Friday, November 13, 2015

15 in 2015: Get Professional Family Photos Done

Aren't these just beauties? My best friend, Emily, owner and founder of Topline Photography, does portraits, often with animals and their people. Or rather, people and their pets! She specializes in that niche and does phenomenal work because of her history at a vet clinic and present work training horses and their riders! 

As evidenced by the photos on my banner, we have not gotten family photos taken in three or more years! One thing I really wanted to do this year was get our family's photos updated, and I was so grateful Emily was able to squeeze in some time for us to do this. I've got over 50 beautiful photos just waiting on my hard drive for printing, framing, and book-making. I've got two impatient family members (surprisingly, not who you'd think) who hate having their picture taken and she took these and many more gorgeous photos in less than 20 minutes before they gave up and died a fiery Nebraska-heat death. Now that's great service! If you're local to the Lincoln-Omaha-surrounding areas, give her a call, but do it soon because she books up fast

Thank you, Emily, I love them!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembrance Day/ Veterans' Day

Remembrance and Veterans' Day, a day to remember what our countries have been through to provide you with the freedom you have in this lifetime. Be thankful.

As always, some picturebooks to help children understand what this day is about:

*A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson

*Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker (fantastic history lesson here about a well known bear)

*The Wall by Eve Bunting

*H is for Honor by Devin Scillian

*The Poppy Lady by Barbara Walsh

Monday, November 9, 2015

What I Watched in October (A TON of Good Movies!)

Even though I didn't read a lot in October, I certainly watched a LOT of good movies in October. I love all sorts of films and for whatever reason we seemed to hit a lot of the movies I've had on my list for awhile when we were in Nebraska. I loved almost all of them and wanted to share the links and plotlines with you in case you'd be interested, too. Those links will take you right to the trailers.

*The Drop Box (trailer above) - Break out the tissues and expect to have a sinus headache afterward, because this movie will slay you with all the feels. It's a documentary on a South Korean Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his wife who installed a box where infants could be left at any hour, and they would be taken care of, instead of disposed in an inhumane manner. The box normally 'rings' in the middle of the night, when young women feel they have no choice left. The family often receives disabled children, and throughout the last 6 years, they have helped place hundreds of children in safe families and have kept many disabled children themselves. This movie is exceptional. It is a picture of God's love for all in one of the most heartbreaking and tender films I've ever seen. Watch it and be amazed with how much God loves even the smallest and the 'least of these'.

*Cinderella - We watched Disney's new live production with some friends, dressed up, and had a tea-party! It was really fun to experience this movie that way, and the four kids had a blast. Cinderella is played by Lily James (Rose from Downton Abbey, a perfect choice!) and is surrounded by an all star cast including Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, and Stellan Starsgard. Although I think I prefer the animated version (it was a favorite movie of mine when I was a child), they did a lovely job creating the magic and the pomp! in this movie, which was fun to watch with my kids.

*Comet  (full movie link on youtube)- Comet was a movie Stefan and I watched when we were on our getaway, and we just watched it on Netflix on our laptop in the hotel when we wanted some downtime. We'd heard of it from a friend, and while Stefan really liked it, I thought it was okay. It's a fantastical love story between two people who really do belong together but can't figure it out until it's too late. It's about fate, the universe, selfishness, and desire. It was interesting enough to keep my attention during, but not one I'd watch again.

*The Martian - When I first heard of The Martian (the book), I knew I wanted to read it. When I found out it was going to be a huge blockbuster movie, I couldn't wait. I read it beforehand (and of course, like most, the book is WAY better than the movie) but I still really enjoyed the screen adaptation. I thought the actors for the crew were great choices, and they were almost exactly as I had imagined them (especially Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis) and although they omited one really big part in the movie that is climactic to the story, they did a really good job with the movie. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets stuck on Mars after a fluke accident involving his space crew, and he has to learn how to science his way to surviving on a lonely, desolate planet where nothing grows until NASA can figure out how to get him.

*Insurgent - This is the second movie in the Divergent series. I haven't read the books, and I don't have a desire to, but I really enjoy anti-utopian stories. I always have. I read Brave New World in high school and it was one of my favorite books for a long time! The two heroes of the Divergent movie, Tris and Four are on the run from the government and the leaders need Tris (a true Divergent) to unlock a box where the secrets of the past and future are held. The acting and dialogue aren't great in this series, but I enjoy the plot, and of course, I've seen two of them, I'm going to see the third and final installation. It's not a series I'd recommend to anyone. Did you like 1984? Did you like The Hunger Games? If yes, you'd like the Divergent series, if no, skip it.

*St. Vincent  - I can't remember if I watched St. Vincent right before our trip (which would have been late September) or right after we got back, but this movie practically deserves an entire post on it's own. It's fantastic. I have no idea why I started watching this, but Melissa McCarthy having a strong role and Bill Murray as the main character. I think I saw it at the library and had never even heard of the movie before, and after watching, I have no idea why. This movie is SO GOOD. It's about a single-mom who needs help with after-school care for her son, and she relies on her scruffy next-door-neighbor, Vincent (Murray). In the hours Vincent and Oliver spend together, they become good friends and have some pretty hilarious adventures that you'd never want your kids to have before the age of 18. Vincent helps Oliver in a number of ways, and throughout the movie you learn what kind of man this halfway drunk is, but I can't give anymore details away. Watch this with a box of kleenexes and assume you're going to do an all caps facebook post of how much all your friends should drop everything and WATCH THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. It's probably the best movie I've seen in 2015.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What I Read in October

Not the greatest photo quality, but one of our favorite places in town-the library

Well, November, how'd you get here so quickly and what did you do with your sister October? 

Last month we were gone for nearly 3 weeks traveling back to Nebraska to see family, friends, and church community we left there nearly three years ago. It was a wonderful trip. I've been trying to put together a photo-heavy post of our trip, but my ipad (yes, I'm the "weird tourist" who takes generally all photos on my ipad mini) is not forwarded them onto my computer for some reason, hence a grainy photo above that I took before we left. I spent nearly every waking moment talking with whomever was in my vicinity in Nebraska, so reading just did not happen until the 27 hour drive home. In the following two weeks left, I did manage to finish 4 books, though two of them were quite short. Enjoy!

*Psychedelic Shits by Kurtis James (i.e. my brother-in-law!) - When my BIL posted his poetry book cover on Instagram I promptly replied I wanted a copy for my Christmas present. Since he flew in for our October family time he was able to give me one and I knew there'd be some gems in there. I've been given gifts in the past in the form of his poetry and if read aloud it would really resonate in a SLAM event. I enjoyed the read, though psychedelic shits is an apt name, there were some poems I had no genre for and some I smiled throughout, like "o hair, o hair". Congrats, Kurtis! What an accomplishment. 

*More Than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell - This little apologetics book was a really refreshing read, one that I could do well with quarterly or biannually. It was published in 1977 and is still completely relevant today with clear and concise arguments for the historical data that proves Christ was a real figure who is still impacting lives today, 2,000 years later. I thought this tiny book would be a great book to pass on to someone who has a lot of questions about this Jesus guy and all the logistical hangups one has about Christianity. It's a quick read, but it's meaty. 

*Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy - I first heard of Lucy Grealy and her memoir by way of Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with Lucy, Truth and Beauty. That memoir is beautifully written and terribly tragic. It's about Ann and Lucy and their growing into their twenties and their writerly words before Lucy's untimely death. Lucy's memoir is about growing up with cancer and a facial deformity caused by her illness. She is a fantastic writer, though her words throughout are so very painful and raw. It's a beautiful book and I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't recommend reading Autiobiography of a Face along with Truth and Beauty; it's just too heavy to read side by side.

*Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert - I had no expectations for this book except that I really, really wanted to read it and knew I'd soak it up within a few days. I was right. This book was really inspiring, though some reviews I've read called it basically "woo-woo hippie magic fairy dust" type of writing, I really enjoyed it and wouldn't mind reading it again some day. It's about the Big Magic of finding your creative self, and doing it. Gilbert's creativity just happens to be writing, but she's speaking to all people as creatives, and letting the Big Magic happen. Speaking of Ann Patchett, there's a great anecdote with her in it! I get some sort of weird joy knowing that her and Brene Brown are good friends, and support each other in real life, and reading their newest books back to back was sort of fun in a cocktail party type of way. 

Read Alouds with Kids:
*Beatrix Potter's The World of Peter Rabbit (books 1-12) - These minature and fairly nostalgic books published in 1902 and thereafter still have quite a hold on children these days, as seen from my two kids, aged 6 and 8. I tried reading these small books to my kids earlier in their lives and it just didn't go well. The words and context too much for them, but at this age? It was jolly good fun for all of us! They loved the ornery rabbits and the hilarious stories about hedgehogs, mice, a fox and silly geese, and the illustrations just can't be beat. I found my pristine box set at a used bookstore years ago for a mere $20, and I admit I would have paid double. These books are some of my all-time favorite childhood stories and Potter's tales have had a trickle-down effect on children's literature ever since. 

Tip: If your kids loved the Peter Rabbit et al books, they might love the 25 minute episode series on youtube found here; nine episodes included. My kids have seen them all and really enjoyed them!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What I Read in September

Third Beach selfie

I'm away from home right now visiting friends and family, but I would never miss a Book Report at the end of the month! I may have to update this when I get back, though, because who knows how far I'll get into my plane-ride book!

*Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman -- I've waited many months for Emily's new book, Simply Tuesday, and I really enjoyed it. I read it in two days, and I read her books just like I read her blog, Chatting at the Sky, slowly and while savoring. This 4th nonfiction book of hers talks about why she chooses to hush instead of hustle, and why her soul needs the Tuesdays to breathe--the regular, ordinary, and small. This book is lovely and I enjoyed it, but I won't keep it. I'm passing it on to a friend who I hope will enjoy it as well.

*The Martian by Andy Weir -- This book is a science/space nerd's dream come true. It's a fiction book written mostly in diary entry form, of a man who is stuck alone on Mars, and his struggle to survive. I can't give too much away but it is such a popular book it's becoming a movie with Matt Damon playing the main character, Mark Watney! I finished the last half of the book in ONE DAY because of the action and the story that happens. The science behind Weir's book got a few things right says NASA and the best quote for this book comes from one of the first few pages, "I'm gonna' have to science the shit outta' this thing". Read it.

*Rising Strong by Brene Brown -- I was blown away by this one. I felt the way I felt when I first discovered Brene's first two books (Daring Greatly was, in my opinion, a summary of all her material beforehand), and I learned a LOT and thought a LOT about what this new information implied in my life. I wanted to highlight it throughout. I wanted to share a lot of it while reading. That's a mark of a good book. I highly recommend this book, but do think you need to read at least some of her books or know her work beforehand, or a lot of it might not make sense. Excellent read.

*Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesteron -- I don't think it's an exaggeration to say this was the most confusing book I've ever read by a 'father of the faith'. I don't know if it was a mood I was in (it was one of my study books-books I choose to intentionally go slowly through, over the course of a month or so), but my word, I barely caught anything from this book. It was full of cultural references that were before my time, twisty-turny sentences that left me at the bottom of a dark rabbit hole, and flowery language throughout. Honestly, I may never pick up another book by Chesteron because of it.

*Taproot: WILD -- I consider this front-to-back reading to be likened to a small novella because of the length of this quarterly magazine, so I'm counting it here. This issue was all about wild things, from sea turtle rescue, foraging for food in the woods, an accidental overnighter on an Appalacian Trail hostel, etc. I enjoy this magazine and just renewed my (ad-free!) subscription for another year. If you love stories about homesteading, naturalist essays, and hippie-type DIYs you'll like it, if not, leave it at the Whole Foods checkout.

Read-Alouds with the Kids

*The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo - I often tell people Kate DiCamillo is my spirit animal. If I could write like anyone, it'd be her. Go here to see a full length review of her young adult novel.

*The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson -- This short book (120+ pages) was a classic Newberry Honor book from 1989, but set in roughly the 1940s Paris. It's a story about a hobo named Armand who gives away his heart to three poor'starlings' (children) somewhat against his will while their mother works all day. He finds them under 'his' bridge and although he tries to shoo them away-literally and figuratively-he can't help it, he must take care of these children, and find them a more permanent home. You'll need tissues for the last chapter.

*A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman -- This is a very short book that I found via Sonlight's amazing book lists (by age/grade), and we read it as an extended 'breakfast' read. The type is big, the pages are full of beautiful pictures, and the story has a great theme. The main character, Pong Lo, is a humble peasant who, through his cleverness, cheerful spirit, and incredible work ethic, becomes the most powerful man in China. Both my kids couldn't wait to get to the ending to see what was going to happen!

Monday, September 28, 2015

We'll Be Back After This Brief Interruption....

Handmade cards with monoprints and papercuts

My family is traveling out of the country for the next three weeks, might I interest you in the backlog of children's literature gems on my other blog, The Well-Read Sleepy-Head? Or maybe a backlog of homeschooling posts around here? I'll be publishing my September Reads at the end of the month, but aside from that, see you after the Canadian Thanksgiving!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Links

The Port Mann bridge on a beautiful day with minimal traffic!

I haven't done a batch of links in a long time, but I had to share a few of these gems before we leave for our long trip. Enjoy!

*Spilled Milk is quickly becoming my favorite kitchen companion podcast. The foodie non-married couple are the perfect pairing with meal prep, especially because I laugh out loud throughout. 

*A tiered cheese wheel for entertaining...brilliant! Those Brits think of everything...

*This is a great list for easy/kid-friendly hikes around Vancouver, if you ever find yourself visiting this magical city!

*want to watch those wonderful BBC Masterpiece shows when they air in the UK? There's a way!

*These famous DIY sisters are finally writing a cookbook

*I couldn't believe this amazing hunting/conservation story via Radiolab.

*I just finished The Martian novel and can't.even.wait. to watch the movie on the big screen with friends!

*As silly as it is, I might have teared up at this. The time will soon happen when I can share one of my favorite children's series with my own kids. 

*Yes. 100% yes. #IntrovertForever

*I may have found the perfect (affordable) riding boot.  ((please fit my calves, please fit my calves...))

*If you listen closely, you'll hear Lukka asking a related question on his favorite science podcast for kids, Brains On! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ft. Langley 1st Annual Food Truck Festival

this picture does not show the crazy!

A few weekends ago, Ft. Langley celebrated the 1st Annual Food Truck Festival, and we decided to go and see what the hubbub was about. Hubbub, indeed, it was nuts! So many of the food trucks--in a very tight spot with hundreds of people--sold completely out around the half-way point in the day, and many had wait times that a normal restaraunt would be embarrassed by. 

The day was perfect for it, and I think they'll do it again, but there were a lot of unhappy festival goers on facebook, letting the venue know that the spot was way too tight, not enough vendors, and a space with shade was needed. I was very surprised by a 35 minute wait for a simple vegan burrito, but I wasn't disappointed by the great flavor of the GYPSY trunk vegan food. It was a $12 burrito, so, there's that (ouch!) but the taste was very good, and I'd buy from them again, when I didn't have to share it...

In all, I would say next year if we decide to go (Stefan is not usually impressed with food truck food, I just think it's fun to try something new), I'd say we will go super early to try to beat the crowds and our hunger, and wait times. I'm sure it was a great money-maker for the town, and the area was completely packed. It definitely attracked a lot of business throughout, but they really need a better space for it next year. First time of anything sometimes is wonky, I'm sure they'll get the kinks out by next year! 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chili and Cinnamon Buns - A Midwestern Tradition

these buns just need a plop of gooey cream-cheese frosting

I don't know about you, but I tend to cook seasonally. I don't make many soups in the summer, and I don't eat nearly as much hummus, tomatoes, and cucumber dips in the winter. I think it has a lot to do with budget-buying seasonal  produce is often the cheapest option because there is an abundance of it, and the price goes down. I eat salad after salad in the summer but I find that I sometimes have to force a salad here and there through late Fall and winter...until the tail end of winter when I'm longing for some fresh greens!

When there's about four weeks left of summer, I start to get a hankering for Fall soups. Sure, I want the heat to end, and my favorite temperature (about 65 degrees F) to come back, but mostly, I just want to start nearly every dinner with onion and garlic cooked in oil or butter. A few weeks back-still summer--I had a really good opportunity to make some friends chili and cinnamon rolls. Now that it's Fall and the weather has changed, I can make as much soup as I want (bonus points for a pastry on the side, says my husband), and it's fitting that I made this first. 

Chili and cinnamon buns is a standard meal where I'm from. Everyone eats pasta and salad together--that's a complete meal--and it's the same idea here. It's so common that it's a staple school meal in the Fall and Winter months. I can still remember the cinnamon buns at my school, those lunch ladies were magic! It's not common here, in fact, it was largely unheard of until last night, when we told a group of church ladies that we were having a chili and cinnamon bun fundraiser next month. I'm slowly converting the Pacific Northwest of this great Midwestern tradition!

Although I use a bread maker (and cuisinart's directions) for my cinnamon buns, they must have cream-cheese icing to get the full effect. I've included a list of some great recipes from well-known bakers and chefs. 

*Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Buns
*Joy the Baker's (via Savour) Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
*Ree Drummon'd Maple Cinnamon Buns (for my Canadian friends, of course)

Most people have their own favorite chili, so I say, pair it with what you like. Myself? I like a really meaty-not-as-beany chili and a bit of heat, but I almost never make it completely the same. That means plenty of chili powder, and I mix tomato base (like V8) with homemade broth. I just follow a backbone recipe and add what I have on hand.  Here are a few recipes for chili that look really good!

*Meaty Thick Man Chili Recipe (how can you go wrong with a name like that and 5 lbs of beef?)
*a crockpot solution to Meaty Chili 
*for the vegetarians, a Meaty, Meat-less Chili by Rachel Ray

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hikes with Kids: The Chief! (2nd Peak)

Shannon Falls view 

On Labor Day, Stefan and I had planned to take the kids up to Squamish. Originally we'd planned a day up there with friends, but with schedules, timing, and weather it hadn't worked out. I wanted to get up there before the rains came, and before our upcoming trip, and since we had 3 days off together, I knew we'd be able to spend 1 of those up in Squamish. Stefan looked up hikes, I packed enough food for a lunch and a decent snack, got the kids ready in exercise clothing, bathroom breaks, and something to do in the car, and we took off relatively early. The traffic was excellent (holiday) and we got to Squamish in an hour from our house, which is unreal. So far, so good.

The walk up to Shannon Falls was...not a hike. Since I had no preparation for what we were doing, I was a little disappointed when there were a hundred tourists just looking at a waterfall that was relatively far away, but oh no...we had not even begun! 

the top of 2nd peak, see small people to the bottom left for scale!

Stefan took us on an easy forest path and I expected it to be more of the same of what we've been doing with the kids--easy 5K nature path walks with a few inclines. Oh boy, was I in for a treat. Stefan and I had decided the kids were good and ready for more challenging hikes because they were coming away from those 5K ones with plenty of energy leftover, enough for us to grumble about it and plan ahead a little better! Stefan had found this hike and it said intermediate on the website, so he thought it would be fun to try out. Lucky for me, I consider these my main form of exercise for the day, and I got nearly 4 hours of hardcore exercise with this trail!

This hike was straight. UP. and it was intense. It was essentially rock stairs for an hour before coming to a bald rock face where everyone was stopping for a food break. I thought this was one of the peaks, but we hadn't even hit the fork in the road to get to the peaks yet! I was quite sweaty at this point and Lukka was nearly in tears that it wasn't the top. The incline was pretty challenging for him, though as usual, Ani found it enjoyable and kept up pace with Stefan!

those tiny people at the top (on the left) are my KIDS!

After we had a snack with them, Stefan overheard a woman saying that to get to 1st peak and 2nd peak is the same distance, and 2nd peak has a much better view at the top, so we decided to go that way. From the bald rock we had about an hour of uphill hiking left to go, complete with chains anchored into the rock ledge, a metal ladder assisting with a vertical climb, and a steep incline on the bald rock to get to the summit of 2nd peak. Holy cow it was a hard hike! The amazing thing is my kids made it before I did. Stefan was with them, assisting them with the technical stuff, and sitting with them at the very top to have a snack (those teeny tiny bodies up top are my kids!) and making sure they were clear of the edge. 

The kids loved using the chains and ladder system, and the people hiking up to the top (nary a child to be found!) were giving them high fives and were really excited to see kids up there, which was fun for them. I think that gave them a huge boost of confidence, especially as Ani was frightened just a bit on the way down the ladder (it sounds worse than it was). The way down had the three of them practically running the last 90 minutes, I, on the other hand, struggled with the decline, and my brain was really foggy. 

view of 1st peak from up on 2nd peak

On the ascent I struggled with a pounding headache, and it worsened on the way down because of 'choice overload'. Where to place my foot with each step down became overwhelming for me, and I often had to stop because I felt faint. I did not pack hardly any food for myself, though thankfully I had enough water. When I realized that my situation was because I had worked off a lot of calories and had not re-fueled with anything but water, I felt a little stupid. Of course we gave all our extra food to the kids, but if it was a warmer day out, I could have been in trouble. 

The views were spectacular. My pictures, of course, can't show even remotely what I saw up at the top of that mountain. It was gorgeous, and the views were so dizzyingly expansive, it almost makes me weak-kneed to think about it (and to remember that my KIDS were up there!). My biggest takeaway is be overly prepared with food and water, and potentially pain-killers, and stretch when at the bottom. I think my headache was, oddly enough, from altitude sickness, and we were really rocking. The info online says this hike takes 6 hours, but we did it in just under 4. We were hauling, and we really worked hard. I didn't stretch, and my muscles seized up on the car-ride home, taking about 3 days to recover fully from the strain! Food. Water. Stretch. DUH, Sarah!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Weekending - Biking around Stanley Park, Vancouver

fallen tree = instant playground

Okay. So, I have no actual photos of us biking around Stanley Park's seawall, but that'd be because we were biking. I do, however, have a few lovely photos to share from the time we spent at Stanley Park, mostly pausing for breaks for the kids, lunch, or just a pretty location for a picture. Stanley Park is one of my favorite places in Vancouver, and this year was the first time both kids biked all the way around the (5 mile) seawall on their own. The last time we did this, Ani was 4 and in the bike trailer, and Lukka had a bike so small he looked like he belonged in the circus. 

rowing practice for crew members

Both kids made it around with plenty of energy to spare (we considered going around twice), and enjoyed a picnic lunch at Third Beach, shown below, while the kids played in the sand on a beautiful Fall flavored day. The air was a perfect temperature, maybe 65, while the sun came in and out of the clouds. We spent time stopping quite frequently and the kids loved that fallen tree. So did Stefan! 

the long view of Third Beach

I didn't have any purpose to bike around Stanley Park, other than the fact that I enjoy the area and knew the kids would do great on the trail. It's such a lovely location, with the seawall going around the entire park, the views are just magnificent, especially on a clear day. We stretched out our long Labor Day weekend biking around the Seawall on Saturday, and doing a hard hike on Monday (coming soon). Although they often complain that they don't want to do something, they almost always enjoy the time we spend actually doing the active thing. If they're still bickering on the way home, we haven't tired them out enough!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Homeschool Field Trip: Apple Picking at Willow View Farms

I rarely set up field trips as intentional, often they'd be more categorically listed as "accidental" (happily!), and this would be one of those. The morning we went out to Willow View Farms in Abbotsford  was a gorgeous Fall day. It was chilly and sunny-just like apple picking should be. By mid-morning our jackets were off and we were noisily chomping our fresh honeycrisps.

With moving into the lowermainland of British Columbia last year near the end of September, I felt I really missed apple season, because as much as we travel back and forth between borders, we can't take fruit or seeded vegetables across with us. I was also schooling the kids, packing up our apartment in Blaine, WA, finding housing, and doing all sorts of other necessary and tiring things, and I unfortuantely missed one of my favorite seasons in the year-apple pickin' time. 

Growing up near Nebraska City, which is the home of Arbor Day, apples are THE Autumn seasonal marker for me,  aside from hayfever! I've picked apples with friends and family since our kids were babies, and before that participated in my own caramel apple glory from youth. Apples are A BIG DEAL, in other words, and missing them last year felt awful. 

 The apple season this year is early because of the high temperatures we've had all summer, so I was glad I'd been watching the local farms on facebook since early August. I was serious about apples this year, and I was rewarded beautifully! The friends we had planned to go with had a sick day that morning, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. The honeycrisps are some of our family's favorites, and they are extremely well priced for u-picks at $.89/lb. For one of the most expensive apples out there--that's a great price! We stocked up with about 27 lbs of apples this time, and will plan to go back later in the season when we're back from our trip if there's still some straggler varieties.

Often people love summer time, and I get that. The sun is out daily, everything is lush with growth, and there's plenty of time to relax by the pool, with friends under endless sunsets, and community activities, but Autumn will always be my favorite season. I love the weather turning from hot to chilly (but not frigid!), the colors everywhere, the routines of September (a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils, anyone?), and of course, the apples. I even found a fun cookbook to help me hone in on my apple recepies, An Apple A Day, which will come in handy with, ahem, 27 punds!

I'd definitely go back to Willow View Farms, as I thought their orchard was very clear and organized with a great product, the staff was really friendly, and there were a few things for kids to do, too, including feeding chickens, a petting zoo (goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, rabbits), and a playground suitable up to age 4. Lukka enjoyed the artful representation of the apple's life cycle and asked a few questions, and both kids loved the delicious 'firsts' of the honeycrisps.
 It was an excellent morning spent outside in the orchard! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hikes with Kids: Princeton Walkabout

thankful to dip my feet in the water, at least until the wasps came

This trip happened just a little over a month ago but it feels like it was months and months ago. The four of us took off to camp with friends at their cabin on Allison lake, in the Oakanagan region. It was hot the days we were there, but we had a lake to splash in, with rope swings, a kayak and a paddle board to try out, and plenty of kids to entertain ours! I mentioned to Stefan that this was probably one of my favorite camping trips to date because of three things: 1) other kids to play with our kids 2) going with our friends, and 3) indoor plumbling on the premises(!). Thanks to our generous friends who own the cabin, we were 1 of 5 families who set up a tent and enjoyed the area throughout the weekend. 

The first day we took a long hike with half the kids in very high heat and pooped ourselves out (the swim after was amazing!), but that's not the one I'll tell you about, because it's not even on the Allison lake recreation website, it's a local spot that you have to find once you're there. Instead, I'll tell you about the one we did the second day with nearly all the kids. We walked part of the Trans Canada Trail to the Red Ochre cliffs along the Similkameen River. 

I'm convinced that haze was the heat radiating off us all

We took the 30 minute car ride to get to the route our hosts had planned for us. There is a large tunnel through rock right at the beginning, which our huge pack of kids loved, and the rest of the way looked like the second picture above, just out in the open, sometimes next to a small cliffside of red clay. It was hot that day and we were all sweating quite a bit, so I was glad to plop down to the creek here and put my feet in the cold water! We all were. 

After a good rest, and the wasps cornering us, we started to head back, but I enjoyed the simple walk. We saw a lot of bikers around, too, and the gravel trail reminded me of the Jamaica trail (well, without the water) back in Lincoln that we'd ride on often. This trial is very easy and great for kids who need to burn off energy, whether they're walking, biking, or just plain hot, they'll have a fine time going through the tunnel, throwing rocks in the creek, or bottling up tiny minnows like mine did. 

 Thanks, Pawsey family, for letting us enjoy your neck of the woods for the weekend!

Monday, September 7, 2015

School Has Started: Resources and Changes in our Homeschool

I can relate to the top strip, Lukka can relate to the bottom

Our home has just finished week two of the 2015-2016 school year, and we're a bit early this year because of a big trip we'll take to Nebraska at the end of the month. Easing into school after a three-month full stop summer wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be, ease being the key word. Things will be very different for our schooling this year, because the kids will both participate in what's called Community Connections, a 'school once a week' with other homeschool kids, where they will fulfill PE, art, science, and history/geography requirements in a 6 hour day, over the course of 30 weeks. 
That means I only have to school my kids in the following subjects this year: Language Arts, Math, Health/Career, Bible, and French (optional). I have felt a huge amount of relief in this change.

CC will enable my kids to meet other homeschoolers their age (they are divided into grade levels, 2 grades in each class) and will work on projects and have consistent friendships throughout the school year, and my hope is that some of Lukka and Ani's favorite subjects (Science and Art, respectively) will be taken to another level by a teacher who is passionate and prepared to do the knitty-gritty science projects, labs, etc. that I can do, but I'd like a break from doing. When we lived in Washington, Home Connections was an alternative education experience similar that we all loved, though they were supplemental classes, not covering their entire subject outcomes through the year. My hope is that CC will look the same to the kids, with my knowledge knowing that I do not have to plan for those 4 classes this year round for either of them. 

Without much time away from my kids over the last three years, my personal time is limited. Without  our daily quiet time, I'd be a shriveled and dried up excuse of a mom. Quiet time enables me to give my head a shake, get those 'BBs in the boxcar' to stop rattling for a bit, catch my breath, give my kids  a chance to entertain themselves, and pursue things I enjoy, but somehow it just hasn't felt like enough, lately. If I have some high introvert readers, they might understand my predicament. I have quite a bit of free time (because I schedule it into my days) but for the last 6-12 months, it really hasn't felt like enough. I also have some responsibilities that I just really need a whole day of the week to focus on, and that has been a luxury of the past. CC will enable me to drop off my kids for 6 hours once a week, so I can focus intensely on some of those things, and I am so grateful for it. 

I don't intend to do it every year (I guess we'll see how it goes this year, first!), because I really enjoy seeing Lukka explode with a "WOW, Mom!" after an experiment and love seeing Ani 'in flow' with her art supplies, for hours at a time. I love seeing my kids learn firsthand, and that's what homeschooling is about. This option is, for this year, necessary and a chance for me to breathe. Thankfully, Lukka is coming around to the idea (he so misses Home Connections and the friends he made there), and Ani is estatic to have something similar. 

As for those other school subjects that I'm in charge of? Well, I already have a broad-level scope of what resources I want to use, and what the kids will learn, aside from Health/Career, which I just have to follow the school's learning outcomes and supplement with books and such. Here are some of the resources we're using, and what the kids will be learning this year:

*Singapore Math - still a favorite resource and Ani will be starting grade level 2 (she's in 1st grade) near Halloween. Both of my kids went really fast the first year of this math program, and slow down around grade 2. I'm seeing the same pattern with her. Lukka is working on level 2 (he's in 3rd grade), which is the expectation for the advanced math program. 

*Language Arts- The goal for Ani is to be reading leveled readers by the end of May, and she's well on her way. Starfall(.com) and the online program Reading Eggs has helped her tremendously with phonics and reading practice, along with daily Explode the Code (1 1/2 for Ani, 4 for Lukka) pages. 
I'll be spending more time writing with Lukka this year, and working through Ruth Heller's fantastic "World of Language" picture book series (they help with understanding concepts like verbs, nouns, etc.). Both kids will also be practicing their print writing this year with mama-made paragraphs (Calvin and Hobbes jokes for Lukka, storylines for Ani) with the handwriting worksheets you can make yourself online and print off for free. Oh yeah, and reading excellent books together!

*Bible - The goal for this year is to go through the Egermeier's children's bible (don't let the full name confuse you, this bible has pictures, but it is a BIG and in-depth children's bible with the next step up being an actual bible), include the kids' participation in our church's Sunday School classes, and read/talk about the daily Adventures in Odyssey devotional I have, also. I also got a great resource, the Grace and Truth Memory Book (1)  last year from a friend and I love how I now have a use for it. The kids will be memorizing some scripture verses this year. Everything else is so intregrated into our family life it's just modeling, talking, answering questions, and participating in things like church, community group, and the like. 

*Health/Career - This subject we really just do as we go. I don't have an overarching plan for this subject aside from getting the requirements done, which I can do with books from the library. For example, talking about health, safety, emergency drills, body changes, etc. I've got a handout from the school on what each child needs to learn or complete in the year and I'll just be glancing at it once in awhile and planning accordingly. So much of this subject falls into "family home life" for me it's hard to think about it as a school subject!

*French (optional) - French is not required until 5th grade here (I think), but because I was a couple credits away from having a French minor in college (long story), I've always read books in French to the kids, had them listen to French music, and the like to be familiar with the language in ways that are easy to absorb. It's easier for kids to learn another language, and so even though it has never been a requirement, I've always tacked it onto the work we do at home. This year we'll still be using quite a few of the same resources, but because we're in Canada now, where French is the second official language, there are French children's books, music, and dvds at every library, so it's easy to find new resources to use and keep up with. I find workbook work tedious, but I had good luck with Duolingo for both kids, and will also have them play a few French language games to help with practice...and of course lots of Youtube French videos and cartoons! They will pipe up on their own often enough French words, and so I know it's getting stored in there somehow!

Friday, September 4, 2015

15 in 2015: Make "Joy the Baker" 's Confetti Cookies

the cookies as dough balls before baking 

It's the last day of August as I type this and lately I've been feeling the push to get a few more of the 15 in 2015 things done before the next four (four!!) months slip by with school starting, traveling, and holiday seasons start in. This 'thing', was a simple one: bake the Vanilla Bean Confetti Cookies from Joy the Baker's Homemade Decadance cookbook before the year was out.

 These cookies are just as beautiful as they look in the book, though mine were (ahem) slightly less uniform. Thankfully for YOU, Joy has those pretty cookies on her website for free. Her cookbook, well, bakebook, as she is a full-time baker, is fantastic. I've made now 5 items out of it since I bought it around March or April, and I've loved everything. There is a picture on every page which is a must for me when I buy a cookbook. This book includes not only baked goods like cookies, but cakes, cocktails, breakfast items, ice creams, bars, etc. It's a really well-rounded book and I'd gift it to a foodie if and when the opportunity presents itself.

It's not like making cookies is all that extraordinary, but we all get stuck in our rut of familiar and chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins are my two go-tos to bake for our family or others. I was invited to a large baby shower that was also a potluck, and just the fact that I had to make something that could also cross the border (i.e. no fruits or veggies) lit a fire under me to make something and I remembered this item I wanted to bake. Not only that, but the multicolored sprinkles went really well with a baby shower. Win-win. I didn't end up using vanilla beans since I didn't have them on hand (they are so expensive here) but I upped the vanilla extract by 1/2 tsp. and they were definitely sweet enough!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hikes with Kids: McKee Peak

the lookout at the top!

As the last real days of summer are quickly coming to an end in the lower mainland, Stefan and I have been hiking with the kids every Saturday morning. We'll pick a place we've never been to, and find a hike that will be a doable challenge for the kids and at least a bit of a workout for us. If I'm going to do the work, I want to make sure I get good and sweaty, and tired myself! As we drove to Sumas mountain to look for the elusive hiking trailhead, we found that it was closed due to fire safety issues. We didn't want to go completely home without hiking (what a bust!) because we had driven about an hour to that point. Stefan found that close by was a hike that was also a downhill bike trail and apparently it had a good view from the top. Did it ever!

McKee peak is one of those trails that you'd never notice from the side of the road but the locals all know about. At the beginning, the area to the side is under construction. It looks like they are developing the area, but there's no way they'd cut into the mountain so after a little elevation gain you're totally in the woods. The hike was a challenge for our kids because it's pretty much straight up and straight down. The day we went was pretty warm out, and the final push up to the lookout is steep. There are many downhill bikers that are hiking with their bikes up the hill and when Stefan asked how long it takes them to go down, one replied, "about 5 minutes"...that's how fast those guys go down the hill! Crazy. 

The lookout at the top is completely worth the view, but take care to read the directions to find the actual lookout, the top is just a boring radio/electrical tower with no view. The view is INCREDIBLE. The spot to lookout is extremely small, though, and on a cliff ledge. I basically let the kids stay there for three minutes, and then told them they had to go back. I was pretty anxious to get them back 'into the woods'. I'd take extreme caution with children 5 and under. 

Of course the photo at the top just doesn't do a darn thing for the actual view at the top. You can see for miles, (that thin strip that cuts the photo in half is the highway) and on a clear day is was gorgeous. What a view! My ipad just doesn't do what we saw any justice, I guess you'll have to go up there yourself!

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Book Titles

*50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha -- I heard the author on a podcast and the book sounded good. It was described as a book full of 5-7 page mini biographies on each woman, and that sounded both easy and interesting. It was. I really enjoyed this book and plan to give it away as a Christmas gift to someone I know will get a lot out of it. I really don't know that much about Christianity's historical females, and I felt I learned a lot. Some of the women I had never even heard of before, and it was fun to read about women I'd heard of before by name, but knew little about their lives.

*The Story of Science by Susan Wise Bauer -- Oy. This book was tough to get through. Not because the writing wasn't good (it was excellent), but because of the subject matter and my right-brain. Out of any schoolish subjects, I would rate Science as my least favorite and most difficult. I read this book because when I had the kids' school order it, I thought I was getting a book similar in format to this curriculum, for my science-loving kid. It was not comparable in format or narrative, but it would be an excellent text for a high school or college student who wants a big-picture overview of the most famous and world-changing science texts throughout history. I took it slow and read a 5-10 page chapter a day, getting through it in over a month, that's how difficult I found the subject matter. It was not a page-turner for me, but the notes, bibliography, and explanations were very well done.

*The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls -- Phew, an easy novel to break it up! I love Jeanette Walls' writing, and this was her last book I had to read. Her stories and characters are captivating, and she can easily go between fiction and memoir (Half-Broke Horses) so easily, in my opinion. This story was about two sisters who had a neglectful mother, a strange but kind uncle, and an incident that would go on to change all of their lives. I think I read it in a few days. I don't read fluff, but I'd consider this--a page-turning fiction book--a beach read. I'd recommend it to anyone who liked her other book, The Glass Castle.

*Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Michael Long -- Well Stefan made fun of me for reading this book, but I learned so much about a childhood favorite from the research of Michael Long. It turns out that the Presbyterian pastor was not only a radical pacificist (which I wouldn't have known at the tender age of 5, when I probably started watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood), but he was so engaged in peace-making politics that he was on the front lines of every major equal rights, anti-war, pro-aid, and diplomatic issue front and center with his family centered tv show throughout the decades, even starting the first week of his show as a slam to current US politics! This book isn't a page-turner, but it is really fascinating and I am glad I read it. It isn't a biography, which is what I thought going into it (and I certainly would have liked to have more info on his actual growing up, homelife and family life); it is about the decisions he made as a pacificist, and how he showed what a peaceful life looks like to children and their adult caretakers through the program he created.

*Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman -- This book was so weird. Honestly, it was such an intriguing narrative: a collection of historical fiction essays on just that-nearly famous women in history. The author has enough facts to go on to tell a story about these women in history, but she filled in the details with her imagination. A lot of the stories were odd, graphic, and tragic, and it only took me a few plane rides to finish it. I don't know who I'd recommend it to, the nature of the book was so niche.

Read-Alouds with Kids:

*Imagination Station #1: Voyage with the Vikings  by Marianne Hering -- I read this book with the kids over the two days where we had two other kiddos staying with us. The four of them loved it and kept begging for another chapter. This series appears to be a Christian substitute for the Magic Tree House series (go back in time, solve historical fiction mysteries, same grade level), and they were easily hooked. I read to them during meal times, so their mouths were busy and their attention was full. I'd be interested in having my kids read more of this series, because I think juvenile historical fiction is how I got hooked on reading, and many, many kids love a good mystery!

*The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh - This was a short novella, maybe 50 pages or so, about a young pioneer girl who helps her father by cooking for him as he's building their family's new house hundreds of miles away from their actual family. It's based on a true story and my kids enjoyed it. I had heard about this book from an online read-aloud forum, with many honorable mentions, but I didn't think the book was that great (oh, large expectations, you get me every time!). A great book as a supplement to learning about Pioneers or the Wild West, but no Little House.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Nebraska Wedding Trip

Wouldn't you know it? I traveled back to Nebraska for a week of wedding, and I didn't take a single photo except a 'plane window' photo the first day, and a token 'bags in the airport' photo on the way home! I didn't take my phone because it doesn't work outside of Canada, so my photo options were limited to my ipad, which I didn't take everywhere I went, though I should have brought it along to document the wedding week lead-up. I was too busy having fun and making memories with my elementary school friends and the bride's college roomates before horsing around (literally) with my friend at her ranch, Hickory Hallow, before I flew back home.

Leading up to the wedding, most of the bridesmaids spent the nights in a suite together and the first night out (Thursday), was the bachelor/bachelorette party, in which I had the best cocktail I've ever had (a peach mojito), and the longest I've stayed awake in what feels like a decade (nearly 3AM). Friday morning I helped the MOB -mother of the bride- do a few errands, set up the reception hall table displays, and then all the bridesmaids were taken out to lunch at Upstream Brewery. That afternoon, the girls went their separate ways and I hung out with an old Cathedral Eagle, Jenna, before the rehearsal. That came and went and we feasted at Johnny's Steakhouse for the rehearsal dinner, where I shared a story of how I knew my friend (the bride) would end up marrying the groom based on a photo I had seen of him on facebook. Hopefully, everyone thought it was funny!

Saturday all day was wedding preparations and the wedding, party bus, and reception. That evening I stayed with my mom and stepdad in a beautiful hotel, the Magnolia (thanks, mom!) before a fantastic breakfast and then back to my mom's place for the afternoon. We made gf zucchini bread, toured the house renos and the backyard gardens, and ate ripe tomatoes off the plant and pet the kitties before being taken to my friend Emily's house for the evening. Emily put her baby to bed early and we went out to the barn, and tacked up some of her horses for a horse ride! I hadn't been on a horse in years, since before I moved, and although it was like getting back onto a bike, with a few sore thighs to show for it! We had quite a few funny moments out there, as well (wink). We stayed up til' midnight talking, along with another friend, Ali, and I had the first good sleep I'd had in days piled up on about five pillows.

Unfortunately, my last two days were all traveling, and because of storms where my Vancouver connection was, I missed the last flight out and had to spend the night in the O'Hare airport before a long 4-hour flight back. It was rough, but I'm home now, showered, rested, and doing a lot of laundry. Back in the saddle after a great week away, but I'm looking forward to not being in an airport for awhile, at least until our 3 weeker at the end of September!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer Break

Cultus lake on a cloudy day

This week and next I'll be away and because I have nothing but busy days, lots of 'have tos' before my upcoming trip to a friend's wedding, and quite a few obligations between here and then, I'm signing off for a week or two. Enjoy the last bits of Summer, friends!

Friday, July 31, 2015

July Book Titles

All four of us on the couch, until I was too hot

I've been reading a lot this month, and although I'm really close to finishing other books, because I've been reading them slowly, they'll be in the August post. Here's what I read in July:

*The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion-  This was my first Didion book and looking back I can't believe I found this memoir at the Salvation Army for $1. This book was so beautifully written, so painful and vulnerable, that I can't imagine not passing it on to someone else, instead of just donating it like your old, plastic hangers. I first noticed it because it won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2005, and I really resonate with the winners of that particular award (nonfiction and fiction categories). I almost always love the books that win that award in those genres, so I (obviously) paid the $1 for it. It's a book about Didion's first year without her husband after his passing, and during that year her only child (adult then) spent over half the year in hospitals deathly ill. It's, admittedly, not for everyone, but this book might just be a bit of salve during a numb time following the death of a family member, or someone going through seasons of serious self-reflection. Not agreeing with the author's worldview made it painfully tough to read at times, but it's a beautiful book worth reading.

*The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle-- Phew! Enough tense, this book was all fun. It's sort of anthology of funny marriage anecdotes, that had me laughing out loud pretty much throughout the whole book. Shankle's humor is contagious, and you can just imagine the dead-pan jokes going on in this living room. I'd listened to a lot of interviews with Shankle before deciding this would be the book of hers I'd try first. I'd definitely pick up one the other if I saw it at the library and it hit my mood just right. Fluff, with a little bit of love, forgiveness, humor and budget control, reads like this.

*True Spirit: The True Story of a 16 year-old Austrailian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World by Jessica Watson -- I'd wanted to read this memoir for about a year, when I first heard about the incredible story of a teenager sailing around the world by herself. It's a pretty lofty goal, but Watson recants again and again that it was achievable because of a lot of hard work and planning. A lot of this book included her blog posts that she wrote from the boat while she was sailing, but since I never followed along it was all new info to me. Being real, there are a lot of boring parts to this book, especially the first 50-100 pages of just explaining the prepartion that went into planning, buying, fixing the boat, etc. I found the following 200+ pages much more entertaining to read, and I definitely learned a lot about sailing through reading. It's a pretty amazing story of how this young, homeschooled girl achieved her dream of sailing around the world by herself, in just under a year!

*Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town by Jon Krakauer -- Not a pleasant topic, this book is not for everyone, but if you love nonfiction, or a good thriller, this is an absolutely fantastic and interesting book. I honestly couldn't put it down. (As of writing this in advance, I have about 80 pages left and absolutely no qualms about saying I'll finish it in the next two days.) The reader is taken through numerous accounts of sexual assaults and what the city, university, and justice system in Montana did for these victims. The statistics I learned are incredible. For example, 90+% of men who commit rape once are serial rapists and they have no idea that thier sexual exploits are considered taboo and/or rape. My mouth was hanging wide open in disbelief and shock many, many times while reading this journalistic report of college-town scandal. Even when the evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the women who were raped, the town and even police would practically throw the case out because of who was getting accused (i.e. the beloved football players of the local university team). I highly recommend a number of his books--I've read at least half of them because they are true-story mysteries, even with chapters are left with cliff-hangers, and everything is explained in the end.  An important book, that's for sure. I'd very much recommend reading this book if I were in highschool and/or college, with an emphasis on self-control with alcohol and drug use.

Read-Alouds with the kids:

*Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson- The final book in the Grandma's Attic series was probably my least favorite of the four. The book is actually written differently (there are no 'intros' or 'outros' to each story like the other three) than the others, and it feels disconnected a bit to the others. This could be because the main character is much older in this group of stories, but we finished it, my kids loved it, and I enjoyed reading it aloud. The writing is great and the lessons are still just as great as the other three. 

*A to Z Mysteries: The Absent Author by Ron Roy -- My book-loving kids are not reading chapter books on their own (aside from the Mercy Watson series), and my thought was with this book was that I'd introduce the first of the mystery series, in the hopes that my son would take to them like a duck in water (he loves mysteries), and gain a level of reading currently hanging above him in confidence only, not ability. My kids loved this book and were always making 'who-dunnit' guesses, but I did not enjoy the writing. It was very generic and simple, but it did pique my son's interest, though I have yet to see him handle a  book at this level. 

*The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo- I am unabashedly a massive Kate DiCamillo fan. I like to say my affection runs deep; if I believed in such things she'd be my spirit animal. She is the best children's and YA author in our generation, in my humble opinion. That's why it pains me to say, I didn't overly love this novel of hers. It was a National Book Award finalist, and it was very well-written, but I thought the description lacked DiCamillo's gift of metaphor and nostalgia. My kids enjoyed this book (hey, it does include a real tiger in a cage in the middle of the woods), but it was too old for them. There were a lot of topics in the book that were way over their head, and that they didn't catch on to. Perhaps that's why my impression was soiled a bit, but of all of her books, I'd have to place this one last.