Friday, 28 December 2012

2012 Highlight Reel

2012 has been a busy year of settling into routines, which has allowed me to try new projects and new ideas, this blog being one of them. Often at this time of year, after the big family festivities are over, I feel stuck in a rut, like I'm taking one step forward and two steps back. To help me feel a sense of accomplishment I want to look back over the year and think about everything that has helped me move forward on my life path.

When my children were very little most of my energies were devoted to meeting their immediate needs. I know that some women are able to balance their babies' needs and their own, but I am not one of them. Working part time and being a mother was pretty much all I could handle. As much as some say it might not be emotionally healthy, I am an all or nothing sort of person, as my husband will tell you. I think that in the past I have avoided getting into something new because I don't enjoy it unless I can throw myself wholeheartedly into it, which leaves little of my attention for anything else. Therefore it isn't surprising that looking after a baby took much of what I had to give.
My wee one when she was a newborn. 

My youngest daughter will be turning three in 2013 and I am finally beginning to feel like she does not require my full and undivided attention all day long as infants do. There are moments I can carve out for my own projects and passions that sustain me and fulfill my creative side, which I have been missing for a long time. Not for long, mind you, because she is a little monkey and into everything so much more than I remember my other daughters being. She has redecorated my walls with pens, added colour to my couch with juice, and added patterns to my carpet with a sharpie.

I want my daughters to see me being a life-long learner and meaningfully engaged in something because I believe that modelling is one of the best form of learning for children. It fills my heart to hear my daughters'  questions about what I am doing and see my daughters grab crafting supplies to make alongside me. I want them to be happy in life and I believe one path to happiness is to have interests and passions.
I am grateful that I have developed an interest in photography because it gives me something creative I can do with small children. Besides, what parent doesn't like taking pictures of their kids?!
My five year old in particular has followed in my footsteps and enjoys photography.

It is easy as a women to be overly harsh and self-judging. I could compare myself to the other mothers who always seem to be more calm, patient and together than me. I could compare myself to other crafters or gardeners who seem more knowledgeable and talented. I'm sure, though, that for every person I could compare myself to there is someone who sees me as talented and knowledgeable. I'm not saying I am talented because I know what is going on in my head and I am there for the behind-the-scenes daily grind of my life. I see my good, bad and ugly and therefore it is easy to judge myself. I must remember that every single person has that kind of messy life behind the closed doors of their life as well. There will always be someone who is more green than me, more eco-conscious than me, and I am working on seeing them as someone to follow and learn from rather than a measure of my inadequateness as an environmentally aware person.

So, as a reminder to myself of my highlight reel for 2012, I've compiled a list of things of which I am proud, things for me to read on my low days, when I am feeling overly judgemental of myself. This is my top ten list to read to myself to give me energy when I need a do-over.

1. This past summer, when my youngest daughter was almost two and a half years old she weaned. After struggling for the first two months with my first two daughters and having a rocky breastfeeding relationship, breastfeeding went very smoothly, one might even say naturally, with my third daughter. I attribute it to a spontaneous, unmedicated home birth in which we had immediate uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for at least the first hour (as far as I can remember) of her life. Weaning my youngest brought to an end over 68 months of breastfeeding in total between each of my daughters. I know that I did my best to give them the best start in life that I was capable of and I am proud of what my body was able to do for them. I feel very good that I sustained them with the most Earth-friendly nourishment that I could (I am not judging mothers who made other choices about how to feed their babies by saying this). While I was ready for that part of our relationship to end, my daughter wasn't fully prepared and to this day she occasionally likes to climb into my lap and pretend to have her beloved "milky milky".
My wee one breastfeeding her baby - modelling behaviours at it's best!

2. We continue to search for ways to reduce our use of single use disposable items. We have not used paper napkins or paper towels for years (with a perhaps two lapses per year when we have a large party and know we will run out of cloth napkins for all the guests). I have used cloth feminine napkins for at least a decade now.

This year I added stainless steel straws to our home, along with an increasing number of stainless steel dishes and containers to slowly replace plastic in our home. I love how stainless steel cleans up and does not retain the smell of the food the way that plastic can.

3. We continue to find ways to detoxify our cleaning products more natural, less chemical-based ingredients. I have fully switched to vinegar and baking soda alone for the majority of our household cleaning needs. We use mostly soap nuts for washing our clothes, but I am finding that they are not great for removing stains. I found a link for making my own laundry soap and that will be something I try in the new year. The last two areas where I would like to find something more natural are in our dishwashing soap and dishwashing machine detergent.

4. This year we completely eliminated commercial air fresheners because of their toxic ingredients and links to a variety of health concerns. We currently use baking soda for kitty litter odour (open box near the kitty litter box) and drops of essential oil in high odour areas like the bathroom. Occasionally I put a drop or two of essential oil of choice the wax of a burning candle to diffuse the smell quickly. We used to use incense quite extensively but have not done so as much recently. I find the best way to freshen the smell in a room is to just open a window. One thing I would like to focus more on in the new year is the use of plants for room air quality. We have very few indoor plants because our cats are very naughty and kill them by chewing on the leaves.

5. I am slowly learning ways to detoxify personal care products such as creams, shampoos, toothpaste, deodorant and make up. We have used "natural" toothpaste for years but I would like to challenge myself to make my own at some point in the future. I have found some interesting links for making my own on Pinterest and I'm excited to source ingredients. This past year I found some very expensive make up (eyeliner and mascara) at a local natural foods grocery store. The ingredients seem to be good but the product comes from Germany and when I say it is expensive I am not exaggerating ($40 mascara anyone?). To compensate for this I am trying to go without as much as I feel comfortable. This means going au naturel on days that I don't go to work or have a dress up event (I'm somewhat vain and sometimes feel like I need a little more colour). I am slowly transitioning to natural crystal deodorant because the ingredients in my antiperspirant are horrible (including horrible fragrance, or "parfum", which is linked to a variety of health concerns such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses). I am finding this a challenge, however, because I am a very sweaty person. I have a phobia of sweat marks on my clothing and crystal deodorant just doesn't cut it in that department. Again, I am compensating by using the crystal deodorant on my days off work. One area in which I am most proud is switching to baking soda and apple cider vinegar to wash my hair (called the "no-poo"method).

6. I am almost ready to call myself a vegetable gardener. I have dabbled in container gardening over the past ten years while living in apartments and a townhouse. Almost three years ago we moved into our new home, our first single family house with a large backyard and I was most excited about having room to have a vegetable garden. This has been a very gradual process with adding a new raised garden bed each summer we have lived here. I hope to have a maximum of four raised beds in the backyard next summer. I did very well with just two raised beds this past summer, growing dozens of vegetables and this fall I planted garlic for the first time. I know just a little bit, in fact only enough to know how much I don't know, but I'm game to experiment and learn. It was interesting to participate in our local CSA to compare what we received with what we grew, and this has increased my desire to branch out and try eating and growing new foods (like fava beans). My mother gave me a subscription to a Canadian gardening magazine, and I have a subscription to an organic gardening magazine and I bought a how-to guide for winter gardening. Once the dust settles on the festive season I will devote some serious time to planning my summer garden.
My garden mid summer this year.

7. I am not a baker. A friend has blogged about there being cooking people and baking people. I am decidedly in the former camp because I like to experiment and substitute, which just does not work with baking. When I do want to bake I don't have the correct ingredients because I never bake. I do, however, like to eat baked goods. A favourite of mine is breakfast scones. For a few years now I have bought my scones at my local grocery store. The drawback is that they come in a plastic container that I then have to recycle. I have been trying to focus on reducing what I consume before recycling what I use because of the energy used to recycle paper, plastic, metal and glass. The plastic waste finally got to me and a few months ago I started baking my scones each week. With practice I am getting better and am starting to expand my repertoire of baked goods.  Another reason I feel good about this is because I know what has gone into my baked goods. I can make them as natural and healthy as I want rather than having a bunch of ingredients I cannot pronounce that are there to increase shelf life.
My delicious, home-baked cheese scones for breakfast.

8. I've been trying to use my bike more in 2012. As my children get older and more capable my ability to bike with them will increase, making it easier to get out on my bike for daily errands and local commuting. There have been some blips and blurps along my path, as I'm sure there will continue to be, but I'm trying. I hope that as the weather warms and dries up in the spring and summer I will be more exclusive in my bike use.

9. After pinning dozens of knitting and crocheting ideas on Pinterest, I finally dusted off my knitting needles and finished some beginner projects for Christmas presents. I value making presents for people I love and I made each of my daughters scarves and each of the ladies in my extended family infinity scarves. My daughters had fun looking through my yarn bin and we found a few incomplete projects from years ago that I am now motivated to finish. I hope to take a knitting course or two to help me make progress in knitting in the round, turning the heel on socks and pick up stitches so I can complete some more advanced projects. I used to knit and crochet, especially for baby gifts, but when my own children entered the picture I lost the energy and time to keep up with it. That, along with small hands getting into my things and pulling all the stitches off needles made me put my yarn and needles away for over eight years.

10. I have been mulling and pondering about creating this blog for over a year, but I have been intimidated by the talented men and women out there writing about and sharing their thoughts and reflections. I was also scared of a learning curve with blogging and didn't know where to begin. I finally decided to just jump in with both feet and not worry about whether anyone would ever read my blog. If I'm being honest I'd admit that I want someone to read this blog - otherwise I would just write my thoughts in a journal. I'm proud that I started sharing my journey, even if it just documents for myself what I'm doing. I do believe that it is making me feel more accountable and more clear in what I am doing and hope to do. Something that I'm pondering now is writing for a supposed audience, of which every writer must be thinking about, versus writing for myself, because the two are often quite different.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas & Holiday Blessings

I am frantically (well, not that frantically if I can find the time to write this post) getting ready for Christmas Eve and Day, finishing the last of the presents for family and neighbours. Later I will be cleaning the house and wrapping all the presents.

My favourite moment of the season? Christmas Eve, after the Santa cookies have been made (yes, we do Santa) and notes have been written, after the kids are in bed and everything is set up by the tree, when my husband and I sit down to a lovely adult beverage. We turn the lights down, put our feet up, enjoy the colourful lights and our holiday tunes playlist.

This is my favourite moment to savour because it is the calm before craziness of the next morning. I also anticipate the full heart I feel during the family dinner.

My second favourite moment of the season? Christmas morning, after all the presents have been opened, after everything that can be recycled has been recycled (damn all the packaging!) and I sit back with a coffee and watch everyone play.

Merry Christmas and holiday blessings!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Advent/Solstice Spiral

In my quest to create meaningful time together as a family at this busy time of year, this year I decided to make one of the advent spirals that I have been seeing all over Pinterest such as this one, and this one, and this. Each year I try to add another new tradition to our Yule Solstice celebration, and when I saw these I knew the spiral would be this year's addition.

My children each have a Playmobile Advent calendar that they love playing with, and they often get little Advent gifts from family and friends. My daughters, like most children in North America, get worked up into a frenzy leading up to the present orgy we call Christmas morning. I want them to look forward, and talk about, the lead up the the longest night of the year when we celebrate the return of the sun and longer days. Creating a Solstice spiral seemed like the perfect way to count down the nights to the Solstice.

I love how we decorate our home for the holiday season and our living room is a particular favourite of mine. We do the ubiquitous tree and mantle decorations, as well as putting all the holiday knick knacks on shelves that I have collected through the years from students. My winter village that was handmade and handed down from my grandma will always hold a special place in my heart. I love sitting in the living room with Christmas music playing, the fire crackling, and all the twinkling lights and flickering candles. Sitting there one night at the beginning of December I had a flash of inspiration about how I would personalize the spiral and make it special for our family Solstice celebration.

I found some Christmas fabric that was passed down to me from a teacher friend who retired and was looking to give away all her stuff. I love the holly pattern and knew it would be perfect for a Solstice spiral. We have a circular side table in our living room, so I cut the coordinating fabric into circles to layer one on top of the other to fit the table. I'm a lazy crafter and my sewing machine currently resides at my mother's home, so I knew that this would have to be a no-sew craft. Enter the handy dandy pinking shears.

As I wanted a marker for each of the nights of December leading up to the Solstice, I cut brown felt circles for each night to be glued onto the top circle. I decided to have 22 places because of the fluctuating date for the Solstice. When I stepped back to take stock of my efforts, however, I was very disappointed. It looked like a pizza!
I supposed I should have planned it out on paper instead of just in my head, but remember, I'm lazy. The rest of the afternoon was spent making this look as unlike a pizza as I could make it!

After adding various buttons, sparkle glue and pinecones I was satisfied with my efforts. The last step was adding the candles for each night leading to the Solstice. I think most people agree that candles make any event magical. Light and fire seem to figure into most cultural and religious festivals, and celebrations in the winter are no exception. I love how candles represent the return of the sun in the lighter half of the year, along with the reverence that fire seems to inspire.

I have a two year old daughter, however, who is a natural-born scientist in the way she takes things apart (otherwise known as breaking or destroying them) so we have not been able to use real candles since she was mobile. I am terrified that if I turn my back for a second she will burn our house down. I know there are families that can have candles around little children, and once we could do this. For some reason we could just tell my oldest daughter not to do something and she wouldn't. Candles were off limits for her. Sadly we cannot do it with my third daughter. I know it isn't very eco, but for now we use the battery powered plastic "candles" that mimic a natural flickering flame. Hopefully someday we will be able to return to my beloved wax candles.

We have had a reoccurring illness work its way through my family for the past week so we have been hit and miss with the ritual of adding another candle to the spiral and turning on lighting the candles each night. I just love how the living room looks, with the tree lit and the new spiral glowing.

I look forward to the Solstice spiral becoming part of our December rituals in years to come. And I look forward to the final night of our countdown when we make our wishes for the new year and throw them into the fire, receive our new pair of pyjamas for the longest night of the year and enjoy a peaceful evening together as a family.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Crafting Memories

Welcome to the December 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Childhood Memories
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about memories of growing up — their own or the ones they’re helping their children create. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Even before starting a family more than eight years ago, I thought a great deal about the kinds of memories I hoped my children would have. Of course I realize that I am projecting my hopes and wishes onto my children, but isn't that what parents do? Some of their memories will be random moments and snapshots, as mine are, but some will be consciously created by us as adults.

Childhood memories seem to be ever present in people's minds this time of year, in the build up to the holidays people celebrate, be it Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, St. Lucia Day, Las Posadas, St. Nicholas Day and so on. As adults we try to recreate the magic we associate with our cultural celebrations through our children's eyes. 

Clear in my mind is the ritual of homemade crafts. My grandmother always knit us sweaters for Christmas when we were young and then blankets as we grew up. My mother continued the crafting tradition and always made at least one present for me and my brother. To this day the most special present she gave to me, made or otherwise, was a homemade Paddington Bear. After all the presents were opened she pointed to an envelope on the tree. Inside was a note that a special friend was waiting for me in the dining room. I ran as quickly as I could and found Paddington sitting on a chair, with the famous tag saying, "Please look after this bear, thank you." As I got older she included me more and more in the tradition of making gifts and holiday crafts. One of my favourite memories of gift making with my mother was in my early twenties when we made amaretto chocolate truffles for everyone in the family. I think we drank more amaretto than we put into the chocolate. 

I continue to value crafting homemade gifts. I want my daughters to associate making things with the celebration because I want them to remember with fondness the time we spent together baking, sewing, painting and the conversations that happened. I want them to remember that in this crazy, busy time of year when we rush around to concerts, parties and shopping, we made time to slow down and make things. I believe that my own children look forward to crafting with me year round and especially at this special time of year.

My little family continues with the cultural celebration of Christmas, but I have highlighted existing Yule rituals and infused an increasing number of new Yule rituals into our December events. This is easy as many of the symbols of Christmas have been borrowed from pagan traditions (tree, wreath, mistletoe, holly, etc). I love the natural elements of Yule; the importance of honouring the beauty of the season, understanding the place darkness has in life and welcoming back the sun. Many of the winter plants are sacred and hold great symbolic importance. I like the natural connection to the earth and seeing everything as interconnected. We cannot just treat people as we would like to be treated, but also all the animals and plants. Everything has it's place and must be used mindfully. 

Many of our holiday crafts involve using natural materials that can potentially be biodegradable when we are finished with them. A favourite of mine that dates back to my own childhood is making pomander balls using oranges and cloves. The smell evokes Christmas memories and loving feelings. Last year my eight year old was able to make her own, which made her very proud. My five year old participated as much as she could and was pleased with her efforts covering most of one orange with cloves. Of course my then almost two year old was mostly content to sit on my lap and knock the cloves all over the floor watch what we were doing.

I love pinecones and always find a way to include them in our crafting. Last year we made pinecone tree ornaments and used them as present toppers for each member of the extended family. 

This year I hope to make felt mistletoe to hang around our home and reuse each year. My plan is to make some felt mistletoe as present toppers for family as well. My girls like having real mistletoe in our home, but this year I will buy it closer to Yule and Christmas as last year it turned brown quite early. I am also going to experiment with dried fruit decorations, which I found on Pinterest (link)

I am currently rediscovering my love of knitting but because I am out of practice, I am limiting myself to making dish cloths and scarves for the family. I am teaching my eight year old how to spool knit and my five year old how to finger knit and so far they love it. Perhaps their efforts will turn into bracelets for their grandmothers. They are fascinated when I knit, so along with their scarves, I will be giving them their first pair of knitting needles.

As a way to highlight important and favourite family memories through the years, we are decorating ornaments with events that have occurred each year so that when we do the tree decorating ritual we can talk about our memories. This year's ornament will include memories of our camping trip to Manning Park, my youngest beginning preschool, my middle daughter beginning kindergarten and learning how to ride a two-wheeler, and my oldest's increasing gymnastic skills.

It is undeniable that today Christmas is associated with Santa and consumerism. My children will be receiving a gift of their choice and so far it looks like they will be something plastic and technology related. I also hope for something plastic and technology related (Lifeproof iPhone case). But I like to balance that with homemade gifts and the time together that homemade creates, because I know that I do not remember most of the gifts I received as a child. I remember the rituals that were important to my family, the time we spend together, thinking about others and how to make them happy. I want to add to that with my own children. I want them to think about how they are connected to the environment and how everything they do, everything they make, has an impact. I want them to think about the waste they create with the presents, packaging and crafts they create, and what we do with this waste. Can the waste be recycled? Or is it possible to reduce what we need to recycle by using natural elements that can be composted? I also want them to think about the impact the environment has upon them; how the seasons change and our behaviour and natural rhythms change along with this. 

But mostly, I want them to remember our love. I hope that one day, should they have their own children, they will think about the memories they want to craft as a family.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Childhood Memories of Peace, Support, Joy, and Love — Amber at Heart Wanderings wants to make sure the majority of the memories that her children have as a part of their family are ones that are positive and help support the amazing people that they are now and will become as adults.
  • Hand Made Baby Books — Destany at They Are All of Me talks about why baby books are important to her for preserving memories of her childrens first years, and shows how she made one by hand for each child.
  • Can your childhood memories help you keep your cool?Here's To A Boring Year uses memories of being a child to keep her on the path to peaceful parenting.
  • Inter-Generational Memories {Carnival of Natural Parenting} — Meegs at A New Day talks about her own childhood memories, and what she hopes her daughter will remember in the future.
  • Snapshots — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings reflects on the ways our childhood memories appear to us, and hopes her own daughter's childhood will be one she remembers as being happy and fulfilled.
  • What makes the perfect parent? — In a guest post on Natural Parents Network, Mrs Green from Little Green Blog reflects on camp follow and camp no-follow...
  • In My Own Handwriting — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen talks about her journals and the hope that they will be able to keep her stories alive even if she isn't able to.
  • Candlelight, fairylight, firelight — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud re-discovers the ingredients for bringing magic to life, especially at Christmas.
  • Making Memories (or) How We Celebrate Christmas — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about creating new memories at Christmas, and the joy their adventures bring to her whole family.
  • The Importance of Recording Feelings and Emotions and Not Just the Experience — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares why she puts pen to paper every day to record more than just her experiences as a mother and her daughter's experiences as a child. Jennifer looks at the importance of capturing feelings and emotions that accompany the experience.
  • Dredged up — Kenna at Million Tiny Things has been forced to recount childhood memories at bedtime, due to the failure of her middle-aged imagination. She resists, of course.
  • Crafting Memories — Handmade is what makes the holidays special for Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs, and she wants to create the same connection with her daughters that she remembers with her mother and grandmother.
  • My Childhood Memories; beacons of light in the darkness Stone Age Parent shares the impact of her childhood memories on her life as a parent today, listing some of her many rich childhood memories and how they now act as beacons of light helping her in the complex, often confusing world of child-rearing.
  • 10 Ways I Preserve Memories for My Children — From video interviews to time capsules, Dionna at Code Name: Mama wants to make sure her children have many different ways to cherish their childhood memories. Dionna's carnival post features ten of the ways she preserves memories; check out her Pinterest board for more ideas.
  • Memories of my mother — Luschka at Diary of a First Child remembers her mother and the fondest moments of her childhood, especially poignant as she sits by her mother's sickbed writing.
  • Creating Happy Childhood Memories through Family Traditions — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells why family traditions are so important to her and her family and shares how she’s worked to create traditions for her children.
  • Traditional Christmas Tree — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake, Half Asleep remembers the great times spent with her family driving for the Christmas Tree and the lessons learned.
  • Wet Socks and Presents — Kat at MomeeeZen writes about her favorite Christmas childhood memory and why it's so special. And she hopes one day her kids will also have a feel-good memory of their own to look back on.
  • Stuff does not equal memories — Lauren at Hobo Mama learns that letting go does not mean failing to remember.
  • A Child's Loss- Will They Remember Dad? — Erica at ChildOrganics writes about their family's loss of their husband and father. She trys to find answers to the question: Will they remember their Dad?
  • Childhood Memories - Hers and Mine — Jorje of Momma Jorje wished for her daughter the same passions and experiences she loved as a child, but learns the hard way to accept whatever passions strike in her child.
  • Holiday Non-TraditionsErika Gebhardt enjoys her family's tradition of not having traditions for the holidays.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Love of Bikes: Update

It is now December and the Vancouver rain has fully arrived for the winter. This makes it challenging to get fresh air exercise. Sure it's just water and it will dry. I'm not afraid of the weather by any means, but Vancouver rain is cold and cuts to the bone.

Generally I'm game to be outside year round regardless of the weather. Because I don't have a gym membership I have to get outside for my exercise.

Back in September I stated my intention to get out on my bike more, to do more than exercise on my bike (link). I wanted to increase the amount of time I use my bike to commute for daily life. I wanted to leave the family car in the driveway more.

I knew that it would get more challenging to stick to this as the fall and then winter weather returned. With the shorter days of winter I would need more safety equipment such as reflective vests and lights. I said that I was going to be kind with myself if I struggled with this because changes and habits take time.

We had beautiful weather in September and October and keeping me off my bike was the problem. Who wouldn't want to ignore the growing piles of laundry and dishes and hop on a bike for a ride to Garry Point Park or along the Fraser River dyke? In the first month of my goal I logged over 100 km on my bike taking my kids to school and gymnastics, going to a meeting at work on my day off, going on scenic rides and grocery shopping.
A lovely morning bike ride at Garry Point in Steveston

Toward the end of October my work picked up and I had more errands to fit in. I began dropping the preschool pick up each week because it took almost an hour for the round trip. Then as the days grew shorter and the rain picked up I dropped the rides to and from after school activities.
Having a little play at a park waiting for big sister to finish her gymnastics class.

Into November, as I began writing report cards (which equals a full work week of overtime), I jumped into the car for quick trips that I could do easily on my bike because I was stressed and short on time with all my obligations.

It wasn't until the past couple of weeks that I began cutting back on the amount that I walked or rode bikes to school with my girls. I went from 12 km per week to less than 5 km per week for daily school trips. I am finding it so much easier to throw everyone in the car when the rain is coming down in buckets. It's funny that I am taking the path of least resistance for the morning school run because growing up getting a ride to school was a treat saved for snowy days only. All other days of the year, rain or shine, warm or cold, I rode my bike. In the suburbs there just isn't a bike culture that may exist in more population dense areas. There are perhaps a dozen bikes locked up each day at the bike racks at school. In fairness though, many families walk to school.

I have been feeling the difference of the reduced physical activity. Obviously I am having to fill up my vehicle a more frequently because I'm using it more. My stress levels are increased (that thing called my job has certainly contributed as well). With the weather change my daughters are less inclined to ride their bikes or walk, which may have something to do with how cold their hands and faces get when they ride in the biting rain. They're lucky we slept in this morning or I would have tortured them with riding to school in the rain. My sleep patterns are more disturbed and I am finding that I am less rested in the morning. You know that feeling when your alarm goes off and it feels like you've just closed your eyes? Weight loss was never my reason for doing this but my clothes are obviously tighter, which makes me uncomfortable, dissatisfied and worried that I will have nothing that fits me soon with all the seasonal eating coming up.

We find the time for things that are important to us and we make excuses for everything else. It was beginning to feel like I was making excuses for the choices I was making, rather than doing what I valued.

This has been bothering me and I was determined to make some changes once things settled down, which they did this week. On my first day off, which was yesterday (I job share 50%), I looked out the window and saw blue sky! I didn't feel exhausted and it felt like the stars were aligned perfectly. Unfortunately I cannot get everyone to school and preschool on time on Wednesdays without a car, but I was determined to do the preschool pick up on my bike. It also helps that the preschool teacher told me last week that my youngest daughter called out for me when someone rode by on their bike. That settled it!

The ride to preschool was perfect. I had an amazing tailwind that made me feel like a super hero speeding down the road. The cool December air felt refreshing. I made up my mind to go on an even bigger bike ride today.
At preschool pick up this week. It was cold but dry and I felt great.

The ride home, however, almost killed me. I forgot that if I had a tailwind going it meant I would have a headwind coming home. I was riding into the wind coming off the Fraser River for a good portion of my ride and I had the additional weight of my little one in the bike trailer. As well, my underused muscles seized up in the cold while I waited for my little one to be dismissed from preschool.

Even though I had boundless energy when I got home, which is what I love about building activity into my daily routine, by the evening my thigh muscles feel like I hadn't been on my bike in years. Surprisingly I don't hurt today, so that's a positive.

For inspiration over the coming months I am going to read more of The Velo Family Diaries (link), a blog written by a Vancouver mother, who along with her cycling advocate husband, has made the decision to live car free and bike ride everywhere with her two young children. I found them via Instagram and the cycle chic photos he posts (he is @cbruntlett on Instagram). If she can do it everyday here on the Wet Coast, certainly I can do it a few times a week.

I believe in honouring the seasons and our connection to them. At this time of year we tend to stay indoors more and nest with the shorter days and longer nights. Cross your fingers that the weather isn't too wet for me over the next few weeks so I can settle into my new-old routine of biking more. I know that if I can make it through the winter doing at least a minimal amount of biking then I can make this goal stick year round.

Friday, 30 November 2012

{this moment}: My Macca Moment

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Unlike Amanda, this week mine will have words. I can't help myself. 

I am a lifelong Beatles fan. I was raised on their music by a Beatles-loving mother. Forty-eight years ago the Beatles played a show at Empire Stadium in Vancouver and my mother was there. Last Sunday my husband and I went to Paul McCartney's show at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. It was epic, amazing, everything I wanted it to be an more. It was a show of a lifetime for me. The feelings of peace and love were strong that night.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Fall Garden Update

My goodness did time fly this autumn. I planned on journaling about my first attempt at planting garlic and my fall garden clean up much earlier than this, but life seemed to get in the way. My teaching job, my own children, my extended family, all kept me busy. Today I went out to mulch and harvest the last of my Brussels sprouts and I realized that December is almost upon us. I suppose my husband putting up the Christmas lights and decorating the front yard for the coming holiday season was a bit of a wake up call for me.
Beautiful, pungent garlic cloves separated and ready to be planted.

In late October I finally decided to plant my garlic. I fell in love with garlic scapes this summer via the Richmond Sharing Farm CSA (link) pick up and I knew I wanted to grow my own garlic. I planted some of my left over Sharing Farm garlic (one row) but the rest I bought at West Coast Seeds because I wanted to be sure that I was planting hard neck garlic to get scapes in the early summer. I chose the Russian red garlic (link).

Delicious scapes from the Sharing Farm CSA

My youngest daughter was such a distraction taking all my cloves helper in the garden. I don't know what I would do without her! I finally gave her a bucket of dirt, a toy shovel and pretend seeds so I could finish what I needed to before having to pick up my other two kids at school.
I planted tulip and daffodil bulbs the same day.

If I remember correctly I planted approximately thirty cloves in one of my two raised beds. I have been over-zealous in the past with spacing of my seedlings, so I hope I erred on the conservative side of spacing this time.

Finally today I remembered to get out and mulch the garlic bed. We bought two hay bales for our October display in the front yard and I had every intention of bringing those bales around to the backyard to mulch my garlic. However, much in the same way I am a lazy crafter, I am also a lazy gardener and those hay bales still remain in my front yard. My husband knows me well and suggested that the hay become part of our Christmas display and feed our illuminated reindeer. What a smart fellow. Then I realized that I have a lawn covered in leaves and I did two jobs in one by raking the leaves for my garlic mulch. Problem solved. I supposed I should have chopped the leaves up, but remember, I'm lazy. I may have to go back and redo this if we have another big wind storm, but as you can see from the photo, I have no shortage of leaves. By then I may have no more excuses for leaving my hay in the front yard and can use that to mulch.
Do you think the "leaves as mulch" idea was a good one?

My other raised bed has some kale from the summer that is probably about four to five feet high now and still hasn't bolted (I was waiting to collect the seeds). So looks like we will be having some kale chips soon. I also found a rogue beet and chard plant that I was unaware were growing. What a nice surprise. I harvested the last of my Brussels sprouts today because I am taking some into my class at school tomorrow. I found out that most of my students have never heard of or tried Brussels sprouts so I am going to take the stalk in and steam them for all to try (along with some beets to steam and kale to make into kale chips).
The poor Brussels sprouts are a little worse 
for wear after an aphid infestation, but still delicious.

So now the garden is all ready for its long winter sleep.

My next step, researching and planning my summer garden and begin learning about winter gardening for next year!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A Great Garden Gadget

Can you guess what this garden gadget does?

It's called the Wingdigger (link) and I bought it at West Coast Seeds in Ladner, B.C. I purchased it at their store but they do have an online store as well.

It turns compost and aerates it without a shovel, and honestly it is the best $15 I have spent toward my garden. I find it almost impossible to turn my compost with a shovel because it is in a tall bin (purchased from my city). I am not strong enough in my upper body to dig down deep enough, especially as my bin is now almost full to the top.
The wingdigger is pushed all the way down 
into my compost bin here. The handle is visible 
on the right side of the photo.

The wingdigger has a double sided blade at the bottom that goes up when it is pushed down into the compost then opens as it is pulled up. I can reach all the way to the bottom of my bin and pull it up fairly easily. It creates air holes and moves compost around. Of course it doesn't completely turn the compost and mix it up, but if I use this often and then do some occasional turning with a shovel it does the trick nicely.
Pure genious

This is not a paid endorsement of any kind. This is just a cool garden gadget with which I am impressed.

Friday, 16 November 2012

{this moment} 16-11-12

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Honour Thy Mother: Mother Earth

A Facebook friend shared this video today (thanks Wendy). I found it very moving, to the point of tears. It pretty much sums up why I am pushing myself to learn more, taking risks with what I can do and trying to be a better global citizen.

We are all children of Mother Earth. Honour thy mother. 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

DIY Felt Poppy Tutorial

A few years ago I decided to make my own poppies for Remembrance Day, in honour of my late grandfather, who I called Poppy. He served in WWII in the RAF as a navigator. Although it was a pivotal time in his life (met and married my grandmother in England), he did not like to talk about the war or his part in it. All he would say to me each Remembrance Day was that it was tragic what each side did to each other, and that he always thought about the families in Germany living in fear and being injured or dying as a result of his bombing raids. He did not like to glorify the war or tell stories about the war (except to tell tales on himself - one involved a brick wall, a bicycle and a night of drinking). He did hint at some of the horrible scenes he witnessed, but on the whole he never participated as a veteran in Remembrance Day ceremonies. In many ways he became a quiet pacifist in his later years.

At this time of year when people remember the many sacrifices soldiers made, and continue to make, I like to also think about the innocent victims of war and victims of violence of all kinds. This year my students and I researched some current conflicts around the world and we had a discussion about how our world seems peaceful to us in North America. The world, however, is far from peaceful; we are removed from their lives that it doesn't have much impact upon us. Many of us are aware of the continued violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. How much do people in general know about the conflicts and violence in Sudan, Mali, Syria, Nigeria, Algeria, Congo, Palestine and Israel, and more. Also, there is the silent violence toward and mistreatment of workers around the world and slave workers in developing nations who provide us with the goods we want ?

When a good friend linked to this site (link) about wearing white poppies for peace (to remember all victims of war and its environmental destruction, as well as to seek peaceful ways to end conflict) I knew I had to make my own peace poppy (in above photo). I like to think that my Poppy would have liked one of his own to wear, and this year I will think of him as I wear my own peace poppy to my children's school's Remembrance Day assembly. For another well written article about white peace poppies, read this article.

It always bothers me to see the plastic flocked poppies after Remembrance Day discarded on the ground or lost. I wish they made the pins more like safety pins so they didn't poke my kids or fall out easily. My homemade poppies have safety pins attached to the back.

Here is my step-by-step tutorial for creating felt poppies:

1. Cut out a circle shape in red, or white for a peace poppy. I tend to eyeball things (I'm allergic to measuring in general) so I cut a circle that is approximately twice the size of the flower I want to create. 

2. After knotting the end of the thread, use a running stitch, go around the circumference of the circle about 5 mm from the edge (don't go too close as the felt may break when the stitch is pulled in step 4 and 5). I used blue thread so it would show up in the photo but I usually use thread to match the fabric colour. 

3. In step 3 the whole circle has been stitched. Do not tie off the end.

4. Gently start pulling on the thread so that the felt begins to gather.

5. Continue pulling on the thread until the whole circle has been gathered in the centre.

6. Reshape the flower and gently flatten it until it takes a flower shape.

7. Cut another smaller circle out of black felt (or green for the peace poppy). Sew the small circle onto the flower. It could also be glued on. If I were feeling especially crafty I could sew black beads onto the black centre. For my peace poppy I embroidered "PEACE" onto the green circle before I attached it to my white poppy.

8. This is the completed poppy. 

9. At this point I sometimes sew a safety pin to the back, although I am a lazy crafter and my peace poppy is currently attached to my coat using a safety pin coming through the inside of my coat.

I'm wearing my peace poppy this year hoping for a more peaceful future for all on this planet.



A year later and I find it interesting the negative press that the Harper government of Canada is giving to peace poppies. I won't go into all the reasons they give for "disrespectful" the white poppies are because it makes my heart rate go up and I don't need that right now. Since posting this a year ago around Remembrance Day I have heard very strong opinions about why I shouldn't be wearing a peace poppy, as well as why I shouldn't be making my own poppy and reusing it each year. 

While I was prepared for the former opinion, I was wholly unprepared for the latter. Apparently I am not being supportive of veterans when I make my own. However, I donate to the veterans' red poppy fund each year at my school so I am still unclear how I am hurting veterans. I stand by my opposition to the waste of discarded poppies lying around on school grounds. Furthermore, I believe that the values of my country, the very values that veterans fought for, guarantee me the right to express my values and opinions.

This may ruffle feathers, but in my opinion most Remembrance Day ceremonies seem to almost glorify war, with a jingoistic edge. The soldiers sacrificed and died for my freedom. They fought so I can live in peace. But civilian casualties and deaths on either side of a conflict often far outnumber military deaths, and these innocent people did not volunteer their lives for any cause. Are their deaths meaningless? We honour soldiers but say nothing of the other casualties, be they environmental, animal or human. 

I love how my school (where I work) does the Remembrance Day ceremony. It is respectful of veterans who served in any war while at the same time asking people to think about a better world with peace for all, regardless of where one lives. Students read poems and sing songs about peace, be it on the playground, at home or in the community. My favourite part is the parade of nations when our students represent their birth countries to show the diversity of our community, while at the same time showing how we are all the same. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Autumn Crown Tutorial

My daughters collect so many leaves that I decided I needed to do something crafty with them.

I saw a tutorial for this leaf crown on line two years ago, before Pinterest, and I didn't bookmark the link (or if I did I can't find it in the mess of my bookmarks now), so I'm sorry that I can't give credit to the original crafter for the idea.

All you need are leaves. Plain and simple, right? The leaves cannot be thoroughly dried or else they will crack and crumble when they are folded.

Here are the steps:

1. Collect at least a dozen leaves outside. They can be all one colour, or for a more colourful crown, collect a variety of leaf types.

2. Start with one leaf. Fold it in half, with the stem at the side, so that you have the symmetrical points of the leaf touching each other.

3. Fold another leaf the same way.

4. Use the stem from the second folded leaf to poke two holes just above the line of symmetry of the first leaf.

5. Weave the stem of the second leaf in and out of the punched holes in the first leaf.

6. Once the third leaf is added there should be enough of the third stem to weave through the first leaf to make the crown sturdier.

7. Follow steps two to six for each leaf you add to the crown, until the circumference of the crown is large enough to fit over the prince or princess's head.

8. Weave the stem of the very first leaf through the last leaf added to secure the crown into a circular shape. Be sure to have the ends of the stems on the inside of the crown for a smooth outside.

9. If the leaf is too damp leave it to dry before using.

10. Place the leaf crown on the autumn prince or princess. Voila!

When the leaves become too dry and crumbly, just put them back outside, or better yet throw them into a compost container or garden.