Our Homeschool Plans for 2017/2018 (For First Grade)

nature journal

The school year started last week around these parts, but in our family that doesn’t mean much (since we mostly still unschool. I’ve written about our approach to education here). But the cooling September air did have me thinking more consciously about learning, and I decided to add a few resources to our learning environment.

Here are a couple of things we’re planning on using to enhance Lydia’s learning in the year ahead, divided roughly by subject, though of course learning doesn’t happen all chopped up in real life.

Language

Lydia specifically requested that we not do reading lessons this year (we tried for a while last year), and I’m respecting that. We’re in no hurry to start reading, and I want her to always love reading and learning, so I’m not going to push it.

Instead, the plan is just to read lots of books together. We live in walking distance of the library, and plan to make weekly visits. By listening to me read aloud from quality books, she’ll absorb new vocabulary, grammar, style, etc. Hearing good stories and good writing read aloud will equip her for when she decides she’s ready to read on her own, and will hopefully inspire a lifelong love of books. That’s all I care about right now.

History

story of the world

Tying into the above: I borrowed a copy of The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times from a homeschooling veteran to read aloud. I plan to read a chapter to her every so often during Felix’s naps. So far we’ve only read a few chapters, but she’s already hooked (and so am I!). She begs me to read more, and perks up anytime she hears the word “history.”

As the title suggests, history is written as a narrative, starting with the first nomads, in a simple way that a first-grader can understand. (I understand that as the books move forward in time they also get more advanced, aging with the children.) Hearing history as a story makes in both more engaging and memorable.

(The stories are also available as audiobooks, but so far Lydia doesn’t care for audiobooks. Plus, I like to be able to stop and talk about what we’re reading while it’s happening.)

I personally didn’t get exposed to a lot of this material until I was in university. I was given dismembered chunks of history over the years, and I didn’t know how any of them fit together until adulthood. (I know heaps of adults who today couldn’t tell you whether the Middle Ages or Renaissance came first). I am PSYCHED at this chance to provide her with a skeleton of history at a young age, on which she can hang all future history lessons, and know how it all fits together.

If the rest of the book turns out to be as great as the opening chapters, I’m definitely going to continue with the rest of the series!

Science and Art

exploring nature with children - nature journaling

I think these two subjects combine beautifully in the form of nature journaling. Lydia already loves both drawing and nature, so I’m excited to start nature journaling together.

I purchased the ebook Exploring Nature With Children and two sketchbooks — one for each of us. The plan is to take regular nature walks, focusing on different themes each week as outlined in the book, and then journal about what we find in our sketchbooks.

Math

Life of Fred Math

We’re borrowing a copy of the first Life of Fred book. We haven’t started it yet, and we’ll see what happens. So far she has rejected it on account of how ugly the illustrations are, and I can’t say I blame her. It doesn’t look very inspiring. But I’ve heard great things about it, so we’ll give it a try.

Otherwise, I hope to revive an interest in her Spielgaben set from last year, which hasn’t seen much play in the last couple of months.

Nature Appreciation and Socializing

We also enrolled Lydia in the local forest school, where she will enjoy a half-day of nature education each week. There, she will hopefully get a chance to befriend and play with some other kids apart from me.

We are also involved in a growing local homeschool group, where the plan is to gather weekly, just to play and socialize. I am so excited for this, since our group was very small last year. Yay for new homeschoolers!

* * *

Otherwise, I don’t have any plans — just faith that she will learn plenty of things from everyday life. We’ll cook and bake together, go to the park and beach, hopefully visit some museums . . . and let her natural desire to learn lead the way.

What I’m Into: August 2017

tomato salad

eclipseAugust was good to us.

It was mostly slow and relaxed, with fewer appointments than usual. We stayed home quite a bit, with plenty of play dates for Lydia. We went to the zoo one day and we watched the eclipse (we had about 85% coverage here in southern Ontario).

All in all, a good month. And here are some of the things I enjoyed.

Books

audiobooks

(Once again, I “read” all of these in audiobook form. I do not have time to sit down and read with my eyeballs, but I sure got a lot of books under my belt this month by listening to them while I worked!)

Wonder – R. J. Polacio. I bought this best-selling children’s book on Audible when it was on sale for a few dollars. It’s absolutely beautiful and I highly recommend it. It tells the story of a nine-year-old boy who was born with severe facial deformities, and who is starting school for the first time in his life. We get to hear the story from a number of different perspectives, including Auggie himself, his big sister, his new friends, and even his sister’s friend. As the mother of an atypical boy myself, my heart especially went out to his parents. It’s moving, heart-wrenching, and important.

I Am Malala Malala Yousafzai. I’m trying to read more diverse books, and I love Malala’s example as a brave, compassionate, peacemaking Muslim girl. You probably already know that she’s the girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban, to keep her for speaking out for girls’ education in Pakistan; this book provides the background story of her childhood, and then covers her recovery from the near-fatal injury and how the world responded. The story is beautifully written, with lovely and moving descriptions of her homeland; and Malala’s (and her father’s) incredible courage in the face of danger and persecution is awe-inspiring.

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie. Okay. Wow. I did not know Agatha Christie was so dark. Judging from her name, I thought she wrote books for old ladies. Holy smokes was I wrong. This was one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read! And did you know it’s the seventh best-selling books of all time?!?! In any language?!?!

Okay, let’s take a step back. The book starts kind of slow as all the characters are introduced. Ten people have been invited to a lonely mansion on an island, but the mysterious host fails to arrive. Soon, we learn that every guest has a dark secret in their past. Then, they start to die, one by one . . . It is terrifying and suspenseful and macabre and unlike anything I’ve read before. The audiobook is narrated by the talented Dan Stevens, whom I gushed about a few months ago. If you like a dark and thrilling murder mystery, this might be a great fall/October read.

Daughter of Smoke and BoneLaini Taylor. I always gotta round out my monthly reading with at least one YA fantasy novel. This one is unique and fascinating in some ways, but conventional and predictable in others. The forbidden love story, for example, totally made me roll my eyes. (I’m not easily impressed by romance, and Akiva is kind of an unconvincing love interest. Enough with the brooding!). But the story of a young artist being raised by devils and being sent to fetch teeth from collectors all over the world intrigued me immensely. The book is chock-full of mystery and magic and danger and creepy characters. It’s the first book in a trilogy, though, and we’ll see if I continue.

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual – Luvvie Ajayi. I’ve been following Luvvie on social media for a while, and I love her for her humour and insight into politics and pop culture. So I finally decided to buy her bestselling book, which she narrates herself in her delightful, energetic voice. The very first sentence starts, “One day, I was minding everyone’s business, scrolling through my Facebook news feed. . .” and I knew I had landed on a winner. It’s both laugh-out-loud funny (especially the chapter on cosmetic surgery), and also poignant and sobering (like when she talks about privilege and race). Good stuff here. But also: language warning.

Prodigy – Marie Lu. I decided to go ahead and try book 2 of the Legend trilogy, and I was surprised to find that I liked it better than the first! (Which I talked about here). Again, the love story left me unimpressed, but when the characters find they have to grapple with some complicated political issues, I was pulled in. Who’s telling the truth? Who’s lying? Will assassinating the young new elector primo bring the revolution the country needs, or will it only allow a greater threat to take power? I’m actually looking forward to reading the next one, though I couldn’t care less whether Day and June end up together. (Although, of course they will. Because YA dystopian fiction.)

Movies

Spider-Man: Homecoming. I know, I know. Why on earth do we need ANOTHER Spiderman movie? The reason is because finally, someone has made a good one! While I’ve felt pretty meh about all previous Spiderman movies (and I love superhero movies), this one had me cheering and laughing and squeezing Lydia’s hand with excitement. (Oh yeah, she saw it and loved it, too). Perhaps the greatest feature of this version is the casting: Tom Holland is the perfect (adorably geeky) Peter Parker. His enthusiastic, nerdy friend friend Ned is the best. They’re actually believable high school kids. It’s funny and heartwarming and moving and fun. Everything about it is great. It got a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

Lego Batman Movie. (Rented). Someone described this movie as the Batman movie you didn’t know you needed, and I agree with that assessment. It’s funny and irreverent, poking fun at Batman and the whole superhero phenomenon. The premise is hilarious: The Joker is disappointed to learn that Batman doesn’t feel their relationship is exclusive, so he summons all the super-villains (from other franchises) to help him destroy Gotham. It’s completely delightful to see a Lego Voldemort, Sauron, and Agent Smith in this world. It’s just a ton of fun.

And that’s it for now! What have you been into?

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What I’m Into: July 2017

splash pad 1

July was a no-sleep month.

After a month of sleeping through the night pretty consistently, Felix decided, “You know what would be cool? Trying that night/day switcheroo thing again.” So he’d just wake up at 3am and hang out for 3-4 hours every night.

Good times.

We didn’t really do anything or go anywhere special this month, either, except appointments for Felix. We were mostly too exhausted and zoned-out, and our usual babysitters were often on vacation.

We tried seeing a movie at the drive-in theater as a family, but the mosquitoes descended in clouds and we fled after ten minutes, scratching and swatting all the way home.

But hey! Look how much Felix enjoys being in water!

splash pad 2

splash pad 3

lake

He friggin’ LOVES it!

So July wasn’t all bad.

Anyway, here are a few things I enjoyed.

Books

Eye of the World

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (audiobook). This is the first book in the The Wheel of Time series. If you love The Lord of the Rings but wish it wasn’t such a sausage party, you might love The Wheel of Time. Eight characters (men and women) must set out on a quest to save the world from an evil force that wants to destroy it. It’s got everything for lover of epic fantasy: there are ageless evil lords who want your soul; long journeys through wilderness on horseback, with terrifying creatures on your heels; beautiful magical ladies; and an honest, humble shepherd with a secret destiny and as the protagonist. It’s over 700 pages long (which translates to more than 30 hours on audiobook), and the first of 14 (even longer) novels, if you want to go all in on a massive, immersive series that will take you years to finish. But the first book concludes nicely enough if you want to just give it a whirl.

born a crime

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (audiobook). A fantastic read. Those of you who have watched Trevor Noah on The Daily Show already know he’s smart, funny, eloquent, and charming, but it turns out, he’s got a hella fascinating life story, too. He grew up in South African during and immediately after Apartheid. To make things especially interesting, he was born to mixed parents at a time when it was illegal for races to mix (hence the title). He’s a terrific story-teller, and his childhood is filled with wild moments, from his mom throwing him out of a moving car to him accidentally burning down a White family’s house. His reflections of race and racism are illuminating and nuanced. I admire and respect him more than ever. He does a terrific job narrating his book, too — his voices and accents are on point. I dare you not to love him by the end of it.

Kids’ Books

Toys Go Out series

Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home – Emily Jenkins and Paul O Zelinsky. We’ve read these before, but they were so good they merited a re-read. These three books tell the stories of StingRay, Lumphy, and Plastic, three toys who live in the Little Girl’s room. It has some similarities with Toy Story, but manages to feel completely fresh and unique. It’s hilarious, clever, and imaginative. The toys all have distinct, lovable personalities — you feel like you know them personally within the first few pages. The characters deepen and grow over the course of the books. Five stars. These are the best books I’ve read to Lydia so far, and my number one recommendation for parents looking for read-alouds for their 4-6-year-olds.

No TV or Movies on account of the No-Sleep-or-Babysitters thing.

And that’s what I’ve been into. How about you?

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(Super Quick and Easy) Thai-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup

Thai chicken noodle soup. Have dinner on the table in less than half an hour!

I spend way too much time in the kitchen.

For reasons I don’t fully understand myself, I’m addicted to recipes that have way too many fancy ingredients and way too many steps. I can’t help myself. It’s a problem. I hate how much time I spend in my kitchen, but I just can’t stop.

What many people might consider comfort food, I tend to find boring. No casseroles or pasta for me. I’m always hankering for something exotic, with lots of different textures and aromas and spices.

This is one of those unique recipes that feels really fancy and exotic but only takes a few minutes to whip up. It only has a few ingredients, and most of them can be found in your pantry/fridge/freezer at any given time. (Or at least, they are in mine. I always have homemade chicken broth, coconut milk, and fish sauce on hand.)

It’s also very nourishing, made with simple, wholesome ingredients. It’s loaded with good fats, vitamins and minerals. It’s filling, too.

I adore the balance of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavours of Thai cuisine. This recipe takes the basic template of boring chicken noodle soup and bumps it up to *spectacular.*

It features a rich, savoury broth turned magical with dreamy, creamy coconut milk. The fish sauce creates depth by adding sumptuous umami flavour. You can adjust the heat to your liking with red pepper flakes.

thai fish sauceMmmm… umami.

It will taste like you simmered it on the stove for hours. You can serve it to your guests and they will all be impressed. Or just toss it t0gether for your family on a random weeknight.

Go make this delicious soup! It will be ready in less than 30 minutes.

Disclaimer: I am not even close to being Thai. I have not even been to Thailand. So I apologize to actual Thai cooks who are probably rolling their eyes at my attempt to imitate their rich cuisine. Thank you for your wonderful gift of fish sauce to the world.

Recipe: Thai-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup

thai chicken noodle soup

Ingredients

  • 8 oz rice stick noodles (about 225g, or half a package)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts, rinsed (optional)

Method

First, soften the noodles. You don’t want to actually cook them, because they will quickly turn to mush in the hot soup. Just place them in a heat-safe bowl with hot water from the tap, to soak while you make the rest of the soup. Set aside.

rice stick noodles soaking

Meanwhile, melt coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer.

Add chicken and let it gently poach in the simmering broth, about 5 minutes. (Poaching gives you much more tender chicken than sauteeing, and is ideal for soups. #protip)

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and/or more red pepper.

At this point, your noodles should be flexible and soft, but not cooked. A little firmer than al dente. Drain the water. The noodles will finish cooking in the hot broth in your individual bowls, kind of like how the beef in Vietnamese pho cooks in your bowl.

To serve: Place a serving of noodles in each bowl, add desired amount of bean sprouts (if using), then ladle hot soup over it. Give the noodles a minute to finish cooking. Sprinkle generously with cilantro. Add another dash of red pepper flakes if you’re that kind of person.

Listen to your kid complain, “I hate it! It’s horrible! I thought you were making pad Thai!” and then eat it anyway.

Tada! Dinner on the table in less than half an hour.

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Review: Eden’s Garden Essential Oils – Delicious New Synergy Blends

Eden's Garden essential oils - synergy blends

One of my most commented-upon blog posts of all time is one I wrote almost two years ago, entitled Why I Quit DoTerra (And What I’m Doing Instead). I still get comments at least weekly on that post. People have got opinions on essential oils!

(And why wouldn’t they? There is a lot of money to be made in essential oils these days! And absolutely anyone can sell them. So there are regular women all over the continent who have stakes in what I think about DoTerra or other MLM essential oil companies.*)

Anyway, in that post I explained why I was using Eden’s Garden essential oils instead of any big-name MLM brand. Eden’s Garden had no idea I was writing the post. I just wanted to share my experiences with them so far.

But I guess they took notice a few months ago, because Eden’s Garden emailed me and asked me if I’d like to review their newest line of Synergy blends.

I said, Heck yes I would! Free essential oils, and all I have to do in return is tell you folks about them? I was all in.

So now I’ve had them for a couple of months, and it’s time I told you what I think of them!

(Again, I’m not getting paid to talk about them. I just got some free products in exchange for an honest review. This is not the case for most people telling you about essential oils.)

A Note on How I Use Essential Oils

diffuser fearless

I use essential oils primarily in a diffuser as aromatherapy. However, I have no training whatsoever in aromatherapy, so I am not an expert. I use oils primarily to promote feelings like calm and peace, or to uplift and energize. I have not been diagnosed with any mental illnesses, but I feel sad and worried almost all the time, and have been using essential oils as one of the tools to manage these feelings. (I tried therapy but that is e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e.)

I also use essential oils in things like deodorant and as insect repellent, and for making household products smell nice (since we buy absolutely everything unscented). I like them. They make me happy.

I do not claim that essential oils can cure any diseases or illnesses. I have not tried them in that capacity. As of now, I have no idea whether they are capable of doing such things.

For that reason, I don’t have any super-duper strong feelings about which essential oil company has the *absolute most therapeutic* properties. There has been much debate about this matter in the comments of my previous post. In my experience, and from my understanding, Eden’s Garden sells excellent-quality, 100% pure essential oils that meet the highest measurable standards (…along with plenty of other companies). It helps that they are not paying me or anyone else to tell you that they are. That really boosts their credibility, in my opinion.

Why I Love Eden’s Garden

In addition to offering pure, high-quality oils, Eden’s Garden happens to have lots of other great things going for them, including:

  • affordable prices (generally 40-60% less than DoTerra)
  • a super-simple retail model: just buy what you want directly from the website
  • tons of selection: currently, they sell 135 single oils and 58 synergy blends
  • a variety of sizes to choose from, making them more affordable
  • excellent customer service

All of these qualities have made me a happy customer in the past. (I explore these qualities more deeply in my other post.)

Review of Eden’s Garden’s 18 New Synergy Blends

Eden's Garden essential oils synergy blends

I want to start by saying that I have been loooooooving these new synergy blends. I’ve been using them almost every day — mostly in my diffuser — and they delight my heart.

When I first opened up each bottle and took my first sniff, I was struck by how absolutely gorgeous each one smelled. Well, except maybe Repel, their insect repellent, but you can only make that smell so good.

I didn’t realize this at first, but all of EG’s 18 new synergy blends correspond with DoTerra blends. Eden’s Garden actually has a handy comparison chart to help you out if you’re looking for something specific. Super handy if you already know you want a particular DoTerra blend, but would like to try EG’s version!

(I have personally bought and loved a few DoTerra blends — namely, Serenity and Elevation — and the corresponding EG oils — Tranquility and Shine — smell identical to me. Completely indistinguishable. So I know where I will be getting my replacements from in the future!)

Another thing I want to note is that with all of these blends, it only takes 1-3 drops in my diffuser to fill my whole first floor with their scent. They are as potent as they are lovely.

Anyway.

Since I think it would be tedious to describe every single oil, I will just focus on my absolute favourites.

For Cleansing:

aroma fresh from Eden's Garden

Aroma Fresh. This is possibly my very favourite blend. It gets used the most often. Delightfully fresh and clean, this one is a great deodorizer and purifier. It’s basically all the clean smells you love in one, including citrus and pine. After one particularly bad diaper catastrophe with the toddler, I diffused this blend, and the stink was gone in minutes. The scent that replaced it was so fresh, sweet, and invigorating, I have been in love ever since.

For Calm and Relaxation:

soothing essential oils

These three blends are the ones I reach for when I am seeking peace and calm. They are all great for meditation and yoga. I diffuse them when I’m feeling anxious or jittery.

Fearless. Calming and woodsy, this one is particularly soothing.

Worry Less. I especially like this one before bed, to help calm anxious thoughts.

Be Still. The most gorgeous, ethereal smell. This is what I imagine heaven smells like.

Awake and Aware. I think this one is inaccurately named. It’s more soothing than energizing. It’s floral, earthy, and wonderful. I consider this my “chill out” blend. Great for promoting focus and concentration.

For Energy and Vitality:

Eden's Garden synergy blends

These are two of my favourites when I need to re-energize. I tend to reach for them during the afternoon slump, when I need to get my butt out of the chair and get moving. They are usually accompanied by a homemade iced coffee.

Shine. DoTerra’s Elevation has always been a favourite, and this blend is pretty much its twin. Floral, citrusy, and sweet, it always makes me happy.

Good Morning. Minty, sweet, invigorating, and fresh. A great way to start the day when you’re feeling sluggish.

A Few Others:

Gal Pal is a dumb name for an lovely blend that offers hormonal support. It contains several oils known to help balance hormones, like clary sage and vitex. Plus it smells amazing. I diffuse this one when I’m PMS-ing, and I think it helps. It at least helps me feel less murderous.

Allure is wonderfully feminine and delightful-smelling. Makes a great perfume.

Deep Breath really helped us all sleep at night when we all caught a weird summer cold and got all congested.

Repel – I added a few drops to my homemade insect repellant, along with citronella, peppermint, and eucalyptus, and it worked amazingly well while we were hiking in mosquito-infested forests.

___

So these were my favourites, but honestly, I love them all. As my life changes, I’m sure my needs will change, and I might find myself reaching for some of the others more often. For example, I haven’t had much use for Guardian, the germ-fighting blend, at this time of year. And I’ve never been much into massages, but maybe I’ll make more use of Circu-Touch in the future. (<–another dumb name, by the way. They should have run the names by me before selling them.)

*Again, I want to reiterate that I have no problem with DoTerra or MLM companies. I just tend to be suspicious of some of the salespeople’s claims, since they have a financial interest. And I’d rather shop in the more straightforward fashion that Eden’s Garden offers.

How about you? Are you already a die-hard fan of a certain essential oil supplier?

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What I’m Into: June 2017

sourdough bread boule

waterfall vacation

watercolour lily

renaissance festival

June was a pretty fantastic month.

Every winter I start to wonder if I will ever feel happiness again, and then eventually June comes around to right all wrongs. Warm weather, fresh produce, vacations and outings. If only every month could be June.

As you can see from the photos above, in the last month I:

  • finally learned to master sourdough bread;
  • went on my first kid-free vacation with Ben, where we hiked through rugged forests and climbed down cliffs in the rain to see waterfalls;
  • finished my first watercolour commission;
  • attended a Renaissance Festival with my siblings and daughter. It was a blast!

However, the kids’ usual babysitters (aka the grandparents) have been busy, too, so I have not had time to work on this post until now. So it’s going to be quick: just the books I read this month!

Books

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (audiobook, read by Dan Stevens). I love a good detective story, but this was my first romp with Hercule Poirot (Why?!). It was delightful! It plays with all the conventions of murder mysteries, and still managed to completely surprise me. Also, I have to highlight Dan Stevens’ (<–Yes, him! The Beast!) amazing performance. He does all the accents flawlessly (there are both men and women from numerous countries in this book, and he nails all of them.) The story is thrilling and clever and just so much fun. I will definitely read more. (P.S. Turns out, there is going to be a star-studded movie version starring Kenneth Branah in November. Yes, please!)

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (audiobook). I listened to Graham’s memoir recently, and I was so impressed by her writing I thought I’d give her novel a try. I really enjoyed it! Graham is a truly talented author. It tells a somewhat autobiographical story of a young woman trying to become an actress in the 90’s. It’s not particularly original or exciting, but it’s funny and engaging, and I found myself rooting for the likeable protagonist.

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Sci-fi at its best! And I actually got to read this one with my eyeballs! (Because I was on vacation without the kids!). I picked it up because I really loved Ender’s Game when I read it a few years ago. This story takes place parallel to that novel, but from Bean’s perspective, delving deep into his origin story. It’s pretty dark, especially in the beginning when Bean starts out as a starving street kid, using his brains to survive. But it’s every bit as gripping, unique, and thought-provoking as the first. I devoured it, and shed tears of happiness at the end.

Legend by Marie Lu (audiobook). I’m a long-time fan of YA dystopian novels. This one was pretty run-of-the-mill, though. Two teens prodigies (who also happen to be remarkably good-looking), raised to be enemies, are thrust together in a time of crisis and discover they must work together against evil powers! They fall in love after about eighteen minutes. It has a total cliffhanger ending, but I was kinda like, “Meh. Maybe I’ll get to it yet.”

* * *

Okay! Unfortunately I think that’s it for now! Felix’s nap is almost over. Hope you’re having a great summer, and I hope to see you again soon.

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I’m Still Here . . . Just Not Blogging

sidewalk chalkYou know that magical time of day, when your kids are all in bed and you get a couple of hours to yourself, either to relax with your spouse or knock out a couple of items from your to-do list?

Yeah? Is that a part of your reality?

If so, GOOD FOR FRIGGIN’ YOU.

That is not a part of our reality, nor has it ever been. If we are awake, you can bet our kids are awake. If we are asleep, there’s still a pretty good chance our kids are awake.

Our kids don’t sleep. So the only time I can blog is if the grandparents are able to offer free childcare. (I don’t really make a substantial income from blogging, so it has to happen at zero cost.)

And if the grandparents are either on vacation or working extra hours at their jobs, that means blogging (or reading or art or hobbies or fun) doesn’t happen.

So! I have a couple of months-worth of blog posts I fully intend to write, but it might be a while before my hands can hit these keys for any extended period of time.

I hope you are enjoying your summer (or winter, you southern hemisphere folks!), and I hope to be back here . . . eventually.

Why I Love My Earth Runners: A Review

earth runners

A couple of years ago, the makers of Earth Runners contacted me and asked if I’d like to try a pair of their minimalist sandals for review. I said Yes, please! I’m embarrassed that it has taken me this long to finally share my review, only because my blog took a back seat in my life due to my son’s high needs. But on the positive side, I’ve had two full years to try them out. I know these sandals and I know that I love them!

Note: I received a free pair, but otherwise, I get nothing if you buy from them. I just think Earth Runners are an awesome product and I want to tell you about them! P.S. I chose the Circadian style, which has the thinnest sole.

Minimalist Sandals: The Second Best Option to Barefoot

earth runners review - minimalist sandals

As longtime readers know, I’m a passionate barefooter. As soon as the temperatures here in Canada are above freezing, you can see me traipsing about without shoes. I believe shoes are (for the most part) unnecessary at best, and harmful at worst. (I’ve written before about why I don’t wear shoes. Wellness Mama has a pretty great article on the benefits of going barefoot, too.)

But occasionally it’s good to wear shoes.

And at those times, I typically reach for my Earth Runners.

Honestly, my primary reasons for wearing shoes are (1) protection from the cold in winter, and (2) to keep people out of my business when I’m in stores and restaurants. (I used to enter public buildings barefoot all the time but got tired of being asked to leave just because I wasn’t wearing shoes.)

Granted, the sandals can’t really help with the first. I have to wear waterproof, insulated boots during our Canadian winters. (In these situations, I look for boots with the flattest soles. Even a one-inch heel can negatively affect your gait.)

But they’re fabulous the rest of the year, especially when I’m in public places.

Why I Love My Earth RunnersEarth Runners review - minimalist sandals

  • They look awesome. Their appearance is unobtrusive and mainstream enough that they don’t draw attention (No one’s like, “WHAT ARE THOSE? Those aren’t regular sandals!”), but they’re stylish and unique enough that I get compliments from my friends. And they go with everything. Casual or semi-dressy. I’m equally comfortable wearing them to the grocery store, on a hike, to church, or on date night.
  • They’re durable. They’re not your cheapo flip-flops made by slaves overseas that only last one season. They’re handmade in the USA. They are well-made and sturdy. You can hardly see any wear on mine after two years. All of the parts are strong and well-assembled.
  • They’re so comfortable. The design of the straps keeps them so secure that they never chafe. The piece that goes between your toes is flat and smooth. Unlike flip-flops, they don’t require an adjustment period in the spring when I first start wearing them. I just slip them on and go. No weird rubbing. No awkward change in my gait pattern to keep them on.
  • They’re as close to going barefoot as I can get. The thin, flexible sole allows my feet to experience the terrain and still move all my foot bones (unlike regular shoes, which immobilize your feet, essentially casting them). The wide toe area allows for proper toe spread. They even contain copper discs in the sole which allow your feet to “ground” with the earth, if that’s something that matters to you.earth runners - minimalist sandals
  • Easy Sizing: If you’re reluctant to buy shoes online because you’re worried about sizing, Earth Runners has an awesome system for finding you the perfect size. They nailed my size exactly.

I still go barefoot more often than not, of course.

If you’re a fellow barefooter, here are the times when I’ve found it helpful to own a pair of minimalist sandals:

  • In the early spring, when transitioning from winter footwear to going shoeless. My feet naturally get more sensitive over the winter when I spend most of my time indoors. It takes a few weeks to adjust to rough outdoor surfaces and colder temperatures in the spring. My Earth Runners are perfect for this.
  • On trips, when I’ll be going in and out of a lot of stores/restaurants/museums. (Normally, if I’m just going into one store, I carry a pair of flip-flops I’ll slip on just before entering, but that’s a pain if I’m going in and out a lot. Better to just keep my pair of Earth Runners on.)
  • When doing yard work. They’re helpful when I need to use a shovel, which are not barefoot-friendly, or when I mow the lawn and I don’t want my soles to be stained green.

So there you go. Whether you’re a full-time barefooter or you just want a healthier alternative to shoes, I love and highly recommend Earth Runners!

P.S. If you want to learn more about the health benefits of going barefoot from an actual expert, and would like information on how to safely transition to minimal footwear, I highly recommend the book Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman. If you’ve been wearing conventional shoes your whole life you may need to transition carefully in order to avoid injury.

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Our First Year of Unschooling, in Review

our first year of unschooling

The school year is winding down for kids in Canada.

Not that Lydia — now almost six — would know. We spent the year “unschooling.”

At the start of the school year (i.e. last September), I thought I might implement daily lessons or at least set aside special time for schoolish stuff every day. That lasted about a month.

I guess I could see that Lydia was learning plenty without my interference. She also started to really resist my attempts to instruct her on things. And since I really, truly believe that children learn best when they’re driven by their own interests, and that they can learn everything they need without formal instruction, I just let it go. At least for another year.

So we just continued to live life, the way we had for her first four years.

We had fun, we read piles of books, and I answered her questions or helped her find solutions when she came to me with them. And she learned and learned and learned.

We didn’t try to slice learning up into different “subjects,” but as I reflect on our past year, I feel we covered a pretty good range.

Here’s a bit of a recap of our first year of unschooling.

(Note on photos: most of these were taken with my cheap Android inside our darkish house during the darkish Canadian months of Sept-May. Apologies about the quality.)

Socializing

I know this is a big concern for a lot of people, and the reason many parents send their kids to school. I felt we got a great amount of socializing in without school.

Since we didn’t have to be anywhere in particular most days, we had lots of chances to just hang out with friends in the mornings and afternoons. We got together with a few other homeschooling families when we got the chance. We went to the park, met at the petting zoo, and went for walks in the forest. We visited the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch in the fall. Lydia and I stopped in at the local forest school a couple of times, too.

friends

picnic

forest school

One of the coolest things was that I was able to exchange weekly babysitting services with another homeschooling friend, meaning that twice a week, Lydia got to spend a whole day with a friend. They’re becoming like sisters (including the squabbling.)

dressup

Literacy

harry potter

To my surprise (and admittedly, dismay — I majored in literature for six years), Lydia showed little interest in learning to read and write this year. I tried a few lessons from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but she just wouldn’t have it.

So I didn’t push it. Dutch kids aren’t taught to read and write until about age seven, yet they scored at the top of educational achievement and participation in the latest UNICEF study. Waldorf schools do the same. So I’m not too worried. When she wants to learn, I’m sure she’ll pick it up no problem.

Sometimes she would want to write a note to a friend or label a drawing and would ask me how to spell it out. To her annoyance I just helped her sound it out until she had something readable. She knows what letters make what sounds, for the most part.

We also played with her moveable alphabet, figuring out how to spell names from her latest media obsession.

moveable alphabet - how to train your dragon

moveable alphabet - tmnt

Most of all, we read books. Stacks and stacks of picture books. We visited the library almost weekly. Before bed, I always read a few chapters aloud from a novel.

library(bringing home the library haul)

Eventually I know she’ll want to do it on her own, but for now I’m cherishing reading aloud to her.

Math

We learned a lot about geometry by playing with our Spielgaben set. We went through the learning guide that came with it, and she really enjoyed it.

spielgaben - symmetry game(playing with symmetry)

pyramid

geometry pizza - spielgabengeometry pizza

She enjoys counting and doing basic adding and subtracting, just in everyday life. She was so proud the first time she counted to 100 by herself.

We also went through a few Bedtime Math books, which she loved.

Science

microscope

Science has been one of Lydia’s favourite subjects this year, though she doesn’t know that. She just knows she likes books about bones, bodies, plants, and animals.

I also bought her a microscope which was a big hit (We got this one, and are completely delighted with it. A great price for a fantastic piece of equipment). We spent hours poring over slides and specimens. We were surprised by the appearances of kitchen ingredients and different fabrics under the microscope. And we were amazed the see the microsopic creatures swimming around in a single drop of pond water.

We went to a museum in the middle of the week when it was nice and empty.

museum

Art

art

Painting and drawing have been a huge part of Lydia’s life since she first picked up a crayon, and this year was no different.

I went through an obsessive phase learning about watercolours, and she watched every Youtube video with me that she could.

painting with watercolours

Time in Nature

mushrooms

This kind of falls under science, but I thought I’d make it a separate category.

Skipping the classroom meant we had plenty of time to spend outside. We took lots of walks around the neighbourhood and nature parks, looking at plants and animals. That was really important to me.

Practical Life

Staying home also meant lots of time to help out around the house. Since mornings weren’t rushed, she was able to make her bed and put away her laundry every day. She enjoyed helping in the kitchen, too.

dough

cooking

I think that covers most of it!

I didn’t spend a minute regretting our choice to unschool, or wishing we had done anything differently. I’m looking forward to many more years of learning together!

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How to Make Sun Prints

How to make sun prints. Fun summer activity for kids!

Hi friends! Lydia and I recently did a fun, inexpensive, outdoorsy+artsy activity that I thought I’d share about: making sun prints. It was pretty cool!

sunprint kit

You can buy a little Sunprint Paper Kit for about $6.50 USD on Amazon. That’s the one we got, anyway. It’s the 4×4-inch kit, and it has 12 sheets of sun print paper in it. Somehow I was surprised how tiny the squares were. You can only fit, like, one maple leaf on a square. It ended up looking awesome, though, when you put them all together. I discovered you can get much bigger kits, too — in the future it would be fun to try this kit that contains 8×10-inch sheets (i.e. closer to the size of standard printer paper), for about $12.50.

Anyway, here’s how it works:

First, gather your materials and take them outside. (You need pretty bright, direct sunshine to get a crisp image.) All you need is your Sunprint kit and a small square/rectangular dish of water to rinse your prints. Plus the things you want to print, of course.

Next, collect some objects you’d like to make prints of. I decided we should stick with items from nature (leaves, flowers, seeds, etc), but you could just as easily use household items with distinctive shapes (toys, keys, etc). They had to be small, though, to fit on the 4×4 sheets. Flat objects work best, but you can use 3-dimensional objects, too (for example, we did a pine branch.)

nature items

(These are the items we used, after we were done with them. That’s why they’re wilty.)

Time to make your prints! You have to make them one at a time, because the kit only includes one acrylic cover.

Lay down a sheet of print paper. It starts out blue. Lay your item on top, and then cover with the acrylic sheet that comes in the kit.

making sunprints: fern 1

Tip: we made sure to keep our materials in the shadows our bodies cast as we prepared them.

The acrylic sheet keeps the item from moving around. You can print 3D items (e.g. the pine branch) without the cover, but when possible (e.g. with flat object like leaves), the acrylic sheet really helps.

Anyway, let it sit in the sun for about one minute, until the blue turns almost white.

fern2

Then remove the cover and the item. It now looks like this:

making sunprints: fern 3

Cool! But the magic isn’t over yet: quickly rinse your new sun print in water. For about another minute.

making sunprints: fern 4

making sun print - rinsing

Now lay it flat to dry in the shade. Be amazed as the colours reverse: the background goes back to blue, and the silhouette of the object turns white! Whaaaat? #science

fern7

Over the next few hours, the blue will deepen to a deep, rich indigo.

 

making sunprints: fern

Some other items we tried were maple keys, an English ivy leaf, a pine branch, a Japanese maple leaf, and a stem of bleeding heart blooms.

sun prints - maple keys

making sun prints

They looked so pretty together that I decided to frame them. I already had a floating frame that was just perfect for this.

Lydia wants this up in her room. I agree that it will look awesome! What a lovely piece of artwork!

sun prints framed

(PS trying to take a photo of something so shiny and reflective is HARD!)

There you go! Give it a try and tell me how it goes!

Disclaimer: post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, I get a tiny commission. Thanks for your support!

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