Monday, 29 August 2011

Back to School Blues and Lunch Box Love

The first day of school is fast approaching, though I hate to admit it. I simply don't want this summer to end, for so many reasons. I've got some "back to school blues" going on with Chi-Chi entering grade 1 and Muffy headed for primary (kindergarten). My nest is feeling pretty empty ):

Although keeping up with these two this summer had its challenging and exhausting moments, it's been a magical time. I'm happy with the time and freedom they had this summer - time to ride their bikes, catch toads, make sand forts, learn some ukulele, dine alfresco, hunt for beach treasures ......

So, with school approaching, my mind can't help but jump ahead to lunch boxes. This year, I'll be packing for Muffy as well, who is a bit more finicky than his brother. I've been making lists of ideas and will soon start stocking the freezer with kid-sized servings of chili and homemade pizza. It's convenient to have warm-lunch options on hand.

I also decided to make some new cloth/velcro snack bags. I picked up some super cute fabric on vacation that I thought the boys would enjoy. These bags represent one of my efforts to reduce the use of plastic in our lives. I usually fill them with a little "trail mix" of treats like dried cranberries, raisins, pumpkin seeds and breakfast cereal. This was Chi-Chi's first choice for recess snack last year. I was impressed, he always brought them home and not one went missing all year.

I'm adding something new and fun to this year's lunches. I made up a couple of these fruit cozies in an effort to keep apples and pears from getting bruised and beaten. Those lunches can take a beating on that bus ride to school! The cozies are easy for little hands to slip on and off and should do the trick!

I guess these little handmade offerings are my way of adding some fun to my back-to-school preparations. Oh, and for more back to school fun, check out this great giveaway over at Maple Tree Montessori! I am going to miss this special school so much!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Penny for your Thoughts...and your Piggy Bank

We are currently in Stage 2 of our summer vacation. This portion is a bit of a "staycation" as we are sticking fairly close to home. Hubby has had the opportunity to pick away at the barn/church project, which is slowly but surely coming together. With Hurricane Irene creeping up the coast, we felt we better get things tightened down a bit! I'm trying so very hard to remain patient as the project creeps along. My mind gets ahead of me with plans and ideas!!

This week saw the addition of some old church windows. They are not from the original structure, but I like that we have retained a bit of the church look and feel. I'm also feeling good about the reclaimed aluminum roofing - both more economical and aesthetically pleasing. The barn is a blend of old and new as we try to incorporate reclaimed materials where possible.

Power tools, scaffolding and eager little helpers are not a great combination! I needed a solution to make Chi-Chi and Muffy feel like contributors, while keeping them a safe distance from the construction action. The boys have been put to work over the last couple of days, collecting pennies for their piggy banks. Their work contract provides them with a penny for every nail they pick up from the work site. There is certainly no shortage of work! At the rate they're going, they just might pay their way through college!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Boy and his Hunt for Treasure

As a child, I spent my summers at the shore, living at our family cottage in the tiny community of Seaside, New Brunswick. It was lovingly referred to as Seaside Farms and was the back drop for many fun family adventures, activities and celebrations. It was close enough to my father's business that he could drive back and forth to work each day. The days were pretty much ours to design, free from schedules or plans. My sister and I spent an endless amount of time on the beach, searching for treasures, doing crafts, exploring the sea life.

Hunting for sea glass was a favorite activity of ours. It was truly a treasure hunt as we scanned the pebbled beach for those smooth and tumbled gems. The discovery of a rare piece of blue glass was always particularly thrilling. Much time has passed since those childhood days, but my thirst for this type of treasure hunting has not waned. It is being passed down from one generation to the next, as my sweet Chi-Chi recently caught a case of the treasure hunting bug. Last week we visited Northern New Brunswick where I grew up, and walked some of those same stretches of beach I explored as a child. It warms my heart to see my little boy share my love of this pastime. He and I enjoyed some quiet one on one time, on some long morning beach strolls. As we slowly walked along, patiently scanning the water's edge, we chatted leisurely about our discoveries, conjuring up guesses of where they came from and how old they were. I have to say, that little boy has a keen sense for spotting sea glass and even managed to find some impressive pieces of blue.

We came back home to our own Seaside Farms (II), but not without some special mementos to reminisce about our trip. Chi-Chi's got his sea glass proudly displayed on his dresser. I'm loving the wine bottle my mother gave him to hold his treasures - rather appropriate! Of course, his goal is to fill the bottle to the very top! Sounds great to me - let's go back to the beach!

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Blissful Beach

No time or need for many words today and the beach is calling my name. This photos says it all for me - the sky, the sand, the sea, the waves, the discoveries, the peace....and those two boys. It is my definition of perfection.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Sand and Silliness

Just over 2 years ago, I started the tradition of maintaining a seasonal nature table in our household. It's something the children genuinely enjoy. It is a space in our home that is visited each day by both Chi-Chi and Muffy. Some days it might inspire a silent observation. Other times it is a stage for a bit of imaginative play or the addition of a newly discovered nature treasure. I love that it has become a fixture in our living space and a special spot to contemplate and appreciate nature, the passing of time and the changing of seasons. Over the years, I've enjoyed creating or discovering special items to add to the display. It is evolving and ever-changing. As the seasons come and go, some special items are tucked away and others are retrieved from storage.

Once special item I reserve especially for the summer season is our tiny zen garden. I put this together after first seeing it at the boys' Montessori preschool. To this day, the school's sand garden is always mentioned as the favorite work from preschool. Both Chi-Chi and Muffy were drawn to it. I think it provided them a sense of soothing comfort during those early days when they most likely experienced some separation anxiety. The contents of the tray often change. We keep little bits of driftwood, smooth rocks, sea glass and shells on hand to arrange. It's very simple to put together. I think a feather or a little twig could be used in place of the rake quite nicely.

Ah, these moments of quiet meditation are so sweet and precious (: It's always interesting to me how quickly Chi-Chi and Muffy can do a complete 360. Moving from a calm, solitary activity to fully rocking it out on their "saltbox guitars" just 30 seconds later. Those crazy boys, I do love them! They are OBSESSED with Matt Mays these days and anything they can find with some electric guitar, also referred to as "Zambonie Music" around here. After I took these shots, I decided that maybe the table dancing wasn't a good idea, despite the fact it made the perfect stage. That poor old antique table appears to be standing on it's last legs and I'm surprised it didn't buckle under all those rock star moves.

Crazy boys, I tell you! Happy Friday!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

You Are What You Eat

When Chi-Chi was just a little wee one, beginning to eat solid foods, I became a mommy on a mission! My goal was to ensure that sweet, pure, innocent little boy was going to be fed the most wholesome and healthiest foods possible. It spent a great deal of time and energy both sourcing and preparing his homemade baby food. From fresh forest fiddleheads, to organic beef stew, that little boy would gobble up anything placed in front of him. I would drive 40km round-trip into the city, just to get the organic items I needed to make his food.

Time has marched on and that chubby, giggling baby has grown into a strong, energetic 6 year old with the same big appetite....and a brother who is not far behind. I still spend a huge amount of my time sourcing and preparing healthy food for our family. I can only imagine the shear quantity of food my two sweeties will be consuming at the age of fifteen and sixteen! I've certainly relaxed a bit since those days. Not every single item in my cupboards is organic or would be considered "wholesome". I certainly purchase local and organic when I can, but I'm not perfect and do not really strive to be. There are "no-no's" that I will likely not bend on, but we allow treats both inside and outside our home. I love the story of the time I went on a getaway weekend with a girlfriend. Hubby served up hamburgers and Ruffles potato chips - something the boys had never tasted. Apparently they could not stop munching on those chips. Chi-Chi exclaimed with great enthusiasm, "These potato crackers are the best thing I've ever tasted!" Chi-Chi once went to a birthday party where the only beverage served was orange pop. Although I don't serve this at home, I was not going to tell him he could not have it in this particular social setting. He spent most of the party sipping on orange pop with wide eyes, ignoring the other children and the events going on around him!

"You are what you eat". This is an expression I'm using a lot around our household these days, as the boys and I discuss and contemplate food choices. As a parent who wants her children to grow up on healthy food, it's not easy to navigate the ship at times. Since Chi-Chi started grade Primary in a public school, I've noticed the number of questions and requests have increased. In once sense, this is positive, as it brings about discussion and an opportunity for learning. In another sense, it is difficult and frustrating as he compares notes on what others have packed in their lunch boxes, or what the cafeteria is offering. Since wee ones often speak their mind with an unfiltered voice, we've also had some discussions on good manners! I can't tell you how many people my little Muffy has looked straight in the eye and asked, "Why are you smoking?". (I wonder if his honesty had an impact on any of those people??)

On this rainy morning, I find myself in the kitchen, baking up a huge batch of homemade granola. It's the breakfast of choice these days, served with a helping of my homemade yogurt and a drizzle of delicious Nova Scotia maple syrup. A couple of weeks ago I placed a bulk order from Speerville, through the Grainery in Halifax. With all the granola munching that's been going on, I really needed that 8kg bag of oatmeal. I don't have a recipe and enjoy sprinkling in whatever might be on hand in the pantry. Today this included:

Kamut flakes
barley flakes
quinoa flakes
poppy seeds
sunflower seeds
pumpkin seeds
flax seeds
sesame seeds
drizzling of canola oil and maple syrup

I bake it in the oven at 325 Celsius until golden brown. It doesn't last long around here! Come fall, I will do up a nut-free batch for Chi-Chi and Muffy's lunch boxes at school.

I have also been making an effort to get the boys more involved in meal preparation. With all the greens we've been both harvesting and receiving from our CSA box, I've discovered that the mealtime salad is the simplest area to request assistance. They are always so eager to help and it can often get VERY tricky with "too many cooks in the kitchen". Sometimes, I'm just too tired and not up for it. Other days I put out a help wanted call. I'm loving this plastic lettuce knife I picked up online at Vesey's Seeds. Ok, so I personally don't use a knife to cut lettuce, but it's great work for the kids. It's not only wonderful for lettuce, but tomatoes, cukes...etc. It does the job, but is really quite dull and fairly harmless (but supervised use just the same!!)

I'm starting to realize that all those garden beans may in fact be the source of some crazy behaviour around here. After all, I keep telling them "You are what you eat" and Chi-Chi and Muffy are most certainly full of beans (:

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dye Pot Dreams

Despite the fact these summer days are action-packed with the antics and activities of Chi-Chi and Muffy, I'm still finding the opportunity to steal of few moments with my latest knitting adventure. That yarn basket of mine follows me wherever I go. I've managed to sneak in a few rows at the pool side, the playground and the backyard picnic table. It's slow going, but I seem to be enjoying the leisurely pace of the project. Sometimes I favour larger projects over the "quick hits". With the end nowhere in site, I can just relax and enjoy the meditative act of knitting itself. That being said, I am pretty excited about the final result. It is a gift to myself! I'm knitting the tea leaves cardigan, which I first saw on Soulemama (of course!). Aren't these pottery buttons absolutely beautiful? They were made by my very talented potter/artist cousin, Sarah! If you happen to be looking for the perfect finishing touch to a special project, you should check out her Etsy store. So hard to choose! I've had these starfish tucked away for quite some time, and I'm quite excited to finally use them. Inspired by the buttons and summer beach days, I intentionally dyed the wool in an ocean inspired palette. I'm imagining this cozy sweater will keep me warm on those cold winter days when the ocean is a little less "friendly" in these parts.

While I'm working away on my sweater, my mind is also dreaming of upcoming projects for the fall. With school starting, I will be eager to make some new warm woollies for those cold days at the bus stop. Both Chi-Chi and Muffy truly enjoy getting "involved" in the creation of their hand knits. This is certainly the time of year to plan ahead, as our property is bursting with blossoms that are absolutely perfect for the dye pot. Queen Anne's Lace is in full bloom and the goldenrod is just beginning to splatter the landscape with it's deep yellow hues. I also did some planning back in the spring and planted several pots of marigolds. Over the coming weeks, the boys and I will be harvesting these blossoms to create a few special items - hats, mittens and a new fall vest for each of them. A little tip: I freeze the dye stuff if I am not prepared to use it immediately. All three of these blooms produce some beautiful yellow dyes. I often throw in a bit of tea to darken the color and add a more mottled texture to the yarn. The photo shows the goldrenrod/tea hat and mitten set I made for Chi-Chi last year. These were favorites of his, most likely because he assisted in gathering that goldrenrod with his own little hands.

I do enjoy tinkering with natural dyes. It's not something I would likely do exclusively as the color choice can be rather limiting. I was fortunate to participate in a natural dyeing workshop last summer at Deanne Fitzpatrick's studio. More than anything, it was fun and refreshing for Mommy to have a day to herself! Anyone who has been to Deanne's studio and shop will know what I mean when I say it is a wool lover's dream and truly an inspiring place to pass the time. The course was taught by the talented Joanna Close, and was fun and informative. I left feeling confident and inspired.

Anyone else doing some "lazy summer" knitting? What's on your needles?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

My Busy Bee

This hornet/wasp nest is a recent addition to our science study table. It blew down from the rafters of our unfinished barn and was abandoned by its creators. It is truly a masterpiece - a perfect blend of beauty, symmetry and amazing accuracy. It also served as a source of inspiration for yesterday's spontaneous rainy-day craft activity!

After a morning of swimming, tennis and errands, I arrived home, arms brimming with soggy suits and groceries. With yet another rainy day ahead of us, Chi-Chi was begging and pleading for a crafty activity. Not feeling particularly inspired or energetic, I grabbed a bag of plasticine scraps and a few Styrofoam shapes, urging the boys to "surprise me" with an interesting creation. With Chi-Chi and Muffy happily chattering away at the art table, I quickly went back to my laundry, grocery and lunch making duties, pleased to have them engaged in something quiet while I knocked off some chores.

My sweet Chi-Chi obviously didn't need much direction on this one! How could this boy have been seeking direction from me with such fantastic ideas rattling around in that six-year old head of his? He proudly presented me with his "wasp model", requesting that I assist him in designing a stand for his creation. More often than not, it is the unstructured, unplanned art activities that result in the most interesting and imaginative creations. Too often, I find we adults offer young children very structured, often contrived craft activities that leave little room for problem-solving, free thinking or imagination. I am certainly guilty of this. I also see the purpose of some of these craft acvities as they assist children in learning to follow directions and sequential steps in a process, while developing fine motor skills. My children actually do enjoy making such things. I guess, my thoughts are that we should offer a balance. Children need to learn to follow steps and directions, but they should also be presented with ample opportunities to simply create and experiment. Some of the boys' most awe-inspiring creations started simply with a pair of scissors, tape (lots!!) and a good rummage through the recycling bin!

He was adament that his wasp have a home, so Mommy did roll up her sleeves and offer some ideas and directions on this one. He is not-so-patiently waiting for his paper mache "hive" to dry. After a quick glance at the upcoming forecast, I may be looking to Mr. Chi-Chi to come up with more rainy day craft ideas! It's looking like a wet week!

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Welcome "Weed" In The Garden

The other day I popped into the library and found myself sifting through the "to be discarded" shelf. The sign stated, "Fill a bag for $1". That's a deal that can't be beat! I resisted the urge to stuff my bag full and was very selective in the titles I chose. I'm on a never-ending mission to declutter our home and keep the stream of "stuff" coming into our house to a minimum. There were, however, a few books I could not pass up! I was prettysure BMX Racing would be an instant page turner for the boys.

Both Chi-Chi and Muffy are incredibly fascinated with the sport of BMX these days! I have to admit, as a mother of boys, it's sometimes a stretch for me to be enthusiastic about some of their interests. Having travelled across Canada by bicycle when when Iwas 23, I'm no stranger to cycling.....however the jumps and tricks are a little hard on my head and heart! I actually keep a stash of band-aids in my pocket and I easily go through a dozen or so a day. I am, however, just happy to see them having lots of muddy fun and getting a good dose of daily exercise. Lucky for me, their BMX track is conveniently located within view of my garden. I'm able to keep an eye on the antics while I work away at my weeding.

It's definitely been a weak year for the garden considering the wet and foggy weather we've experienced! My great garden expansion project is still underway, with my efforts this year focusing on soil enrichment. Seaweed gathering has become a favorite activity for the boys and I. I'm betting we will all reap the benefits of our efforts in a year or so. Although the seaweed is currently serving as a mulch to keep the pesky weeds away, this nutrient-rich goodness will be worked into the soil come fall. The beach is just across the street so it has been fairly convenient to gather a decent quantity of it.

My little "helpers" usually assist in the gathering for a short spell. When their interest wanes, they shift their focus to beach-combing and exploring. We never leave empty handed. Our collection of unidentified bones is growing by the day! Today Chi-Chi discovered a starfish on the rocky shore. After confirming it was dead, he decided to take it home for further study. Oh, I do wish I could bottle that pure, raw sense of curiosity and enthusiasm that children exhibit. I found him parked at his desk with his journal, "specimen" and magnifying glass. What's so wonderful is that his questions push me to learn and grow as a person. He identified a "dot" on the top of the starfish and needed some answers!! It turns out the dot is called a madreporite, used to flush water in and out of the creature's body. It is moments like these that I love to capture and document. They serve as a reminder to nurture the boys' curiosity and desire to learn.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

And They Call It.....Ducky Love!

The summer is flying by, and despite my good intentions and grand plans, I am neglecting this space! More than ever, I'm finding life with the boys busy. It's not hectic in the sense that our days are packed with planned activities, although we are certainly enjoying our summer swimming and tennis lessons. I'm learning that 5 and 6 year old boys are literally bursting with energy - energy that needs to be burned and refuelled constantly throughout the day! When they aren't sitting at the dining room table refueling their growing bodies, they are out the door in the blink of an and running.....which ususally means I'm not far behind! We are spending our time soaking up as much of these summer days as possible, rain or shine or fog!

There has been lots of fun farmyard action this summer to keep Chi-Chi and Muffy occupied. Their pet ducks are now full grown and both boys are quite smitten with their special feathered friends. I'll take a pet duck over a puppy any day! Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, and have such fond memories of our childhood beagle, Barney. I am, however, happy to have any animal that lives outside the four walls of my home! Another creature to clean up after is not something this Mama needs right now (: We've had so much wet weather that the chicken/duck yard is pretty much a muck pit. Chi-Chi and Muffy don't mind at all, and are constantly "bonding" with Ducky and Lovey. It turns out we have two females - one Appleyard and one runner duck. We also have a male runner duck named Toyota. Do I hear new little ducklings in my future?? Our runner duck hen started laying this week, producing the most beautiful blue eggs. It took some Scooby-Doo style sleuthing to figure out that our duck was laying as opposed to our Americauna hens. I'm currently enjoying my first batch of "duck egg" brownies with my afternoon cup of tea. Any interesting suggestions for using my new eggs would be appreciated!!

We also have one new little baby chick on the farm, hatched by one of our broody mama hens. She's as sweet as can all baby chicks are. The boys teamed up and named her "Sunny Rainbow". Ah, I do love the hilarious names these two monkeys dream up. How cute is that? It's enough to melt my heart.

Yes, lots to keep up busy in these parts and still lots of summer days to savour!