Let’s talk about politics: Our experience with government done right

Note: I shared this on my social media the other day, and thought I’d share it on the ol’ blog as well.

Friends: I want to talk for a few minutes about politics. But not in a way I’ve heard much. I want to talk about government done right. I want to share a bit of my personal experience with the province of Ontario.

Our province has its problems, of course. Our country has its problems. I don’t want to diminish the ways our government has harmed and continues to harm certain marginalized communities. But I also want to talk about how the province of Ontario has cared for this little boy from day one.

Felix was born without a functioning immune system and with an atypical brain. Of course this was not his fault. But it means he was born incredibly vulnerable in every way possible. He was born with a body vulnerable to illness and infection, and as a disabled person, also to abuse and neglect. He was born with complex needs, and Ben and I absolutely could not have supported him through his life all on our own. Not in ten lifetimes could we have acquired all the necessary resources to care for all of his unique support needs. Thankfully, the systems in place in our province have managed to support our entire family through his first five years.

First there were the six months in the hospital, and the experimental medical treatment that gave him a functioning immune system, which came at zero cost to our family, thanks to Ontario’s health insurance plan (OHIP). We have continued to have his health monitored and supported by excellent local doctors all these years later. I have never stopped feeling awed gratitude about that.

But it didn’t stop there. When his intellectual and developmental disabilities became evident, we were immediately granted access to all the therapies he needed. When we discovered he had hearing loss, the system made it possible for us to get him hearing aids and audiology support, again at no personal cost to us. When we realized he was going to have long-term mobility issues, the system made sure he had orthotics and a wheelchair/stroller to get around. Even though he can’t walk, he can go anywhere that anyone else can go — parks, zoos, stores, forests, the beach.

We’ve seen dozens of specialists in multiple fields to make sure he has access to all the supports he needs, all paid for by the system. All his medications have been covered. And recently, we started to receive funding to employ a respite worker and housecleaner to support me as a mother, who has struggled with the added labour of caring for a medically-complex, multiply-disabled child with disordered sleep and eating.

Now he’s school-aged. The doctors and therapists taking care of him made sure he got into the necessary programs so that he got into the right classroom, where he would continue to get the support he needs. He gets picked up by an accessible bus, even though for the first few days this year he was the only kid on the bus. He’s in a wonderful classroom with caring adults who have tailor-made a curriculum just for him. He’s surrounded by other kids who love and accept him, because they’re loved and accepted, too.

I know that governments have to power to commit incredible atrocities. But they also have the power to do tremendous good. I have seen it myself.

I realize that government systems doing the right thing is not as sexy or exciting to hear about as, say, wealthy individuals volunteering to do grand acts of kindness. But I believe a strong democratic government can do infinitely more good than any individuals can, no matter their character. Vulnerable people like Felix NEED strong systems in place to protect and support them. They can’t rely on the power, wealth, or goodwill of their parents or do-gooders alone.

I used to not care that much about politics because I didn’t see what it had to do with me. I figured I could take care of myself, and others should be able to, too. But I have learned in the last five years that not everyone can take care of themselves or their own children, and no one can take care of themselves all the time, and that’s okay. Collectively, we can and should take care of each other.

We still have a long way to go in Ontario. We need to keep fighting until every vulnerable person has access to the level of care that my boy has had, regardless of age, ability, race, or sexuality. (And I hope to see humane policies spread to other countries as well. Looking at you, USA). But I have seen what we’re capable of as a community. I know what’s possible.

Learning Resources We’re Loving Right Now: Math, Shakespeare, Mythology and More for an 8-year-old

It’s been a fun unschooling year for us so far, and I thought I’d do a round-up of some of our favourite resources of the last season.

DragonBox Math Apps

It’s no secret that I hate math. I had some terrible early experiences with math in school, and I now believe that the way schools teach it is completely wrong and awful. I have been very cautious with how I’ve approached math with my own kid — playfully, and with no expectations.

One of my favourite resources so far have been the DragonBox games. They’re available for purchase for $5-8 each. We’ve bought them and played them on our Kindle Fire.

I find them very intuitive and they just make math come alive. Each game starts off incredibly simple, and slowly gets more challenging and complex. Interestingly, they are designed without verbal prompts — it’s all just the language of math, with some cute character symbols thrown in. Before you know it, your child is playing with advanced math concepts without even knowing it (including algebra)!

As their website explains: “The DragonBox Method . . . uses motivation-based learning techniques to give children a deeper understanding of how and why things work.”

Lydia tends to turn her nose up at any games that smell remotely educational, but she asks to play these games and can spend hours at a time at them, and I find myself magnetically drawn to them when she plays.

So far we’ve tried Numbers, Big Numbers, and Algebra5. Next up: Magnus Kingdom of Chess!

Narwhal and Jelly Books

I want to back up by saying that I am becoming increasingly convinced that graphic novels are the best tool for learning how to read. Even better than traditional picture books, good graphic novels are more distilled: they don’t waste space on distracting “he said/she said;” they break up text into manageable voice bubbles; and they give more visual clues about what the words say, granting the young reader more independence. (I don’t have to sit next to her and verify that she’s sounding out the words correctly; she can look at the graphics to self-correct.)

But I’ve had a bit of a hard time finding super-simple beginner books in this format that are interesting enough to keep my brand-new reader interested. She started with Elephant and Piggie, which are PERFECT, but I was looking for the next step. Enter Narwhal and Jelly.

The graphics are cute and the stories are short and silly. It doesn’t feel like these books are trying to teach you how to read, because they’re not. They’re just fun. Lydia has been delighted every time I’ve taken out a new book from the library, and immediately sat down to read them through on the spot.

(Do you have any suggestions for the next step? Graphic novel-ish books that are just a touch more challenging?)

Manga Shakespeare series

On the subject of graphic novels: we found some really exciting ones!

For some background: I enrolled Lydia in a once-a-week Charlotte Mason enrichment class, where she was introduced to Shakespeare via Twelfth Night. I could tell she was getting really into it, so I began to seek out materials to build on that interest.

In my search for accessible Shakespeare retellings, I came across the Manga Shakespeare series. Lydia loves the aesthetic of manga/anime, so I gave Twelfth Night a try. It has the full/original Shakespearean text, adapted to the graphic novel format.

Friends: she LOVED it. She spent hours and hours looking at the pictures and reading as much of the text as she could. (Remember: she’s eight, and currently at Narwhal-and-Jelly reading level.)

The wonder of graphic novels is that even if you don’t completely understand the text, the images help you get the gist of the story. I am now convinced that if you can’t watch actual performances of Shakespeare’s plays–which is obviously the ideal introduction to the Bard–the second best way to experience them is in the form of a graphic novel.

So I searched out Shakespeare’s other comedies in the series, and found A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then Much Ado About Nothing. Same result: she begged me to read them aloud to her, and then spent hours upon hours going over them herself, over and over again. She even had her Barbies act out the plays!

(We also watched the 1993 Kenneth Brannah movie adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing and she adored it, and has been asking to watch it again. Guys, this is a word-for-word adaptation of the original play. WHAT.)

Thanks to this series my eight-year-old can now quote her favourite lines of Shakespeare and I am HERE for it.

Olympians graphic novels

I forget how or why I introduced Greek mythology, but Lydia was enthralled with it from the start. She really liked the illustrated D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and I would read the stories to her before bed.

But then I happened to come upon the Olympians graphic novel series by George O’Connor and she was ENAMOURED.

The illustrations are captivating and full of detail, with a classic superhero/comic book aesthetic, and the text is snappy and smart. They’re bursting with energy.

Just like with the Shakespeare books, she proceeded to spend hours inside these books. I took them out of the library one by one, starting with the most appealing goddesses (Athena, Aphrodite and Artemis) and then moving on to the gods, and she ate up every single one (even notoriously boring Hephaistos!) (My personal favourite was Hermes, who is hilarious and charismatic).

(Be warned that these books were created for an older audience. There is partial nudity, graphic violence, and lots of vague references to sex that went over her head. But, I mean, that’s Greek mythology for you.)

Crash Course World Mythology

While on her mythology kick, we tried a few relevant Crash Course videos on Youtube. She loved them so much we went through the whole World Mythology series, and she’s been rewatching her favourites.

I find Mike a charming and hilarious* host, and Lydia loves the Thought Bubble animations. I love that she’s being introduced to a wide array of mythologies, from Indigenous to Hindu to Norse.

*I am a huge dork and was the kind of student who always genuinely laughed at the teacher’s jokes, if that helps you discern whether you’ll like them

The Toys That Made Us

Netflix has a documentary series on the most explosively popular toys from the 70’s-90’s called The Toys That Made Us, and we’re obsessed.

My favourites so far have been on Barbie, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, LEGO, and Transformers.

I go back and forth between awe of these creators’ genius, and disgust at the blatant commodification and commercialization of childhood. The series does not shy away from the baldly capitalist motivations of the toy corporations, and isn’t interested in nostalgia. It’s super fascinating. And for some reason Lydia loves it, too. (Yay history!)

(Again, it’s made for adult viewers, and can occasionally have some crude language. Sorry, that’s how we roll around here. My kid just isn’t generally as interested in media geared specifically to children, which can often be patronizing; and I’m comfortable with her being exposed to some more mature content, as long as I’m nearby to discuss it.)

That’s it for now! Have any suggestions for similar materials we might love?

How to Crochet Your Own Weighted Blanket

A lot of people are talking about weighted blankets these days. They are said to ease anxiety, help you self-soothe and help you sleep better. And what’s more appealing than snuggling under a big, heavy blanket to help ease your worries? It provides deep pressure all over your body, mimicking a hug.

There seems to be some scientific evidence to support these claims of improved sleep and relaxation. And there’s definitely a lot of anecdotal evidence from people who say that weighted blankets changed their lives. Some claim that these blankets can be particularly beneficial for people with autism, sensory processing disorder, or anxiety.

And even if the science isn’t 100% there yet, well, using a weighted blanket (in addition to whatever you healthcare provider recommends) can’t hurt, right? It’s a low-risk, relatively low-cost, fairly accessible tool that has potential to help anyone struggling with negative feelings or sleeplessness.

If you struggle with any of the above issues (anxiety, sensory issues, troubled sleep), a weighted blanket is worth a shot, right?

My Story: The Hunt for the Perfect Weighted Blanket

When my autistic son was really struggling with sleep, I was anxious to try anything that might help. Naturally, I became interested in trying a weighted blanket. I did some preliminary research into different products, but ran into various problems:

  1. The options were all quite expensive. A child-sized blanket was typically at least $120 USD. That felt like a lot of money to spend on something that might not do anything. What if he didn’t respond to it?
  2. There weren’t any options available locally – they were all online. Which meant I couldn’t touch and feel the blankets myself before purchasing. I didn’t feel comfortable laying down money for something so intrinsically tactile when I had never been able to physically interact with it.
  3. Most of the options were made from synthetic materials. They used synthetic fabrics like acrylic and polyester, and were weighted with plastic beads. This sounded both uncomfortable (I hate to sleep on and under non-breathable fabrics!) and not ideal from an environmental standpoint.
  4. Most of the options were kind of ugly. Again, if I was going to put down that much money for something, I didn’t want it to be an eyesore. Most had childish patterns and/or looked like therapy tools, not bedding.

Ideally, I was looking for a relatively inexpensive product, that was made from natural, breathable materials, that was available locally, and that looked nice, too.

I came across one company that made a product which met almost all my desires: Sheltered Co, a small business in California that made gorgeous hand-crocheted blankets from deadstock (leftover) fabric (mostly stretchy cotton jersey). They bought bolts of fabric, cut them into strips, and crocheted them into densely-woven blankets that weighed 13lbs or more.

The resulting blankets were environmentally-friendly, beautiful, and breathable. They weren’t local, though. And the biggest problem? They were expensive. I’m talking $335 USD plus shipping minimum for a child-sized blanket (+$100 for an adult-sized). Yikes! We’re a single-income family, we don’t have that kind of cash to spend on things that might not work!

The moment I first saw one of their blankets, I was blown away by their simple, elegant beauty. And the moment I saw the price, I thought, “I bet I could make that.”

If you can single-crochet a giant rectangle, you can make one of these blankets.

Making my First Blanket

My journey towards crocheting my own weighted blanket had its own problems. I didn’t have access to deadstock cotton jersey fabric like the folks at Sheltered Co, for starters; and I didn’t have a way to easily cut fabric into strips if I had. So I decided my first step would be to find pre-made cotton jersey yarn (often called “t-shirt yarn”).

I spent a lot of time hunting down the right kind of yarn. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find yarn as thick as what I’d seen in those photos, but I thought I could still get some good results with a super-bulky weight. But just as with the blankets themselves, I couldn’t find a local source, so I ended up having to purchase the yarn online without being able to touch and feel it. (At least in the case of yarn, the cost was much lower than a whole blanket, so it was less of a leap of faith.)

I ended up going with Hoooked Zpagetti t-shirt yarn. It’s made from recycled jersey fabric, so it’s environmentally friendly. It’s generally made from at least 90% cotton, so it’s natural and breathable. (Because it’s made from leftover fabric, the contents vary). I got it from Lovecrafts, but a number of sites sell it. I continued to run into problems with the yarn, but I won’t get into that here — I’ll just share my tips when I tell you how you can make your own blanket.T

My first blanket was . . . okay. I tried mixing colours and discovered that when using recycled yarn, sticking with one colour is better to get a more consistent result. I also misjudged the sizing a bit, and ended up with a narrower blanket than I wanted.

I also learned that there is no attractive way to tie t-shirt yarn end together or weave them in. So for my next blanket, I would have to bust out my sewing machine and actually sew all yarn ends together, which added a step.

But gosh, it felt good to wrap around my body. And it looked pretty good, too! Even if it didn’t help my son sleep, it would make an attractive throw blanket for the family room.

I made three more blankets (one for my daughter, one for a friend, and one for my sister) before I finally felt like I’d hit on a good formula.

Testimonials

Here’s what one friend said about the one I made for her:

I use it every single day! I find it really comforting, especially when my body is feeling uncomfortable. I even feel like my sleeping has improved since I started using it as my blanket at night. Even though it’s summer, it’s still cool enough to use at night, and in winter I just double it up with my usual blanket. Plus it’s cute!

And her roommate:

[My friend] has used it more than me, but honestly I love it whenever I do use it. I find it really soothing, and because I tend to be really restless when I’m anxious, the weight is comforting and reminds me to relax. It just helps me feel more secure? Kind of like I’ve been tucked in, haha. And if I’m sitting up to read or whatever, I can double it over and lay it over my legs, which are usually the most restless part of me. We are often arguing over who gets to use it! So yeah, it gets a lot of use out of us!

I personally took my daughter’s weighted blanket with me when I got a root canal, and I found the pressure of the blanket soothing during the stressful procedure.

The Blanket: Details

These guidelines are for a child-size blanket. It will be approximately 3×4 feet in size and weigh around 6 lbs. This is generally considered a good size and weight for a child (weighted blankets are recommended to be about 10% of the person’s body weight). For an adult, you’d have to make adjustments (buy an extra ball or two of yarn and add chains/rows).

This blanket has a very open weave. You can put your fingers right through the holes. Some users like this feature, and find comfort in lacing their fingers through the holes.

It does not provide significant warmth (which is a huge advantage in a warmer season or climate). If you want warmth, you can layer it with another blanket/comforter.

Cost: a ball of Zpagetti yarn is typically around $11 USD. Five balls (what I recommend) then comes out to about $55. However, look out for sales, and check different websites for better prices. I got mine on sale once and only paid about $41 for all the yarn I needed for a blanket. If you’re buying a jumbo crochet hook for the first time, they generally run you about $5 each.

Construction:
The whole thing is made with single crochets through the front loops only. Crocheting through the front loops creates an attractive texture and also makes the blanket stretchier. (Click here if you need a refresher.)

Ready to make your own?

DIY Weighted Blanket Instructions

Important Note on the Yarn:
One thing I learned the hard way is that because most (all?) t-shirt yarn is made from leftover jersey material, every skein of yarn is different. The makers cannot guarantee an exact weight/thickness for the yarn, and the stretchyness also varies. This means I can’t give you exact instructions on what size hook to use, how many chains to start with, or how many rows it will take. I can offer general guidelines, but you will have to do a bit of experimenting to get the exact size and drape you want.

Also, even if you buy the same colour from the same place, you might get varying shades. I was disappointed once by mismatched yarn, all ordered from the same site. For this reason, if at all possible, get this yarn from a brick-and-mortar store so you can see for yourself that it all matches. Or buy directly from the manufacturer site (which is easier/cheaper to do if you’re in Europe).

You want to use a much larger hook than what the yarn manufacturer recommends, because they are expecting you to be making something sturdy (like a rug or a cushion cover), not something that drapes and hugs. A blanket is an unconventional/unexpected use for this yarn.

As I mentioned above, you will run into knots in your skein where fabric yarn ends were tied together. These do not look nice in your blanket. The best way to deal with them is to untie them and sew them together yourself. I will give a bit more detail in my instructions below. However if this is not an option for you and you’re not that picky about the look of your blanket, you can ignore them and leave them in. It wont affect the durability or function of the blanket.

Materials:

  • 5 skeins of matching Hooked Zpagetti yarn (or similar extra-bulky t-shirt yarn)
  • 19mm or 25mm hook, depending on thickness of yarn and personal preference
  • measuring tape
  • sewing machine (optional)
  • thread to match yarn (optional)

Step 1: Make a test swatch.

I would recommend doing a couple of large test swatches to gauge what size hook you need to give you the look and drape you want.

(The bigger the hook, the drapey-er the blanket. As a general rule, I’d say err on the side of bigger/drapey-er. If it’s too stiff it will feel like you’re sleeping under a rug.)

To make your test swatch:
1. Chain 25 or so.
2. For the fist row, single-crochet into every stitch, working into the bottom or the top of the chain — whatever you prefer/are used to.
3. For the next few rows, single-crochet into the front loop only. Once you have about 25 rows, you can stop.

Spend some time with your test swatch to gauge if you like the look and feel of it. You might decide to start over again with a different hook size until it’s the way you like it.

Calculating Size:
When you’re happy with your swatch, count how many stitches your yarn and hook combo take to make one foot in width. You’ll want to triple that to get a blanket that’s roughly three feet wide. (Feel free to round up — better to get it a little big than too small.) In my experience, it takes roughly 50-65 stitches to make three feet.

Next, count how many rows it takes to get one foot in length. Quadruple that number to get a blanket that’s roughly four feet long. In my experience, it takes roughly 75 rows to make four feet.

Step Two: Start Your Blanket!

You’re just making a bigger version of your test swatch, using the numbers you came up with above for the full size.

I start with a chain of between 50-65 stitches.

Then I single crochet into every stitch through the front loops only.

Then you keep going until you have your desired length!

When you come to yarn knots/end in your ball (and you will), you can leave them; but it looks MUCH NICER if you undo the knot and sew the ends together with a sewing machine. With matching thread and a zigzag stitch, just overlap the ends about 1/2 inch and sew together.

To finish off, just tie a really tight double knot, and trim the yarn. It doesn’t really work to weave in the ends with t-shirt yarn.

Optional: for a more polished look, once your blanket is your desired length, you may choose to single-crochet all the way around your blanket (i.e. across the top, down one side, across the bottom, and then up the other side.) I omitted this step in three of my four blankets and liked the look without. Tie a tight knot and trim yarn.

Postscript:
You may be wondering, “What about your son? Did the blanket help him sleep??” Unfortunately, he didn’t really take to the weighted blanket. He’s really teeny-tiny (at almost five years old he weighs only 32lbs!) and has poor coordination, so a heavy blanket wasn’t the right fit for him right now. He ended up requiring prescribed medication to help him sleep through the night. But maybe he will like it when he’s a bit bigger.