Ordinary Haze

A new guest of honour at the school table every morning

Some days are ordinary, just plain ordinary days where routine and the daily grind buffet you along in a rather unremarkable way. Sometimes it can feel as though these circumstances render you unproductive, and your exhaustion overtakes your ability to see what it is you are actually accomplishing. At times, homeschooling can feel this way – the steady determination required for a dedicated curriculum can weigh you down, can force you to doubt your abilities or make you feel as though there is always more to be done.

By chance, you remember to check your camera.  You drop your folders onto your desktop and begin to browse through the photographs you took during a string of humdrum days. The images surprise you. They make you laugh, they warm your heart…but most of all, they fill you with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for these gorgeous little souls. You call yourself lucky to be their mother, protector – and teacher.  Thank-you A+F, for illuminating the world in striking, unpredictable ways each and every day of my never-ordinary life.
How it begins each morning:
A typical lesson plan

“Notes” left for the teacher …cats, kids and cups of cocoa

Snacktime:

Homemade buttermilk biscuits, kneaded by little fingers
Memory sentence: “My pet giraffe ate my Cheerios this morning.”

Happy faces in ordinary spaces…

After lunch, let’s take a break to visit our kitty cat…
Make sure he’s got a blanket…
And tuck in your pet monster…
Now we’re ready to study dinosaurs! 
Teacher’s notes: Les Dinosaures
Dinosaur rhymes

Wooden dinosaurs courtesy of Beccijo & The Enchanted Cupboard

Strewn books and papers covering our dining table each and every day…
But we always clear the table, and start anew. Afterall, there’s dinner to be made!
We’ll be seeing you…
XO. 
N&N
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Easy V-Day crafting with kids

Assortment of scrapbooking paper and cardstock

At any given time in our household, there is an abundance of crafting materials. Not only do we incorporate Arts & Crafts into our homeschooling and week-end routines, but I also have quite a large collection because of both the shop and my own personal interests. I have long been that person who can browse for hours in aisles of stationery, embellishments, writing implements and cardstock.  My family knows I can never leave a papeterie empty-handed, and they have since joined in on picking out their own various bits and pieces.  A recent trip to neighbourhood store Paper Source to check out their Valentine window display yielded carousel and train stampers, platinum embossing ink, pink metal brads and a long wish list.

We start our Valentine’s Day preparations well in advance.  In addition to the little party we’ll be having this year, there are always decorations and projects to be done, and these change from year to year. You do not need much to make simple, playful decorations that your children can work on with you. Indeed, in these instances, scissors, paper and a bit of twine can be your absolute best friend.  Just be sure to clear off enough work space so that everyone can get in and get creative.

Valentine’s Day Frames


Quick and easy to make, these frames are sweet enough to leave out on display even after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.

Materials:

-Unfinished wooden frame
-Decorative scrapbooking paper or cardstock
-Glue stick or hot glue
-Scissors

Wooden frame courtesy of Michael’s 

I love these pine frames from Michael’s. They are dead cheap to buy, and their unfinished surfaces lend them to use for a variety of craft projects. You could hot glue buttons all over them, mosaic tiles, wooden appliqués…

Because I worked with the children on these projects, we skipped the hot glue and used glue sticks instead.  The first thing we did was to choose a couple of our favourite photographs. These are not current photos by any means, and they don’t necessarily have to be for this type of project. We chose one of me and my son (as a little mini!) at the Bronx Zoo as well as a sweet one with my daughter posing in our kitchen a couple of years ago.  So far we’ve made two of these frames and will be making a special one for Papa as well in time for the 14th.

Photos and contrasting paper


Removing the blue cardboard heart that came in the wooden frame, we used it as a guide to cut out heart-shaped photographs that were a bit smaller than it. We then traced the cardboard heart onto decorative paper and cut it out. Next, we glued the photographs to the paper hearts.

The final two steps are quite easy as well. Simply flip the frame over and trace the outside edges and the inside of the cut-out heart onto whichever paper you have chosen for the frame. Once you have done that, cut it out, glue it down …



Et voilà!
Japanese washi paper and polka dot accents
Hearts adorned with wooden blue bird appliqué

The thing about doing cut-outs is that they also leave you with a bunch of scraps which, if they happen to be Japanese washi paper or special cardstock, you might feel bad about balling up and tossing in the bin.  Here is what we did with our excess:

Valentine’s Day Garland


Materials:

Scissors
Decorative paper/scraps
Butcher’s twine
Scotch tape

We simply cut out hearts of various sizes, using the 3 contrasting papers of pink+white polka dot, yellow stripes and pink+red flowers.  Cut butcher’s twine, 1 long strip and 2 short strips, space out the hearts and tape them on…

Find an archway, doorway or a bit of open space and hang them up!

Colourful, vertical V-Day garlands
This paper was too lovely to waste

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day this year? What projects are on your list?

Happy Crafting!

XO.

My Funny Valentines

I have always loved Wednesdays for as long as I can remember. Despite the feelings of exhaustion that start to creep in mid-week, there is a gentle, unassuming quality about this day of the week that appeals to me. Perhaps it is because I remember walking home from school on so many rainy Wednesdays as a child, and thinking to myself how calming it can be to be solitary and tucked under one’s umbrella, with not a care in the world.

For the past nearly eight years, there has been no solitary in my life, no long stretches of time on my own left to think and to wander – no roaming aimlessly in silence. Once I met my husband, we became an inseparable pair: if you see one of us, you see the other. There are no “girls” or “boys” nights, and apart from the occasional exercise or architecture courses we take here or there, there are no “left on my own to my own devices” nights either.

If I think hard, I can almost remember what it is like to be completely on my own as a single, working woman in the city living alone- the many dinners I cooked for “1” – which mostly consisted of soup, baguette and tomato salad. On quiet days off work, if the phone hadn’t rang or I had not gone out or called anyone, I would come to a sudden realisation that I hadn’t uttered a word all day. Not one. I used to open my mouth and make a sound, any sound, mostly to be sure my voice was still intact. It always was, of course.

I no longer know how to be alone. Whenever I have to get up early to go to the doctor or leave the house without my family, it feels so odd, like I am sneaking away into the shadows. On the extremely rare occasions when Grant and I have gone out alone, all we do is mostly talk about the kids and whine about how we feel as though we are missing appendages to not have them with us. In fact, now we are unable to recall our lives before we had children. Sure, we remember sitting around in the evenings, listening to jazz, drinking some kind of frothy coffees, reading, and snuggling up together to watch films.  We remember lazing about on week-ends or days off, going to brunch at our favourite spots, going for long walks and wandering through the many outdoor markets. But these memories seem so distant now; in their place we have created other beautiful moments and habitudes that include our beloved children, not as replacement memories but as new treasuries of lives led by love.

With our growing family, there is never a dull moment around here. Moreover, there is never a quiet moment either. Even on Wednesdays like today when the children are peacefully going about their homeschooling and activities with me, and I seem to have things under control, something always occurs to thwart our tranquility. Rather than getting upset I have taken to bursting out into laughter, because if I don’t, well this SAHM/WAHM gig I’ve had going for the past five years would bring me to tears. My husband’s work hours are longer and more erratic than most (the glamourous life of a chef!), and if it weren’t for the children and our house of (controlled) chaos, I would probably be spending the bulk of my time on my own – which, let’s face it – I really don’t know how to do anymore.

But here is a very fascinating discovery I recently made: my (oftentimes very loud and spirited) children actually like the quiet. They have expressed how much they love drinking tea with me late in the evenings, awaiting their Papa’s return. They’ll even request to watch Top Chef or Downton Abbey with us, during which we get to have one entire hour together where we are all sitting and doing the same thing, and maybe even all sharing the same food. These are miraculous moments.

Do you know what else I have discovered? I love the chaos. In fact, I think I even crave it. I adore hearing my children tear through the house, bouncing up and down the stairs and squealing as they chase eachother around the furniture. I love listening to their conversations, watching their imaginative play, hearing them acting out parts in a play or a puppet show. Like me, they don’t know how to be alone either – and they don’t want to be alone.

When we first got our cat, we used to remark at how well-suited he was to our household.  Everyone would comment on what a “good” cat he is, mostly how people call babies “good” … when what they actually mean is that they are “quiet.” He very much enjoys the children and will actually place himself at the very apex of the chaos, asking to be picked up and hauled around like a beanbag in little children’s arms.  There can be toys strewn about the floor, sword fights and shouting, high-heeled princesses and swashbuckling pirates, absolutely no place to walk or move, and there is our beloved Loïc, nestled up in the center of it all, purring and squinting up his eyes.  You see, to a kitten rescued from a harsh world where he too was on his own, the chaos must seem like a much welcomed place of comfort and attachment.  Indeed, perhaps my greatest discovery of all is that where there is love there is life, and a house steeped in chaos is the loveliest kind of love and affection there is.

XO.

Home is where…your stuff is?

A heart-shaped stone found on a recent walk along the creek

If you were to step into our house this evening, you would be greeted by the very fragrant aroma of fresh guavas and ripe prickly pear awaiting the blender while coffee-scented logs crackle away in our fireplace. You would also see two little ones, madly eating cold-brewed coffee popsicles, snuggling on their Papa’s lap watching Iron Chef America. You would even notice yours truly, typing away and giggling to myself every time baby#3 kicks, flips or hiccups in my belly. On nights such as this, I take cinematic snapshots of these moments in my mind, these moments in time that will never lose their lustre.

It has been a wonderful day of shopping and eating, and a much-needed day off as a family. I must stress that the quality and variety of food available in Austin is absolutely incredible. Where else in the USA can you buy massive branches of aloe vera alongside citrus trees, chile relleno, and more fruits, chile peppers and artisinal beer than we’ve ever heard of AND feast on Texan barbecue with all the fixings… all in the same grocery store? In my husband Grant’s words this afternoon: “I’ll take brisket with a side of ribs, please!”

At home, the organising continues and I am relieved to report we are nearly finished with our grand exodus to the Lone Star state. The movers managed to locate all of the furniture that had gone missing.  It seems that our lost items have always dreamed of travelling to the American Southeast  and are now somewhere in Miami, indulging in mojitos and languishing on a beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Wouldn’t you do the same if you hopped on an 18-wheeler heading for the horizon?

While I have long been a proponent of reducing our possessions as much as humanly possible, I cannot begin to tell you our elation in having our things back. We set to work piecing back our possessions bit by bit, hanging paintings on walls, placing books on shelves and re-imagining this blank space of a home. Every item we chose to bring are things we cannot live without: favourite books, artwork, pottery…These things tell the story of who we are as individuals and what we represent as a family. Even our cat was delighted to see his old, beat-up basket again, this tiny circular wicker basket into which he stuffs himself as a circle, curling up and dozing off.  All of us have a desire to carve out our personal space, to craft our domains according to our lifestyles, and I suppose animals are no different.

…Here now are some photographs of our treasures…What are yours?

1.  Some of my favourite books…

First edition, signed Salman Rushdie books are prized possessions
Stevens, Baudelaire, Walcott, Cummings – a definite poetry enthusiast!

This porcelain dove was the first present we received for baby-on-the-way. It comes from our dear friends  N+O back in Vancouver…

And just a wee few of Grant’s cookbook collection for good measure…

Good taste all around

Before the invention of “push presents” …there were watercolour paintings….
My husband bought these for me after the birth of our first child.  One afternoon, several days after A’s birth, Grant wandered down the avenue in our arrondissement, Plateau-Mont-Royal, and stumbled upon a vernissage of a local Québécois artist.  What spoke to him was the deep russet colour of the moon, the very same colour of the moon that was hanging in the sky the night A was born.  It is called a “corn moon” or “full harvest moon” and occurs in the month of September, marking the time of year when corn is to be harvested. 
Mother, Father, and Baby in the light of the corn moon
And…a fisherman casting his line into the sea…
Craggy trees, corn moon and a wayward sea
Parents embracing their children seems to be a theme in our household…
This Cecil Youngfox print was purchased on our very first visit to Vancouver as a new family (years before we actually moved there)…
Winter Travel

I wish we could track down the artist of the following two paintings.  We purchased these when we lived in TriBeCa, during our week-end ambles through artists’ stalls in Soho. One is a dog and one is a rat, symbolising the years of our children’s births. We thought these were unique because they each incorporate the Chinese character they depict. We are currently in the Year of the Dragon, and we would love to have one for the new baby. Any talented calligraphers and painters out there?

Year of the Dog – 2006
Year of the Rat – 2008

Lastly, this ceramic tile is an item that has given us great pause for the past 7 years. This is the only wedding present we received to which we cannot attribute a gift-giver.  We have absolutely no idea who gave us this dynamic yellow bird.  My suspicion is that is from a very close teaching colleague of mine named Caroline; sadly she passed away shortly after our wedding so I have no way of confirming this. What we do know is that it was a very fitting gift for us – we will treasure this unassuming piece for its beauty and mystery always.

Yellow bird, yellow bird, sing us a song…

Indeed, no matter our location, our tangible treasures remind us to always be joyful and to follow our hearts. Afterall, who knows – they might just lead us back home to where we started.

Homeschooling 101

Morning Mathematics

At times, given the instability that accompanies an itinerant family like ours, we often find ourselves getting creative with our adventurous lifestyle.  We have committed to raising our children in a variety of locations and environments and it is our belief that these experiences will hold the children in good stead in life.  When we ask each other where we want to live or settle down, the conversation usually shoots to where we’d all like to go try out next. “China!” my son shouts. “Paris,” says A. “Barcelona, I’ve always wanted to spend more time there,” I state.  “How about Hawaii? South America?” inquires my husband. And on and on.

It seems that every time we ask the question, “Yes, but where will home be? Where is home?” we do not feel as though we have sufficient means to answer. In other words: we don’t know the answer.

A while back, way before Austin even showed up on my husband’s radar for work, he came home one evening and told me all about a property his company was opening next year in St. Petersburg, Russia. It seemed they were conducting initial hiring inquiries. Though the job was not perfectly suited for him per se, he wanted to gather my thoughts on the idea. I must add that this was during the time of year of the White Nights, when St. Petersburg is aflame with bright light after a long period of darkness, when twilight conflates with midnight, strolls and riverboat parties last until the wee hours, and the city celebrates the onset of nearly 24 hours per day of daylight – a decadent and enthralling prospect.

While I must admit that I am a bit of a Russian history nerd (I count Robert Massie’s tome “Peter the Great” as one of the best books I’ve ever read, and that love affair with the czars began when I was 15 years-old!), it is a fascination that carries with it a desire to keep learning and discovering; I wasn’t hard to convince. After a few minutes, it became very clear from our discussion, that we were all game for the challenge. We had always wanted to visit St. Petersburg, to take in the vastness of the Hermitage (the largest art museum in the world), to walk along the banks of the Neva River, to experience the city built by Peter the Great.

But what about the cold? We used to always joke during the many years we lived in Montréal that ‘even St. Petersburg has warmer winters!’  We had a great many laughs about that one.

It was then, all those months ago, that our discussion of homeschooling began.

I have been homeschooling our children since we arrived in Austin. Our daughter had been enrolled in a wonderful French-immersion kindergarten at a proper-sized elementary school in Vancouver. During that time, I took it upon myself to do a Waldorf-inspired at-home preschool with our son, which also allowed me to work on contracts for Blue Pencil Communications and Niko & Nonnie, of course.

Before we arrived here, during the course of the moving process, A spoke up and asked “Remember how you said you could homeschool us if we lived in Russia? Could we do that in Texas?” I told her that we would consider it, but that I wanted to also check out the schooling options in our eventual  neighbourhood as well.

While the options in our neighbourhood are by no means insufficient options, we have decided to homeschool until the end of the school year, to keep up the French-immersion and to provide some stability in a brand new city. I was a teacher for many years and still accept teaching contracts when I can fit them in.  I absolutely love teaching and I am pleased that I can partake daily in my children’s enthusiasm for learning. Homeschooling does require a commitment though, and I have had to find time in our already jam-packed schedules to do my lesson plans in advance and to set up our ‘classroom’ each morning.

Our daily curriculum follows the Canadian curriculum, and includes several hours of focused learning, interspersed with free play and gross motor activities.  We cover Math, Writing/Reading, Art, Music & Singing on a daily basis, and have special days of the week and field trips for Science and Geography.

I thought I would share a sample lesson with you, to give you an idea of our process. I instruct the children half in French, half in English. For the purposes of these homeschooling posts, I will present the material in English.

February 3, 2011

Welcome


Sing:
Hello everybody, how are you?…How are you?…
Hello everybody, how are you?…How are you today?

Waldorf greeting:
“The earth is firm beneath our feet. The sun shines bright above. Here I stand, so straight and strong – all things to know and love.”

Discussion of the day’s lesson and schedule

Imaginative free play with today’s selection of toys

Pirates, animals, options for building…



Mathematics


-Number sense & numeration – Printing Numbers (1-10)

My daughter tells me, “Everytime I draw the number 2, I always add a heart or one of my favourite shapes on top. 2’s need crowns, I’ve decided.”

-Counting & matching
Always referencing the natural world when possible, we set up an activity using seashells. The children were asked to count the shells and to sort them based on colour, pattern, shape, texture and size.

Seashells awaiting sorting
What a lovely collection!



-Numbers in French (1-10)
Counting song:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…Violette, Violette…
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…Violette à bicyclette!

Science


-Animals found in USA & Canada
Documenting animals we have seen and animals we would like to see.
Spotlight on: WHALES

All vocabulary is done in both English and French, singular and plural (when not too advanced to explain to children at this level)



SNACK TIME

The children always help prepare our snack
It needs more colour, Mama!

Art


-Structured: Combined action poem and craft project

“Things to Buy”

Three things to buy in the baker’s shop
Creamy and rich, with a cherry on top.
Along came a girl with money to pay
She paid a quarter and took one away…

Two things to buy in the baker’s shop…

One thing to buy in the baker’s shop…

No things to buy in the baker’s shop.
No creamy things. No cherry on top.
No one comes with money to pay.
So the baker closes shop and goes home today.

Craft project: Re-enact song with paper cut-outs. You will need to make 3 cupcake cut-outs, 1 bakery shop window, 1 baker, 1 child (girl/boy)
Materials: Construction paper, glue stick, markers

—–
-Unstructured: Watercolours – Valentines
Materials: large sheets of finger-painting paper, decorative scissors, stampers, aquarelles, pens and coloured pencils

Valentines from my sweetie pies
A painting for Papa



Writing


-Printing letters A-L
-Printing one- and two-syllable words

Ensure a variety of letters in the words and a variety of combinations of vowels and vowel sounds.

Ex:
Cat, apple, ball, balloon, mouse, bird, house, popcorn, monkey, farm, tractor, chair, table, zoo, week, dog, puppy, kitten, giraffe

Story time
“The Valentine Express”
“Parfois…”

Closing song
Goodbye, everyone… goodbye, everyone. Goodbye, everyone – we’ll see you all again!



Playground/Outdoors


——

That’s it for today. February is already off to a roaring start, with a curriculum that includes Valentine’s Day (mais oui!), dinosaurs and fables. Any month with a bizarre number of days that also involves hearts, chocolate and handing out Valentines is particularly delightful for little ones – and grown-ups, too!

XO.

A little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll!

One of the many incredible food carts in ATX

It’s been 2.5 months…are you still there dear readers?

Here we are in Austin, TX! Even though there were many events, too varied and numerous to mention here that seemed determined otherwise, we made it. But I must tell you, not even a plane engine failing us on our final leg from Dallas to ATX was going to keep us away, not after all we’d been through! *phew*

While I have many impressions and things to share about life in our new hometown, I thought it might be easier if I just posted some photos to let you know what we’ve been up to. As a result, bits of this post might be a tad disjointed. All the things we’ve been told about Austin appear true so far…hip, young, musical, relaxed, countless options for great food, HOT (yes, the two seasons in Texas really are ‘summer’ and ‘next summer’)…

To my spectacular joy, the bats are all on holiday down in Mexico and will return in March. By then I should be ready to ‘confront’ them, as it were. Apparently when they are back in Austin they fly nightly from here to Houston on their hunts, isn’t that amazing? You see, I am learning all about them so I can conquer my fears! Dreadful, just dreadful.

Legendary Driskell Hotel, of Top Chef Texas fame

We had a soft landing at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin, where we stayed for over a month, and we sincerely must thank everyone there for their legendary Texan hospitality. Impeccable hotel. Beautiful, smiling faces. A most wonderful experience!

One of several amenities we received upon arrival
Daily morning room service – divine!

As many of you are aware, we re-located from Vancouver, Canada to Austin, TX because my husband Grant was promoted from the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver to their Austin property. He is Chef de Cuisine at Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s signature restaurant, TRIO. Steak, seafood and wine – sublime! Grant also serves as the Executive Sous-Chef for the hotel’s Food & Beverage operations in general.

Photo of @chefgrantm courtesy of TRIO

One of the lovely things about the weather being so temperate is our ability to take the children around the city. While we don’t have a car here, we manage to walk and take public transit for most of our daily activities. Public transit is $1 (nope, you read that correctly). We were totally astonished at the low price. A day-pass is $2 and a monthly pass is $30. That being said, it doesn’t seem as though the general population takes enough advantage of the greener options the city offers. We do find that too many people drive cars that are in fact way too large to transport just themselves, and that the number of cars here on the road is superfluous given the population. Mind you, this could be said of nearly any major North American city these days!

On a brighter note, if you have or are taking care of children, the Austin Children’s Museum downtown is an ideal place to spend a day of indoor activity. Without a doubt, this has been A+F’s favourite thing about Austin thus far! I have been homeschooling the children and will continue to do so until the end of the school year, to keep up the French-immersion schooling that A had in Vancouver.  I have been quite diligent in my lesson-planning and daily school schedule and I hope to share more of that with you in future postings this week.

Behind the scenes on the kitchen line
Order up!

Today is February 1st and it is a whopping 28C / 80F outside! Winter in Austin is best depicted as this:

 Lady Bird Lake
Just an ordinary winter day
Hammocks are best enjoyed together

It is also my great pleasure to share that Niko & Nonnie is about to gain a sibling! I am due in July with our third child. We are so excited to welcome a little brother or sister for A+F! Speaking of which, have you been on Niko & Nonnie’s Facebook page lately? I’m having a little baby bump contest and the winner will receive a very special Bunny & Carrot organic playset!
www.facebook.com/nikoandnonnie

Here I am a couple of weeks ago…do you think it is a boy or a girl? We’ve opted for a delivery surprise this time around. I hope I’ll be able to keep to that!

How many days left til July 14th?

In other Niko & Nonnie news, the shop officially re-opened on January 15th and I am working my hardest to get inventory up, re-stock and regain the momentum I lost over the course of our travels. This is a recent little sweetie I made as part of our Valentine’s Day offerings. Don’t you want some bunny to love?

Finally, the Spring Guide from the Natural Kids Team is up! Have a look and browse items from N&N and all the other Natty Kids! http://naturalkidsteam.com/wordpress/spring-guide-2012/

Sunset has fallen over the city and it is time for me to sign off for now.

“The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are ablaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread. The occasion is the entrée into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown.” -O Henry

Sunset in the City of the Violet Crown



As always, with much gratitude from all of us at N&N. Thank-you for reading!