Tuesday, January 31, 2012

roadside attraction

Some people stop to smell the roses.

One of my favourite things to do when the stars align (ie. when I'm alone in my car, am not rushing to be somewhere, and have my camera at hand) is to stop to pet the livestock.

I was busy being nuzzled by one horse, when the thunder of hooves made me look up to see this fellow coming to check out this stranger in a toque.
 With much whuffling and snorting, he greeted his fellow-horse, and called the small herd of highland cows that were resting nearby to attention.

 (I need a bumper sticker that reads, "I Brake For Highland Cows"). The horse started interacting a little more feistily, so the cows decided to wander off to whiter pastures. They were kind enough to stop and pose for me.
 Then the horses went all wild-west on me, rearing up, hoofing at each other (is this a verb?), alternately pooping and sniffing each others' poop.
In the Ottawa Valley, this is what we call a Roadside Attraction.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mistakes Made Right: Valentine's Craft

At the arts retreat I attended last week, I took part in a watercolour session where we learned a lot of basic techniques in a short period of time. The amazing local artist who taught the session was full of confidence, praise, patience, and a "so what?" kind of attitude that allowed us to try stuff without fear of doing it "wrong". 

I've always been a high-achiever, and have been hard on myself if I don't like the results of something I've made. I'm growing as the years pass, however, and am learning to create just for art's sake; it's about forgiveness, and a sense of humour, and reinforces my New Year's Resolution to be gentle with myself

I was content with the waterscape, but not happy with the results of the birch tree study.
What I took away from Joyce's class was that it's OKAY to not like what you've created. It doesn't negate the experience or the learning that takes place when you just do it, or the joy of just putting a paint-loaded brush to paper.

A few days after the retreat, I decided to just make something I liked out of the birch tree painting. So I cut it up.

 With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I needed something beautiful to hang along my window. I cut the painting up into hearts, then glued them together back-to-back with a ribbon in between.
 My painting looks quite beautiful in its new incarnation, wouldn't you say?
These little hearts hang at varying lengths, and look so pretty against the white backdrop that is our winter landscape.
You don't have to love everything you make, and you certainly don't have to frame it. 

But re-imagining it can bring new eyes to your experience as an artist. Just be brave. Get out the scissors. As Shel Silverstein says, 

“Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.”


All art needn't be high art. Sometimes it can just be something simple, something beautiful, that you create with your own hands to tape to the window frame. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

::this moment::knitting circle::

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.
Pop by Soulemama's blog to visit other moments and to share your own.

Have a peaceful, weekend with lots of rest, knitting, and reading in it!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Child's Work

The Kindergarten curriculum in Ontario supports the belief that playing is a child's work. All the planning I do is focussed on play-based learning, where the children freely explore open-ended activities that will help scaffold future learning. We've all seen this in action in observing our own children's play at home. Children learn through real life experiences, helping with chores, visiting friends and neighbours, and interacting with their siblings in imaginative play.

Play is a vital part of a child's development and sense of self, of finding their place in the world, and especially of learning.

And so, every evening, I struggle when Jude gets home from school. I empty out his backpack, and see the words, "Math, Spelling, Reading" written in his agenda. He groans as I pull a math sheet out of the backpack. The loose guideline given to teachers in regards to how much homework a child should have is "ten minutes per grade". So, grade one students should have work that takes ten minutes.

This is the guideline.
I've always been a bit of a rebel when it comes to sending home work from school. Even before I had children of my own, I felt that I was somehow invading the child's home life with "leftovers" from school. I knew that as an adult, I just wanted to go home and be off at the end of the day, and had a strict: work at work, play at home policy for myself.  I should clarify that I did send home work if a student had spent the school day goofing off; the deal in my classroom was that we should use the time at school for working and learning, so that when they got home they could do what they wanted to do.
Alfie Kohn states "I discovered that decades of investigation have failed to turn up any evidence that homework is beneficial for students in elementary school.  Even if you regard standardized test results as a useful measure, homework (some versus none, or more versus less) isn’t even correlated with higher scores at these ages.  The only effect that does show up is more negative attitudes on the part of students who get more assignments." 

You can read more here.

I'm in the unique position of being a teacher, and parent of child in my school. I found myself arguing, fighting, bribing, and cajoling my child into completing work every night (that took at least 30 minutes); by the end of it, we were both cross and exhausted. In a typical school day, I have my son for about three hours. I began to resent the fact that we spent a sixth of that precious time struggling through more work.

Homework frustrations are compounded when your child has a learning difficulty. I dreaded this time together, which in turn broke my heart, and turned me into a task-master. 

Alfie Kohn's article gave me the confidence to write a note to Jude's teacher (who is also my colleague, and wonderful teacher) today. I feel it is not in Jude's (or our family's) best interest to spend our time together fighting through homework. I agreed that we would continue to work on his spelling words, reading, and a science project on Dingoes, but that all else would have to wait.

We also practise piano and stepdancing in the evenings, and encourage the kids to run upstairs and play their sibling-imagination games. We often do puzzles, play board games, wrestle, cuddle up and read, and watch movies together.
 The other incident that inspired me to write was that Jude tearfully told us last night that he was held back from gym because he'd done some work "wrong". Granted, he had a supply teacher; we've already clearly expressed to his teacher that we don't want him missing gym or recess for any reason.

There is an art to expressing concerns to your child's teacher. Often, his/her actions are dictated by the powers that be; most schools have policies regarding homework and protocol in regards to work completion. I have been at the receiving end of parents who express their concerns by shouting at me, writing nasty notes, or emailing the principal without talking to me first. Here's a quick guide, off the top of my head, to dealing with concerns:

1. Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Breathe deeply, and keep calm. Shouting in his/her face isn't likely to be effective, as it will create a feeling of defensiveness which is never helpful.

2. Try to get a clear picture of what happened from your child, without judging the teacher or bad-mouthing him/her. One of the biggest struggles a teacher faces is being expected to manage a classroom of children whose parents have no respect for the teacher, and have expressed that to their children.

3. Avoid the "sneak attack" (waiting outside the classroom in the morning, or showing up unannounced through the day). Write a note or call the school expressing that you'd like to meet with the teacher, giving a brief synopsis of your concerns (e.g. "I have some concerns about the amount of homework Jude is receiving; could we meet to talk about what we can do together to support his learning?")

4. Be respectful of your child's teacher, as you would of any other professional. Yes, they are caring for your most precious person, and are paid by taxes that you pay. Your doctor also plays this role, but I imagine doctors receive less aggression than teachers do. This does not give you the right to shout at, insult, or attack them verbally. You'll get much further with honey than with vinegar, if you know what I mean.

You'll do more for your child's success at school by maintaining an open dialogue with their teacher than you will by creating a dynamic where the teacher feels that you're going to argue with every decision he/she makes.
By expressing your concerns and questions respectfully, you're modelling problem-solving and conflict-resolution for your child.

So. This morning I'm feeling a bit more peaceful, having expressed my concerns in a way that acknowledges my child's teacher's professional judgement, but also establishes my role as care-giver of my child. I want him to have time in the evenings to help with the wood, examine chicken bones from dinner with his magnifying glass, draw pictures, and just dream. Childhood is such a fleeting time; there is plenty of time to train children to be "good little workers".

In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out how we might fit in a year or two of homeschooling in the coming years.

This post was supposed to be about homework. It's evolved into something else. Most of my "rant" posts are like this; I don't write a draft, edit, the rewrite...it's all off the cuff.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yarn Along

I'm joining in with Ginny at Small Things for her weekly Yarn Along!
The socks I started last January (toe-up, magic loop, two at a time up to the heel) are within three rounds of being DONE. I wanted them for my birthday last February. But other little projects butted in line and now I'm finishing them, a year later. I have a skein of Fame Trend "Party" for my next pair of socks, because I'll admit; I'm officially obsessed with hand-knit socks. 


I usually have two books on the go: one non-fiction, for picking up here and there through the day, and one fiction for those moments before I pass out at night. "Root Cellaring" is a great guide to get you started on the road to keeping that homegrown produce through the winter. "Bride of New France" is a historical fiction, drawing on the stories of young women from France who were shipped to Canada in the 1600s to marry soldiers and populate the new colony. These women were often orphans, prostitutes, and other unwanted members of French society, and had no idea of the hardships they'd have to endure to gain a foothold in early Canada. The protagonist, Laure, is a bit more courageous and unconventional than her fellow travellers; at this point, they're still on the ship and have just started spotting the icebergs near "Terre Neuve" (Newfoundland). I'm excited to find out how she fares in the land of "snow, savages, and wild beasts".


Now it's time for me to get ready for work! Have a wonderful day, knitting, reading, working...whatever your day holds (hopefully a bit of everything)!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

GratiTuesday: Art Matters

Once a year I gather with a group of wild women, shy and boisterous, artsy and not-sure-if-they're artsy. We spent a weekend together, teaching each other and learning from each other. Sometimes we share our gifts in formal sessions, and in the quiet spaces between scheduled sessions, we teach each other songs, how to cast on, and how to live with joy.

This year I presented a guitar workshop, as well as a belly dance session. I knit a few more inches on those darn socks that seem like they'll never be finished (I started them at last year's gathering...)
Once again, I was drawn to the drumming workshop. This year, I asked the question that had been whispering at me: can I try the djuns? With the patience and encouragement of that sweet teacher to my left, I had it. 

Her wisest words to me when I kept saying that I have no rhythm, that my husband is the drummer, that I can't coordinate my hands were:

That's the past. Why talk about it anymore?
So. In this present moment, I do have rhythm. I am a djun player, albeit a beginner. 
This retreat stretches the limits of who I think I am, year after year. I come home replenished, confident, and certain that the arts will be the saving grace in this troubled world. I am reminded of the magic that is conjured when women gather together creatively in a place of support and love. 

I am so very thankful.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Goat Love: Part 2

I've always loved workshops, studios, places where people create. I especially love when people create right in their homes, so that the tools of their trade and the fruits of their labour are all around.
There's a beauty to the order that people create when they make lots of any one thing: socks, toys, candles, or in this case, soap! Homemade shelves, systems to keep track of what's what, handwritten labels, and baskets and bins of their products characterize the home workplace.


 When you walk into the home of Opeongo Mountain Meadow Soap, the first thing that hits you is the beautiful scent of lavender, and the many other essential oils that go into making Laurie and Jack's beautiful soaps. This is a special scent for me, as we gave away their soap as favours at our wedding.

Their house is simple, warm, and inviting; cats come to greet us, heat radiates from the woodstove, and baskets of onions and garlic adorn the kitchen wall. This home has all the charm and quirks of a house built by hand, and we feel welcome as soon as we enter.

I ask to use the washroom, and am directed through a snowdrift to the outdoor privy. Did I mention that it was -25 degrees Celsius when we visited? It gives a whole new meaning to the expression "freezing your ass off"...
Perhaps my admiration of home-studios comes from a deep-seated desire to have one myself. The dream of working in jeans, having lunch in my own kitchen, sitting to work in the light from a window to craft something useful and beautiful and unique with my hands is almost too dear to me to dare express it out loud.



 I love to ask about the leap the artist took to start a home business, and the answer is often the same: "We had no idea it would get this busy. We just wanted to use up our extra goat milk/wool/wood". A hobby turns into a livelihood in small steps, and most craftspeople I speak to seem incredulous that they're actually doing it.
I get daunted by the details: Could I? Should I? What if I don't make any money? This is foolish...I have a great career! It would be crazy to not use my university degree.

Then I think of the fleetingness of time, and the relative shortness of this life here on earth, and I wonder...maybe I should just give it a try with no expectations, and see what happens. Maybe someday I could be the incredulous one, wondering how my little hobby grew into a successful little business!

I am inspired by these craftspeople who spend the day working in their home, heating up soup for lunch, petting their cat now and then, coming up with innovative ways to use the space they have. They help me to keep dreaming when I become too serious, and give me hope that someday, I might just try it myself.

Do you work out of your home, or dream about it? Tell me a bit about it in the comments section!

Friday, January 20, 2012

::this moment::

::one photo, no words; one moment from the past week that I'd like to pause, savour, and enjoy in the years to come::

Visit www.soulemama.com to see other moments and to share a link to your own!
Have a wonderful, wintry weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Goat Love: Part 1

I felt curious about goats the other day, so I asked Jude and Violet if they wanted to go for a road tour.
Laurie and Jack run their business, Opeongo Mountain Meadow Soap out of their home just off the Opeongo Line.

The view is beautiful, and the goats?


Well. It didn't take much to convince my kids that what our little farm needs is a few goats. They just spent some time with Laurie's kids.




I was sold on the idea when we tasted some of Laurie's goat cheese, and drank some fresh goat milk. An hour after Jude drank the goat milk, he reported that he had no bloating, cramps, or gas. This is the kid who hasn't had dairy since he turned two. To say I'm thrilled would be understating my excitement.

As if these faces aren't enough to convince anyone of the charms of goats...

Now we're on the lookout now for a couple of does of our own. Store-bought, pasteurized goats milk tastes...well, kind of goaty. Fresh from the goat, however, it is sweet and mild.
What's not to love? Time to start reinforcing fences.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the musical fruit

I'm involved in a whirlwind romance. With beans. Dried beans, to be exact.

I always have jars of them in my kitchen. They look so pretty, all colour and texture, shape and size! But the other day, after a visit with a friend during which she gifted me with these charmingly (and aptly) named Orca beans,

I got those jars out and took a new look at them. I think what always put me off about dried beans is the planning and time involved in preparing them. It always just seemed easier to open a can.




But now all I can think about is beans. Growing them. Soaking them. Simmering them. Sprouting them. Making them into delicious things: dips, soups, or baked beans! In addition to being nutritious, delicious, and versatile, they're cheap AND easy to grow! I got my Terra Edibles catalogue in the mail yesterday and will definitely be checking out their bean selection for this summer's garden.

Beans take care of themselves in the garden. If you just leave them on their stalks, they'll dry right up; for good measure, you can uproot the whole plant once they've dried, and hang them in your barn or basement to finish drying. Then your kids can help unveil the little treasures inside the pods! Store them for eating, and save a few for next year...what could be easier (besides, ahem, opening a can)?

In the past week I've made Black Bean Cilantro Dip (from Jae Steele's Get It Ripe), Yellow Split Pea Soup (from Sarah Kramer's La Dolce Vegan), mung bean sprouts, and split pea and ham soup. Oh, and baked navy beans, too!

I find that soaking the beans overnight, then boiling for one to two hours softens them sufficiently for most recipes. In Feeding the Whole Family, Cynthia Lair recommends cooking your beans with a piece of the sea vegetable kombu. Sea vegetables aren't easy to come by in these parts, but apparently they soften the beans and reduce their flatulent effects!
That little handful of Orca beans made me feel like Jack must have when he bought the magic beans (before his mother berated him for his poor bargaining skills, of course).

Now I'm hooked on beans as I journey towards a healthier, more whole way of eating.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Christmas Card Garland

It occurred to me to take a picture of this unexpectedly pretty and tidy corner the other day. I liked the simplicity of it.

The rocking chair was a gift from my parents, made by hand by my Grade Nine English teacher, who uses only traditional wood-working tools and local trees to create his beautiful work.

The quilt was made by me, and I never tire of its rustic plaids and sweet little pine trees.

The poster I got in Montreal after I saw it in a friend's apartment. It's travelled with me for almost fifteen years now, and suits every room I've hung it in.

The garland? Well, that you can make, if you haven't thrown out all those Christmas cards yet!
I can't even remember where I saw this idea. If you did it on your blog last year, let me know and I'll link to you!

Simply trace around the top of a mason jar to create circles out of the most interesting part of our old Christmas cards . Cut them out and hole-punch them on two sides. Then thread a ribbon through them, linking them all together.

 So simple, right? And thrifty. And quick. And best of all: pretty.
Over the years I hope to have one of these over every window; these cards are from last year, so I'll soon make this year's cards into a new garland.

I can't help but imagine this done with rainbow paper or printed scrapbooking paper...imagine them as birthday streamers! Oh...must try that soon....don't you love how creating spurs on your creativity?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thrifty: Repairing My Favourite Sweater

My favourite sweater was purchased in August 1997, just before I headed up North to teach for a year. I was twenty-three years old, and just embarking on my teaching career. I loved this sweater. Blue, rust, chocolate brown, gold, all in a classic pattern. Plus, it was a cardigan. I wore it with jeans, I wore it with dresses, I wore it with skirts, I wore it with nightgowns.

The trouble is, this sweater was 100% wool. Warm, yes. Durable? Not so much. Wool tends to wear through wherever there's any steady rubbing or pressure. So, with time, the elbows gave out. A moth or a mouse nibbled a small hole near a button.



There were times when I thought I'd just felt the thing in the washer and make slippers out of it. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It's everything I want in a cardigan: nice fit, not too thick, beautiful colours, classic design. I just couldn't do it.

Today was what we call a "Two Fire Day" (fires in both the wood furnace and the kitchen woodstove); it was that cold. It was the day to fix my sweater.

 First I had to choose a fabric that would be both complimentary and quirky!
 Next, I created a pattern for a patch large enough to generously cover the holes.
 A small book inserted inside the sleeve offered a good flat surface on which to stitch (and ensured that I don't catch the other side of the sleeve). Peter Rabbit is the perfect size!
 Using an iron, I pressed a rolled hem around the edges of the patch, then used embroidery floss to stitch it onto the elbow of the sweater.
While sewing, I noticed a few stitches that were beginning to "ladder", so used a crochet hook to pick them back up, then secured them with a stitch.
Not so scholarly as leather patches on tweed, this dear sweater of mine feels even more mine with the addition of pretty patches.

The patch over the hole in front wanted to be a heart-shape. Now, instead of looking ragged and worn, this beautiful garment has years of life in it, and will be worn proudly until I wear through the patches.