Five Things I Learned This Winter (2017-2018)

Whoops! Guys! I didn’t realize I’d missed the boat on sharing what I’d learned this winter!

Because around here, it still looks like this:

lydia at point

Winter is still in full swing, but we’re getting close to the end now.

(Emily Freeman hosts a linkup every quarter, where we can share the things we’ve learned in the last season. I’m too late to join the official party, which happened at the end of February, but here’s my list anyway!)

Here are five things I learned this winter!

1. You can take photos of what you see through a microscope.

snowflakes through a microscope

I discovered this by chance: I was in awe of the snowflakes I was looking at, wishing I could permanently capture their fragile beauty, when I thought I’d try to snap a picture with my phone camera. I wasn’t very optimistic, so I was surprised to find that it worked! I tried again with my “good” camera, just on auto, and was amazed by the results!

(I also learned that in order to look at snowflakes through a microscope, you have to thoroughly chill all your instruments, and do all your viewing outside, because snowflakes will melt in an instant if anything is even room temperature. It’s actually quite a tricky process. I wrote all about it here.)

2. I’m too much of a pedant to fully appreciate most contemporary YA fantasy fiction.

Ever since I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in fifth grade, I’ve been a devoted fan of children’s fantasy. But starting in university, I haven’t have much time for leisure reading, and fantasy kind of lost its place in my life for several years.

I’ve recently picked up fiction reading again, thanks to audiobooks. But unfortunately, I’m finding myself a little too critical when it comes to fantasy. I’m constantly like, “Wait a second — if these faery cultures have been separated for hundreds of years, wouldn’t their dialects have diverged so much that they’d have difficulty understanding each other?” or “Wait, how do they have access to foreign imports like silk? What is international trade like in this country?” Anachronisms and linguistic inconsistencies jump out at me, making it hard to suspend my disbelief.

I want all my fantasy worlds to be as meticulously thought-out as Tolkein’s Middle Earth. But it turns out, most contemporary fantasy isn’t written by elderly linguistics scholars who have been obsessing over their imaginary worlds for several decades.


3. Different Crafts are for Different Seasons.

knitting blog

I’ve written before that I’ve become obsessed with picking up new skills in recent years.

But I felt kind of ashamed when I completely dropped knitting and crocheting over the summer, in favour of watercolour painting. Maybe I wasn’t a real fiber-crafter after all?

But then winter hit, and I found myself drawn to knitting and crocheting again, and completely dropped watercolour painting. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick to a craft?

Suddenly it dawned on me that maybe my pull to different crafts is simply cyclical, based on the seasons. I’m not fickle; certain crafts just lend themselves to different seasons.

In winter, we don’t have enough sunlight for watercolour painting. There’s only a tiny window of opportunity every day for working with colour, and I just can’t catch it while mothering small children. Luckily, knitting can be done anytime of day, even by lamplight.

And knitting in summer just isn’t appealing because I don’t want to hold wool in my lap when I’m hot and sweaty.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ll pick up watercolours again in a few months.

4. Spending a few weeks in a warmer climate in the winter is the absolute best thing ever.


I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I was in Florida this February. As long as we can afford it, I want to make this happen more often. (Hooray for homeschooling and working from home to make this possible!)

5. But winter can be quite beautiful here too, if you just know where to look.

We’ve made a few trips to Point Pelee National Park this winter — a park situated on a small peninsula of land that juts into Lake Erie. The wind blows lake water over the trees and freezes it there, turning them into absolutely stunning sculptures. It’s breathtaking. Take a look at the pictures we took just yesterday!

Point Pelee National Park 1

Piont Pelee

point pelee frozenAnd that’s all I’ve got time for today!

Anything special you learned this winter that you’d like to share?

Do you gravitate to different crafts during different seasons, too?

Any recommendations for really well-thought-out fantasy fictions?

Our Trip to Florida and Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter World family

splash pad

Hi friends! Last month, our family went on our first family trip with Felix . . . to Florida! I thought I’d share it with you, like we did in the olden days of blogging. Not trying to sell anything — just wanted to share our experience for the fun of it.

The last three years since Felix’s birth have been rough for our family. There were times along the way I didn’t think we’d ever experience happiness again. From hospitalization to isolation to ongoing disabilities, we’ve had to face challenge after challenge.

Our ten days in Florida were some of the happiest in my recent years.

I’m a Canadian girl who has always loathed winter, so this was really exciting for me. Sunshine in February! We’d been planning the trip for almost two years already (we’d wanted to go last year, but it fell through due to health insurance troubles for Felix and his “pre-existing condition.”)

At last we made it!

The flight was a bit challenging, since takeoff and landing scared and confused Felix, who screamed through the whole thing; but otherwise things went quite smoothly.

We had lovely weather through it all. Here’s what we did!

Airbnb Home

Florida Airbnb

We spent most of our time living in someone’s home through Arbnb. We didn’t have much for plans, we just wanted to be living somewhere without snow. We got a cozy little house just 15 minutes away from the ocean, 30 minutes away from Orlando.

I cooked most of our meals. We usually went out to a park or the beach in the morning, then came home for lunch and naps/resting. I liked to spend this time knitting on the front porch and listening to an audiobook. Then we did another little outing (ice cream, groceries, park) in the evening.



Harry Potter World

Hogwarts Express


The main event was one day spent at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was absolutely incredible! But if you’re considering a trip, here are a few basic pointers I have for you now.

1. It is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E.

ButterbeerI know you already knew that, but if you’ve never been, I don’t think you understand how expensive.

There are actually two Harry Potter Parks at Universal — Hodgsmeade, in Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley, in Universal Studios. If you want to see both parts, and ride the Hogwarts Express between them (and trust me, you do), you have to buy a park-to-park ticket. For us, it came to over $200 CAD per person for one day. That lets you on all the rides, but does not include food or anything. Yowsa.

All the food and merchandise inside the park is crazy expensive (obviously). A frozen butterbeer is $7.50. A single measley kabob from a stand (outside Hogsmeade) is $15. An interactive wand is $50, a Hogwarts scarf is $40, and an adult-sized robe is over $100. (We didn’t buy any of these things, but borrowed from friends.) Prepare to empty your wallet.


2. Harry Potter World is not a place for toddlers. Don’t take yours there. Luckily, my parents joined us in Florida for a few days and were able to watch Felix that day. He would have been a nightmare to take into the park. It’s crowded and busy and has nothing for really young kids.

Honestly, I now feel even Lydia (6) was a little young to fully enjoy the experience. The rides turned out to be a little too intense for her. She found the fire-breathing dragon on top of Gringotts terrifying. And since she’s only read the first three books, there was some stuff she didn’t understand. I’d recommend it for kids 10+.

3. Definitely only go during off season. We went during the first weeks of February, and that was perfect. In the morning, the streets were maneuverable, and the lines for rides were only about 20 minutes long. By afternoon is was quite crowded and we left for less busy parts of Universal. I can’t imagine how it must be during peak season. I’ve heard the wait lines for the rides can be 2hrs+. I think it would be unbearable.



All that being said, we had a ton of fun. The rides are thrilling. The inside of Hogwarts castle is magical. I love the attention to detail in every corner of the park. There’s a boggart moving around inside a chest in Borgin & Burkes, for example. You can hear Moaning Myrtle’s complaining in the bathrooms. Stuff like that. And the butterbeer really is to die for.

The highlight for me was Gringotts Bank, and the Escape from Gringotts ride. The animatronic goblins are incredible. The talking portraits on the walls and wizard newspaper clippings on the desk are just too perfect. And the ride was terrifying in the best way.

Bahama Bay Resort


Lastly, we spent a couple of days at a resort. It was also lovely, because of the access to pools and splash pads. We still cooked our own meals here, though. It was divine to eat them out on the porch.

We also went orange picking at a nearby citrus grove, which was really fun.

orange picking

And there you have it — a quick recap of our trip.

I definitely hope to do something similar for future winters!

Have you ever been to Harry Potter World? What did you think of it?

Winter Knitting and Crocheting

winter knitting

(I’ve fallen off the face of the blog world in the last couple of months, so I’m trying to ease back in with an easy post. Here’s a quick update on my creative life!)

I didn’t knit at all last spring or summer.

I started to think maybe knitting had been a phase in my life that I was now over — something that had helped me deal with the trauma of my son’s hospitalization, but was no longer meant to be a part of my life.

But then, all of a sudden in September, I was hit with an intense need to knit. And I have been knitting (and crocheting) up a storm these last few months! (And interestingly, I completely dropped watercolour painting, which was really big for me in the summer. I guess my hobbies flow with the seasons. I suspect I’ll pick it up again when we have more hours of sunshine in a day.)

Because I love seeing other people’s finished project, here are a few of my recent ones. (I’ve already shared my projects from October and November in my What-I’m-Into posts.) If you’re on Ravelry, you can see all my projects here.

Crocheted Cactus Pillow

textured cactus pillow

cactus pillow

(Info on Ravelry here. Pattern here.)

This pillow serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. I just saw something similar in a friend’s Instagram feed and had to make one for myself.

It took forever and a ton of yarn, thanks to those bobble stitches. But it turned out adorable. Lydia slept with it for the first few nights, and even took it along to Florida. It’s surprisingly cuddly and looks great as a throw pillow.

Fingerless Mittens

fingerless mittens

fingerless gloves(Info on Ravelry.)

Lydia kept eyeing up the fingerless mittens for sale at the farmer’s market, but I didn’t love the quality so I told her I’d make her a better pair. It was a delight to use some superwash merino gifted from a friend a few years ago.

She looooooves them. In fact, you might notice that one of the mittens is quite fuzzy already — she wore it nonstop while I knitted the second one. It’s so gratifying to have your knitting appreciated!

I made a few mistakes on this project, so I’m working on a second pair for a friend which I think will turn out even better.

Pointy Elf Hat

pointy elf hat(Info on Ravelry.)

Again, this was a project that nobody asked for, but I was compelled to make after I saw a picture on the cover of a book. It was just so perfectly whimsical and sweet.

It actually took a year for inspiration to turn to reality because I couldn’t find any suitable yarn (the pattern calls for an extra-bulky thick/thin yarn that’s been discontinued.) I finally found something similar at Joann, which doesn’t even exist in Canada (I had to get in when I was in the US). I was so thrilled that it was finally going to happen!

It was a fast and fun knit, and Lydia loves it.

Well, I’ve still got a couple of projects on the go, but these are the ones I’ve finished so far.

What have you been knitting or crocheting?? If you’re on Ravelry I’d love to follow you there!!

Our Month of Science, AKA Get Thee a Microscope!

looking through microscope

Since we unschool, we don’t follow any curriculum. Instead, we let our interests lead the way. Some months, we end up with a big emphasis on history or art or music. It just so happens that December ended up being a big Science month. We got really excited about looking at small things! Our microscope got a lot of use, and I thought I’d share some of the things we discovered together.

I want to pause to say I highly, highly recommend buying a microscope for your family, no matter whether you home school or use public school! Or heck, even if you don’t have any kids! If you just enjoy being in awe of the natural world, a microscope is a gift. They’re not that expensive, and ours has encouraged hours of joyful discovery and learning. I think it’s a great tool for all kids 5 and up, and the adults enjoy it, too! I have been known to spend hours looking at things through the microscope all by myself, gasping to my family about what I see.

We have the My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope, which we bought from Amazon for about $70. (For some reason they’re way more expensive on the Canadian site right now). It’s very easy to use, it’s quite sturdy, and we’ve seen some spectacular things! You can turn on the light either from above or below, depending on what you’re looking at, meaning you can examine opaque specimens (like stones) and get a good look at their surface. You can get prepared slides to go with the microscope, but honestly we’ve preferred looking at specimens we find ourselves.

Growing Microbes

Anyway, our Month of Science started when I got inspired to grow some microbes after seeing some cool experiments in The Curious Kid’s Science Book. I asked Lydia if she was interested, and she was; so I ordered a Petri Dish and Nutrient Agar Kit to make it easy (here in Canada).

After preparing the petri dishes, Lydia and I had fun going around collecting samples from different places around the home (including everyone’s hands). We sealed up our petri dishes and let them sit around for a few days. Every day we observed them, to see what started growing. It got pretty gross!

petri dishes

growing bacteria

science experiment for kids

science growing microbesNasty, right? We talked about how microbes multiply and form colonies, and why it’s important to wash our hands.

It was a little tricky to look at them through the microscope through the petri dishes, but we got a few good looks!

microscope mold

microscope microbe colonies

P.S. This book on microbes is great for kids! The explanations are simple and elegant, and the illustrations are lovely.



snowflakes in a microscope

While the microscope was out, we got some of our first snowfalls of the season. I got the idea to look at snowflakes through the microscope.

It was more challenging than expected! I discovered that if any part of the instrument was room-temperature, the snowflakes would immediately melt. If you take the slides inside, they immediately melt. So everything needed to be chilled, and the viewing had to happen outside.

So I chilled the microscope and all the tools outside with a towel over it. Then I left out glass slides to catch snowflakes. But if you leave them out too long, the snow builds up too much and you can’t really see anything. It’s quite a delicate science! After a few minutes we could step out and see if we could see anything.

I was amazed at some of what we saw! And I was equally amazed to discover I could easily take photos of what I saw, simply by putting my camera lens up to the eyepiece. Here are a few shots:

snowflakes through a microscope



snowflakes science

snowflakes microscope

It was very hard to find snowflakes that weren’t severely damaged or in mangled clumps. But the intact ones we found were breathtaking.

And there you have it! Our Month of Science. I hope it inspires you to find something amazing in the world around you!

*This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

What I’m Into: December 2017

Point Pelee National Park

museum jars

snowflakes in a microscopeI am not a fan of winter.

And after spending one Christmas in the hospital with my very sick newborn son, living in a different city from my three-year-old daughter, the Christmas season has never felt quite as magical as it once did. I can take it or leave it. I actually spent Christmas day inexplicably, murderously angry at the universe. Grief is weird.

But we had some good times this December. One of the highlights for me was taking Lydia to the Detroit Institute of Arts and seeing the Ancient Egypt exhibit after having studied Egypt in our homeschool. And looking at snowflakes through a microscope. There is still magic around me; it’s just hard to find sometimes.

I’m a little late posting this, but here are the books and movies I enjoyed this month.


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This was an interesting experience: Woodson tells the story of her childhood, growing up as a black girl in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s and 1970s, in verse. It’s autobiography and poetry in one. It’s also the story of a girl discovering her vocation as a writer. Lovely and powerful.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Another fantasy novel featuring an ass-kicking human heroine who falls in love with a dangerous, magical being. It was exciting and well-paced, but I never fell in love with any of the characters or completely bought the whole Faery world of Prythian.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This was a very moving, powerful, and challenging read. This book is written a letter from the author to his adolescent son, and we get to listen in as he advises him on how to grow up in America with a black body. He tells his own life story and explores his awakening to the issues of race in his country. His writing is incredibly eloquent and his reflections are thought-provoking.


The Holiday

(The first three are older movies that I’d never seen before that everyone else in the world has already seen and formed a strong opinion about. I rented them and watched with Felix in the middle of the night. I want to have opinions, too.)

The Holiday – The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law story is meh (DON’T SLEEP WITH STRANGERS, GUYS), but Kate Winslet and Jack Black are ADORABLE. I never would have expected Jack Black to be a believable love interest in a rom-com, but he is surprisingly winsome.

Love Actually – Okay, I know this may be divisive, but I found this movie to be utter crap. I mean, it is filled with amazing actors, and I was absorbed throughout the film; but as the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling like I had wasted my time. And then I read this review (Ahem – major language warning) and thought, EXACTLY. “Colin Firth falls in ‘love’ with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually‘s central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.” In a movie that’s supposedly all about love, we don’t see anyone actually get to know each other. Most couples don’t have a single actual conversation before “falling in love.” The only couple with an actual relationship gets a sad ending. Thumbs down, guys.

Little Women – I’ve been meaning to watch this film since 2014 when I first read the book. It was good. Um, surprisingly, that’s about all I have to say. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully appreciate these 20+year-old movies.)

Colossal – Okay. This movie is weird. It doesn’t fit neatly into any genre — it’s a mix of science fiction, horror, comedy, thriller, and romance. I had no idea what to expect from one minute to the next. But I was riveted, the acting is amazing, and it had a surprisingly satisfying ending. I’d say give it a try!

*Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

*Linking up with Leigh Kramer. Join us there!

My Top Ten Audiobooks of 2017

my favourite podcasts

Audiobooks changed my life this year.

Staying home full-time with young kids who never sleep is not very conducive to reading. And until this year, I’d never had a device on which to listen to audiobooks. So for the last several years, most of my reading happened in five-minute snatches while I was on the toilet. I read about a book a month that way. It was something.

Everything changed when Lydia dropped my old phone, and I finally had to replace it with a new one that had enough space for apps. I downloaded Overdrive and signed up for Audible, and my world opened up. My first audiobook felt like a miracle.

I hardly picked up a paper-and-ink book this year, but I did get to read a ton of audiobooks. Here are ten of my favourites, in no particular order.


Born a Crime – Trevor Noah. This was probably my best read of 2017 in any genre. 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.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson. This woman. She can make me laugh until I cry. This is The Bloggess’ second memoir (her first was hilarious, too). Her discussion of mental illness is both needed and weirdly hysterical. She is a strange, strange, wonderful human being. (Major language warning. I’ve never hard anyone use the word vagina as much as Lawson does.)

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. This memoir is Glennon’s second book and it is just phenomenal. It’s a brutally honest retelling of her life story, with a focus on her marriage’s sudden tragic implosion a few years ago, and the difficult path of healing. The book tenderly and bravely explores sex, love, marriage, God, family, and faith. I found her story of self-discovery gripping and inspiring.


Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye. This book was complete delight. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I think you’ll get a kick out of this novel. It follows a young Victorian orphan girl who, like Jane Eyre, goes to an awful boarding school and later becomes a governess. She’s clever and brave and self-aware. And also? A murderer. With a heart of gold, of course. (She only kills horrible men.) From the start she’s aware of her similarities with the famous fictional heroine. I promise, it’s better than it sounds. It reads like an authentically 19th-century novel and all of the characters are stunningly three-dimensional.

A Man Called OveFrederik Backman. A completely heartwarming story from a Swedish blogger. Ove may be the most endearing grumpy old man you’ve ever met. You will fall in love with every single character. I cried both sad and happy tears. The writing is vibrant and lovely. (And the narrator is great.)

The Inspector Gamache Series – Louise Penny (Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month; The Murder Stone; The Brutal Telling.) Read by Adam Sims. If you enjoy a good murder mystery, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series is perfection. (I’ve read the first five). Lovable characters, thrilling plots, deep exploration of human nature. I am amazed by the depth of Penny’s characters. (If listening to the audiobook, ONLY accept versions read by Adam Sims, who is spectacular. Ralph Cosham, by contrast, is just AWFUL. I returned my copy to Audible after hearing him read the first chapter.)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This novel won the 2017 Newbery Award. It is wonderful. It involves a poetry-reciting swamp monster, a tiny dragon who thinks he’s gigantic, and a kindly old witch who accidentally enmagics an abandoned baby girl by feeding her moonlight. As the girl grows up under the kind witch’s care, her magic becomes increasingly dangerous, and the witch has to make some difficult decisions. It’s a refreshingly original fairy tale with unusual protagonists, full of both whimsy and solemnity. I will happily pass it along to Lydia when she’s a bit older (maybe 10-ish). (Note: I didn’t really care for the narrator. I’d recommend reading the print version.)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, 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!) 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. (I did later read And Then There Were None, which was also terrific, but a little dark for my taste.)

Cinder; Scarlet; Cress; Winter (aka The Lunar Series) by Marissa Meyer; Read by Rebecca Soler. Ignore the cheesy-looking covers of these books and have an open mind. This series was a ton of fun. If you enjoy young adult dystopian sci-fi, this series is for you! Each book is very loosely based on a fairy tale (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White), but set in the future (and some of it in outer space). Cinder is a cyborg and her only friend is an artificially-intelligent android, for example. Cress is a computer engineer and hacker working from a satellite orbiting the earth. Very addictive. Impressive world-building. And Rebecca Soler’s narrating is perfect.

Recipe: Same-Day Sourdough Boule

easy sourdough bread recipe

(Note: if you want to skip to the PDF version, here it is: Basic Sourdough Boule PDF)

I’ve been having fun baking with sourdough for the last several months. I got inspired by Kate’s gorgeous loaves on her Instagram feed and just had to give it a try. When a local friend said she’d share her starter with me, I jumped at the chance!

I started with Kate’s recipe for a basic boule, which she shares on her blog. I had decent success right away, thanks to her detailed instructions. But every time I’ve made it, I’ve made a few adjustments, until I landed on this slightly altered recipe/method. (I made the loaves smaller, changed the bake temp and time, and adjusted the method so it could all be done in a single day.)

I’ve been sharing my own photos on Instagram, and a few people expressed interest in my recipe. So here you go! I could talk about sourdough bread and look at pictures all day.

This recipe is for a basic white boule — a round, free-form artisan loaf. I love how beautiful it can look! I know whole wheat is more nutritious, but I took Kate’s advice and started with all-white flour, since it’s easier for the beginner. It is absolutely delicious, with a chewy, slightly tangy inside, an open crumb, and a crispy, flaky crust; and it’s healthier than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

I always feel fancy when I serve it.

sourdough open crumb

The whole process takes about 7-10 hours; I usually do it in about eight. Of course, almost all of that is rising time; it only takes about 45 minutes total of hands-on labour. If you start really early in the morning, it can be out of the oven by late afternoon; but usually, I’m wrapping it up in the evening.

Here’s a rough timeline of how this is going to go down:

  • Morning: Mix dough
  • Afternoon: Knead
  • Evening: Shape, score, and bake

The first two parts are super-simple, quick, and flexible — the time between can vary by a few hours as needed. You don’t even need to be home in between.

Part three requires a little more attention and is slightly less flexible.

You can stick your dough or formed loaves in the fridge at any point in the process to delay it, even for a day or two, but my fridge is always so full  there isn’t room for that, so I prefer the same-day method.

A Few Introductory Remarks

1. If you’re a beginner, I highly advise you to read through Kate’s Sourdough 101 post before you start. It’ll answer all your questions about how to acquire, care for, and use sourdough starter. When I got started I printed the whole thing out and underlined the most important parts. It helped me a ton.

2. You’re going to need to get  your hands on a good, active starter. If you don’t currently have one, ask around your local friends. Put out a request on Facebook. Sourdough bakers always have plenty to spare, due to its constantly-expanding nature, and we love to share it. That’s how I got mine. (And if you’re local to me, ask me!) If this doesn’t work out, you can buy it online. I’ve heard great things about Simple Life by Kels.

3. You’ll need a large soup pot or dutch oven with a lid to bake your loaf in. Even better if you have two, so you can bake both loaves at once. (Actually, I have one friend who has used a roasting pan, and another who used a large ceramic casserole dish with a lid. You can get creative. It just needs a lid.)

4. You’ll need to feed your starter the night before Baking Day. (I’ll explain how to do this). Everything else happens the next day. Choose a day when you’ll be home most of the day. 

So: you’ve got your sourdough starter and you’re ready to go. Let’s do this!

(Note: I’ve offered general guidelines for timing, just to give you an idea of when to do each step.)

sourdough bread loaf

Basic Sourdough Boule

The night before baking day, take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and feed it. I feed it about 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cups filtered water. It should fill a quart jar about halfway, giving it room to expand overnight.

(I like to mark the level on the jar with a dry-erase marker to I can see its progress.)

Leave it on the counter to grow.

By the next morning, it should look like this:

sourdough starter

Look at all those bubbles! That’s how you know it’s good and active.

Morning: Mix dough (Between 8:00-10:00am)

Stir down the starter to measure it more accurately.

The recipe:

  • 1 cup active starter
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp honey (or sugar)
  • 4 1/4 cups organic white all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt

(Note: this makes two medium loaves. For your first try, you might want to halve the recipe and do just one loaf.)

Mix the liquid ingredients in a small bowl or large measuring cup. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Then pour the liquid into the dry mixture and mix well, first with a spoon, then with your hands. Don’t worry too much about kneading now. You’ll do a thorough job later. Just get it well-blended.

Loosely cover the bowl (I use the lid of the bowl; you can use a damp dish towel, beeswax wrap, or plastic wrap) and put it in a warmish oven to rise. (To warm the oven I do this: turn on the oven to 350 and set the timer for ONE MINUTE. As soon as it goes off, turn everything off. It just warms up the oven a little bit.)

Meanwhile, feed your starter in your jar (I do about 1/2 cup of flour, 5/8 cup of water) and put it back in the fridge. It’s done its job for the day.

2-4 hours later (Between 10:00-noon): Knead Down Dough

Here’s where you do a good, thorough knead to give the gluten its structure so it can rise nicely. Punch it down (it should have risen substantially by now), dump it out on a floured counter top, and knead with floury hands until it’s smooth and elastic.

kneaded sourdough

Put it back in the bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover, and put it back in the warmish oven for a second rise.

4-6 Hours Later (between 2:00-6:00pm): Shape Loaves and Final Rise

Your dough should have about doubled. Punch it down gently and dump it onto a floured counter top again.

Using a serrated bread knife, divide the dough into two (if you’re doing a whole batch). Using a kneading action, shape them into two ovals. Try not to overwork it, though, if you want that nice open (i.e. holey) crumb.

Cut two pieces of parchment paper, sprinkle with flour, and lay down your loaves on them, seam/ugly side down. Now sprinkle and rub the tops generously with flour (This is mostly for aesthetic purposes — it helps your scoring stand out better later).

sourdough - shaping loaves

Cover your loaves with a towel and let them rise for about an hour. They don’t have to double because they’ll rise some more in the hot oven.

1 Hour Later (Between 3:00-7:00pm): Baking the Loaves

Note: you will bake the loaves in two steps: first, inside heated, closed pots; second, on a baking sheet or stone.

After your loaves have been resting for about an hour, it’s time to heat the oven and pots. (The loaves will continue rising a little longer while everything heats up).

Place your pot(s)/dutch oven(s) with their lids into your oven, and set the temperature to 450F. It should take 10-20 minutes to reach that temp.

Once everything is hot, you can score your loaves. This is the fun part!

One of the easiest designs is just a couple of diagonal slashes across the top. It’s very attractive and classic. (I’ll share photos at the bottom.) I typically just use a serrated knife for that.

OR, if you want to get fancy, you can use a razor blade. That’s what I used on the loaves in this post.

razor blade for scoring bread

I cut one long slash along one side, and then a series of short, shallow cuts along the other to make a leaf pattern, like this:

sourdough bread scoring

Once your loaves are ready to go, carefully remove the pots from the oven and place on a heat-safe surface; remove the lids.

With each loaf: lift the parchment paper by its four corners and carefully lower the bread into the pot. (It will bake on the parchment paper for the first part.) Then put on the lids and put them in the oven. (Baking the loaf inside a closed pot at this point will seal in the steam and give you a wonderfully crisp crust). Bake like this for 15 minutes.

oven heating

The next phase of the baking process is done on a baking stone or baking sheet.

After the 15 minutes are up, remove the pots from the oven.

Wearing oven mitts, carefully lift out the loaves by the parchment paper. They should have sprung up in size, and the slashes will have opened up so you can see the finished design. Fun!

sourdough bread oven spring

I find that baking too long on parchment paper burns the bottom, so I want to get them off of there. It’s time for these loaves to get some air, anyway.

Carefully slide your loaves off the parchment paper onto a baking sheet or stone. (I prefer stone, but not everyone has one.)

sourdough bread baking

Pop this back into the hot oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until nice and brown.

finished sourdough bread loaves

Ta-da! Remove to a cooling rack to cool. Give them at least 30 minutes to settle down. You don’t want the inside to be all gummy from cutting into them too soon.

artisan sourdough bread

Time to eat!

homemade sourdough bread

Note: this sourdough bread tastes INCREDIBLE the day it’s baked. But it gets stale very quickly. The next day it’s still good, but better toasted. (Delicious when toasted and buttered alongside soup or stew.)

I always freeze the second loaf as soon as it’s cool to preserve its freshness as much as possible. Often I cut it in half before bagging it so I can take out half at a time.

Whatever is left on the counter after my family rabidly attacks it, I wrap in beeswax wrap for the next morning. It’s more breathable than plastic.

beeswax wrapped

Here are some other scoring patterns I’ve tried:

sourdough bread boule(Horizontal slashes)

sourdough boule(Single vertical slash)

sourdough boules(early attempt to get fancy without a razor blade)

Have fun with it! Even ugly loaves are delicious.

Let me know how this works out for you! My own baking method is always evolving.

I’m excited to try out new scoring patterns, and want to start experimenting with whole wheat flour, other grains, and seeds. Poppy seeds would be pretty! Millet would add some delightful crunch! Oooh, can’t wait to bake my next batch!


Six Things I Learned This Fall (2017)

I’m joining Emily P. Freeman in sharing what I learned this quarter, from science to crafts to social media hacks. Here are six things I learned this fall, in no particular order.

1. The difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon.

cocoon vs chrysalis

This fall, Lydia and I started doing nature walks and nature journaling as a part of our homeschool. As a result, we’ve gotten to know a lot about the creatures around us. And one of those things has been the differences between moths and butterflies, and between cocoons and caterpillars.

We learned this sort of by luck. We happened to catch two different kinds of caterpillars within days of each other, and put them into our butterfly house. Both pupated within 24 hours of being caught. And that’s when we learned this valuable distinction:

Moth larvae make cocoons; butterfly larvae make chrysalises.

(“Larva” refers to the caterpillar stage.)

In the photos above, the image on the left is a chrysalis, made by a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. You will notice that it is smooth and hard. It is actually made from the shed skin of the caterpillar. Weird, right?! That’s how you know to expect a butterfly to emerge from it.

The image on the right is a cocoon, made by the larva of a white-marked tussock moth. You will notice that it is all fuzzy and hellish looking. (Just me? I dunno, it makes me shudder.) It’s made of silk. You can see the adult moth has already emerged from it!*

*(But wait, you say. How can that be a moth? It doesn’t have any wings!! Well, my friends, that is because it is a female white-marked tussock moth, and it doesn’t have any wings. It just sits there and waits for a winged male to come find it and mate with it, and then it will lay its eggs right there on its cocoon. I know, creepy/gross/weird. I kind of regret having kept that caterpillar, to be completely honest.)

I could tell you more about moths/butterflies/caterpillars/pupae, but I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough.

2. My homemade laundry detergent maybe wasn’t cutting it.


I’ve been making and using homemade laundry detergent for the last six years. You know, the kind where you mix washing soda, borax, and grated soap. Honestly, I was perfectly satisfied with it. It is SOOOOO cheap, and has no toxic chemicals or fillers in it. Yay!

So maybe my laundry didn’t come out perfect. My whites got a little dingy over time and my clothes weren’t as soft as they could be, but meh. I was saving so much money, and it’s so much better for the environment!

Then I came across this (kind of sensationalist) article on why homemade laundry detergent actually doesn’t work. And, well, her argument was pretty compelling. My clothes and linens were probably all holding onto years worth of build-up in their fibers, making them duller and less soft than they ought to be.

To summarize briefly: The reason that homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work is that it isn’t detergent at all. It’s just water softeners and soap, and the difference between soap and detergent matters. Soap works fine if you’re using really hot water and a really aggressive method of agitation, like scrubbing with a washboard. But modern washing machines don’t work like that. They just kind of swish the clothes around. For modern washing machines, you need an actual detergent. You can read more for yourself on The Trouble with Homemade Laundry Detergent. (<– a much more even-tempered analysis of the issue than the first article).

I didn’t bother with “stripping” any of my laundry like so many writers advise, but I did pick up a bottle of Nature Clean detergent* the next time I went to the grocery store, and I’ve been using it ever since.

*(I’ve been using their dishwasher detergent for years, and trust them.)

3. How to do a bobble stitch in crochet.

bobble stitch

Until recently, most of my crochet projects have been pretty basic and straightforward. Then I saw a textured cactus pillow that I just had to recreate. But I needed to learn how to do a bobble stitch. I turned to trusty YouTube.

For my fellow crocheters: you basically repeat the first part of a double-crochet 3-5 times in the same stitch, creating a bobble that pops out on the other side of the fabric.

It looks pretty fantastic, but it is time-consuming. (if you want to learn, I recommend searching it on YouTube yourself. I had to watch left-handed versions, which wouldn’t help 90% of you.)

4. You can save other people’s Instagram posts to Collections.

instagram collections

I had no idea. Before I discovered this, when I came across an Instagram photo that inspired me, I would take a screen shot of it. And then it was just saved in my “screen shots” folder on my phone. (I know. Adorable, right?)

Turns out, when you see a post you want to save, you can hit the little bookmark icon in the bottom right and save it. And if you hold it in, a “Save To” tab will pop up and you can save it to one of your collections. I quickly made collections of some of my current obsessions — Bread, Knitting, Watercolour Painting, and Home Schooling. I can refer back to them when I need inspiration. Yay!

I’ve been using this feature like crazy! It’s so fun!

(I actually learned this tidbit from Emily Freeman’s last “What I Learned” post.)

5. You can make pretty designs on your artisan bread using a razor blade.

basic sourdough boule recipe

I’ve been playing around with sourdough bread for the last few months. One of the fun parts of the process is scoring the top to make it pretty. I mean, you kind of have to do some scoring to prevent the loaf from falling all over the place, but you can be intentional about making it attractive while you’re at it.

Until recently, I just did a few diagonal slashes across the top. It looked nice. But after browsing (and saving! — see above) a bunch of bread porn on Instagram, I decided I wanted to try getting fancy. You can make lots of small, shallow cuts into the top with a razor blade and create intricate designs. It comes out looking awesome. The leaf pattern shown here is a pretty common one, and I can see why — it’s simple and gorgeous.

6. Taika Waititi directed Thor Ragnarok.

When I watched Thor Ragnarok in the theater, I couldn’t believe how funny and weird it was. The previous Thor movies had all been kind of boring and unconvincing. And I immediately recognized Korg’s distinctly Kiwi accent. I spotted a couple of familiar Kiwi actors, too. A lot of the dialogue just had some of that New Zealand flavour. So I did some digging and realized that the actor who voices Korg — Taika Waititi — is also the director. And he has directed some of my favourite comedies of all time, including The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Flight of the Concords.

If you’re familiar with these other titles, you know that New Zealand humour is incredibly unique and distinct. (They refer to it as “the comedy of the mundane.”) I was thrilled that Waititi was able to infuse some of this amazing humour into a blockbuster film. The guy is awesome, I am crushing on him pretty hard. (He’s handsome as heck, too!)

That’s about it for now! Hopefully you learned something you didn’t know from this post! What else did you learn this season?

What I’m Into: November 2017

tree in november

November wasn’t my best month. It’s a dreary month here in Ontario, and Felix hasn’t let us sleep in weeks.

Here is a photo that basically sums it up my feelings about this month: (Mom, avert your eyes)


Plus, it’s Felix’s birth month, which is really triggering. Everything reminds me of that horrific first year.

All the more reason to seek out beauty when I can! Also, look how happy and adorable my kids look on his birthday.

Felix's birthday


Anyway, here are a few things I enjoyed this month.


The Princess Bride by William Goldman; read by Rob Reiner. My family didn’t have a VCR growing up, so I never saw the classic films of the 80’s and 90’s that all my peers talk about so fondly, including this one. (I saw The Princess Bride for the first time when Felix was in the hospital. I saw E.T. for the first time this last summer.) That being said, this audiobook version was refreshingly witty and fun, and only 6 hours long.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. This book was surprisingly fantastic, especially the first and last parts. (The middle you could honestly probably skip, but the first and final chapters are worth the ticket price alone.) The book is a “guide to suffering, and how to do it well.” He encourages you to ask yourself, “What pain do you want in your life?” I really appreciated how it helped me reframe pain and suffering, and helps you to figure out what in life is worth giving f*cks about. (I promise this is by far the sweariest post in the history of this blog.)

Children’s Picture Books

picture books november

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson; Illustrated by  Barbara McClintock. This is the first book of poetry that has captured Lydia’s imagination. We loved reading a few poems out loud every night before bed, and she even spontaneously memorized a short poem she thought was funny. The poems are so evocative of childhood magic. A few poems made me cringe in terms of their Victorian ethno- and androcentrism, but overall it’s a lovely collection. There are lots of illustrated versions out there — some probably more beautiful than this one — but this one is still quite charming, and at least attempts to show some diversity.

Imagine a City by Elise Hurst. This book feels like a timeless classic (I would have guessed from the 60’s or 70’s), but was actually just published in 2014. The illustrations are gorgeous, full of magical detail. You can look at them over and over again and find something new and amusing every time — flying fish weaving between gargoyles and rabbits reading the newspaper. It has a Narnian feel to it, if that’s a selling point. I happened to pick it up off the library shelf and immediately fell in love.

Children’s Read-Aloud Chapter Books

chapter books

Astrid’s Dragon by Karen Christian. The author actually sent me this book to share with Lydia, no strings attached. It’s a sweet little story about a plucky little girl and a slightly incompetent but well-intentioned dragon who causes mischief in the kingdom, which they must work together to resolve. Lydia was immediately struck by the charming illustrations (as was I!) and the appealing subject matter. I now think it would make a better early reader than a read-aloud — we finished it in two sittings — but it was still an enjoyable read. I’m sure she’ll return to on her own when she finally decides that learning to read is worth her time.

Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park. If you’re not familiar with this book series, they’re narrated by a hilarious, precocious and slightly hyperactive kindergartner/first-grader as she experiences such firsts as starting school, losing a tooth, and getting a baby brother. We tried these books about a year ago, and Lydia (then 5) just didn’t get the humour. This year we decided to give them another try and she has been delighted. They’re meant to be read by children themselves, so they’re very quick as a read-aloud — generally only taking about two or three nights — but we got a whole stack from her aunties so we’re going through a bunch of them at bedtime.

Poppy by Avi. This is an exciting (perhaps a little scary and violent) story about a brave mouse who must confront the terrifying owl who rules the woods for the sake of her family. The despotic ruler turns out to be different than she had believed, as well as her family’s lifelong enemy, the porcupine. We both enjoyed the story.

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle. This book was a bit mature for a six-year-old (the main protagonist is in high school, for example), but she still found it riveting. It was fun for me to revisit a childhood favourite — perhaps the the first book to get me hooked on science fiction. Kamazotz and IT were still as terrifying as ever.


thor ragnarok

Thor Ragnarok – I’m an unapologetic Marvel fan and I don’t care what you say about it. However, the earlier Thor movies were by far my least favourite of the franchise. I found them boring and uninspired. But Thor Ragnarok is now my absolute favourite Marvel movie so far! I was stunned by how laugh-out-loud hilarious it was! I was busting a gut in the theater. The dialogue is witty and full of unexpected humour. Visually, it’s unlike any of its predecessors — colourful and exuberant. I loved every minute of it.

I came home from the theater and did some research, and found out why it was so fresh and funny: it was directed by New Zealand director Taika Waititi. He directed such quirky New Zealand comedies as the Flight of the Concords TV series and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I’ve been raving about it to all my superhero-averse friends ever since.


sly fox hat crochet

I’ve done a fair amount of knitting over the last few months, so I decided to switch to crochet, mostly to keep up my skills. One night when I was up with Felix I started to hook this sly fox hat for Lydia. I’m quite pleased with the finished product! I like how it snugly covers the ears. (Details on Ravelry.)

Next up, I’m working on a textured cactus pillow!

That’s about it! Hope your month was better than mine. What have you enjoyed this month?

P. S. Follow me on Instagram to get more of my complaining, book recommendations, and crafty crafting!

*Linking up with Leigh Kramer, as usual.

*This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

How I Went from Being a Thinker to a Maker

knitting edited

*Note: Please forgive this bit of shameless navel-gazing. Even though it’s completely self-centered, I thought I’d share this, in case anyone else can relate. It’s connected to my last post: Why I’m Not Writing a Book Right Now.*

A few weeks ago I was editing my Instagram profile — I think I was just temporarily changing the link to a specific blog post — when I was struck by my own description of myself: “Thinker.”

I’ve been using that word to describe myself since I started this blog six years ago. (You can still see it in my author description in the right column of the blog). I’d gotten used to it.

But all of a sudden, I noticed that it didn’t feel like it fit anymore.

For basically all my life, I probably could have described myself as a “thinker.” I’ve lived most of my life in my head. (My mom would attest to that. I’ve always been absent-minded, absorbed with my own thoughts.)

I ruminate. I imagine. I ponder. I reflect. I take things in and I dissect them with my brain. I’ve never been much of a talker or a doer.

That’s why my life has always revolved around the written word. Words are a thinker’s tools.

It made me rather clumsy and not very useful in the real world, but I thrived in an academic setting, which is where I spent the first 24 years of my life.

But that’s not the kind of person I was seeing reflected in my Instagram feed the other day.

My feed isn’t full of thoughts and words, like you would expect from a “thinker.” Instead, these days it’s mostly full of pictures of stuff I’ve made: bread I’ve baked. Hats I’ve crocheted. Artwork I’ve painted.

“Looks like I’m more of a maker,” I thought to myself for the first time.


In recent years, my focus has shifted away from reading, writing, and thinking, to mastering new skills. Baking. Cooking. Painting. Knitting. That kind of thing.

I no longer read to learn new information nearly as much I do to learn new skills. And often, I find that watching videos is a more efficient way to learn these things than reading books. So I do a lot more of that.

In the last three years alone I have picked up crocheting, knitting, watercolor painting and sourdough baking. Before that it was gardening, preserving, cooking and blogging.

What changed?

Well, I graduated from university, for starters. When I stopped being a professional student I started to recognize the value of learning some life skills.

And shortly after that, I had a baby. I had to learn some additional new skills; and my brain got so worn out by the demands of caregiving that I couldn’t think like I used to. But in those early years of mothering I still devoured books and information, and spent a lot of time reflecting and writing.

And then I had a medically complex child who spent his first year in the hospital and everything came apart. Including my brain.

What exactly happened? What encouraged this shift from thinking to making?

Thinking became too difficult.

Having two kids in my care who never slept and who constantly needed my attention put a special strain on my mental capacities. I just didn’t have the brain space to think much anymore beyond what was immediately necessary for all our survival.

Making stuff is a bit easier on the brain, somehow.

basic sourdough boule recipe

Thinking became too painful.

Since the trauma of Felix’s hospitalization, and my family’s separation, displacement, and isolation, almost all thinking triggers pain. My brain became a stew of sadness and anxiety. To this day I have to carefully guard my thoughts at every turn to keep me from turning into a useless puddle of grief and worry.

Making and doing is much less painful.

Nobody gets hurt when I create.

I needed more beauty in my life.

Especially in the dull monotony of hospital life, I started to really notice what a difference beauty made in my life. The gorgeously-decorated Christmas trees in the halls of the pediatric ward somehow allowed me to take a deep breath and relax for just a moment. The carefully-tended flower beds at the Ronald McDonald House made me feel loved and cared for.

This need for beauty has carried on. I wanted not only to witness beauty, but to participate in it.

I get a feeling of peace and calm when I pull elegant loaves of artisan bread out of the oven. I love to lay beautiful liquid colours down on paper and watch flowers pop out of the flat whiteness. It energizes me. It brings me joy when everything else feels like crap.

watercolour lily

I needed to feel in control of parts of my life, when everything else  felt completely chaotic.

Ever since Felix was born, my life has felt largely out of my control. We weren’t able to pursue any of the parenting choices we wanted to make for him, from breastfeeding to co-sleeping and elimination communication. Doctors made all the decisions about how to treat him, how to feed him, and who could even see him. For several weeks, we didn’t even know if he would live.

I have felt so completely helpless in the face of his suffering and pain.

So it feels good to be able to pick out a ball of yarn in the colour of my choice, select a pattern, and knit a sweater, just the way I want it. At least I have control over this one little thing.

knitted pink pixie bonnet

I needed to feel productive, when I realized there was so little I could actually do to help my son.

This is kind of an extension of the first. When I couldn’t do anything else, I could knit my son a hat. When I can’t figure out why everyone in my family is so miserable, I can bake them some bread.

I can’t always solve my own or anyone else’s problems, but I can create something beautiful. That’s something, at least.

How about you? Have you experienced anything like this? Can you relate?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...