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Month: June 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Fields Forever

Just want to note that this post was supposed to go out prior to the previous one – oops!

An inauspicious day blossomed into loveliness, as we picked the glowing red ruby fruit under a refreshingly cloudy sky.   Boxes of fresh strawberries were picked, each one a treasure to be hunted for and celebrated.

Of course someone had to check that they were all tasty.  I mean it’s a tough job…

Despite the tell tale signs of juice around the mouths we still managed a great haul of perfect, red berries.  Each one fresh and hand picked and on a farm less than 10 minutes from our new house.  The only thing better than the fabulous berries was the fabulous company.  A blissful day spent with friends, isn’t that what summer is all about?

Here’s hoping for many more days like this all summer long.

Strawberry Jam Together

Strawberry Jam Together

I think a kind of summer madness overcame me; I thought, we can make jam together, the boys will help me.  And they did, they chopped, crushed, weighed and stirred, the helping was wonderful indeed.

We were jammin, it was great.  But then the helping had to stop.  We reached the bubbly pot of syrupy death stage and the boys needed to leave the kitchen but one of the boys, who shall remain nameless (he’s blonde, two years old and stubborn as a mule), decided not so much.  He wailed, he screamed, he threw himself around.  Right next to the bubbly pot of syrupy death.  Mummy expressed her dissatisfaction at this current situation, Mummy was clear, Mummy set rules, Mummy was loud.  Mummy was completely ignored.

Huwyl to the rescue.  Bless his heart he took it into his head to sort the situation and set up a ‘beach’ in Neirin’s bedroom.  With funny faces and crazy shouting he tempted his little brother away, saving him from a syrupy doom and Mummy from a mental overload.

But things are never too bad when jam is around the corner.

So tomorrow morning, when we are trying to persuade Neirin to actually eat some solid food and he is doing the yes/no game we all enjoy so much, we can say ‘do you want jam on it?’

There is jam in the cupboard, the preserving season has truly begun.

Moving on up

Moving on up

What’s that you say?  Your life seems an empty hollow shell and only pictures of an ongoing build with actual walls will satisfy you?  Well I happen to have the very thing!

Ok, that is a lot of pictures of wooden beams but I just can’t get enough!  I was so happy I actually hugged one of my walls.   We have walls!  Granted the ones on the south side are mostly gaps where the whacking great big windows are going to go but we have a first floor!

Standing on a solid floor, surrounded by solid Canadian timber, brought home to me that this is real.  This is happening.  We have brought to life this imagined thing, it will exist in the world because of us.  Where there was empty land and rotting vehicles there is now a house, a home.  There will be a farm, filled with life.  It is a bit much to take in sometimes so I simply switch off my brain and take in the view.  The unending green of trees and fields reflect their calm back at me.  This is where I am going to live.  I am soothed.

By Canada Day we will have a framed main floor, it will be next week before they begin putting in the joists and framing the bedrooms.  So I promise it will be a little while before I have yet another long series of photos of my being formed house.

Ok just one more.

Please join me in running around the room in little circles whilst emitting excited peeping sounds.  Double yay and a dose of wahoooo!

With a cherry on top

With a cherry on top

Lest I give the impression that I spend my entire life sitting in a field of meadow flowers waiting for someone to build me a house (although I do this for a significant portion of the time), here is living proof that I am also dedicated to introducing my children to fresh, seasonal produce and cooking skills.

What?  Baking is a skill.  And cherries are fruit, that is super healthy I’ll have you know.  Plus you can eat the cake with ice cream or whipped cream, part of that essential dairy food group.  I think I’ll go and cut myself a slice of Buttermilk Cherry Cake and wait for my Mother of the Year award to arrive.  It is probably just the postal strike holding things up.

Yep.  That’s the reason.

Sharing Beauty

Sharing Beauty

Although this is something that happens frequently, I am still surprised by the way that life will organise itself to fully celebrate the sabbaths.  This weekend the brilliant weather led us to glory in the rise of the sun king, Bel shone down on us and we turned our faces to him in gratitude for the Earth’s abundance.  Today we shared our land with lovely friends, walking the trail that Stephen had mowed and enjoying the freedom our children had to run and share their joy with one another.

I think it is the secret fear of many of us that our children will never be loved by others as much as they deserve, as much as we love them.  So to see my children being held in high regard by others, adults and children, warms my heart.  To meet another child who embraces life with the same gusto, passion, openness of heart and spirit is uplifting to me.  To listen to them planning their future, the horses, the dogs, the children helps me to know that there are others now and will be in the future, who love my boys.  Who can see the light that shines in them as I do.

So if there is a wish that sings eternally in my heart, both on the solstice and for always, it is that they will be truly loved throughout their lives.  As I love them.

Making Progress

Making Progress

This weekend felt like a weekend of moving forward, of taking solid steps that bring us nearer to our goal.

We have a basement!  This week the framing is starting and the house will begin to take shape.  But it isn’t just the house that has seen some work…

Base camp!  After some serious strimming (and some serious cursing of the strimmer for being useless and stalling…a lot) Stephen erected this tent.  It feels good to have a little ‘home’ on our land, somewhere to sit when the sun is too much, a place to store a few bits and pieces that we want to leave but mainly a feeling of permanence.   It’s psychological I know but knowing that we ‘could’ sleep here if we wanted, that theoretically we ‘could’ manage living here is very comforting.  It makes longer days on the land possible and desirable, knowing that it if gets a bit too hot, or a little rain comes in, we can cosy up in the tent for a bit.  And Stephen used all his extra time very wisely…

With the boys on his knee, Stephen mowed several acres of grass and brush.  These open areas gave our land the look of a real farm, a place where animals can graze, plants grow and children run.  It felt that things were starting to take shape.  Our future is still a little over the horizon, but now it feels that it is starting to come into view.

Chicks and hogs

Chicks and hogs

This weekend was supposed to be all about the chicks.

Last time I said that in any seriousness was back in ’94 at university and if I’m being honest, both my best mate Stephen Hayward and I knew we were most likely going to finish the evening unaccompanied at 3AM, walking home via the 24hr petrol station to buy a jumbo packet of onion-ring flavoured crisps, two Gingster’s pies with dubious meat fillings and 40 Marlboro Lights to chain smoke while wondering if that girl in the bra-top and hot pants really was giving one of us the eye.

Just like those club nights, I didn’t get lucky with the chicks this weekend either. Although this time it wasn’t my awesome tartan pants or podium dancing (big fish, little fish, come on Sheffield!) that sabotaged my plans.

No this time my plans were much more…farmy. I was supposed to be starting a chicken coop for our 3 chicks – Harvey, Custard and Sunshine (said in a gruff London-accent, like a bouncer from a cliched Guy Ritchie film). Harvey was named by me because for some reason he just reminded me of Harvey Keitel. Custard, well, because he was the colour of cold custard. Sunshine because she’s obviously a girl, is really pale and as a name, Norman just didn’t seem fair.

We’d originally agreed not to name these birds or even think of them as anything except a yummy roast dinner sometime around October or for the girls, a handy carry-case for eggs. But unfortunately when only three successfully hatched, Emma was so upset the only thing I could think to do was promise that these three, at least, would be spared the pot. So, Harvey, Custard and Sunshine get life instead and that meant I needed to build a maximum-security detention facility.

Plan A was simple. Dismantle an existing shed, move it 50 yards to our chosen location and reassemble it in a chickeny-fashion. Easy, at least in principle. After all, I’m a handy guy, I know the pointy end of a screwdriver from a hammer. How hard could it be?

Well, I didn’t really get to find out. After emptying the abandoned junk and managing not to asphyxiate on dried coyote dirt inside the shed, I got the door frame off and laid out my tools ready for the big push. The boys were off climbing mud mountains and Emma was strimming the long grass down to make space for the coop. Then I was waylaid with Plan A.

It must be said, like Stallone, my WeedEater has seen better days. It doesn’t so much devour weeds, as need them to be first processed into a mush and spoon fed slowly. Inevitably it stalled, again and again. That meant I had to keep restarting it because obviously pulling on ripcords to start motors is a Job For Men. Stallone kind of Men. Men who wear bandages around their head and can snarl. Oh and I snarled. I think it was something like:

“Shitting, pissing stupid frickin strimmer, piece of crap junk….”

I’ve never quite mastered finding the inner sanctuary of peace so necessary when dealing with uncooperative garden tools. Instead I adopt the “throw it away in a tantrum, scowl, swear and pretend like you got a minor injury” approach. Normally it works a treat. This time it didn’t so I just looked a little foolish.

Like any Man would do, I looked around for the biggest garden tool I could find to reassert my dominance over them and they don’t come much bigger than tractors.

I’ve not had a huge amount of success with mine and to be completely honest, I was beginning to wonder whether I needed to call on the Power of Greyskull to be able to climb on board for a fourth outing. Defeated by the WeedEater, I was reluctant to compound my misery with failure at the unmerciful hand of George The Tractor. As a catch-up for anyone that doesn’t know, my first three attempts were thwarted due to:

1. Dead cell in the battery so it wouldn’t start and a bust alternator that failed to charge it (not my fault!)

2. While taking directions from my 5 year old son and not paying attention to where I was going, embedding it firmly and immovably in 4 feet of swamp mud and requiring my neighbour to bring his huge caterpillar-tracked Bucket to pull me out (ok, my fault)

3. Having the bush-hog set too low and embedding the blades into the uneven ground, bringing everything to a very abrupt stop while making a sound like the death throes of a Transformer

But this time, the sun was shining on me and with Emma’s pep talk ringing in my ears, I climbed aboard, determined not to slink away like a Belgian in a bar fight. The engine fired into life and, it might sound daft, but it all felt suddenly very right. I was confident of what to do and this time, it couldn’t have gone any better. One hour, several acres of tall grasses, bushes and the habitat for a million mosquitos later, my mighty bush-hog had restored my pride.

After that, it was tractor rides for the boys, tents and bad pizza. The chicks and their detention facility forgotten, at least until next weekend.



The Outside Classroom

The Outside Classroom

Now when you say to me 31C and humid, my instant thought is not ‘let’s head to the woods’.  But when you have two boys who love to be outside you say to yourself  ‘suck it up princess’ and pack up the rucksack.  Despite some whining on my part (my friends will attest to this) it was so worth it.  I can’t imagine the boys inside on a day like today; and I can’t imagine a place that could have taught them more.

Independence (and awesome 6 year old fashion combinations)

Scientific observation (of a partially submerged turtle and watery fauna)

Early Reading skills (he really did spend quite a while looking at the information sign)

Imaginative play, Teamwork, Co-operation


Patience (the amazing sight of two bouncing boys stood stock still, then creeping oh so quietly as they watched a woodland hare)

Kindness.  I know this isn’t a ‘subject’ but it really should be.

As in any classroom there were frustrations today.  A two year old temper tantrum and a mummy who didn’t want to deal with it (that would be me).  A boy forgetting the rules and a mummy frightened/cross (that would be me again).  A child lashing out and hurting my eldest boy.  Bumps and occasional mosquitoes who were determined to get a good taste of my elbows.

But the blue of the sky, the perfume of the conservation area we walked around were a balm to my scratchiness.  The feeling of satisfaction from a walk well done and the well earned rest, talking with other mamas in the shade were like a prize.  Watching the boys play so wonderfully with friends their own age and those older and younger is such a pleasure.  Noticing my nearly 6 year old boy buckling the shoes of a 3 year old girl, just because he wanted to help.  That pays for all.

What have the Germans ever done for us?

What have the Germans ever done for us?

Doing this blog is quite a new experience for me. I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was about five (the first novel I can remember writing was for an Australian great uncle Eddie who was kind enough to encourage me before I could really form legible letters). But even though writing has always been something I do, it’s never been something about me.

Anyone that has a blog will understand that I’ve developed an unhealthily obsessive habit of checking the stats…how many people read my post, who referred them, why aren’t they commenting, dammit just comment people! Sorry. Anyway, for the last month I’ve had some bizarre hits from around the world. Belgium, which is understandable since I’m unflinchingly sarcastic about them in this and my other blog. France, ditto but with less sarcasm because they have even less appreciation for it.

Russia and Brazil were surprises, but what grabbed my attention the most is that I have a regular German reader. Let’s call them Jurgen after Mr. Klinsmann, quite easily the finest German footballer of all time (not too tough a competition, granted, and not up to a Charlton or Moore status, but definitely on a par with a Robson or Dalglish).

I’m digressing. So, I began to think about Germans and, more to the point, what have the German’s done for us that I can use in my plans for the farm? And of course, the answer is great techno, engineering, alcohol and meat. Quite honestly, everything else Germanic is poor fart jokes, bad fashion and a rather sad appreciation for David Hasselhoff that can come to no good end.

While I can’t replicate the techno or engineering, I can have a bloody good go at the alcohol and meat. So, in recognition of my mysterious German reader, one of my first investments for Elm Tree Farm (just testing out the name), is going to be a peach tree (for schnapps), sausage making equipment (bratwurst, oh, yeah) and I’ll be brewing some wiess bier.

And if any wandering Germans want a friendly beer, some good sausage and a chat about football when visiting Ottawa…they’ll have the perfect place to come.

First Language Lessons

First Language Lessons

As I mentioned in a previous post we are going to carry on with homeschool (roughly 3 days a week) through the summer.  I’m aware that our family rhythm is going to be very disrupted in the autumn, with weeks of finishing the build and moving house.   So I’d like to feel that we are a little ‘ahead’ so that we can get ‘behind’ and feel that all things have worked out equally.  It makes sense in my head.

But I’m also aware that it is the summer and that means getting outside and enjoying the good weather is priority number 1, so how to fit in lessons with fun summer time?  Well I think I’ve found the answer, at least the answer for us.  My friend loaned me her copy of First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise, and I am finding that it is ideal.  The lessons are short but build on one another.  They reinforce core skills (narration, memorisation, good grammar) but are brief and fun.

I’ve only done 2 lessons so far but they have been enjoyable and allowed for a variance in approach that I feel works very well for us.   For lesson 1 (learning about nouns) I had Huwyl bounce on the mini trampoline the whole time.  He was memorising the definition while moving his body and releasing energy.  I had in my mind something I’d been reading in Boys Alive! by Janet Allison ( who has written a great article here on this topic), she says with boys it is always “physical first”.  They require movement in order to think and this is especially true of Huwyl.  I’m also hoping to build positive kinaesthetic associations with learning and good feelings.  Too often learning is associated with physical confinement, irritation and discomfort.  I hope that if Huwyl’s body is comfortable when he is learning that his mind will be more free and associate learning with a nice rush of endorphins!

Today we memorised the poem The Caterpillar by Christina Rossetti.  Huwyl find memorising quite easy, I think because he is like me and has a strong tendency towards aural learning (learning through hearing).  We also made up little hand movements to go along with the poem to make it fun and he loved the feeling of ‘joining in’ with me as we repeated the words and they became familiar.  The ‘enrichment’ activity was to illustrate the poem, so we worked on that together doing a bit of a mixed media picture with collage pieces and his own drawings.

We used the back of an old set of house plans for the drawing to allow him a good surface area to describe the whole ‘story’.  I also asked him to write the title and author’s name at the top for a bit of added handwriting practice.  I wrote the words out on his whiteboard first (we use this for All About Spelling lessons as I find it is too difficult for him to use paper and pencil, it makes ‘mistakes’ too permanent and hinders progress) and he copied them, he prefers this kind of concrete support and it is laying the foundations for doing some copy work down the line.

I envisage using this book 2-3 times a week along with a lesson of All About Spelling each week; both support reading skills but are using different approaches and developing Huwyl’s capacities in different ways.  I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve purchased from Peace Hill Press so far (we also have Story of the World) and particularly enjoy the almost scripted nature of the lessons.  This allows me to relax as I know what I’m doing and what outcomes I’m looking for but there is plenty of flexibility in making the lessons fun and a varied approach that differentiates the lessons from one another.

Classical Education (which I am mixing with the Charlotte Mason approach, a bit of Waldorf and a bit of whatever we fancy) sounds a bit dull and yet I’ve found the texts I’ve used so far to be upbeat, varied and full of fun.  I’m looking forward to continuing on with our lessons through the summer and am imagining  a few taking place in or next to the swimming pool, I’ll let you know how that goes!