Scenes from a Sunday in the Country

Sunday, April 10, 2016 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

A beautiful Sunday, slightly snowy, spent with friends. Sometimes one special day can lift spirits and send us soaring. Seriously.

 

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Friendship Bracelets

Monday, March 2, 2015 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

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Remember them? :) When I saw my daughter make them, I caught my breath – remembering when I did just that and gave them to my kindred hearted friends. So here we are, and coming full circle in friendship bracelet-making. She first made a few with cotton embroidery thread, which can be a wee bit tricky for novices to work with, especially novices interested in fancy patterns.

So she began to use this wonderful little kit from Purl Soho. It’s a sweet little box filled with very easy-t0-use instructions and thicker embroidery cord so the whole process takes less time and looks more even when you’re finished. Emerson once said that “the only way to have a friend is to be one”, and friendship bracelet-making when you are 8 years old (or any age, really) is a great way to live that.

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Catching

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

My eldest informed me that if you catch a leaf as it falls from a tree… before it hits the ground… it’s wonderful luck.

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It was a sunny, warm day- the last one before the cold October rains were to set in for awhile. Long enough, at least, to drive the golden leaves from their delicate moorings. So we caught leaves.

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This forest is one we have spent much time in for their whole lives. Like our other favorite wild spaces we know its corners and notice when a new tree has fallen across a brook, or the first leaves have lost their green sunshine food and let their autumn clothes show.  Children find such joy in familiarity and in coming back to nature over and over. It becomes a bit of an extension of home, and sometimes I think us grown up people need to put aside our love of “new” and “different” and slow down to build a true relationship with a place. To watch nature as it cycles through all of the weeks of a year is a true gift. No need to make it formal or talk about it as an exercise, or make it explicit… but rather live it and feel it and breathe it.

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We all felt the magic of that day, as the leaves danced down from the sulit trees. We caught many. We lauged and ran felt the beauty of October. And then we took our favorites home, and my daughter got our beeswax pot and dipped them in the bee’s cappings so we could remember the leaves until the trees finish their rest and burst out with a brand new set. Because spring is really not so very far away.

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From garden to meadow

Thursday, June 12, 2014 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

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The wild plants are teeming with vitality and perserverance, stubbornly growing where no one cares for them. We venture into the forest to observe their beauty and sometimes forage for our food & medicine.

When the Lamb’s Quarters plants we tenderly brought home from their spot on a dirt hill destined to be dug and laid into a greenhouse sprout in our backyard garden, are they wild or cultivated? The lines blur when edible weeds sprout up among our beet and radish seedlings, and we choose not to weed them out.

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The winding journey of rediscovering the plant world is very powerful. It is about reconnecting our stomachs, palates and medicine cupboards with herbs and plants that our great grandmothers and great grandfathers knew by heart. The wisdom, teachings and use of our plants seemed to coincide with a rise in mandmade toxins, and human disregard for our environment in the name of so many other priorities. Botany and herbal knowledge is, in this way, reclaimed.

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That Hops plant in our garden, our new Stika Valerian whose roots extend into cultivated soil, our Sorrel, and the the strawberries that refuse to live in the confines of their small clay homes in our backyard…. become part of our family’s habitat.

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We relish the vastness of the meadows and forests and their teeming plant life of Buttercup, Clover and Bladder Campion this week. They remind us that there is still so, so much to learn.

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Spring, Can You Hear Us?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

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We’re ready. The little ones and I packed up every last bit of winter’s nature table, and story time. Every last verse and poem and branch reindeer and anything to do with snow at all.

The issue is that there’s still piles of it outside, warmed by the sun, but melting (if indeed it is melting) at a pace that just isn’t going to work.

The spring nature table is ready. The bunnies are out, the bulb children have replaced their brown winter pajamas with freshly sewn, colored clothes (at least in our stories, they have).

With all due respect, let’s get a wee bit of a move on, ok?

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Reducing Our Kids’ Toxin Loads

Friday, February 7, 2014 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

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I was raised by a mother passionate about pesticides and toxins and I was steeped, very early on, in the politics of environmental protest. This was, without a doubt, one of the most important gifts of my mother, and one of the most enduring learnings of my childhood.

Since then I’ve always chosen to be informed rather than turn a blind eye.

I’ve chosen to educate myself about what I can do to limit the some of the worst synthetic chemicals out there from being ingested, absorbed through the skin, or breathed in by family, especially my (vulnerable) little ones.

The wonderful thing is there is so much more information available now, at the end of our fingertips. And organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) do such amazing work to make it easier for us to digest everything, and then take appropriate action. If you haven’t already seen the EWG’s new work, the Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors – you probably should.

It breaks down some of the worst everyday toxins and even offers suggestions on how to limit them in your daily life.

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Here are some of the ways we underake this in our family:

- We invested in a good quality Reverse Osmosis Filter and use that water for drinking and cooking, as well as for washing fruits and vegetables. RO filters are some of the most effective at filtering out serious chemicals (as well as yucky chlorine that is present in high levels in most urban drinking water).

- We try to buy organic, especially for the fruits and vegetables that are more likely to have high pesticide residues, and we choose meat in bulk from local farmers whose practices we know about and trust.

- We avoid cashier receipts, which are most likely coated in

- We take off our shoes (religiously) at the door, stopped the entrance of many chemical residues at the door. I have inexpensive woven rugs I can throw in a hot cycle in the washing machine every week or so.

- We’re careful about lead, especially as we’re living in a 100 year-old house. We know there’s lead paint in the walls – it’s almost a certainty in homes older than a few decades. And lead is insiduous and so dangerous. Sometimes I think of our old lovely home as a delicate Grandmother who needs some extra TLC and can’t be treated roughly. We want to keep our home safe for us and make sure that we take care of her to pass along to another family someday.

- We’re really careful about what we bring into our home in terms of upholstery (for flame retardants), electronics (for flame retardants and lead), and wood (for formaldehyde). First, some companies like Ikea have improved significantly in the area of adding flame retardants to upholstered furniture & to mattresses. I often buy second hand furniture and reupolster is myself with wool as the stuffing. It’s old fashioned, and what would have been done before synthetics – and it works wonderfully. Second, lots of electronics companies now adhere to the ROHS code, or go beyond it. It’s a great code to limit chemicals in their goods, and it would be great if it applied across the board. If you have ROHS-compliant electronics (like monitors, keyboards, etc.) you know that your household dust isn’t going to contain as many toxic flame retardants. Even with a HEPA filtered vaccuumm, so many toxins for no good reason just doesn’t make any sense. We can use our wallets to support companies who choose to do the right thing. Third, there’s E1 certified plywood out there that is formaldehyde-free and may be other types & brands too. Plywood can off-gas for years and it’s really noxious stuff. When in doubt real wood (even old, vintage second hand real wood) is a better bet.

- We live more simply, and by now our children have become used to our choices and my eldest is beginning to understand the rationale. She knows that we will always choose one better, higher quality + more environmentally and health conscious item over 3 others. We tend not to go to malls or regular toystores. We try to choose, and shop consciously.

Having said that, there is so much room for improvement and we’re always learning new things. Rather than feel overwhelmed, I tend to view these choices as empowering. In the process they tend to simplify our lives and provide an automatic control mechanism for buying too much and bringing a lot in our home.

It entails creativity to finding solutions for needs – adapating second hand finds, re-using things, saving up for a special purchase, doing our homework about what companies do and don’t do in terms of chemicals. I’ve found a lot of very interesting, useful things in Europe. Such as waterproof winter suits for the kids that are lined in organic cotton fleece and don’t contain any more harmful waterproofing chemicals. Their regulations for toys and clothing tend to be much more stringent, so it’s often a good idea to look around at what’s available.

There’s some fascinating information out there about “obesogens” – chemical compounds that disrupt normal development and balance of lipid metabolism, which in some cases, can lead to obesity. Some of the most offending are BPA, parabens and other chemicals found in cosmetics and beauty/bath products. Luckily, the great people at the SkinDeep Database have put together a searchable resource that can really help us all make informed decisions.

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The Singing Revolution :: 10 Tips on How to Start a Choir

Monday, June 17, 2013 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::

I can’t sing the praises of choirs, especially kids’ choruses, enough. I spent many years of my own childhood singing in them, and started one (at the instigation and leadership of my own daughter) about a year go. We started building a small, folksy chorus for mostly homeschooled kids who would come from all over Ottawa and rehearse once a week in the morning. And it grew and grew. And now we have an established choral community – a group of families supporting this choir as it evolves and strengthens. Next fall some of the younger sibilings who have been waiting patiently and anxiously to join will have their turn.

We know a lot about what singing, especially in a group form like a choir, does for kids.

- It fosters creativity

- Gives kids a bridge into other musical and peformance media like studying an instrument, theatre and helps to tune their ears

- Encourages memory

- Builds practice habits and concentration

- Gives kids the chance to gain the confidence to speak and sing in front of others

- Teamwork, all of the wonderful benefits of supporting one another as a team

- The importance of being punctual and showing up when you say you will

But sadly there seems to be a decline in choirs. Fewer choirs in schools, communities and cities. There’s probably a myriad of reasons for that, but I’ve always thought it’s best to start small, and make positive change from the ground up – right where you live. From your own family outwards. So that’s what we did!

If you have been thinking about starting a choir where you live, especially if you happen to homeschool or your children don’t have a choir in their school, here are some ideas and tips – things we’ve learned over the last year.

ONE – Be super excited about it (and talk about it everywhere you go)

Before we actually found the right person to lead it, and long before anybody was signed up, my daughter and I talked about this new choir everywhere we went. The community garden, the farmer’s market, play groups, play dates, with neighbors and everyone at the local Folk Music Store/ Music School. Sometimes gossip and “word getting around” is a really great thing, and we tried to use it to our advantage. It didn’t matter if it hadn’t actually been created yet.

TWO – Ask around and thread your way to the right person to lead the choir

Finding the right person to lead your choir is the most difficult, and most important challenge. In our case, we needed someone who was available during the day, excited to work with younger children, very musically talented (a musician!) and so much more. We started by asking recent Teaching Education (i.e. teacher) graduates in Music and while enthusiastic, most of these people were in the midst of securing full time teaching positions in schools. But it might be a great option for someone who is between such positions. And then we asked people in Ottawa’s music community, and threaded our way to the right person.

THREE – Find a quiet, calm space to rehearse

Since kids can easily be overstimulated and overwhelmed with noise, adult conversations, etc. we wanted to make sure they had every opportunity to concentrate and learn together. We also wanted the choir to become routine in their lives (and ours) so we picked a day and time and stuck to it. We ended up finding a neighborhood church who lets us use their quiet, calm basement in the morning. There are doors to a small waiting area where moms and dads and siblings can hang out.

FOUR – Focus on process, not performance

So much musical learning happens outside of actual performances. And being a bit more laid-back and easy-going in terms of choir culture means that the focus is on what happens each Thursday morning, not what happens during their infrequent performances. Every few months they will sing at a retirement home, a coffee house or on a proper stage for family and friends. It’s fun, and helps build critical performance skills. But it’s not really what it’s all about. By keeping it light and fun, it means less anxiety for the kids and less tension around the concerts.

FIVE – Keep the cost low

If you can find a space that is largely free (or charges a minimal fee) you can really keep your costs down. Lots of concert venues are free (coffee houses are a good example), you just need to think creatively about where a concert can take place. Keeping it affordable helps siblings participate together, and helps open the door to lots of families.

SIX – Have shows for fun, at coffee houses, outdoors… anywhere!

One need not rent an expensive hall or Church sanctuary for a concert. A show can happen almost anywhere!

SEVEN – Encourage team spirit and have the kids commit to learning the material

Much like a team, a choir is made of children who sing and support one another. Having the children commit to practicing at home and learning all the words is a great way to build team spirit and help the choir progress.

EIGHT – Be sensitive to age ranges, developmental grouping

We have found that 4 or 4 and a half to about eight or nine works pretty well for a larger group. A smaller group might be best with kids in the 5-7 (or Kindergarten) age range. Doing a separate choir for pre-teens and teens is probably best as their musical taste and interests are more than likely to be different.

NINE – Build a song community, and keep it going

Once you’ve got your choir started, made it past the initial weeks and months of growing pains and everyone learning to trust one another and work together…. keep it going! Find new members, make concert plans and talk about ideas for next semester / year.

TEN – Logo and t-shirts

We had a simple logo made, and used it to print on some t-shirts for the kids to wear as a uniform. We noticed a real change as soon as the tshirts came – it seems to unify them and make them feel special, as a team. There are a few great custom t shirt printers around who use organic American Apparel shirts, and non-toxic, water-based inks.

If you have started, or participate in a choir – what other tips or ideas do you have?