Monday, December 29, 2008

A belated Merry Christmas

The day came and went at a frighteningly fast pace. As usual. On the 23rd we visited with neighbours. It was a good excuse to stop doing stuff around the house for a few hours.

Christmas eve morning was the kids holiday party at Rob's office. It was our first chance to see where daddy actually works. His job requires a lot of security so unless you have one of those chipped ID cards, you can't get past the lobby, which we are quite familiar with. So we saw his cube. Not surprising to us at all, there was nothing hung up in the way of photos or drawings from the kids. We will be fixing that for him shortly. One of these days he'll notice an extra heavy backpack. We took the train in that morning, at Izzy's request, which was nice. No fighting major traffic. Santa dropped by the party with toys for the kids. Alex got a Bionicle and Izzy received a Mermaid barbie. There were lots of games and sugary treats. It was quite a lot of fun.

After the party we went out for an early lunch at East Side Marios. We took our time getting home.

Christmas Day was spent at home.

The kids were thrilled with their presents.

I managed a turkey dinner and since it was my turn to host Christmas on Boxing Day for the in-laws we moved the dinner to Grandpa's house while I provided the lasagnas.

Sadly, it was rushed business. We took down the tree as soon as we got back from Grandpa's. The renovation couldn't wait any longer. Cabinets and appliances were on their way and we had a deadline to meet. Next Christmas will be much more relaxing. I hope.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Three More Sleeps, right Mommy?

That was the first thing out of Alex's mouth this morning. Izzy is beyond excited, and this isn't exactly a somber child to begin with. Her enthusiasm these days borders on insanity. At least we really hope it is Christmas making her this nuts.

All the shopping is nearly done. Not just the presents (that was done a while back) but the kitchen too. It is all coming together so quickly that yesterday I wondered aloud how soon we could tear down the Christmas tree to make room for cabinet building. Ikea will be delivering sometime before the new year and the appliances come on the 9th. We brought the flooring home yesterday and half of the stick tiles in the kitchen are up.

I'm a little overwhelmed at the thought of this process but we are doing our research and will take our time to do it the right way. Now that all the money is gone, I am ready to see something to show for it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"I'm soooo lucky, Mommy!"

That was Alex in the back of the car today on our way home from gymnastics. He is feeling pretty good these days. We have had the kids in a lot of activities but lately we've been able to arrange some of these activities with other home school children we know. There are four families, with nine children between us, that have gotten pretty close. The kids get along fabulously. They range from ages 6 to 2 and there is someone for everyone. An ideal mix, actually.

So Alex is thrilled that he gets to do the activities he enjoys with the friends he loves most. As a bonus, he mentioned that he has even more friends, here in our neighbourhood, and at Beavers and swimming.

It is so nice to see the kids happy and developing great friendships. They are pretty social kids and need this outlet. The bonus is that I actually get to know the parents of the kids my children hang out with - and I really like them too.

Christmas next weeK? How did that happen?

I blinked and December is half over. Luckily my obsession with early Christmas shopping paid off very well this year. I am still shopping like crazy, only this is for the kitchen and not old St. Nick.

Still, it feels odd. Like this will be the Christmas that wasn't. The kids will get their gifts and I managed to squeeze the tree into a very packed living room but the things that usually make me feel festive aren't going to happen. I have done no baking at all. Nada. Zippo. Everyone who knows me knows all about the dozens of treats I bake every year. I might try to whip off a few butter tarts or shortbread cookies but that seems less likely with each passing day. There have been no evenings cuddled on the couch watching Christmas movies. No time for that. Not even a walk around the neighbourhood to look at all the lights.

The kids have been slightly more neglected these days. It doesn't help that all of their activities go on hold for a few weeks. It helps when we have to be somewhere, at some specific time. Things will be a little off kilter these next few months so outside sources, like gym classes, are a good way to refocus our attention elsewhere and let the kids blow off steam.

I cannot wait until I get my kitchen back.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creative Planning

As if I didn't anything to keep me busy, what with Christmas, a complete kitchen renovation and now a foundation leak, I need to get the kids organized for January. Everyone is signing up for their programs and lessons. This month the kids started gymnastics and art resumes in January. They will still have Beavers, Dance and Swim lessons. I found a piano teacher for Alex, so we'll give that a shot in the new year, as well. There are other activities in between, like gym or soccer at the Y. Free range play-dates with other hs kids. So much for life settling down after the holidays.

At least they'll still have some structure but in all likelihood formal lessons will be at the bottom of our list in the months to come. Alright, formal lessons have never been overly important to us, not in the traditional sense anyway. At least not yet. Still, every few days we'd crack open the math books or do something science or geography related. I am trying to get my guilt out of the way now for all the neglect they will be suffering soon...if not already.

The upside has been that Alex has become quite proficient with reading on his own. The kids mostly play well together and are quite imaginative. They are getting better at finding things to do that don't require my help or constant supervision. I'll think of it as more of a lesson on independence. See, you can find a silver lining in every cloud!

Alex's first comic...

Can you tell this kid loves comic books? This is his first unprompted attempt at story writing and its a comic. I love it. The only thing he usually draws are pictures of Izzy in a circle with a big line crossed through it. I find them everywhere, taped to his bedroom door or on the baby gate at the top of the stairs. Lots of fun! He is a big fan of shortcuts and using symbols or signs to get his point across. Right now he prefers drawing a heart next to his name, rather than writing Love Alex. I showed him how to do a sideways heart with the keyboard <3 and it was the highlight of his day.

It was just refreshing to see him doing something creative (that wasn't Lego) today although Rob is pretty convinced the circular machine shooting at him is one of those robots from Star Wars that rolls and has a force field. He told Rob it was called a Death Ball. We joked at dinner that Alex was turning into a well-rounded geek. Loves Lego, Star Wars, video games and now writes comic books. Too bad there isn't a Lego, Star Wars math program out there. We'd really be set then!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm a slow learner

You know, every year I seem to have some sort of epiphany about the kids and how I am raising them. One year it was about all the stuff they were getting and not using. Another year it was about pushing them into peer activities that they were clearly not ready for. This year it is about doing all the stuff that school kids do - and not doing it anymore.

We have been to several over-hyped and over-rated Christmas functions already. Yes, the kids had fun. None of the activities broke the bank. Sure, it is interesting to see the kids in a setting where all the other kids are schooled and the parents have made themselves scarce. In the end though, it hasn't been worth it. Not the running around from place to place. Not the sugar highs that come with too many candy canes and sweet treats. Not the constraints it makes on our time.

Last week we saw Santa at the zoo and attended a community centre event with games and treats. Both were busy and crowded. Both were full of kids we didn't know. Both were not really worth repeating.

I wasn't thinking this year. Instead of stuff, I wanted the kids to have experiences. In the past, when Izzy was younger and we hadn't really sought out many other home schoolers, I wound up going to all sorts of crazy things. Events that usually cost a few bucks and where you would meet kids you were sure never to see. It made me feel like my kids were getting some *mainstream* experience that was otherwise lacking in their lives. Other kids get play-days at school or Christmas concerts. So we go to fun events filled with strangers to experience standing in line to wait for your turn to throw the bean bag or get a face painted.

Once again, I've learned a valuable lesson. It really is about quality time together - with family and with friends. It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing. It is not necessary to fill up every square on the calendar with experiences. Less truly is more.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

People Plan, the Universe Laughs!

I had it all under control. Kids Christmas gifts were purchased before November even hit. (I have predictable, easy-going kids where gift giving is concerned.) Lists were made for errands, meal planning, etc. The goal was to not be running around like a chicken without its head through the month of December. To avoid malls at all costs! This time I was going to enjoy it and stress less. Ha. Ha. Ha. The tree is not up. Rob's not complaining but it now puts more stress on my 'relaxed' schedule. The kids will be out of town this weekend and the next few days are overflowing with things to do (last minute details not originally in the plan like doctor appointment and the whole shopping for everything one would need to outfit a new kitchen from scratch). I am starting to wonder how to fit in Rob's work, home schooling, renovation and Christmas in one month.

On a brighter note this advent thing is working out wonderfully. It actually forces me to do what is written on those little notes. Like today it said make ornaments out of clay. Not a big deal, right? Well, we had a busy morning where the kids had their first gymnastics class. We then went on to check out some prices on plumbing fixtures at Home Depot. Got home, Izzy needed a nap and I wound up having to track down four neighbours and tell them about a canceled board meeting. Finally got dinner on the table, Rob's home and slightly grumpy, the living room is still a disaster and the advent calendar promised fun with clay. Any other time I would have said kids, its late, we're tired...another day. I couldn't do it though. It would have completely taken away all the substance of my little project. So we did it, kids got to stay up a little late and honestly, we were all in better moods for it. I didn't feel guilty and the kids weren't disappointed.

While washing the dishes I wondered if we needed a monthly advent system. Not just to have something to look forward to but to force ourselves to have fun, even when we feel like putting it off.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Channeling Martha Stewart

I have these moments when I feel really artistic. I want to make something pretty and functional. Usually it involves food. This time it is a our own homemade advent countdown calendar. Every year I buy those crappy dollar calendars with mock-chocolates behind the flaps. The kids never complained. I knew, however, that there were these mothers out there that made homemade advent calendars in the form of boxes, envelopes or what ever else grabbed their fancy. Each day had an activity for the kids like making a fort in the living room, or delivering cookies to elderly neighbours. I was so envious. I wanted to do that but it took time, effort, and most of all, lots of planning.

Well folks, this year I planned ahead. In a year when Christmas decorations will be put out sparingly, because the kitchen reno has left us with less living space, I decided I would still go through with the activity calendar and tonight it is finished.

I started with some pretty origami paper and made little cups. I took my hot glue gun (purchased 9 years ago, used only once) and attached pretty ribbons as straps. They were numbered and hung up on a golden cord with tiny, little festive clothes pins fastened to the entry hall wall. I put in two real chocolate balls and a little fortune cookie sized note with something fun planned for that day.

Inside I wrote down activities that had been well planned in advance, like tickets to a holiday event at the zoo or the children's Christmas party at Rob's office. The other days are filled with baking, family wii game night, a donation to the local food bank, a tea party and more. I think we'll have a lot of fun with this and, providing the kids and the cat are gentle, they should still be good to use next year. With the month being as hectic as it is, this is a nice way for the kids to anticipate fun activities for the day and it forced me to sit and plan out the month. I was able to scale back some activities and make the holiday more reasonable, and hopefully enjoyable, for all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

For Kelly and Rich

Actually, more for Rich.

Alex has always prided himself on being adventurous with food. He'll eat anything - any time, any where...unless it is too spicy. Seaweed salad from the sample lady at Costco. Some strange green gunge, served to us compliments of the restaurant, that none of the four other adults would try but he dug into with gusto! Mushrooms and I can't remember what else in his oatmeal on a camping trip with Kelly and Rich. I believe it was Alex's earliest attempts to emulate and impress one of his idols (yep Rich, I mean you) that began this bizarre love affair with foods most children pinch their faces at.

Well, we nearly topped every other culinary delight yesterday with the most disgusting combination that can be known to mankind. Frosted flakes and Egg Nog! Blechhhhhhhh!!!!

I stopped him, of course. Not because he wouldn't like it but because just thinking about it (let alone smelling it) made me want to retch. I told him people all over the world would puke if they found out and, because he is a 5 year old boy, he laughed until egg nog nearly came out his nose. We agreed that while soy milk would be okay in cereal we had best leave egg nog aside.

I should be happy he is so experimental with his cuisine because the flip side would be Izzy who would live off of chicken nuggets and condiments if we let her. Perhaps I need to send her to uncle Rich for a while.

Raising kids in the age of Google

Last night Rob and I got our first kick on the pants for not realizing sooner how computer savvy Alex had gotten. When we first gave him a user account we didn`t think much of it. He was quite new to the whole thing and, frankly, showed much less interest in the computer at first than we expected him to. On his account I put up a bunch of shortcuts to kid friendly sites like StarFall (a reading site) and PBS Kids. We didn`t know that the site he would adore (and frequent) most would be a catalyst to bigger and better things not at all appropriate for a 5 year old boy.

He discovered mini Lego movies on the site which were actually shown by YouTube. Once there he could click onto other YouTube videos and keep moving from there. He also figured out how to use the google search engine, funny enough by going to find more Lego videos on YouTube, and when we checked his search history that is mainly what we found. Unfortunately he also opened a couple of other videos that were not for kids. The main computer is in the basement and that is where he spent most of his time online. The truth is he doesn`t even spend that much time on the computer yet but when he does he can sit there for hours.

So once I had been enlightened I spent several hours reconfiguring Alex`s user account. I gave him a child friendly home page - (with Lego Star Wars Wallpaper, no less), a new email account (set up from my account) to send mail to close family and friends, bookmarked a bunch of appropriate sites, then blocked Google and replaced it with a kid friendly search engine. Sadly Google has no appropriate filters for young children. I also went through and started placing locks all over the place - starting with YouTube. He`ll have to wait until Rob and I can sit with him to watch those mini videos now.

I know this is just the first step. Rob and I are going to have to sit the boy down and have the first of many talks to him about computer safety and our expectations. I think this is even harder than the sex talk. Computers and the internet are a huge part of our lives. That`s how Rob makes his living. It is an invaluable resource and a great form of entertainment for all of us. The consensus in our home is that we would get rid of every other electronic machine in our house before we let go of the computer. I expect the kids will be similarly minded. The hardest part will be trying to stem the flow of negative information so easily available to this generation of kids. I mean we had to search high and low to find a picture of a nude person when we were kids. I can`t even let my mind go to what Alex and Izzy could find in a two second search.

Happy Birthday Rob!

This means two things. First, I can stop making the old cracks about him (like he does have as much grey hair at 30 as he thought he would and how most 30 year olds haven`t been married nearly a third of their lives) that never made much sense as I am nearly four years older than him. It was more a form of retribution for how he tried to make me feel old when I turned 30, but I didn`t and he did, lol. Secondly, it means I can put up the Christmas tree this weekend.

So happy birthday to my best friend in the world. I promise to get off the computer shortly and start on your birthday dinner - chicken cacciatore and cherry cheesecake. All our love from me and the kids.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beethoven Lives Upstairs

I remember being a kid and passing by the circular, mirrored building downtown Toronto and wondering what it looked like inside. Last weekend I finally got my chance. If you've never been, and ever get the chance, get yourself to Roy Thomson Hall. It is so beautiful, warm and luxurious that you can't help but feel impressed long before the music ever starts.

Years ago, before Alex was even born, I had heard that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra held a children's concert series. Though I enjoy classical music I have only had the privilege of hearing it live in very small all-purpose venues so I knew this would be a real treat. I was so excited knowing this year Alex would be old enough to appreciate the experience. He went to his first concert in October with a family friend when Rob and I couldn't make it. This was my turn and I have been waiting anxiously, not just to attend but to see this specific concert and I was not disappointed.

The boy was completely spellbound throughout the entire show. He sat leaning forward in his chair, eyes wide and sparkling, clapping enthusiastically every chance he got. It is a lovely story about a young boy named Christoph who exchanges letters to his uncle about a frustratingly loud and tormented tenant who lives upstairs. Eventually Christoph comes to understand Beethoven and appreciate the genius of this man who created such beautiful music.

Alex left the music hall humming Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and I left counting the days until we were back again. This has definitely become a must-do activity for our family. Next year Izzy will be able to join us and we'll make it a real family affair.

Kitchen Woes

I just remembered what I've been busy with the past week and a half! Being forced to embark of home renovations just weeks before Christmas.

It isn't a pretty kitchen. It is barely even a functional kitchen. Now it is just a grouping of cheaply made (now ruined and rotten inside) cabinets whose days are quickly numbered. We came back from a weekend away to a leak. Inside down to the basement and outside the house, originating in the kitchen. Very scary. We always knew we were going to gut the kitchen and put a new one in but that was down the line, when we had more money to do it. Well, not only are the cabinets ruined but the flooring is toast too. Water soaked under two layers of crappy peel and stick tiling (oh, how I'll miss that *sniff, sniff*) and down to the plywood.

So now we must start on the most expensive phase of our home improvement schemes. At least this will be money well spent and add to our home's value. I have a plan. With such a simple galley kitchen and a few years of drafting under my belt, I came up with my dream kitchen. Well, my first home, townhouse - realistic about property values - dream kitchen. We're going with Ikea cabinetry that Rob and I will put in ourselves. And by that I mean we will likely have a lot of help from our very handy neighbours. We will do it in phases so we don't break the bank and have decided to redo the entire main floor flooring while we are at it. Sadly that part will include ripping up a large section of ceramic tile. With the realities of Rob working full time, me busy home schooling the kids and our overall lack of enthusiasm when it comes to all things involving manual labour, I give us a year for completion. We'll be thrilled if it is all done by next Christmas.

This was kind of a blessing in disguise for us. We probably would have done this a year before we sold and now, as Rob says, we'll get to enjoy it for a while instead of just fixing the place up for someone else.

I'm back!

I'd say I was just too busy which would almost be true but I haven't been able to post here for over a week. Some spam-blogger search engine flagged mine as trouble and I had to wait for the powers-that-be to fix it.

So now I am free to write again and darned if I can remember what I've done lately.

Probably shouldn't say this out loud but... kids are getting along really well these days. They are sharing nicely. They are playing together all the time. Right now they are upstairs and have converted Izzy's bedroom floor to a giant picnic and are eating their breakfast together. No yelling, no fighting - just happy, co-operative children. Huh! I wonder how long this will last?

I think it helps that Izzy is three now. She has matured a lot recently. When I look at her face I can't find any trace of the old toddler, just a little girl. I catch myself staring at her, stunned at how old she looks. She still forgets the s sound when she speaks and has her fair share of tantrums but she is certainly no longer the baby.

I like this phase. I like not having to worry about naptime or carting strollers all over the place. I like that I can go out for hours now without a diaper bag (though potty training has been last on Izzy's to-do list). I like that I can go visit friends or hang at some indoor playground with a book and actually get to read it because they are off, busy playing.

Its nice being needed less. Those early years in parenting can be quite exhaustive and overwhelming. When we first ventured into homeschooling it seemed quite hard. Izzy made it hard - not intentionally, of course. I was told by several moms, wait - wait and see how much easier it gets. They were right. This is much easier and a whole lot more fun!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Boy Who Couldn't Stop

Not the best picture of Alex but I took it only to show him how he looked when I finally got him seated for a rest. We had a busy weekend - a sleepover at Grandpa's, a visit with Rob's aunt and the first holiday party of the season. Every year Rob's family (on his mom's side) rents a hall and the aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids gather for a turkey and some socializing. For some of us it is the only time we meet each year. I think I counted 12 young ones this year out of about 50 of us. Well, there is nothing like a dozen kids, lots of sweets and treats, and St. Nick himself showing up with presents to turn my boy into the Tasmanian Devil.

I know, lots of kids get wound up under those circumstances but poor Alex just doesn't know when to quit. There he is, sweating, red-faced, eyes bulging out of his head and teetering on the brink of a massive meltdown. This has always been an issue with our boy and it rarely matters the circumstance. He can't or won't listen to his body and slow down. In this state I have to remind him to have a drink of water or even go to the washroom. It's like the ultimate adrenaline high for him.

It is after times like this that I start to worry about whether or not I should have Alex tested for ADD. Specifically, ADD - Inattentive. He meets all the criteria for it (for that matter, I meet a lot of them too), with the exception of one biggie - it needs to affect people in at least two of three environments - home, school or work. So this begs the question asked by some of us who home school, if he isn't in school and it isn't really affecting him academically, is it really a problem? Is it something that should just be approached the same way learning styles are tackled? So because Alex doesn't sit still for very long we keep table work short and slowly build his tolerance to sitting for longer periods.

Rob and I were talking about this on the long drive home. Do we fork out the cash to have him tested? What would testing really do for us? Is it better to have a label, really? We both know that we, ourselves, would have been labeled with many afflictions if we had any testing done. We made it through alright though it wasn't always a smooth ride. Maybe all Alex needs is proper guidance to help him cope with his own tendencies?

This is something on my mind quite a lot these days. Especially as I struggle to get any formal output from him. We can sit together and work through textbooks at a frighteningly quick pace. We use our hands with manipulatives or to put projects together. He is very smart and quite creative. School-wise, the big problem we run into is written output. He hates it and it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Writing is still done in capital letters. He seems to fear spelling things out on his own in case he gets it wrong even though his reading level is years beyond most of his peers. Colouring is the worst, by far. They colour a lot at Beavers and I can always spot Alex's work immediately. It is usually done in one colour and is just frantic, circular scribbles on one section. He can't be bothered to do it. I know he takes in a lot of information. I have no doubt he is learning and in most cases far beyond where he would need to be with a bricks and mortar education.

The biggest non-academic issues are disorganization and being easily distracted. Though it can be extremely frustrating they are things we are consciously working on. This is where I am most happy not to have to deal with the school system. I could well imagine all the "...he is quite smart but just doesn't apply himself..." conversations. Ha! I heard quite a lot of those conversations about myself growing up. He does very well one-on-one and at home we can limit the distractions during lessons. We've come up with a simple reward chart system to help with motivation and to reinforce good habits that don't come easily. It is a new approach we have been trying to put together for a while now. I'll repost more in the future when we see how it fairs.

I've felt in my gut that Alex was different from very early on. Not in a bad way (because he has always been very special to me) but in a difficult to articulate way that certainly feels more challenging as he gets older. Part of it is because I find it difficult to relate to why he does the things he does. Partly because he can be a very explicit mirror reflecting back parts of me and Rob that are similarly challenged. The scariest thing a parent has to do is make a choice that is not based on what is right or wrong, but on what is better. There are an awful lot of those these days and only time will tell what works.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Even more...Vedic Math

Why didn't anyone ever tell me about this? Fascinating math tricks.

Vedic Math Tutorials

For example 1000 - 357 = 643

We simply take each figure in 357 from 9 and the last figure from 10.
3 from 9 = 6, 5 from 9 = 4, 7 from 10 = 3.

So the answer is 1000 - 357 = 643

That is just one of the sixteen principles. Rob always said math could be fun...I hate it when he is right, lol.

This is fun - Russian Math!

I was reading some posts on a home school website about kids and counting with their fingers. Alex really doesn't do that very much. He is able to do addition with his head. When I ask him a question, his chin goes in the air, he squints a little and you can see him mentally working it out.

One of the moms put a link to this site with a little trick to doing higher multiplication from I thought it was pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Birthdays and Christmas

That felt like the longest birthday ever. Izzy turned 3 last Tuesday but her party was on Sunday. She kept the festive birthday spirit going all week long. We had only close family and friends over which included her cousins. Izzy was a thrilled little girl and spoiled rotten by all those gifts. They were all perfect too and she is very happy - thanks to everyone who came!

Rob had a four day weekend thanks to Remembrance Day ( of the many perks of being a bank employee) and I think we relaxed, a little. I coaxed Rob into taking the munchkins to the Science Centre on Monday while I did some big city shopping. I told him that week days were great because they would practically have the place to themselves. Not so, apparently. Every school and daycare group in the city also figured it was a good day to visit the OSC. Rob said he had never seen it so busy. They had fun anyway.

We didn't do much else. I convinced Rob to put up the Christmas lights and we wound up helping our neighbour with hers too. We won't be around the next couple of weekends and I didn't want him to use the excuse of it being too cold outside. Some of you may not know that I am married to the Grinch. This is pretty much the extent of all the Christmas chores that he will help me with - grudgingly. He isn't really a decorative holiday kind of guy. Phooey on him. I have to laugh, though, when the kids ask why daddy hates Christmas. The three of us have more than enough holiday spirit for him, lol! Next week is the official beginning to Xmas 08. We are attending our first family holiday party, and it's on Rob's side of the family - ha! We have at least one Christmas activity planned each weekend after that too. I do yield and hold off until after Rob's birthday (November 27th) to put up the tree. He needn't worry though because I only want it up by December 1st anyway. Every year he says the same thing, You're lucky you didn't grow up with my mom because we weren't allowed to put any Christmas stuff up until after her birthday - December 12th. I laugh and he knows that in this house it is a weak argument. I know he'd try to use the same rule if he had been born Christmas eve.

I have to wonder why people (specifically my spouse) has any reason to repine over the holiday season. After all, its not like he has to worry about putting out the decorations, baking all those goodies, mailing our Christmas cards, buying and wrapping presents...not to mention concern himself with the planning and implementation of the chaotic itinerary. Its a good thing I have so much fun doing it or our holidays would be very dull indeed.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Phew! This was one of the easiest cakes but very heavy. It has developed a little bulge around the middle. Oh well. No such thing as a perfect cake. Izzy saw it when it was half done and is very excited, which is all that matters.

I always take pictures before I move the cake to the garage (to keep cool overnight). I am convinced that if I don't something will trip me up and the cake will take a dive. It happened once when I was standing at my father-in-law's door with a cake I made him for his birthday. As soon as the door opened the cake carrier came loose and the whole thing fell face first into the foyer.

What you can't see, and what is completely irreplaceable to me, is the stunning crystal cake stand underneath. I'll take a better picture tomorrow. My mother-in-law gave me for my birthday - the last one she was around to celebrate. I thought of her this morning when I pulled it out of the closet and then looked over at Izzy, dressed head to toe in purple. That was grandma's favourite colour. She'd have a good chuckle over this grand-daughter of hers.

Now off to finish the other 50 things on my list...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Big news spins big conversations

We've been chugging along this week. Math has Alex excited. After working out grouping numbers into sets he has been talking about it non-stop. In line at the grocery store he as working out things like 10 can be grouped into 6 and 4, 5 and 5, 2 and 8...etc. His addition got a whole lot better almost overnight. We are still reading the first Harry Potter book and Alex is half way through reading his chapter book to me. Writing has been especially challenging this week. We finally wraped up the postcards and mailed them this afternoon. It nearly drove me to an early morning cocktail but it is done. I dread Christmas cards. Izzy has developed an interest in geography. We sit with the globe and talk about continents and countries. We use fun facts to differentiate places, like Australia is where the kangaroos live and China has more people than any other country, etc. I dug out some old colouring books too. Since art class is over until January I thought we try to keep the creative juices flowing.

Of course, the big news was the American election. Alex watched a bit of the news with me Wednesday morning. He was excited the Obama won but confused by all the people crying on tv. We talked about race relations, specifically to Canada and the US. We even talked a little about slavery and the movement of populations around the world. I kept it as light as I could for a 5 1/2 year old. I hope these kids are indicative that the newest generation will be even more enlightened than those before them. It helps that my kids have been born into a multicultural environment. They don't pay attention to skin colour but accents interest them immensely. Alex always wants to ask people what their other language is. He is impressed with those who can speak more than one.

They've been good discussions. Politics and sociology are are both topics dear to me. I hope to instill a comprehensive understanding of both to Alex and Izzy. How governments run are of vital importance to everyone. An understanding and some empathy for the world around us is what makes a good leader and good policy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Izzy!!!

I call my Isabelle many things...Bella-Button, Peanut, Turkey, Stinkerbelle, Princess...but today I just call her baby. My baby is 3 and I get choked up just thinking about how fast she is growing up. This is the age Alex was when she came into our lives, and he seemed so big back then. My baby, my last baby, is growing up into a little girl. Gosh, who knew I was this sentimental?!

So, to my dearest one, who makes me laugh, cry and pull my hair out (sometimes all at the same time) I must say that I am so grateful for all of your hugs, kisses, giggles and silly faces. It is my honour to be your mommy and watch you grow into this wonderful little person. I am happy to celebrate this milestone with you and eagerly anticipate all the other ones to come. How lucky we are to have you!

What a beautiful day for a birthday, too. Sunny and 20 degrees meant an early afternoon jaunt to the zoo. While we missed the hippos that she desperately wanted to see - they weren't feeling social - the orangutans put on an entertaining floor show, so we sat and watched them for half an hour. Tonight we'll just celebrate quietly with Rob and Alex. The cupcakes are made and her requested meal will take little effort - nachos and chicken nuggets. Later, after everyone is tucked into bed, Rob and I will likely snuggle and reminisce about all these big moments with the kids. By then I won't be the only one with watery eyes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I'm fretting...

Izzy's birthday party is in a week and while I have a theme, sort of, I still haven't come up with a real plan for the cake. I know it will be 3 tiers because I bought 3 round cake pans from Michael's. I know that there will be Sesame Street characters in it, with Abby Cadabby (the new Fairy Princess in training) featured prominently. I think. Ughhh.

These were the cakes I did last year for the kids:

The Princess cake was for Izzy's second birthday. I did a butterfly for her first. The pirate ship was for Alex's 5th and I did a transformers fight scene for my nephew, also 5. I have a lot of fun making them, though you wouldn't guess that during the whole process, lol. Good memories too. Like not being happy with the shape of the already iced pirate ship and hacking away at it with a chisel. Izzy sitting next to me reaping the rewards of discarded chocolate cake - begging for more. By now I usually have an idea in my head, some rough sketches of what I want but not this time. Completely blank.

In the grand scheme of things I know birthday cakes aren't that big of a deal. Still, as a non-crafty person who will likely never make a Halloween costume or knit them anything that remotely resembles clothing, it feels good to give them this. A special, one-of-a-kind cake made just because I love them. I think I'll be wandering through the cake decorating aisles and party stores (LCBO perhaps?) tonight for some inspiration.

Thankfully tomorrow, Izzy's actual birthday, we are just having some cupcakes with some sugary Elmo faces on it. I know she'll be happy with whatever I come up with. As usual, the hardest person to please is always myself.

Writing Woes

We had a good weekend. We decided to stay in, for the most part, and relax. We are really getting into the Harry Potter book. Alex read me half of the book, My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, and we did a lot more math. His reading astounds me. Not only is he able to figure out most words on sight, his style is quite good. He has a really good grasp of punctuation and tone. It comes across as being quite effortless.

Of course, not everything can be perfect. He hates writing. He still prefers to use all capital letters. He has never wanted help in this area. In fact, he is self-taught, as far as writing is concerned. We didn't sit down and practice letters. I tried but it was not a pleasant ordeal. He doesn't always write the letters the way everyone else does but they are pretty good. I don't really push him but I will create situations which require him to put in some effort. Like right now we are participating in a postcard exchange with other home school children.

I think there are a few reasons Alex doesn't like to write. He finds it a very slow process. As does his dad. I am trying to think of all the times I've seen Rob write anything down. Aside from the very rare grocery list or some scratch paper for work, he is a keyboard guy all the way. Alex has never really been fond of putting anything to paper. He never coloured. He rarely doodles. He is a big fan of short cuts. Instead of having to write out the word love he will use a heart as the symbol. Instead of writing Izzy not allowed, he will draw a picture of his sister and put it in the middle of a circle with a line drawn through it.

I will keep moving, in little baby steps, towards being at least moderately proficient at writing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween fun!

The kids had quite an exciting week. They had their last art class for the year. Alex had a big Halloween bash with his Beavers group. We had some home school friends over for a Halloween party, followed by some good old-fashioned trick or treating and socializing with neighbourhood kids. Late last night we had to drag them in the house away from all the fun they were having, all sugared up and running on the last little bits of adrenaline. It was a fun night. Most of the houses were decorated with spooky mazes and elaborate displays. Funny pranks were played. Everyone really got into the spirit of Halloween. Where I live, the adults take this Halloween business just as seriously as the kids do.

As Rob and I crashed on the couch afterward, I told him that I remembered a segment I once saw on the news a few years back. Something about the sudden onset of colds and flu the week after Halloween. Presumably something to do with people being more confined due to cold temperatures outside, suppressed immune systems dealing with copious amounts of sugar from all those candy treats and fatigue caused by overexcited (and over sugared) children. We talked about bracing ourselves for runny noses and scratchy throats.

I suppose it was my fault for even mentioning it. Sure enough, little Miss Iz woke up this morning with a raspy voice and wet cough. It begins! She still made it to ballet class this morning. Alex and I cuddled up on the sofa and began the first Harry Potter book together. A nice, relaxing start to the day. Hopefully everyone stays healthy enough to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On another note...

Can someone please explain to me how you get young children out the door in a timely manner without turning into a raving lunatic? My hats off to all those parents with, oh what shall I call it, unhurried children who have to fight to get them out the door every single day.

You would think 15 minutes would be enough time to get shoes and coats on - wouldn't you? This is killer for me, someone who hates being late for anything. I'm the person who considers not being seated before the trailers start at the movies, late.

Is it me? Is it the type of children I had? Sure, their dad really doesn't hurry himself but as an adult understands concepts like being somewhere on time. Plus, he can tie his own shoe laces. Will I really be pulling my hair out for the next 15 years?

Sigh...It's been one of those days...or weeks.

Feel like rambling...

I saw something online that got me thinking. A hs mom was asking how to cope with her 4 year old wanting to go to real school. This was something we encountered last year. For us the issue had more to do with living in a fairly condensed neighbourhood with, surprisingly, 4 boys (he knew and played with) going into JK at the same time and a few more heading to SK and 1, all to the same school just down the street. Obviously he felt a little left out. Then there was the August/September back to school hype and all the adults - from the supermarket check-out girl to the waiter serving us at a restaurant, asking if he was excited to be going to school?! It was a challenge.

It didn't help that it was our first official year home schooling and I was more than a little nervous. I was new at explaining it to people and those around us were just becoming aware of our venture. We persevered. Alex reconnected with home school friends. We tried to just relax and have fun. It was a long winter but we managed. Even in our toughest moments, Rob was there to cheer us on and remind me why we were doing what we were doing.

What a difference a year makes. This year we are all on board - completely. Alex didn't even ask about school. He saw his friends enthusiasm fade dramatically after September. More than a few of them let him know how lucky they thought he was. We have expanded our home school network, more friends, more classes, more fun. Izzy is older and now a bigger part of our activities. We no longer have to wait until she is in bed to do a science experiment or read a book without pictures. She wants to learn everything Alex learns.

So, when I think of that mom, I think that the most important part of keeping the kids happy with home schooling is to make them a part of the process. Have them become invested. We are a part of many activities but they are tailored to the kids and their interests. Alex isn't big on competitive group sports, so we just don't sign him up for the local soccer league. Izzy loves girly pink things and dancing, so she does ballet. They have both home school and neighbourhood friends, and contrary to some lore regarding kids who are home schooled, are not at all socially inept. They attend classes and group events. They have a lot of say over what we learn and how much time we spend doing it. We don't spend a lot of time talking about school. We talk about learning. We talk about our values, as a family. We talk about kids, ours specifically, and that we don't think Alex should be held back a bit in certain areas (like reading and comprehension where he is years ahead) and pushed too quickly in others (like writing, which he hates). They work at their own pace and are glad for it.

I think we are just a more confident lot this time around. We survived that first big leap. We kept Alex out of school and got through the loss of experiencing that first day of school (which I admit gave me quite a few pangs) and came out the other end just fine. Better than fine, actually. Happy.

Will I feel the pangs again next September when Izzy should be heading off to JK? Maybe, though to a much lesser extent I think. She does ask about school more often these days. She has a model of another system right before her eyes though, so I don't think it will be a big issue. I've always said, and I stand by this, that someday when they kids are old enough (don't ask me what that age is yet because maturity matters to me more than chronological age) and had a valid argument for them to attend a bricks and mortar school we would comply. The challenge for me, I suppose, is to meet their needs as best as I can so that they don't feel like they are missing out on anything.

All in all, we are thrilled with our decision. We make a lot of choices for our kids that they aren't always happy with or understand. That is our job and we do it with the best of intentions. So for that mom who worries about the child who wants school, I say wait a while and work with your child to make the life that makes you both happy. I am not a teacher or a dictator. I am an adviser to my children and an advocate. This is why they desperately need to be invested in the process. I can get the information to them, or help them find it but they need to be the ones to take it in. I can find the children for them to play with but they need to make the friendships. I can offer up programs and activities but they have to want to participate. One of the greatest things about home schooling your children is that you know them like no others can. A tailor made education is right there for the picking. Young children can't understand this but they will, eventually. Real school, or wanting to experience it, is not the enemy. It may very well be the right fit for her child someday, or even one or both of mine. Accept it for what it is. For now it is just the whims of a young child who doesn't even know what school is.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

5 More Sleeps!

...until Halloween. Just pulled out the costumes and started decorating today. Rob and I were in for quite a shock when we finally found Izzy's chicken costume. It is the one Alex wore when he was younger, the Halloween right before (4 days, in fact) his sister was born. Anyway, we pulled it out and it looked kind of big. We checked the label and it was a 5T!!! The boy was only 2 years and 8 months old, and he wore size 5T. Izzy just got to a size 3. Mind you, we should have known. She is barely 25lbs and Alex weighed that before his first birthday. He is gonna be huge! I just measured him for his passport application and he is 4'2" already. His Darth Vader costume is a size 7/8. Luckily we can make the top part of the chicken work because we have hyped it up so much, we would have been completely done in if she couldn't wear it. The pants come up past her neck, lol, so we will just substitute with some orange track pants which, amazingly, we already had in her size (thanks to more of Alex's hand-me-downs). Crisis averted.

We did the pumpkins tonight too. Here are the kids:


...and after!

Friday, October 24, 2008

So proud of Miss Iz!

Alex had a check up and teeth cleaning with the dentist today. I called the office and squeezed Izzy into her first appointment. She'll be 3 in a few weeks and I think that was the age I took Alex in to his first dental visit. I wasn't overly concerned about how she would fair after seeing how they managed Alex. We go to a pediatric dentist in a very small office. Only one dentist, hygienist and receptionist work there. They are so good with the kids. They will only do as much as the child allows and will cut short visits that stress anyone out. They want to set up a positive experience so the kids never fear going in.

Alex went in first. After his x-rays, the hygienist came to claim Izzy so she could watch the rest of Alex's appointment, to help her feel more at ease. Parents aren't allowed past reception. I've never even seen the back rooms. They feel they can develop an easier rapport without the parents hanging over the children. Well, Miss Izzy walked right in, chatting quite a bit with everyone in back. She didn't even hesitate or look back at me. The dentist got a good look at her teeth and she even had them cleaned (though she refused to sit in the chair and they did it with her standing up, lol).

I am amazed with this kid and very impressed with the staff. Izzy can still be quite shy around strangers and very clingy when people try to touch her. She went in without coercing, mostly cooperated and came out with a big smile on her face.

I tend to gripe about these dental appointments for the kids because pediatric dentistry is more expensive than your regular dentist and because this dentist makes you pay in advance (no electronic claims) but when I see how well the kids are treated and how happy they are, I see what a great deal we are getting after all. Alex's first dental experience was a disaster and I only have bad memories from my childhood dentist. This is worth the few extra bucks.

For the record both kids had a clean bill of health - no cavities! Alex is going back in a few months to seal his molars and Izzy is cool for another six months.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pyjama Math

It seems that whenever I [a] have not tidied the hall entryway of strewn shoes and shopping bags and [b] am still in my pyjamas and [c] in the middle of a lesson with Alex, I become the most popular person around. A visit from neighbours, an impromptu meeting with a fellow board member, phone calls from a friend, the dentist's office, my husband and, of course, a wrong number - all within the span of an hour and a half. So much for my relaxing morning.

We broke into the math this morning. Luckily we managed two chapters before the influx of people and phone calls. We are starting with Singapore math, simply because the last half of my order (which will include the first few books for Miquon) has not arrived yet. The Primary Mathematics 1A that we started on seem to be an easy refresher for Alex. He is zipping through the material because he and I have been discussing addition and subtraction on and off for a while now. I can't imagine it will take him very long to get through this, short of not actually picking up the books at all. I thought I would wind up with enough material to get him through to third grade math (although comparisons with the Ontario curriculum are hard to make because the approach is different), I know it couldn't possibly take Alex three years to complete all this.

It was a nice start to the morning. Still in our pjs, in my nice and toasty bedroom (gosh we love that little electric fireplace), going over the math work. I feel like we could be up and dressed, at the kitchen table but then I would really miss our odd approach to education. Anyway, I think the neighbours are used to us not being dressed early on the days they catch us home.

Big Night at Beavers

It was investiture night at Beavers. Alex received his kerchief and brown tail. This really isn't a great pic but we got locked out of the cabin and held the ceremony outside, where it was very, very dark...and cold. The only light came from two cars pointed at the group.

Alex was fantastic. He even looked humbled, lol. He really got into the whole scene. He was the only Beaver not running around and goofing during the Cubs portion of the ceremony. My boy is very proud. He has been carrying around his tail all morning, asking me to sew it on his cap. He showed off his new kerchief to the neighbours. He is really happy with this group and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh, to be so joyful and free!

Is there anything in the world as glorious as the pure, unadulterated bliss children possess over the simplest things in life?

Take yesterday, for example, when it snowed with that wet, slushy, messy weather - compounded by gale force winds that make all the adults shivery and not just a little bit grumpy. After all, we know its too soon to break out the winter coats seeing the temperature will go up tomorrow. Or so we hope as said coats are also crammed in the trunk and will be rushed to a dry cleaners asap because you forgot to do it earlier. Traffic, of course, slows to a crawl everywhere you go, and it seems you are not the only one at the store who decided now would be a good time to pick up some winter boots for the kids. Actually, you are one of a crowd that is eerily reminiscent of the hordes of Christmas shoppers who will descend upon the malls directly after Remembrance Day. Only then do you remember you face months of scrunching, tucking and fussing over puffy winter coats that don't conform to car seats, missing hats and gloves that fight against the invasion of tiny little fingers.

And what are the little imps doing while you mutter silent curses about the weather under your breath? They are running around in circles, catching flakes with their tongues. Singing, heaven help me, Christmas songs and asking me how much longer they have to wait before they can break out the toboggan. They are thrilled right to the core of their itty bitty little beings.

I must admit, it is all a little infectious. I push aside my gripes over weather I still insist must not be mentally prepared for until after Halloween - at least and, beyond all reason, get a little excited myself.

If nothing else, the look on the waitresses face at Denny's last night was worth being subjected to the exuberance from my little munchkins. When asked how the weather was outside, Alex exclaimed, "It's snowing! Winter is finally coming! Isn't that wonderful! I am sooo happpy!" I guess my kids' enthusiasm can only spread so far, for she indeed did not look at all thrilled that winter was coming and could only shake her head at him. He didn't notice though. He was too busy discussing the merits of winter with Izzy.

Poor, neglected computer...

It's been a heck of a week. Aunt Kelly graduated with her Master's Degree!!! Whoohoo! We are so proud of you, as always! :-)

Unfortunately, poor Rob was called back home early from the celebration to come tend to his children and very sick wife. I don't know what happened but it was the worst 12 hours of my life. Well, actually the week I had Norwalk was probably the worst being that Rob had just left me alone with a newborn and toddler, but I digress...

It started around 2 am and didn't stop until later that afternoon. Thankfully the kids are scarily independent. Alex helped with Izzy and they hung out on the floor in my room watching toons and playing games. What ever it was, food poisoning or some intestinal virus, it was relatively short lived and no one else got sick. I get a little germ crazy when anyone is sick. The sick person confines him or herself to one bathroom, there is a complete embargo on kisses and shared food/drink, everyone gets new toothbrushes and my appeals for hand-washing border on obsessive-compulsive.

Luckily this didn't impede Alex's trip to the symphony with Heather. While both kids couldn't go to the University Convocation, Izzy couldn't go the Symphony. Rather than find a sitter, I asked our dear friend to accompany Alex to the concert while Iz and I did some shopping. The concert was part of a series for children, this one called The Search for the Magic of Music. I am really excited to go next month to see Beethoven Lives Upstairs. We bought tickets for the whole series. It has renewed interest, for myself and a lot of my friends, in the symphony and I hope to make a night of it soon.

Life is getting back to normal. We will be leaving shortly for gym class and tonight Alex is officially inducted into Beavers. Pictures, of course, to follow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Short days, short fuses...

We seem to all be a little on edge these days. Less patient with each other. It wasn't until I heard Alex talking to Izzy yesterday that I realized he was using the exact same tone I had been all day. It was a bit deflating. As much as I try to catch myself sometimes I can't see what is going on until the kids reflect it right back at me.

This time of year, while extremely pleasant for me in many ways, is tiring too. I do too much and lack of sunlight affects me. It forces me confront something that most people know about me but that I talk little of, being bipolar. I don't avoid the topic, it just doesn't seem to be a big part of what I put out into the world. Truthfully, I just don't think about it that often anymore. Nearly everyone who knows me knows I have it. I have never hidden it. I've never felt shame over it. It is my illness and I cope with it.

Having a mental illness was, of course, a big consideration when we decided to homeschool. Most of my concerns were exactly the same ones I had before the kids even came along in the first place. I knew that I had a lot in my favour and we were determined not to let fear dissuade us from something we are very passionate about. To begin with, I am very well versed in my illness. I know all about bipolar and I know, more specifically, about my bipolar tendencies. I have a healthy support network. I try to keep as much chaos at bay as I can control. While I still have mild ups and downs, I have been in remission for 4 years and medication-free for nearly 3 years. I was the luckiest person around to have had some of the best health care available to me and doctors who not only treated the illess but taught me about it too.

What I am not good at, though, is remembering that I do have limitations. Like right now, I have a lot on my plate. I have the children to contend with. I have a hectic schedule to maintain. I am committed to some community work. All of which is usually not too big a deal until the fatigue sets in. Not a deep, dark, can't cope kind of tired, just a blech, don't really want to get out of bed kind of tired. I know that this is something that a lot of busy parents can relate to and that the feeling is not an exception for me or bipolar people in general. My real challenge is the fine line I try to walk to make sure these little swerves onto the shoulder don't completely veer off the road into a deep ditch.

Of course, Rob would just say I am too hypersensitive to my own problems. That my concern for the welfare of the family has me putting all the successes and failures squarely on my shoulders. I am sure he's right. I will have to defer to his perspective on this matter, I suppose. He swears he'll tell me if I become too unbearable to live with, lol.

Actually, just getting this off my chest helps. I forget that admitting it is okay to feel a bit crummy stops me from feeling even worse. I debated whether or not to put this on my blog. It is a hard subject to avoid, though, because it is just such a part of me. I'd rather have an honest account of what I am up to and not sugar coat the more difficult aspects of my life. While I like reading about peoples lives, those who omit the rough patches do a disservice to the rest of us. Perfect people living perfect lives do not exist.

To bring this around full circle, I'll get back to me and the grumpy family. I am in some bizarre way happy for the reflection the kids give me. It helps me temper my moods around them and it tells me when I need to fine tune some new coping skills. If my kids only take one thing away from having me as their mom, I hope it is something that can be summed up in one of my favorite adages, when we know better, we do better. Words to live by, I think.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pumpkin Farm

Here are the kids at the pumpkin farm, not too far from Aunt Kelly's house. This year we didn't bother with the corn maze. Last year I thought it would be fun. Hah. Turns out that getting lost in tall stalks of corn loses its novelty quite quickly. It was dull and annoying. And we paid for honour. We wound up separated into two groups and my group (just me, Wendy and the Iz, if I recall correctly) finally gave up and shoved our way out to the back road. Yep...good memories, lol! This year the kids each picked a pumpkin out to carve. Afterward we headed back to a truly fantastic turkey meal. The only complaint was that the headset for the dvd player did nothing to distract Izzy and she drove us nuts the entire trip, there and back.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Turkey Day 2008!

Rob and I have taken to calling Thanksgiving Turkey Day. Why? I think it's because the only thing really required on this holiday is the roasting and eating of the bird. Easter requires children hunting for eggs and, well, we won't even go into Christmas. This year I am almost completely off the hook for cooking, save one chocolate-caramel-pecan cheesecake. My neighbour is making us dinner tonight, and even made Rob a (genuine - from scratch) cherry pie. He will be so pleased when he finds out. Then Monday we are off to visit family for more turkey. Perhaps even a jaunt to a pumpkin farm.

The kids are excited, the weather looks great, and we bought each of the kids a pair of headphones to go with the DVD player in the car. It may turn out to be the loveliest weekend all year!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I am often struck by how quickly Alex's reading is progressing. Actually, I am usually surprised by the breadth of his knowledge, often wondering how the heck he came across certain things. Well, today I figured it out. He reads way more than I thought he did. I have stocked up our home library with a lot of nonfiction books. Subjects on everything from nocturnal animals, medieval knights to the solar system and famous architects. Turns out Alex is reading these...all the time. He gets frustrated with long books. He can read early chapter books, like the Magic Tree House Series, very easily but he doesn't want to. He prefers to hear them read aloud. Also, since he got started on comic books, has has a hard time stopping himself from skipping pages and jumping all over the place.

This explains another aspect of how and why Alex jumped to the reading level he is currently at. I tend to buy these nonfiction books around the 3rd through 5th grade reading levels. These books have been popping up all over the house and it seems to solve the mystery of how Alex started reading at a 4th grade level so quickly. All of the unofficial testing I have done with him all points to a serious grasp of language at just those grades. Turns out that stack of books on his bed wasn't just there to make a ramp for his hotwheels cars.

As happy as I am seeing him progress so well on his own, I have to say I am even more thrilled with the independence that comes with it. It makes my life a heck of a lot easier.

Some Rhythm

We seem to be finding our groove. The issue has been balancing our out-of-house activities with some schoolish work. Sure, we read a lot. We have great discussions. The kids are taking in a great deal. I am ready for a slightly more linear approach to subjects like math now. One can sometimes feel slightly akin to being lost at sea when you are doing a science project on foliage one minute and researching volcanoes on Mars the next. It's disjointed and though I understand that this is the way humans process new information, I can't help but feel like I need to follow some sort of bigger plan. In a relaxed, loose kind of way, of course.

So our days seem to be working out like this: Alex wakes up early (around 6am - gah!) and Izzy about an hour after that. Always the only kids up so early with no where to go. I do not rush out of bed unless we are due somewhere quickly. There is breakfast and then we head back to my bed for reading time. It can be either fiction or non-fiction...anything goes. This morning it was an hour of reading about volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes. Then we head to the kitchen and do some sit-down work. Izzy loves to colour but if Alex is doing anything from a workbook, she must too. Unless she finds the scissors as cutting paper into tiny bits entertains her forever. Rarely are we home the whole day. We'll read, mostly Izzy's books because Alex does a great deal of independent reading in the afternoons. There is computer time and play time. Lots of that. Throw in some cartoons, tea with neighbours, outside play, a nap for Izzy and quiet play time alone for Alex, meal preparation and you can call it a day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cheers and Jeers!

I have been trying to get downstairs to the computer for days now. Rob got me a little EEEpc to roam around the house with and while it is more than adequate to check email or tool around online, I can't get to my photos unless I use the big one downstairs.

Looking back on the week I can only shake my head at the erratic adventure I can only call my life. I thought about that old column they used to put in magazines, yay to this and nay to that. Feels like something I can work with. Here is a sampling of where the last week took me:

Happy to have finally decided on, and ordered, Alex's math curriculum. Couldn't decide between Singapore and Miquon so I chose both. Feeling pretty Mathy this week.

Sad to cope with a break-up in the family and the way it is being handled.

Group lessons and activities are going really well. This week I actually recognized what Alex's art project was supposed to be, lol! Sad that I partially goofed on arrangements for a hs activity and left a few families out in the cold. This is difficult for fastidious, perfectionists like me.

Happy to be, love, love having my own car...but a bit sad that I actually seem to have less time alone. Will need to reevaluate schedule soon to carve out mommy-only time.

Thrilled Thanksgiving, Halloween and Izzy's birthday are almost here. Stunned at how little on my weekend list is getting done with no reprieve in sight. Sometimes time moves too quickly.

Bad week on condo board followed by great week on condo board. For something I absolutely did not want to be on I seem to have taken a lead role in it and, thankfully, good changes are happening. Phew!!!

Happy that within a month I have a preschooler and my baby/toddler days will be naught but memories! (Smiling too much at this thought.) Annoyed that Izzy can't stop talking about her birthday and what she wants (really, I can't remember Alex bugging us for so many presents) and sad that I forgot the terrible 2's are nothing to the, shall we call it, more challenging 3's.

Lastly, YAY for politics! Canadian and American, though I am much more enraptured by the political process with our Southern neighbours. This feels exciting and big. Even Alex can't stop talking about Obama. Sadly, Nay for poor Robbie who hates this whole process, is sick to death of CNN, and can't wait for it to be over. He's just happy that I don't want to go into local politics myself, though he wouldn't put a lot of money on me sitting on the sidelines forever. Lucky for him home schooling takes up too much of my time as it is.

That, my friends, is a small morsel of the way things were this week.

Have I mentioned how much I love Autumn?!

The kids and I decided to introduce Rob to the local Marsh on the weekend. It would have been perfect if (a) Izzy had stopped whining, (b) my back hadn't been killing me and (c) it wouldn't have rained within a half hour of our arrival. I have also decided that if I am looking for an enjoyable and peaceful family walk through the woods I must actually leave the children at home.

All was not lost though. After driving around a bit in the car, the weather let up and we took the kids to a local farm to play. Nothing like pumpkins being shot out of a canon to save the least in the eyes of a five year old.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fathers and sons

We had a good thing happen this week, which, sadly came out of a very negative incident. It involved issues that can be very difficult for parents to handle. Normally, just due to logistics (I am home all the time, Rob isn't) I handle many of the big talks. We are a very open family and I hope that the kids feel comfortable coming to us. This talk was a little different and I wasn't making much headway with Alex.

Then daddy came home from work. I talked to Rob privately and asked him to have a man-to-man chat with Alex. He did...and all I can say was wow! They talked and Alex was open and receptive. A new bond was forged. Rob and Alex tend to butt heads frequently over Alex's (mistaken) perception that I am President and Daddy is just my VP. It isn't really surprising as I am with him all the time and he sees me making many of the family decisions.

This pleases me to no end. As the kids get older I try harder to get out of the way of their relationship with their dad. It isn't always easy for Rob or the kids. When you spend so much time together there is an ease between each person. Sometimes Rob feels like the outsider and he can't fall back on all the "tricks" I use. This was nice. I love watching the kids develop a stronger relationship with their dad, outside of the one with me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It was fabulous!

Our local Y has a home school class. I found out about it a few weeks ago and totally flaked on it last week, forgetting its mere existence. We love our Y. I have been to a few different locations but this one is great. Every class or activity our family has been involved in has been top notch. I should have known we would love the home school class too.

I wasn't sure what to expect. We had avoided a few local groups in the past simply because my kids were young and the activities are usually geared towards 6 and up. Today there were approximately 10 kids. Ranging from a few preschoolers to teenagers. The instructor sectioned the gym off and the older kids played wheelchair basketball and the younger ones played floor hockey. Alex participated in both.

This is why I love home schooling. The kids. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Okay, not to knock the general population but we attend the Y open gym on weekends. It is utter chaos. Fun, for sure, but quite unruly. Alex had his first introduction to cliques and bullying during these open play sessions. It was a real eye opener.

Today, when I saw all these people file into the gym, my first thought was huh, I have doubts about this being a good fit. Was I wrong! The instructor (who my kids fell in love with instantly) settled them into wheel chairs and had the group play freeze tag. A few parents participated too. The older kids were so great with the younger ones. I was beaming when the teenagers would make sure Alex got his turn with the ball. Or when one of the preteens took Izzy by the hand and brought her into a game. These weren't extraordinary kids. They were just kids used to being around all different age groups. It was co-operative and fun. Everyone wanted to be there. No one felt left out or bored. Just seeing the way the adults interacted with the teens (and the reciprocal respect) moved me. There was such a great feeling among the participants.

We have a new favourite class. The kids were begging to go back as soon as we left the building.

Life in the fast lane

Is it an age thing? A busy parent thing? You know, that weird feeling that life is passing by too quickly. When people ask what you've been up to you can't answer...though you know you've been busy. Too busy.

I actually had to look at my date book to remember what we've been up to. Sad, I know. There were all the lessons. A day trip to visit my nieces and nephew. Monday we went on a hike through the Marsh with some friends. That is Alex in the photo holding a toad. More than 2 kilometres were trekked that morning. No wonder the little ones were complaining, lol. That same afternoon we made a quick trip into the city to wish our dear friend "Feather" a happy birthday. As Alex remarked in the car, she looks darn good for 14!

This week looks to end up with more of the same. A few more classes, our biweekly pilgrimage to the library and more visits with friends. It would be nice to stay home this weekend. I have an awful lot of stuff around the house I would like to get done. Okay, not like to do but have to do. I am already 5 months behind on my Spring cleaning. To quote another smart home schooling mamma, "It's not cluttered, it's lived in!"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

One Of These Moms is Not Like The Others

I sometimes forget that I am the odd one in a room. Many of my opinions and beliefs do not gel with the popular masses, and I am completely cool with that. In that vein, since most people around me are similarly minded (at the very least, respectful of the choices I make) I am often surprised by what I hear when out and about.

I took Izzy to dance class this weekend. I was dying to see her dance. She talks about it all week long, begging to go back. I met her teachers, fellow classmates and the dance moms. There was the mom yelling through the glass at her 3 year old for forgetting the moves they had practiced so faithfully. There was the pack of competitive moms, attempting to garner sympathy from one another over the wicked schedules their preschoolers had. I mean I could barely refrain from sneering or rolling my eyes. These kids (at least two of whom attend full day preschool) are being dragged from ballet and jazz to swimming lessons, gymnastics, skating lessons...etc. I mean really, does society really need such well rounded toddlers?

These moms were stressed and frazzled. They complained of fatigue, exorbitant costs and less than cooperative children. I mean, come on. Am I the only one who finds this absurd? Sure my kids do a lot of activities but we don't do school so we can take part in many activities and still have plenty of down time.

Sometimes I feel so out of place.

Friday, September 26, 2008

...because it's funny

I think this is fundamentally why Rob and I are so compatible. We have the same appreciation for all things twisted and bizarre. Though completely unintentional, Alex offered up something morbidly funny...and his parents couldn't have been more amused.

The theme in art class this week was portraits. The teacher gave the class a great lesson on how to draw a human face. Heck, I learned a lot. The kids were given water-colour crayons that you brush with water after you finish drawing. Alex decided that his person should have red skin. He started colouring in the face, between the eyes, and then lost interest pretty quickly. Before I knew it, he declared it was finished.

He hasn't quite figured out why all the adults laugh when they see the painting. Thankfully he is still innocent enough not to realize that he painted something that can be construed as a person who met up with a quick and terrible demise.

What can I say, Rob and I couldn't be prouder. Is that wrong? LOL!

We have no will power...

We usually don't, not when it involves our favorite thing in the world, books. Yesterday we went into the city to pick up Rob and head over to that big toy warehouse that is only open from September until Christmas. Beyond a few things for babies, it is mostly junk with a few key exceptions - tons of Crayola art stuff and books, books, books!

I found a few box sets but passed this time around. I already have several with Harry Potter and the Spiderwick Chronicles to work through next. Instead we went nuts for the science and nature material. Little books, usually a buck or two, put out by Readers Digest or DK Books that are perfect for the kids. We must have been a funny sight. Rob holding open a big red bag as we all grab and holler to one another, "Did someone grab this volcano book yet? How about mammals? Or this one on spiders? Nocturnal creatures, anyone?"

Two giants stacks later it was time to force ourselves out. Alex was so cute. He didn't even realize they were all for us. His eyes lit up and smiled brightly when he found out we were taking them home. I think we have successfully passed on our addiction to the kids.

Only one draw back though, eventually I will run out of places to put more bookcases.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

It might as well be Christmas as far as I am concerned. Today is officially the first day of Fall. I love it! Technically it's one of the two days when the Sun will spend a nearly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth and night and day will be of nearly the same length. To me it is the start of the best season of them all. I wait all year for colourful autumn leaves, warm fuzzy sweaters, hot apple cider, homemade bread and comfort casseroles, pumpkin patches, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Heaven!

We wanted to start it off right so we went apple picking this morning at a local orchard. We filled our 15lb bag with about 8 different varieties.

It was a nearly perfect morning. We could only lament the absence of friends who were to join us but had fallen ill with that dreadful cold and flu that is going around. It was our first trip to a pick-your-own orchard.

The weather was fantastic. Just cool enough for sweaters but bright and sunny. We brought our compass so I could do an impromptu lesson about the equinox with the kids. Alex has been trying to get the hang of directions (left/right, cardinal points) so I thought this would be fun. It’s only on the spring and autumnal equinox that the Sun rises due east and sets due west.

We've chopped up half of our haul and have it warming in the crockpot for applesauce. Should be yummy with the baked ham tonight. We'll peel a few more for dessert too - apple crumble with ice cream. A very satisfying end to a lovely day.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I love the Royal Ontario Museum. It is one of those places that just make us happy. Back when we lived in Toronto we had a family membership we would go at least twice a month or sometimes more, especially in the dead of winter. We didn't have a great morning and by noon I knew we just needed to blow off to the city for some fun. Since we hadn't been back to the ROM since last Christmas and had a few free passes on hand, we figured what the heck.

I knew I had a kindred spirit in Alex. We could spend hours mulling over artifacts together. Every collection fascinating in their own way. We have our favorites, of course. The dinosaur and early mammal area is a real treat. I feel like a little kid standing next to these beautiful giants. Egypt is another favorite. That collection spun off a lot of unit-study type activities for us a year ago. Alex spent months obsessed with all things Egyptian. He learned how to write his name in hieroglyphics. He learned how to make a mummy (and experimented with an apple). He has touched on the geography, language and history of this period. It was real meaty stuff and a lot of fun.

Today was special for me in another way. I got to experience the ROM with Izzy in a way that I couldn't when she was younger. I never give this kid enough credit. It's almost like she just tags along for the ride and picks up scraps along the way. Today she wanted to know the names of the dinosaurs and what they ate. We studied the honey bees together. She spent a half hour at a computer and listened to bird calls while I read her the species names. Better than that, she actually took the computer and moved the cursor with the mouse to the sound icon and made it work all on her own. No help from me, thank you very much.

When your first child is quite precocious and verbal you stand up and take notice right away. Then you spend an awful lot of time enriching their environment and presenting new material to keep them going. I've told friends that the difference in parenting these two kids can be best summed up this way. When Alex was born I was constantly reading the baby books, waiting for him to reach the next milestone. By the time Izzy came around I had given most of the books away and whenever she reached a milestone I was caught completely off-guard and convinced it was much to soon to have done (X, Y or Z)...wasn't it? This is what homeschooling is like for us. Alex and I could see a milestone coming, like reading, and we worked towards it. Not fanatically or anything. Just that there was an awareness and eagerness to see it all coming together. Izzy can learn to count to 20 and I'll be like, huh, you knew that?! Actually she can count to 11 but continues on to 20 in a very funny way. She always stops at 20 though.

It really was a lot of fun today. After work, Rob joined us and we went to our favourite noodle place and browsed a few used book stores. So it wound up being pretty perfect day in the end.