Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Read Aloud Progress

Recently, the kids and I began reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I set a private benchmark of a chapter a day. I thought such a pace would first, keep the story line fresh in our minds and second, allow us to finish the book in a timely manner. Like, before Canada Day.

We are really enjoying our reading time on the couch as the weather gets cooler. I can easily see us going through a number of books and less so-called book-work this winter. Of course part of that is selfish motivation on my part. I love that the kids still like to sit with me to read. How many more years can that last? But I digress...

As we get further and further into the book my benchmark has flown out the window. We're whipping through chapter after chapter. Have you ever noticed that J.K. Rowling (and any other author, I'm sure) pulls you in by not really finishing the chapter to some satisfying conclusion? The end of the chapter pinnacles at some crucial point in the story. I pause in my reading. There's no discussion 28 chapters into the book; K simply tells me, "more, Mom." R chimes in with a simple, "yup". I continue. Today I continued until R was turned around upside-down on the couch with his head hanging to the floor with his feet on the wall above and K was laid out on the coffee table 'fishing' for the dog with a rope.

I didn't think I'd enjoy this read aloud as much as I am. When the book first came out, I was the one in line at midnight buying two copies. I read all weekend until I was finished. Now, a few months later, I'm enjoying the second, slower read with the kids as much as I enjoyed the first. In fact, I'm much more involved in the story this time, having to pause at the very sudden death of a most beloved character at the end of chapter 23.

I'm enjoying how the kids are following a more complex story line. I'm even getting the thrills I used to get in grade 9 Enriched English when cryptic, erudite Mr. O'Donnell used to lead the class through deep discussions of our assigned reading. I loved uncovering not-so obvious connections between characters and plot lines, finding obscure references to ancient history, politics and religion. It is so cool to see the kids find little connections in our read alouds, to hear them explain plot lines and character development to each other, to pull out little mentioned facts from previous books in the series to gain insight in the current installment.

After the Deathly Hallows we're going to read a bit of historical fiction set somewhere on the timeline of our current Ancient History work. I'm thinking Ancient Greece or somewhere thereabouts (suggestions appreciated!). I'm looking forward to the lightbulb moments, the cold mornings warming up and waking up on the couch and the little thrills I get when the kids put the literary bits together.

It's going to be a good winter...even if our reading turns the kids upside down.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Celebrating Fall

Fall is now officially, as of yesterday, here. At least in our house it is. The kids have spent their free time this week making ghosts and cutting them out. I have them hanging all over the house. We have our Fall wreath on the door and our cornucopia is on the table. There are various coloured leaves and wee pumpkin candles around.

Grandma and Grandpa and K's Paul came to visit yesterday. They brought pumpkins for the kids and we spent the afternoon carving.

K was right in there, digging out pumpkin guts and designing and carving all by herself.

R was a little more stand-off-ish. He did enjoy poking holes in pumpkin parts and trying out all the carving tools . He chose his pumpkin's design and Paul carved.

Beautiful pumpkins this year! They were home grown in Grandma's garden. We are so spoiled.

If you get a chance, go to your local farm and buy your pumpkins and gourds. In my experience, they're much nicer than the 'Grown in Canada' specimens that WalMart ships in. Isn't it nice how they undercut the local producers? While you're at the farm getting your pumpkin, grab some apples or cider while you're there.

Get Grandma to pick out all the seeds while you're busy carving. Wash 'em off, spread them out on a kitchen towel and blot them dry. Melt half a stick of butter (or use 4 tbsp of oil), stir in 1/2 tsp of cayenne, 1/2 tsp salt and some black pepper. Pour it over the seeds and swish it around until the seeds are coated. Put them in the oven on a cookie sheet at 325°F and stir them around every so often. They take about 45 minutes to dry and toast. Very tasty.

As is tradition, Paul brought K's costume and she treated us to a rare fashion show. Grandma brought special treats for the kids. An early trick or treat treat.

Later in the evening, my brothers had to stop by on their way out for some pre-Hallowe'en fun. Here is Matt, who makes his own fun wherever he goes. He'll be joining us Hallowe'en evening to hand out candy with R, who has chosen not to trick or treat this year.

We had cider, which I'd had warming in the crock pot all day, and they ate up the rest of the pumpkin seeds. After a short visit, they were off. Now I need more cider and pumpkin seeds.

Here they are in all their revelry. No, they're not all my brothers. Two of them are, one is my surrogate brother, another is his wife and the other two are the significant other's of my two brothers.

During our visit, I discovered that Surrogate Brother's wife, from Korea, has never 'done' Hallowe'en before. Of course, we invited them along for Hallowe'en evening so she could get a feel for it. Surrogate Brother is excited to have Wife see all the kids' costumes and to hand out candy.

The pumpkins turned out well. We pulled the drapes closed, turned out the lights and lit them up. Cool, eh?

A good day of family and friends. No better way to celebrate, imo.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Family Time

We went for a little drive the other night. It included coffee. While in the drive-thru line-up, the kids saw an advertisement for Reflective Hallowe'en Trick or Treat Bags - Free!

Kori lit up like a Christmas tree and says, "Raiden, take off your hood and look really cute - maybe we'll get a free bag!"

It was pretty funny. She said it in jest, as she knows the days of having gifts bestowed upon her in recognition of her personal Cute Factor are long gone.

We did talk about how such a thing was unnecessary as they both have their own quilted Hallowe'en bags. If we take these free bags simply because they're there - it's a waste. That being said, at the time I didn't consider the idling time, the paper cup and the plastic lid. I still have a ways to go to shrink my footprint, don't I?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Whole Week...

A whole week! Where does it go?! I don't even know where to start...and that's assuming that people are even remotely interested in what we've been up to.

We've had some house things come up. I've been dealing with our building manager (we rent, for those that are wondering) and a neighbour situation. I even have a letter brewing for the company that owns our property. I'll share all the gory, horrid details when it is appropriate to do so.

Brian and I are noticing that we're very tired this last week or so. The reason I mention it is because this is the time of year that we are used to a time change. Not the good one where you gain an hour of sleep either. I thought I always had such a hard time with the Fall time change. That 'Fall Back' an hour is pretty brutal. I usually blame the time change for my lethargy, my lack of motivation due to lack of sleep, my over-sensitivity to the general gloominess of the weather. I am discovering that it may just be the time of year and not the time change at all. I'll have to see how I feel once the time actually changes - later on in November when our neighbours to the south do their time change.

School work plods on. I think we are cresting the children's resistance curve. I'm almost scared to mention it. The last day or so, I've definitely seen a lack of Let's Push Mom's Buttons. Not that it comes up too often, however, it does come up. And I find it discouraging. When the kids and I sat down and we planned out our approach to this year, I knew that what they were asking for (I want to do grade 5 stuff, mom, like, with paperwork and maps and handwriting practice and stuff) might be a bit of a shock to them. But, they agreed that they would do the work, that they wanted to be reminded of our plan and they wanted to stick with it before throwing in the towel. With regular work, Kori is becoming more confident with the idea of math. We've passed the 'I hate math.' She is actually asking for clarification of questions now instead of refusing to finish a lesson. Progress. Raiden is coming around to the idea that he can, in fact, spell. I'm not sure where he got the idea that he couldn't....actually, that's a lie. He's finding it hard to learn alongside his sister who could read, write, spell at a very young age. Perceptive little guy, he is.

So...what say I try to blog a little more? Doing so will make me explore the point I'm trying to get across. Is there a point? I'll find one. Or four. Please email me if there's a point you'd like me to make....or if I start too many blog posts with 'Not much is new...'. That would be tiresome.

I'll close with an infrequent snapshot of myself (thanks, Bri). Aren't I looking lovely? What is it that makes me turn from the camera? I didn't even do it on purpose. I could make an album of pics of me, turned away or half-looking at the camera. It's odd. In this particular shot, it was Raiden, I believe, needing something requiring my attention somewhere other than in front of the camera.

Have a good rest of the week...let me know if anything exciting is happening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wee One In The House

A couple of days in the last week we've been lucky to have my wee nephew for the day. It's a last-minute kind of arrangement that I'm so happy to be able to do for my brother- and sister-in-law.

Not having had such a wee person in my house for at least six and a half years, I realized very quickly that I have a whole lot of freedom in my days. It's nice having older kids. But I do miss the wee years.

Remember when they start wanting to feed themselves? When they still need someone to help stick the food to the fork, yet they're really proud to be able to get the food into themselves? Pancakes (no syrup) were fairly mess-free. Today's yogurt was a different story.

Remember how little people tromp around and open and close every hinged fixture? Or how they seems to find stuff, like chess sets, fly-swatters or potatoes stowed under the microwave stand, no matter how well you think you've hidden things? Magnets are fun too. I love watching the learning process - Wee Man here has 'magnetic' and 'not magnetic' all wrapped up, even though he can't talk yet. Kids are so clever. I wish I'd have noticed more of the learning process when mine were smaller. However, I am loving how my kids are sharing in the joy of these lightbulb moments of my nephew. They are as amazed with Wee Man figuring something out as I am when they master a new skill or gain a bit of independence at their advanced ages of 8 and almost-10. So as much as having Wee Man throws our day for a loop, there are good things happening for all of us.

Remember how warm and clingy wee ones are when they wake up from their nap? How they just love to sit with you and wake up slowly? Of course, it only lasts for so long before wee tummy needs another snack. So I was glad to snap this pic while the warm cuddles lasted.

Remember how they need to do what you're doing? Here we have Wee Man stirring/splashing/pouring with dishes in one sink while I washed in the other (Kori was on step-stool safety patrol). Remember how one sink of dishes takes 3 hours and a snack to wash once you set up, wash, dry the kitchen and then launder the 346 towels you needed to use for the endeavor. Good times.

In between all of these good times, we have managed to fit in our schoolwork and keep the house picked up. Quite the feat as I never managed as much when my two were wee toddlers. Part-time kids who are not your own are so much more conducive to clean houses and composed grown-ups.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Above Average And Not Proud Of It


We're thinking of the environment today, folks. What do you do on a daily basis to be good to our earth?

This has been on my mind lately. I should be doing more, me thinks. However, a small start is better than no start at all. Perhaps we should use Blog Action Day as a starting block. I think we should keep doing that which we are currently doing for our health, our environment, our pocketbook. Then, those of us who are slacking a bit in the conservation, I-have-a-larger-than-average ecological footprint department can add in a few other bits in order to have a better influence on our environment.

I was over at ZeroFootprint calculating my own ecological footprint. The news is not pretty. Me and mine create roughly 10.7 tons of CO2 per year. Yikes. The average Canadian or Torontonian is listed as 9.1. I'm above average and I'm not proud of it.

Even worse, I was over at Global Ecological Footprint. A sustainable footprint is said to be 15 global hectares. The average is 21 global hectares. Mine? 32.22 global hectares. Again, above average and not very proud.

We recycle. But only most paper products in our home.
We don't compost.
We use compact fluorescent lights, but have halogen in the kitchen spot lights.
We use electric heat.
I use vinegar or environmentally friendly cleaning products including biodegradable laundry detergent and dish soap.
I buy cotton clothes for the kids when possible.
We use reusable shopping bags for 3 out of 4 grocery shops.
I buy organic, local produce some of the time.
I can't seem to phase out my use of saran wrap.
We don't walk enough, even though we live right in town.
I use the internet to cut down on consumables in our schoolwork.
I am making an effort to cut our weekly screen time for a number of reasons.

Just this weekend we used foam insulation to seal some drafty spots in our townhouse. We sealed up the windows with plastic (hmm...trading one evil for another?) in the kids' rooms as they are typically very cold rooms. Having to heat with electric heat, we are hoping that any small improvement will help keep the heat in and the cold out.

I wanted to share even our meagre efforts because I'm sure I'm not the only one that can improve. We all have to start somewhere, right? This is my dismal starting point. Care to share yours? Some of my favourite bloggers are doing much better than I am. Make sure you've poked through the blog list in my sidebar and see if you can figure out who the inspirational ones are.

By the time Blog Action Day 2008 rolls around, I hope to be doing better. Do you think I can pare it down to the national or global average? Better than average? I'm going to aim for better than average and see how I do.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Just popping in...

Just popping in before popping out.

After a good Thanksgiving weekend (and a full week of no lesson-ish stuff) we're back to the daily grind. Had some good conversations with the kids today regarding priorities and moderation. I even made notes on the chalkboard as to what we're working on this week.

It occurred to me that as soon as the warm weather hints that it's on it's way out, we tend to hibernate. So today we all made an effort to get outside with the dog before our day got away from us.

The kids and I began reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows today. They're pretty excited about getting into it. I'm unsure as to how I am going to be able to continue with it as a read aloud. I'm going to give it a try, though.

I set an 8am screen shut-off limit. I'm not terribly popular today. However, to be popular, I find I must sit amidst mindless programming for too many hours of the day. There was the expected roaming and moaning (Raiden...) and a little squabbling over couch space resulting in a couple of kids reading on the floor. There was also some hauling of toys from the basement, some sibling read-together time, a nice chat over lunch and a mutual tidy-up before Brian came home. Not too bad for a day in which Pokemon had to be missed.

Swimming and soccer tonight for the kidlings. To make both on time, there is some fancy kid wrangling across town and back again. It's ok though. Brian and I will enjoy a relaxed coffee while watching the kids do their things. It's great that they have found activities they enjoy.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Walk In The Woods

Today Brian and I went walking in the fields where I grew up. It's a nice little piece of this rock we're all spinning around on. There's a little bit of field, a little bit of forest, a little patch of water. My parents still live there and my siblings are taking turns returning to the empty nest. We tend to converge here for holidays and other not-so-significant occasions.

The leaves are turning and we're having an October heat wave. Perfect for enjoying the great outdoors. I particularly love seeing the milkweed blowing it's seed at this time of year.

Brian took this pic. In the background you can see the treeline. That's the sugar bush. My dad has built a cabin back there. We've enjoyed the odd campfire and perhaps a bottle of wine over the years. I really love this field. Not sure why. It's an old hay field that hasn't been cut in years. The tallest grass is as tall as I am.

Did I mention I liked milkweed? When I was little, we used to go to my grandparent's cottage and near the end of summer, all the cousins would pop all the milkweed pods and we'd make 'snow'. That field was covered in white. We did that year after year. The monarchs must have loved us. I feel a little left out when I see a field like this. Noone helped to pop these pods. They worked that out all by themselves.

Brian found some red-headed woodpeckers.

This is the pond. It's very low right now. That's to be expected. The St.Lawrence is at it's lowest point in 80 years. I guess it's been a dry season in these parts.

I used to skate here when I was a kid. Good times.

We were walking along a low patch of ground - a stream bed that feeds the pond - when all of a sudden, the ground started hopping. We had to look carefully to find them: we were surrounded by these tiny frogs. They were all over! First, they hop madly out of the way. Then, if they think you're too close, they freeze and stay put. It was tough getting a picture of the little guys nonetheless.

I hope to get out here with the kids this week. They'd love to see the frogs and run amok in the tall grass. One day at a time, though. We'll see how this week shapes up.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating. Have a great weekend, all!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Warm Fuzzies and Clean Cupboards

I accidentally clicked on my stat counter this evening. It appears that even though I have not blessed you all with recent updates of my life and happenings, you have still been checking in. Thanks for the warm fuzzies, folks, as inadvertent as they were, I'm sure. So, here I am, yet again, gracing you with my virtual presence. Not sure which direction this is going to go. Bear with me.

Life is moving in fast-forward. Schoolwork is a write-off this week. But that's ok. I'm rolling with it. Nothing will be accomplished by fitting 6 days of The Schedule into one. I know this and I'm trying to roll with it. Did I mention that I'm tying to roll with it?

A wonderful day last week: We invited friends over for lunch and a visit. It was a great time. J1 is 11 and he and Raiden are like two peas in a pod. Sport nuts all around. If they're not playing something, they're watching a game or sorting out their hockey cards. The had a fun time playing mini stick hockey in the bedroom and Harry Potter SceneIt. J2 is 8 and he and Kori are very much alike. They like their space. They draw together - yet apart. They take turns with the Playmobil. They don't speak much; they do their own thing. But after our friends leave, Kori is always so glad that she and J2 were able to spend the afternoon together. Kori and Rai chose the lunch menu according to what they thought their friends would like most (sandwiches, fruit and dip, chicken nuggets and jello). They both were up early and spent considerable time helping each other tidy up their rooms. It was a good day.

This week we were in Ottawa on Monday. Raiden had his follow up ultrasound at CHEO. Kori came with us this time and wound up with a better appreciation of the goings on of a day at CHEO. Both kids were mentally wiped by the end of the day. For those who are wondering, there is no change in Rai's left kidney. The Urologist was a little more insistent and suggestive about solving the problem (intermittent UPJ Obstruction) rather than trying to catch it by ultrasound mid-episode. He agreed to one more 6 month period of observation or waiting until Raiden has an episode before we discuss corrective surgery (aak! I almost said it out loud!). Looking forward to that. I think Brian needs to come to the next appointment with us. Oh, and we found the cafeteria this trip.

Tuesday I distracted myself in the kitchen. I moved my new dishes in and did a Spring Clean of the cupboards. My efforts then spread to the pantry, fridge, under-sink cabinet, microwave stand, drawers and recipe book collection. That resulted in a trip to Goodwill to drop off the cast-offs and the grocery store to restock.

Wednesday my wonderful Mother-In-Law and her marvelous husband came to visit. They took the kids and I to lunch, shopping and then we came home in time to meet Brian who had left work early. We hung out 'till dinnertime when Brian's brother's family joined us. It was a full house but a great visit. My in-laws are so generous; they spoil us silly. I am really looking forward to our Christmas visit with them. Wait...that sounds wrong. You know what I mean, right?

And that brings us to today. I am so proud of my kids. Kori started indoor soccer tonight. It's her first foray into organized, team sports. She is the youngest (2 months to 10) in a group aged 10 - 12. She confidently told her coach she had never played before, confidently took up her position as assigned, tried hard, supported her team mates and finished off the evening in a good mood. I don't know what I was worried about. I am so happy I didn't 'force' her to play something earlier. For the whole practice/scrimmage, Raiden surfed Kori's bench and gave her pointers. He clapped at the right times and restrained himself enough so as not to interfere in the game or on the bench. Kori ended up with a couple of jammed fingers before the half. If anyone had asked me before the game, I would have told you that Kori would refuse to play out the game; she'd want to go home. Au contraire! She took a quick break and played out the rest of the game. She had such a good time and I'm so proud of her for dealing with so many things that used to set her off. I never would have thought her up to playing a new sport in a gym, with the lights and acoustics she used to adamantly refuse to endure, in front of bleachers full of peers and parents, in a too hot space, with hurting fingers and with her little brother hovering and giving 'pointers'. Good on her.

And now you're all caught up. I'm having all these philosophical thoughts lately, however I am too restless to impart my wonderings for all to read. Instead, I will add some eye candy. Here we have an organized cupboard:

Doesn't it make you feel all contented and ready to take on the world? You know it does. Try it. Go do your kitchen cupboard. I'll be watching for your pictures.