Friday, July 27, 2012

::this moment::sweet::

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 
Stop by www.soulemama.com to share your moment and to see others!
Have a fancy weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Creative Home: Dragons

As every artist knows, inspiration is drawn from all around. 

Recently, we watched Eragon. There's an impressive battle scene, with dragons swooping through the night. A few days later, we read "The Sunflower Sword", which also features dragons. 

As soon as we'd finished, Jude got out some paper and markers and started drawing dragons. I could see that the image of fireballs exploding against a dark sky had stuck with him, as he drew picture after picture, using one colour of marker on white paper. On one of those rare afternoons when I didn't feel overwhelmed by the mess of the house, I sat down with him to teach him how to bring colour to his imaginings.

Dollar Store craft paint and computer printer paper was all it took to bring those ideas to life. He struggled with the idea that he didn't need to add all the details right away. We started with just the basic dragon shape, then painted it in basic blue. Next, we painted the surrounding night sky. Jude can be very single-minded, and was very resistant to this "lesson" in art because it wasn't looking the way he envisioned it...

...yet.
Once the paint had dried, I gave him a fine brush dipped in darker paint, and told him to add all the details he wanted to the dragon's body. I helped him with some of the finer areas, following his directions. He asked me if I'd paint Eragon riding on Sapphira's back, sword in hand and quiver of arrows on his back.
After a big breath, he realised he could trust that I "got" his vision and could help him realize it on paper! So we started to work on another painting, depicting the "bad guy" on his dragon. We talked about how we'd want the artwork to look once displayed, and ended up creating the two paintings so that when hung side by side, the dragons would look like they were facing off in the night sky.
I have started a pile of the kids' artwork to be board-mounted. Once dry, Jude's dragon series was added to the pile. The next day, he started exploring brush technique and paint layering on his own, to his (and my)delight!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Yarn Along: Sweet Summer

Joining in on Ginny's Yarn Along today!
Ah, summer! We get to the library frequently, and can delve into all kinds of projects that catch our eye.
I always feel that my children's recommendations are just as important as mine. We go through phases where someone will sneak a "My Little Pony" or Strawberry Shortcake storybook into the pile on the check-out desk. They're rich in cutesy, pink, computer-generated "illustrations", but lack in literary beauty. 

So, it's always a delight when my children find and LOVE books like The Sunflower Sword by Mark Spearring and Miriam Latimer. The winning combination of beautiful illustrations, mild humour, and a lovely tale ensure that we read this one daily. We all HIGHLY recommend Cool Chemistry Concoctions: 50 Formulas that Fizz, Foam, Splatter, and Ooze by Joe Rhatigan and Veronika Alice Gunter. We now have a "Chemistry Kit" made up of epsom salts, alka-seltzer, Borax, vinegar, gelatin, and so on and have been getting messy with goop, blobs, and slime.

Our favourite story, however, is Mary Ann Hoberman's The Seven Silly Eaters. I could do a whole post singing the praises of this book: the story, the individual children that make up the Peters Family, the mess and busyness and chaos of a home containing seven children, the beautiful rhyme, the feeling of tied-upedness of the ending...if you seek out one book from today's post, this is the one (especially if you have a larger-than-average family!)

I just finished Ami McKay's The Virgin Cure...hard to put down. It's a dark exploration of the lives of women and children in 1870s New York, and a story of resilience of one young girl trying to get by. The side story of a rare woman doctor dedicating her skills and life to caring for the "dregs of society" is based on the author's great-grandmother's experiences. You might like to start with Ami McKay's The Birth House.

Phew. I don't have much time for knitting...I did put this little Puerperium Cardigan together for a friend's sweet babe. I've got some tiny socks on the go, and yesterday the Christmas orders came in...more on that later!

 One more thing: if you haven't heard of www.goodreads.com, you'll want to! It's a site dedicated to connecting you with books in your taste. You click the books you've read, giving star reviews, and the site will automatically link to other books in the same genre/style. It's a rabbit hole of literary fun, and I've already started a list for our library's inter-library load service!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Creative Home: Sorted!

Remember these 'before' shots from yesterday?


My husband took the kids out all day Saturday and left me to it. And here is what it all looks like now!


 It looks like...well, a house that doesn't have children living in it!
Violet and Margot woke up early, and instead of the usual clamour for a movie, they found their own little activity baskets and happily stuck fairy clothes into their sticker books until we got up.

From the top down, the shelves hold: boardgames; paint and craft supplies; paper, markers, crayons, etc. and a basket of the kids' socks (I find it easier than storing them upstairs in a dresser...they know where to find them and choose their own). The labelled baskets hold age-appropriate activity books, colouring books, sticker books, etc. The bottom shelf holds a basket of "everyone" toys, Jude's Bionicles and Bey Blades, and a basket of playdough tools. 

I find my children are less cranky in this beautiful, tidy space. They are more inclined to clean up one mess before starting another (we don't plan to be too rigid about this, as we hate to stifle their creative flow), and they seem more independent in finding things to do. And when something doesn't get tidied up, it only takes a few minutes for me to do it!

Tune in tomorrow for a look at some of Jude's creative leaps!



Monday, July 23, 2012

The Creative Home: Mess

I sometimes feel bewildered when I go into other people's houses and everything is...tidy. Not just tidy, but empty of the stuff that seems to fill every corner of our house. I mean, where do they keep their jars of chalk, crayons, markers, pencils; containers of pompoms, feathers, stamps; baskets of yarn, beads, paper; bowls of stones, pinecones, and tree bark?...every surface in our home carries something that can be made into something.

I could blame the mess on my kids, but to be honest, my living spaces have always been like this. Half-finished paintings covering the kitchen table, musical instruments stretching across the couch like lazy cats, magazines in various stages of snipped-outedness covering the bed...my hands have always been in the midst of making something.
The top of the piano: knitting, sewing basket, air-dry clay creations, needle case, birds' nests, finished knitting for the baby...

My husband knew this about me before we married, I assure you. He even found my little piles of creative materials charming. His beloved grandmother is an artist, as is his mother, and I think he relished the idea of being married to one (he's an artist in his own right, of course).
Bookshelves overflowing, craft table covered so that we have to work on the floor...

Giving my children time, space, and material to create is as vital, in my mind, as giving them adequate sleep and healthy food. This means that to my own messes, we have added the bead-and-sparkle messes, the baking-soda-and-vinegar messes, the chalk-on-the-front-porch and paint-in-the-bathtub messes that three kids so joyously create.

When we throw our summer schedule into the mix (library program, soccer, swimming lessons), we eat meals on the fly, come home just to change into dry clothes then go out again, and tend to go from creative mess to creative mess without actually cleaning up any of the previous messes.
...and the craft shelf. Yikes.

After awhile, we reach the point where the creating stops because we just can't find any tape or scissors! And the red marker is missing! And, admittedly, it ends up looking less like creative mess and more that we're just lazy slobs.

It's taken me a week to pull all of the materials from our craft shelf in order to execute a major purge. Some tweaking of the system here, some judicious pruning of the colouring book supply there, and once again I can see the potential to create shining through.

Jude has plans for some kitchen chemistry this week, and we're preparing to make some plaster of Paris fossils. I think this new, clean space is exactly what we need to make these kinds of messes! 

P.S. A dear friend of mine, who has her degree in Art History and is now curator of a local Arts centre, told me that her own mother always prioritized creative mess over a tidy home. As a teenager, this annoyed my friend because she didn't want to bring her friends over, but as a woman, she appreciates how her mother followed her creative drives. I'm pleased to say that in this friend's home, creative mess abounds in the many beautiful items she creates with her hands. 

*Tomorrow, see the "after" shots of our favourite creative space!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

the things we've handed down

Don't know much about you, 
Don't know who you are, 
We've been doing fine without you 
But we could only go so far. 

Don't know why you chose us; 
Were you watching from above? 
Is there someone there that knows us 
Said we'd give you all our love? 

Will you laugh just like your mother? 
Will you sigh like your old man? 
Will some things skip a generation 
Like I've heard they often can? 

Are you a poet or a dancer, 
A devil or a clown? 
Or a strange new combination of 
The things we've handed down. 

I wonder who you'll look like? 
Will your hair fall down and curl? 
Will you be a mama's boy, 
Or daddy's little girl? 

Will you be a sad reminder 
Of what's been lost along the way? 
Maybe you can help me find her 
In the things you do and say? 

And these things that we have given you, 
They are not so easily found... 
But you can thank us later 
For the things we've handed down. 

You may not always be so grateful 
For the way that you were made, 
Maybe some feature of your father's 
That you'd gladly sell or trade. 

And one day you may look at us 
And say that you were cursed, 
But over time that line has been 
Extremely well rehearsed, 

By our fathers, and their fathers 
In some old and distant town. 
From places no one here remembers 
Come the things we've handed down.

~Mark Cohn

Monday, July 16, 2012

flower family

As we waited for the rain that didn't come, I stuck some hollyhock buds onto various flowers from the garden. With the help of a small screw, I "drilled" a hole large enough for the bud stem to fit into, then had fun using a Sharpie to make little faces. Soon, requests for a prince, a grandma, a little sister, and so on were coming at me from all directions.
The flower people rang each others' doorbells, complimented each others' hairdos, drank nectar tea, and got bossed around by Violet.
Eventually, the whole family was moved inside, where they spent the night wilting into little furled-up balls of squishy old flower petals.
The fleetingness of these little characters is part of their charm; when the tiger lily prince refused to stand up straight, I simply popped his head on a fresh flower and once again he was ready to waltz the night away. There are always more blooms in the garden eager to achieve their dreams of becoming dolls for kids!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

drought

Tonight the sky clouded over and we heard a hint of thunder in the distance.
We are experiencing the worst drought our area has seen in fifty years; another five days without rain, and it will be the worst in a century.

 Our children can't play on the lawn anymore, because it is parched and prickly. The places where we usually loll and picnic and dream have become inhospitably and perhaps irretrievably dry.
 My gardens are dying before my eyes, and I can't spare the water to hydrate them. Rural dwellers have been asked to reduce their water consumption by 20%, and I watch each drop that my children use like a miser. 


I've created a sign for our washroom, reminding them to only flush when it's absolutely necessary, and tomorrow I'll be cleaning out their closets so that they can only go through one or two outfits a day; I hope to reduce the amount of laundry I do by limiting their wardrobes. 


Tonight, four of us got clean after camping in 5 inches of bathwater. I always think, "Ew!" when I read about pioneer families doing that, but I get it now. We can't risk our well going dry, and can't afford the luxury of full, deep tubs of clean water for each of the five members of our family. One bath a week for the kids (they go to swimming lessons daily in a local lake, so will stay clean that way), and as few as the parents can manage is the plan for now. Our dishwasher kicked the bucket a few months ago, so we've already reduced our water consumption by washing the dishes by hand, but tomorrow I'll limit the kids to one cup each, to be reused throughout the day.
Our pond (which is usually full till late summer) is almost completely dry. The deciduous trees in the bush surrounding our property have shrivelled to nothing, and our apple trees are beginning to turn yellow.
This evening, after the kids were bathed, we went outside to wait for the storm, watching the skies with hope for our well, and for our friends who farm locally and are going to incredible lengths to help their crops survive this drought.

It still hasn't come and I think, perhaps, the rain has passed us by again.
Whether you live nearby or far away, please send a prayer our way.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

::this moment::the toenail::

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 
Be sure to hop over to visit other moments at www.soulemama.com!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

NOT the highlight reel

After a particularly heated debate on Facebook about immunizations (into which we will not delve at this moment), a friend sent me a message expressing her perception that while she enjoys reading my blog (we live on opposite sides of the globe), it sometimes makes her feel like a less-than mother. The baking, the crafts, the hand-knit clothes, the lovable farm animals...it all makes her feel that her life as a working mother who has to put her baby in daycare just to get by in the city somehow doesn't measure up.


That sparked my stepping away from this space, for quite a long time. I heard what she was saying, because I know exactly how she feels. Even though my blog is a space to share my "highlight reel" of the day, I read the blogs of others and wonder...how does she do it? How does she knit and sew and dye and spin and make lip balm and raise animals and repurpose quirky furniture and weave her own doormat while feeding/educating/crafting with her multiple smart, charmingly dressed children?


It occurred to me to post now and then about what goes on behind the scenes in this house. My intention is not to complain or be negative, but to shed light on this very real life we're living, to reassure anyone who ever stops by and thinks that maybe they're not measuring up somehow. So here is the behind-the-scenes moment for this week.


Tuesday is my one night out a week; I gather with a group of dear women friends for African drumming. We eat, talk, cry, and laugh, but mostly we drum. I depend on this evening out to sustain me through the week. Last night I stayed out later than usual, and wanted to kill my husband when he woke me up at seven this morning to kiss me goodbye (please just resist the urge to write something in the comments about how I should be grateful to have such an affectionate, thoughtful husband. I am. Just maybe not at seven a.m.). 


After grumbling a bit, I read a few pages of my book, knowing that the kids were watching a movie downstairs and would call if they needed me.


Except, when Violet and Margot both got scissors to give themselves haircuts, no one called me. Because they didn't need me, I guess...snip, snip, snip...it was done!
Three years after her first self-induced haircut, Violet clearly forgot the rule: we let professionals do some jobs, like dentistry, auto mechanics, and hairstyling.
Violet's first foray into hairstyling, age two...we had to shave her whole head.

So. That was the beginning of the day. The highlight was sitting down to watch Jurassic Park all afternoon, although that doesn't make much of a blogpost, does it? We didn't craft today, I didn't knit, I didn't clean anything or recreate something I thrifted into something useful. I did make dinner for the first time in a week.

And now? The kids are gone to soccer with their dad. I'm avoiding washing the dishes by eating ice cream straight outta the tub and surfing the internet. Quick revision: THIS is the highlight of the day.

Is that real enough for you? More to follow.

*Sincere thanks to that friend down under who brought some much-needed perspective into my real life.

gangling beauties

The worst drought in 50 years has brought an unexpected loveliness to our garden: hollyhocks.
Most years, they go by as part of the general chorus.

This year, they have stepped into the spotlight of sun, taking their place at centre stage.
They wear costumes of all colours, and are beautiful wherever they choose to stand...in unexpected places...in the middle of gardens, against walls, and wherever their seeds fell last fall.

They distract from the weeds that overtake much of the gardens, and bestow their colour and beauty on all who see them.

Hollyhocks. Tall, gangling beauties that call to mind a garden of a century ago in England. Their grace and showy loveliness brighten my garden, and my day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

all quiet in the coop

It was a tremendously, overwhelmingly busy Spring. I didn't write at all, blogged very little, and am only now starting to look back at what it was all like.


This post over at Patch 'O Dirt made me realise that I hadn't really thought about a major, gritty detail of our lives on this homestead.


This was the first Spring we came face-to-face with predators. At first, we didn't notice that our hen population was dwindling; it didn't occur to us to count, as we'd just open their little door each morning and lock them in at night. 


Then my husband found eight of our twelve chicks dead in the coop, their necks bitten and bloody. This was an astounding blow, as we've never really worried a whole lot about predators. We have always let our chickens range during the day, and lock them in safely at dusk.


Well, one by one, the hens were disappearing without a trace, or would be found dead in the coop just under their nesting boxes. Finally, my husband saw a fat raccoon emerging from the coop door, well before dusk. We started locking the door a bit earlier. We don't own a gun (yet), so we resorted to increased vigilance. The trouble is, once a raccoon knows where to find food, he or she will return night after night until it's all gone.


We were down to four chicks and one hen, in addition to King Henry, our rooster of longevity (he was part of our original flock, acquired over two years ago) and valiant heart.


Then one day when I was at work, mom took Margot into town. They were home by noon, and found white feathers scattered all around...by the woodpile, up at the fire pit, by the laneway. 


King Henry put up a valiant fight, but succumbed to the daytime attack of what we assume was a fox.


I just don't have the heart to start replenishing my flock. We've kept our remaining flock of five cooped up all day and night, which saddens me in this beautiful summer weather. But, until we get electric fencing or a dog, it is the only way I'll preserve them. We get one egg a day (not much to live on for a family of five!) and look forward to our "teenagers" starting to lay in late August.


I just loved Nadja's tribute to her rooster and thank her for prompting me to write about our own losses. It's awfully quiet around here, especially in the early morning when we were accustomed to hearing the happy crowing of King Henry the Brave. I miss the matronly clucks of "my girls", and am so saddened at how their lives ended.

Monday, July 9, 2012

a note to the dentist

I'm vigilant about the care of my children's teeth, and have chosen, until now, to take on their dental care myself. We floss and brush regularly, and I'm careful about their sugar/juice/dried fruit intake. They know what foods are good for their teeth, and what a cavity is. 
This summer they will all visit the dentist for the first time. Margot's appointment went off without a hitch; she was given the all clear: healthy teeth! Violet's appointment is today, and yesterday afternoon she decided she wanted to write a little note to her dentist.
I sat with her, helping her print each word. 

The teacher in me shone with pride that she already knows to print left to right, understands the concept of return sweep (where to go when you run out of space!), and leaving spaces between her words.
The mother in me smiled at her polite request, so carefully worded and printed.


Years of thumb-sucking has taken a toll on Violet's bite; in other words, she will be an orthodontist's dream in a few years. I'm hoping that for today, Dr. Kingston will withhold comment, praising her instead for her clean, white, healthy teeth. 

We'll worry about braces later. 


Thursday, July 5, 2012

queen-sized

When we got married, we used the money we received as gifts to buy a queen-sized sleigh-style bed. We luxuriated in the space and comfort of it. We're both tall and had been sleeping on tiny antique beds for years, so we loved that we could spread and stretch out to our hearts' (and bodies') content.


Little did we know that eight years later, we'd find this big old bed a bit, well...crowded.
Blessedly crowded, that is.

I've nursed every one of my children in this bed, gave birth to Margot in it, and hope to birth our next baby in it, too. We snuggle in for early morning sleep-ins, afternoon naps, and the occasional early evening rest. We read stories in this bed, coach little ones through bouts of the flu, warm our feet together, and tell long rambling tales of the dreams we had last night.


Our children now go to bed in their own room, and sleep through the night in their own beds. But this bed is our family bed. 


Maybe we should have gone for a king-sized one...