Our Second Year of Unschooling, In Review

homeschooling

The end of June marks the end of the school year for Canadians.

If Lydia would have been in traditional school, she’d be finishing up first grade right now. As most of you know, we unschool, so we just live life and learn along the way, allowing her to follow her interests and facilitating her education by providing a rich learning environment.

I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what we did over the last school year. I’ve divided things up into rough subject categories, though of course learning doesn’t happen like that in real life. (I did the same thing last year, if you’d like to read what we did during her “kindergarten” year).

We continued to mostly avoid anything particularly “academic,” since she simply wasn’t interested in it, and because my research has led me to feel it’s unnecessary at best (and harmful at worst) to push academics before the age of seven. We’ll see what we do next year.

(Psst: You can follow our homeschooling adventures on a regular basis by following my Instagram account. If you’re not interested in seeing my knitting/homesteading/sourdough-baking posts, the hashtag #quiringhomeschool will take you directly to all my homeschooling posts.)

Social Skills

homeschool group

I like to cover this one first, since this topic is one that folks seem to worry about most when it comes to homeschooled kids.

Lydia typically spent at least four days a week with at least one other kid besides her baby brother. Mondays were spent at her grandma’s with her younger boy cousin; Tuesdays and Wednesdays were shared with her best girl friend; and Friday mornings were spent with our large and diverse homeschool group. The kids got a chance to swim at the beach, play at different parks, and visit back yards and farms.

She also went to forest school and swim lessons at various times throughout the year. We went on a ton of field trips with our homeschool group, and did a Valentine’s Day exchange in February. I am so thrilled with the group we’ve found this year, I couldn’t ask for better.

Field Trips

field trip pioneers

Speaking of field trips: I felt like these outings were terrific both for learning opportunities and to nurture a general sense of community.

We went to a pioneer homestead on multiple occasions to learn about how life was lived over a hundred years ago. We went to a local marsh to learn about wetland habitats. We visited the local Historical Aircraft Association to see and learn about WWII planes. Again: I am SO, SO GRATEFUL for our homeschooling community this year!

Math

Math mostly took the form of everyday addition and subtraction. It was mostly explored orally, in response to real-life scenarios. (This is a fancy way of saying that when numbers came up in real life, we worked through problems aloud.) We briefly visited the concept of multiplication a few times, and I bribed her with chewing gum to fill out a 1-100 chart, just to prove to both of us that she could do it.

We also spent a few hours on the Khan Academy website, just to learn about written formulas. I feel we probably caught up on a full year’s-worth of lessons in about three combined hours. It helped me feel more relaxed about her math situation. She didn’t love it, though, so I kept it to a minimum.

One resource she loved was the book Amazing Visual Math. She spent a lot of time poring over the geometric shapes and movable charts. I highly recommend it. I think it will be very educational when she can read.

Language and Literacy

Lydia was still not really interested in learning to read this year, which is fine.

However, I must mention that one week in May, I got her to try the free educational computer game Teach Your Monster to Read, and she played obsessively for about three days. The progress she made was astronomical. She went from barely being able to name the sounds of individual letters to being able to read short sentences in less than 48 hours. Demonstrating, once again, that learning does not naturally happen in a linear or evenly-paced fashion. Most kids can probably learn in a few hours or days — when they’re ready and self-motivated — what they would traditionally be taught over the span of weeks or months in school.

But even though she didn’t want reading lessons, that doesn’t mean her literacy education was completely ignored! We spent lots of time reading chapter books aloud. In this way she learned things like vocabulary, sentence structure, and story structure; and most importantly, she is learning to love stories and language.

Some of our favourite read-alouds this year included:

(Notice a theme here? While she can appreciate more realistic stories like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street or the Ramona and Beezus books, she definitely has more passion for fantasy. Just like her parents.)

Visual Art

art museum

Lydia is a natural-born artist, so I don’t need to do much here but make sure she’s stocked with supplies. She literally spends hours every day drawing.

We loved two books that I highly recommend: The Art Book for Children and Get Into Art: People. Both books introduce kids to influential artists in an accessible way. She can now recognize the works of Picasso or Arcimboldo thanks to these books, and they’ve inspired her to try new methods and materials.

Science

daphnia microsope(This is a daphnia under a miscroscope)

Our microscope got lots of use this year (I wrote a whole post about it a few months ago). We especially enjoyed looking at bacteria and fungus colonies; microscopic pond creatures; and snowflakes.

We did a bit of nature journaling during the warmer months.

I set up some science demonstrations, like creating sugar crystals, and using red cabbage juice to test pH levels (so cool! I wrote about it here!) She was inspired to try some of her own science experiments.

Music

Ummm . . . we listened obsessively to The Greatest Showman soundtrack? And she watched hours and hours of Lindsey Stirling’s videos on Youtube?

Whenever I brought up any kind of voice or dance lessons, she would say, “I don’t need lessons. I’m already amazing!”

She recently became interested in playing the xylophone, and was very proud when she taught herself to play Twinkle Twinkle on it.

Even though she’s already an “amazing” dancer, I’m thinking about signing her up for tap lessons in the fall.

History

museum jars

We read and really enjoyed the first half of The Story of the World, where we covered early nomadic cultures, through the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires. She particularly enjoyed learning about the Egyptians, and was excited to see the Egyptian displays the the Detroit Institute of Arts.

(In this photo she is sticking out her tongue because she knows what gets stored in canopic jars!)

Physical Education

yoga

In the warmer months, she got lots of time playing unsupervised in the back yard, swinging and climbing. We also walk as a family regularly to the library, local restaurants, etc.

During winter she really enjoyed Cosmic Kids Yoga on Youtube.

Well, I think that covers all the big stuff!

Thanks for sticking around, and I wish you a relaxing summer!

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5 Things I Learned This Spring

Hi, friends! I’m joining with Emily P. Freeman and sharing a few things I learned this spring. I know there were many more things, but Felix hasn’t really let me sleep for the last two months and my brain is not totally functioning. Here are the things I could remember!

1. Red cabbage has magical properties!

red cabbage - natural dye

(I’m not talking about medicinal qualities, but fascinating scientific qualities!)

I learned this when we used red cabbage to dye our Easter eggs. Turns out, red cabbage (and the purple liquid you can boil out of it) change colour when introduced to different pH levels. Acids turn it a bright magenta; bases turn it a gorgeous turquoise. It’s quite stunning to witness.

red cabbage dye(These three glasses all contain cooked red cabbage liquid, but vinegar has been added to the cup on the far left and baking soda has been added to the cup on the far right. Magic!)

In fact, you can even make your own pH strips by soaking strips of coffee filters in the purple cabbage liquid and letting it dry. Then drip vinegar or baking soda onto the strips, and watch it change colour right before your eyes!

pH strips from reb cabbage(Both of these strips have been soaked in red cabbage water and dried, turning them purple. Then we dropped a few drops of vinegar [left] and baking soda water [right] onto the ends of bottom strip, creating these beautiful colours!)

We also had fun making little bowls of liquid change from one colour to the other and then back again, feeling like wizards in Potions class. (Check out this video I shared on Instagram to see it in action).

2. Knitting cables is not that hard!

knitting cables

I know they look fancy, but it turns out, cables are simple. If you know how to knit and purl, you can do cables, easy peasy. All you need is a cable needle to hold a few stitches to the front every so often, and the magic happens. I’m so glad I gave it a try!

If you’re a newbie knitter looking for a simple beginner cable pattern, I highly recommend this free one from Tin Can Knits.

3. Blocking covers over a multitude of sins.

blocking

Sorry that this is another knitting one, but I’ll make it quick.

“Blocking” refers to the very last step in knitting and crocheting, where you take your finished piece and shape it. There are a few ways to do it, but typically it involves soaking the piece in water, squeezing it out, and then stretching it into its proper shape and laying it flat to dry, generally held in place with pins.

Some people treat this step as optional, but I keep being surprised how important it is. I increasingly believe you should block absolutely everything. Not only does it make your piece look more tidy and professional, but you can adjust the size and shape. It helps to hide or even fix imperfections, too.

When I finished my first cabled hat, it was a little snug and tall, and many of my stitches were uneven. I was a bit disappointed. But during blocking I was able to stretch out the brim and flatten out the top, and as it dried the stitches evened out, to create a really nice-fitting, professional-looking piece! Another win for blocking!

blog

4. There’s such a thing as Messenger Lite.

I am eternally running out of space on my phone. (A natural consequence of always buying used/outdated phones). I am always needing to delete apps so that I can update the more important ones, which is a pain. (And I only use a handful of apps, mostly for listening to audiobooks and podcasts.)

When I had put off updating Facebook Messenger long enough that it no longer worked, I somehow discovered that there’s a “Lite” version that takes up much less space (and offers way less nonsense, like face filters and Facebook stories. Who even uses those??). I installed it and it works great, and I didn’t even have to delete the Weather Channel app from my phone.

5. Selfies get WAY more likes on Instagram.

sad selfie

I didn’t set out to figure out how to get more likes on Instagram. I just happened to post a few selfies within a short period of time, and I noticed the pattern (one that Laura Tremaine once described, but I hadn’t at that point experienced). Posts that include my face typically get way more attention than the rest!

And interestingly, the worse I look in them, the more positive the reaction (ha!). Okay, that’s not entirely true. I think folks just appreciate seeing an honest version of the people they follow on social media. One of my more popular posts is of my disheveled face and hair after a rough night. Another is the one I posted above, where I talk about my crappy Mother’s Day. BUT, folks also seem to like the nice ones, too, as long as it has an interesting caption.

So, selfie away! Your friends and followers want to see your face. Even (or especially) when it’s not perfectly polished and filtered.

That’s it for today! What interesting facts did you learn this season?

Spring Knitting and Crocheting (2018)

spring knitting

Here’s a philosophical question for you? What’s the point of having skills in the internet age unless you’re going to show them off to the online world?

Since I have a blog, I thought I’d share what I’ve been knitting and crocheting over the last couple of months. Please indulge me, because I love seeing other people’s finished crafts!

Most of these are wintery items, and that’s partly because we didn’t actually get real spring weather here in Canada until halfway through April. Knitting was a cheering activity when I was feeling miserable and cooped-up.

Fingerless Mittens

fingerless mitts malabrigo

Info on Ravelry here. Pattern from this book.

After I knitted Lydia a pair, a friend requested a pair as well. I ordered my first boutique yarn for the job — Malabrigo Arroyo, in the colourway Vaa — and it was positively dr-e-a-m-y to work with. Photos cannot capture the beauty of this marvelous hand-dyed yarn. The subtle variations of green — from emerald to lime to olive to aqua — shimmer like jewels in sunlight. I am completely in love.

Adult-Sized Fox Hatfox hat blog

sly fox hat adult

Info on Raverly here. Free pattern here.

After I crocheted Lydia a Sly Fox Hat, my little sister admired it so much I decided to make her an adult-sized version. (The original pattern doesn’t include an adult version, but offers some suggestions.) It took a couple of tries to get one big enough, but I finally managed it and I’m quite pleased with the finished product.

Chunky Cabled Hats

easy cabled hat

cabled hat red

Info on Ravelry here. Free Pattern here.

I really wanted to learn how to do cables, and I conveniently realized I didn’t have a nice winter hat for myself, so I bought some chunky merino yarn and knit myself a Northward hat. I added a faux fur pompom to make it super on-trend. (Because as you know, I am sooooooo trendy. Evidence: I am still writing on a blog in 2018.)

Then I knit one for my middle sister, so she wouldn’t feel left out of the homemade hat club.

Whimsy Pixie Bonnet

whimsy pixie bonnet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

….And finally, another pixie bonnet. Details on Ravelry here.

For some reason I just LOOOOVE this silhouette on young kids.

I had “inherited” some hand-spun, hand-dyed, fingering-weight alpaca wool from a friend’s grandma, and I didn’t know what to do with for the longest time. But I knew it was a really expensive, high-quality yarn that I didn’t want to go to waste. I finally landed on this pattern. I adore it. I’m a very slow knitter so it took me forever but it was worth it. And I finally had to learn how to make I-cord, and I’m a fan.

Juniper Bonnet

juniper bonnet flat

juniper bonnet

Details on Ravelry here. Pattern here. Okay, okay, one last thing. I participated in an Instagram knit-along and knit this lovely little bonnet. It was my first time knitting lace and it was a real challenge at first. But I’m delighted by the result!

Okay, that’s everything! Dang, I just realized how many new skills I learned over the course of the season. My kids definitely don’t need this much knitted headwear but I just love tackling new challenges.

Thanks for sticking around! And I always enjoy seeing/hearing about what you’re making!

What I’m Into: April 2018

geese blogGuys! It finally stopped snowing! I could not be happier about the arrival of spring.

We’ve been really busy with homeschool field trips this month and it’s been great! I’ve also continued to do an unreasonable amount of knitting, but I’m going to save that for another post. (You can keep up with all my shenanigans on Instagram.)

Right now, I’m just going to get to my lists.

I haven’t written one of these posts in several months and I have read so many good books in that time . . . but I decided that if I was going to cover books retroactively, I would never get to them all. So I’m just picking up with what I read this month.

Books

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever – Jamie Wright. I have been waiting for Jamie’s book to come out for a while and it was everything I hoped it would be. Hilarious, gutsy, insightful, relatable, inspiring, and somehow full of wisdom, even though it doesn’t take itself too seriously. She shares her early spiritual formation as a “Jew-ish” girl, who later drops out of school and gets pregnant at 17, and eventually becomes a good Christian missionary with her husband and three kids. The bulk of the story covers her five years in Costa Rica, as she gradually becomes disillusioned with the whole missionary industry. I loved finally getting a behind-the-scenes look at Jamie’s life, and how she became “the very worst missionary.” It’s such an important book and a complete delight to read. I highly, highly recommend it, whether you’re super-churchy or totally not. Be forewarned, though: she likes her swears.

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. I finally got around to reading this Pulitzer-prize winning novel. If you need a reminder of why war is bad, here’s another one! (Okay, that’s probably not fair . . . it’s just that I’ve read three newish books set during WWII in the last few months, and it’s starting to bum me out. How are humans so horrible?!) It’s an achingly beautiful story, written with resplendent prose. There are two main story arcs: the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who escapes with her father to her reclusive Uncle’s house in Brittany; and that of Werner, an orphaned German boy who gets trained by the Nazi army to find the senders of illegal radio transmissions. Eventually, their stories beautifully and tragically converge. There’s also a fantasy element in the story, as Marie-Laure is unwittingly carrying a diamond believed to hold supernatural powers.

For The Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards – Jen Hatmaker. This is such an encouraging book for the tired Christian woman. Jen is funny, warm, and soothing. Part entertainment, part pep-talk, this book is like comfort food for the soul. It’s not particularly challenging or illuminating, as I know Jen can be, but it was just what I needed when dragging myself through the grey days of endless diaper changes and temper tantrums.

Mosquitoland – David Arnold. This was my YA pick of the month. It was fine. A quirky, slightly mentally-ill teenager decides to run away from her dad and step-mom to go save her mom, who she finds out is sick on the other side of the country. Along the way she meets a lively and interesting cast of characters who join in her adventure. I can imagine young girls (and guys) really relating to her struggles and aspirations.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas. (Okay, I squeezed in another YA book.) This is such a powerful and important book, you guys. I think it offers invaluable insight into the Black Lives Matter movement, and should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t “get” the movement. But in addition to that, it’s just a good book.

I’ll admit that when the narrator’s friend gets shot by a cop in the very first chapter, I was worried I was reading a book that was going to end up a utilitarian “Topics in Race and Law Enforcement” type of story. But as I continued I discovered a beautiful, rich story with believable, complicated characters. Starr is a relatable, authentic narrator, and her family and friends and neighbours feel like real people. If you’re white, it will open your eyes. Highly recommend.

TV Shows

The Good Place (Netflix, season 1). This show is stupid and wonderful. The lovable Kristen Bell has died and found herself in the afterlife — in The Good Place, where everything and everyone are perfect. The only problem: there’s been a mistake, and she’s not supposed to be there, because she’s actually a terrible person. Can she become good enough to fit in before everyone catches on? It’s kooky and irreverent and hilarious, and full of plot surprises. The twist in the last episode caught me completely by surprise and now I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the next season.

Movies

We finally saw The Greatest Showman as a family. And guys: I know it’s all kinds of problematic. But we LOVED it. It’s just so joyful and fun and spectacular. Why don’t people wear coattails and top hats anymore?? And how is Hugh Jackman still so sprightly when he’s almost 50??

Okay, it’s kind of dumb that the movie starts with an epic, celebratory musical number. And it’s dumb that the opera singer never sings any opera. And I’ve heard that real-life P.T. Barnum was not a particularly good person. But it was still a complete delight and I don’t care what you say. We’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop.

*Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!*

*As always, linking up with Leigh Kramer!*

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.

Bummer.

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.

beach

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.

beach

beach

Harry Potter World

Hogwarts Express

Honeydukes

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.

butterbeer

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.

Gringotts

Firebolt

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

pool

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.

book

Snowflakes

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

snowflakes

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!

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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.

Books

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.

Movies

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!

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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.

Nonfiction/Memoirs


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.

Fiction


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.

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