Posts Tagged "The Boy"

Bread & Butter

Posted on May 31, 2010 in Food, Simple Living | 12 comments

Bread & Butter

A few months ago, a potter friend of ours made Aaron a baking stone so we could try the artisan no-knead bread recipe from Mother Earth News. This went amazingly well but we’ve waxed and waned in our bread making over the months. We recently started up again. I wanted to try a bread that required kneading because it’s been suggested in the Waldorf school meetings that I have been attending that kids love to knead bread. I’ve tried the French Bread recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook a few times with varying degrees of success. Similarly, I’ve been wanting to try making our own butter. I remember fondly making butter as a kid by shaking it in a jar for, um, forever and I remember how delicious it was. We’ve been trying to make more and more food ourselves and I thought this would be a fun one to add. So last Tuesday (the only day the kids and I are home together the whole day without outside commitments like work, preschool or dance class), we decided to tackle homemade bread and butter. This time we used the Basic White Bread recipe from The Joy of Cooking. As predicted by our Waldorf friends, Rain loved kneading the bread. It was so fun that we forgot to take a picture. But here he is with the dough ready for the first rising: While that was rising, we started on the butter. You have to warm the cream to room temperature and meanwhile, stick the bowl you will be using in the fridge to cool it. Then you pour the cream into the bowl and whip it with your hand mixer. Notice the cloth on the counter. I did an awful lot of counter wiping as the cream sprayed everywhere, including all over the front of my sweater which later that evening, smelled like sour milk. I recommend an apron. The first stage is called the frothy stage: The next stage is meant to be the whipped cream stage, where it should get thick and start forming peaks. After this stage, it should get even thicker and start crumbling. The cream we were using came from a local farm and was unpasteurized. As a result, I do not know it’s exact fat content. It certainly didn’t seem as thick as a store bought whipping cream but resembled a cereal cream or half and half. We I whipped for a long time – Rain got bored and left – but it just wasn’t thickening into whipped cream as it should have. I whipped longer and longer until I noticed that there appeared to be curds floating in the foam. On closer examination, I discovered the curds were yellow. The longer I whipped, the more of these curds appeared so I just went with it. Then I strained off the buttermilk. I didn’t get nearly as much butter as I would have if I had used whipping cream. According to the internets, 1 quart of cream should have delivered up 1 Lb of butter. I used a quart of cream and got about 1.25 cups of butter. The next stage is to wash the butter. If any of the buttermilk remains in the butter, it will go bad quite quickly. To do this, you put the butter in your blender with some cold water. You blend it and then pour off the water. You repeat this process as many times as it takes for the water to be clear when you pour it off. Once you have cleaned the butter, the last thing to do is to squish it all together to form a solid chunk. I used a combination of a rubber spatula and my hands to do that part. It was a bit of a strange process because there was some water drops still in the butter and of course, water and oil don’t mix but the butter was soft so it was hard to squeeze the water out of it. I did manage in the end though....

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Balancing Needs When Baby Trumps Mama

Posted on Apr 13, 2010 in Featured, Parenting | 20 comments

Balancing Needs When Baby Trumps Mama

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice! This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we’re writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. *** Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself. ~ 8th Principle of Attachment Parenting, Attachment Parenting International. Sometimes I think this oft-overlooked 8th principle is the most important principle of the Attachment Parenting philosophy. Sometimes I think that it’s the part that makes all the other principles possible. However, for me, it is also the hardest principle to implement. And I don’t think I’m alone. It seems that striving for balance and finding time for self-care are on the minds of most parents in some shape or form. There are a lot of sites out there rife with advice on how to do this. Jen Louden of Comfort Queen talks about renewal, comfort and making time for yourself, with coaching geared specifically for women. Sarah Juliusson from Mama Renew gives tips and offers workshops for mothers. Renee Trudeau wrote a book called The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Advice varies from lighting candles to attending week long child-free retreats. There should be something there for everyone. And in many ways, there is. However, dear reader, what does one do when trying to honour our own needs pits us against our children? I recently read Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, by Mary Kurcinka. The book outlines the different ways that a child can be spirited and has scales for rating your child on the various aspects. There is also a section where you rate yourself. I was reading the book because I suspected that my powerhouse of a four year old was spirited and he did come out mildly spirited based on our appraisals. What surprised me was that in some ways I am spirited as well (I think Kurcinka would term me spunky). And here’s the kicker: Rain and I are spirited in opposite ways (for the most part). He rated low on the things that I scored highly on and I rated low on the things he scored highly on. An example would be that Rain is fairly exuberant (for those familiar with Kurcinka’s book, you will recognize my attempt to use a positive label) and I am sensitive. Rain rates highly for energy; he is always wiggling, always on the move, always making noise. He can’t talk; he yells. He loves to bang on drums. I scored low on energy. I have always been quiet. As I child I preferred to read, colour or draw rather than join in on a team sport for instance. It drives me crazy that my husband shakes his leg or drums his fingers when relaxing on the couch. I tend to be still. I rate high however, on sensitivity. I am a far pickier eater than anyone in my family, I am always cold and I find noise extremely stressful. I am often reminded during the course of my day that excessive noise is used as a method of torture and as a means to end hostage situations. I have also been known to joke that having kids is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain. When our house gets especially noisy, I feel myself tensing up and my reactions to otherwise innocuous behaviour become harsh and grouchy. I react like someone being attacked. I counter-strike. I understand that kids have lots...

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Wondering About Waldorf

Posted on Mar 21, 2010 in Featured, Learning | 4 comments

Wondering About Waldorf

This is Part VIII of the series Kindergarten Considerations in which I have been discussing (and wrestling with) the considerations behind the seemingly innocuous decision of where to send my four year old son to school. The next two posts are dedicated to a discussion of our top options. We already looked at Montessori education. Today we’re talking about Waldorf schools. I have only known about Waldorf schools for a few years. The concept gradually seeped into my consciousness and I can’t remember what I first heard about it or from whom. We were living in Vancouver. Aaron came home from work one day and told me that a client had been explaining Waldorf to him and that it sounded really interesting. I had heard of the school before then but that was the most I knew of it for a long time. From there, I learned little bits here and everywhere. I’ve learned the most about Waldorf education in the last four months. Before then it was just this nebulous alternative school. There is a new initiative in our area to start a Waldorf school. There have been previous attempts over the years that have petered out. This particular initiative looks poised to happen. The intent is to open the doors in Sept 2010 with Kindergarten and grade 1, and to add a grade each year. There may be as few as 10 kids enrolled in the first year. I have mixed feelings about this but I will come back to that. First, some background on Waldorf schools for those of you who know little about it. Sometimes called Steiner Schools, the concept for the school is based on the thoughts of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was a philosopher who was asked to develop the curriculum for children of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory workers in Stuttgart and this is where Waldorf schools come from. In a nutshell, the Waldorf philosophy believes that the child should be approached on their own level which in the early years is primarily through play and imagination. Especially in the early years, the belief is that children learn best through imitation so the teacher plays the role of guide and model. There is a lot of emphasis on the natural world, on yearly celebrations, on community. Children write and draw to create their own textbooks. Many of the learning concepts are taught through the use of stories and over the years, children cover folk & fairy tales, fables, Greek myths, and more. In addition to regular academic studies, Waldorf schools also teach art, hand crafts (like knitting), gardening, music (every child learns to play an instrument), foreign language, a kind of dance/creative movement called Eurythmy. They have outdoor play time and also circle time with stories and songs. Contrary to the Montessori method which is very individually driven, Waldorf schools structure the day around often coming together as a group. You can learn more about the philosophy here or here. Waldorf schools, like Montessori schools, vary greatly in their implementation because they are run independently. It’s not like a franchise restaurant where your burger will be the same in Medicine Hat as in Chicago. As such, I’m sure there are good schools and not so good. One of the criticisms I have heard of various Waldorf schools is that they can seem rather cultish. I am not sure if that is a reference to the emphasis on natural rhythms which might feel too close to paganism for some families’ comfort or if it is due to a perception of over-adherence to the teachings of a single individual. The focus on the fairy stories, arts and natural world rhythms strikes some families as being too out there, hippie, airy-fairy or pagan. I’m not overly worried about any of those but I certainly see how some mainstream, conservative families may feel that they wouldn’t fit in the larger community of the school even if they are interested in the education for their children. At the risk of totally putting my foot in my mouth, my impression...

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Maybe Montessori

Posted on Mar 4, 2010 in Featured, Learning | 6 comments

Maybe Montessori

This is Part VII of the series Kindergarten Considerations in which I have been discussing (and wrestling with) the considerations behind the seemingly innocuous decision of where to send my four year old son to school. The next three posts are dedicated to a discussion of our top three options. This post looks at Montessori. Amber from Strocel.com recently pointed out that it’s going to be impossible to find a perfect school and I know she is right. I am aware in some deep recess of my brain that I can’t be too picky. I have to be realistic. I think we all choose the best option for us, for our circumstances. The director of Rain’s preschool has also reminded me (rightly) that no matter what school we choose, it’s going to come down to the teacher whether or not it’s a good fit for him. With that said, let me warn you that in the next few posts I will be picking apart all of our options. Which isn’t to say that I won’t choose one of them in the end. I should add my little disclaimer here that my comments about particular schooling philosophies represent my impression based on preliminary research and reflect our own family educational goals. My comments are not intended to suggest that a particular philosophy may not be the right choice for your family. Montessori A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we were attending an info session for the local publicly run Montessori program. I went to the evening with an open mind and felt excited about checking it out. I only knew the bare minimum about Montessori. I knew that it had been around for about 100 years, that it was started in Italy by Maria Montessori and that it’s generally regarded as a very good alternative schooling program.  I also knew that the children are allowed to roam freely around the room and choose materials to work with as they like. So far so good. The first thing they did at the info session was show us this video to introduce us to the basics of Montessori education. The learning materials and environment are intriguing and beautiful. I was encouraged by some aspects of the philosophy: the emphasis on self-directed learning and the addition of non-academic units like practical life. The staff, teachers and our local society seem sincere, dedicated and earnest. But the reality of the program here didn’t mesh with the fairy tale in the above video. The school, a former middle school, was large and imposing. The room on the second floor, though filled with Montessori materials was utilitarian with only two windows at one end of the room, located above a 3 foot counter. I tried to imagine my son trying to see out the windows or walking to his classroom, through wide corridors and up long flights of stairs. It didn’t feel very accessible to a five year old. In and of themselves those issues could be dealt with. It would only take a few weeks for Rain to get used to the immensity of the place. I feel more bothered by the lack of accessible windows really. But I also think back to when I would pick up my niece from Kindergarten. Everything in that whole wing of her school was kid size: tiny toilets, tiny water fountains, coat hooks at knee level, bright windows. Taylour’s kindergarten reminded me of my own and I wonder how is it that school has changed so much in the last 10 years that we no longer try to approach the child on their level? Moving on though. My impression of the space quickly bled into my impression of the philosophy. Keep in mind that I was there in the evening so I wasn’t able to observe children in the classroom, but to me, the program felt cold. Though the video talks about how much fun the children have while they are learning, we also heard repeatedly that the children would not be playing with the materials;...

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Let Them Play

Posted on Feb 19, 2010 in Featured, Learning | 10 comments

Let Them Play

This is Part VI of the series Kindergarten Considerations in which I have been discussing (and wrestling with) the considerations behind the seemingly innocuous decision of where to send my four year old son to school. I had promised to share my thoughts on our options in this post but I got totally distracted by the idea that maybe school isn’t necessary at all. Rain can’t recite the whole alphabet; it still gets a bit jumbled and he doesn’t yet recognize all of the letters. He can recite to 10 when he feels like it and when he tries he can reliably count objects in groups up to 4 or 5. He doesn’t write his name. He wrote the letter R on the back of his Valentines but often elaborated by adding wheels, arms or flowers. I am totally fine with that. Here’s the deal. I have complete confidence in my kids’ abilities. They both demonstrate to me every day that they are very bright. I don’t care what age they learn to write their name or say the alphabet or count or read. I know with 100% certainty that they will do it and at their own pace. There will be plenty of time in the coming years for them to focus on academics and I don’t believe that they will be at a disadvantage from learning to read at 7 instead of 4 for instance. In fact, a recent study from New Zealand has proven that very thing. By age 11, there was no difference between kids who learned to read at 7 and those who learned at 4. “One theory for the finding that an earlier beginning does not lead to a later advantage is that the most important early factors for later reading achievement, for most children, are language and learning experiences that are gained without formal reading instruction,” says Dr Suggate. “Because later starters at reading are still learning through play, language, and interactions with adults, their long-term learning is not disadvantaged. Instead, these activities prepare the soil well for later development of reading.” “This research then raises the question; if there aren’t advantages to learning to read from the age of five, could there be disadvantages to starting teaching children to read earlier (at age 5). In other words, we could be putting them off,” he says. The above passage makes several striking observations in only a few short sentences. First, that the most important factors for later literacy are “early language and learning, while de-emphasising the importance of early reading.” Second, that play is vital for early learning. Third, it raises the question of what harm we could be doing by teaching reading too early. I have heard elsewhere that teaching reading before 11 for instance, shapes our brains in a linear order and can hamper our abilities to think laterally. These three observations alone are reason enough for me to feel relaxed about Rain’s academic career. We’ve got time for Rain to be a kid. We can focus on formal reading instruction in a couple of years. There are so few years in life when we are truly free of pressures, truly free to play. I want him to play, partly because it’s fun and partly because he is learning even while he plays. He is learning about respect,  gravity, problem solving, shapes, empathy, conservancy, conflict resolution, following instructions, developing hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills, and more all day, just by playing and experimenting. Interestingly, educators are starting to chime in about the importance of play. Last year,  the Alliance for Childhood published a report, Crisis in the Kindergarten, about the lack of play in Kindergarten in the US. This report explained that there was too much instruction, too much testing, too much homework and not enough child-directed play. A New York Times article on the Crisis in the Kindergarten report discussed the lack of play in classrooms and also touched on some thoughts on creativity that are similar to those of Sir Ken Robinson. Thinkers like Daniel Pink have proposed...

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