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Month: February 2011



Who loves Bagels?  We all do of course!   Yum to the max.  But also there is the ‘How Much?!’ element to them.  So I was very happy to see a bagel recipe in my new bread cookbook (Chrimbo pressie from mon papa) The River Cottage Bread Handbook.  We’ve had good luck with the scones and a nice loaf of bread so I thought we’d give bagels a try.  If you are looking to make some yourself there are many recipes online and even videos showing the process, just google it and away you go!

Not only were these fun, if time consuming, to make but they taste better than any store bought bagel I’ve ever had.  And who doesn’t enjoy boiling things?  It is just a satisfying thing to do.  I’d planned to  make these on a day where we weren’t going anywhere so the hours and hours of rising was fine, they just sat around on the counter while we got on with many other Sunday type things.

In between reading stories, playing music, some more stories, the bread rose slowly on the counter.  I have to be honest, I’ve been putting off making these as I was nervous about the new process.  But with my trusty helper at hand I had nothing to worry about.

Huwyl helped shape the bagels and put on the egg wash and the seeds himself.  He was very excited and waited (almost) patiently for the bagels to cook.  Of course reading a few chapters of Little House On Plum Creek helped to distract both of us, but we were listening for the timer with half an ear.  When they finally were ready we smeared them with butter and honey, letting them melt into the still warm bread.

Warm, crunchy, tasty and sprinkled by my very own helpmate.  We ate them warm, snuggled up on the sofa, just the two of us racing through the chapters of our favourite book.  They tasted perfect.

Listening to the world

Listening to the world

Yesterday, in the midst of a very (very) long stream of consciousness talk on the subject of towels Huwyl told me “Then I lay down in the sunshine and I closed my eyes and I just listened to to world!”  This had me dragging my attention away from online research on windows and looking into a glowing face filled with happy.  The sunshine outside had warmed our deck up enough to justify a good block of outside play and the boys had been happily entertaining themselves for a good 10 minutes.

I smiled at him and asked “What did the world sound like?”   Huwyl had a quick answer “Well, it sounded great!  Like all the different sounds of home.”  I gave him a happy hug, his words had brought a sparkle to my heart as I marvel at his capacity to see the world in such a beautiful way.  But then he wanted me to come out with him and listen to the world too.  I was reluctant to tear myself away from the work I was doing and said “I’ve actually listened to the world before”.

“Yes, but I think that was a long time ago wasn’t it?”  I couldn’t argue with that and knew that there was a wisdom in the moment that I should listen too.  So I ventured outside to witness his listening spot, he lay down showing me his technique, describing in his own words what sounded very much to me like the process of meditation.

About 5 seconds later he popped up again saying “Did you see how peaceful I was?”  I laughed at his exuberance and took some moments to bask in the frosted sunshine, the cool air reminding me of the ice, albeit melting, still holding on.  I listened to the boys as they played their games and listened to what the world had to tell them.  For a few moments I let  go of the worries and problems that are inherent in a house build and the day to day business of life.  I stood in the soothing chill breeze with sun warming everything around me, the sky blue and full above me.  I breathed and felt peaceful and I listened to the world.

It told me this “Spring is coming.”

Wishing everyone some peaceful moments today and every day.

Family Day

Family Day

Here in Ontario we enjoyed a public holiday today, Daddy got to stay home with us and enjoy Family Day.  Of course, because we are a real family and not picture perfect, we had moments in the day that were annoying, loud, messy and not what we’d hoped for.  But as I review the day’s photo’s I see a delicious breakfast made with love and Daddy expertise, time to take a warm bath filled with the goodness of oats and herbs.  I see the children set free on our land to investigate the trees, find appropriate sticks for walking with, shoveling and just exploring alongside their Mum and Dad.

Under the big sky, that just seemed to get bluer as the afternoon wore on, I felt my frustrations and scratchiness slip away.  The frigid wind made all our cheeks red as we stomped around, exploring corners we haven’t seen yet.  Laying out plans for our future.  Driving away is always the hardest part of visiting our ‘place’ but I am sustained by the knowledge that this time next year, we’ll be living in this beautiful spot, planning a growing season.  In the meantime I hold onto the memories of cold air on my face, endless space to stretch out in and the bluest of blue sky.  All 95 acres of it.



My brain is full.  And obsessed.  The other night I had a dream about windows and landscaping, that is how extreme it is.   Right now much of our spare time is being taken up revising building plans, interviewing prospective suppliers and researching our little botties off regarding the various benefits of this window or that door.

We have a budget, we have a plan, we even have someone who’s agreed to build it all for us.  There are many, many more steps between us and our new home but right now I find it hard to think about anything else.  I’m sure my friends and family are already getting a bit bored of Stephen and I yammering on (and on) about our plans but it’s only going to get worse.  Fair warning.

It is dawning on us both that this amorphous dream that has bounced back and forth between us for around a decade, slowly building to a sure desire and then a concrete plan, is actually going to happen.  There are more steps before we can break ground, we need to get some permits, hire people with big diggers and order lots and lots of wood, glass, steel and a million other things but it is happening.  We are actually going to build our own house.

Stephen did the designing himself and then we hired an architectural technologist to draw up the plans and make sure the design is up to code.  We have a builder who specialises in modern, eco-friendly design and he has worked with us on the revisions to make sure we can actually build this thing.  But the bulk of the design and the vision is Stephen’s.  Many long nights of sitting up way into the night creating 3-D designs on Google Sketchup have led us to our final design, one that accommodates not only our dreams of our future but our very real day to day lives.

The house we have designed (I say ‘we’ but my contribution has mainly been along the lines of making a massive list of requirements and saying “That isn’t going to work” and “Where will the shoes go?” to my frazzled beloved.  To his credit he didn’t try to kill me but just went back to the drawing board time and time again) is one that will, hopefully, meet our needs as a family both now and in 10 years time and hopefully beyond.  It also takes into account our desire to work, as much as we can, in harmony with the land around us and to use it’s resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Although we are hoping to create a small farm on our land our home will not be the typical farm house.  This is a modern home for the era we live in now. Though it took some time for me to let go of the vision I’ve had of a heritage house filled with vintage goodies it made no sense to build a new house in an old style, if we are going to do new we felt that we should do modern.  So modern it is.  The spec on the house is unusual for North America, though becoming more familiar in Europe, and will hopefully help us run an energy efficient home that will allow us to deal with rising fuel prices and a changing energy economy.

The house will face South South West which will allow it to take advantage of the sunshine from dawn to dusk.  The south wall of the house will be predominantly glass and is taking up a big chunk of the budget but will allow us to have a partially passive house which will certainly help energy costs in the long, cold Canadian winters.  Stephen has designed a 3ft overhang over each floor to shade when the summer sun is high but it will allow the lower winter sun in to warm our toes and hopefully keep our energy costs lower.  The roof is a mono pitch and will have a steel roof as will the garage roof behind, unfortunately we couldn’t have a grass roof (my ideal ) but we hope to include that on later outbuildings.   The main source of heating will be radiant floor heating with a wood stove as back up.

The downstairs is a large, open plan area with the kitchen in the centre, arranged literally at the heart of the home.  All of the bedrooms are arranged along the south side too, so each room will look out over the land.  It  pleases me enormously to think that this will be our first view in the morning and our last view at night.  We will watch the sun travel across the sky each day to sink down over the forest, our windows will turn pink and gold as the sun drops down for his night time sleep.  I imagine our house, warmed by the sun’s heat in the day and bathed in his colours as the day ends.  I think that this will be a good view for our house, watching us form the landscape around us, growing as much of our food as we can and growing ourselves in the process.

We have such a long way to go, so much to do and so many stresses ahead.  Yet I walk on willingly knowing that what we are creating, this exceptional place that is being created just for us, because of us, by us will be worth it.   It will be our home.

Say what you see

Say what you see

Unsurprisingly, given our homeschooling vibe, we are working on Huwyl learning to read right now.  He is 5, I’m a literature lover, no surprises.  I’m trying to take a reasonably child-led approach with a bit of nudging and encouragement from Mummy and Daddy and so far, so good.  I love that Huwyl is beginning to notice words all around him (in the corner of a tv show, on the coach in the next lane of traffic, in the books we read, on our food packaging….) and get excited everytime he spells something out and works out the word.  I’m a learning geek and don’t try to hide it!

One thing I’ve noticed that he ‘struggles’ with a little is seeing what is in front of him rather than guessing what it might be.  I really think there is a place for an educated guess and I am a skim reader myself but I know the value of really looking and how important that is for reading.  To encourage this skill we worked on a Charlotte Mason style narration activity last week that we both really enjoyed.

I gave Huwyl an art book to look at for a few minutes, I asked him to really look and try to remember what he saw.  I played with Neirin for a bit while he did this so there was double good use of time!  Then I took the book away and asked him to tell me what he saw.  I was really amazed at the level of detail he was able to go into and we spent quite a while talking about what he had seen and reviewing the picture again.  I pointed out a few things he had thought were there but weren’t (he thought there were cars on the bridge) and colours that were different from those remembered.  We also talked about the amazing little details he had remembered and how impressed I was!

When we looked again at the painting I asked him questions such as ‘What season do you think it is?’  ‘What time of day might it be?’ and asked him to explain his answers with ‘evidence’.  I loved the way he explained his view of the world and what it reveals about him.  When we talked about the time of day I showed him the touches of pink on the edge of the sky and said it could be either sunrise or sunset, we would have no way of knowing.  He said he would prefer it to be sunrise so that the people (and dogs) who lived in the houses were just waking up, ready to start their day in the sunshine.  What a lovely way to think!

I was overjoyed at his response to this approach and to his reaction to the painting.  But of course no one has told him that art is boring or that ideas are dull. His responses are his own and he comes to each new experience fresh and alive with energy.   Watching his pencil move across the paper as he recreated the picture (at my request) was bliss.  We talked about blending the colours with his beeswax crayons and looked at the way Monet had captured the movement of the river and the colours in the sky.

There are some days when I seriously question my decision to homeschool.  Am I up to it?  Am I giving the boys what they need?  It is moments like this that reveal to me that this is the right choice for us.  The freedom that I have to bring to him some of the most wonderful images in the world, the luxury of time to discuss and analyse, the energy and enthusiasm to continue past what I had expected our limits to be;  this is what feeds my enthusiasm and excites my teacher’s heart!

One of the issues that I have with public education, both as a parent and as a teacher (should I say ex-teacher, I’m not sure), is the limitations placed on what materials can be used and the approaches educators can take to instill both core skills but also a sense of excitement and even awe in our students.   I believe that while there is a place for very explicit learning models, humans learn best implicitly  by using good quality materials.  When we read a wonderful book we soak up the story, the grammar, the vocabulary and the possibilities of the world the author has created.  When we regard a beautiful painting by a truly great artist, we are inspired visually but also within our soul.  Who cannot look at a great work without looking within themselves and asking ‘What am I capable of?  How might I find greatness within myself?’  Though I think Huwyl is a little way off some of these philosophical musings I, at least, want to know that the possibility is there.

So while we are a bit short on sit-down-time and don’t do as much explicit ‘school looking’ learning as I worry we should, I hope we make up for it in the opportunity to glimpse greatness.  When we regard some of what makes this world inspirational I fervently hope that, in turn, this may lead us to our own inspiration.



This is how we spent our anniversary this year,

We had a lovely afternoon out in the fresh air.  Winterlude is a festival held in Ottawa every February and it always reminds me that winter is fun!  The boys had a wonderful time sliding on the ice slides, eating Beavertails and running around on the assault course.  Particular thanks to the Canadian Ranger who helped Neirin around the course so that he could be just like his big brother.  That little bean just doesn’t seem to know he is not even 2 years!

A great way to celebrate 16 years with my beloved and the family we’ve made together.

16 years

16 years

It’s been 16 years since I walked into your room, your life, your heart.  16 years since you looked up, your eyes met mine and…well that was that wasn’t it?  There have been ups, there have been downs but through it all has been us.  We’ve wandered the earth apart and then together and here we are.  Here you are, the man of my heart.  You really are everything to me, my beloved.

This one’s for you babe.  Happy Anniversary.


The day today

The day today

A few moments from our day, captured on the fly as we moved through the hours together.

Is it a coincidence that all of these moments have something to do with food?  Probably not.  Today we enjoyed popcorn along with our film, Wind in the Willows (we just finished reading it and we couldn’t wait to watch the film version); bread rose in the kitchen as we went about our day.  This afternoon we made chocolate and nut banana bread (absolutely delicious) while the meat sauce for tonight’s lasagne bubbled away.

Our day is much like the food, sometime is simmers untended, quietly doing its thing.  Sometimes it is all rush and intensity, too much heat leading to things bubbling over.  But at the end of each day we are, hopefully, full and satisfied.

Feed the Birds

Feed the Birds

I saw this lovely craft on Gardenmama for making natural bird feeders and thought it would be a perfect activity for a cold afternoon.  The combination of seeds, pine cones and peanut butter was sure to delight with the added bonus of creating some nice feeders for hungry birds.

Nicole’s pictures are always so beautiful they inspire me to emulate her projects, or at least entertain the possibility, but of course my reality is never quite as picturesque as my imaginings.  My toddler boy makes life somewhat challenging when it comes to serene crafting and I often lack the patience required to manage his enthusiasm.  He doesn’t see an issue with scattered seeds or worry about sharing with his brother.  For him diving in is all that counts, there is no end goal, no purpose, just the now.

I wish I could share his Zen approach to life but someone has to clean up afterwards and that someone is me.  That tends to crimp my joie de vivre somewhat, leaving me viewing our projects from a less enthusiastic perspective.  Thank goodness for photography.

When I look back through the photographs of our seed scattering session I am caught by the little fingers, the colours, the textures of seeds and cones.  A world of life on my table while outside merges into monochrome.  There is a simple sameness to winter that  I love but here, in my kitchen, the scene is every changing.  It may not be as serene or tidy or communal as I would like but it is our life.  Sticky, messy, muddled and filled with good intentions.  This is us.

Perfectly imperfect.