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.