Sunday, August 30, 2009


As if a mice in the garage wasn't annoying enough, all summer we've had problems with bees. They built a nest in a small space under my concrete front steps. When you are out, sitting on the front chairs or just coming into the house, you will encounter half a dozen buzzing around. Now, I love bumble bees. I know how beneficial they are and that they aren't aggressive unless provoked but their location was not only a nuisance but frightening to the children.

After previously having dumped a few cans of Raid I saw that the bee issue was still a problem. Last night, I started looking up ways to deal with nests. I figured there were 30 or 40 under the step. My friend and I thought, let us wait until dark, move the step and use more Raid directly on the nest. Well, I popped out to the store and came back to a cluster of neighbours who, with my husband, had moved the concrete steps and were getting ready to torch the hive. Let me say how stunned I was by the size! About the size of a football. Hundreds of bees! And at about 4 feet away, the buzz coming out of the hive was truly scary.

The kids were parked several houses down, having brought out lawn chairs to watch the adults and all the commotion. With a hose on stand-by, the nest was burned and eventually the step moved back. It was a little disconcerting to see flames so close to my front door though.

So, the hive is gone. The kids can play on the patio again. I await the next infestation. Locusts, perhaps?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

10 Years Ago, Today...

...Rob and I got married. How a decade passed so quickly is beyond me! We met in University, his first year and my last, in a Japanese language class we both picked up on a lark. We became fast friends. When I moved away the following year we lost touch for a few months. When we reconnected we skipped dating and went straight to engagement -the wedding following a mere 7 months later, shocking all our friends and family who thought we were both still single. We just knew it would all work out.

We have since had 2 children, lost parents, moved more than a few times, bought a house and a car, got jobs, lost jobs, advanced in our chosen fields (okay, I got to stay home with the kids which I had always wanted to do), coped with mental illness, and a whole lot more. There have been ups and downs but we have always remained best friends. We created very high standards in what we expected out of our relationship and easily met them all.

I don't know how or why I got so lucky.

I am very thankful.

Happy Anniversary to husband Rob. May we spend the next 10 (hopefully less eventful) years exactly the same way, with lots of love and even more laughs!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

When the kids are away...

...mommy and daddy get to play! Or rather, do things they just can't do with the kids in tow. Like look at couch sets or go through new homes. I wanted to see what the new houses in the north end looked like and see where the prices are. I also wanted ideas for our own house right now to finish decorating. We found our dream house. Or rather 2 of them. Sadly, we won't be moving for a few more years though. We do know which builder we will be looking for when the time comes. One of the houses we loved was also a smart, energy efficient house. This place was very green. Even had pre-wiring for solar panels (to heat the water) on the roof - something Rob has been talking about forever. The other house wasn't as energy savvy but had the most glorious dining room off a very large foyer. I love to cook for people so that room stole my heart. Sadly, none of the houses we saw impressed me with their kitchens. Not compared to the one I have now. These were four bedroom houses with double garages and yet the kitchens averaged 9x9 ft with crappy standard cabinets. That will be where all the expense on upgrades go, I can just feel it.

What is amazing, though, is the crap some builders actually put out there. We walked through one development and spotted nothing but problems. Having our own 30+ year old house, with doing our own kitchen reno has been a real eye opener. We've learned a lot - quickly. I just can't believe the sloppiness. And on the model houses too!

It was fun. I look forward to the day when we can triple our square footage and I finally get a soaker bathtub!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Independence & Self Sufficiency

I've been giving the kids a lot more freedom these days. Like going into public washrooms, for example. Alex is allowed to go into the men's room on his own. If we are some place overly crowded -or it has more than one exit- he comes with me into the women's room. Even Izzy has gone into public rest rooms alone. Well, I stand by the sinks in the big ones or stand outside the door in the case of single room stalls. No problems so far.

Alex has started going over to friends houses on his own. And playing outside without constant parental supervision. This means he has clearly marked zones he must stay in and he has to tell me if he is going into someone else's house or yard. He is very trust-worthy and has earned his independence. I've even waited in the car while he has run dvds into the library.

Food preparation is another area they are tackling on their own. Unless I make eggs, smoothies or pancakes/french toast, they make their own breakfasts. They pour their own milk for cereal and can find their own beverages. Fresh fruit is always at hand and most dry goods in the pantry are easy to manage. At 6 1/2, Alex can make toast, bagels and waffles. Even better, if they can't find a clean spoon or cup in the dishwasher, they will wash it themselves!

Izzy likes to empty the dishwasher. Each of them have a pet that they are in charge of feeding. Alex handles the cat and Macy is in charge of our 2 fish. Alex is good at taking clothes from the washer and putting them in the dryer. We've added lawn care and maintenance to their repertoire. Alex waters the front lawn and Izzy waters the vegetable plants. They've both walked down to the recycling bins to take out our cardboard.

When we are out in public, they have to speak for themselves. If they have a question about the whereabouts of a toy at Toys R Us or a book at Chapters, they ask someone who works there. At restaurants, they tell the server their order. In a food court, they can go up to the counter, stand in line, and ask for a take-out bag or more condiments. Alex has gone up to cashiers and paid for items on his own.

Alex would be in grade 1 this year if he went to school. When I was that age, I walked to school on my own or with friends. I was up and out of the house from dawn to dusk - rarely checking in with the folks, but telling them where I'd be ahead of time. We were allowed to paint a neighbours shed. Took odd jobs walking dogs or washing cars. It was a different world with much less hovering.

I have limits on what my nerves can handle but we are working our way towards competent and independent children. Really, the worst thing I've had to overcome is my fear of messes or incomplete jobs but they get better each successive time. They feel proud of their accomplishment and even prouder that we trust them. I am most excited about how willing they are to try new things. When I was a kid I loved to cook. My mom was a clean-freak who didn't like messes in her kitchen but I had a friend whose mom would give us free range in the kitchen. By 8 we were baking on our own. We learned through experimentation and having to experience failure. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

So, I don't hover. Heck, I even err on the side of laziness when it come to the kids these days. If they a sandwich, well, find the bread and put something between it. Needs clean undies? Grab your basket and help me put on the washer. It really does work. And the four of us couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Take on *Those* Work-Boxes

I have spent about a month thinking about the work-box system. I've browsed a ton of sites. I've made lists about subjects to cover and what types of activities I could put in the boxes. Mostly, I have been trying to figure out how to make that system work for me.

To start with, I love the idea but didn't like many aspects of implementation. I took my favourite ideas from a few other homeschoolers using the system and made up the rest to suit us. The numbered system, for example, seemed too regimented for us. I know Alex would just look through the drawers and do which ever one he wanted to do first. We are also very visual and I wanted pictures to tell Alex what he was up to that day.

So, first I had my list of subjects and activities. Items like math, science, history, geography and social sciences were a priority. Also included were items piano practice, art, construction & building and reading. I came up with 20 categories. I also made 3 work with mom cards and 2 need assistance cards.

After deciding what categories to use, I headed over to the Discovery Education Clip Art website. I found corresponding images to my subjects, printed them to size in black and white, then coloured them with the kids' pencil crayons. I purchased some self laminating sheets, multi-coloured bristol board, velcro strips and ring clips then went to work.


I am using a bin with seven drawers because (1) that's what I already have, (2) it takes up less floor space (which is at a premium) and (3) no one is tempted to throw unrelated things into the open bins as we (meaning me) are apt to do. There are, however, eight spaces on the completed sheet. I made an extra one for piano practice. It didn't need a drawer because his books are on the instrument but I will add an extra velco sticky above the top drawer to remind him that that is on the list too.

There are two velcro pieces to each drawer. The ones on the left will hold the activity/subject tags. The ones on the right will be used for the work with mom tags or left available for Alex to affix the need assistance card, should that come up.

I will keep the subject tags in a box for my evening preparations. Attached to the side of the drawers will be Alex's laminated sheets to affix the completed tags as he works through the bins.

We haven't put it into practice yet, so I know it will evolve along the way, but the idea is that Alex will need to complete all the drawers before the end of the day. This will give him some control over what he does and when and it gives me more control over what he is doing (academically). If a drawer remains unfinished then it will roll over to the next day. On busy days, the work load will be lighter. We may or may not implement some rules like three drawers before Lego or five drawers before Wii. We'll see.

I am excited. I feel more organized but not so much so that it feels like unsustainable micromanaging. Alex is excited too. He is already bugging me to start filling them up. This is good. It will keep us both on our toes.

How Alex will Remember Me

When I am long gone from this world, Alex will lament the loss of my cooking - those meals that make his eyeballs roll to the back of his head. I always know I am appreciated when my boy is at the kitchen table.

Me: Hey, I found a new pancake recipe online. Want me to try it for lunch?
Alex: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!!!
Me: Should I make some raspberry jam for it?
Alex: [eyes wide] Could you?! Yes, Please!

Alex: Mmmmmm, mmmmm, we need to have this again! Is Izzy eating all of hers?

Recipe from CityMama:

* 1/2 cup sifted flour
* 1/2 cup milk
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 tsp nutmeg
* 3 tablespoons of butter (I originally used four as my recipe called for but I would reduce the amount next time)
* 3-4 tbsps of powdered sugar (sifted first or sprinkled through a sieve)
* juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In mixing bowl combine flour, eggs, milk, and nutmeg. Whisk together until well-blended. Melt the butter in a large oven-proof saute pan (11-12 inches) or equivalent baking dish. Pour batter into pan, put in oven, and bake for 18-20 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice, return to oven for a minute (watch so it doesn't burn), then remove. Serve garnished with fresh fruit if desired.

Another Sign that Summer is Almost Over

The kids did their last oral book report for the summer reading program at the library. We started two weeks late but they still managed to do seven reports each. They now have their golden tickets to the party next week.

I have to mention what a fabulous job Izzy did with her reporting. Her answers to the questions about her books were informed and enthusiastic. Alex did well too but has a more difficult time articulating thoughts when put on the spot. He has to be reminded to relax and just talk about the book. It is amazing to see how different his comprehension of fiction versus non-fiction are. He can recite thousands of facts from science or history books but is a bit slower at processing story-lines, especially those that have to do with emotions versus action. His best reports were done on the level 3 and 4 Star Wars books where he could talk at length about battles and strategies. I don't know if it's an Alex thing or a Y chromosone thing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Not only I am gardening, almost as shocking as me fishing, but I am babysitting plants for my neighbours. Her herbs, to be more specific. I will try to use restraint over how much I "borrow".

My roma tomatoes have gone crazy! I will have more than enough for spaghetti sauce, salsa and bruschetta. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

My peppers have been brutally assaulted by slugs. Being a rookie I didn't really take care of them as I ought. I did put some slug bait down a few days ago. Maybe I can salvage a few peppers. They didn't touch my jalapenos though. Too spicy, I guess.

My true beauty is the raspberry bush. It is huge! One of the stalks is over 6 feet now. I have 4 or 5 shoots from it, some nearing 4 feet. Every few days Izzy goes out and grabs a small handful of berries. Don't tell Alex.

The weeds have been driving me nuts though. I suppose that is their job. The vegetable bed is clear but some real prickly buggers keep getting into the rose bushes. I have to wait until Fall now to really get in and clean it all up. I am attempting to thread the roses through the fence so it will be a real pretty sight when they flower next year.

One weed I have kept around is the milkweed. We've had quite a few monarch butterflies around the yard. We've clipped 5 leaves with eggs on them and will attempt to raise them. I'll save that post for another day though.

What has Izzy been up to?

Other than testing our sanity. Well, quite a bit actually.

School starts in 22 days. Well, her entrance interview in is 22 days and the kindy classes start up, officially, 2 days after that. And boy, does she want to be prepared. I have images in my head of her cramming for finals, stressing over her quest for perfection. She is her mother's daughter.

There are the workbooks. You know - circle the biggest sheep, colour the triangles green, put the pictures in order. There are the flash cards - numbers, lower and upper case alphabet. And writing. So much writing. She is addicted to the two white boards I have on the kitchen wall.

She is trying to read books to me, like Alex does. Which is me reading a book to her and then she goes over it again with me, using memory and a bit of improvisation. She also likes to recite the letters she sees on books, signs or any place else really.

Another favourite activity is playing around with the Magnetix. The kids love them. Izzy likes to make shapes for us.

She is working very hard. I can't help but laugh that she doesn't want to "homeschool" but is homeschooling quite a bit these days (more so than Alex) in order to get ready for school. Silly kid. She will be one of the youngest kids (not 4 until November) in her class and has already blown through the JK curriculum. I hope the social aspect is enough to keep her from getting bored.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Don't mind me. Or rather the changes to the blog. I get bored easily and like change. The other day, in between sending and receiving emails organizing and coordinating hs activities for September I decided to start tinkering with the blog. I see so many pretty titles and just all around pretty blogs out there. I am pretty handy with the computer as long as it involves spreadsheets, word documents or googling, I am horrible with everything else. You can't even imagine what a nightmare it was for me to post Izzy's recital videos.

So bear with me. One of these days I will break down and have to sit Rob down to "help" me.

Back to School Shopping

Today was blow all my money at the mall day. It started innocently enough. I just needed to see if I could find an outfit to make Alex look like a pioneer for the children's program in September. I found a great hat, some khaki pants, a plaid shirt and suspenders. I also wanted to see if Payless finally had their BOGO sale. Score! Each kid got two shiny new pairs of shoes. Actually, runners for the Y and homeschool gym classes and for Izzy to keep as inside shoes at school. We also happened across some great sales at Old Navy and The Children's Place. I don't think I spent more than $10 on one single pair of pants or shirts. We did well. Izzy could use a bit more but it's a start.

I think, or just assume, that taking care of supplies will be pretty easy this year. It is just Kindergarten - how much could they need? Izzy has her shoes and her backpack. Something to put her snacks in. They both would have needed clothes and shoes anyway - damned growth spurts! The biggest costs are yet to come - Beavers, art classes, gym classes, etc... My pocketbook is starting to dread September as much as it does December.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Finally...Izzy's Recital!

From way back in June. Here she is!

(Third Teddybear from the left)

(Dancer in the middle - 6th child in)

Blink and summer is almost over!

I don't know if the speedy passage of time is a good thing or a bad thing?! For one, I've accomplished very little in regards to house cleaning. It seems that something always takes priority over, well, anything to do with washing windows or cleaning out cupboards. Shocking, I know.

I do love Fall, and we have a big milestone coming up. I will have two kids in school. Or rather, the one in school and the other will be homeschooling for grade 1. Grade 1! These kids grow up way too fast.

So, Izzy is as good to go as she can be. Finally potty trained. Can write her name, knows her alphabet, has an healthy obsession with books, etc... Alex needs some extra guidance this year. We have turned that corner where he would probably turn on the Wii before reading a book so I will have to help steer him towards more scholarly pursuits as the new school year comes around.

If you are a homeschooler and browse homeschool websites you are probably familiar with the latest craze - work boxes. I think it was started by a woman named Sue Patrick - or at least she is the first one to market the system. Since then, there have been many versions out there posted on various blogs and chat sites. The idea is that each child (in my case, Alex) would be set up with a number of work boxes. Some people use shoe boxes on a rack, magazine holders on a shelf or drawers from plastic bins. Each day you put in work, activities and games in different boxes. The kids work through the box and then you are done for the day. I like this idea but I am trying to think of the simplest way to implement it. I know that anything that takes too much effort will die off in a few weeks.

I was thinking about what I could do with such a system. There would be daily requirements such as piano practice and math lessons. I could mark off the pages I want done with sticky notes. It would force me to plan more concrete activities on a daily basis. Plus, whenever he gets in the 'I'm bored, tell me what to do' mood, I can just say - have you completed what is in the drawers? I love it in theory. The problem is putting it into practice without overdoing it. I have a bad habit of over complicating things in life.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Camping at Arrowhead Provincial Park

We camped for three nights with eleven kids (in total) and seven adults. We had a blast. Though my back is still griping due to the deflated air mattress which had Izzy and I sleeping on the ground the first night in. Here is a photo journal of our trip:

Our home - complete with tarp because it it always does when we camp :-( We had the first campfire at our site that night because we were the first ones at Arrowhead and settled in. The kids wore glow in the dark bracelets and chased each other around the sites until one of them puked. We had tea and the best homemade peach pie I've ever had!

The first morning the kids woke up quite early (mine were up between 5 and 6am) so we took a stroll to the lake before the kids woke up all the neighbours.

They played in the sand and built Dams...

...and hills.

It was so beautiful. Peaceful and quiet.

We were expecting thunderstorms to roll through so Rob and I took the kids into Huntsville later that morning to find another air mattress. When we got back I took the kids to the little museum on site while Rob relaxed at camp with a book. From there we took the kids to Mayflower Lake to check out the tadpoles. According to the wildlife expert at the museum, we are allowed to catch up to 2 frogs a day in Ontario. Who knew? Lol. Here is one of the big guys that we caught. Almost a full fledged frog, still needing to outgrow his tail.

While we were there we spotted some leeches. Before long, a whole slew of them were coming towards the shore line to see what all the splashing was about. We thought we had gotten away unscathed until one of the mom's noticed all the baby leeches covering her son's foot. It took a while to get them off. I even found a few in my Crocs. Blech!

Then it was back to the camp for a short rest before supper.

That night we had our second campfire at our neighbour's site. The kids played board games in the dining tent.

Then we took an early evening walk to the beach.

Watched the sun set.

Built another (larger) dam.

Laughed and splashed in a small pool of water.

Danced in the moon light.

Took many pictures.

After most of the campers had settled in for the night, Rob and I took Alex, Izzy and their friend Q down to the beach to see the stars. We waited until it was pretty late. We found Venus and the big dipper. The boys trudged around the beach in the dark with their flashlights checking on the big Dam they made earlier that evening. They lamented over the state of humanity, questioning the morals of those inconsiderate souls who would trample the hard work of earnest kids. Rob and I got a good chuckle out of that. Izzy passed out on Rob's shoulder on the way back. It was a great way to end the evening.

The next morning we were not up at the crack of dawn. The kids slept in until after 8am. We made breakfast. Showered. Had an errand at the park office. Eventually we made it to the dock to do some fishing. I believe it was the second time in my life I have ever been fishing. Definitely a first for the kids. I even have my own fishing license now. And surprisingly, I can't wait to do it again!

We used bits of hot-dogs as bait. They were successful in that the fish loved them. Unsuccessful in that they kept stealing our bait right off the hook though.

After lunch we headed to Stubbs Falls.

The kids had a blast climbing to the top of the boulders.

Thankfully the smaller ones kept closer to the ground.

A brief stop on the way down.

Testing the cold water with his toes.

The rest of the way down was pretty steep so I stayed behind. My knee wouldn't have enjoyed the rest of the trek. As it was, everyone had to slide down on their bums for the last leg to the bottom.

After an early dinner, we headed to the other side of the park to visit our non-tenting friends. The kids decorated t-shirts...

...and built a trap by digging out a hole and covering it with twigs and leaves.

Then we took a quick walk to the Big Bend Look-out.

The evening was capped off with our last group camp-fire, toasting marshmallows...

...and eating S'mores.

We had a great time. I hope we can get everyone together again next summer. Arrowhead Provincial Park is now one of my all time favourite places to camp. Of course, it is hard to not like any part of the Muskokas, save the crowds. We'll definitely be heading back there. So much to do and see. Clean park with big, private camp sites. It had it all. And only 2 1/2 hours away. Can't beat that!