29 August 2014

Stealing from Liam's idea the other night, I've written a bit about ten books that have stuck with me.

1) You Shouldn't Have to Say Goodbye by Patricia Hermes. A book from my childhood that opened my eyes to the fact that parents could die while their children were young. I was simultaneously riveted by and terrified by this line of thought. The random fact that they ate Reuben sandwiches burrowed its way into my brain.

2) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I picked up this classic by chance when I was twiddling my thumbs at the end of my pregnancy with Nick. It turned into a tradition to read this near the end of each of my pregnancies. I like the story and it's a big fat book, so it's a good fit with late pregnancy waddle-dom.

3) Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. I think I would have given almost anything to be Alanna as a girl. She stole my tomboy heart and fuelled my certainty that girls could do anything boys could do. In elementary school, my friends and I had one of our dads photocopy the entire first chapter so we could attempt to memorize it and act it out. I don't know that we ever got past the opening "That is my decision, we need not discuss it!" line, but we had a great time of it.

4) By the Sword Mercedes Lackey. In a similar vein to the Alanna books, Kerowyn embodied the ultimate gender role thwarting badass for me when I was a kid. She could dress and fight like a boy and still have guys fall in love with her. How could I not fall in love with this book?

5) Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. A heavy book I read for school during junior high. I was drawn in by the tragedy of this family's fate, and the vivid description of the horrific conditions aboard the slave trips will probably never leave me.

6) Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Following a childhood theme, I wanted to be Harriet after reading this book. The closest I ever got was a spy book where I obsessively wrote down every license plate number I saw, which I think ended the day it made me so late walking home from school that my mom was frantic when I finally came home. I listened to the audiobook recently with the kids and it was a much harsher story this time around than I'd remembered.

7) The Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb. I'm cheating by lumping six (seven if you count the new book) into one, but I love them all. Liam got me onto this series a decade ago and it stole my heart. Liam and I actually gave serious consideration to naming Lily after Molly, one of the main characters. I just reread the series  in anticipation of the latest release this month, and it was just as enthralling the second time through. Now I just need Liam to read the new book so we can discuss all the new big things that have happened with dear Fitz!

8) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I don't think it's possible to live a full-fledged teenage horse obsession without reading Black Beauty. I adored that this book was written from the horse's point of view, and my heart soared and sank with his ups and downs in life.

9) The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. Along the same lines as the above, of course. I read most of if not the entire Black Stallion series. Alec's deep bond with the stallion filled my little girl heart with longing for a similar relationship with a horse of my own.

10) Deerskin by Robin McKinley. Stemmed in some dark beginnings, the story follows the main character as she heals from trauma. The way she just up and ran and ran stuck with me, as did her companion her dog Ash.

28 August 2014

One of my favourite questions (actual favourite, not "favourite" favourite) people ask about unschoolers is what a typical day looks like, partly because it's fun to reflect and partly because I love hearing about how others go about their lives. Our days have a typical rhythm, but there's no set standard of what a normal weekday is around here. Sometimes we're out of the house all day, sometimes we're home for days on end. I make an effort to match our activity level to our needs and energy levels, and so no two days really look the same.

A while back I wrote a post about what a day in our life looked like, and today I thought it would be fun to do the same. And so I give you, a Thursday with the Johnstones.

6:30 am: I wake up to the sound of Bear yawn-whining his desperate need to eat, or pee, or both. I sneak out of bed, tucking the blanket back around Ollie so she hopefully sleeps a bit longer. I set Bear up with food in the dog run and set myself up with coffee and my laptop. When the girls wake they come downstairs for Netflix. Nick wakes and hangs out upstairs with his laptop.

9 am: I process jars of apple sauce. The kids and I picked the apples at a friend's house the other day and cooked them in the slowcooker yesterday. This is the first canning I've done this year and I need to use my friend Google to remind me of how long the jars need to sit in the boiling water. This is usually the time when I get in my daily workout, but I'm in a small funk this week and not quite feeling it today.

Playing the jars like small drums.
Getting all hot and steamy
10 am: Breakfast! Homemade granola and homemade apple sauce. So much yum.

10:30 am: Breakfast table is cleared, so Ollie and I get chopping more apples for the next batch of apple sauce. Unlike yesterday, she manages not to slice herself open with her knife. Nick sprawls on the couch with a book. Lily experiments and creates a Rainbow Loom outfit for one of the dolls.

Choppy choppy choppy

All dolled up with cinnamon and honey

The Rainbow Loom Baby Bikini
11am: I fill jars with zucchini and pickling brine, then process them. Nick alternates between being in his room and coming downstairs to show us the magic tricks he's just taught himself. Lily and Ollie work on some Rainbow Loom charms and then some paintings based on a craft book we took out of the library.
Sisterly paining. Let's not discuss the doll, because I just don't know.
1 pm: Lunch. Lily amazes me with her mad food skills and packs away four bowls of mac and cheese.

1:30 pm: My friend, coffee o'clock. I get a few minutes to read my book and then I read some children's poems out loud to the kids until they're bored of listening to me.

2:30 pm: I process four more jars of apple sauce from the apples Ollie and I cut up this morning. The kids make some paper cut out penguins from the craft book. Lily reads some books to Ollie on the couch. Nick collects plants to continue building a braided rope he's been working on this week.

Rope braid. 

3 pm: We all go down to the bottom garden and I do some weeding. I feel guilt over how neglected this new garden has been all summer and I wonder if I'll actually get any squash from it. We check the potato plants for potatoes but don't find any big enough to dig up yet. The girls play on driveway gate. Nick goes bushwhacking and brings me back nettle for tea.


Jack, hunting for untold treasures in the potato patch.
The gate game. I think the goal is to hurt your sister without your mom catching you. Or something.
4 pm: We run into our next door neighbour as she's taking her garbage out. My kids help her toddler feed carrots to the horse. Our neighbour invites us over and we hang out and drink iced tea.

5 pm: Ollie has a massive meltdown about leaving neighbours to come home. Much crying. Much trying to run away from me. Much not fun.

5:30 pm: Ollie is mostly done freaking out, mainly thanks to Nick. I'd jokingly offered him a nickel to cheer her up and he took me up on it. And then came to collect his nickel. The kids play some strange game involving the stairs and the couch cushions while I cook supper. In the midst of the chaos, I get the news that a dog we'd fostered earlier this summer was put down today. I take some time to process and then talk to the kids about it.

6 pm: Liam is home and we eat supper. Yay Liam! Yay supper!

7 pm: We pack up kids and dogs for a walk. We stop for the mail and walk the loop of the subdivision. Ollie meets a woman collecting her mail from the other mailbox and they become instant friends. We notice that a piece of mail delivered to us belongs to aforementioned neighbour. Children gleefully offer to deliver it to her. They're sent up the long driveway with instructions to return quickly because it's late. They don't return quickly. When Ollie finally gets in the house she presents me with her bike helmet holding a bunch of freshly picked rosehips.
Ollie takes getting the mail very seriously.
Cool teenagers don't need shoes on the road.
Extra awesome points because they fed grass to horses at two houses on our walk.
8 pm: Snack time. Shower time for the girls. Probably should be shower time for Nick as well but it's late. Much loudness. Much straying away from actually getting to bed because there are suddenly all these exciting things that need to be done right now. Nick comes down to say goodnight and promptly acts like my kiss on his cheek will actually kill him.

9:30 pm: The children are all asleep. The cat scratches at the door to come inside, then at the kitchen cupboard to have her food dish refilled. I find myself an evening snack and work on updating my food co-op order for next week's groceries.

And that there is as typical as a typical day gets in our life. We do some things together, and some things on our own. The kids learn all day through exploring things that have captured their attention and imagination. We eat, we work, we fight, we laugh. And I wouldn't want it any other way.


26 August 2014


Today was a day of sniffly tired people and cancelled plans with friends. In the end we had a really nice cosy at-home day, which is exactly what we needed.

One of the things we did today was to start our first Five In A Row (FIAR) book. Liam downloaded Lentil by Robert McCloskey off of Open Library for us and put it on my Kobo. The girls and I snuggled up on the couch and took a read through. It felt extremely odd to be reading a children's picture book off of a Kobo, especially when a few pages in things started looking like this:


And this:


Fortunately not all of the pages were funky, and we were able to read the book (although I did have to use my imagination a few times to decipher gobbledy gook).


In the end, it really did feel like something was missing by not having the physical book and the full-page pictures. We're going to try pulling the file up on a different device for upcoming days with Lentil, but after this book I know we'll be striving to work only with the books we can get paper copies of.

The book was enjoyable and Ollie, of course, had a string of questions about the story and the vocabulary as I read. When we finished the book I read a section from the FIAR text. The other day when I was mapping things out I'd flagged the section on the sense of taste because we have both lemons and dark chocolate in the house right now.


For each of the kids, I made up a plate with a lemon wedge, dark chocolate, salt, and sugar to exemplify the tastes of sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. They were most excited about the chocolate (because Mom doesn't usually share her hidden stash) and enjoyed going back and forth between the flavours. 

Ollie definitely learned the vocabulary word "pucker".

Once they'd had a chance to go through each of the foods and exclaim such things as "Salt is salty!" (thanks, Lily), the kids started to mix and match. I think my personal favourite was when they were dunking their lemon wedges in the salt. Yum yum! Goofballs.

All in all, today was a nice intro to FIAR for us. It was a simple enough experience that I had an easy time adding it to a day where I wasn't feeling great. It also lent itself well to both Ollie who was in it from start to finish to the older kids who drifted in and out as they were interested. Hopefully we'll get an opportunity to get back into it tomorrow!



Some days, I'm the kind of mom who is patient and engaging. Yesterday was not one of those days. I was grumpy and impatient and extremely short tempered. I went to bed early last night and I'm blogging a picture of our family where we look as loving as I want to act today. And go.

24 August 2014

July 2014 Spartan with Liam. So. Much. Mud.

I like to run. Most of the time I do, anyhow. Sometimes I despise running. But let's talk about the times I like running.

I started running during high school, I think as a combined result of having done running for rugby training and having read the book Deerskin which features a character running long distances. 

When I first got started running I would trek around my parents' subdivision with no special equipment or any real idea of what I was doing. I didn't know how to track my distances (where were all those smart phones in the 90's?!) and I'd never heard of interval training. Sometimes I'd take my chunky bulky Walkman so I could listen to my radio mix tape. 

Over the next years, I ran on and off without any clear intentions or goals. I knew that I took delight in being able push myself and that my body felt good when I got up off my butt. In 2002, a fellow classmate and I decided to take on a running training program as part of a self-care project for one of our classes with the end goal of running a half marathon. Six months after getting serious about my running, I completed my first half marathon in a time of 2:13. I lost a few toenails and suffered heat stroke, and I absolutely loved it.

A few years later, my friend Vanessa talked me into running another half marathon with her. We navigated the waters with the support of a local Running Room clinic and in 16 weeks we ran our race. This time around, Vanessa and I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:21.

My third long race I trained for and ran was another half marathon just last year. I talked my friends into entering the world of half marathons with me, and we trained through the summer and autumn for a late October race. My finish time this go around was 2:22.

Last year I also branched out a bit and also completed my first triathlon. It was a nice short race to get introduced to the sport, and I really enjoyed the new mental and physical training aspects that were brought up by adding the biking and swimming into the race.

Earlier this year, I'd given serious consideration to tackling a full on marathon this year, which coincidentally would have been today. I was feeling strong heading into the early spring since I had an entire winter of solid crosstraining under my belt and I'd run the half marathon distance on a whim during a regular weekend run. For a few reasons, including my limited time to work out away from the kids and my uncertainty as to how I'd juggle the training hours during our summer travel, I decided that this wouldn't be my year to take on this goal. I know that running a full marathon is definitely a personal goal and I think I'll more easily be able to handle tackling it when the kids are older.

As for my actual running goals for this year...I still don't know. Other than the Spartan race which we completed in July I haven't signed up for anything. My friends and I have been looking at some possible races and we've started getting some weekend runs in together again, so hopefully we'll pin something down and work towards it soon!

23 August 2014

With the coming school year nearing, I've been collecting books and curriculum for the kids that I think they'll enjoy. Without really intending to, a couple of books turned into a few more and now all of a sudden I have four cardboard boxes in my livingroom and my coffee table is completely lost under a sea of books.

Between some books I bought from friends, a couple of Kijiji ads for curriculum, and the local library booksale it didn't take long for things to add up. We've got a mix of curriculum, reference books, fiction readers, and picture books. My goal this week is to cull our bookshelves (blasphemy, I know!) and rearrange the different areas in the house where we keep books so that everything gets a home.

I'm excited to dig into the curriculum that I found for the kids, because I think I've picked up some things that will give each kid a chance to have something happening at their level while giving lots of opportunity for everyone sitting in on things. My goal is to offer more structured learning opportunities for the kids now that everyone is old enough for me to properly divide my attention and now that Nick is on the cusp of his high school years.

Starting from the bottom up, I have a copy of Five In a Row for Ollie. It's a really neat looking system based on a selection of some classic children's books. The format is to read the book with your child and then do activities which draw from the themes in the books and touch on social studies, art, science, and other areas. I've got a copy of the first book we'll start with, Lentil by Robert Mccloskey, as well as some notes jotted down about which activities we'll use from the book. I've also found a few (ok, maybe more than a few) printables and further activities on Pinterest we can also use.

Along the same lines, I also picked up a copy of Beyond Five In a Row. This text is the same format as the previous one, but aimed at an older age bracket. Depending on how things go, I see this as either being something both girls work on with me this year or else something we set aside for upcoming years.

For my middle Lily, I found some Konos books. I purchased both volumes one and two (for a small fraction of the full retail price, yay!) which gives us a large amount of info to peruse. These books are set up so that the student is presented information broken down into themes and topics. These are covered through family read-alouds, individual reading, writing assignments, and various activities. From what I've seen of it so far, I appreciate both the guidance in choosing materials and the flexibility it offers. The suggested schedule has the student covering about 10 hours of work each week, but we'll definitely be taking a much slower pace than that. I can see this curriculum drawing all three kids into its activities.

For my oh-so-grown-up Nick, I found some physical science books from BJU press to fit in with Nick's area of interest. I've taken a read through some of the teacher manual to get a feel for the material and to see how we would approach things. In the opening chapter, there is an emphasis on how belief in God and the pursuit of scientific knowledge go hand in hand (since it's a Christian science textbook and all). I was dismayed to see a line addressing how the earth is thousands of years old because the Bible says it's so, and dismissing the scientific view of the earth being much older than that. I discussed my concern with both Liam and Nick over finding information in this text so early on that I disagree with. I've decided to take it as an opportunity to encourage and support critical thinking (something Nick enjoys!) and we'll see if the rest of the information is a bit more factual. If it ends up being ridiculous we'll just scrap this curriculum and I'll remain grateful that I purchased it used for a good price!

And there you have it, the bookish learning opportunities I plan to build into our year! I'm looking forward to getting things rolling over the next weeks and seeing what the kids do with all of this.

22 August 2014

(Full disclosure: major Filofax geekery ahead.)

There's something delightful about pens and paper. Kobos, iPads and laptops are amazing and convenient, but they lack a certain quality that can only really be captured with paper.

Over the years, I've used many different forms of agendas. In junior high, our school gave us each spiral-bound paper agendas customized to our school board. I loved being able to glance at a visual layout of my schedule and the things I needed to do. I think even more, I enjoyed looking back through my year and remembering events.

Since those days of the spiral-bound agendas, I've cycled through different tools. I've printed out blank calendars to keep in binders, I've lugged around gigantic Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People binders, and I've gone completely digital with my phone. Through it all I've always cherished having a great wall calendar where I could glance at a representation of my life, and which I could set out on the table each month to fill out.

I wasn't entirely dissatisfied with the calendar app I was using on my Android when I came across a picture of someone's Filofax set up and began to mentally salivate. I loved the concept of my own little book where I could keep track of not only my schedule but all sorts of things. The Filofax binders are beautiful and as I investigated further online I learned that their uses were as endless as people's creativity.

After much internal debate about if I was ready to make the leap back away from a virtual calendar, I settled on purchasing a personal sized Filofax in the Malden style. After much anticipation in parcel tracking (and maybe a few hours of perusing Pinterest and YouTube...), my Filofax arrived. I excitedly opened it up...and realized I'd ordered the wrong size. D'oh. Somewhere in my excitement, I'd clicked on a pocket sized Malden (81mm x 120 mm) instead of a personal sized Malden (95mm x 171mm).

Purple pocket Malden
Rather than going through the process of shipping it back and ordering another, I decided to make a go of it with the smaller size even though I was worried the pages would be just too small for fitting everything in. Fast forward a bit, and I admitted defeat over the size, Liam offered to use the Malden as his own organizer, and I purchased a different Filofax that was finally a personal size.

Plum personal Osterley
It's been almost exactly a year since I've been using my personal Osterley Filofax and I love it. Like, love love love it. I can easily keep track of appointments, classes, plans with friends, and other events in the calendar. I write out to do lists in my calendar to keep myself on track with housework, or list the stops I need to make when I'm running errands. I jot down the things I need to have with us when we're heading out the door, which is especially handy on days I've had to bring bags packed for back to back activities and could easily forget something that would throw a wrench into our plans. I also write down my workouts I've completed both to keep track of what I've done and to motivate myself to stick with it.

Because everything is better with paper ninjas and pink glitter tape.
I have different sections where I track things like work notes, grocery shopping lists, to do's, a journal of what/when I planted things for the garden, a food log, my progress with a correspondence course I'm taking, and the books I've read. My Filofax is instrumental to maintaining my sanity when we prepare for travel. I write down everything I can think of that needs to be done and packed, and I transfer these lists onto my calendar days so I can chip away at the work in manageable bits.
A travel week, with meal plans, to do lists, packing lists
For a while I've been contemplating adding a larger Filofax to my life. The A5 is 148mm x 210mm and I love the idea of having all that paper space to spread out on, but I'd shied away because I couldn't see myself carting something so heavy around in my purse (especially since I've actually been using the Malden again as my wallet and only sometimes keeping the Osterley in my purse when I go out).

Recently, I've been feeling the need to build in more structure in our home and work towards growing homeschool portfolios for the kids. And then I realized...my perfect reason for getting an A5! A homeschool/home-specific book would need a lot of space for writing, and I wouldn't have to lug it around everywhere with me.

And so, I'm now happily awaiting the arrival of a Finsbury A5, which is currently hanging out in Miami and really needs to get its butt en route to me. I've been collecting homeschool planner printables and narrowing down which pages I want to include in my planner. A lot of planners include pages that I don't need (like attendance records which are required by some states in the U.S.) or want (like test result records and report cards). My top priorities include an area to jot notes about daily happenings that can be recorded more formally in a portfolio, the actual portfolios, goals, book logs, completed curriculum, and daily routines.



I'm looking forward to getting my hands on my new pretty and seeing what fun things we can do!

21 August 2014

Today Liam and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. It's a bit surreal that such a chunk of time has whisked past since the day of our wedding, and yet at the same time Liam is such a central part of who I am that I feel like we've been together always.

I'm grateful for the circumstances that brought us together originally (two people who didn't drink meeting at a bar) and then back together a couple of years later (a last minute party invitation and a car accident that couldn't get in the way).

I'm grateful for how easily Liam and I knew that this was the real deal. We were talking marriage within a couple of weeks of dating and there's been no looking back since then.

I'm grateful for Liam's generous nature, his dedication to our family, and the way he makes me laugh.

I can't imagine a more perfect person to journey through life with. I feel inspired, respected, supported, and nurtured in our relationship, and I hope that I remember to appreciate that each day.

I love you Liam! Happy anniversary!
 

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