Random Acts of Kind Weirdness

#sexyghostOn Halloween night, I was thinking about random acts of weirdness and how they can brighten someone’s day. Of course what got me thinking about this was when I realized that using just my #sexyghost costume, I could really either freak people out or make them laugh by simply standing very still — say, under a streetlight, or in a dark corner of our yard. How much fun would it be to wear the costume around dusk and stand in the woods just off a bike path somewhere? I mean, as long as I didn’t get beat up.

This got me thinking of other random acts of weirdness — something that used to be one of my favourite hobbies. My best friend and I used to do things like rollerskate around the neighbourhood in angel wings (we were 18, not 8), and we had grand plans of setting up a fake Christmas tree in the park in the middle of May. I also like to buy flowers and hand them out to strangers, paint rocks and leave them in unexpected places, or create treasure hunts in the library for strangers. I miss doing these things! Continue reading


What This Blog Is Now

I wish this were an update, fully documenting what we’ve been up to, or how awesome homeschooling has been going (for the record – it has!). However, I’m just writing a quick post for now to update and say that this will be one of my primary forms of record-keeping for Neko’s Grade Three homeschooling year.

She has begun a blended program that is half public school, half unschooling – she will be in a school setting one day a week, with a second day every other week, and some Friday sport days and field trips as well. The rest of the time, she is unschooling as she has been so far.

Neko's first day of Grade Three. So thrilled!

Neko’s first day of Grade Three. So thrilled!

While not a full update, I’m happy to report that her reading and writing are up to grade level, and I would say that her math is close (more importantly to me, she finds it fun and we don’t fight about it. She has no context for math as punishment nor difficulty. And that is my longterm goal.). Science and social studies are not a concern, as they never have been. Phys ed, music, art and all the rest are going great (how could they not be? So fun!!).

Our learning plan for the year is complete, though I freely admit that I’m not beholden to even my own plans, and these are nothing but loose goals. That said, we’re aiming for the following this year:

Math: units of measure, charts and graphs, describing quantities to 1000 using different methods, multiply to 5×5, beginning division concepts

Language arts: proper spelling (moving away from just phonics), learning to access reference materials (dictionaries, encyclopedias), punctuation, capitalization, alphabetical order, story-telling (describing characters and setting), using electronic library catalog, typing skills

Science: build and test structures, describe and classify rocks and minerals, explore the nature of sound, plant growth and changes, waste and our world, magnets

Social studies: nothing specific aside from Hawaiian culture (we’re going to Maui this winter) – we generally wing it with social studies.

Physical education: improving swimming skills, winter sports – downhill skiing or snowboarding, gymnastics, hiking

Fine arts: guitar basics, appreciate different styles and media in visual art, experience the performing arts, create art using different media and techniques, understand and appreciate rhythm, explore a variety of folk dances

We’ll be tracking Neko’s progress through this blog, her personal student journal, a portfolio, and of course parental observation and even the odd worksheet.

Screen-Free Week: What We’ve Been Up To

So far, at the halfway point (Thursday afternoon), screen-free week has been going great! I’ve obviously written a couple of blog posts; I also have to check email and Facebook for the store; and have had to check Facebook as my friends and I are organizing a getaway for this weekend via Facebook. However, I haven’t watched any TV, nor has Neko, and I’ve drastically cutback my time online. I have only been checking essential Facebook notifications (not groups, etc), and have only gone on Pinterest to plan activities for today.

This week, instead of staring at screens, we have:

  • gone for walks, in the sun and the rain, to the library, the grocery store, the park and the fire station (unfortunately all the firefighters were out on a call, so we couldn’t get a tour).

Neko and Mairead on the way to the playground on a rainy Monday.

  • made oil pastel trees – this kept the girls occupied for a full hour while Finn napped on Monday! I love the way they turned out.

Making oil pastel circles to cut out.

Neko with her finished tree, and mine.

  • played with friends, every day.
  • had a bath, with hot chocolate, after a long bus trip home and transfers in the rain.
  • read lots of chapters of Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
  • baked a cake in the Easy Bake Oven (TM).
  • listened to music and danced.
  • drawn pictures.
  • made cornstarch/baking soda modeling clay.

Playing with modelling clay.

  • cleaned the bathroom (Neko. Seriously. We decide not to watch TV for a week and you volunteer to clean the sink and bathtub? Do you think we’ll ever watch TV again? She did a decent job, too.)
  • packed for the weekend (Neko is going to my parents’; I’m going on a girls’ weekend.)
  • made rock candy! (It was easy to entice friends over to do this one with us.)

Our vats of very sugary solution – to become sugar crystals clinging to a bamboo skewer! AKA, “rock candy.”

  • learned about the letter ‘X’ (via Jolly Phonics).
  • built marble runs out of wooden train track (much trickier than it sounds, and yet, it kept Neko amused, both with Mairead and later, solo, for at least a couple of hours – and she didn’t even get frustrated!).
  • put up the backless, window-mounted birdhouse. Hopefully some feathered friends will decide to call it home so we can observe them!

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent whining to watch TV (Neko, not me). These three days confirmed to me that screen time is, in fact, a habit. I mentioned way back when that we used to have a routine in the mornings – Justan and I would stay in bed far too long, while Neko watched far too much TV. It was really negative, with negative behaviour to go along with it. We cut that out and it was immediately apparent how much of a habit it had been. Cutting out TV for even these few days has confirmed that it’s a habit for Neko, and for us. It’s been nice to do other things instead.

However, I’ve missed Facebook. I had a relapse tonight. I get a lot of joy and laughter from my friends on Facebook. I also get a lot of news from Facebook. I have very politically aware friends, on whom I rely heavily to keep me up to speed on certain issues. I, in turn, keep my friends up to date on the issues I follow closely. I was on Facebook a few times a day, for very short periods, to take part in the planning of the event this weekend. I also have to keep tabs on my business page (though my business partner has done most of that this week). However, I wasn’t checking any non-essential notifications. I did have a relapse tonight, though. And it was great. I do need balance with social media but generally I feel I have it. Also, I’ll be off Facebook for the most part, all weekend, as I’ll be at a cabin in the mountains with good friends and plenty of wine and food.

Tomorrow morning, Neko leaves for my parents’ place. She probably will get a bit of screen time, however they don’t watch much TV there, and because it’s spring, they’ll spend a lot of time out in the woods and pastures. If it rains all weekend (like it has most of this week), I’m sure she’ll get more TV – but I don’t feel right sending her to my parents for free childcare and then demanding they keep her amused on my terms all weekend!

I hope you’re all having a great Screen Free Week (or a great week, screen and all).

Boats! (Or, Oh How I Love Spring)

A love of running water, or so the story goes, runs on my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother, my mother, I and now Neko all have the utter inability to resist running water of any sort – melting snow creating rivers, melting ice creating paths through the still-frozen ice, springs, creeks, rivers, anything. I’ve been known to stop on the side of a mountain road just to inspect a spring runoff creek running in the ditch.

So when a spring dump of snow brought a big melt the following day, sending rushing rivers through the gutters, I could only think one thing: BOATS!

What is more fun than building boats, then floating them down streams? I would argue, pretty much nothing.

My recipe for boats? Styrofoam meat trays (we don’t have many, but I save the ones that pass through our house), toothpicks or bamboo skewers (to be the flagpole of course!), wine corks (for this… we must drink more wine!), string (to retrieve the boats when they go off course), and anything you have around that is light and might be nice for decorating the boats.

In the end, we discovered that the streams didn’t exist in our own neighbourhood (we were in a different quadrant of the city when we spotted them in the morning), however, all you need is a bit of a puddle to have a satisfying boat-floating experience.

We ended up with Neko’s styrofoam-basket-boat with a half, popsicle stick roof, and a flag; my wine cork and popsicle stick boat; and a styrofoam meat tray each for Mairead and Finn.

My best tip? Use hot glue. Seals up the holes, holds things in place, and of course, impervious to water. Fantastic!

Happy spring, everyone!

Here’s What Happened While I Was Gone

Oops, bad blogger. So, Justan (that’s my husband) went away for about seven weeks. He came home for 1-4 days a couple times in there for a total of about six days, but mostly, Neko and I were on our own. I had all these work engagements scheduled (classes, speaking engagements, trade fairs and so on) during the first couple of weeks, so those two weeks were really stressful. But mostly I just didn’t feel like doing anything by the end of each day, after being “on” all day. So, I didn’t write blog posts. Sorry about that! I’ve got a little rundown here of some fun things that we did, some of which I wish I would have blogged at the time. In fact I might still do separate posts for some of these because there are lots of photos and I want to write more detail.

On February 10th, we made personalized muffins. Mairead and Finn were over, and I made a basic muffin batter and let them each choose two fruits to put in (we had a variety of dried and frozen).

The muffin making process.

We ended up with blueberry-strawberry, strawberry-apricot and blackberry-raspberry. Yum!

On the 13th we were up in Red Deer, where Justan was working on a Hellman’s TV ad. It was a TV spot about a Red Deer school that had decided to get rid of their deep fryers and only serve fresh foods in their cafeteria. If you’re not getting this, Hellman’s pitch right now is that they are mayo made with whole ingredients and therefore… a health food? Anyway. We won’t get into that. It was fun to see the commercial being filmed, because it featured a monster truck crushing a deep fryer, which is something that is, of course, on everyone’s bucket list. It was a neat morning out for Neko and for me. I would have done a blog post just about this, but my mother in law doesn’t have WiFi, so I felt a bit lost while we were there and didn’t get around to accomplishing anything online when we got back.

The deep fryer in its final moments.

I wanted a somber feel for this photo. This is immediately after they killed the deep fryer. Death by monster truck.

While we were at the school, Neko took the opportunity to play for a while. There was a big stack of strawbales that they had initially used to conceal the monster truck, and first she played on those. Then, she used the teeter totter to catapult her stuffed animal and we learned about levers and fulcrums.


As some of you may have heard, winter skipped Canada this year. February 16th felt like April. So, we invited friends over and went for a walk. We have some really beautiful river parks in our neighbourhood, and we love to spend lots of time in them. We see wildlife like beavers, bald eagles, deer, assorted other birds and coyotes.

Can anyone out there tell whether this is a bald eagle? I find it easier to tell when they’re flying.

We checked out Homeschool Day at the new Telus Spark Science Centre, and I won’t include much on that here, because it deserves its own post, especially since there are lots of people out there interested in reviews. Sure, it was a month ago, but it’s still worth writing about. But here is my favourite shot from that day:

Neko watching the marble as she and her friends test the marble run they built. They did a great job!

Another favourite activity of late was Sharpie tie dye. A friend posted it on Facebook, and I’ve also seen it on Pinterest. It was a huge hit! We’ll definitely be doing this again. Find detailed instructions here: http://theartgirljackie-tutorials.blogspot.ca/2011/10/tie-dye-t-shirts-with-sharpie-markers.html.

The girls tie dyeing their shirts with Sharpies and rubbing alcohol.

Our Pinterest Spree

We found ourselves with an unexpected free day on Friday, so we chose a few ideas from Pinterest and had some fun!

First, we painted rocks with little hearts on them. The original idea is here – I found it so charming. Here are our finished stones (it’s winter, so we chose stones from our own rock collections. We both find pretty stones irresistible, so there are always extras around!):

Our finished heart rocks.

Today (Sunday), we placed our stones all over in unexpected spots in the front yard. We will definitely be doing this again in the future and taking them out into the world! It’s so simple but it made me really happy, and I know it would make me happy to find one while I was out and about.

Neko chooses the spot for her first stone.

Justan says this picture is creepy. I think it’s cute.

We have a lamp post in front of our house. I wonder how many people will notice this stone!

This one is tucked into the peeling bark on our Mountain Ash.

Look carefully when you climb our front steps!

Neko placed this one outside her window. Yes… our window frames are dirty.

Then Neko had a bath with glow sticks. So simple, but a big hit! Works even better with two or more kids.

Her new toy bearded dragon joined her as well.

While she was in the bath, I put together some “ice eggs” for another day. Here is the inspiration for these:

“A Little Learning for Two” had this fun idea for a hot summer day!

We’ll be playing with these in the bath sometime soon. Right now there are a bunch in my deep freeze!

Friday: Enjoy the Journey

This post is the seventh in a series of eight concerning Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. For the original post and summary, click here.

Friday is a day of Detachment. The message for today is, “Enjoy the journey.”

The idea for today is to stop worrying about controlling the outcome of everything. Ideally we will teach our kids to throw themselves into things with enthusiasm despite the fact that we never know what the outcome will be. While I feel like this will take a long time for Neko to understand, I also think this is extremely important for children to learn. Right away, I can see the situations where this would be a valuable lesson – board games, for instance.

We had a nice day on Friday, and I felt like it was fitting for the “Detachment” idea. Mairead and Finn were supposed to come over in the afternoon, but the whole family was sick, so they stayed home. Justan had to work nearby, which meant Neko and I were left alone, but with the car. This hasn’t happened in a long time! Mairead and Finn don’t fit in our car (well… they do. But there is not enough room for three carseats.), and usually when Justan is working, he has the car. I thought it was funny that we had an unexpected turn of events today!

I turned to my Pinterest boards for fun ideas, and Neko and I chose a few. We then made a list of the supplies we needed, and visited the thrift shop, the dollar store and the craft store.

We chose….

I can’t find the original poster of this one, but it’s made the social network rounds and has been anecdotally proven to be a hit!

This charming idea from the Color Me Katie blog really captured our attention. We both love rocks! How simple and cute!

I will do a separate post with the results of these. We had a lot of fun. I have quite a few ideas for things to do on future Fridays. I think this will be one of the days we have the most fun! Here are my ideas:

a) do unpredictable experiments – I don’t have any specific ideas yet. This is a little tricky, because usually experiments suggested for kids have a set outcome. But maybe something weather dependent, or maybe testing out different styles of paper airplanes? Lots of wiggle room here, though, as many experiments are unpredictable to kids. I’ll be keeping this in mind and I’ll see what I come up with. As always, I would love suggestions!

b) talk about our own lives, and what might happen – I personally find comfort in thinking of all the most likely outcomes and being okay with any of them. I’d love to pass this on to Neko.

c) play a board game – win or lose, it’s about having fun. Hey… kind of like life!

d) enter a contest – Neko is always seeing contests (usually drawing contests) on kids’ morning TV. I’m sure there are better contests for learning this lesson – like entering for a door prize at an event we attend – as it has more of an impact if you can see the contest results.

e) burn or release the intentions from yesterday – if you wrote intentions on paper yesterday, how about cooking over the fire (or lighting a fire in the fireplace) tonight and burning those intentions to release them. Don’t be attached to the outcome!

f) play with a tone matrix – yes, it’s true, you could figure out what each combination will sound like. But the fun is on choosing random spots and checking out the result. Try this tone matrix  or this one that “pulsates” and looks and sounds a bit like raindrops.

Neko really enjoyed trying both. They kept her amused for quite some time!

Embarrassingly, I have not been able to come with any story ideas yet. Not for lack of trying! I’m sure Helen Lester must have one about not being a sore loser.

Movie ideas: Homeward Bound, Up!

Thursday: Every Time You Wish or Want, You Plant a Seed

This post is the sixth in a series of eight concerning Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. For the original post and summary, click here.

Thursday is the day of Intention of Desire. The message for today is, “Every time you wish or want, you plant a seed.”

I like this idea, because it’s one that I believe in strongly. I believe that the Universe (context: I’m a pantheist) wants to give each of us what we want, and we help it to do so by creating intentions. I also believe that our intentions send out certain vibrations and thus attract like vibrations, in turn bringing us just what we put out. At least, that’s an overly simplified explanation. Neko and I talked about this today, including how you should be careful what you wish for, as sometimes you might wish for something that isn’t actually in your best interest, but then you might get it. Her first thought when I asked what she would really like her life to be like? She said she either wants to go to Narnia, or have the Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan come here. I wasn’t sure what to say to that, especially since Sunday’s lesson is that “anything is possible” (really struggling with that one from a child’s perspective). Is it really possible for the characters from our favourite books to come visit us? Help me out here, Deepak.

I have tons of neat ideas for upcoming Thursdays, as this theme lends itself easily to all sorts of crafts, activities and conversations, but for today, we did a little visualization exercise before bed. I visualized sitting inside our strawbale house and feeling very peaceful, while Neko visualized seeing the boy she has a crush on, and also attending another Jellybean Dance. She loves visualizing so this went over well.

A part of my strawbale house visualization – the view from our homesite at Solstice.

Onto those neat ideas. Some things I’d like to do on Thursdays:

a) make a vision board – using pictures cut out from magazines, printed off the computer, or drawn, create a collage of just how you would like your life to be. This can encompass your whole life, or a certain area, such as fitness, work, home, or family. Don’t limit yourself by attempting to be reasonable – dream big. You never know what might manifest in your life!

b) write a story in which the thing you want to happen, is happening – this is something I often do for myself. When I do it on my own, I write what my life would like if my wish came true, only I write about it in the present tense. “I am so happy right now in our strawbale house. It’s so peaceful here…” I think this same idea would adapt well to kids!

c) practice visualization – have your child choose something they really want. Are they missing someone? Is there an activity they would like to try? A trip they’d like to take? Talk them through a visualization in which they experience what they’re wishing for, in their head. Visualization is a powerful tool, and one that will help them later in life. Among other things, using visualization before an athletic event to picture yourself doing well has been proven to improve performance!

d) set goals with lists of how to achieve them – setting actual goals, and listing ideas of just what needs to be done to reach those goals, is a practical way of making your dreams coming true. Goal setting is another valuable habit for kids to learn.

e) blow bubbles – put an intention into each bubble, then watch it float away. Another part of today’s message is that once we release our intention, we must have faith that if it’s in our best interest, it will happen. We can’t continue to obsess over whether it will happen, or we could get in the way. Practice setting intentions, releasing them, then watching the bubbles pop and release those intentions themselves!

f) write your wishes on paper – we’ll do something further with these papers tomorrow.

g) make prayer flags – we did this for Winter Solstice this year. As the flags blow in the wind, they release the wishes. Once the flags are worn out, you can burn them to fully release the intentions they contain. For more information, see my post on Winter Solstice 2011.

Our Solstice prayer flags, hanging from the chicken coop.

h) plant a seed – that’s right. Plant an actual seed, and watch it grow. There are endless ways you could do this (maybe Thursday is a good day to plant the garden!) – here is one.

Book ideas: Charlotte’s Web

Movie ideas: Charlotte’s Web, Freaky Friday

Sunday: Anything is Possible

Yesterday, I wrote about Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. That post provides the context for this one.

Sunday is a day of pure potentiality. The message for today is, “Everything is possible, no matter what.”

Today was our first day of talking about the “Seven Laws” with Neko. We didn’t do a specific activity today (and I don’t expect to every week), but I did tell her that we were going to be talking more about spirituality and the big ideas involved in that. I didn’t go into a long-winded explanation of the idea behind “everything is possible,” but kept it simple and will wait for the questions to come naturally.

Today, we read several chapters of “The Magician’s Nephew” (the first book in the Narnia series) and also watched Spirited Away – and we talked about how seemingly impossible things happen in both.

On future Sundays, some activities I’d like to incorporate include:

a) meditation or quiet time – probably guided. The idea behind “everything is possible” is connecting with the larger consciousness and understanding that we are one with the universe and everything in it, so even some quiet meditation provides the groundwork for a lifetime of tuning in to higher consciousness.

b) nature walk – by examining small and large objects in nature, from a stone or some moss, to an old tree or the ocean, we can connect with nature or a higher power very easily. Plus, of course, it’s very important for kids to be in nature on a regular basis. And by talking about the amazing things that are possible in the natural world, we can be reminded that there are powers much greater than ourselves.

c) discussing problems or situations in our lives, and possible solutions – this wouldn’t be a planned activity, but if Neko is having a problem, or we’re having one as a family, talking about solutions could be a great way to open our own eyes to different possibilities.

d) build a labyrinth for a walking meditation – I think this could be really fun in the winter, but you could also do it with stones in the summer.

e) draw or colour a mandala – this is yet another way of reminding ourselves of our connection with a higher power, and our place in a complex world, and universe. MandalaProject.org includes some great information and ideas about both mandalas and labyrinths. Mandala colouring books can be purchased from mandali.com, or you may want to print off single colouring pages.

You may also want to simply read a book, or watch a movie to tie in with the “anything is possible” idea. Fantasy books and movies tie in, in a simplistic way, but for more of a message, how about:

Book ideas: Stone Soup (Ann McGovern), Oh The Places You’ll Go (Dr. Seuss)

Movie ideas: March of the Penguins, A Dolphin’s Tale, Ponyo, My Neighbour Totoro, Babe