Long Time – No See

Well, so much has happened in the past few years. We had our 4th baby,  got a dog, and then I had cancer. Yeah. Life has some interesting turns.

So here I am finding myself on a parenting path I didn’t intend. This week I’ve yelled, threatened, and generally tried as hard as possible to rule my children with an iron thumb. It sucked. They looked at me with fear and sadness and disgust. How do you even begin to fix that kind of pain? That kind of heartbreak?

Let’s back-up a bit. So this time last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemo and a bilateral mastectomy and then DH started a shutdown at work (12 on, 1 off – 13 hour shifts; straight nights). So straight out of surgery it was parenting at it’s worst. Then about 4 weeks in, I decided to completely do all the landscaping in our yard. Ummm, that wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve had).

The good news? I love my yard!!!! And it really helped me to not focus on the possibilities that could be. The bad news? Well, my kiddos really needed more than passing parenting during that time. And now they’re really showing that they’ve been neglected in so many ways.

So here I am. Trying to figure out how to support myself, my children, my husband and mange a household. I need to separate reality from desires for our family. I would love to spend every moment helping my babies, but I can’t. And then I’m faced with them not always wanting me around as well as trying to balance my own needs.

Tomorrow we’ll be at a local park for an Epic Battle (kids pretending to sword fight). I know my children will want a lot of attention. But I also know I can tell them to go play and they will. I can spend this time chatting with other mothers and recharging, but then end the day with cranky children, or I can figure out a way to balance their needs with my own. Of course, I have a 2 yr old. All needs are his needs. Sigh.

I don’t even have eloquent words of wisdom, instead I’m sitting here wondering how and why and wishing I was more capable of so many things.

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Time after Time

It seems I underestimated Agatha. I know she can’t really count in sequence yet. At least not passed 10. I also assumed she didn’t know her numbers or letters. It seems I was wrong. She knows most number by sight up to thirty. She can also identify most letters without issue, though certain things like lowercase ‘d’ and ‘b’ as well as ‘W’ and ‘M’ confuse her, but hey I can handle that.

Today we stopped at Chapters and picked up a book about time to read together. She knew all the numbers needed to identify the different hours and minutes not he clock. But more importantly once I showed her how to move the hands to make 1 O’ clock, she was able to move the hands to make any other hourly time. I showed her how to make a half past time, and she could figure it out for the rest. I certainly underestimated her ability to decode time. Now we just need to practice and see if she can begin telling time on her own soon.

Though I really don’t think it will make that big of a difference if she could tell ‘real’ time. She has no concept of time, other than now. It’s only been recently that yesterday came to mean a specific day rather than any day in the past. But five minutes, three minutes, seconds, hours, days, weeks, years. These are concepts that are still very fluid to her. For now she’s learning the vocabulary.

A wonderful book we read to help the girls learn the concept between different lengths of time is : A Second is a Hiccup This is a sweet story in verse that goes over time from seconds through to the length of childhood. It paints a clear picture using ideas children know. scrape your shin – ‘in a month you’ll grow new skin’.

Do you have any books or resources about time that you loved for this age group?

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Measuring the Marigolds

Wow, we’ve been busy the past few weeks. In many ways our busiest days were the ones we stayed home and did nothing.

As we wait for our fence, grass, patio, gardens, and trees we spend the days with our noses pressed to the window dreaming. Today Ella dreamed the weeds growing in our backyard grew into beanstalks. We were able to climb them all the way to space. There were no giants in the clouds though. Because clouds are made of condensed air and nobody can stand on air. Okay then.

We also spend quite a bit of time caring for the plants we have in the house. A grapefruit, a lemon, lime, and mandarin tree. Each tree should have 5 or so fruit on it that’ll be big enough to eat. From caring for these plants the girls have learnt about the different parts of flowers, they’ve loved being little bumble bees pollinating the flowers. They’ve also successfully planted an apple seed from an apple they were eating. Which lead to us getting several pots and growing herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. The different sizes and shapes of the seeds fascinated them.

The citrus trees gave the girls another opportunity. The trees came with a few friends. Besides hundreds of aphids (that we’ve faithfully been squishing by hand every day), they also came with millipedes, pill bugs, and spider mites. We diminished the millipede population very quickly (they were everywhere), killed every spider its and aphid we could find. Added a couple lady bugs to the mix and the girls went to work adding a few pets to our family.

They took our old sugar dish (looks like a  fish bowl) added a few inches of dirt to the bottom, layering the dirt with fallen leaves, blossoms, fallen fruit buds, and anything else they could find that was rotten. We added a spider plant shoot that needed a home and a tomato plant that wasn’t doing very well. They carefully added water to half the terrarium and left he other side mostly dry. They named their new pet pill bug Aliza. It didn’t take long for them to find more. Soon our little terrarium housed four pill bugs. The tomato plant is doing fabulous, the spider plant has taken over the rest of the space, effectively sealing the top. The air below is moist and the dirt stays damp. The perfect environment for pill bugs. The girls can see through the glass to see when the dirt becomes homogenous allowing them to know when to add ‘food’ to the space. In the meantime they have a glass they put all fallen leaves and such until it’s time to feed their little pets.

From here we talked about bugs, what makes a bug? was a pill bug actually a bug? (nope, it’s a crustacean). We talked about bugs, crustaceans, turtles, shrimp, then we moved on to talking about mammals. We spent an hour or so classifying different creatures, then dissolved into fits of being sabre-toothed, crustacean eating dogs. It wasn’t pretty. And there were still six hours until Ryan came home.

Ninjas are deadly and silent. I set up a laser obstacle course out of yarn through our upstairs hallway. The girls had a blast climbing over and under the different strands. Cordelia managed to get herself tied in knots, Chester managed to rip it all down (and get himself tied in knots), Agatha couldn’t tell where her bum was (so it’s a good thing these lasers did not actually slice off the body part it touched), Ella managed pretty well. I’m still working on the overall costume, but did manage to get a couple of black jumpsuits made in a day so the girls have Ninja costumes to play in. Ella wants to start wrestling, but I think if I introduce her to martial arts she might go for that more so now than wrestling. Youtube here we come!

For her birthday Ella received a Mexican cookbook with spanish vocabulary in it. She’s so exceed and wants to learn Spanish so badly. We intended to start her in French (makes sense around here) but think we’ll start with Spanish after all. As soon as we (fill out the paperwork) get funding, we’ll buy the Rosetta stone for Spanish. Ever since she received this cookbook she’s actually started eating food with flavour again! She happily dumped cumin and onion into a pot because her book told her to.

As such she’s really working hard to learn to read and write. She practices writing almost daily, but at this point if she writes a letter it’s just a letter unless Ryan or I give it meaning (within a word). If we spell words for her she can write them down. Certain words she can see and read quite well, but often we have to stop her and actually have her look t the word. She just assumes she doesn’t know it, so doesn’t try until we tell her she either knows it or can figure it out.

As she works on her letters, she also works on her numbers. In fact numbers are very important to her right now. She owns her own store you see. She creates items every day and sells them to unsuspecting passer-by’s   Ryan and me. It started with her asking for a certain number of coins, exact change only. Then moving onto asking for specific coins. She’s slowly moving toward asking for a certain price. Though this is difficult for her. The numbers are bigger than she comprehends yet.

Ella: Mommy this twirly costs two coins.

Me: Which two?

Ella: The ones with the reindeer.

Me: Quarters. This costs two quarters?

Ella: (Beaming) Yes.

I really didn’t think she could count to fifty, let alone try to teach about change for those numbers. And using two quarters to her is easy, fifty cents. She doesn’t have a comparison. As an experiment I did ask if she could count to fifty. She made it to twenty no problem. Then she paused and thought about it. Asked what the next number was. I told her twenty-one. She then guessed twenty-two. I said yes. She then slowly counted twenty-three, twenty-four up to twenty-nine where she paused. I told her thirty, then she went on. Only pausing for the tens to figure out what the number was. We counted to one-hundred ten. in this fashion. She didn’t know it previously, but she knew the pattern and could manage from that point.

Ella: This costs three pennies

Me: Okay. Here’s a nickel. Can I have change please?

Ella: Sorry my store doesn’t work that way.

I explained to her about change. I promised I wouldn’t take her money, but wanted to demonstrate what how change worked. If she liked it, she could make change. Or I wouldn’t buy the item. We took out all her coins we talked about the different coins, how much they cost, size, shape, colour. We then made piles of each one so each pile was worth the same amount. I then showed her how to make change for a nickel from pennies. In the end she wasn’t certain, but her jar had more money than when she started so she’s trying it out for now.

Ella’s been fairly proficient with addition and subtracting. She uses her fingers, or objects to visualize, but she knows the terms and the concepts. Recently we’ve begun multiplying and dividing small numbers as well. Usually in relation to food. She’ll glance at a cake and tell me how many pieces everyone gets. But she can’t tell me how she knows that. So I’ve been helping her figure out how she knows the answer. The whole number we start with is the number of pieces total. Then we get out the same number of plates as people. Before we start we make note of how many pieces she thought were for everyone. Then we divide. She’s usually right. Though now that I’ve pointed out the concept to her I’ve noticed she doesn’t get the right answer as often. But I can see her trying to get the answer.

For the most part everyone seems to do the same thing, just different levels. While Ella’s writing about numbers, Agatha’s counting objects or colouring and Cordelia’s eating markers.

Agatha’s working on letter recognition and writing her own name. We’re also talking about places in the world and where she fits in. I have a couple ideas for projects, just a matter of doing them.

Agatha’s fascinated by Benjamin Franklin and journalists. She’s been creating news daily, writing everything she can down. Her and Ella team up to sell it to us from their news office in the basement. She’s also practicing counting a starting to add and subtract. Though mostly that’s because that’s what Ella’s doing. Agatha’s not interested in ‘actual’ math yet.

Cordelia’s climbing everything and has a ton of words. There is some interpretation needed, but once you know what she’s saying it’s easy to understand the next time she says it. Certain words are clearer than others. Her doggie commands are perfect. “‘Hester Siiiiit” (Hester = Chester) “‘Hester Stttayy” both commands complete with hand signals.

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New Directions

It seems I don’t find the time to blog very often. Or rather the inclination is no longer there. I don’t want to write a blog about how to parent. After all I’m learning as I go. Each of our girls is so different something that works fabulously with one would never work with the other. There are general guidelines and I think I can sum that up in one sentence. Everyone needs to feel safe and respected. As long as both parents and kids, especially parents, remember that then for the most part how you get there doesn’t really matter.

Everyone needs to feel safe and respected

So where does that leave me?

Mostly this will morph into a record of sorts of our unschooling journey. It’s so difficult to keep track of everything we do, what each girl is individually interested in as well as areas we’d like to explore more. There will likely still be parenting and relationship posts on occasion, but I find most of my posts come from a thought niggling in my mind and certain people have taken them out of context. Or rather thought the context had something to do with them. Unless specifically asked, I have never written about you or toward you. Though as parents, it’s likely we’ll all experience similar things on our own journeys.

 

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A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

I recently read a thought provoking post , but really the comments grabbed my attention more than the post.

I love Disney. Really I do. Rather, I really do. I’ve dressed my girls up as princesses and fairies many times. They’ve worn the dresses day after day, they’ve asked for the shoes, and the coats. Sometimes they get them, sometimes they don’t. One time in particular Ryan and I weren’t so keen on a certain toy because it looked, well, cheap. I didn’t want Ella to spend her hard saved money on something that would break straight away. But she wanted it. It was her choice. The toy broke. Now she asks questions about products before purchasing.

I don’t like being surrounded by labeled products, but refusing to allow my girls to experience any of those same products will only increase their desire – increase the appeal. I let them experience what they can, all the while talking about how a princess product might compare to a non-princess product. We talk about what they expect of the product, vs what the product actually is. As for seed packets specifically (see the linked post above), my girls would likely expect the flowers to resemble the princesses and would be very disappointed if they didn’t. We’d talk about those expectations before purchasing. We’d also talk about if they’d be happy with the package going in the garbage and no lasting princess likenesses, or if they’d be upset. They would be included in the conversation. And would likely choose different seeds. But if I just said, “no”, they’d likely throw a fit – and they wouldn’t have actually thought for themselves about the value of a product, media literacy, consumerism.

We talk about the difference between Disney princesses and real princesses (and real girls). We watched the Royal wedding together, enthralling my girls. They love looking at pictures of PRINCESS Kate playing hockey, being in girl guides. We talk about all the things a real princess actually does – and what makes a person a princess vs a regular girl. We also talk about history – were women always portrayed as needing rescuing etc. And ultimately I think it’s okay for them to have a princess fantasy. In their games Cinderella isn’t waiting for her prince to come, but she magics the wicked step-mother away and teaches the ugly step-sisters kindness and love. In their games they give Cinderella power Disney never dreamed possible. Why would I take that power away from them?

I think it sells our girls short when we tell them this character they love is worthless, that their idea of wonderful is worthless. Instead we talk to our girls: Do they really think all Cinderella did all day was wait for someone to rescue her? Or did she do other stuff? How do we know she was really so kind and good, she wasn’t very nice to lucifer (the cat). Then we discover there’s a whole lot more to the story than we see in the Disney movie. An old woman needed help, but didn’t have a lot of money. No one else would help her, but despite all the work she had to do, Cinderella offered to help. Why was Cinderella helping the mice? Well it turns out…The story goes on. Day after day they dream. They dream of what they might one day become. THey dream that today they are heroes. They dream that Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, are more than we knew.

I don’t want my girls to think there’s only one flat story to a person – any person. I want them to always look deeper. One day they might meet a perfectly coiffed young lady who’s very sad because her parents always expect X, Y, Z. I want my girls to approach her with compassion rather than contempt. Or they might meet a girl much as I was once upon a time, sad, lonely, with clothing that didn’t fit, hair straight down my back. Either way, I want them to approach all people with compassion. If all parents taught their children compassion, bullies would lose their power in the school yard. But the sad truth is as we tell our sons and daughters that princesses aren’t worthy, we really tell them certain types of people aren’t worthy.

 

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Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Oh, Oh

A few weeks ago I actually managed to get the girls to the library. Yep, the same library we walk past three times a week. That week we actually managed to go inside. While browsing the shelves I saw a book about mummies and thought the girls might enjoy it (we also took out books about animals on the prairies, weather and seasons, valentines, mining, and sheep). It turns out the girls LOVED the mummy book. So we took out a few more books about mummies, pyramids, and the sphinx.

In the one book it briefly described how the ancient Egyptians made mummies. The girls were enthralled. After asking dozens of questions about the difference between Egyptian mummies and those made in bogs, we decided to make some mummies of our own. So we took some toilet paper…

Nevermind. We didn’t actually take toilet paper. Certainly the bandages on the Egyptian mummies are one major difference, but I felt there was much more to the whole process than just wrapping. I also thought my girls would understand a lot better if they actually made REAL mummies. So we went to the store and we looked at the chickens, and the ducks, I said no to the geese and the turkeys, and they settled on a game hen each. We also bought some salt, bandages, and some oil.

Supplies

Each girl chose a couple spices to add to their jar of oil (to make the scented oils). Agatha chose allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. Ella wanted only anise. We added the chosen spices to the girls’ jars and capped them. We knew it would take a while to make the mummies so we thought the oils would have plenty of time to infuse. Each day we agitated the jars a bit to mix things up (the girls had a blast with that).

Then we prepped the hens. We washed them and pulled out the extra bits that were inside.

Then we filled them with salt, laid them on a bed of salt, and thoroughly covered them in more salt. Just a note for anyone thinking of doing this at home – you need ridiculous quantities of salt!

After the hens were completely covered we set them on the counter and left them there. For a very long time.

While we waited for the salt to work it’s magic we talked about what the salt was doing to the bodies, and did a quick demonstration with a bit of water and some salt. We then read a couple books about pyramids. And the girls tried there hand at building.

We determined tomb robbers might find a way into some pyramids easier than others.

After the hens sat on our counter smell free for a while (weeks) we removed all the old salt and replaced it with new salt. We really should have done this sooner, but time got away from me. Our hens were still very moist.

But a few weeks after that when we changed the salt again, things were looking much better. Then after roughly 40 days we removed the salt to see what our mummies looked like.

They were very dry and leathery. We opened our jars of scented oils and the girls rubbed the oils on the hens. Then they wrapped them in linen (gauze) bandages.

They were very proud of their handiwork and still have their mummies on our counter to show anyone who comes over.

We hoped to follow up the interest in mummies with the playmobil pyramid playset. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to save enough pennies before it was discontinued. So if anyone happens to have a pyramid playset around they’d be willing to part with, please let me know 🙂

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Gluten-Free Cream Puffs

Cream puffs. A heavenly treat for those able to digest gluten. A fast treat for those who can’t.

Start to finish each batch only takes about 30 minutes. Which is great, because each batch only makes 6-8 puffs (depending on size) and if you’re like me (and my family) you’ll need to make many, many batches to satisfy everyone. In fact it took me six batches the first day and four the second for everyone to be happy. During that time I converted the original recipe enough that it takes half the time to make and fewer ingredients – which is great because after so many batches I ran out of many ingredients the original recipe called for.

First get your ingredients together and preheat the oven to 400F.

You’ll need a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, a measuring cup, a couple of measuring spoons, a wooden spoon, and a small bowl.

In the pot pour 1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

in the bowl

1/2 cup rice flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum

*                          *                         *

Have two eggs cracked and ready.

Gently melt the butter into the water, then turn the heat to high and let boil until volume increase. Quickly turn burner to low and pour the dry ingredients into the wet. Mix with the wooden spoon until  ball forms.

Remove from heat and add eggs one at a time. Mixing until smooth between each egg. Mixture should be a thick dough. Put into a pastry bag or a ziploc bag with the corner cut off.

Squeeze onto the lined cookie sheet in 2-3 inch lines. Alternatively you could drop them on, but be sure not to squish the dough or they won’t puff.

Place into pre-heated oven and bake for 15 minutes. No less. Turn the heat down to 375 and bake for an additional 15 minutes. If the time is too long and they begin to brown you may decrease the second baking time, not the first!

Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. Fill with cream, pudding, or for a savoury treat cut the sugar to 1 teaspoon and remove the vanilla from the pastry recipe. Otherwise follow directions and fill with savoury treat of your choice.

I’d like to point out it’s incredibly difficult to take pictures while also filling a cream puff and fending off three ravenous children, so please forgive the angle.

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