For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Saturday, December 31, 2011


A few quiet moments for a few quiet thoughts.

New Year's Eve is upon us, as we transition into 2012.  I hope that the upcoming year will be one full of blessings for you and your loved ones.

The girls have taken on a lot more of this year's preparations.  Well, quite nearly all of them, actually! *L*  It's been a quiet one.  Eldest and I headed out for a while to see what was happening downtown.  I had expected to see things going on, as in the past the city had started events in the early afternoon at various venues.  This year there's something completely different, and it looks like everything that used to be spread out is now in one area.  They were prepping and doing sound checks as we went through, but nothing had started.  Ah, well.  We found a liquor store that was still open, so we picked up a cheap bottle of sparkling wine to crack open at midnight.  :-D

Youngest is all excited to make the cheese sauce for a fondue we'll be doing later - we've already taste tested the two cheeses Eldest picked out.  One is a smoked cheddar we've tried before and love, but it rather expensive, so it's a rare purchase for us.  The other is a new cheese from Ireland with a bold taste that will be perfect for a fondue.  As we get closer to midnight, Eldest will taking on stuff for the BBQ.  It's been years since we've done a New Year's midnight BBQ.  Steaks are marinading, and there will be seafood skewers as well.  I'm looking forward to it.

Dh has been struggling with feeling completely useless lately.  Because it's painful for him to stand for any length of time, bend, or even sit without squirming, he hasn't been able to help with anything at all.  Frustrating.

It's been an odd sort of year overall.  Not a particularly good one.  I just got news yesterday that another fixture of my home town passed away.  She was only in her mid-60's, too.  I knew she had struggled with her health for a long time, but it's always a shock when someone who's been such a permanent part of one's past is gone.  She is the second such person we've lost this year.  I saw both of them last when Youngest and I went to my brother's memorial on the anniversary of his death.  The woman who just died catered the reception for us, along with just about every other event held in our town. 

I know that, as I get older, I will be losing the people I know.  I expect that.  What I didn't expect is for so many of them to be younger.  My parents are in their 80's now, and the people who have been passing are all about 20 years younger; sometimes much more.  Some are the same ages as myself and my siblings.

Looking back, it feels like this past year has been one of little progress on my own part.  It hasn't been for my children.  Eldest is doing quite well with her art, and I am quite proud of how things are going for her.  Youngest has been going through a slump, but she's enjoying her guitar lessons and just got her beginner's drivers license (I've promised to take her for a driving lesson tomorrow - it'll be the first time she's been behind the wheel since our trip in the summer). 

The last few months have probably been hardest on Dh.  He's struggled with his back issues off an on for years, but for it to crash on him so badly these last few weeks has been the worst of all.  I'm just so thankful that the company he works for is so supportive for him to be working from home.

Other family members have had their struggles as well.  Dh's sister's girlfriend was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and has been in and out of the hospital.  Who knows how long it was there before they found out about it.  Thankfully, she too has an understanding employer who has been really supportive of them (she and her girlfriend work for the same company).  I try to keep them in my prayers as much as I can, along with my FIL and another SIL, who have been struggling with health problems that are unusually similar, right down to long term problems from bug bites, of all things.  At almost the same time, too!

It all makes me extra grateful for my own parents.  Sure, my dad has had a lot of past problems that he's still dealing with.  He just got his pacemaker replaced with an upgrade, which is a pretty awesome thing to think about.  He continues trucking along, steadfast as ever, even with having to deal with my mother's oddball behaviour.  My mother, meanwhile, is barely slowing down.  She's staying active and travelling.  If I'm still going as strong as she is at 80, I'll consider that a huge accomplishment. 

As for myself, I don't know what to think.  I've become a crochet instructor, but I'm not sure how to work things out with the store I'm working with.  There's a specific type of manager I'm supposed to work through.  I'm responsible for promoting my own classes and making sure the registration forms are all up to date, etc.  I still have to go to the store itself to do that, but it seems like I'm an inconvenience every time I have to ask to get into the office to use their computer system and print things out.  There's a specific managerial position I am supposed to deal with, and 4 people have gone through that position since I started.  One was in and gone before I ever met her, and there's a new one now that I've yet to meet.  I think the most frustrating part is that I spoke to the previous person about a week before I found out she was gone, and she had never mentioned anything.  My family has been telling me to break off with the store completely and just teach independently.  I think I should at least finish my instructor's course, though.  The first part is waiting at my instructor's office in New York to be graded.  The second part is what will give me the official "professional" designation.  The curriculum I use at the store is by the same company that I signed up for the course through.  I can download and print off my curriculum from their site.  However, the registration process, and its accompanying paperwork, is only available through the store's computer system.  It's all a bit of a convoluted mess, partly because of their antiquated computers and software that borders on obsolete, partly because of problems actually getting use of those computers and being able to set up classes.  I have 6 new classes to start teaching, the registration paperwork is printed out and in the book, but because of the manager change, I haven't got any dates scheduled to teach them.  Heck, just picking up my paycheck is more trouble than it's worth.  They can mail them to me. :-/  Don't get me started on trying to set up automatic payroll deposits! 

I am encouraged by my NaNoWriMo success, though.  I did my 50,000 words, which of course is not enough to actually finish and entire novel.  I wanted to continue, but with December being the busiest month for us, I decided to take a complete break from writing it in December.  My biggest concern was that, if I stopped writing, I'd lose interest in the project and not want to get back to it, or just forget about it in the business of our days.  That didn't happen.  I've actually been itching to get back to it!  I'll start up again in January.  I will continue to set myself monthly word goals, though not 50,000, since I have other commitments I need to pick up again, but 25-30,000 isn't unreasonable, I think.  Who knows what will become of it.  Perhaps it'll even get published and give us the income that will allow Dh to quit his job?  *L*  Yeah.  Not likely.  From some of the topics I touch on in the book, I doubt I'll find a publisher willing to carry it.  Mind you, the publishing business has changed so dramatically these days, who's to say what will or won't get carried anymore.  Lord knows, some pretty horrible stuff is on the bestsellers lists these days.  The bar isn't exactly high.

We shall see what the New Year brings.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a joyous Christmas and happy New Year.  May this be a time of peace and good will for you and yours, and may 2012 be a year of good health and prosperity.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Menu

This is the menu we have decided on for this year's Wigilia feast on Christmas Eve.

Starter: Devilled eggs, with bacon and shredded cheese

Salad: Spinach Salad, with yogurt dressing and quail eggs

Main course: Leg of lamb with fresh rosemary
                        Broccoli cooked a la Julia Child
                        Pierogi filled with potato and cheese

Dessert: whatever looks good at the bakery

Drink: Cranberry punch with frozen berries
             Red wine

We are going to focus on a few things to make ourselves, then allow others to do the work for the rest! lol  For the sake of time and space, we will be buying our pierogi and the dessert. We have never done leg of lamb before, but it is a simple dish to make.  The eggs can be cooked in advance.  The spinach salad recipe calls for hard boiled eggs, which we will use whole quails eggs for, instead.  We have long wanted to try quails eggs that haven't come from a can. ;-) For dessert, I see no point for us to make our own when bakeries can do so much better then us! lol It's just not worth the extra time, energy and stress to do any of that ourselves this year.

Later on,I will share the recipes for the lamb and spinach salad.

Getting Ready

This has been a very unusual Christmas season for us. Dh's back seems to have given up on him entirely. He is in massive amounts of pain and barely able to move.  He has been almost completely housebound for about two weeks now, and the rare forays out has taxed him to the limit. Thankfully, he has been able to work from home.  I must say, we are really appreciating how supportive his employer has been, though I imagine they are getting pretty frustrated over the situation by now.

Dh is working right now, actually, so I am currently posting this from the tablet.  I apologize for any weird typos in advance. lol

Meanwhile, our Christmas preparations continue, if slower than usual.  We didn't get our tourtiere done until a few days ago.  The temperatures have been too mild to store our pies on the balcony as usual, so we could only do as many as would fit in our fridge freezer.  We ordered 12 pounds of ground meats this year, and made deep dish pies. That translated into only eight pies.  We have had one so far, and they turned out quite well. We won't be doing deep dish again,though.  The meat to crust ratio is better in a regular sized pie.

Our gift shopping is done. We gave the girls some cash from the gift budget, in addition to anything they had saved up themselves. Dh hasn't done any shopping at all, of course, so I have done all the gift buying at our end.  Youngest decorated the tree this year, and Eldest has decorated the house.  The tree is full of gifts under it, which has been entertaining for the stray cat and her kitten that we have taken in for a while.  

All that is left right now is to do the final food shopping, which should be done tomorrow, though I am thinking of doing it tonight, instead.  I will post the menu separately.  Hopefully, once that is done, we won't have to go shopping again for a good while! 

Friday, December 09, 2011

That'll be me...

The girls decide to take in a movie at the second run theatre. No problem. They will take the last bus from our area, though it will get them there an hour early, and I will drive them home.  They leave for the bus with plenty to catch it.

Half an hour later, we get a call. The bus never showed.  So I throw on some slippers and head out to give them a ride.  Along the way, I decide it's not worth making the drive twice, so I will hang out in the area until their movie is out.

Aside from a grocery store and a coffee shop, the only place open this late is the Walmart.  I just realized I am going to be spending almost 2 hours there, wearing a pomegranate stained sweater, my husband's sweats and grandpa slippers.

Half expecting to find myself in People of Walmart some day.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Let's try this again

I tried to post earlier, but blogger was having technical difficulties.  Here's hoping they're fixed, and my post actually keeps... :-/

It's been a month since I last posted, so there's a bit to catch up on, both good and back.

In the good news...

Eldest talked me into doing NaNoWriMo, which has a goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November.  The first day was a very good start, which promptly fell apart after the second day.  That stalled me a bit, but I slowly started to catch up.  In the end, I completed the goal a couple of days early!  Doing her part to encourage me, Eldest agreed that if I completed NaNoWriMo, she would sing at an open mic night.  A nearby coffee shop had weekly open mic nights, but they closed for renovations and, since reopening, I haven't seen anything to show they're still doing it.  We'll have to figure it out.

In the more neutral news, Eldest has left her job.  She liked the work well enough, but there were a couple of issues.  One was the surprisingly bad public transportation to the location she worked at.  We knew it wasn't good - that's partly why she applied to a different location in the first place - but good grief, it sucked.  It's one thing to be driving her in for 3 or 5 am shifts.  It's another to be driving her home again because the buses in the area don't run on Sundays.  Or evenings.  Or that it take 3 times longer to take the bus compared to driving.  There were other issues, though, and she did tell one of her managers about it.  It turns out there's plenty of reason for this location to have such a high turnover rate.  She's going to take a bit of a break, then start handing out the resumes again.  The job market has really perked up, and not just for Christmas, so it should be interesting to see how that works out.

Then there's the bad news.  A few days ago, our younger cat suddenly started having difficulties walking and lost all bladder control.  We thought she might have had a spine injury or something.  It turned out to be massive kidney failure, and she had to be put down.  She was not a particularly nice cat, and was really rather dumb.  She could be pretty nasty, would sometimes go after the older cat for no reason, and generally didn't like people. Yet when she was in a friendly mood, she could be the sweetest thing.  Most of the time, though, she would just lay around like a fluffy black puddle on the floor.  I swear, that cat had cartilage for bones!  It was sad to have to put her down.  Especially so suddenly.  She was only 3 years old.  She was Youngest's cat, too. This is the second pet we got for her that ended up being put down.

Now, we're not sure what we're going to do.  You see, we still have a stray and her kitten around.  They had been on our balcony, but when the temperatures dropped, we brought them inside.  We're not allowed to have more than 2 pets, so we've been trying to adopt them out.  We had a couple of potential takers fall through.  I don't think there are too many people willing to take on both  mother and kitten. I was just about to contact my friend at the pound to find how to turn them in when we suddenly found ourselves down a cat.  Youngest has been wanting a dog for ages, but this kitten has been loving on her like her own cat never did.  The mama is pretty high strung, but friendly and playful.  We got tacit permission to hang on to them a bit longer.  If nothing else, we'll wait long enough for the kitten to be old enough to be separated from his mother.  In the end, it will be Youngest's choice.

Aside from that, we're slowly getting into the Christmas mood.  We've put the tree up, without decorations, to train the cats to stay out of it.  So far, it hasn't been an issue.  I really expected to have troubles with the kitten getting into it, but he seems content to leave it alone.  Of course, once it's decorated, it might be a different story.  So far, so good.  Decorating will start this weekend.

We haven't ordered our meats for our annual tourtierre this year.  Partly it's because we suddenly don't have the money.  Getting the cat to the vet, then put down, ended up costing us over $450.  That was money that was supposed to go for Christmas preparations.  Not that we could make our usual number of tourtierre, anyhow.  It's not cold enough!  After a brief deep freeze, the temperatures went right back up again and are now bouncing above and below the freezing level.  Our only freezer is the top of our fridge, so we relied on being able to keep the tourtierre frozen outside.  It's not cold enough!  So I'm thinking we'll place a meat order for perhaps a dozen pies.  There isn't room for that many in the freezer, but wee can fit a few in and still have a couple to give away or something.

I haven't done my annual Christmas decorations this year yet, either.  I had an idea in mind, but it required access to the kitchen sink, stove top and counter space.  Every time they all got cleared, they immediately got covered!  So I'm trying to come up with something else that will be quick and fairly easy.  I've got some papier mache ornament shapes as bases, as well as some paints and glue.  I have other supplies in the craft cupboard to use as well.  I'm thinking, for some of them at least, I'll be doing things with spices.  I've usually been doing items that reflected light in some way.  I think this time, I'll be more rustic.  We shall see how that works out.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A quick run through

Just a quick run through what's been going on lately.

First up, we've got a new tablet.  No, not that one.  It's a NEW new tablet.  After having it less than two week, in between activities, I picked up the tablet, pushed the button in the corner to "wake" it, and nothing happened.

Push and hold.


Push and hold longer.

Still nothing.

Plug the USB into the computer.

Can't view it.  It was as if it wasn't there.

The next day I took it back to the store.  While chatting with the salesperson about it, describing what happened, he tried the press and hold thing, too.  After about half a minute, just as he was about to let go because it obviously wasn't going to do anything, it suddenly started to reboot!  Once up and running, it was fine.  Because it was so recently purchased, however, they would to a straight exchange for me.  It shouldn't have shut off on its own like that (shutting it down requires a prompt as well as pressing and holding the button, so there's no way I'd shut it off by accident).  They didn't have one in stock, though.  They ordered one in from another store, telling me it would be in the next day.  They would phone me when it was in.  Meanwhile, I took what I had home again.

Next day, no phone call.

Second day, no phone call.  In the evening, Dh called the store for me.  He was told it wasn't in (though they had plenty of a model with less memory) and might not be in for a week or something like that.  The person he spoke to had no clue what he was talking about.  Dh was not pleased.

I went back in person the next day.  One of the managers had to go digging in the back somewhere, but she found it.  Complete with my name and phone number taped to the box!  A quick check of the old one to make sure all the parts and pieces were there, a signature on some paperwork, and I had a new tablet.  Eldest had come along with me, so we walked over to a nearby Second Cup, where they have free wi-fi, to test it out.  I had to plug it in to turn it on, since the battery had no juice in it, but it worked fine.  I had some apps to reload, but things like my calender were backed up online, so those simply reset themselves.  Handy.

So now we have a working tablet again, and I'm really liking it.  Eldest hasn't been using it, but Youngest has.  Lately she's been using it to go online and practise the written test to get her learners permit.

Yes, unlike her sister, Youngest wants her license and is eager to drive.

Taking the written test... well, the computer based multiple choice test... costs less than $20 and has a minimum 80% pass requirement.  Youngest has been consistently getting in the 80-81% range, but she wants to do better on the practise tests before she takes the formal one.  Once she passes that, she'll be able to get behind the wheel legally, during the day and with either myself or Dh in the vehicle with her.  This will give us a chance to take her somewhere where she can practise.  She has to have the learners for at least 1 yr before she can get the next graduated license, and then another 2 years before she can get her full license.

Things sure have changed from when I got mine!  I got my beginners at 15 1/2, then could take the driver's test at age 16.  It took me two tries, but I got my full license at 16.  Granted, that was in another province, but my home province has the graduated license now, too. 

Meanwhile, Eldest has a part time job working in receiving at a Michaels.  Not the closer one she had applied for, but not the farthest away, either.  Her shifts start before the buses run, so I've been driving her to work in the mornings.  It's a pleasant thing to do, giving us a chance to chat.  My sleep patterns have been increasingly all over the place, though, and it's not going to be getting better any time soon!

Eldest has talked me into doing NaNoWriMo this year.  It officially started last night.  I stayed up until midnight for the official kick off.  The goal is 50,000 words in the month of November.  Daily goals are 1666 words.  Last night I verified my word count and finished at 3033 words.  I could have kept writing, but I wanted to get at least an hour of sleep before driving Eldest to her 6 am shift.  The buses start running at 5:30 and it takes her 2 buses and about 1 1/2 hours to get there, so even a 6 am shift requires a ride.  Our city has made some noises about starting 24 hour bus service - it was even supposed to start up this past summer, but got cancelled for some reason.  Considering how much traffic and activity we see in the wee hours of the morning, I think we've reached the point where it's a needed service.

Along with that, I've got other writing to do (including the blogs, which are falling woefully behind), crafting and writing about crafting. *L*  I've got a commissioned scoodie to make that's taking longer than it should, the Christmas crafts to do, some patterns to write, my instructors course to finish, and new classes to start teaching.  Oh, and some charity crafts to finish, too. 

With all this on my plate, I've pulled back on a lot of things.   For the next while, I'm focusing and writing and crafting and very little else. 

Except kittens.  We have a kitten.  Sort of.  Some strays have started visiting our balcony.  One of them was a pregnant female.  We can't keep them, but have been trying to adopt them out.  Meanwhile, the female had her litter somewhere.  As the temperatures have been dropping, we worried about the little ones.  We'd made a shelter out of our pet carrier in hopes she would have her litter there, but she didn't.  Then suddenly there was a kitten!  I don't know when she brought it in, but I'm glad she did.  I'd found someone who works at a vet's office that offered to take the mama, but she had her litter before that could be arranged.  Now that we have her and her kitten (I'm guessing a lone survivor), I'm hoping this person is still willing to take them in.  We're not allowed to have more than 2 cats, but if we can't adopt them out, I might have to see if we'll be allowed to bend the rules a bit. 

Well, that's where we are right now.  I'm sure there's plenty I'm forgetting, but I have to move on to the next item on my to-do list.  With writing being on my list of priorities, though, I'm hoping to have posts up more frequently.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trying out my new gadget.

This is mostly a test post.  This blog is supposed to be where I record our activities as a homeschooling family.  Lack of access and time on the desktop has meant posts are few and far between. As of today, I now have a tablet.  The girls and I are currently at a Second Cup, having made a trip to the library.

The touchscreen keyboard is a bit of a pain, but it`s better than trying to blog on my phone!!

The girls are waiting on me to finish this before we head home, so I am off for now.  I hope that this thing will work out to be a useful tool for us.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The last while has been pretty ridiculous.  I feel like I've been running around constantly!  We had some unusual stuff pop up and that had us rearrange pretty much everything.  When it all settled down, I expected things to slow down a bit and get back to normal.

They didn't.

With our Christmas season soon to kick in (yeah, I know, it isn't even Halloween yet, but I'm a crafter, which means getting started requires more time), things are just going to pick up.  Throw in my husband's health issues and Eldest's new job, and I find myself heading out about 3 times a day.

Did I mention Eldest has a new job? :-D

Locally, the job market seems to be picking up dramatically.  I'm seeing "help wanted" signs everywhere.  Part of it is because businesses are looking for more staff for Christmas, but it started picking up before that could be considered the reason.

Eldest had dropped her resume off at a few art stores, but they haven't been looking for much lately.  Then she filled out an online application for Michaels.  She specified a store that we usually frequent.  A day or two after she finished submitting the online application, she got a call from a different store.  They called on a Wednesday, asking if she could come in for a Thursday morning interview.  She walked out of the interview with a job!  She applied for, and got, a job in receiving.  They asked her to come in on the Saturday at noon to do some paperwork, saying it would be about 3 hours.  She finished the paperwork after about an hour or so, then they put her to work in the back!  Her first shift was 3am on the next Monday, and today she just finished another shift with a 3am start.

The down side of a 3am shift is that the buses stop running at 1:30am and don't start again until 5:30am.  Which means I have to drive her.  She could take a cab I suppose, but the cost is prohibitive, and we don't exactly have reliable cab service in our city.  There are plenty of cabs out there; their service just sucks.

I don't mind driving her, though.  I tend to be up late anyhow, and it gives us a chance to chat.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make up for the lost sleep by sleeping in.  Whether it's running errands that are time dependant, needing to pick up Dh from work because his back has gone bonkers again, or whatever, I just haven't been able to get any real sleep.  The things that need doing aren't a problem; it's just that I'm not getting any chance to catch up on things in between, whether it's my email, my course work or just plain sleep! *L*

My crochet classes are getting sign ups now, though.  I had my first official class, and it was a blast.  I've got classes booked every week; it's just a matter of getting people to sign up for them.  I've finished the first part of my instructor's course and have started on the second part, but with all the running around, I've accomplished little.

We've had some issues with our van, though.  Some weird electrical gremlin is affecting our lights, inside and out, and it's getting worse.  For the first time in 2 years, I contacted the dealership asking about our coverage for that (if the coverage we paid for does cover it, it'll only cost us our deductible.  Otherwise, I have no idea what it will cost to fix), along with a couple other questions.   After 2 yrs of no claims against our roadside assistance, we were supposed to get some money back.  I was told to talk to the insurance company and they had no idea what I was talking about.  What they had was a different type of coverage, and it would require claims free to 2015.  Which means if we get our van fixed using our coverage, we lose the rebate.

We were supposed to go into the dealership on Thanksgiving afternoon to talk about that, including the possibility of a trade in (that would allow us to have lower interest rates, though I doubt it would have given us lower payments).  The dealership has moved since we bought that van and, while I had a vague idea of where it was, having driven past it some time ago, the salesman gave me directions to the entrance, which isn't on the main road.

We never found the place.   His directions sent me someplace else completely. This actually exemplified why I had numerical street systems.  Dh tried calling for directions while I drove around, trying to find the street the salesman told me I should take (it turned out to be an avenue), but after following the directions from the receptionist, who somehow got it in her head that we were coming from a different direction, we got to an area that was primarily residential.  Dh even used google maps on his phone, which was so vague, I still didn't know where it was supposed to be.  We decided to just go home.  Dh phone again, this time to leave a message for the salesman we were supposed to meet, but the receptionist couldn't get past his name (a French version of a common English name).  He was so pissed, he gave up trying to leave a message and we just went home.

Once home, I looked up the place online and that's where we found out that the place was no where near where we were told to go, and that the avenue (not street)  their entrance is on didn't even extend to where we were told to go - it was cut off by the residential area we saw, instead.

So I fired off an email to the salesman explaining why we didn't make it, expressing our unhappiness, and asking the one question they weren't addressing, even after asking 3 times; did our coverage include the sort of electrical problem we described.

It's been 3 days and he still hasn't answered.  I don't think he will.

So now I'm driving around with a van with only one headlight in the front, one set of lights in the back, a break light that pops on and off, sometimes dinging, sometimes not, at random, a left signal that blinks at double time, but not sometimes doesn't turn on at all anymore, and a right signal that sometimes becomes a left signal, then back again on its own.  I've already been warned that trying to track down a problem like what we're having can be extremely expensive - and that's before the cost of repair. 

Beyond this, I'm really happy with our van.  I have no real desire to trade up, though if it would have resulted in lower payments, I would have been okay with that.  I'm just ticked that we're not getting our questions answered, and then that weird runaround, and now no contact at all.


Well, I'm feeling myself fall asleep as I type this, so I'd better finish up.  Not that I can go for a nap or anything.   Time to go do dishes, then dirty them up again to make supper.  Assuming I don't get a message from Dh asking for a ride, which I expect will happen within the next half hour.


Friday, October 07, 2011


Eldest's friend, Raider King, has been visiting with us recently.  For those who missed out on previous posts, he moved in with us for a few months until he could find a job and his own place. 

He did, but the place turned out to be a disaster, including a black mold that started growing everywhere after the basement flooded during heavy rains.  The room he was renting was in the basement. 

Long story short, he ended up moving to a nearby city with his bio-dad, where he got another job and his soap opera life continues.  It's been good to have him back again for a visit.  And to feed him.  

We'll not go into that long and sordid tale.

Our library system has a Writer in Residence program, with a different local author every year.  It seems our city is teeming with excellent writers, and they are willing to share their expertise in a number of mentorship programs, talks, workshops and so on.

Eldest has been trying to talk me into doing NaNoWriMo this year.  When I saw the library was doing a NaNoWriMo related event with their Writer in Residence, I signed all three of us up (Youngest has no interest at all).  We went to it tonight and it was really quite interesting. 

The topic was making outlines for novels, ranging from the vague and general, to one with a bit more detail to outlines that flesh out all the major events in the plot.  The author was informative and enjoyable to listen to.  There were a couple of unpleasant things.  He had use doing a couple of exercises.  One was a game where we were to make four statements about ourselves.  Three were to be true, one was to be a lie.  Then we were asked to split off into groups (not with the people we came with).  We'd read our list out to our partner(s), and they would ask questions to try and figure out which statement was a lie.

I had the hardest time coming up with a lie.  Eldest didn't take part at all. 

The purpose was to demonstrate how asking questions about our characters would help us flesh them out and make them believable.  The game, however, didn't seem to go much to demonstrate that.  As Eldest said later on, while she understands why it's used, she finds this style of teaching very manipulative.  Why not just tell us what we're supposed to know?  We could never do well under the Socratic Method! *L*

My problem was with the "lie."  I don't lie.  I hate lies.  I had a revelation about lying when I was a child and decided it was more important to me to tell the truth and deal with the consequences then it was to lie and get away with something.  My personal sense of integrity was more valuable to me than not getting in trouble.  So being told to tell a lie about myself, then make it convincing under questioning, just rubbed me the wrong way. 

Of course, there was no need to "lie" about anything.  This is an exercise in fiction writing.  Why not say, "make 3 non-fiction statements and 1 fictional statement," instead?  There's a big difference between saying something about yourself that is a lie and creating a fictional scenario.  I suppose it's a matter of semantics, but accuracy in wording is important to me.


The whole thing took about an hour and a half, including the Q&A portion.  Afterwards, the author stayed to talk to people and answer their questions.  Eldest, Raider King and I headed out, but got so engrossed talking about outlines, writing, character development and so on, we ended up stopping at a coffee shop so we could sit and chat about it some more.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, and I'm glad we went.  It wasn't as much use for Eldest, since her focus is very different than novel writing, but Raider King does a lot of writing and plans to do NaNoWriMo this year, so it worked out for him.

As for me doing NaNoWriMo, I'm still  not sure if I'm going to take the plunge.  My problem is that I've no idea what I would write about.  I have several potential projects, but none of them are the sort of thing I'd want to do for NaNoWriMo.  Of course, there's also the never ending problem of carving out the uninterrupted time to write, even if I did know what I'd write about.

We shall see how it works out.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

You ate what?

I unabashedly admit that Eldest is braver than I am.

As someone who has such an interest in food history, culture, and trying new things, I'm actually a total suck.  As much as I'd like to explore new flavours, I often end up being very safe about it in the process.  Some is with good reason.  I have no tolerance for spicy heat.  I love the flavours, but what is mild or moderate heat for others leaves me in a whole lot of burning pain.  There's a reason for this, but I won't regale you about the condition of my tongue. ;-)

Other foods, I just can't bring myself to eat.  Like raw fish, or Eldest's favourite canned eel.  The smell alone sends me running.  While Eldest happily noshes away, analyzing flavours and textures, I'm off on the side with my fingers in my ears going LA-LA-LA-LA-LA and trying not to hurl.

She laughs.

One of the foods Eldest has been wanting to try for a long time is preserved duck eggs.  I finally succumbed and bought a package.  She tried one on rice, but I could only bring myself to taste a tiny bit of the "white" (which isn't white anymore) and that was it.  I didn't really eat enough to be able to taste it. That left us with a package sitting around and no one quite knowing what to do with it.

Well, today, I finally girded my loins, did some research, brought out the camera, and did a taste test.

Here is the result.  Click on the photos to see them in larger size.

First, the package.  This is the type we got, and I've no idea what the brand name is. It was found at a local Asian grocery store, though I've seen the same brand available at Superstore.  They come in a Styrofoam box and are not refrigerated.  Visit here (pdf) to learn more about their history and how they are made.

Inside, each egg is lovingly wrapped and nestled in it's own little pocket. 

Unwrapped, they look like this.  They're really quite pretty!

Ah, but what do they look like inside!

I used the back of a spoon to carefully start cracking the shell.  After the second hit, I heard a weird little pop, and a hole appeared.  I'd hit it over the air cell and I think there had actually been a bit of a vacuum, as the broken piece of shell had got sucked right in.

Is that good?  Bad?  I have no idea.

The shell is quite thick, as is the inner membrane.  It peeled rather easily, though, revealing this.

Again, it's really quite lovely!  The branching pattern in the white is a result of the preservation.

I believe the outer layer on the shell is part of the preservation, but I'm not sure.

While a bit startling to see such a dark colour where one would normally see white, I find it quite appealing.  The colour and semi-transparency, with the branching "fireworks" patterns are beautiful.

After cutting it open, however...



This is the point where I look at it and wonder, "just how hungry did someone have to be to look at this and think it's edible?"

I mean, I can still appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the colours and textures from a purely visual standpoint, but as food?  No.  If I were to stumble upon this by accident somewhere, as it is guessed some ancient person did, I would not think this is edible.  I would think this is something that's gone rotten and might make me ill.

Quartering it didn't make it any better.  That squishy, slimy middle just...

No.  Uh-uh.  I am definitely getting nervous at this point.

In looking up how to eat these, I really didn't find much.  It's served in quarters like this with pickled ginger as an appetizer.  It's cut up and eaten in congee.  It seems they are mostly eaten just like this, though it's recommended the people not used to its pungent flavour eat it in small amounts or with something else.  There was little to tell me what that "something else" could be.

I did find a few recipes that described serving it with pork or on rice.  Well, I was making pork for supper anyhow.  I'd cut up some pork loin and wrapped it in aluminum foil with olive oil, a hint of vinegar, soy sauce, and spices.  After sitting overnight in the fridge, I roasted it still in the foil, opening the foil near the end to let things brown a bit.   To go with the pork, I made some quinoa, cooked in half water, half home-made turkey stock.

Then I made it all pretty for the picture.  There's only a small amount of quinoa and pork here, and I was afraid using an entire quarter of an egg would be too much.  Cutting it into little pieces did make it seem more like something I could eat.

My first taste, I made sure to have a bit of everything.  Some yolk, some white, some meat and quinoa.  When I finally tried it, I was totally amazed.  It was just bursting with flavour!!  I couldn't believe how good it was!  The egg added an earthy, mushroom-like flavour that I just loved.  It was awesome.

Eldest tried it, and she enjoyed it too, but the real litmus test was Youngest.  She doesn't like quinoa.  She was thoroughly turned off by the appearance of the preserved duck egg's yolk.  She dislikes mushrooms, too, so saying it had a mushroom-like flavour didn't exactly win points for her, either.

She tried it anyhow and even she enjoyed it!  Quinoa and all!  After eating she announced that yes, she liked preserved duck eggs. 

The flavour was still very strong, and small amounts are recommended.  It's not something I'd have often, but we're not going to have any problems figuring out what to do with the remaining four eggs!

Monday, September 26, 2011

What we've been doing.

So it's been almost a month since I last posted.  Shame on me!

Overall, things have been pretty routine.  There's been one major issue that is affecting our schedules.  Dh's back suddenly wonked out on him, badly.  If that wasn't enough on its own, he had a sciatic attack on top of it.  He was on medical leave for a while, then hobbled back to work rather than extend the leave further.  Walking is one of the things that is recommended - one of the few things he can actually do - to help his back out, so he's been walking to work pretty much every morning.

Lately, Youngest has been getting up early to walk to work with him, then she walks home on her own after they part ways.  That last part bothered him quite a bit at first - she's still his baby, after all!  She's also 15 years old, for crying out loud, and I think she can navigate a straight path for 20 minutes! *L*  Okay, so yeah, the walk *does* involve navigating aggressive panhandlers along the way.  They tend to be out in greater force early in the morning.  I have more concerns about them than the prison up the block from our place.  About the only thing to worry about there is the sweet medicinal smoke wafting through the windows of the healing centre.  Sweetgrass, I think.  That's only in the evenings, though.  At least that we've noticed.

Eldest has a lot on her plate these days.  She's working hard to get the first few chapters of her web comic done before she goes live.  She also wants to get a few paintings done to replenish her inventory.  There has been some delay in all that, as we had a hot spell.  Working with pen, paper, ink, watercolour paints and markers does not go well when one has sweaty hands.  We moved the portable air conditioner upstairs, which made it livable up there, but that was about it.  It's cooled down a bit since, and she's finally getting a bit of work done.

One of the things she likes to do while working is listen to lectures from the Great Courses.  Here's a sampling of what she's been listening too.

The History of the English Language (in several parts - and Youngest has been listening to this one, too)
Consciousness and its Implications
Popes and the Papacy: a history
Skeptics and Believers: religious debate in the Western intellectual tradition

That's on top of the books and movies she's been taking out.  I really ought to bring back the library lists.  They have been remarkably eclectic!  We've been doing a monthy movie night with our co-op, so she's always on the lookout for some rare gem.

Youngest has spent the summer plowing her way through the library's mythology and manga collections.  She avoids Greek and Roman mythology in favour of Nordic and other Northwest European tales.  At the moment she has several different versions and translations of Beowulf, which Eldest is finding fascinating as well.  The use of language is quite refreshing to them, I think. Quite the contrast with the manga series she's been reading, like Fruits Basket, Ouran High School, Nausica (the books are better than the movie), Death Note, Rurouni Kenshin, and so on.

Youngest's guitar lessons have undergone a bit of a change up.  Her instructor has been having a hard time finding a balance between lessons and his job.  It's a long bus right and, buses being what they are, he would sometimes arrive late.  Not that we noticed much.  I always bring my crochet project bag and Youngest keeps a book of word searches in her purse, which she does while listening to music on headphones, so we don't even notice the time much.  Still, he was having problems, so he's reworked his schedule to have days just for teaching.  We're pretty flexible with our schedule, so when he asked if we were good to change days, we were okay with that (the alternative was to have the same day, but a couple of hours later).  So starting today, her lessons will now be on Mondays, and a bit later in the afternoon.

I'm glad she's interested enough to keep going for another year.  It's been quite different from her voice lessons.  She started those off very eagerly, but by the end of the year, she wanted to move on.  She's also interested in adding piano and has asked me to each her.  I can teach her to read music, but I'm trained in organ, not piano.  We do have a piano - a 200 yr old upright grand (they don't even make those anymore) and family heirloom - so the option is there.  I picked up a book for beginner piano that is aimed at adults that will be very useful.  Every now and then, after she practices her guitar, she'll head downstairs and work on the piano.  Unfortunately, the piano is like all flat surfaces in the household.  It doesn't take long before it's covered in stuff.  My fault for a lot of it, as I look at my committee binder, paperwork, file folders and other stuff scattered all over the bench and front of the piano.  :-(

This piano is a fascinating instrument.  Being an upright grand, it has a number of removable parts.  When the keyboard cover is lifted, there's a front panel that tilts open at the bottom, as usual.  The front half of the top is hinged, so you can open that up, which allows the front panel to be removed completely.  Then there's the panel under the keyboard, above the foot petals.  That can be removed, too.  Take those out, and the that grand piano sound is in its full force!  It's a beautiful instrument, too, with it's carved panels, trim and columns, in a deep, rich dark colour. It's an honour to have inherited it (it was supposed to go to the eldest of the family, but they didn't want it).  On the down side it's 1000 pounds and, on its own, cost about $1500 to have it brought out here.  The movers had a heck of a time getting it up the stairs.  When they were done, the owner told me that if we move, don't call them! *L*

So that's a bit of what we've been doing for the last while.

Pretty boring.

I'm good with that. ;-)

Monday, September 05, 2011

So you're thinking of home schooling, part two: How much?

Ah, yes.  "It's the most wonderful time of the year" again, as that gawdawful Staples commercial tells us.  That time of year when parents joyously send their miserable kids off to school.

Or not.

For those crazy enough to actually want to keep their kids at home and *gasp* spend more time with them, home schooling is another option.

Time to write another post for those who are thinking about it, but not quite sure they're ready for it.  The first post was, Can you?

Let's now go to another question I often hear from parents.

How much does it cost?

Short answer?

As much as you're willing, or able, to spend.

It all depends on how you do it, and what's available where you live.

In one sense, home schooling can potentially be very expensive.  There are so many home school curricula out there, so many neat educational tools and toys, and so many things out there to do.  It would be so easy to blow great wads of cash on all this stuff.


First off, check things out where you live and see what's available.  In Canada, for the most part, you're on  your own.  Even for some provinces that technically are supposed to offer resources to home schooling families, like in BC, that doesn't mean the board you're registered with will.  Or perhaps you live in a province like Manitoba, where all home schoolers are registered in one office, where you can also access grade level correspondence course (though they haven't called them that in many years), for varying costs.  Or you might live in Alberta, which actually passes on school funding to registered home schoolers, either through purchase orders or by reimbursing receipts.  Be wary of funding, though.  Funding tends to come with strings attached and government bureaucrats wanting to tell you how you can or can't teach your own kids.

Some home school support groups have a number of things available, ranging from group field trips at reduced cost to lending libraries, and even some that have equipment and resources that can be borrowed, such as scientific equipment or courses on CD or DVD.

Public libraries can have all sorts of resources as well.  My own kids have started up The Great Courses again.  These are pretty awesome.  Along with a plethora of books, audio/visual resources and software, many also have organized events and classes, book readings, lectures and so on.

If you're just starting out and not confident that you can teach to your legal requirements, packaged curricula can be useful.  Especially if home schooling is going to be a temporary thing, due to health problems or other extenuating circumstances.  They can be ridiculously expensive, though.  I've heard from way too many home schoolers who started out with visions of their kids happily at the kitchen table, working on some fantastic curriculum they bought that they just knew their kids would love, only ... it just didn't work out.  Sometimes, the curriculum didn't fit their children.  Sometimes it didn't fit the entire family.  They regretted spending all that money on curriculum, wishing instead that they'd spent the money on museum passes or whatever their kids turned out to be into.  On the other hand, I have also heard of families who found a purchased curriculum that fit their families perfectly (FIAR is one a lot of families have spoken highly of).

When it comes to packaged curricula, I would advise waiting before buying.  Especially if you're pulling your kids out of school.  Give your family some time to figure things out, then decide if a packaged curriculum is worth spending the money on.

There's one expense I would hope you don't have to shirk on, though.


Yes, I know, electronic books are all the rage right now.  They're cheaper and you can fit many hundreds into a single reader.  That's probably quite useful.  Even so, nothing is quite the same as books. I'd still recommend getting lots of real, printed books.  Haunt the second hand stores for unique finds, or get to know a local book seller who can order the more esoteric stuff in for you.  Yes, I know you can order books online, but aside from supporting your local book store (yay, capitalism!), a real person knowledgeable in the trade is a gold  mine.  A lot of local book stores also have interesting events available, too.  Take advantage of them.

And for crying out loud, don't go using up their time to find a book, then go order it online.  That's just tacky and rude.  Very bad form.

Other things I would recommend spending money on if you can.  Family passes at museums, nature centres, science centres, art galleries, recreation centres, etc.  Some cities offer passes that include a number of facilities.  These often give you discounts in any shops they might have.  There are even national passes available. If you are low-income, you may qualify for some of these passes for free or at highly discounted prices.

Join a local support group.  Any memberships fees tend to be nominal.  Aside from networking opportunities, activities and social support, some group membership cards will also be honoured by some businesses for a teacher's discount.

Join trading or exchange groups.  Many places have freecycle groups and it's amazing what you can get through them.  Some groups have book exchanges, clothing exchanges, or other types of exchanges (our group has had yarn and fabric exchanges).  For these, everyone brings stuff to contribute that are still good, but their own families have grown out of.  These get set out for everyone else to look at.  People pick what they will find useful.  Anything left over either gets taken back by their owners or donated to charity.  The big challenge with this is to not come back with more than you brought! *L*

Then there are lessons and classes. Music lessons (with the accompanying cost of buying or renting instruments), voice lessons, art classes, dance classes, cooking classes, language classes, craft lessons, and even tutoring for any areas your child might need some extra help on.  Don't forget sports - team sports, solo sports, martial arts classes, and all the necessary equipment they need, too.  It would be way too easy to spend huge amounts of money on such things.

Be very selective and creative.  If money is tight, some teachers are willing to barter for lessons (be generous with what you are offering; the teachers of these classes would be giving up income for this, so make sure it's worth it for them).  There may be programs available to cover the cost of them.  Perhaps there are family members who have skills they can pass on (and it can be a great way to get doubting family members engaged).

With our days no longer controlled by the school schedule, it can be very tempting to fill that time with all those cool things we can sign our kids up for.  Resist and be selective.  It is not beneficial to burn out the entire family, trying to get to all these lessons and classes.  You may want to try one thing per child one year, then give them the option to try something else the next.

For us, when we did take part in such things, we had one rule.  If we were going to spend money on these things and take the time out of our day to get them to and from their lessons, the girls knew they had to finish it.  Unless there was something drastically wrong, they couldn't just decide to stop in the middle of something that we've agreed to pay for for the entire year, or however long it might be.  These were things they told us they wanted to try, and sure they might decide they didn't like it as much as they thought they would.  They still had to finish.  They knew from the start that they were making a commitment for X amount of time, and part of the deal was that they'd keep that commitment.  We expected them to take full advantage of what was being offered, and not blow it off.  Sadly, this has sometimes meant that our kids were the only ones actually engaged in the class they were taking, while others in the class wasted their time.  Perhaps I can convince Eldest to add a blurb about just how "fun" the one art class she ever took turned out to be.

Aside from such things, however, the basic stuff required for home schooling can be very cheap.  After all, you are no longer required to buy a years worth of pencils, pencil crayons, binders, notebooks, glue sticks and even facial tissue (I was shocked to see that on an old neighbour's school list; each of their kids had to bring 6 boxes of facial tissue for the classroom supply cupboard), and so on.  There are no more extra fees sprung at you or fundraising events.  Oh, and you can buy your kids new clothes when they're needed, rather than because it's the start of school and they just HAVE to have the same things all their friends are getting.

Most of what you'll need, you probably already have, and what you do need to get, you can get little by little as you need them and can afford them, rather than all at once.

As you can see, there is no simple answer to how much it costs to home school our kids.  Some people manage to do it while spending almost no money at all.  Others spend thousands of dollars.

Take a bit of time to figure it out.  Get to know what's available, what your kids need, and what they want.  See what fits for the entire family.  What works for your own family is likely to be quite different from others.  That's just fine.  There are no hard and fast rules.

Instead of having a school system telling you and your family what you have to pay for, you get to take control and decide for yourselves.

Which can be pretty exciting!!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

First concert

Thanks to a friend, we got some tickets to a local radio station's music festival. It just occurred to me that this is the first rock concert the girls have been to! I haven't been to one in so long, I was surprised by the police bag check.

I am happy to note that, in spite of the crowd and deafening volume, they are both actually enjoying this. I just wish the friend who got us the tickets had not had to bow out at the last minute because she wasn't feeling well.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Not Back to School

I ended up taking an inadvertent break from this blog over the summer.  Time to get back into action.

Today was our local Not Back to School picnic.  The girls still have no interest in taking part in the park days, but Youngest came along with me for the picnic.  We spent most of the time chatting with a good friend, so we had ourselves a great time.

It was a rather odd picnic this year.  So many new faces! There seemed to be fewer old faces, too.  Youngest saw some kids she knew, but barely recognised anymore.  The local paper had done a very positive story on the picnic yesterday, which may have brought some curious families out to join us.  Perhaps some will go on to join the group, too.  There are always some who take in the picnic and pretty much nothing else with the group throughout the year, too.  Whatever works. ;-)

Now that we're officially up and running for the school year, plus the summer activities have started to die down, posts should be more regular again.   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back again.

Wow.  Take off for a couple of weeks and Blogger changes everything.  Will need to get used to this new posting format!

I probably shouldn't be posting right now - it's already past 1am, and I've got a demo to do tomorrow - but I know if I don't do it soon, it won't get done at all.  Too many things getting in the way!

Our trip was long and tiring.  The visit had its good times and bad.  The trip back always seems so much shorter than heading out.  I know it's just a time zone illusion, but it still feels that way.

Youngest and I headed out on the Saturday, drove until we found one of the rare rest areas in Manitoba, then crashed in the back of the van for the night.  We stopped much, much later than I intended to.  We had brought a couple of foam mattresses but forgot our bedding, other than a sheet to cover the mattresses with.  That turned out okay, since we always keep blankets in the van anyways.

The rest area we found was a full service one, with indoor bathrooms, lots of parking and plenty of motion activated light.  One area was filled with semi trailers and a few RVs in amongst them.  The area we parked in had a few other cars and trucks, but was otherwise rather empty.  I'd parked in a spot at the end of one side, which turned out not to have been a good idea.  We kept getting blinded by the motion detection light, which I think was being set off by birds or insects or something.  I vaguely considered moving the van, but since we'd had to move the seats forward as far as possible, then put our luggage, etc. all in front, there was just too much to move to make it worthwhile.

We had intended to sleep in, but the morning was just too bright to let us!  We'd brought food for the road, so we took the time to have ourselves a lovely little picnic.  Which is when I realized the spot I parked in probably wasn't meant to be a spot at all, since it had a curb cut to access the picnic area.  Oops.

I'm happy with out things worked out food-wise for the trip.  In past road trips, we tried to bring food along, but often ended up eating gas station sandwiches or beef jerky. *L*  This time, I had a couple of insulated bags.  One is actually a picnic backpack, complete with a 4 pc set of dishes and cutlery, glasses, a large insulated pocket, two insulated side pockets for bottles, and a plastic backed picnic blanket.  I found it at Goodwill, which meant it was missing two of the butter knives and two of the plastic "wine glasses" were cracked, but it's still the best $9 I ever spent! *L*

We also brought along one of my insulated grocery bags.  We kept stuff that only needed to be cool, not cold, in there, while the stuff that needed to stay cold was in the backback with reusable icepacks.  We packed 3 different kinds of deli meats, a small wedge of brie, some smoked cheese we'd never tried before, a bit of provolone, celery and carrot sticks, apples, a bottle of V8 for Youngest and some grapefruit juice for me.  Some buns, a bit of mayo for the sandwiches, and a tiny cutting board with a paring knife finished things off.  The sandwiches we made were soooo good!  Love brie in a sandwich. :-D

Sure beat gas station food! *L*

A few more hours of driving, and we made it to my parents' farm.  My mom was at church by then, so it was just my dad.  I kept family updated through facebook until we reached the cell phone deadzone.  Where my parents live, I found there was enough signal to send a text message (sporadically), but not enough to make a phone call.  We reactivated Dh's old Blackberry for Youngest (yes, we are now a 4 cell phone family!), as my own phone does not get service in Manitoba.  My parents don't have a computer, but I was able to keep my computer literate family members updated, and they in turn kept my parents updated.  I sent one last update before hitting the dead zone, and my sister called my dad to let him know we were almost there, so that worked out really well.

This time, we stayed at the farm with my parents.  There was some doubt as to whether this was a good idea, but I'm glad we did.  We were running around so much, there wasn't much chance for disaster anyhow.

It was good to see my father.  He's having a harder time getting around and I really wish they had home care coming in to give them a hand, but they won't accept it.  My brother's death has really taken a lot out of him, but my parents are survivors.  Painful as it is, they've seen so much death in their lives, it's not going to destroy them.  My dad turns 88 this year, and he plans to hit 100.  He might actually do it, if my mother doesn't put him over the edge.

Seeing my mother was its usual manic depressive experience.  One minute, things are going good, the next she's ranting about religion or politics or telling me how we should live.  In the past, I would never have left my mother alone with the girls, but Youngest is old enough and capable enough to handle my mother.  My mother seemed to take advantage of every opportunity to get Youngest alone and talk to her.  She had a few negative things to say about home schooling, myself and Dh for not "allowing" them to go to school, and so on.  She was thrilled with Youngest mentioned she was kinda interested in going to college and offered financial help with that.  By the time we left, Youngest told me that, if she did end up going to college, she would certainly NOT accept money from her Babcia!  She knows full well that sort of thing comes with strings attached.

Overall, though, it worked out well.  There were a few unpleasant moments, but not enough to completely ruin the time we spent there. 

Of course, we did our best to visit other family members.  My middle brother lives up the road from my parents, and now that my youngest brother is gone, he's born the brunt of helping them out.  There's a whole soap opera situation there.  My brother is in a lot of pain - both physically and emotionally - and has a lot of bitterness and anger going on.  My oldest brother and his wife was able to come out soon after we arrived.  Normally, my oldest brother can only make it out once a week, but there's been a lot going on, so he's been out more often.  The farm is getting old and falling apart, and it's getting to be a major issue.  My late brother could do a lot of the stuff himself, but there's none among us that can match him on that.  With one of the big jobs that needs to be done right now, a plumber is going to have to come in with an excavator and dig down to the bottom of the foundation!   My oldest brother is doing the best he can, but he's got a full time job, a small farm of his own, and it's an almost 2 hour drive for him to come out.  We were able to go to their place the day before we left, and it's looking so great.  Their neighbours laughed at them when the bought the property because of flooding issues, but after years of hard work and a whole lot of money, the place is looking amazing, while their house and driveway remain high and dry.

We got to visit my sister as well.  Her farm is about an hour's drive away, and we ended up staying overnight.  With all the flooding going on in Manitoba, the creek they live on is really full.  They're not in any danger where they are, but the water is the highest they've seen for this time of year.  My BIL has been helping my oldest brother out with a lot of the work at my parents, but his own parents are getting on in years, too.  They share the same yard, so they see each other every day.  One day my BIL might be at my parents' farm, helping dig a trench, then redoing the floors of his own home, the floors of his parents home, plus the usual work of tending cattle and field, fixing tractors, and so on - all with an injured back.  My sister, meanwhile, has a job in a nearby city, plus her own farm and garden work, as well as the odd freelance design job.  My sister tries to visit my parents regularly, but there's only so much they can manage.

The most difficult thing about the trip, of course, was the memorial.  I visited my brother's grave a few times.  Short visits, unfortunately, as we'd be driven away by the mosquitoes.  During the memorial, I made sure we were slathered with bug spray!

We had the memorial on Canada Day; the day before my brother died 1 year ago.  There was a morning mass, then we all headed to the cemetery.  The company that made the permanent memorial stone did a great job.  It's quite beautiful.  The priest did a little ceremony for the blessing.  There where quite a few people, both at the church and at the cemetery.  It was mostly family and friends of my parents.  My brother's friends stayed away.  I think my mother's behaviour had a lot to do with that.  My niece made it out with her boyfriend, but my nephew said he didn't want to be there.  My brother's widow wasn't there, but that was no surprise.  She's cut us off completely.  I need to work on not allowing myself to feel very terrible things about her and her behaviour since my brother died.  Nothing I'm going to write about here, though!

There was a reception later on, catered by a neighbour.  It was a very long and difficult day for my dad, but he made it through okay.  Between cane and walker, he got about all right.  We drove him to the church, but he found the van too high for him to get in and out of, but he was able to get in and out of my SIL's care much more easily, so that worked out.  It must have really hurt for him not to be able to go to the funeral last year, since that was in the city.  He wasn't going to miss any part of it this time.

I went back to the cemetery the next day, which was the actual anniversary of my brother's death.  Clearly, I was not the only one.  Some more flowers had been added, and there were a couple of empty bottles of my brother's favorite beer.  My family had left a couple of lawn chairs by the monument (which came in handy during the blessing ceremony) and they were set up in front of the monument together.  A candle in a glass hurricane lamp my mother had left was burned right down.  At least two people had spent quite a bit of time there.  No idea who. My mother swings by regularly to tend not only my brother's grave site, but other family members there as well.  She regularly finds things people have left for my brother; everything from his brand of cigarettes, to a bottle of whiskey of particular significance.  He's getting quite the collection of solar powered garden lights - something else he was fond of - and a whole lot of flowers, both real ones in pots and fake ones in vases.

My brother's passing has left a huge hole in a lot of people's lives. 

The cemetery is in a lovely little spot.  There was one time Youngest and I swung by after dark, as I wanted to see how the lights looked.  It's in a secluded little spot, surrounded by trees on three sides. It was so beautiful.  The garden lights glowing softly (including ones at a couple other grave sites), fireflies blinking all over the place, and a ground fog glowing brightly in a farmer's field across the road.  The only down side was the insane amount of mosquitoes!!!  My family already knows that this cemetery is where I want to be buried, too.

My own family were not our only visits.  We got to see Dh's parents a few times as well.  They're just a short drive from my parents, and they have cell phone and Internet service. *L*  Thankfully, Dh's brother and his family were able to come out from the city and visit, so we were able to see them as well.  Had they not been able to come out, we would have missed them entirely.  It's always fun visiting Dh's parents.  They're such interesting folks!  I have to admit, I'm always struck by how *young* they are.  At least compared to my own parents.  There's about a 20 years age gap between Dh's parents and mine.  I keep forgetting that my parents started a family fairly late in life. 

With all the visiting and preparing, Youngest and I were constantly on the go while out there.  When it was time to head home, I intended to take it easy and we'd find a rest area to stop for the night again.  We took a different route home this time and, while it was longer, it had a lot more rest areas!  In the end, the closer we got to home, the more it seemed to just not make sense to stop for the night!  It was just a few more hours to home, after all.

It was about 2:30 am when we got home. *L*

You'd think we'd finally get to take it easy after that, but the last week has seen us running around almost as much as while we were away!  So much to do.  I think yesterday night was the first time I finally got to sleep in!  Not tonight, though.  I was supposed to have my first crochet class yesterday, but no one had registered for it, so tomorrow I'm doing a demo.  Now that I'm home, I'll have to see about drumming up some business and get some students!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Just a quick note to say I'm going to be on the road and out of province for a while, so there will be no posts again until sometime in July.

Friday, June 17, 2011

So you're thinking of home schooling, part one. Can you?

Things sure have changed since we started home schooling!

Before we had kids, we had only a vague notion about home schooling.  It was something crazy religious people did.  Or hippies.  And it was bad.  I didn't have a really defined reason for why it was bad, but it was.  It certainly wasn't something I ever thought I would do.

When we began our own home schooling journey, any preconceived notions I had about it were quickly overturned.  Then they got overturned again.  Kinda like my notions of parenting, except not so extreme.

At the time I first began exploring home schooling, there were plenty of people doing it, but you had to look for them.  It seemed most people didn't know any home schoolers, and quite a few had no idea what it was.

Until our kids reached school age, it wasn't something that came up in conversation with other people all that much.  Certainly not with complete strangers.  As they got older, though, there were the inevitable questions about when they'd be going to school - or why they weren't in school.  On telling people we home schooled, the reactions ranged from slightly confused and mildly curious to downright offended and defensive.  I recall being in the waiting room of a dentist with Eldest, who was about kindergarten age, but not of an age where we were legally required to register her in the province we lived in at the time.  Among the toys in the waiting room was a bucket of foam tangram shapes, and she and I were playing with them together.  A woman in the waiting room with us started to chat, asking the usual sort of "so, are you looking forward to starting school?" questions we were getting at the time.  When I mentioned we planned to home school, she went from being friendly and relaxed to tense and defensive.  Angry, almost.  It turned out she was an elementary school teacher, and she spent the rest of the time we shared the waiting room going on about how much better it was for kids to go to school.

Thankfully, she had to leave soon after.

Over the years, though, things changed.

First, there were more people starting to say things like "I know people who home school.  They're doing really good, but I could never do that."

Then there were more and more people - especially older people - saying things like "I wish I'd known about home schooling when my kids were younger."  I remember one particular elderly gentleman (a Jehovah's Witness who came knocking on our door, actually) who, on finding out we home schooled, got the saddest look of regret on his face.  He told me how he wished they'd home schooled their own (now adult) children because of the incredible torment they'd experienced in school.  His kids were all grown and parents themselves and doing fine, but he would have spared them that pain, if he'd known he could.

When the girls were younger, I got a lot of people asking about high school and sort of assuming I'd start sending them to school.  I'd get questions like, "how can you teach them high school level subjects?"  Never mind that I did go through high school myself, so I kinda had the basics already, plus there are plenty of resources.  Lots of assumptions about testing and curriculum (because in high school, you just HAVE to use a curriculum, right?  And have teachers watching over you?)  Dealing with that question while also revealing that we didn't "do" school anyhow (no one seemed to know what "unschooling" was) didn't generally invoke positive results.  Interestingly, those questions stopped by the time girls actually reached their teen years, and I never get them at all now.

Now that the girls are older, and Eldest is a legal adult, things are really different.  Pretty much everyone knows about home schooling, it seems, and most people have positive associations with the term.  More parents are telling me they plan to home school their own kids, and quite a few people who don't even have kids yet have said the same.  More people seem to be aware of different styles of home schooling, or at least that it doesn't always mean school-at-home.  There are still a lot of misconceptions, but it's improved a great deal.

I do still get a lot of people saying things like "I wish I could do that."  Now, however, I'm getting more people asking, "can I do that?"  They don't mean it in a legal sense, since most people do know that home schooling is legal (even if some of them still think it shouldn't be). They know that they are allowed to do it.

No, what they're asking, in a round-about way, is "am I really good enough to teach my own kids?"

This is an interesting question.  Where did we (and I include my pre-home schooling self in there) get to the point that we feel ourselves unable to educate our own kids?  Since most of us are products of the school system ourselves, I think it's the inevitable result of going through a system that tells us learning only happens in special buildings, with specially certified people, at certain times and with information doled out at certain ages.  It's become so normal, we tend to forget that this is really unusual in human history.

What the public school system has done to a lot of us is undermine our confidence in our own abilities.  Not just in educating our children, but raising them, too.  We're increasingly pressured to send our kids away to "experts" who have been specially trained to do what used to be done by families and communities.  More and more of us grew up in daycare, followed by pre-pre-schools, then pre-schools, then kindergarten, then on through the grades.  Then after that, a lot of us went on to college or university.  Is it any wonder that we find ourselves unable to believe we can do something like educate (or even parent) our own children? 

Home schooling isn't right for everyone.  Some people just aren't in situations where they can, or should, home school.

Henry Ford said, "Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right."  This is true in most things, but home schooling is a bit different.

I forget what organization looked into it, but it was found that there was little difference in how well home schooled kids did when taking into account their family dynamics.  It didn't matter if the families were rich or poor.  It didn't matter how much formal education the parents had.  Race, religion, and even style of home schooling also showed little difference.  Home schooled kids still did equally well overall, which was generally better than their schooled peers, in both academics and sociability.  This is quite different from the school system, which shows significant differences in outcomes between demographics.

In other words, even if you aren't sure of yourself, go ahead and do it anyways.  It would be very difficult to do any worse than the school system is doing.

Can you?


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Things are picking up

Well, our busy season seems to be kicking in faster than usual this year!

This whole past year has been an odd one for us.  Some things dropped off entirely, such as our park days and Youngest's singing lessons.  Others are new, such as her guitar lessons, while still others just aren't what they were, such as our library days.  Those have gone from regular one-day-a-week things to perhaps none one week to 3 or 4 visits the next!  The kids are as likely to go without me these days - or even without each other.

Of course, having Raider King living with us for a while changed our habits, but that's to be expected.  Now that he's got his own place, things just haven't gone back the way they were, really.  Though I suppose I never really expected them to.

This weekend is a double whammy for us.  Our co-op is doing another garage/craft/bake sale.  I don't know why I bother signing up for a table.  Only the very first one I did was any success - and I was one of the few that made any money!  The others have been utterly dead.  I really ought to set up in actual craft sales, rather than our co-op sales, but the craft sales that are around are pretty huge and require a substantial amount of money to book a spot.  For one of them, there was a group of my fellow crafters that considered getting a spot together, but at a cost of $400, it was just too much.  The crazy thing is that, even though they have so many people booking spaces (for some local crafters, these two sales a year are all they do!) at such a high cost, the place still charges an admission from customers just to walk in the door!


So I've got the sale on both Saturday and Sunday.  Meanwhile, the art festival Eldest is booked for in the summer is having an advance "block party" sale to promote the event.  It's very small, with space for only a handful of artists to set up, so it was great that Eldest could get a spot at all.  It's just for the one day, and the hours are the same as for my sale!  Which means Dh is going to have to do the driving to get Eldest and her supplies out there.  She's been busy choosing and preparing which paintings she will include for this small sale, with some framed pieces while others are without.  For those, she picked up some special plastic bags to protect them.  Though Dh will have to drive her, he won't be able to help her set up.  His back went nasty on him a few days ago.  He ended up missing three days of work and is walking with a cane again.  He's banned from lifting anything right now.  Even driving will be uncomfortable for him, but the alternative is for him to sit with my stuff at the sale, and that won't be any easier on his back than driving.  It'll be okay, though.  Eldest needs to figure out how to set up in the spot she's been allocated (and a good spot, it is!), and it'll be easier for her to figure it out on her own, anyhow.  Hopefully, he'll be able to swing by later on, though, and take over at least long enough for her to have a bathroom break!  That's the down side of these events.  Unless you've got someone with you to help out, you're stuck watching over your own merchandise for the entire time.  Granted, the artists tend to keep an eye out for each other, and are known to watch their neighbours' stuff so they have a chance to get something to eat or answer the call of nature.

Youngest might be joining me off an on over the weekend.  She's got a few of her own pieces in the sale, too.  Of course, anything of hers that sells, I'll keep the money separate for her.  Like my stuff, however, hers really should be in a different sort of sale.  She's got a lovely triangle shawl in the sale that was made with a really neat yarn that has a metallic thread running through it for a bit of sparkle.  It has to be priced to at least cover the cost of the yarn, and that stuff wasn't cheap.  Garage sale goers, on the other hand, do tend to be cheap - after all, bargains are what people are going to garage sales for.  That this is also a craft and baking sale doesn't change that much.  People still aren't likely to care that something was hand made with high quality materials, excellent workmanship, and is an original design.  That's boutique stuff.  Well, I hope at least her little child-size hats sell.  They're adorable.

On top of all this, I have a new job, of sorts.  I've been hired by a major craft store franchise to be their crochet instructor and, if things go well, may even start teaching other crafts as well.  The reason I say "of sorts" is because I won't have any sort of regular hours and get to make my own schedule, to a certain extent.  The classes are a new thing for the store, so there are none actually booked.  Until then, I will be doing the occasional demo.  That part gets paid by the hour at minimum wage.  For the classes themselves, I'll be paid a very generous percentage of the registration fees.  Meanwhile, I'll also be taking a distance certification course at home through them.  I only need to do the first two levels to get the instructor certification, but if I can do the third level as well, I will get to include the word "professional" in there, too.  That part of the course requires, among other things, designing a garment - something I've already done, so it's no big deal for me.  The main part for me is that my name gets into a database for North American instructors, which opens me up to other possible contracts.  Looking over the course descriptions, there's nothing in them I can't already do.  Of course, the group that runs the course gets to determine if I'm actually doing them well enough to be certified.

I'm not too concerned about that. *L*

Dang it.  Just looked at the time.  I need to get up early to get a start on the sale tomorrow.  What am I doing still up at 2 am?  Time to go to bed!

Have a good night, all!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

That Olde Tyme Thang...

In the last little while, I've been enjoying the blog, Ridin out the Recession.  I heartily recommend bookmarking it and visiting often!  It's been a fantastic read.

It's a blog that has got me to thinking food again.  If you've been following either of my blogs for a while, you may have noticed I have an interest in food history.  You can learn alot about people by what they eat, how they prepare their food, and the customs and traditions surrounding food.  I find it fascinating.

Ridin out the Recession, in their posts talking about different ways to put up food for the future, has reminded me about this a lot.  Our modern society, with its technologies and international trade, has not only made an astounding variety of foods available to us, but it has made preparing and preserving our food for the future much easier, more consistent and safer.  Modern canning methods sure have improved from the days I helped my mother top her jars of jam with a piece of string and paraffin wax! (The string was allowed to hang outside the jar so you could pull the wax up to "open" the jar - but sometimes the wax would just break apart, and we'd have to use a knife to get the rest out, then fish little bits of wax off the top later on.)

Not too many people preserve food anymore, beyond sticking things into the freezer, though doing so was regaining interest even before the global economy tanked.  Much like traditional crafts often see a resurgence in popularity after being displaced by industrial versions, increased numbers of people have found that these old methods are satisfying and enjoyable skills.  It feels darn good to do things for yourself!  Being able to grow a garden, then fill your pantry with food for another day really does something for you!  Even those who aren't DIY'ers are increasingly appreciative of hand made items.

I love old cookbooks.  While I enjoy recreating historical recipes, some of my favorites are just a generation or two old.  As much as I like the recipes in modern cookbooks, I find myself less willing to try them out. With so many of them written and published in the US, for example, they tend to call for ingredients that aren't so easy to find in Canada, if they're available here at all.  New cookbooks also tend to use a lot of packaged ingredients. While the use of canned, bottled or powdered ingredients makes things handy, we just don't buy a lot of prepared foods.  I have little interest in buying them just to try out a recipe.

The old cookbooks don't have these prepared ingredients, since they didn't exist at the time.  Of course, there's also the problem of the old recipes using ingredients that were common then, but aren't anymore!  Others are foods that were common and cheap at the time, but are now expensive, luxury items.  Like rabbit!

Among my favorite cookbooks is The Canadiana Cookbook, by Mme Jehane Benoit, published in 1970.  This was one of those flea market finds that are such treasures.  The book is organized by province and territory, with plenty of Mme Benoit's wonderful commentaries strewn about.

In the Manitoba section, she has a recipe for Pemmican (Chippewa), which she in turn found in the Prairie Pantry cook book.  Pemmican played a huge part in Canadian development and trade, and in Metis culture.  Many of our modern highways closely follow the Pemmican trails - the Metis trade routes.  Pemmican was a vital food for a very long time, and was originally made using bison, elk or venison. 

I haven't tried this recipe yet.  In the cookbook, Mme Benoit says she made it using smoked venison instead of beef.  If you give it a try, please let me know how it turned out!

Pemmican (Chippewa)
The Canadiana Cookbook, pages 144-145

1 pound dried beef or smoked venison
3/4 pound dried crushed chokecherries*
1/2 pound fresh beef suet, chopped fine
1/2 cup light brown or natural sugar

Pass all through meat grinder, except the sugar.  Add the sugar.  Mix thoroughly.  Pack in a bowl and keep covered and refrigerated.  Serve with sourdough bread.

* I dry my own chokecherries in a 200 F oven.  They are usually easy to find in Health Food stores.  Dried currants can replace them, or fresh lingonberries when available.


Well, I don't know if you can get chokecherries in health food stores anymore.  Besides her recommended alternatives, cranberries, saskatoons and blueberries can be used, too.  The fruit is actually optional, and a more modern addition.  This is the only recipe I've seen that uses sugar.

We've made our own beef jerky, and if you want to dry your own meat, it's easy to do.  Get a cut of very lean meat, such as flank steak, and cut it very thin, against the grain (partially freeze the meat to make it easier to cut, if you want).  We laid wire cake racks over cookie sheets, then spread the meat out over them evenly.  After letting the oven warm up to the lowest setting (about 150 - 200 F), we put the meat in and left it overnight with the oven light on, but the oven off.  The oven can be heated back up as needed, though it just needs to be warm, not hot enough to actually cook the meat.  If you take the meat out to turn it, though, make sure to warm it back up again.  It can take a very long time to thoroughly dry the meat (I've seen as long as 15 hours - we didn't take as long with our jerky, since we wanted it to still be chewable).

In the days before meat grinders and food processors, the dried meat would be pounded into a powder.  The fat would be rendered and everything would be put into special leather bags and mixed together.

Pemmican was valuable because it was extremely nutritious, portable and, properly wrapped, could last 4-5 years.  It can be eaten as is, though I've read of the Voyageurs adding it to boiling water to make a soup.

I don't know how economical it would be to make pemmican now, with how much meat costs these days.  At least for someone who has to get their meat at the grocery store.  For a hunter or beef farmer, it might be a practical way to preserve some trail food.