Bringing Colour to a Winter Day

Although true winter was still three days off, as we know now thanks to the magic of hindsight, Thursday was a bit wintery and greyish feeling. Though it was warm and sunny, something about it felt very…. January. Maybe we could feel the cold snap that was about to roll in from the west.

The night before, I had flipped through science experiment cards from Usborne Books that my mom had given Neko for Christmas, and picked out a couple of projects for the day.

50 Science Things to Make and Do – science experiment cards from Usborne Books

I realized, as I was getting the supplies ready, that these were both going to be really nice, bright, colourful activities! This made me happy.

The first was musical bottles. We all did this as kids, and I was excited to revisit it. Neko helped me dig through our recycling for glass bottles, and we filled them to varying levels with water. I apologize for what will appear to be a bright, shiny Coca Cola ad. My husband has a habit. We added food colouring to the water so that we had a full spectrum of bottles.

As it turned out, only Mairead was really interested in this. Neko and Finn were each off doing their own things. But that’s okay. Mairead, Andie (our Australian visitor) and I spent quite a while experimenting with blowing across the mouths of the bottles, tapping them in different spots with different materials (metal, wood) and arranging the bottles by colour, size and water level.

Our rainbow of musical bottles

Mairead took to the musical aspect and decided that she would like to perform a concert for Nicole (her mom) when she came to pick her up later that day. Mairead spent a lot of time practicing so it would be just right.

Mairead practices her concert in preparation for performing for her mom later.

Still practicing.

Our next activity was planting seeds. Neko and I picked out seeds from our dry food storage the night before – we chose dry kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, barley and peanuts. Each child got two small Mason jars, into which we stuffed colour tissue paper. The card called for napkins, but we don’t have paper napkins. I love the colours the kids chose – each of them ended up with two jars with layers of brightly coloured paper. After watering the paper down, we stuffed various seeds around the edges, between the paper and the jar.

The kids’ seed jars

The jars will live in a warm, dark cupboard until the seeds sprout, at which point we will move them to a sunny spot so the sprouts can grow. Hopefully I will post a photo once the sprouts are growing!

Edited to add photos:

Our big plants! Check it out!

Solstice Celebrations

Happy, happy Solstice to you all. I’ve been excited for weeks about celebrating, officially, for the first time ever this year. Justan and I share the shortest day of the year as our mutual favourite, and of course Neko’s birthday is this week as well, so this time of year always feels special to us. Last year, as we stood outside at 12:30 am to watch the lunar eclipse through our neighbour’s telescope (we had woken Neko up to see it, as it would be her only chance to see a lunar eclipse on Solstice and her birthday), I regretted not having planned more formal or extensive celebrations. I planned out this year’s Solstice celebrations over the following few days, and this year, all the planning was done for me in advance!

I had included plans for a Solstice feast, ice lanterns to be lit at sunset, and a few different craft and activity ideas which we could choose from.

Preparations started earlier this month, with grocery shopping for the feast, and the making of ice lanterns. We found the instructions at Love in the Suburbs.

Gathering materials for the ice lanterns, and Neko standing beside some partially assembled lanterns.

We also made popcorn garlands that we could give to the birds on Solstice.

Then my friend Jen invited us to a Solstice party, where we could make prayer flags to set our intentions for the new year. Her inspiration was this post from Rhythm of the Home.

I spent the week before Solstice preparing any foods I could in advance, and getting the pieces of the prayer flags ready to assemble. I baked the fruit cake, cut out triangles of fabric, chose intentions, chopped onions, and measured spices for mead.

Jen’s party began Solstice, the night of the 20th. We drank sunshine punch and snacked while we painted, cut and sewed. The kids played for hours in the dim house.

Candles, sunshine punch, and prayer flags in progress.

Jen drew, then painted, beautiful Celtic knots on hers with Gaelic words beneath. I wrote my words on in permanent marker (I’m not a perfect crafter, okay…) and sewed up the edges of the flags by hand. My fabric came from a damaged nursing tank; fabric bags from prefold diapers; a clothing swap romper; and an old dress I had bought years ago to make beanbags as party favours for Neko’s third birthday party.

On the morning of the 21st, we lazed in bed for a bit, then Justan made us scrambled eggs (from our hens) while I had a nice, warm bath. We cleaned up around the house a bit, then headed out for a hike near the river to hang the popcorn garlands. It was a beautiful, sunny day (I always picture the Solstice as so dark in my head! But the daylight hours, of course, are just as bright as ever.), but the pathways were icy because we’ve had such variable temperatures recently, and there was a biting wind blowing. We hiked down into the river valley with our popcorn garlands and our warm drinks in hand (hot chocolate for Neko; homemade mocha for daddy; homemade vanilla cafe au lait for mom).

Neko shows off the popcorn garlands we’ve hung for the birds.

In the afternoon, Justan and Neko played Just Dance while I packed for Christmas. Okay, okay – video games are not my idea of something you do on Solstice. But, it was daddy and daughter time, and they had fun. There are worse things.

At sunset, we lit the ice lanterns. They were in kind of rough shape after a full week of thawing and re-freezing, so their candle-spots had largely filled in. I tried to fix this using water, containers, and our freezer, but it only partially worked. They still looked really pretty though. They were lined up right across our front porch, and I kept them lit until we went to bed, to welcome the sun back on the morning of the 22nd. As the sun set, we prepared ourselves for the longest night of the year.

I spent the rest of the afternoon putting the finished touches on the dinner. Our menu was:

I chose the menu to be as local as seasonal as I could, while including foods we don’t eat on a regular basis. I wanted to eat foods that we could have grown ourselves, and I wanted the meal to be special – not something we would have any other time. We ate by candlelight, which was really nice, and Neko loved.

After dinner, we played a co-operative game that we got from Riva’s: The Eco-Store, called Wildcraft. We felt this was appropriately hippy-ish for a Solstice celebration. There was a moment of hysterical giggling when Justan asked me a question about finishing the game and I answered him by shooting back, in a very serious tone, “No, Justan, we each need to gather two buckets of huckleberries before we go back to Grandma’s house!” Justan thought this was hilarious. It may have been the mead, though.

After Neko was in bed, our plan was to play board games, but Justan said he didn’t want to play with just me, because I always beat him. (Note to self: next year, invite friends to join us for board games.)

I finished up the prayer flags and on the 22nd, after the longest night was over, I hung them from the chicken coop in the backyard.

The intentions we set are: transcendence, security, intuition, expansiveness, prosperity, integrity and love.

I’m already taking notes for next year’s Solstice! I will change a few things about the menu – we didn’t love the barley bake, and the recipe for the Mashed Potato casserole made a ridiculously huge amount, even cut down to three portions (it would have fed ten!). I would leave the oven at 500 degree for 14 minutes for the bison before turning it off, as this roast was quite rare. And even though I think fruitcake is perfect for the occasion, maybe next year I’ll make a crisp or something. I also think we could plan more activities for the day – I didn’t, this year, because I didn’t want to pack the day and make it stressful. But next year, maybe a trip to a local pond to skate would be nice. I would like to incorporate friends more, next year.

All in all, it was really lovely to formally observe Solstice for the first time. Tomorrow will be six seconds longer than today, and after that the increase in light will accelerate daily until the summer Solstice, when we’ll be on our second annual Solstice camping trip. I hope that all of you out there are also celebrating the return of the light (or the waning of the light, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).

The Night We Built Terrariums as Gifts

In case you missed it, adorable little terrariums are all the rage this gift-giving season. After seeing them featured on Inhabitat, and for sale at Market Collective (here in Calgary), I had decided that they would be an easy and cute gift for the mothers (mine and Justan’s).

We needed:

  • small or medium sized glass containers (with or without lids)
  • pretty stones, gravel, shells and other such embellishments
  • small succulents
  • sand

I bought the containers for $2-4 each at a thrift shop, along with a $3 bag of mixed glass “rocks” and decorative shells. Succulents were $5 each for 2-inch containers – we got a selection of four different types. Sand came from the backyard.

All the materials laid out.

We got a cute book from the library called Terrarium Craft, by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant, and used this as our reference for assembling.

Here are our finished products!

Nana’s single-plant, lidded terrarium with shells arranged by Neko.

Grandma’s multi-plant, fishbowl terrarium, complete with umbrella.

Neko wanted to make her own, so I bought her a Venus Fly Trap for her birthday and we transplanted it.

My very own little terrarium with glass inukshuk.

I hope these go over well! I’m quite in love with them.

Of course, it’s Dressember the 19th. Here’s today’s ensemble:

Dress: no label. I’m guessing handmade. Clothing swap. // Cardigan: Kersh // Necklace: made by me // Tights: Joe // Socks: American Apparel // Shoes: El Naturalista // Background: My store, Babes in Arms!

A Downtown Holiday Adventure (And Dressember Day #16)

We don’t have much time for spontaneous family days in December (it’s true!), but I’ve been taking mental note of downtown festivities as I see them pop up on Facebook and Twitter – a gingerbread replica of the beautiful Fairmont Palliser Hotel, ice sculptures on Stephen Avenue, carolers, fiddlers, and pretty lights, to name a few. I had decided it would be fun to take an afternoon and head down there to enjoy as much as we could all in one day, since I knew making it down more than once wouldn’t happen.

I looked up some of the attractions on advance and made it into kind of a scavenger hunt, so we could cross sights off the list as we went.

First was the gingerbread replica of the Palliser. Truthfully, I also wanted an excuse to go into the Palliser and see the Christmas decorations. Here is what the Palliser really looks like (today):

The real Fairmont Palliser

And here is Neko with the fully edible version:

We took to the +15 walkway system to get partway to TD Square, where we would find the fiddlers performing. On our way, we walked for a bit down Stephen Avenue, and came across the ice sculptures in front of Winners. I hear that other years, they’ve been destroyed really quickly, so we were glad to see them still standing and in perfect condition.

Unfortunately, even though the Downtown Calgary website said the fiddlers would be performing 11:45 – 1:15, and we got to the right spot at 1 pm on the dot, they were already finished and packing up their things. Too bad – I was disappointed.

Thankfully, we had Food Trucks to cheer us up. My YYC Food Trucks app told us that Alley Burger was parked down at Eau Claire, so we hoofed it down there to grab a couple. Good thing we walked so fast! After we ordered, the woman at the till told the next customer there were only four left. We were starved, and so glad to have our burgers and fries. We walked back to TD Square to sit and eat them.

YUM! Highly recommended.

A touch-up for my haircut at Ginger Group and a latte from Caffe Rosso were the perfect end to our adventure.

Tonight, we attended a Christmas party at a friend’s house, and I donned Dress #2 of the day. It’s too big – I nabbed it at a clothing swap earlier this month because I think it’s cute and I wanted another dress for Dressember.

A Day in the Life#1: Unschooling (and Dressember Day #12)

I’ve decided that periodically, on our days that are especially great (what’s that? You don’t want a play-by-play of the days where we run errands?), I’m going to post day-in-the-life posts showing what we do on a day of unschooling. Over time, these posts will show a variety of types of days, a range of topics, and hopefully a good cross-section of what unschooling an only child can look like.

Today is the first of these! Neko and I had almost a full day at home, and I had some plans of what I could work on with her (yep… that’s not true unschooling), so I thought it would be a good time to start.

We’ve cut out our morning ritual of Neko watching a few (usually at least semi-educational without ads) TV shows and having a glass of chocolate almond milk, as her behaviour has been going downhill lately with more whining, worse sleep habits, and some back-talking and rudeness. I feel Justan and I are at fault, not setting clear enough boundaries and setting Neko up to fail with the morning dose of sugar and screen time. For the past few days, there has been no TV in the morning, and the first thing to pass through Neko’s lips has been protein, or at least whole grains.

8 am We bucked the trend a bit here this morning, and I let her watch Nim’s Island on Netflix, as it was recommended to us recently.

9:45 am Neko did a mosaic craft that my mom gave her for her birthday. Just a bunch of sticky dots that you place on a template, but my thought is that it was useful for… math. And art. And fine motor skills. Oh, and we had breakfast at this point.

11 am I did laundry. Neko finished up her mosaic, and we snacked a bit in anticipation of going tobogganing. Also, Neko put a blanket on the cat. No educational benefit to that, that I can discern, but it was silly and looked cute.

Blanket-on-cat. Cute.

11:45 am Tobogganing! About six blocks from our house, there is a pretty big hill with a nice slope, and now that the snow deep enough and a decent quality, we’ll be over there sliding down that hill often! Last year we got a big, wooden toboggan and two plastic “flying saucers,” and we just got two Crazy Carpets (from the treasure hunt for Neko’s birthday party). This was our physical education for the day. Plus it was just fun. And we got some vitamin D.

Lots of hill climbing… unencumbered glee… and it’s a good sign when you’re laughing hysterically after falling off at the bottom.

This was tiring. And thirsty-making. So we walked home for treats. It was, by the way, nearly impossible to get Neko off this hill.

1 pm Cold drinks! I blended some lemon juice, homemade strawberry preserves (simply strawberries, lemon juice and sugar, simmered) and made us strawberry lemonade. Which, of course, called for fancy glasses. Which, of course, makes it appear that I was filling my daughter with strawberry margaritas. I wasn’t, by the way.

Oh yeah. And water.


2 pm Things got pretty boring at this point when we cleaned out Neko’s bed. It’s a loft bed, and she has tons of books up there, and extra blankets, and random toys… anyway. It was gross. And messy. So we did that. (Also, I’m watching Louis CK as I write this and I apologize if it’s affecting my tone.) Neko then chose a selection of toys that she wants to keep on her bed which are, she says, “fake Pokemons.” She basically chose regular toys and assigned them special powers. I don’t get Pokemon. These are life skills of some sort, I’m quite sure.

3 pm As I had promised Neko earlier in the day, it was time for Just Dance 3 on the Wii. This is, for the record, also my workout for the day. That game gets your heart pumping! I also secretly (not anymore) hope it will improve my moves, you know, for the next time I’m at the club.

Hawt. We had a good time.

This, of course, was part two of phys ed for today. And the required daily pop culture lesson.

4 pm Here was my one, actually educational plan for the day: to print off a 10×10 chart so Neko could fill it in with the numbers one through 100. She’s been having trouble learning to count, and I thought a visual cue, and writing the numbers herself, would probably help her make the connection. So I made a ten column by ten row table in Pages, made the cells square, and printed the page. Then I had Neko fill in the bottom ten squares, left to right, one to ten. We then went across and did the teens. Then the twenties. Up until this point I was leading Neko through it, and she wasn’t totally understanding the pattern of the whole thing. But around 28, she saw the pattern. She started filling in the cells by herself, only asking for help once or twice per line. This was so cool to watch. Each time she figured out the name for the next ten spot, she was so very proud of herself. I honestly almost cried, watching her. I told her that once she had filled in the chart, she would be able to count to 100. She said, “I can only write to a hundred, I can’t count to a hundred mommy.” I explained that using her new chart, she’ll be able to count to 100 whenever she wants. Her eyes filled with excitement and she said, “I want to fold this up and put it in my pocket and keep it with me every day!

Definition of the term “awesomesauce.”

After that, we called my parents so she could count to 100 on the phone for them (my mom is a kindergarten teacher, so she was thrilled to listen), and Justan came home and Neko showed him her number chart, and then she went to play with the neighbours for a while.

Oh, and today was Dressember Day #12.

Dress: Majora (Value Village) // Boots: Thrift shop

Our Day at the Glenbow Museum

We spent the day today with Janine, Micah, Vienna, Peanut, Sage and Soleil at the Glenbow Museum.

We took the bus downtown, then met Janine and the kids at Caffe Rosso.

Had a delicious soy latte there and hung out for a bit before heading across the street to the museum. We immediately saw the activities in the art room (artwork in the style of the Brian Eno exhibit, slides, and tracing/layering/colouring) and wanted to get started right away, but decided to take in the related exhibits first for context. The Brian Eno exhibit was neat but Neko decided she was scared of the music and the dark, so we went to the Biotechnology exhibit next door.

There was a neat person-sized piece showing a blastocyst, glowing in the black light. We learned that amber glows in the black light, too. Neko and I checked out the difference perspective makes in your experience of art – a painting looks very different from far away than it does up close. There was also a neat walk-through piece that was like being inside a giant kaleidoscope.
We made our way to the art room to colour some Brian Eno-esque drawings, which was a lot of fun. This was great practice in making patterns. By the time we finished, the room was closing for the lunch hour and we decided we were hungry. We strolled down Stephen Avenue to TD Square and ascended four escalators to get to the food court, where we all shared pad thai, sushi and a veggie sub. Here (in the bathroom), Neko and Micah learned about elimination communication from Peanut and Soleil. We slowly made our way back to the museum and headed back to the art room.

We spent at least another hour in the art room, first making slides, which the attendant projected onto the screen for us. It was neat to see our images blown way up, and then to see what they looked like overlapped. Then we tried out the light table with a variety of transparencies on it, which we traced onto vellum, overlapping images. We then coloured these images and viewed them through the lightbox. We spent a ton of time at this activity.

Janine, Micah and Vienna decided to go home, and after wandering a bit more, Peanut, Sage and Soleil did as well. Neko and I then took in the Rocks and Minerals exhibit, the Africa exhibit, Historic Paintings of Canada, and the Brian Eno 77 Million Paintings exhibit and Stephen Hutchings: Landscapes for the End of Time exhibit each one more time. The latter was my very favourite of the day – so beautiful!