before dinner was ready and then we feasted indoors.

It was lovely. I would have liked to burn a paper with my wishes or intentions for the next year, but it was lovely as it was.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Home Grown

I thoroughly enjoyed Ben Hewitt's latest book, Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World. It's a meandering kind of book, at times almost magical. Each chapter is followed by a different sort of piece, a meditation I guess? They're like a reflection or experience that crystallizes the rightness of all Hewitt's decisions that got him to the place (literally and figuratively) where he is today.

For a while it seemed to me that the book wasn't really very much about his kids' education. It was at least as much about Ben's own education and ideas and experience. But about a third of the way in, I realized, that IS unschooling. It's a whole family living, in the place and time they're in, with parents reflecting critically on their own experiences and using that reflection to support their kids' lives and interests.

Much has been made about the external facts of his kids' education. How they're out in nature so much, developing survival skills like hunting and trapping and tanning and basket-weaving; and Hewitt himself puts a lot of emphasis on the impact of their place in Vermont on his family. But a lot of the story seems familiar to me, if you remove the details of what specifically the kids are engaged in. When parents pay attention to their kids' interests and give them the time to go deep in them, the kids go deep. And in so doing, the parents' assumptions or beliefs are challenged in a serious way. For Ben and Penny, it was how much their young children wanted to kill wild animals, whether by bow or by trap, and their use of knives and guns.

From some of the comments I've seen online about the book and his related Outside piece, I think a lot of people (non-unschoolers?) who have read about the Hewitt family are conflating unschooling with the particulars of his family (which are beautiful). But in other families and in other environments, unschooling can look quite different. That said, I think unschooling always involves a critical view of the status quo of most or all of our society's institutions. Once you start questioning the value of school, it spreads to everything else. Or, once you start questioning another societal institution (for me it was industrial food and conventional medicine), it can easily spread to school.

All in all, I heartily recommend Home Grown to anyone interested in alternative education or kids in nature, or for that matter any kind of DIY stuff. It's just a great book. Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the book:

p 25 "They are big and graceful trees, overseers of decades and generations, and I cannot help thinking of all the cows that have loafed in their shade. […] And every year, they give their sap. Am I honouring or exploiting them by accepting this gift? Strange how it can sometimes seem as if there's not much difference between the two."

p 73 "Penny and I believe in presence, not praise. We are here to support and facilitate, but not to cajole and manipulate, through either threat or incentive. The boys' unhampered curiosity is incentive enough. The learning is its own reward.

"Can the same be said of schooled learning? Of course it can. Loving to learn and being compelled to learn from a prescribed curriculum are not mutually exclusive. But there is little question that the overwhelming majority of institutionalized learning occurs in isolation from the tangible realities of place and form, of how the world feels and looks, tastes and smells and sounds. I believe it is crucial for children to learn in ways that are not held in isolation, that involve the body as well as the mind, and that result in something real and tangible. Even better, something of service: a shelter where once there was none; food in a freezer that was previously empty; or even just a piece of clothing mended by their own hands. Interestingly, this is precisely the sort of learning that is rapidly disappearing from public education in the wake of diminishing budgets and immersion in the abstraction of technology."

p 104 "It has always bothered me to see how some parents chase their children away from productive jobs. I have seen it many times, and while I understand the impulse, I have little empathy for the shortsightedness of it, because the truth is that long before they are capable of truly helping, kids desperately want to contribute.

"Like all of us, children just want to be needed. It's our job to make sure they actually are."

p106 "Sometimes the greatest blessings come disguised as inconveniences."

p137 "In hindsight, I see now that our boys had done precisely what children will do: they'd surprised us, an din full candour, we struggled for a time with not being disappointed by this surprise. Where had their passion for hunting and trapping come from? Not from Penny and me. Not from their grandparents, or the parents of friends. We knew people who hunted and trapped, but most of these people were on the periphery of our lives. They were not part of our immediate culture, and we were fine with that. From birth, we'd immersed them in nature, expecting this immersion to install in them our particular idea of reverence for the natural world. It was a version of reverence that did not include bows and bullets and pack baskets loaded with traps."

p138 "Still, none of this prepared us for the reality of our children on the land, traps and weapons in hand. None of it prepared us for the possibility of examining our own feelings about such practices. Once again, our children were forcing us to learn and unlearn, to reach outside our comfort zone."

p140 "The role of mentors in our culture seems to have been reduced to programs intended for youth "in need," those unfortunate children whose parents are not fully able to embody healthy, stable role modelling. But of course all children are in need to a certain extent. As present, attentive, and well meaning as Penny and I are, Fin and Rye were in need of someone to guide them through the skills and ethics of trapping. They needed someone to validate their interests and instincts, someone whose words carried the authority of experience and respect. Because let's face it: children don't always consider their parents to be fonts of wisdom, and it was not long before the phrase "Nate says" became a common refrain in our home.
"Mentors are disappearing across the landscape of contemporary childhood learning and development. And how could it be otherwise? Because how many adults even have time to mentor anymore? Furthermore, after school and after-school activities, and after homework, television, and texting, how many children even have time to be mentored?"

p147 "We do not allow our children to learn at home simply so we can learn from them. Such a thing would be selfish. But in allowing them the freedom to learn as they grow, an unanticipated and beautiful thing has happened: We have allowed ourselves the same freedom."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

in my kitchen

This week has been too busy to see a lot of action in my kitchen during daylight hours. But I fell behind a bit on the series, so here are some from the week before.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


"Put simply, the freedom to self-determine how to pass so much of their time has cultivated a certain sense of entitlement in my sons. […] Fin and Rye are enormously particular about how they pass their time. In the absence of school's daily schedule and demands that they must adhere to it, they have come to believe that their time belongs to them, and they are not always eager to deviate from whatever task they've set their minds upon.


"Often, Fin and Rye do what is asked of them willingly, but often they do not, and my anecdotal observations suggest to me that they are uncooperative somewhat more frequently than many of their peers. Some of this, I think, is simply the result of temperament. My sons are fiercely passionate creatures, afflicted by a degree of willfulness that can fray my patience until only a single, slender strand holds it together. In these moments, my patience hanging int he abyss, I find it helpful to remind myself that this did not just happen. Our boys did not just decide to be opinionated and occasionally obstinate. Oh, no. They learned it from us."

Ben Hewitt, Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World

this week in my kitchen

We had a big feast on Monday… Canadian Thanksgiving. This was my first time being responsible for the whole feast, although it was really a trial run, since we only had our wee nuclear family plus one friend to feed. We had a ridiculous amount of food and it was really nice. Since then I've made turkey soup, extra turkey broth, turkey curry and tonight will be a sort of made-up shepherd's pie with (what else?) turkey.

The cranberry sauce rocked, if I do say so myself. I added pear, apple cider, cardamom, garam masala and ginger. I will definitely do that again.

I made a gluten-free version of the Party Plum Cake in More Food That Really Shmecks. Pretty good, although I won't do the crumb topping next time.

Playing along with In My Kitchen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

So this just happened

I've just come home from the farmer's market. My husband and I have been going there every Saturday morning pretty much since we met in 1999. Over those fifteen years, we've watched people's kids grow up, and people have watched our kids grow in my belly like a strange watermelon, arrive outside, and grow up to the active and curious eight and three-year-olds, respectively. The last few weeks I've noticed a new crop of watermelons and pumpkins bulging under women's shirts. It could be a great way to steal something big and round like that.

 I used to whine that we have no community, because we don't really have the kinds of friends you go away with for fun weekends or who you can call when you need help suddenly. But I've been realizing that we do have community. Not great friends, but maybe that is partly the stage of life we're at with our young children. But we go to the market and say hi to the people we see every week. Eldest buys his own breakfast sandwich from the in-house vendor, and conducts his own transactions. I know he's safe there.

Other ways I see community have been at our community garden, where on work days they let Eldest push full wheelbarrows (that's one of his favourite jobs) and they truly appreciate his contribution. Or at our CSA pick-up, where Eldest unloads the truck with a dolly and does at least as much work as me to set up and take it down as part of our work share. And again, the people who run it honour his contribution. This is it. This is the stuff.

But today my hands are shaky and my eyes are hot and there is a deep, terrified ache in my chest. My three-year-old and I went to buy the tortilla chips we buy every week as a treat. He ran ahead and I was a bit concerned because he can move among the crowd much faster than me, but I kept seeing his bright orange shirt and I figured he'd stop at the chips. But he didn't. He ran right past them and kept running. I called out that he'd ran past them but he was too far ahead to hear.

Then suddenly I couldn't see him anymore. He had to be in the building, right? But there was a wide open door right next to where I'd last seen him, which opened to the sidewalk of a very busy street, and another wide open door on the other side of the building that led to the parking lot with more vendors and then anywhere. My mind couldn't go there. Of course he wouldn't go outside. I looked out anyways but didn't see his little orange shirt anywhere.

I started yelling his name and a woman near me, a vendor, heard me and started looking. When I started describing him, she said, “Oh I know your son!” like I didn't even need to describe him. Even though I don't think I've ever bought anything from her. She started looking too.

I went outside... maybe he could have gone there after all. I called but I couldn't see him. Went back inside and thought I needed to get my husband looking too, but he was all the way at the other end of the building and I couldn't leave the spot I'd last seen Youngest. I'd left my phone at home so I couldn't even text him.

I yelled louder, to anyone who might listen and help. “Ive lost my three-year-old! He's got a bright orange shirt on and brown curly hair!” And then a friend of mine was in front of me. “He's outside, I think. I just saw him.” And she took me outside and he was around the corner a bit just sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. He looked totally calm. My friend said she had noticed him but hadn't recognized him without me there. She had wondered who he was with though. And when she heard me say I'd lost him, she knew immediately.

I would never have looked there, I'm sure. The only way I found him was because someone knew him. That's the stuff.

As for me, I'm sure I'll recover eventually, although mothering this kid seems to just keep traumatizing me again and again. But that's a whole other story.

Friday, October 10, 2014

in my kitchen

I'm going to play along with This Week in My Kitchen. It seems to be the only place I'm taking pictures these days, although soon that will likely stop when the days get too short to prepare dinner in natural light. For now, though… here are a few.
I've just realized that every single one of these photos has at least one and often several of my thrift store finds…

The start of zucchini-plum chutney

Thursday, August 21, 2014

outdoor stories

Eldest has now spent three weeks over the summer at the Guelph Outdoor School, and each week got even better than the last. He told me yesterday that last week may have been the best week of his whole life. He lit fires and tended them endlessly. He shot arrow after arrow, and even hit a bull's-eye. He played games and watched and listened. He identified plants and helped forage for food. One night a week or so ago, I came into his room to tuck him in and he said, "I have my eyes closed and I'm just listening to my surroundings. I can hear a cricket outside my window." I don't know that I've ever known him to just listen before.

It feels to me like it's been a transformational experience for him. He seems to have grown up and found some kind of new confidence. And I've become hooked on the smell of woodsmoke in his hair.

With last weekend being so cold and damp, we cuddled up indoors and started looking through the books I've been collecting from thrift stores. With his new passion for archery, Robin Hood was one of the first to come to mind, and we had a version of that from the vintage Dandelion Library series. He was rapt. We went to read Peter Pan, but I was disappointed to discover that the Dandelion version was abridged. I wanted to read him the original. So that will have to wait. With his interest in castles and medieval history, The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White is also on the list, although I don't have a copy yet.

I feel like his newfound skills also give rise to a whole genre of stories of boys surviving in the woods. (He's already a big fan of the Swallows and Amazons series, and although we've only read two of them so far, I recommend them highly.) Yesterday, I happened upon this post about reading aloud, which also lists all kinds of titles. I made notes last night, including a number of titles I'd never heard of before, like My Side of the Mountain. I'd figure I'd look for them at thrift stores or the library over time. Today I went to a thrift store and in a lovely spot of synchronicity, there it was. When we read the description, he was keen so we started reading it that night. It is such a lovely book! Very well written, great for reading aloud, and so perfect for Eldest at this moment in time as he integrates all the new skills and knowledge he gained at the outdoor school. We're only about a third of the way through it, but we're all enjoying it so much, I know it's worth recommending.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

good news

Youngest has been going to the paediatric dentist every three months for the last year. We haven't been very successful in implementing our plans to help his tooth decay, but we have been steadfast in giving him the zinc and halibut liver oil our dietician prescribed to heal his gut. It so happens that the vitamins and minerals that heal the gut also heal tooth decay.

In February the dentist said she felt she needed to try drilling and filling, and we were going to try it without putting him under but we chickened out at the last minute. I was worried about him freaking out, and once you start you have to finish. Anyways, the dentist was fine with waiting and continuing to monitor. She said as long as he wasn't experiencing pain, it was ok to leave it, but if it abscessed we'd have to act.

Today he had another check-up. He was so confident he just ran into the exam room and sat himself down on the seat. (Normally he wants to sit on my lap.) He smiled wide and opened his mouth up and did everything he needed to with a smile. The dentist said she was surprised his teeth were still holding up and she wanted to extend the visit dates out to five months apart rather than the three months we'd been working on up to now. I'm considering this a win!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

garden frustration

Ugh. I have not had enough time to properly tend to my garden plots. I haven't even finished planting it. But already my carrot, beet, lettuce, chard and cabbage seedlings have been totally defoliated. Given that I had lousy germination rates, there's basically nothing left. I think at this point I may just plant a cover crop in the one bed and just focus on celeriac and potatoes, which don't seem -- at this point anyways -- as tasty to the pests.

Then I'll switch my energy from ferrying back and forth to the community garden to building some raised beds on the only sunny bit of our yard so we can't plant some stuff at home next year. And maybe clearing a sunny spot for some asparagus or rhubarb or raspberries. I think I'll have a better chance of taking proper care of veggies if they're in my yard and I can tend to them without having to get the kids in the car.

This decision feels good. Much better than the frustration I was feeling before figuring that out.

Friday, June 20, 2014

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, dreamy moment I want to remember.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Radical Acceptance

It had been ages since I had last visited a thrift store when we went last Thursday. I didn't end up getting much, but one book pretty much jumped off the shelf at me.

About a month ago, we went and looked at a couple of potential homesteads in a part of the province we would consider moving to. It was a little bit dire, what's available in our price range. The whole experience caused my to question the whole concept, and I came back to town with a renewed appreciation for all the wonderful people and things in Guelph. I began to wonder, how much energy should I put into engineering my life to be a certain way and how much should I put into living the life I have, right now? I suspect better results may come from leaning towards the latter.

Anyways, this is the Big Question I've been pondering for the last few weeks. And that book's title, Radical Acceptance, really spoke to me, especially in the low moment that brought me to the thrift store. So I bought it. And it's good. 100 pages in, here are some of the passages I want to remember and ponder.

"The rest of the world is merely a backdrop as we struggle to get somewhere, to be a better person, to accomplish, to avoid making mistakes. As in a dream, we take our stories to be the truth -- a compelling reality -- and they consume most of our attention. While we eat lunch or drive home from work, while we talk to our partners or read to our chidden at night, we continue to replay our worries and plans. Inherent in the trance is the belief that no matter how hard we try, we are always, in some way, falling short." p.6

"Our imperfect parents had imperfect parents of their own. Fears, insecurities and desires get passed along for generations. Parents want to see t heir offspring make it in ways that are important to them. Or they want their children to be special, which in our competitive culture means more intelligent, accomplished and attractive than other people. They see their children through filters of fear (they might not get into a good college and be successful) and filters of desire (will they reflect well on us?)." p.14

"…creating an enemy imparts a sense of control -- we feel superior, we feel right, we believe we are doing something about the problem. Directing anger at an enemy temporarily reduces our feelings of fear and vulnerability." p.18

The author tells the story of Mohini, a tiger who was kept in a small, concrete-floored enclosure of a zoo for many years. All she did was pace back and forth on a 12-foot-long path. Eventually, her keepers created a proper habitat, with acres of grass, trees and a pond. But when they let her into it, she just found a dark corner and paced a 12-foot-path back and forth, until the area was worn free of grass.

"Perhaps the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns. Entangled in the trance of unworthiness, we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness and dissatisfaction. […] we grow incapable of accessing the freedom and peace that are our birthright. We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small. Even if we were to win millions of dollars in the lottery or marry the perfect person, as long as we feel not good enough, we won't be able to enjoy the possibilities before us." p.25

"As happens in any addiction, the behaviours we use to keep us from pain only fuel our suffering. Not only do our escape strategies amplify the feeling that something is wrong with us, they stop us from attending to the very parts of ourselves that most need our attention to heal." p.57

She also includes some really great quotes. "Last night, as I was sleeping, I dreamt -- marvellous error! -- that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures" ~ Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." 
Carl Rogers (who, incidentally, wrote a book called Freedom to Learn in 1969. I haven't read it yet, but my husband did, and I think Rogers influenced proponents of unschooling like John Holt and Peter Gray. My husband definitely recommends it.

This one really struck me. Hard.
"Poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses a deep understanding of the dragons all of us face: 'How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races -- the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beautify and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.'"

Saturday, June 7, 2014

some moments

I missed another Friday, but I've been enjoying so many wonderful moments lately, I don't know how I would have chosen anyways. So here is a selection. Life is pretty great, although busy and often overwhelming. With the gorgeous weather we've been enjoying (imho it doesn't get better than sunny and 25C with no humidity), I've been able to step back from the overwhelm and savour these days.
This year I have finally figured out that May is my absolute favourite month of the year. And with no rain for days, the fallen blossoms from our crabapples lasted so long.
(Our kitchen is currently under construction, so I got to barbecue pancakes, one at a time, last Sunday morning while snatching bits of Eleanor and Park - most enjoyable.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, dreamy moment I want to remember.

Friday, May 9, 2014

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, dreamy moment I want to remember.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I made a bag!

This is from a couple of weeks ago. I just didn't quite finish it.

I'd love to say I've been busy with spring activities to explain the quiet around here. But I haven't. Largely thanks to the total lack of anything resembling spring-like weather. Instead, I've watched five and a half seasons of Gossip Girl. I keep telling myself that once I'm finished the series, life can go back to normal.

I've been getting restless to attempt sewing on my own sewing machine. I bought the old Singer machine two years ago for $40 from a local thrift store. A good friend who knows how to sew tried to help me figure it out back then but it was beyond her. I took it back to the thrift store and they said it worked fine and it was just threaded wrong. And ever since, it has stood on our hearth (preventing my youngest from climbing on the stone ledge and hopefully preventing injury), intimidating the hell out of me. I had lots of ideas for Christmas gifts in both the holiday seasons between then and now. But I just couldn't overcome the intimidation factor.

I invited my friend (the one who helped me make Youngest's new pants -- which he now loves, proclaiming them "not bumpy anymore!") with promises of my buckwheat sourdough pancakes yesterday morning. So she figured out my machine and declared it just fine. And today I made the Adventure Bag from Soulemama's The Rhythm of Family.


I'm especially proud of myself because I didn't have a pre-made strap, so I figured out how to make a strap. And it worked.


Monday, March 17, 2014

I made pants!

I finished the pants for Youngest this weekend and I really loved the process. Which is a good thing, because he refuses to wear them.


I snuck them on and snapped a few pictures on the go, and when he realized he was wearing them, he immediately took them off.


Oh well. Hopefully this is just the beginning of more sewing projects.

Friday, March 7, 2014

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, dreamy moment I want to remember. image

Sunday, February 23, 2014

learning to sew


I learned so much yesterday. I went to my friend's house, where she had cleared a table for us to work on in a lovely, sunny room. So we spent a chunk of the afternoon preparing the fabrics for the pair of pants I want to make. I had no idea you could iron paper or that it would be useful when sewing  (we lightly ironed the pattern sheet and also the tissue paper we traced the pattern onto). I ironed the fabrics I'm going to use, matched the grain of the fabric (who knew?), pinned the pattern parts to them, and cut the pieces out. So I'm all ready to go next weekend with starting to put the pieces together.


I love that my friend is taking me through the whole process. It's so much easier to learn when you have someone beside you to reassure that yes, it's okay if your hand wobbles a bit tracing the pattern or if the scissors do when you're cutting the fabric. It's so much more efficient than the humming and hawing and fretting I do when I'm learning to do something from a book, all by myself. Plus it's just lovely to visit with a friend in a sunny room, especially when you're still deep in winter.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Someone I know recently said something pretty profound to me, when I was complaining about how I just don't seem to know how to set up systems to manage the clutter and life in our home. I thought what I needed was someone to come into my home and show me how to set up systems so all I have to do is maintain them. But she said she thinks that there is valuable experience in struggling to set up a system. Through the struggle, you learn things about the system that enable you to maintain it and improve it.

I think she's right. So I'll keep struggling, I guess.

Monday, February 17, 2014

the ones that got away

I am going to learn how to sew! Like for real!

I have a friend who's going to take me through the whole process of sewing some adorable Quick Change Trousers (pattern by Anna Marie Horner, which I discovered in SouleMama's archive and which are all over the Internet) for Youngest. I'm stoked. I bought fabric last week and I have to say I demonstrated incredible restraint only bringing home the fabric I needed for one pair (well, and a couple of bits called fat quarters of orange prints, which is Youngest's favourite colour).

Here are two fabrics I'm still thinking about that I left at the store (sob!). I really really really wanted to make two pairs of pants but for a variety of reasons I'm having to be especially penny-pinching right now. So I left them. But aren't they so cute?


There was another fabric I left behind, which I didn't photograph because I didn't actually have a specific use for it, but it was absolutely lovely and the end of the roll too. Ah well. If I find out that I really like sewing then I'll allow myself to stock up on new fabrics. But not yet.

And these are the fabrics I brought home to make the pants with. image

I can't wait!

And speaking of frugality, for Valentine's Day I made my kids some Lego hearts, which were out waiting for them when they woke up.

For Eldest:
For my big kid

For Youngest:
My valentine for my kids

Friday, February 14, 2014

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, dreamy moment I want to remember.

Dreamy homeschooling moment

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It's possible you may see me participating in the This Moment Friday photo meme, started by SouleMama years ago. This represents kind of a big turnaround for me.

For a long time I kind of rolled my eyes at the Moments. For one thing, my photography has always been about making pictures that are beautiful but not pretty. For another, I thought those moments were contributing to women --  mothers, in particular -- feeling inadequate if they didn't have pretty moments.  I thought they must be, if not lies, at least just a tiny moment's break in the chaos that didn't reflect the overall experience.

Now that I've read pretty much all of SouleMama's archive, I think she uses those moments in an aspirational way. Posting a photo of a nice moment is kind of a practice of mindfulness, a gesture of gratitude. I can get behind that. (Full disclosure: I'm actually pretty inspired by her - the unschooling, the small farm.)

Something big happened when I went back to work and my husband discovered all the joys of being at home with kids full-time. I discovered that life can actually be largely peaceful. Not because I'm away from my kids for eight hours a day (that part is the hardest) but because my husband is doing so much more around the house. Our housework load feels more equal.

I have a tendency to take things over, and when I was home full-time he had no space to figure out all the stuff I spent my days figuring out. It wasn't totally his fault and he has stepped up so admirably in the last nine months (has it really been nine months?!?).

Now, when we're getting ready to go somewhere, my husband just knows what to do to get the kids ready. Before, if I wanted his help to gather their shoes and coats and some bags for groceries and diapers and wipes and sunscreens and hats and snacks and drinks, etc. etc. I had to direct my husband on every single detail. Not we can both do some of that work and it's so much less hectic getting out the door (when there's two of us at least, mostly).

I have discovered how lovely life with kids can be when you have a fully engaged partner. Life is still a struggle and we still have lots of chaos, but so much less than before. Life just doesn't feel as hard as it did. (I should really let my husband comment here, since he now deals with so much more of that daily chaos than I do, but he's gone to bed.)

I have also been trying to practice gratitude, even in the struggles. And it's doing good things for me. So with those various changes, life doesn't feel so hard and there are so many more dreamy moments. And I want to capture some of them and share them. Because that's why we're doing all this… for the dreamy moments.

So you've been warned… don't be surprised if you see some Moments in this space.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

gifts from the universe

I know this is slightly crazy, but finding treasures at thrift stores often feels like getting gifts from the universe. One of my favourite things to find at thrift stores right now is vintage children's picture books. I don't know what it is but I swear they don't illustrate children's books like they used to. Once home, some books have such appeal to the kids that we read them immediately; others can sit for a long time before we actually get to reading them.

One in the latter category was A Prairie Boy's Summer by William Kuralek. I picked it up at least a year ago when we were reading the Little House series, a decision based solely on the cover. It just looked like something Eldest would eat up. But it languished on the shelf until just last week. What a revelation when we finally read it!

Vintage Canadian children's book

Each spread contains one full-page painting and one page of text. Each page of text talks about a different aspect of William's youth growing up on a prairie farm. At first I found William a bit negative, as most of the things in the stories are about things he didn't particularly like. But midway through the second reading, he's starting to grow on me, with his balanced memories.

Vintage Canadian children's book

So we read through the book once and I thought the vignettes were cute (and also informative about the way people farmed in that time and place) and the paintings were quite beautiful, and then we read the back cover (I don't know how I didn't so much as glance at it before) and discovered that Kuralek was a renowned Canadian painter who died at age 50 in 1977.

 Vintage Canadian children's book

He also wrote A Prairie Boy's Winter, Lumberjack and A Northern Nativity, all of which I'm keen to get my hands on.

 Vintage Canadian children's book

Tonight, after Eldest asked to start the second reading, I googled him to see how I might find his other books (although I'm really hoping the thrift stores will bestow them on me), and I discovered that he suffered deep depressions for which he was hospitalized for years in London. Of course, he still produced great work while he was in hospital, but still. And apparently his father abused him. So I guess that explains that rather negative tone in the store.

I love how these little gifts from thrift stores cause me to discover artists I'd have had no knowledge of otherwise. If you come across this book, I definitely recommend it. I also found out that a lot of his work is at the Niagara Falls Gallery so I'm thinking a trip there may be in order this spring or summer.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


What a nice weekend we had! I was a bit frazzled and stressed going into it, because I didn't feel properly prepared for Eldest's birthday, which was Friday. But I let some things go and I think Eldest felt well-loved by the end of it. He woke up Friday to his new present, a giant snow scoop (his favourite daily activity is shovelling snow and 'plowing' the roads in our backyard).

On Saturday his grandparents came and he got his favourite dinner: homemade macaroni and cheese. It's been so long since I made macaroni and cheese, I completely forgot how and couldn't find the original recipe, so I had to wing it. But he declared it delicious so that was nice. (Youngest and I didn't partake.) He also got to watch the Olympics AND a hockey game with Grandpa and Grandma and I just don't think life gets better than that.

Then today a party with eight of his friends and three of his grandparents, and some new playmobil and lego, and this is one happy boy. There was only the tiniest sliver of cake left (cake, which had overflowed its pans and is now burnt on the bottom of my oven, but was nevertheless delicious if misshapen and let's say rustically frosted.

I'm most pleased with myself for taking a slow pace through it all and not letting myself get stressed out. I did get a bit flustered when I couldn't find my usual recipe for chocolate frosting and the one I tried from the Internet was powdery for an alarmingly long time and my arm cramped trying to get it more frosting-like, but I just kept at it and it all came together.

Not only that, but Mount Foldmore is totally GONE! Nothing but a clean stretch of floor in its place. For now at least.

Monday, February 3, 2014


I added a new page to this space to act as a resource for others nearby who are looking for local food. There you will find our favourite farmers and shopkeepers.

And while I'm on the subject, we bought the most amazing chickens this fall (I mean dead ones -- you already know about the live ones, who are still living. Although every time I tell Eldest we're having chicken for dinner, his first response is often, "Not one of ours!"). They're huge -- some of them are nine pounds -- and the most delicious ever. I roast them whole and then we use the meat for lots of soup. I remain firmly convinced that homemade chicken soup really does fight colds.

Unfortunately, I'm not particularly good at roasting chickens just yet, and I often discover that despite the thermometer reading, they're underdone in the middle. If they were grocery store chickens I'd be very concerned, but because I know how they lived, I'm much less so. Of course we don't eat it undercooked, but it cooks up just fine simmering in broth for soup and I'm not afraid to get intimate with the carcass to strip it clean.

Anyways… the last one I roasted was so big, we ate the well-cooked outside bits for dinner Sunday, made broth overnight and made an enormous pot of soup on Monday -- enough to give me lunch the next day and to freeze half for another night's dinner, made another smaller bit of broth the next night, which is now frozen for something like pumpkin soup, and then my husband made the most amazing chicken curry on Tuesday, which went on to feed three of us for lunch the next day. Pastured chicken is not cheap but when it feeds you for four such nourishing dinners for four people, a few lunches and the basis for another cheap soup, it seems awfully economical. And delicious!

So have a look at my new local food page, which I hope to add to over the coming months and years.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


This time last year I'd been poring over online seed catalogues of local vegetable seed vendors for at least a couple weeks, in time to buy seeds at the Guelph Organic Conference. This year, I didn't even set foot at the conference. And I hadn't given any thought to what seeds I might like to buy. I bought too many seeds to plant last year, so I'm hoping they're still viable and I'll give them a go this year.

But I'm not too sure just how big into gardening I'll go this year. I'm interested in building some raised beds in a sunny patch I noticed last fall here at home, but that's a lot of work, and I'm just not sure we're really up for it. I plan to continue the plots I have at the community garden, for sure, but I don't know if I want to start seeds myself again indoors, or just buy seedlings. I'm tempted to plant berrying shrubs along the only side of our house that gets afternoon sun, where there are just huge, ornamental grasses. But from where I am right now, that just seems like all too much work.

Maybe this will be my year of letting go and sinking in to what comes. We know the direction we want to forge, but we don't know how long it will take for things to shake down, and for the moment things are pretty peaceful as they are.

It could be five years before leave this house, in which case I'd like to make the raised beds and plant the shrubs to get as much learning in as we can. But it's possible it could be this year or next, in which case I'd rather not be leaving so much sweat equity. So I don't know. Maybe I'll put less effort into plans and more into actually doing whatever makes sense in the moment.


This was about an hour or so before I went out to lock up the chickens last night. When I went out in the full dark, the sky was bright with clouds and the snow muffled everything. It was balmy after so many -25C days and I found myself wishing I had more chores to do outside or perhaps in a place where I could see beyond the solid fences of my neighbours. As it was, I went out front and shovelled the driveway. Thankfully, the nearby neighbour with the snow blower didn't come out until this morning, so I got just the peace and bit of useful activity I was looking for.

housekeeping for the messy?

For some time now, I've been trying to figure out the secret of tidy houses. Now, I don't mean soulless, bare places; I mean just pleasantly orderly but very much lived-in, with enough detritus to show who lives there. I get so overwhelmed in my house because so much stuff doesn't have a home. I don't seem to know how to set up systems so that everything has a place, and I also don't have the habits to put things away (the few that have homes) on a regular basis.

I don't much about permaculture, but I know it's about creating systems that are self-sustaining. I think something like that could help me keep my home more comfortable. If there are systems that work in our homes for managing our stuff, maintaining the space to be calm and peaceful could be easier.

Recently, I've come to the conclusion that there is some fundamental gap -- in skills, knowledge, experience, or maybe something else -- between me and people who can keep their homes relatively tidy. It's not that I have no interest in it; I do, tremendous interest. The mess in my house, in every single room, stresses us all out. Although I only notice this by its absence, when we get a corner tidy and it feels like a big sigh of relief. It's just so nice to be in those spaces.

Anyways, the gap: it's something that tidy people take for granted; they aren't even aware of it. So when they write books or try to help people organize their homes or keep them cleaner, they miss it entirely. I'm sure it's something I can learn, but I need to discover what it is first, so I can learn it consciously. Is there a book about permaculture in the home (vs on the land)?

The other day, I was reading Dr. Gabor Mate's Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. I picked it up because I enjoy his books and his take on the world, not with anyone in mind. But I quickly found that his descriptions of adults with ADD sound alarmingly familiar. Of course, he also notes that all the characteristics of ADD also appear in average people, although with differing intensities. He sees ADD as primarily an impairment, and whatever characteristics I share with people with ADD, they haven't impaired my life overly much.  

His description of a typical person with ADD attempting to tidy a messy room resonated so strongly. (It was along the lines of picking up a book to put it on the shelf, noticing that two related books are far apart from one another, in moving one, you become engrossed in a detail that causes you to seek a reference book, the dryer alarm goes off so you go to change the laundry, notice something along the way that takes you away from the laundry before you get there, remember to take the ground beef out of the freezer to thaw, find the cup of tea you poured half an hour ago on the way to the freezer… something like that.) 

He goes on to explain: 
"Completely lacking in the ADD mind is a template for order, a mental model of how order comes about. You may be able to visualize what a tidy and organized room would look like, but the mind-set to do the job is missing. To begin with, there is a profound reluctance to discard anything -- who knows when you might need that copy of The New Yorker that has gathered dust for three years without ever being looked at? There is little space for anything. You never feel you can master the confused mess of books, papers, magazines, pieces of clothing, compact disks, letters to be answered and sundry other objects -- you only shift portions of the chaos from one place to another. Should you nevertheless succeed now and then, you know full well that the order is temporary."
Maybe that's the gap I've been struggling to identify: a mental model of how order comes about. Immediately I think about how people with Asperger's or high-functioning autism can consciously learn the unspoken expectations of them in social situations and they can consciously learn to meet them to some extent, assuming they're interested in doing that. But of course, the challenge is finding a mentor who can uncover the stuff that most people take for granted.

I've developed a bit of an obsession with SouleMama's archives, and although I know she averts her camera from the messy bits of her house, I'm pretty sure her space is relatively tidy and at least comfortable and relaxing. This afternoon, I had a sudden epiphany about another thing that SouleMama has that I don't: a basement.

So help me out: How have you developed the systems in your house for managing stuff? (And I don't mean regular cycles of purging… I want to keep most of my stuff, I just want it organized and accessible.) Did any books help you? Other resources?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

the winter of flannel sheets

This winter we discovered the joy of flannel sheets. And with the winter we've been having, it's none too soon. I don't ever remember having a cold snap this cold or this long.

I had actually experienced flannel sheets once or twice elsewhere before, so I always (unsuccessfully) looked for them at thrift stores over the past year. In the fall, I gave up on the thrift store hopes and bought a set new for our queen bed. From the first night I couldn't believe how much warmer I was. I didn't need the extra blanket I usually did. Amazing.

A couple weeks ago I found two matching flannel sheet sets for double mattresses, so now Eldest is getting some flannel love too, as can our guests (if we ever bring order back to our guest room).

I will never go back to regular sheets in the winter again.

Love is flannel sheets.
Funny thing: I drafted this last night, just before going to bed. When my husband got into bed, the first thing he said was, "I love these flannel sheets!" And then tonight as I tucked Eldest into his bed, the first thing he said was, "I LOVE sleeping in these flannel sheets."

Can you get a better endorsement than that? 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tudor Monastery Farm!

Hurrah! Ruth Goodman and Peter Ginn have made another historical farming show: Tudor Monastery Farm. It's just the thing to get us through the rest of January and into February. I just love discovering the ingenuity of how people did things without the so-called mod cons. And Eldest and Youngest both love it too.

I had no idea how many uses they had for urine in the Tudor time and how they smelted lead was fascinating. I also discovered that Tudor gardeners encouraged weeds in their beds, because they ate them too or used them medicinally.

We're only four episodes in, but I can already heartily recommend it. We found it on youtube but some problem with the sound made the background music sound horrendous so we switched to

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

mistaken identities

I recently went to the thrift store, ostensibly to find a new bath mat and some dish cloths. (It's possible I may have also spent a lot of time in the children's book collection.) In the clear light of the next day, however, I discovered some mistaken identities.

There were lots of interesting things. I was excited to find a bright yellow blanket with one of those charming old labels from a wool mill, and the store's tag also said, "Wool blanket." But when I got it home and was showing my husband (I was a bit sheepish - ha), I noticed the label next to the charming label, which said it was 50 percent acrylic. What self-respecting wool mill uses acrylic?!? Well, it was probably the seventies… (I'll be returning it. I wouldn't mind keeping it but not for the price I paid.)

I picked up a green terry cloth bath mat and a yellow bath mat that was an unusual fabric. Both were labelled by the store "Bath mat." But when I looked at the yellow bath mat, I discovered a wee tag that said, "Hand Made by Freda McArthur." 


I have now realized that it's a hand-woven textile and quite ornate. I think it must be a baby blanket. I did think it was a bit big for a bath mat, but figured that couldn't hurt. But really, now that I know its true identity, it's far too nice for a bath mat.


I also picked up some dish cloths. This is how they looked in the store.
I thought it was just a clever way to package dish cloths.

I thought the maker was just being clever in its packaging, which had never really been opened. But when I got home and went to pull it apart, I realized the buttons were sewn through the whole thing.

Not only that:
But it's actually a wall hanging I think.
There are legs.

I'm thinking this is some kind of wallhanging or something? It's too much cloth to actually clean anything with when it's all together.

Ah well… this is one I think I'll be able to just dismantle and use it the way I'd planned.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Making sauerkraut

I made another batch of sauerkraut in December. I tasted it around Christmas but it had a bitterness to it that I thought might go away with more time. I was meaning to check it much sooner than now, but my hibernation interfered.

Anyways, I finally tasted it today and the bitterness was worse, if anything. It just doesn't taste yummy, and I'm a big enough sauerkraut fan that I just won't enjoy it. So off to the compost it goes.

I'm not sure exactly what went wrong. But I ended up with less cabbage than I expected and so the salt ratio may have been off. Also, one of the bags I used to weigh it down leaked and although I mixed up a lot of brine to fill the bags for just that eventuality, I also remember thinking I was just paranoid so I might have diluted one. I'm not sure.

Surprisingly, I'm not too bereft. I'll just have to pay attention to the details more next time. I know I'm capable, as I've done it before, so I'll do it again. And who knows? Maybe it was just the cabbage.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


I've never been particularly nostalgic or melancholy when my kids reach milestones. I didn't even come close to crying when Eldest started kindergarten or walking or whatever. I find their growth exciting and I find I usually have to stop myself getting too far ahead of them, to what may come next.

But I'm feeling it today. Youngest is not a baby anymore. He still sleeps with us and nurses (especially overnight for the last week - sheesh!) but this morning he got up with Eldest and (by agreement we all made last night) they watched netflix and Eldest got snacks so my husband and I could both sleep in. What a luxury! 

Maybe my lack of nostalgia before now is really a symptom of just not seeing milestones, not seeing the doors closing on their past ways of being. But today I'm so aware that we're moving on to a new phase of parenting. Which is great and I've been looking forward to this and I feel a smidgen of relief even, to have made it here. 

But I'm also grieving a little that there will be no more babies in my arms -- not one of mine anyways. Ah well. I'm sure I'll get over it soon enough, and then I'll shake my head at the folly of even considering another baby.


Friday, January 24, 2014

dreams and stuff

I've been reading Callings: Finding and Following and Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy, for the third time. Because even after reading it twice, I still haven't sorted my life out. (I realize this is never a complete task, but I feel like I've been on the cusp of major life changes since the first time I read it in 2010 that are still unfolding). I'm going very slowly, mixing it with other books, sometimes just a paragraph or two at a time. I ponder these paragraphs, I sleep on them, and sometimes I dream about them.

Last week, I got to a section about dreamwork. It talks about how our unconscious mind is always a couple steps ahead of our conscious mind, and dreams can be a bridge between the two. Levoy says that sometimes the bridge is obvious, and he goes on to list a bunch of scenarios of waking life challenges and dreams that offer a pretty obvious response. I can't remember them all, except one: You're contemplating an impossible situation, and you dream that you can breathe underwater.

That night, I dreamed that we were at my parents' cottage by the lake. We were chatting with various people and the kids were playing and Youngest kept getting ever closer to the lake. We figured we'd just see what transpired, especially because if we run after him, he tends to run towards the very thing we want him to avoid. So we watched and he jumped in the link and immediately sank. I ran to the water and dove in. In the moment between my feet leaving the dock and my hands entering the water, I was aware that my shoes were still on and I worried they'd weigh me down. But I wasn't about to take the time to remove them.

I swam underwater and saw Youngest slowly sinking. I kept nearly reaching him but he kept sinking and getting further away from me. My breath was running out but there was no way I was going to take the time to get to the surface; he'd been under much longer than me already and I wasn't going to take any more time. And just at the most hopeless moment, I discovered I could breathe underwater.

"Aha!" I thought. "This is just like in the book." I woke up without having actually saved Youngest but with the knowledge that it was possible.

That was a few weeks ago and I haven't picked up the book since. I've been sinking into hibernation, escaping into tv shows after the kids go to bed or books or, for most recently, SouleMama's archive,  and avoiding walking to or from work. Ever since New Year's Eve, when my husband and I agreed to work towards moving to a farm, I've kind of shrunk from that vision. With the deep cold, I've started imagining the discomforts of living on a farm in this kind of cold. With the chickens here now, it doesn't take much imagination, as we're constantly changing their water and checking for eggs to catch them before they freeze. Anyways… I've been doubting. And hiding.

The other night I dreamed about the book again. Youngest has been waking a lot through the nights recently and nursing lots. The other night was another restless night when I had lots of disjointed and jumbled dreams. But one bit stays with me. I discovered the book, Callings, in a dirty puddle of I don't know what, pretty much completely destroyed. And I felt terrible for forgetting it and letting it be destroyed by my neglect.

In my waking life, I feel a bit stuck and adrift. I feel powerless to change anything and like I'm not moving forward. But after the second dream I remember that we are moving forward. We're about to start a kitchen reno to repair all the brokenness of our kitchen so that when we're ready we can sell the house more easily. And in the spring and summer, we'll start to explore farm properties to figure out what we can afford and more clearly what part of the province we want to be in. This is all progress. Not as fast as I would like but patience has never been my strong suit. As Anya said on Buffy, "I tried being patient but it took too long!"

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year


This blog began with a New Year’s resolution. So I feel an obligation to update my plans for the year. But the funny thing is that I don’t feel that same energy to pursue a goal or a theme over the year. I don’t know if it’s some kind of exhaustion catching up with me or an awareness that my intentions don’t always matter that much. We spent a number of days over the holidays with the kids watching way more tv than we’d prefer and adults reading or cooking. Maybe it started with the ice storm that kept us indoors for a couple of days, although we had power pretty much the whole time. Or maybe we just really needed a massive injection of down time.

I feel like I spent the second half of last year focused really intensively on a number of goals at the same time as I worked full time. At times I felt very exhausted and powered through – I submitted two grant applications for a photography project in early December and taught a photography workshop one evening every second week from September to December. And we designed and built a chicken coop and started caring for actual, real-life chickens and they're still alive and even laying eggs.

Last year, my goal was to connect more with people and I kicked off the year with a New Year’s Day drop-in gathering. When my husband lost his job in April and I started working full-time, I basically lost the tenuous friendships I’d been pursuing. They were with people in the homeschooling community or with other at-home parentswho generally get together during weekdays. I suppose I could have seen them on weekends, but the energy required to organize those kinds of things seemed beyond me. I have made an effort to connect with my colleagues during working hours, but I don’t have the energy to extend those connections much outside of work hours.

All that to say that I didn’t make the progress I wanted to on my goal last year, so I’m tempted to continue pursuing it this year. But I’m also not that excited by the prospect. I think my lack of progress is largely due to the current circumstances of my life (full-time day job, still-nursing toddler with food intolerances that make gatherings over food or around/after bedtimes difficult, extremely introverted husband, my own needs for alone time and making photographs… I’m sure the list goes on.) And maybe I just need to relax a bit and just sink into the things that life throws at me.

When I reflect on the last six months of 2013, I really feel like I was striving the whole time and refusing to let anything go to make space for the full-time work. But I think I’m ready to let some of my personal goals go, with the knowledge that over the next couple of years my husband and I have plans to work towards another lifestyle.

I think my New Year’s Eve this year may have been the best I’ve had in my life, and it came when I relinquished any expectations of a good time and yet retained a desire to mark the occasion in some way. So after we got the kids to bed, my husband and I just hung out. No screens, no smart phones, no Internet (well, not until after midnight when I resumed my binge watching of Once Upon A Time). We didn’t even listen to music. Usually we try to live stream some kind of faraway celebration so that I can be sure we celebrate at just the right moment, but this year I just didn’t care about getting that moment right.

Instead, we talked about The Future, something that does not come naturally to my husband. We talked about the kinds of things that give our lives meaning and the kind of life we want to shape in the future. It was rather amazing.

And my little nursing toddler toddled in around 11:45 pm asking for milk, just as we were wrapping up the big conversation, and he was still on the boob when we noticed the clock said 12:05, and that seemed just right too. Maybe what I need to learn is a little more surrendering and a little less goal orientation. I'll still keep moving towards my overarching goals, but none of the big ones is likely to be reached in 2014. And I think I'll just keep moving forward as seems right in the moment and see what opportunities unfold as I go.