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?

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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*Linking up with Leigh Kramer. Join us there!

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)

mug

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

(The quality of the photo is crap because IT’S NOVEMBER AND WE HAVEN’T SEEN THE FREAKING SUN IN A MONTH WHY DOES THIS MONTH EVEN EXIST)

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

(Audio)Books

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.

Movies

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.

Crochet

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.

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Why I’m Not Writing a Book Right Now

hand writing

I recently received one of the most exciting emails of my life. One that I’ve been dreaming of since I was a child. (I mean, I’d never heard of email back then, but the essence of the dream was the same.)

It was from a publisher. A real, legitimate publisher, who has published books I have read and loved. They were interested in potentially working with me on a book.

You guys. I have wanted to be a published author since before I can remember. Books have always been my life, and I have always longed to be a part of that world. It’s the reason I started blogging in the first place, way back in 2009. The end goal was a book deal.

This is every dream come true. It’s the thing I’ve wanted to most in my life for the longest time.

I had to tell that that sadly, writing a book just isn’t going to work for me right now.

But why??? Why would I say something like that??? Why would I turn down my dream????

I haven’t given up on my dream; I’m just acknowledging that now isn’t the time for it. In case you’re wondering, here are a few of the reasons why I had to put that dream on hold.

I don’t feel I have any wisdom to share.

I used to think I had something to share with the world. That was before my universe fell apart, when I gave birth to a medically complex child, and I realized I knew nothing about anything.

It’s been three years now and I still don’t feel like I’ve learned anything.

I’m still at the stage of the journey where I’m shaking my fist at the universe, muttering, “This is bullshit.”

My soul feel shrunken and shrivelled. It barely made it through that difficult first year, and hasn’t really had a chance to heal. So far, I don’t think my trials have made me any stronger or wiser.

Here’s the honest truth, you guys. I’m bitter. I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m busy and stressed out. I’m jealous. I’m resentful. I’m so lost and confused. More than I’ve ever been.

Three years into this journey and I’m so full of unresolved trauma and grief.

I still suffer from such debilitating envy that I’ve unfollowed almost anyone on social media who has two or more healthy children. I envy both their fertility and their ability to produce children without disabilities or life-threatening diseases. It’s so unfair!! This isn’t the life I wanted!!

I want to be that mom who can say in all sincerity, “I wouldn’t change anything about our story.” But at this point in my life, it’s just not true. I would change a bunch of things.

That doesn’t sound like someone who is ready to write a book.

I’m not ready to process my trauma.

You might think that writing would be therapeutic, that getting all my thoughts and feelings out on paper might help me process my trauma and grief. And you might be right.

I just don’t think I have the fortitude to do that right now.

Just writing this post has put me through the ringer. I pretty much sobbed through the whole thing. Talking about my feelings is draining. After this I’m going to fix myself an iced coffee and watch funny Youtube videos to recuperate.

I’m too damn busy and tired all the time.

This is honestly probably the biggest barrier.

Felix still doesn’t sleep through the night most nights. So I am always sleep-deprived.

Even though he’s three years old his needs are still those of an infant — we have to feed, bathe, diaper, and carry him everywhere. He’s still non-verbal and not walking, so he needs a lot of help navigating his world. He uses hearing aids and orthotics.

And the appointments! The bane of my existence. Clinic visits. Audiology. Speech therapy. Physiotherapy. Occupational therapy. I am constantly scheduling and going to appointments. Phone calls and emails are always cluttering up my to-do list. Most of those appointments involve experts giving me additional to-do lists. As an introvert, this is incredibly draining.

So yeah. I can’t add “write a book” to the demands of my life right now.

But maybe someday.

What I’m Into: October 2017

baby boy knitted cardigan

dog

boots

fritters

It’s so helpful for me to reflect on each month and think about the good things I did/read/made. It always makes me feel grateful. October wasn’t all apple fritters and pumpkin patches, but it did have a little bit of these things, and I guess that made it a pretty good month.

Here’s what I’ve been into.

Books

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I probably would have enjoyed this book more if I’d ever watched any of the TV shows written by the author (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, etc). But without that background, I still found the book thought-provoking and inspiring. She lives a very, very different life from me (e.g. unmarried by choice; successful career woman; etc); but I could still see myself in some aspects of her personality, especially her natural tendency to say no to things in favour of hiding at home alone. So I was encouraged by her story of learning to say yes to the things that scared her, and how that changed her life. She’s a very talented and engaging storyteller.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, narrated by Elijah Wood. I enjoyed the audio version of Tom Sawyer so much last month that I decided to listen to Elijah Wood reading Huck Finn. Unlike the first book, I’d never read this one, deeming it unreadable as a child, on account of the Southern U.S. dialect used throughout the entire narrative. (I’d have an easier time reading Middle English.) So I had no idea what was going to happen. At one point I actually yelled out loud, “No, Huck! Don’t do it!!”

And let me tell you, Wood’s narration is a treat. He nails that southern accent, as well as all the different voices and dialects of the sundry characters, bringing the whole thing to life. And just like the earlier book, this one is freaking hilarious! I was guffawing through the whole thing. Huck is such a charming little liar. I cheered aloud when he decides he’d rather go to hell than give up Jim.

The treatment of race is troubling, of course — I really don’t think this book is appropriate for children.  It is painful to hear the n-word used so much (well, at all). But I learned so much about what was happening in the U.S. in the 1800’s (so long ago, and yet so recent!), something I honestly haven’t read about extensively as a Canadian.

(P.S. Did you know Elijah Wood actually played Huck Finn in a 1993 Disney film version? I so want to track it down! He looks adorable in the trailer!) (P.P.S. You can get the audio version for only $1.99 if you buy the kindle version for $.99. What a deal!)

book

The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny. I love this series so much and the fifth novel did not disappoint. All our favourite characters are there, and the murder is dark and weird and intriguing. Penny’s writing is beautiful as always, and probes deeply into the human psyche. This book is the first in the series to introduce ambiguity at the end (Did Gamache arrest the right person??), and is also the first one that would not be great as a stand-alone novel (it has to be read in the context of the rest of the series. A lot of the subplot details would seem irrelevant and uninteresting to a first-time reader). (Note: if you get the audio version, MAKE SURE you get Adam Sims, not Ralph Cosham. The first is a magician; the latter is a disgrace.)

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I read this one aloud to Lydia, but it’s another classic I’d never read before myself. I’ve since learned that the translation I have is not the best one, and I wonder how different the experience might have been with a better translation.

Parts of it are breathtakingly beautiful; but for the most part I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. I’d seen the movie and thought it was absolutely spectacular; the book kind of disappointed. Also, the dark and ambiguous ending didn’t seem quite appropriate for a six-year-old.

Television

OH MY GOODNESS STRANGER THINGS SEASON 2!!!!!!

We watched the whole season over the course of the first weekend it was released,* and I am still speechless. Those child actors blow me away. I love everybody so much. The storytelling is fantastic. Just . . . wow.

Either you’ve already seen it too or you have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’ll just leave it at that.

*(The weather was garbage)

Knitting

knitted baby cardigan

I knitted a sweater! It took me approximately one zillion hours. It’s by far the most complicated thing I’ve knitted so far. Knitting involves a lot of math and counting, you guys! But it was a fun challenge and I’m delighted by the finished results. Look at those sweet wooden buttons!

baby boy sweater

I knitted it for a dear friend who was going to have a baby, and finished the day he was born! Honestly, though, the baby was just an excuse to knit something that excited me.

Oh, and I knitted another pixie bonnet for another little friend, who just had a birthday.

knitted pink pixie bonnet

I got Felix to model it.

pink pixie bonnet

If  you’re into this kind of thing, you can get all the details on these project on Raverly.

…Aaaaand that’s a wrap for this month.

Hope you had a good one!

*As usual, linking up with Leigh Kramer.

*Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting the site!

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What I’m Into: September 2017

apples edited

knitting edited

nature journaling

I cannot complain about our September.

We had summer weather for most of it, which is my favourite.

Lydia and I got really into some schoolish stuff, which was a lot of fun. Nature journaling has turned out to be a big hit. We have learned so much, and enjoyed it immensely! And she can’t get enough of history. We had to take books on Ancient Egypt out of the library so she could dig deeper into pyramids and mummies. Fun!

And I did some knitting! Oh my goodness I love knitting. I’ll share some finished products at the end.

But first of all, some of the usual things I’ve been into!

(Quick note: You can see what I’m up to on a day-to-day basis on Instagram, my most-loved social media platform these days. There you’ll see lots of unschooling stuff, as well as my crafty and kitchen adventures.)

Books

books - september

(Once again, these are all audiobooks.)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This novel won the 2017 Newbery Award, was recommended to me by my discerning sister, and was on sale for a couple of dollars. So I bought it.

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.)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, read by Nick Offerman. I was assigned this book way back in grade seven, so I was familiar with all the major plot points of the story. But as a kid I never particularly cared for the book . . . as a female Canadian goody-goody, I could not relate to the protagonist at all, and the humour completely went over my head. But reading it as an adult . . . it is laugh-out-loud hilarious! Only now do I understand why Twain is considered a world-class humourist. And I could listen to Ron Swanson read to me all day. (*Also as an adult, the racism infused into the culture now really makes me shudder.) (Currently available on Audible for ONE DOLLAR. Go listen to it.)

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick. I enjoy celebrity memoires if the author is funny and smart. This one fits the bill. Kendrick is likeable and self-deprecating, and a very witty writer. It’s always fun to see behind the scenes of things like awards shows and big-budget movies. Not a life-changer, but an enjoyable five hours. Warning: contains plenty of drugs, sex and swearing.

Children’s Read-Aloud Chapter Books

children's chapter books

The Light Princess by George Macdonald. I fell in love with this delightful little book back in university. It was my pleasure to read it aloud to Lydia. It’s whimsical and profound at the same time.

Most of the symbolism and wordplay probably went over her head, but embedded within this silly fairy tale about a princess who has no gravity (in every sense of the word) is a message about self-sacrifice and the value of the full spectrum of human emotion. I hope to read it over and over again through the years.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George. This one was pretty good. Plucky heroine, magical castle, acts of courage. Lydia liked it. I kind of felt like the author doesn’t really know how kingdoms or bad guys work? Still a decent read.

Children’s Picture Books

wild child

Wild Child by Jeanne Willis. I bought this book on the recommendation of Sara from Happiness in Here. I love it so much. It is spectacular in every way.

First of all, it captures the essence of childhood and embodies the spirit of unschooling. If you believe in the wisdom of wildness, you will love this book. The narrator of the story is “the last wild child,” because all of the other children have been captured by grown-ups and made to wear shoes and go to school: “They took all their wisdom and wildness away. That’s why there are none in the forests today.” But by the end of the story, we discover there is at least one other wild child out there . . .

Second, the illustrations are phenomenally gorgeous. Lydia has made copies of all the beautiful pictures and pored over all the lovely details.

I constantly come across children’s books that assume school is necessary and good. This is the first one that seems to question it, and it feels so refreshing and impish.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t seem to be available anywhere right now, but keep your eyes open for it, or check your library!

Knitting

knitted pixie bonnet

The knitting bug hit me the second we got some cooler weather. I just HAD TO KNIT. And I knew what I wanted to make: a pixie bonnet for Felix. I found this pattern via Ravelry, which I thought was perfect for my skill level.

I LOOOVE the finished product.

But unfortunately it ended up a little big for Felix. Oh well. Lydia can wear it for now (still super cute!), and he’ll grow into it eventually.

knitted pixie bonnet(It was actually really hot that day — like 30C or 86F — but I paid her in candy to model the bonnet with a jacket on. For realism’s sake.)

Now I need to make more! (You can find me on Ravelry here, if you’re so inclined.)

So that’s what I’ve been into! How about you?

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*Linking up, as usual, with Leigh Kramer. Join me there?

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What I Learned This Summer

sidewalk chalk

I’m a couple days late, since summer technically ended last Wednesday. But I love Emily Freeman’s idea of sharing things you’ve learned over the last season, so I thought I’d join in.

Here are three things I learned this summer.

1. You really can trust kids to do things when they’re ready.

I’m a firm believer in letting kids do things when they’re ready . . . in theory. That’s part of the reason we’re choosing to unschool. But sometimes that idea is harder to put into practice.

Several months ago, I noticed that Lydia was starting to sprout her first new adult teeth (the bottom front ones) . . . behind her baby teeth. This surprised me, because we’d been checking on those baby teeth for any wiggliness since she turned five. They still weren’t loose at all. But the adult ones were ready to move in, regardless of what the baby teeth were doing.

I wasn’t too alarmed, since mine had done the exact same when I was five. But I’d had my not-loose baby teeth removed by a dentist, and I thought maybe she’d have to have the same thing done with hers.

I was getting ready to make an appointment for her when her baby teeth started to get the teeniest bit wiggly. Hmm. I hesitated. At the same time, I talked to my cousin (who’s a dental assistant), and she told me she sees the exact phenomenon in their office all the time, and it’s no big deal — eventually, when the baby teeth come out, the adult ones move right into place. (I don’t know if this is true of other teeth in the mouth, but the ones at the very front kind of get pushed forward by the tongue). So I waited a little longer.

Eventually, her baby teeth started to get more and more wiggly. But Lydia would not let anyone touch them. I believe in bodily autonomy, even for the youngest children,  so I let it go. I didn’t believe her teeth were in any trouble.

I was personally pretty scarred from the experience of losing my own teeth. My dad would tie strong threads around my loose teeth and yank them out. Sometimes it took several tries. It was terrifying. I still shudder at the thought.

{Question: Why are we so anxious to get kids’ teeth out as soon as absolutely possible?}

I didn’t want to do the same to Lydia. Her teeth belong to her. She gets to decide what happens to them.

Soon the adult teeth were fully in place, with the tiny little baby ones still hanging on but slowly getting looser and getting pushed further forward.

loose teethHere’s a nice image to haunt your dreams. You’re welcome.

It looked pretty gross, honestly. She now had a double row of teeth in the front, and the baby ones were turning greyish and looking dead and dangly. Everyone wanted them out so bad . . . except for Lydia.

We bribed. We reasoned. We asked really nicely. But she didn’t want us to touch them and she wasn’t ready to pull them herself.

This went on for two whole weeks past the time we thought they should really come out. I wanted so badly to reach over and just pluck them out. It would have been so easy! But I restrained myself. It’s her body, I reminded myself. She’ll pull them when she’s ready.

And finally, one day while she was eating a carrot, the first one came out. Thank goodness! And she was so proud of herself!

The next one came out the next day. She easily pulled it out herself.

Now she has two beautiful, straight, white adult teeth, without having the damaging experience of having someone barge in and yank out her teeth against her will. As a bonus, she never had to have any gaps in her mouth.

Sometimes you have to have patience and trust that your kids know what they’re doing.

{Note: I’m still trying to follow my own advice when it comes to Felix reaching his milestones on his own time, with varying levels of success.}

2. You can hone your skills just by watching other people.

passionflower watercolour

Earlier in the year, I decided to learn how to paint with watercolours. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I watched a ton of YouTube videos. I bought new paints, brushes, and paper. And I practiced. I got pretty good. It was so, so fun and fulfilling.

But I didn’t get to practice nearly as much as I would have liked. I’m just not at a stage in my life where I can often get out a bunch of art materials, spread them across a table, and work to my heart’s content.

But I was passionate about learning. So I kept watching tutorials. Lots and lots of them. I watched while I fed the baby or washed the dishes. While I chopped vegetables or mixed meatballs for dinner, I watched other people play with colours and create masterpieces. I watched them lay down glazes and demonstrate techniques.

And to my surprise, when I did get the chance to pull out my paints, I was better at it than I was before I watched the videos.

Simple watching experts paint for hours on end made me a better painter myself, even when I’d had little chance to practice.

Neat.

3. I can buy underwear online.

underwear

This felt like a revelation.

First of all, you need to know that Canadians don’t enjoy all the same online shopping options you Americans do. We don’t have all the same businesses, and shipping costs here are insane. (I’ve done quite a bit of shipping in the U.S. so I know that the price differences are dramatic). Free shipping is almost unheard-of. So I’ve never even considered doing things like Stitch Fix. Online clothes shopping is mostly unaffordable and unrealistic.

And honestly, I’m not really even interested in buying my clothes online. I don’t mind shopping for clothes, and only need to do it every couple of years.

But underwear. What a pain!

The underwear available at our local Wal-Mart are all garbage quality and mostly hideous granny panties. So: no.

My favourite underwear come from LaSenza, a flashy lingerie store at the mall (an hour away) that makes me feel very uncomfortable, plastered wall-to-wall with ginormous posters of almost-naked women. It’s located right next to the food court, so everyone can watch you examine underpants while they eat their Cinnabons. When panties go on sale, they’re offered in huge bins right in the front doorway, and you have to sift through piles of lacy thongs to get to the comfy cotton hipsters (the only cut/style I buy). I always dread it.

One day I groaned to Ben, I wish I could just buy my underwear online. And then I thought, Well, why the heck not? I searched for the La Senza website, and before I knew it, had six pairs of clearance-priced underwear in my cart for less than $30. Shipping cost $4. They arrived three days later.

Hooray! No pawing through piles of panties in front of families eating fake Chinese food! This is the only way I’m doing it from now on.

And that’s it for now! What cool things did you learn this summer?

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What I’m Into: August 2017

tomato salad

eclipseAugust was good to us.

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

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

Books

audiobooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movies

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

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

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

*Post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

*I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Join us there?

What I’m Into: July 2017

splash pad 1

July was a no-sleep month.

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

Good times.

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

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

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

splash pad 2

splash pad 3

lake

He friggin’ LOVES it!

So July wasn’t all bad.

Anyway, here are a few things I enjoyed.

Books

Eye of the World

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

born a crime

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

Kids’ Books

Toys Go Out series

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

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

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

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