Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I'm not sure what other people usually do, but I just made some jars of very watered-down liquid watercolors, and we brought out paintbrushes. The regular, wide, round paintbrushes worked really well. The sponge brush did not. Our snow is perfect for this right now--it has a dense, hard layer on top, so you really can pretty much just paint on it. If you had thick piles of very fluffy snow, I think you'd have to take a different approach.
Do you see what I see in the following photo? Bojey, happily engaged in a winter activity! It was actually pretty warm (relatively warm, I should say), so her mitten refusal didn't affect her too much.
After Bojey went down for nap, it was snow painting, round two, complete with new full jars of paints, for Ninna and our two neighbors:
I recommend trying this if you've got the right kind of snow. I was a little skeptical, but now that we've done it I'd definitely do it again.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Ninna has spring break (or winter break?) this week, and since we aren't going anywhere, I decided we'd have Mama's Spring Break Camp. It's sort of serving double-duty as a fun spring break activity and an experiment in what it would be like to home school, something we're unsure about at the moment.
I organized the week around the theme of winter (pretty clever, huh?), with a different focus each day:
- Monday: Baking
- Tuesday: Nature
- Wednesday: Art
- Thursday: Field Trip
- Friday: Music
Each day they'll add another badge, and at the end of the week they'll be proud and claim they want to keep their sheets forever. Weeks will go by, I'll get tired of looking at them, and then one day I'll sneak them into the recycling bin when the chicks are at their dad's, and they'll be forgotten forever. Sounds mean, but if I kept every piece of paper the chicks decide they need, there would be no room for furniture in our house.
So today was baking, only loosely connected to winter in that it's a warming activity, and warm it did. The oven was on for about four hours straight this morning, and I think our house was the warmest it's been all winter. We baked bread, two different kinds of crackers, and oatmeal raisin cookies. I'm happy to report that we tried a more whole-grain cracker than last time, and they came out quite well. We used 50/50 whole wheat flour and white flour. I'll try upping the whole wheat flour even more next time.
I gave each chick a little blob of cracker dough. Ninna rolled hers almost as thin as paper and then meticulously scored the dough into what ultimately become the tiniest crackers known to man.
Bojey compulsively ate her dough, not stopping to even pretend to roll it for a second. I guess we don't need a photo of that.
We also read a story and a poem following our theme. I didn't make it to the library and had to look on our bookshelves for baking-related kids' lit. I came up with almost nothing, but we do have this crazy book called Something Absolutely Enormous, an out-of-print thrift store find that you can get used on Amazon for the low, low price of $154.97. It's about a little girl who's obsessed with knitting and knits nonstop until she creates a massive knitted object. At the end, she tires of knitting and takes up baking. It's only tangentially related to the theme, but my chicks like it, and it's all we had. I also found a cute poem called "Fairy Bread" in A Child's Garden of Verses, which was accompanied by a very sweet image drawn by the lovely Tasha Tudor.
So that was baking day. Success! And now we have baked treats to eat the rest of the week. I'm really looking forward to "nature" tomorrow. In the meantime, here's one more photo of the chicks. I can't get enough of these munchkins:
Friday, February 18, 2011
But after a few months of flat out confusion, I started to get my bearings and began to really like Montreal. Over the subsequent two years, personal crises aside, I found friends, a community garden, favorite stores, favorite parks--all the things that come with feeling like you really live somewhere.
Recently, however, I've started to become increasingly irritated and impatient with all of the complicated things I still have to navigate--steps toward becoming a permanent resident, international taxes, school boards (if we decide to go with public school instead of home schooling), etc. I find myself making broad generalizations about the city and its programs and making mental, non-verbal threats during which a part of my brain says "forget it, just leave this place."
While I was reflecting on this the other day, I started to have the distinct impression that I wasn't blazing a trail but rather following the path of many an immigrant before me, almost to the point of being a stereotype or caricature. So I googled something like "stages of an immigrant" and found this:
"1. Honeymoon Phase.
Most people begin with great expectations and a positive mind-set. There is excitement, new sights, new smells, new tastes and the early problems are experienced as quaint - as part of the newness - anything new is intriguing and exciting. And, anyway, there are more pressing problems to deal with, like opening bank accounts, getting drivers licences, finding schools, doctors, dentists, gynaecologists. These are usually handled with the accompanying euphoria of having overcome each of these first hurdles successfully.
2. Rejection Phase.
The honeymoon phase comes to an end as the newcomer has to deal with transportation problems (buses that don't come on time), shopping problems (can't buy their favourite foods or soaps or whatever) or communication problems [...] Little things come up but it may start to seem like people somehow no longer care about your problems. They may help, but they don't seem to understand your concern over what they see as small problems. You might even start to think that the people in your new country don't like newcomers and often you may begin to feel aggressive and start to complain about the new culture/country - 'Australians are ' ', or 'The system is ''. It is important to recognize that these feelings are real and can become acute. This phase is a crisis phase in the 'disease' of culture shock and is called the "rejection" phase precisely because it is at this point that the newcomer starts to reject the host country, complaining about and noticing only the bad things that bother them. At this stage the newcomer either gets stronger and stays, or gets weaker and goes home (physically, mentally or both).
3. Regression Phase.
If you have struggled with phase 2, you may find yourself moving into regression - moving backward - and in this phase of culture shock, you spend much of your time speaking your own language, watching videos from your home country, eating food from home. You may also notice that you are moving in social circles which are exclusively made up of people from your own background [...] You may spend most of this time complaining about the new country/culture and its strange and senseless ways. Also in the regression phase, you may only remember the good things about your home country which may suddenly seem marvellously wonderful; all the difficulties that you had there are forgotten and you may find yourself wondering why you ever left. You may now only remember your home country as a wonderful place in which nothing ever went wrong for you. Of course, this is not true, but an illusion created by your culture shock crisis."******
You can find various versions of this all over online. Stages two and three apparently last two to five years. I now remember reading about this in college when I briefly studied the teaching of ESL and volunteered teaching a family of Bosnian refugees to speak and read English. So there you have it. I'm apparently a stage 2/3 immigrant.
But here and there I have little experiences that pull me out of my irritation. Like this morning. The chicks and I had some errands to do, and I decided to take us out to breakfast. I don't often do this as it's not really in our budget (that whole working-part-time-from-home-single-mom thing), but I decided to do it today. We found what I've missed for years now: an artery-clogging, diner-ish breakfast place.
We stumbled upon the Resto Cafe Oxford and I knew before we walked in the door that this was a place for us. It's extraordinarily tiny, with just two long rows of mostly two-person tables. The window is lined with planters full of overgrown spider plants, and piles of free papers and a large grill greet you at the door. I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd been to a place like this until the owner walked over and poured coffee into a mug already waiting at our table. Coffee is free until 11:00 AM, and it's pretty much expected that you'll have it. That, I have to say, feels like home to me.
The menu looks just like those in the breakfast places a midwestern girl finds herself in after waking up on a Saturday or Sunday morning, eating a huge breakfast while reviewing with her friends the previous night's festivities. Only this time it was me eating with my most frequent, very small, very messy companions. And I'm thrilled to say that they were welcomed with open arms (and a high chair), something I struggle with as children seem to be unwelcome in many places here (see above paragraphs on stage 2/3 immigrants...)
After eating our delicious breakfast, we went for a walk and discovered a charming used book and record store. The chicks and I sat on the floor in the children's section for 45 minutes poring over the varied and lovely used books, searching for a few to take home with us.
It was a good day. I guess I can stay in Montreal.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
She was so certain that my child couldn't possibly sit for a few minutes without TV that she actually changed videos when she realized Bojey wasn't paying the least bit of attention to the first one, thinking, I guess, that Bojey's taste in mindless kids' entertainment was so discerning that if she just put on the right one, she would watch it. My one last feeble attempt to get her to stop was met with "well, you know she's going to see TV at friends' houses," as if Bojey were a twelve-year old stopping by her friends' houses after basketball practice instead of a stay-at-home two year old.
And swirling around in my head are all kinds of "what is this world coming to?"s and "is this really how people are raising their kids?"s and "maybe I need to go move to a commune"s. But I'm not in the mood for this. I'm not in the mood to spend even more time thinking about this obnoxious experience, so instead, I'll share a little bit of this:
This, dear readers, was very easy and very well-received. I simply attached a piece of yarn to both sides of the room with a push pin and hung a sheet over it. Voila, instant fort. I'm thinking of screwing eye hooks into the wall and window frame to provide a little more support. When I tried to hang a second sheet across the remaining yarn, the weight of the fabric pulled the push pins out of the wall.Here is Ninna upon realizing the fort was tall enough for her to stand up inside. This kid cracks me up.
I used clothespins to keep the sheet from scooting itself down the yarn.
This was inspired by something I saw on Ohdeedoh at some point--there was something similar to this in a child's room tour. If I figure out what it was (unlikely since it was ages ago), I'll come back and link to it.
Good night! Oh, and PS--anyone want to me my 100th follower? You'll reap fame and fortune by helping roll that 99 over to a nice, even number ;). And those of you already reading/following/subscribing--thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm having so much fun in this little space, and I love engaging with you.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Down to Earth
It's all about simple living. I recently learned about it from Soulemama.
See you soon with a more logical post!
Monday, February 14, 2011
Occasionally, however, I'm confronted with what I'm sure is one of those great teachable moments, and I have no idea what to do. And this is what happened today.
Last night, I stayed up too late needle-felting a small heart for each chick for Valentine's Day (yes, I had known for 364 days that another Valentine's Day was on its way...). These were my first needle felting projects and, while they are a little wonky and a little too thin, I was generally happy with them and excited to present them to the chicks.
Morning came, much too soon for an overly-tired needle-felting mama, and I gave each chick her Valentine's Day present: a felted heart and a chocolate ladybug. Both girls' eyes absolutely lit up at the sight of the hearts, and Ninna actually said "oooooooooh!" I was about to scribble this down on my mental list of parenting successes when Ninna realized that I was handing the lavender heart to Bojey and the fuchsia heart to her. Suddenly she was spouting projectile tears, horrified that I failed to get the memo that she had changed her favorite color to lavender at some point in the previous twelve hours. She continued to cry and refused the heart.
Now, I have to say that this is not typical Ninna behavior. It's really not. If it were, I probably would have been extremely annoyed. But this was clearly a bit of an emotional outburst by a four and a half year old. So I wasn't annoyed, but I was...I don't know what--confused? Yes, confused, I suppose, not so much about what was happening but about how to respond. I didn't really want to make a big deal out of it, but I had to do something.
I first nonchalantly asked Bojey if perhaps she wanted to trade, as if she were not fully aware of what was happening before her eyes. Bojey, being smart enough to know that she possessed the prize, informed us that she'd like to keep the lavender one, thank-you-very-much. Eventually some distraction presented itself, and we moved on to getting the chicks dressed.
A little while later, I decided to tell Ninna that during Bojey's nap, she and I would sit on the couch and I would needle felt her another heart while we had a conversation about gift-giving and receiving. What that pretty much boils down to is this: I still didn't have a great response, but I thought perhaps I'd get a lightening bolt of inspiration by the time Bojey's naptime rolled around.
Lunchtime came and went, I put Bojey down to sleep, and I sat down with Ninna, still waiting for the inspiration...and it never came. I think if I were reading a novel, or someone's autobiography, this would be one of those formative moments when the protagonist's mother opens her mouth and pearls of wisdom spill out, time stops, and we are all be better people for having been exposed to the sage words of this gentle, all-knowing matriarch.
Except it was me, overly-tired, sitting in front of a fake fireplace, pushing a pile of crap over to the other end of the couch so there was room to sit, plopping myself down and waiting for that matriarch to whisper those words in my ear so I could pass them on to Ninna. And she didn't, so I had to make them up.
I honestly don't even remember what I said because it really wasn't noteworthy. I mumbled something about how we thank people when they make things for us, not necessarily because we like the object, but because we appreciate the fact that they took the time to make something for us. The thing is, I don't want Ninna to think that she has to pretend to like something that she doesn't, or, worse still, that she has to try to force herself to actually like the thing. On the other hand, a little gratitude never hurt anyone.
I think, ultimately, the lesson for her ended up having nothing to do with what I was trying to convey. She was so thoroughly excited by the uninterrupted hour with me on the couch, while I was doing nothing but chatting with her and making her something, that the focus for her wasn't that she was learning a lesson, but that she was getting one-on-one time with mama. And, perhaps, a little bit of recognition that we deserve forgiveness even when we burst into tears when someone gives us a present.
Did I do the right thing? Did I do the wrong thing? I don't really know. When I thought about it later, I could envision parenting "experts" with opposing viewpoints finding equally viable flaws in my approach. Those who are even more focused than I on being sensitive to children's developmental expectations might not like my desire to teach this sort of gratitude and selflessness to one so young. On the flip side, those who are far more strict and conservative in their parenting views might think I was a pushover for making her a new present.
So I guess I feel OK right where I am, today. Right at my little point of parenting that seems to be successful, most of the time, for me and my chicks.
And with that, I say, Happy Valentine's Day! I hope your holiday teachable moments went smoothly ;).
Saturday, February 12, 2011
We did accomplish something today--the bulk of the valentine-making for Ninna's little preschool. This is quite late for a Valentine's Day tutorial, but I wanted to have it saved for next year so I'll be able to remember what we did, and who knows...maybe someone else out there is more last-minute than I. It's possible, right?
At some point, either Ninna or I, or maybe both of us together, decided to make heart-shaped valentines. I also wanted to add a little something (something extraordinarily inexpensive and not of the candy variety) to the cards as a little "bonus," so we cut slots to add stickers. Here's how to do what we did:
1. Make a heart pattern for your card shape. I initially printed out a clip art heart, but I didn't like the shape, so I modified it. You'll want to cut the tips off the top of the heart, as my note shows in the photo. When you trace the heart, the fold line of the card will match up with those cut-off tips, and you'll have enough of the folded part to keep the card together (instead of just cutting out two separate hearts):
If you want to be sure the sides are identical, just fold the heart in half and cut it out that way. Maybe you don't want them identical, though. I considered doing a more artsy, uneven shape, but then decided against it for no particular reason.
2. Fold your cardstock/construction paper/cardboard/etc. in half. I had a piece approximately 9 x 12, so I folded it longways and ended up with enough space for two cards. Remember that you'll be putting the top of the heart on the fold line.
3. Make the fold nice and sharp. I ran a ruler along the fold to press it down:
4. Trace your pattern onto the cardstock:
5. Cut out the cards. Be sure to cut out the tiny triangle shape at the top in between the heart's two "bumps":
Here it is open. Isn't it cute?
6. Using an exacto knife, Make two slits, close together. These will be to hold your little "extra," so make sure they're long enough to fit whatever you want to use. We added stickers, but you could add a tiny folded-up note, a temporary tattoo, really anything small and flat.
Here, again, is the card with sample stickers added:
7. Decorate the cards. I didn't take very many photos of this, but it's actually the best part for the kids. I first sent Ninna to the art counter with an empty basket and instructions to find all the pink, red, and white drawing utensils (markers, colored pencils, stick crayons, block crayons, etc.) She then drew/colored on all the cards.
She then applied heart stickers:
And finally, the moment she had waited for all day, the application of glitter glue. My kids love glitter glue. Just in case you haven't thought of this, I'm sharing my tip for making glitter glue easier for kids to use: I squirt it onto a paint palette and give them paintbrushes. I find that the glitter glue tubes are often impossible for kids to squeeze hard enough, so this method works much better for us. Just be sure to wash the brushes and palette immediately after, or you might not get the glue off. If you want an alternative to paintbrushes, you can give them a couple of Q-tips.I didn't get a good shot of the finished valentines before it got dark out. We've still got a lot of work left. I need to make envelopes (something that's actually quite fun once you get going), and then Ninna needs to write names on them and sign the cards. I know what we'll be up to tomorrow :).
Edited to add: I meant to say this and forgot--the total cost of these valentines was exactly $0.00. The "cardstock" we used was actually old red file folders we had lying around. The art supplies were just standards we have in the art cabinet. And the stickers were from a grandma package that arrived last Valentine's day. I save the extras in the seasonal stuff so they don't get used up at other times of the year. Even the stickers we're putting in the slots will come from our sticker pile. So the only cost to us was the time involved in making them. No need to spend a lot of money on these things!
Friday, February 11, 2011
Or really, to be perfectly honest, I made it. I was inspired by this post on Ohdeedoh. Click over--it will be worth your while to see the snow drawing of a T-Rex. Then come back to me :).
Clearly my little Valentine's image is nothing compared to that dinosaur, but I figured out my technique as I was going; you can probably see that the small hearts are much neater than the big one. Seriously, this was so much fun. And by that I mean, for me. I've got plans for more in my head, and I can't wait to do the next one. If we didn't have an outing this afternoon for which I have to get ready in a few minutes, I'd be on the balcony making one right now.
We also played, but for us that means Ninna joyfully climbs, digs, falls, sleds, and attempts her mom's crazy art ideas, while Bojey is miserable and fusses and cries until we reach a hysterical crescendo of screams after about 25 minutes, and then we have to go inside. You see, this child does not wear mittens. She has never worn them in her life. I put them on her, and she rips them off after 10 seconds. I've tried everything I can think of.
Living in Montreal, as you might imagine, is difficult for the un-mittened one. Here, as Ninna is pulling her into the backyard to start playing, you can see that Bojey is already planning her misery:
And when we get to the yard, this is how she plants herself, thumb in mouth, lovey in hand, while she bides her time until she can scream us back into the house:
This child only lived in California until she was twelve days old, but based on her pure hatred of the cold, you'd think she'd lived there forty years!
Here's one last shot--Ninna attempting her own snow drawing:
Have a great weekend! I'm not kidding about more snow drawings. I'm laughing out loud right now at the absurd idea I have for tomorrow. I hope it works so I can post it :).
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
This is new for me. I used to believe I didn't have time to get sick, so I would get sick, continue staying up late trying to accomplish something, get sicker, and so on. Then something happened that changed that.
Exactly one year ago yesterday, at about the chicks' bedtime, I felt absolutely horrific and decided to take my temperature...and found it was 105.7. That, it turns out, is quite high for an adult. I called the free health line, and the nurse told me to go to the emergency room immediately. My (seemingly logical, at the time) response was "I'm alone with two small kids, it's dark and freezing, and I don't have a working car. I'm not leaving this house." She told me to take my temperature again, and by then it had decreased slightly. She then instructed me to follow the usual fever-decreasing procedures and take my temperature every hour, and if it stayed below (some number--maybe 104.5? I can't remember), I could wait until first thing in the morning to go to the doctor.
So I did, and it turned out I had pneumonia. I had never realized how awful pneumonia can be, but it's really bad. I was essentially bedridden for a couple of weeks, and for weeks and weeks afterward (maybe months) I felt like I had the kind of exhaustion that comes with the first trimester of pregnancy.
I still believe I don't have time to be sick, but now my approach is the opposite--because I don't have time to get sick, I have to buckle down at the first signs of illness and hibernate. I'm especially terrified of getting pneumonia again, but any bad illness seriously impacts the way things go around here.
So I've spent the past five days:
- Going to bed absurdly early (this is the latest I've stayed up, and I'll be on my way to bed soon)
- Taking loads of vitamin C
- Taking loads of vitamin D
- Drinking cup after cup of echinecea/elderberry tea with honey
- Spraying saline solution in my nose every time I remember
- Gargling with salt water every time I remember
- Taking naps
- And many more nerdy, boring things
And I'm perfectly OK with that. I'd rather be boring for a week and come out unscathed than have pneumonia any day!
I'll be back with something tomorrow or Friday--at minimum, some links or research, but maybe even something fun. We'll see :).
Edited to add:
Here's a fun February project from last year (B.P.--Before Pneumonia!): Ice Wreaths
Thursday, February 3, 2011
We used the cracker recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food, which has been one of my most-used cookbooks since I got it a little over a year ago. What it boils down to is this:
- you mix flour, butter or oil, water, salt (and other things you might want--spices, nuts, etc.) in the food processor
- you roll out the dough into one big piece as thin as a cracker
- you score it with a knife to make it easily breakable into nice cracker shapes
- you bake it
- after it's cooled, you break the crackers off the big chunk
Here's the raw dough, scored with a knife:And here's that same dough, baked--now a cute, crispy sheet of crackers:
Here's a chick sneaking cheese while the crackers cool: mozzarella, gouda, and a homemade herbed goat cheese, inspired by this. A random assortment, I know, but it's what we had in the fridge.
And here they are! Our imperfect but delicious crackers:
Making crackers from scratch is so worth the effort. The batch yielded about the quantity of crackers you'll get in one of those pricey specialty/organic boxes of crackers for a FRACTION of the price. And there's no comparing the taste of fresh, straight-from-the-oven crackers to those that have been sitting in a cellophane bag on a store shelf. Of course, the fact that I know exactly what is in them is also a bonus.
So my challenge to you for this weekend is to make your own crackers! I promise you won't regret it.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
And this is the snow that's been piling up on the chicks' windowsill over the course of the day:
We are, in a serious way, experiencing The Storm up here in Montreal. Multiple travel mishaps meant that we missed Ninna's preschool this morning. After being the worst mom by getting very mad at Bojey for refusing mittens for the 567th time this winter, after which she cried hysterically about the cold for the 567th time this winter, I decided that we would just stay inside today and focus on warmth.
To set the scene, we turned on the fireplace and simmered some orange peels and cinnamon on the stove. I know it looks disgusting, but it smells so, so good.
The chicks played peacefully by themselves for awhile, starting with an interpretation of Little House in the Big Woods. The last chapter we read included a long description of cheese-making, and now one of Ninna's oft-used themes is "let's use a cow stomach to make rennet so we can make cheese"! So she runs around the house with a cow stomach, usually made from something like bubble wrap or a plastic bag, and she and Bojey "make cheese" and then "sell cheese" and then "serve cheese."
Ninna is pretty sure these snow blobs on the window are from animals walking up it. The biggest ones are "raven footprints."We also stayed warm by making crackers, a delicious adventure I'll share more about tomorrow night.
And it turns out that today is Candlemas (along with Groundhog Day.) I'm not up on all these smaller holidays, but this one is kind of cool. It marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It's a time to celebrate the slow return to light.
A friend of ours hand-delivered these little walnut boat candles she and her son made to us last night so we'd have them in time for Candlemas. In this house, we have a love for wee tiny things, beeswax, candlelight, and walnuts. And I happen to have a love of things made inside walnut shells, including these darling wee felted babies inside a half of a walnut shell that I'd love to make someday.
So needless to say, the handmade floating candles were a big hit. The chicks went to their dad's this afternoon, so we had to cheat and light the candles a little early. There's still plenty of wax left to burn tomorrow night, so we'll be able to see them in the dark.
And can I just take this opportunity to say how amazing it is not to be attached to a car during a crazy winter storm?