Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hikes with Kids: Teapot Hill at Cultus Lake

Ani and Lukka playing at Cultus Lake

Last weekend we were supposed to head up to Squamish with some friends for a multi-family day-trip. The entire lowermainland has been in a drought (we're on level 4!) all summer, and woudn't you know, the weekend we were supposed to go, the weather report showed thunder, lightning, and rain showers all day. We weren't upset, though, since the province has really needed the rain, and I think everyone around us was estatic that it was raining for nearly 3 days straight because it's been so hot and dry here. It did, however, happen to ruin our big hiking plans for the weekend. 

 Teapot Hill lookout

When communicating with our friends over what we should do instead, they asked around via social media on great hikes in the area that are kid-friendly, and we went to the website to read reviews, check ability levels and times to finish. We all decided on the near-to-us hike at Cultus Lake, Teapot Hill. It's a quick hike, although it's straight up and straight down again. It looked really small on the map, and since it only said it took 1.5-2 hours, I was a little disappointed the day before thinking it wouldn't be that great of a workout. I was definitely wrong.

Teapot Hill family photo (hams)

 Since the trail is really just UP the whole time (and then DOWN on the way back), I was pleasantly surprised it was a great workout. I got my 45 minutes of up and the hard work and sweat definitely helped me feel like I was doing something, even though total it was maybe 2-3 miles. It was fun having others to go with, too, and we pretty much talked the whole way (between huffing and puffing, myself), and it went really fast. The drive was maybe 35 minutes or so from our house, so it was a really quick drive back, too, once we had lunched and lazed around on the 'beach' of the lake for awhile afterward.

 group photo with the red 'teapot' 

It was a cool day, which helped me feel really comfortable, but it was quite muggy. The views weren't great, and the lookouts were a little disappointing. The kids enjoyed it because there were little teapots, saucers, and cups all over on the hill, and it became a game to them to spot each item first. The baby fell asleep in the carrier on the way back, but I think it's safe to say he enjoyed himself as well (though I can't speak for the person carrying the baby, ouch!) with all the lush natural surroundings to take in. Again, go early to avoid crowds and get a spot in the parking lot or nearby the trailhead. Definitely take a LOT of water on this hike if your day  is really hot. I think it says easy on the site page because it's relatively short, but it is straight up, so you're working.
***
We're still planning another day in Squamish, but it felt good with the rain that weekend, too. Something helpful I've found in figuring out where to hike, has been following #exploreBC on instagram. Wow, you won't believe the photos. We live in a beautiful place!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hikes with Kids: Lower Falls Trail (Golden Ears)


Recently we've had great weather and Stefan and I have decided it's time to get the kids back into hiking. For the last month or so we've had over 90-100 degree temps, and very few people (including us) have air conditioners in their homes. It just doesn't normally stay that hot for so long--a few days, yes, a month? No. We're not remotely interested in doing hours of strenuous work in the dire heat, we want to be in the water.

As the heat broke about 10 days ago, we decided we need to get a few more hikes on the calendar before the summer is over. I actually love hiking in the Fall, and don't mind the rain a bit. The tree covering is so dense you barely feel rained on, just a bit damp--even through the winter, but the views are only spectacular in the summer with clear skies.


We have to keep the hikes age and ability appropriate for our kids, and so that means roughly 6-7km is the longest stretch we can go with them in tow. That's fine, since you can barely throw a stone up here without hitting a hiking trail. Last weekend we found a hike near us, about a 30 minute drive away, called the Lower Falls trail of Golden Ears mountain. The entire mountain trail from bottom to peak is a 12 hour hike, but this popular trail with the campers (Alouette lake) is only two hours or so up and back, and you get to peak at the Falls!


This, to me, is not really a hike, it's a nature path. The website said easy, and I was amazed that this got the same rating as Quarry Rock. QR was much more technical, nearly straight up, with a lot of root systems and boulders everywhere. This...was a gravel path with a bit of an incline. Ani struggled on this but the only thing I can think of as why (since she ran down the QR trail!) is that she didn't really eat a lot of food the night before. We take more snacks and water than we think we'll need and take breaks when the kids need it, and we almost always run out of water except Lukka's backpack bladder, so we know they're working hard!


The views on this trail are pretty incredible. This area in the photo above was a popular swimming destination. Those little specks on the white rock right before the treeline are people about to jump in! It's very shallow and very clear here, and we didn't spot a single fish. Grabbing this picture was actually a bit of a hassle, since there must have been a bee nest nearby--they wouldn't stay away from me.
The mosquitoes were really biting up here, too, but if you keep moving you're not bothered by them. We sprayed everyone before we left the parking lot but it didn't seem to do any good (and yes, I use deet in these woods!) because if you stop for a break, they're everywhere.


The biggest tip for hiking this trail is GO EARLY, especially if you're on a weekend. On our way back down we couldn't believe how many people were heading up. Those falls you see in the background would have been so crowded with people and dogs. We passed probably 100 people or more heading back down, around 10:30AM. Go early to avoid bugs, heat, and crowds, and you'll enjoy the cool morning hike, and you'll actually get a parking spot!

We're heading up to Squamish with some friends this weekend for a hike, so another post of hikes with kids coming soon!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

15 in 2015: Try Snorkeling (or, what was in the blank spot)

a lookout pointing towards Boundary Bay 

I left #15 of my "15 in 2015" list intentionally blank so that I could think about something I'd always wanted to do but couldn't think of at the time, and make it a realistic goal if the opportunity presented itself. This should have been a no-brainer for me, and I am glad I left it blank! 
I'd wanted to try snorkeling last summer when Stefan had been doing it all summer off Semiahmoo Bay and White Rock beach. When the kids got their own free snorkeling gear from our past landlord, I knew they'd love it as well. 

I don't love swimming in the ocean, it's more of a necessity when I have to cool off because my brain feels like it's going to fry with the hot spells. Semiahmoo beach is definitely a better beach to swim at than the two we go to regularly, because it's all sand instead of rocks, and it dips down. Since we live so close to water, I have a few goals of at least trying kneeboarding, waterskiing, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, and of course, snorkeling at some point through the years. Why not? The water is available and the opportunities have presented themselves over the years, or I trust they will in the future if they haven't already. 

When we went to the Oakanagan a few weekends ago, it was so hot we all had to be in the water, especially after our hot drive with no AC in the car! Stefan brought his snorkeling gear and I decided to give it a go. It's an odd feeling, since you have to sort of lay on the water and breathe 100% out of your mouth, which is something you have to think about, surprisingly. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the water where we were, more than likely because of all the people who were also in the water beating the heat, but it's amazing what you can see clearly with just a cheap $30 set from Walmart.

 So, I tried snorkeling. I only tried it for a short amount of time--less than 30 minutes, but that's okay. It was really hard to figure out how to not get water in the tube or feeling like you're not suffocating by only breathing out of your mouth. I'll do it again, but it's not something that I think I'll become obsessed with and want to do it everytime I head to a body of water. Sometimes, it's just exciting to try something new. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Oakanagan Weekend: Peachland and Kelowna

 The huge bridge connecting the West and East banks of Kelowna, BC

Two weekends ago we went for our annual visit up to the Oakanagan area, where Stefan's paternal grandparents live. It's a beautiful part of B.C. with a massive body of water, hills, seasons, and fruit orchards everywhere. Imagine me telling you--forcefully-- these photos just do not do the area justice. I haven't met a person who doesn't like going up to the Oakanagan. It's beautiful. 

The first few photos are of the Oakangan lake (it's huge and spans many large cities) and crossing it on the Kelowna bridge that separates the East and West banks. Peachland, where we spend our time, is about a 30 minute drive to the 'big city' part of Kelowna. 

 The view behind on the bridge

The kids enjoy the trip up to see their great-grandparents, stay in their own room together (oy, the nights), though this time driving up was a trial. It was incredibly hot the day we drove up, (43, or 109 !!!) and our car doesn't have air conditioning. What was going to be a midly hot 3-hour drive up from morning until noon, turned into an overheated, windy, frequent-gag-induced-stopping 5 hour drive, because the Coquihalla was closed because of a bad accident.

We had to take a back way that was incredibly windy. The kids sometimes get carsick, but because of the heat, it was exacerbated. Thankfully, I had packaged some frozen blueberries in a cooler to take up to Stefan's grandparents, and we took out the ice packs and let the kids keep the ice packs on their body until we got there. We drank a lot of water, gatorade, and made a pitstop for popsicles and some fruit bars, but the last two hours were really rough. Ani was continually feeling awful and did get sick. 

 The Oakanagan lake is so large, often with sailboats and massive ships going under the bridge

Thankfully, once we finally pulled in, there was a wonderful lunch waiting for us (thanks again, Oma!), cold water to drink, and a giant lake to jump into, which we promptly did for a few hours each day. We couldn't believe the temperature, but with the lake, we really cooled down and with AC, we slept comfortably as well! 

The region is in a valley between mountains East of us, and it gets four regular seasons--lots of snow in the winter, thunder and lightning storms, heat, and beautiful Springs. Right now BC is having not only a drought but a bad forest fire year, as well. The morning we arrived, we were told there was a forest fire not too far away from Peachland. 

 Peachland cherries from Oma's and Opa's property

Over the weekend, we enjoyed many delicious and home-cooked meals, swam in the lake (a lot), watched the Canadian women's soccer team play England, played rook, watched a lightning storm, hummingbirds, and picked fruit to take home (thanks Opa!) that barely made it one week before being demolished by our family of four.

Above you can see the bucket of ripe red cherries from Oma and Opa's backyard orchard. Stefan's grandparents are what I consider 'master gardeners', and Stefan and I always learn something new about a specific type of fruit, how to care for certain trees or plants, and what they do with all their produce throughout the year.

 They have a regular visitor to their fruit tree! 

Though we've never been at their house at the time of sightings, they have a bear that has now found his favorite spot in Peachland--in one of their fruit trees! I can't remember exactly, but I think it's the plums he's always after. Those scratches in the tree are just one piece of evidence of his/her visit. The other, is all the stone fruit 'leftovers', ahem, at the bottom of the tree!

I've only seen one bear in the wild before, on a backwoods jeep trail with my aunt and uncle in Colorado. We were far enough away (and in the shelter of a car with a gas pedal!) that we weren't afraid nor did we startle him/her, but if I found a bear in a tree in my back yard, I might freak out.

 Oma's and Opa's cherry tree, looking up into the branches

I don't know if Stefan and I will ever get the opportunity to own a home in British Columbia, where housing prices are not only outrageous, they are only getting higher. I'd like to think that someday, somewhere, we might own a home, and I would somewhat design my backyard to remind me of Oma's and Opa's beautiful space. 

Around the home, there are plants, fruit bushes, a weeping willow 'car wash' upon driveway entry, flowers, herbs around the side, and a small orchard in the backyard. Every space is used well, and they grow so much produce on their non-farm property, and it doesn't feel cluttered at all. It feels private (hedges help), mature evergreens line the back, and to the other side is a cherry orchard that ships fruit around the world. It's really a slice of heaven!

 Oma's and Opa's grapevine

Along one of their fences, they have grape vines where on our visit in late June, they were but tiny bits of fruit. Those beautiful baby grapes will be ripe and heavy in a few months! They make their own wine, baked goods,  jams, juices, and of course dried fruit. I have so much respect for the wisdom that they both have about growing their own fruit that is top-notch in taste and quality. 

Only the cherries were ripe on our visit, and we've only hit the right time of year for the infamous peaches. One year, Stefan and I were visiting (either before kids, or the kids weren't with us for a week) Oma and Opa, and they had ripe peaches on their tree, which they shared with us--a whole flat and only half made it back. The drive is only three hours. You do the math. Those peaches are divine, and I've dreamed of them ever since. This year, I learned that their original peach tree is dying, and they've planted a new one that will produce just as well, I'm sure, after about three years of growing. I take peach season very seriously around here. 

One month or so left for those bright plums

Stefan's grandparents are so hospitable and kind to let us stay with them for an extended weekend, and we treasure our visits with them in their beautiful part of the province. Peachland is a small town on the water, but it holds plenty to explore for a slow-paced vacationer. Wineries are everywhere, there are hikes all over the area, a beautiful waterfront walk and swimming bay (with lifeguards every day in the summer), salmon jumps in the Fall, and lots of local festivals to enjoy in the summer time. It's big sky country, and I love the mountain summits on the drive almost as much as relaxing once we're there. 

Thank you, once again, for the memories, Oma and Opa!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gifts for Lukka for his 8th Birthday

Every year for both birthdays and Christmas gifts we do things pretty simply. Simply doesn't necessarily mean 'cheaply', because if we're only buying or making 3 items per child, we want them to be high quality. This post is about what we got for Lukka for his 8th birthday a few weeks ago, in case you have a child with a similar personality and are wondering what to get him or her for thoughtful gifts.

I am 95% sure my biggest Love Language is gifts, which mean I love getting gifts, and I spend a lot of time thinking about and finding a thoughtful gift for others. We like to keep the gift boundaries this way: Something to READ, something to WEAR, something to PLAY WITH. Although the lines blur every so often, boundaries help me scout out the best idea for the individual, and keep it within a normal budget. 

hike at Quarry Rock

The photo above is Lukka's something to WEAR. It's a hydration pack that I knew not only he would love, but is so, so practical for him and our family at large. I bought it at a garage sale for $25 with the tags still on it, and it's an Axiom brand. The closest thing online to it I could find was this

We are starting to go on harder and longer hikes and bike rides with the kids, and this hydration pack is the perfect size for Lukka, and roomy enough that he could grow into it and use it for a number of years until needing to size up. He can fill the water bladder himself (and was very proud to figure it out) and fill the rest with snacks. We love that he can now carry his own water and snacks without us shouldering the load. 

working with blueprints and pieces 

Lukka's book, or something to READ, was found on deep discount as well, at a homeschooling swap. It was also brand new and on sale for $5! This book is normally about $17 at Chapters, so I was pretty happy to find such a perfect gift for him for such a cheap price. The book is a mix of blueprints for projects, tips, information about the machines you make, and a container in the back of the book for all those pieces (see above). 

Lukka loved this gift as well and said a few times, "this book is perfect for me". Gotta' love that match! I was struggling to find a book he'd like that wouldn't be completely over his head or under his skill set with technology/building and that wouldn't cost $35 or more. This was such a great find and it helps me keep my perspective on thrifting: come with no expectations and you're pleasantly surprised. 


Celestron 70 mm Travel Telescope

This was the biggest gift of Lukka's, his "PLAY" portion, even though a nice telescope doesn't really get played with, it just gets used, and sometimes infrequently for the price tag. All together, these three items cost us about $100. Because we don't buy the kids gifts throughout the year, and we keep their parties to a frugal minimum, we feel that buying quality, lasting gifts is a good investment. 

Lukka had been asking for a telescope for about two years, though he really narrowed doing his desire this past year (for example, throughout the years he's generally asked for about 10 items, this year he asked for 3 from parents and grandparents). We got him this telescope from Amazon after reading a lot of really good reviews. He's already used it many times and we're very impressed with what kinds of detail we've seen on the moon. He enjoyed taking it to his great-grandparents in Peachland and sharing it with them, as well. This is a gift that I think he will also grow into and enjoy for years, maybe even decades, to come. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

15 in 2015: watch "The Sound of Music" with the kids

via

Watching The Sound of Music was one of the "15 in 2015" items that I was most looking forward to doing with the kids. I grew up on this movie, and had sung most of the popular songs from the movie to my kids since they were very small. Aside from a youtube clip on the famous puppet and yodeling scene, they didn't know much about the movie's plot, characters, nor did they tie all the songs together as being from the same film until watching.

I'm not sure how many times I've seen this movie in my lifetime, but I know it's over 10 (which seems fairly high for a movie). I tried to have restraint and not sing along to all the songs that I loved, but that barely lasted the first five minutes when Maria belts out, "the hills are alive, with the sound of music!" I sang along, and was so pleased that the kids also remembered some of the songs from their toddler years, including one we sang to them often before bed, "Edelweiss".

We watched the movie over two days, ending the first day with the Intermission, and then finishing it the following day. The kids loved this movie so much, and I was grateful they didn't get mired down in some of the more adult parts. They were somewhat bored with Goerg's and Elsa's longer scenes, but didn't seem too worse for wear overall. Lukka thought it was hilarious that Maria made the children's clothes out of curtains, and both of the kids loved the 'Do Re Mi' and 'The Lonely Goatherd' songs the most. They were practically jumping in their seats when Maria returned from the abbey. Watching the end of the movie, Lukka asked quite a few questions that led to a brief history lesson on Nazi Germany and why the VonTrapps had to escape their home in Austria.

All in all, I'm so glad I waited until the kids were a bit older to enjoy this movie with them, instead of watching it when they were too young to appreciate it. Even Ani perhaps should have been a bit older, but she sat with us engaged the whole time and loved the singing. The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies, and I'm thrilled my kids love it, too. I look forward to many musical renditions in the home, watching it or not!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Celebrating our 10 year Anniversary


Yesterday, on July 2, 2015, Stefan and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary with a less than extraordinary, yet more than ordinary, routine day. We were able to celebrate together with a 3 hour dinner and beach walk the week before thanks to friends, so today felt really 'normal'. It was just as hot in British Columbia as it was on that Saturday morning in Nebraska 10 years prior.

We spent the evening having dinner (homemade cheese pizza since we're at the bottom of the barrel for groceries), and then Stefan driving around on his sport bike, getting it ready to sell for an interested buyer ( the more-than -ordinary part) to exchange for a cruiser that will give him a more comfortable commute. It was a really busy evening, and we weren't even really around each other, but that's how marriage is. Some days, it's just so normal and uneventful, but there's comfort in that, too.

A friend recently celebrated her anniversary with 'numbers', and I thought I'd borrow the idea for this space because I loved it so much! Here's our past 10 years, summarized in a fun way.

10 years married, nearly 12 together
2 kids
2 pets
7 places to live/ moves (ugggghhhhh)
2 countries
3 states
4 cities
8 modes of transportation/commuting*
7 combined jobs in those 10 years
countless jokes, phone numbers, and movies watched

* though I feel like there's actually been more and I'm forgetting some...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happy Canada Day!



Happy Canada Day! We spent the morning hopping on our bikes down to the Fort's big July 1 celebration. It involved tons of free crafts for kids, vendors of all sorts, a Mountie or two, birthday cake, and free drinks, popcorn, balloons, and Maple-leaf flags. 

At the community event the kids especially loved the museum (which we unfortunately didn't stay long at--too crowded), and the petting zoo, where each kid got to hold a little bunny, pet a piglet, and cuddle with a lamb. In the afternoon we went to the Al Anderson swimming pool for two hours in the water. Since the heat has been really high the last week or so (with next week not looking good, either), it felt amazing to be in the water! Canadians sure know how to celebrate--all events and activities we did were free today! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June Titles

Kids taking a rest while I read aloud to them the current issues of Click and Ladybug magazines

This month was over in a flash! I can't believe how our four weeks of summer have just flown by, but I suppose I should know better by now. We plan tons of days with friends, library and bike time, and just generally have a ball. I was off to a great start with my reading at the beginning of the month, but due to 2 seasons of TV shows that I love becoming available at the library (finally!) the last 10 days or so I've been camped in front of the computer, watching episode after episode. Little time left for reading, but I have a ton of books lined up in the queue for July, that I'm excited to read to the kids, and those to myself during quiet time. Here's June's finished titles:

*The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman -- This book was fabulous, and everything I love in a nonfiction book: easy to read, relevant anecdotes, full of science and statistics, and excellent, practical advice. I've heard of Gottman's work in Seattle, and so when I saw this book (that I'd heard of from a friend recently) at a garage sale for $.50, I picked it up, even though it was covered in highlighter. I then found a brand new copy at the thrift store for $1, so passed on the marked-up one to a friend, and finished the one without the distractions of bright orange and pink. 
I try to read at least one 'marriage' book a year, and although I'd love it if Stefan would join me (!), we don't read them together. I did perk up a lot and tell him, "hey! listen to this..." quite a few times during this reading. There are practical applications and quizzes you can take at the end of each chapter that I skipped, but would at some point like to go through them together. We have a strong marriage (10 years on Thursday!) but thoughtfully reading an expert's opinion can't hurt, either!

*Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin -- I wanted to like this book, but I came to terms with the fact that I'd only give it a 3 out of 5. It was good, not great. I've heard Rubin is a mastermind list writer (and she is) in her nonfiction books, but I found this book boring and a touch too navel-gazing for my likes. This was Rubin's second in the line of the Happiness Project books, where she makes a list of things that will make her happier--you guessed it--at home, and follows through with them over the course of the year, documenting what she learned, if she was any happier, and if she still follows or enjoys the practice. I still want to read her newest book on habits, but I doubt I'll go for her first one, "The Happiness Project". 

*Wonder by R. J. Palacio -- This is a young adult novel that I'd heard about from someone who works at a school. The person told me an entire grade in their middle school was reading and discussing it, and when I found out what the topic was, I was interested. It's about a young boy who was born with a facial deformity, and his first year in school. My expectations were high, so I was a bit let down with the plot, but for a first novel I thought the author did exceptional. It's a story about overcoming adversity, loyalty, and bullying, and it's worth a read for a young kid entering the world of junior high and peer pressure. 

*Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver DeMille -- Oy. This homeschooling book took me FOR-EV-ER (yes, just like they say it in The Sandlot) to read. I forced myself to read this book whenever I had a spare moment just so I could be done with it. I'm planning on selling it, since it's still priced high on amazon. I've heard wonderful things about Leadership Education by two homeschooling blog authors I read zealously, so I thought I would connect with it. I get the main ideas and philosophy, but it could have been edited down to about 100 pages, not 300. The writing was overly descriptive and tedious to get through, and so much of it was really common sense that shouldn't need to be written in the first place. Stick with the charts! Not my favorite homeschooling book. 

Read Alouds with Children:

*Homer Price by Robert McCloskey -- Lukka loved this novel that included 5-6 'old-time' stories about a boy named Homer Price. Homer is honest, a hard worker, and resourceful. You might know McCloskey from "Blueberries for Sal" or "Make Way for Ducklings" fame. I didn't love this book but I didn't hate it, either. It was enjoyable to read aloud, and Lukka was very entranced by the stories which included a big problem, and a solution made by Homer near the end. Each chapter was about 20 pages but they went quickly. I'd recommend it to some, but not all. He's better at children's picture books, and you won't go wrong with the two titles linked above. 

*The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo -- This book was very different from the other DiCamillo books we've read, but I and the kids enjoyed it nontheless. She writes with a lot of fluidity and the story really seems to take shape only after she's written part of it as opposed to having a clear picture in her head how the story will turn out. That's only a guess, and we enjoyed this novel, but I will say it is much darker than some of her other children's novels. Edward, an arrogant and lovely china doll rabbit is taken very literally around the world through a series of imaginative and practically impossible (one might say, "miraculous"!) twists of events. In the end, he learns to do what a toy is meant to do, love. 



Friday, June 26, 2015

Lukka's Birthday Party (and a few ideas for 'on a dime')

 Lukka enjoying a Big Al's burger and onion strings!

Last week I did Lukka's yearly birthday interview and this week I'm sharing what we did for his 8th birthday, as we stretched it out over the weekend. We don't do massive parties (mostly because of energy levels and finances) but we do like to give our kids a treat and celebrate them with things they like or want to do, and who with. When Lukka asked for a friend party this year, we knew we'd have a small willing crowd, I just had to come up with some activities for us to do that they would all enjoy, and also do it cheaply. 

One of the first things I did in preparation for the party was to look on pinterest and find some cheap and easy outdoor games. I found one that used pool noodles, balloons, and baskets that I thought would be fun and appropriate. Balloons cost about $1-2/bag and pool noodles are roughly $2/piece. I cut all the pool noodles in half so I'd only have to buy 4 for all the kids in attendance. I can take care of the baskets with our laundry baskets. The day was hot and the grass outside popped almost all our balloons (!), so while that game was a complete bust, I let them smack each other around with the pool noodles for awhile, and Stefan joined in. They totally loved that.

 Friends feeding the local duck crowd 

The second thing I had on hand was silly string. This activity was the most expensive thing we did all weekend, but it's sort of been a family tradition to do silly string on your birthday. I was a little scared to see how this ended up, because we're in the backyard of our neighbor's house who we rent from, but I was able to quickly find a solution. Each can cost about $3.50, and I bought 7 cans. That's pretty pricey for a very short activity, but we tried to stretch it out. The kids loved having the silly string fight and when it was over (and the yard was covered), I told them all we were going to have a ball throwing contest, but they'd have to quickly 'gather and add' all the string they could find to make their balls bigger and heavier. In the end, nearly all the silly string was cleaned from the grounds in ten minutes, and the kids loved throwing their balls to see which got farthest in the backyard. Score!

Onto the next activity, we took a walk to the local ducks. Less than a block away is a farm that has goats, ducks, peacocks, doves, pheasants, chickens, a pony, and a cow, and you can get right up to the fence and feed the animals. I had a small piece of bread for each child to take and showed them how to make tiny little pieces to throw to them so their piece would last a long time. They mostly followed through, and really enjoyed petting the goats and feeling their horns, and feeding the animals. 

Friends at the park

We walked on a few more blocks to a local school and let the kids play on the jungle gym for over 30 minutes. This park is big and has a great 'obstacle course' that you can't really see from the photo, but they were all --aside from the birthday boy -- really happy to play here for quite a long time. We had about 5 blocks to walk back to our house for food and after they had been playing for a solid two hours, they were finally ready to chow down.

At the house I told the kids to go outside and drink a cup of water, and munch on the 'appetizers' (baby carrots, cucumbers, and apple slices), ensuring they would get the healthiest part of the party food in them first. Worked like a dream after all that ruckus play! That also gave me time to cut the cake, get the chips, and pop going while Stefan roasted the hot dogs. The kids went through all their food and I was shocked that all the food I bought was eaten. I thought for sure we'd have leftoveres, but with one party size bag of chips and a 12 pack of hotdogs, and 6 canettes of Sprite, there was literally nothing left except a few slim slices of a Rolo cake ($8 at Walmart!) that I handed to the lingering parents as they came to pick up their kids. Lukka loved all his gifts and was super excited to open them. We felt like the 3 hours our guests were here just flew by, and I think everyone had fun. Parties don't have to be expensive, in fact, we've never spent more than $50, and even that sounds like a lot. The silly string killed me this year, and I think I may leave it out next time, but for a kid party with a full meal, activities, and play I feel like I definitely managed!

 Lukka flying a kite at the Birch Bay Kite Festival

On the following day after the party, we went to church and then to Lukka's favorite restaraunt in Blaine, WA--Big Al's, for a big, juicy burger and onion fries, which he loves (see above photo) and we rarely go to. I randomly saw that there was going to be a Kite Festival in Birch Bay at the time near when we'd be done with lunch and ready for something else to do in the afternoon. The festival was free and my son LOVES kites. He loves designing, building, flying, and watching them, and this was too good to be true. 

When we got to the festival, we realized all the free kits that I had read about on the website were gone, and the only thing left was the $5 kits and $10 t-shirts. It was nearing the end of the day and we don't usually carry any American money. They wouldn't take Canadian (we knew, but we had to ask!) and I only had $2 US on me. The nice lady running it said 'ah, what the heck!' and gave the kids a free kite kit to work on with what we had. How generous of her. When she found out it was Lukka's birthday, she then went on to give him a free Kite Festival t-shirt, and a free kit for himself, as well. She really helped make his day special, much to the slight embarrassment of his mom. Ahem. 
It was a perfect time to spend as a family and celebrate Lukka, who felt so loved that he even told us 'this was a perfect weekend for my birthday!' and we couldn't be happier we were fortunate enough to help him celebrate in ways that we know he enjoys. Happy Birthday, Lu!

Inexpensive Party Tips!

*Use what you have around: we had the local farm attraction, a park not too far away, and a backyard at our disposal. 

*Simple Foods: veggies, fruit, and water always offered before anything else will work if kids are super hungry, hot dogs, buns, and chips are always enjoyed by most kids, and are dirt cheap party foods

*Scan pinterest for inexpensive party ideas: The game cost me $8 total, and even though the grass blades popped most of the balloons, the kids loved playing with them while they lasted and were ecstatic to take home their 1/2 pool noodle in lieu of a goodie bag

*ONE party dessert: I could have had candy, cookies, and cake, but do we really need all of that? Nah. My beautifully decorated and chocolate-on-chocolate cake (like he requested) that I bought at Walmart fed 16 and cost me $8. Totally worth it. 

*Rethink the goodie bag: I'm not saying goodie bags are terrible...they aren't! They're usually awesome, kids love them, and they are full of amazing toys, candies, stickers, and the like, but I just can't shell out tons of money for things that are just going to end up in the trash. I'd rather give out something practical. It must be the INTJ in me. Final cost for 1/2 pool noodle each: $1/person

Friday, June 19, 2015

Lukka Turns 8! Birthday Interview

Quarry Rock hike refuel

As of June 21, I have an 8 year old. WHAT? I know people like to tell families with babies and toddlers that the years fly by (and you want to growl at those people because you're covered in yesterdays spit-up), but honestly, the years didn't fly by until Ani hit about 3, and Lukka was 5. Now, they are warp-speed! I get it. Those infancy years seem to lag, but these days? I am just barely keeping up with their activities, interests, excitement, and abilities! Hence, my son turning 6 8. 

I love the idea of Birthday Interviews to see how they change from year to year, and you can revisit Lukka's  previous interviews here (7), and here (6), and see another birthday (5). 

We love you, Lukka!

I have no idea. He was excited!

*Where do you live?  Ft. Langley in Canada
*What is your favorite food? Macaroni & cheese
*What is your favorite drink? soft drinks (Sprite)
*What is your favorite color? blue or green
*What is your favorite animal? maybe a giraffe

Working with magnets

*What is your favorite book? I like all, well, most, of them
*What is your favorite toy? transformers
*What is your favorite song? maybe the Doxology
*What is your favorite thing to do inside? TV and tablet time
*What is your favorite thing to do outside? play on the swings or play in the playhouse
*What do you want to be when you grow up? maybe a house builder, hmm. Not sure.

Sweeping out the playhouse in the backyard

*What makes you sad? I don't know. 
*What makes you happy?  going on dates with Dad
*Where is your favorite place to go? the grandparents' homes
*What is your favorite thing to do?  play tennis with dad
*Who are some of your friends? Caleb and Logan, Nathaniel, Ian and friends in Lincoln
*What does mom always do with you?  stay home and spend time
*What does dad always do with you? do sports and bikerides

Tearin' it up: motox!

*What are you looking forward to this summer?  days off of school
*What do you like to take to bed with you?  teddies and blankets
*What are you the best at?  dirtbike riding
*What is your favorite season?  summer
*What is your favorite movie?  maybe The Boxtrolls

Lukka loves learning about, creating, and performing magic tricks and has been on a good kick for a solid year! He loves to perform for others and loves flying his kite. Three years strong on the kite hobby, from asking for his own (at least a year), to flying it consistently, making his own versions, and now using his Opa's 2-handled kite when there are really powerful gusts to capture. I wonder how these strong 'likes' will show up in the future! 
He is generally a very happy boy, except in the morning as he's waking up. We pretty much leave him alone on the couch for awhile until he comes out of his blanket cocoon. He loves doing anything active and his favorites are hiking, tennis, swimming and biking. He is *always* trying to be the clown and the constant jokes, although tiring most times, are normally very sweet and funny. He loves joke books, Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes comics, but also takes a delight in 'how-to' books and instructions. He marveled when I told him he could check out books on how to build things with blue prints in the pages!
Lukka LOVES listening to just about any story. If I'm reading aloud he's right next to me. He loves listening to the radio and music and audio books, and went through the entire Magic Tree House series on audio within a few weeks this past year. He is so happy he can read now on his own and reads front to back nearly every book he (and the ones I) picks out each week. He is a healthy and happy little boy and we are so blessed God chose him to be in our family!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Bellingham Beach Day and Meeting Soulemama!

view of Bellingham Bay from Boulevard Park

Last week the kids and I spent an entire day in  Bellingham, WA, and mostly, we spent it at the beach near Boulevard Park. The sun was shining and there was blue blue blue everywhere! It was a warm day, but not horribly hot that you had to stay in the water. A cool breeze was blowing through and after we got our three or four errands done, I parked myself with a book on a bench, a picnic table, and then in the grass on my blanket while the kids played at the park, in the sand, and rested quietly while listening to me read aloud. 

new sunnies!

It was one of the best days we've had in awhile. I took them to Chipotle for lunch (a rare treat for us now that we don't live by one!), we had plenty of food and water for the entire afternoon, and aside from a bit of grumbling about sunscreen application, these kids had an absolute ball playing on the rocks, in the sand, and just enjoying the gorgeous view of the bay nearby. I got plenty of time to read to myself, the kids went happily unattended for hours

our 'outside quiet time' (i.e. this rarely happens so it's exciting)

When they got too hot and tired, I suggested we rest in the shade with a snack, some laying down time, and them just listening quietly to the kids' magazines I had brought to read to them for the last hour before our author visit, and they happily obliged! Since we normally do a daily quiet time for 2.5 hours, and not having that in the day, they realized in the afternoon they were quite tired and needed a rest (see, this mama is onto something) and enjoyed an hour of laying on the blanket, closing their eyes, and just relaxing and listening. Heaven!

The Taproot get-together at Ragfinery

Now onto the real reason why we came to Bellingham (the Namaste gluten-free flour, Chipotle, and TJ's orange craisins were just a happy pit-stop), meeting Amanda Blake Soule aka Soulemama at Ragfinery on her Taproot tour of the Pacific Northwest! I've been reading Amanda's blog for nearly 8 years; since Lukka was an infant, and reading her daily words and seeing the pictures is actually a moment I savor nearly every day. She's a crafter, artist, and author celebrity in her niche, and I couldn't believe my luck that she'd be in Bellingham (nearly everyone goes to Seattle) so close to me!

It was my first time to Ragfinery, and oh how I wish I had known about it when I lived in Blaine and was up in Bham so often! This unique store is part fabric, yarn, and notions shop. Although I didn't get a tour (my kids were with me, we didn't stay more than an hour), from what I observed it looks like there are staff who also create garments and piece from the fabric and notions collected, repurposing them. It was a really great store with a color-coded wall that I should have taken a picture of. 

 Craft and blog celebrity Amanda Blake Soule (@Soulemama) and artist Pheobe Wahl in the flesh!

Above you can see the beautifully decorated event room (you should have seen the cheese and meats all over the table! yum!) with sweet pea flowers, fabric and yarn garlands everywhere, and of course courtesy copies of Taproot magazine. My only wish for this time was that Stefan could have had the kids with him for an hour or so while I could enjoy the wonderful company of craft women (I met a few who I was able to chat with for about an hour), and also knit or embroider with Amanda-really, a lovely dream! Alas, I knew I'd never make it down from Ft. Langley to Bellingham after Stefan got home from work, the event would have been over right as I'd get there, so that's the reason we spent the entire day there anyway. We did have fun, anyway!

I only talked to Amanda for a few minutes, but what I really wanted to do was personally thank her for teaching and inspiring me so much through her blog, her books, and her photos. I've learned a lot from her over the last 8 years and I feel she has mentored me a bit in the ways of homeschooling, homesteading, gardening, and raising kids, even though I had never met her in real life before the other day. A most excellent day, indeed, and a small wish come true.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

15 in 2015: Hike Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, BC

Lukka taking a sip from his new camel pack

Whoop! I've already gotten to a few of my 15 in 2015 list goals and have more in the works, but I'm excited to share not only one achieved but a beautiful place near us as well. Deep Cove is a little village tucked away in North Vancouver, and it's high season in the summer, when everyone from the city wants a good hike a quick drive or bike ride away. There are paddle board and kayak rentals, swimming, a park, and plenty of amazing views. Our family had been to Deep Cove before but only to check it out, we'd never actually hiked around in the trees up there, but come summer there are tons of hikers on the Quarry Rock trail!

the view from atop Quarry Rock

This hike is considered an easy trail but I'm finding out that means very little to this midwestern, sea-level-all-my-life girl. "Easy" started off with a huge climb atop some beautiful tree roots, and held a lot of up and down stairs throughout. The hike was about 1.5 hours and I considered it a great workout. It was a pretty hot day but when I got to the top I was very sweaty, though I felt great and had no soreness after or the next day. The surprising thing was we took the kids on their first real hike of the year (no nature paths here, folks) and they loved it and did great. Lukka doesn't have supportive shoes yet and on the way down his feet were hurting, but Ani and Stefan ran down the trail on the way back, for fun. Crazies.

view of the treetops at the top of Quarry Rock

The view from the top was definitely worth it, though by the time we arrived at the top it was completely crowded. My guess is to get the best weather and fewest people, you'd have to go up around 8 or 8:30, get to the top around 9, back down before 10AM. I believe we started around 11 and got to the top when most people started unpacking their lunches and taking it easy. It was also extremely hot on top of the bald rock and I was fine with just taking a few pictures of the view and heading back into the tree covering!

the view of Deep Cove, from atop Quarry Rock 

It was such a beautiful hike and I'm so glad I've already marked this off my list. Our family had fun, got an excellent workout in (and sure enjoyed our Chipotle lunch after in probably less than 5 minutes) and are excited to try out more trails nearby. If you're ever visiting Vancouver, Deep Cove is a fun option for a quick trip and a short hike (comparatively) . Oh, and you might even see some dogs on paddle boards, too!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Links

a view of Deep Cove

I've been storing up good links for weeks and I have a slew of goodies for you today. These are all links that I was informed, inspired, awed, or excited by, and I hope you enjoy them just as much!


* Drone footage inside the largest cave in the world

*Read you way to a love of math book list for ages 4-12

*Hipster Business name generator: brilliant.

* This On Being episode with Maria Popova was probably the best podcast episode (and I listen to a lot) I've heard in the last month or two. Probably the best title for a job, "cartographer of meaning", Popova... "cross-pollinates — between philosophy and design, physics and poetry, the intellectual and the experiential." (taken from the website)

*Love Harry Potter? Confirmation that a spinoff is coming! And Eddie Redmayne is officially on board. #AllTheFeels

*Mental Floss is the best magazine out there, in my humble opinion. Here's a great list of the 16 Coolest Playgrounds all over the world. Sweet!

*I just discovered the violinist Lindsey Stirling and she's amazing. Within the first few measures, Lukka turned to me and said, "What is that music? I love it". Enough said.

*Got kids and/or fair skin? EWG's guide for the best sunscreens to use (i.e. no harsh chemicals and toxins). We've used California Baby for years and love it, though it can feel super thick at first.

*women photographed from all over the world (wow). Stunning.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Books I Read in May

the art on our kitchen wall

The month of May was spent starting a lot of books and not coming even remotely close to finishing them. I have three books that aren't on this list that I am literally in the middle or at least solidly through the first third, that will just have to wait for future months when they are completed. 

Although I felt like I read a lot (and I did), I only finished a few. It's summer! I want to read All The Books, and then I realize my roles, responsibilities, and blocks of free time will just never allow me to read like I wish (I'd one day like to get paid for reading books, but then I'd have to read the bad ones as well). Here are the books I finished this month. Ahem.

*Every Child Deserves to Know by Lynn Brownlee -- Lynn is a fellow homeschooling mom in my area and that's how I found out about her biography and kickstarter project. I received my copy in late April and read it in a day or two. It was well-written and I enjoyed learning about the person it was about--a local guy who works with underprivileged youth named Graham Hansen. I sent it to my mother-in-law to see if she might like to read it as well. She and my FIL attended the same church as Graham, and would potentially know of connections in the book. 

*Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer -- This book was found via NPR's book blog, and it has close tie-ins with Sylvia Plath and her work, The Bell Jar (say the title over again, a little faster). It was a YA novel based on "intelligent and emotionally fragile" youth who participate in an English class together (only 5 of them in the class) called "Special Topics in English" where they read the work of one author--you guessed it--Sylvia Plath. Through the semester these youth become friends, and their tragic individual circumstances intersect in a place outside of time and space; a limbo of sorts. I thought this book was okay and admittedly I read it based on the ties with Sylvia Plath (my favorite poet). I enjoyed it, and it was a quick read, but not one I'd recommend passionately to most my fellow book friends. 

*Replenish by Lisa Grace Byrne -- Remember my 29 Before 30 List? This was the book that haunted that list AND the previous year, and I just finally got it from the library and read it in a week. That's not "go through it slowly" but I couldn't have very well done that anyway. I found this book to be much hyped up via the internet (dangit) than it should have been, and although I enjoyed specific parts regarding the neuroscience of burnout and fatigue, it was a bit too 'out there' for me. I don't think this is a New Age book but it really came across that way in some parts, which I just can't get on board with. It's accomplished, though I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. Dang me and my high expectations!

*A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver -- This is perhaps the first Mary Oliver book I've been disappointed with, but she is just not a natural nonfiction writer. I found her chapters to be much too technical and very lacking on the inspirational side. She has a an excellent chapter on formal poem stanzas like how to write a well-done sonnet, but I quickly read my chapter-a-day and returned it without much 'oomph' for my personal writing. 

*A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L'Engle -- I've also had this book (and series) on my lists before and decided to take it off of this year and just enjoy the dang book when I got around to it. I loved this one and look forward to the other two in the series--already in my personal collection thanks to paperbackswap.com. This book is purely a collection of reflections of the author's personal life, community, and career and because I love L'Engle's books so much, this work of nonfiction sort of let me peer behind a door and 'get to know her' even more than I envision as I read her stories. Recommended for those who love the conversations about art and faith (and what it means to be a neighbor in today's world), I recommend it. 

Kid Read Alouds:

*The Green Ember by S. D. Smith -- I wrote a longer review of TGE on my children's literature site, and will redirect you there. In summary: it was a good story, but quite clunky to read aloud. My kids loved it, I was "meh" because I didn't enjoy the experience of reading it out loud.

*Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic (#3 in series) by Arleta Richardson -- This is the third of fourth short chapter books from the Grandma's Attic series, and these books are really cute and well-written. I enjoy reading them aloud to the kids for homeschooling, and they enjoy listening. The stories have great 'morals', although it's not often as overt as, say, a book of fables. They are short and each chapter is a separate story which makes for good stopping points between reads. All the stories are true and happened to the author's grandmother, and some of them are laugh-out-loud funny. When we finish the series with #4, we're definitely keeping these four in our bookshelves, since I'd like the kids to re-read them when they're older, or keep them for potential grandkids of my own! Highly enjoyable and recommended for ages 5 and up.

What book(s) did you enjoy this past month?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Subscription Boxes as Homeschool Curriculum

Ani painting her first diarama

The subscription service business sector is exploding the online retail market. You can now buy toys, pet products, clothing, stationary, beauty products, eco-cleaning supplies, and even organic snacks all in monthly packages with excellent branding. While print magazines are slowly fading away, a new type of subscription purchasing is taking place in droves--for those who are too busy or depleted to run one more errand (hand raised here), you can get a fun surprise on your doorstep for a decent price. These are excellent as curriculum because all the work of planning and gathering has been done for you! Now it's just up to the child to execute and enjoy the process. 

I have tried a few subscription services as either birthday gifts or a trial run for homeschooling, and let me tell you there are some awesome businesses going up! I want to highlight a few of them for you that can be used as homeschooling curriculum for elementary grade kids. With each I'll let you know if I, myself, have tried it, will try it in the future, or if I know someone who has tried it, or none of the above. 

Little Passports -- Little Passports is a geography adventure covering a country each month and has three age groups to choose from.This is one of the first educational subscriptions I'd heard of--years ago-- and it's a reigning champion. I have a friend who has tried it and really loves it. It looks like a great way to explore the world without leaving your home. Plane tickets are expensive these days! Included are imaginary play items like a boarding pass and letter from pen pals Sophia and Sam, links to online games and crafts.

Pley -- I have tried this subscription service (when it was called Pleygo) and LOVED it. It works just like netflix--you pay for the 'level' you want (in this case, which type of LEGO sets you'd like to receive), the kids play for however long they want and then send the LEGO set back to get another in the mail. If you choose to keep a particular set, you just notify Pley online and the next one in your queue ships out! Suitable for kids 3+.

Animal Trackers -- This is a new one to me. I hadn't heard of it before researching educational boxes for this post, but it looks like it could be really fun for PreK-2nd graders who love animals. Each month is a new animal to learn about and 'track' and if your son or daughter is a huge Wild Kratts fan, this may be right up their ally. 

Raddish -- This subscription box is for the mini baker and wee chef in the family. This branding and packaging is excellent. It really is a beautiful box (I'm not going to lie, it makes a difference to me) and comes with recipes, shopping lists, a craft or activity, a Raddish patch for each month and online extension activities. Okay, so the food doesn't come with, but I am considering this for next year's Health curriculum for Ani, who loves participating in the kitchen. Suitable for kids 5+.

Groovy Lab in a Box -- This is a science related experiment kit that looks really great. The branding is similar to Mental Floss, so already my interest is piqued. I have not tried this but I am going to get a small subscription for Lukka to try out next Fall. I know he'll love it, and we'll compare it to our experience with Tinker Crate. It looks like you get a lot of items for experiments, but my hesitation is that most of these items are things you'd already have around the home. The interesting thing is that there are more than 1 activity per box, thus making the subscription last longer each month.

History Unboxed -- This is a new-to-me subscription kit that I saw on SimpleHomeschool.net, a blog I read online that has introduced me to many a good resource and I trust their opinion of educational materials. It looks like this is a brand-new service, because they only have a few to choose from, and all of them are about cultures from long ago. I am interested to know more about this one for our homeschool curriculum (history sometimes being the hardest to come up with excellent lessons, for me anyway), but I want to wait a bit so I can see that they have more than just three or four ancient cultures to choose from. 

Green Kid Crafts* -- This is another reigning champion of subscription boxes for kids. I've heard about this one for years though have never followed through on getting a box to try out. I find that I have so many art supplies at home, I don't need any more that a subscription kit could offer, but I know that many parents or child-care givers don't want to accumulate the amount that we have, either! This is a great option for the kid who loves to craft. 

Tinker Crate -- Tinker Crate is a STEM-related educational subscription and it is awesome! We had a 3-month subscription that turned into a 4 monther because of a snafu and miscommunication. It wasn't the easiest for my school, HCOS, to get a subscription for my son, nor for us to get in touch with TC about the issue, but once we made contact they gave us a free month to rectify, which I appreciated. TC is a branch of KiwiCrate, which is another popular crafty subscription. They also have Koala Crate (PreK) and Doodle Crate (9-16yo). I often call my son "the Tinker" and so this box was perfect for him. He loved getting this every month and didn't need my help at all to figure the projects out. They come with a blueprint, a Tinker Zine (great info and more projects related to monthly topic with at-home items), all the materials, which I found to be top-notch quality, and an online video tutorial if you can't figure it out. Suitable for kids 7 or 8+. 


Love the idea of a subscription service for your kids' enjoyment or homeschool curriculum but didn't find the type of activity they're into? Check here for a large listing (also includes clothing and toy subscription services). 

*The GKC website seems to be down, the link isn't broken. Check back in a day or too if you're interested.