library day: Fancy Nancy! Evolution! {kids’ book recommendations}

Wednesday morning is our official Library Day. It’s also the day we pick up our CSA and while that is a fun task for about five minutes as we pick through the box to see our favourites or make a note of what we’re googling later, we break up Wednesday with a trip to the library. Sometimes there is an activity, like the incredibly noisy Songs ‘n’ Stuff, which you’d think the musically inclined D would like but it’s really just 50 under 5s with jingle bells jumping around but other times it’s just D and I and a few other kids to play and poke through books.

Libraries are an invaluable resource. Boy (and Miss N) always want to take home all the books so we have a standard two book limit because otherwise it is impossible to find them all to return. I always feel guilty plucking a book off our shelf at home only to find the “Property of Halifax Public Libraries” stamp on the inside cover and knowing we borrowed it an embarrassing amount of time ago. I practically grew up in libraries. My Saturday afternoons with my dad were spent at the U of W’s Leddy, the downtown Windsor Public Library and during the week I wandered into the small library in the equally small town where I went to school. The hush and smell of books, thumbing through each page. It’s another world for quiet kids like me who have always read the book but never saw the movie based on the book, who have picked through all the books on the shelf and need to order books from the another library (remember the card catalogue?). I helped my dad set up the library in his church though I’ve now forgotten most of the codes. With his help I’d memorized most of the standard codes for the Dewey Decimal System. I was a different kind of cool as a kid.

And now, I share that love with my kids.

This week, we borrowed:

Born with a Bang: It’s told from the viewpoint of a very eager and earnest Universe and explains the birth of the Universe, from nothingness to now. It’s a bit advanced for Boy (who is 4). Miss N has flipped through it but I would recommend it for kids a bit older than these two. It’s interesting and the science seems sound but it’s very long and the mystical quality of the Universe “speaking to you” isn’t terribly interesting because I don’t really think the Universe is a puppy desirous of that much attention.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story: Gorgeous pictures and perfect for a child Miss N’s maturity. She was engaged immediately and the pictures that take the reader from single-celled organisms to now. There are constant parallels to what the organism had then that matches what we have now. An excellent beginning to talking about evolution with kids.

My Brother Charlie: So heartfelt and honest, it’s told from the perspective of Charlie’s twin sister who loves him and wants to protect him always, even if he is difficult because of his autism. Our immediate lives have not been touched by autism but that does not mean we have to ignore its presence in the great wide world.

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique: Now Miss N wants her own Fabulous Fashion Boutique so she can earn some more money for her iPod. Such a cute story and Fancy Nancy is such a kind hearted little girl, she really does remind me of Miss N (who loves her too).

Curious George Plants a Tree: Precocious. Who can resist Curious George? Not D who wanted to borrow every single Curious George book they had. I’m sure it’s touted as an Earth Day book, but really? You can plant a tree anytime and value the environment any time of year.

Until our next trip. What’s your favourite kids’ book? What would you recommend we borrow next time we visit? What would your littles recommend to Miss N and D?

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library day: Fancy Nancy! Evolution! {kids’ book recommendations}

Wednesday morning is our official Library Day. It’s also the day we pick up our CSA and while that is a fun task for about five minutes as we pick through the box to see our favourites or make a note of what we’re googling later, we break up Wednesday with a trip to the library. Sometimes there is an activity, like the incredibly noisy Songs ‘n’ Stuff, which you’d think the musically inclined Boy would like but it’s really just 50 under 5s with jingle bells jumping around but other times it’s just Boy and I and a few other kids to play and poke through books.

Libraries are an invaluable resource. Boy (and Miss N) always want to take home all the books so we have a standard two book limit because otherwise it is impossible to find them all to return. I always feel guilty plucking a book off our shelf at home only to find the “Property of Halifax Public Libraries” stamp on the inside cover and knowing we borrowed it an embarrassing amount of time ago. I practically grew up in libraries. My Saturday afternoons with my dad were spent at the U of W’s Leddy, the downtown Windsor Public Library and during the week I wandered into the small library in the equally small town where I went to school. The hush and smell of books, thumbing through each page. It’s another world for quiet kids like me who have always read the book but never saw the movie based on the book, who have picked through all the books on the shelf and need to order books from the another library (remember the card catalogue?). I helped my dad set up the library in his church though I’ve now forgotten most of the codes. With his help I’d memorized most of the standard codes for the Dewey Decimal System. I was a different kind of cool as a kid.

And now, I share that love with my kids.

This week, we borrowed:

Born with a Bang: It’s told from the viewpoint of a very eager and earnest Universe and explains the birth of the Universe, from nothingness to now. It’s a bit advanced for Boy (who is 4). Miss N has flipped through it but I would recommend it for kids a bit older than these two. It’s interesting and the science seems sound but it’s very long and the mystical quality of the Universe “speaking to you” isn’t terribly interesting because I don’t really think the Universe is a puppy desirous of that much attention.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story: Gorgeous pictures and perfect for a child Miss N’s maturity. She was engaged immediately and the pictures that take the reader from single-celled organisms to now. There are constant parallels to what the organism had then that matches what we have now. An excellent beginning to talking about evolution with kids.

My Brother Charlie: So heartfelt and honest, it’s told from the perspective of Charlie’s twin sister who loves him and wants to protect him always, even if he is difficult because of his autism. Our immediate lives have not been touched by autism but that does not mean we have to ignore its presence in the great wide world.

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique: Now Miss N wants her own Fabulous Fashion Boutique so she can earn some more money for her iPod. Such a cute story and Fancy Nancy is such a kind hearted little girl, she really does remind me of Miss N (who loves her too).

Curious George Plants a Tree: Precocious. Who can resist Curious George? Not Boy who wanted to borrow every single Curious George book they had. I’m sure it’s touted as an Earth Day book, but really? You can plant a tree anytime and value the environment any time of year.

Until our next trip. What’s your favourite kids’ book? What would you recommend we borrow next time we visit? What would your littles recommend to Miss N and Boy?

Liz Feltham : Chowders and Soups

Book cover for LIz Feltham's Chowders and SoupsRecently, a treasure dropped from the mailperson’s hands and into my mailbox, courtesy of Nimbus Publishing. I tore into the envelope, curious at the unexpected arrival and was quite pleased to find Liz Feltham’s newest offering, Chowders and Soups. Locals may remember her as the long-standing restaurant critic of the Halifax weekly The Coast. This is a really smart offering of chowders, some international in flair like the traditional Italian fish soup Zuppa de Pesce (page 62), as well as some that are a bit closer to home like the Classic Maritime Seafood Chowder (page 4). What each of the soups has in common is Feltham’s attention to detail and love of the Maritimes: Each showcases local ingredients.

The recipes are accompanied by colourful photos and creative; the aerial shot of a steaming bowl of soup – the ubiquitous Photograph of Soup – is broken up by photos of raw ingredients and a great mix of dishes that I now covet. Liz achieves what all cookbook writers should strive for, at least if they are attempting to make happy: A recipe is a guideline for your imagination, it is meant to help you along but there are just the beginning and as Feltham writes in her introduction, “Don’t be afraid to experiment and make each recipe your own”.

The first recipe I tried was the Tomato Squid Chowder (page 27). I love squid and I’d picked up a bag of need-to-use-these-now tomatoes the day before, so the arrival of the cookbook was rather serendipitous. The chowder is a classic tomato-based chowder and taking Feltham’s cue I added some corn and a couple of bay leaves to the simmering concoction. It was really, really good. We had it for lunch, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches and the kids ate very last spoonful of the soup. A succes. Like most of the recipes in the book, this chowder could be made quickly for a mid-day meal without a lot of fuss and bother. This is the true success of the cookbook, Feltham has managed to create 50 recipes that are accessible to any level of home chef and if you are strapped for time you could definitely make any number of the recipes on a weeknight.

I am looking forward to the Chilled Strawberry Soup with Black Pepper, as soon as I get a basket of strawberries in our CSA. I do not doubt that local berries are essential for this hot weather soup. One small quibble I have with the otherwise lovely Chowders and Soups is that there isn’t an ingredient index included at the end. It makes scanning through a cookbook that much easier if you have a raw ingredient taking up too much space in the fridge. Feltham more than makes up for this with Stock Recipes appendix where you can find the recipe for all soup, which are the absolute foundation of any quality soup. The glossary, while short offers a quick and dirty list of terms used throughout the text.

I highly recommend Soups and Chowders, particularly because of its versatility – there is something for every season so it won’t sit on your shelf until cold weather. Liz Feltham is knowledgeable and this comes across in each of the handpicked recipes. A definite must for any home chef as she calls all of us folks who enjoy that time spent at the stove.

A huge thank you to Anne at Nimbus Publishing for sending Chowders and Soups my way. If you are looking to meet the once elusive Liz Feltham, you can on Saturday, June 2 at Chapters in Bayers Lake (12-130pm); June 6 at IndigoSpirit in Sunnyside Mall (1-3pm) and June 8 at Coles in Scotia Square (12-2pm). As always, have a look in your local bookstore for a copy.

on moral reasoning

Recently, I had a post featured on BlogHer (this is the link for the BlogHer article), a very interesting experience that garnered many responses, some good and some bad, at least from whatever your vantage point may be. The post had the misfortune of being renamed in (what I think) is a most inflammatory manner in order to drum up controversy and snag more readers – hoo boy, there were certain people who missed the point of respecting other’s views and that I don’t believe fierce religious dogma is for children because they could only focus on the fact that the children were not going to other’s churches. There was a small contingent who wasn’t quite sure how we, as non-religious parents, could hope to teach our children tolerance and morals (my favourite from the Facebook feed was the “I’m so tolerant I’m calling you closed minded and will name-call”).

Miss N has reached an age where we have started talking about the “why” of what we do, we are making connections between the rules and why they exist. Every morning we walk together to the bus and it is a time just for us, mother and daughter to talk without little brother distractions or the call of kittens. One morning this week she was admiring the newly formed buds on the trees, gently poking at their edges and pointing out the flowers she recognized (there are many – her green thumb would make my grandfather proud).

Miss N: It’s a lovely morning, Mommy. I like that tree the best. (And she pointed at this gorgeous tree that I think is a Hot Pink Crabapple tree.)

Me: It is, honey. I think that’s my favourite, too. Why do you suppose they grow, the trees?

Miss N: Well, I know the builders make the roads and houses and stuff. The trees and plants grow because we need them for oxygen.

Me: But what if we weren’t here? Why should they grow? A super long time ago there weren’t people living here in Canada but there were trees and all kinds of plants and animals.

Miss N: Hm. I know that one day this baby tree, (she pointed at a young Maple Tree), will grow up to be really big and that’s what it’s supposed to do if we let it.

Me: So, it’s part of what it is? To grow and live?

Miss N: I think so, but I don’t know.

Me: Think about it, honey. Have an awesome day and have fun at school.

With that, we left it. Her schoolbus had arrived and she hurried away, oversized book bag bumping against the back of her legs and ponytail swinging. The idea of  intrinsic value is a pretty weighty subject for a six year old but at its heart is discovering that the world does not necessarily exist just for our use and benefit. The world can exist with our without us but because we are, in so many ways, straddling the border between being part of nature but also outside of it, I believe it is important that we do not take nature for granted or our position so close to it.

Later that night I was telling Mr about the conversation I had with Miss N and he smiled. That afternoon he was outside with Miss N and Boy when Boy found a slug he was intent on squishing, for no other reason than it may be fun to squish something smaller than him. It was Miss N who stopped him with a simple, “Why?”.

“Because I want to,” he said.

“But why? It’s part of nature. Everything is part of nature. Just like us, would you want to be squished?”

Through Twitter I’ve been having some very interesting conversations with other non-religious parents about how we teach our children when we do not have a religious framework to establish a moral structure. The common refrain has been “the golden rule”, that the most basic way for everyone to get along in the world is to think about how we want to be treated and extend that to others. The golden rule transcends many world cultures and beliefs because the notion of positive reciprocity is one that we can all identify with because it puts each one of us in the position of another. This is the basic essence of not just morality but also respect, that we can learn respect from something as inconsequential as a slug in the garden.

dressing the pregnant belly

Pregnancy is such a fun time. Bloating and increasing middle area girth means that all those cute clothes that are neatly folded in your dresser or going to remain neatly folded in that same drawer for some time to come. After my first child I was devastated to discover that no matter how hard I tried, my old pants would not fit me. My (still rather) narrow hips had widened just enough that I had to pack all those jeans, skirts and dress pants in a big black garbage bag and haul them off to Goodwill. Let’s not lament the clothes we will find irrelevant but figure out how we’re going to look cute now.

Back from a casual walk in the park with Mr and hanging with a kitten. Neither one of us can see my feet.

I started showing early this time around. Mr has said I should stop telling people I’m less than 5 months along, it freaks them out. Let this be a lesson to you, once stretched around a nearly 9 pound human, stomach muscles are not going back and they will gladly take any opportunity to boomerang out again. I was left in a quandary. I had donated all my maternity clothes because I didn’t need them anymore.

Surprise, surprise.

It didn’t take too long (read: I was 8 weeks and showing) before my jeans were uncomfortable, as in, I felt like it was 10 minutes post-Christmas dinner every time I ate, breathed or drank a glass of water. I needed to do something.

Leggings and long skirts as cute short dresses it was. I never got around to buying belly bands but I did score some maternity pants at a new-to-me clothing sale. I bought one pair of jeans and one pair of capris. I am loathe to buy them new because they are ridiculously expensive.

‘Tis not impossible to maintain the cute while pregnant. Long shirts from Mr with a belt cinched above the belly function as a dress, paired with leggings and it’s cuteness. Skirts with a plain band (think A-line, no zippers or buttons) worn as a dress are tops. I know the rule is “no leggings as pants” but are you really going to tell a pregnant woman she’s making a fashion faux-pas? I don’t much care if your bum is covered or so tight the leggings are see-through. And, tights should never, ever be worn as pants, which I have seen. That is tacky.

Mind you, I’m short and this style works for me but it was a way for me to start reusing some of the clothes I already had without busting my already broken bank account.

kids activities: easy crayon stained glass windows

I know that last week I featured a crayon activity but that’s because reusing crayons is very cool and we have a million nubs of crayons. I’ve been meaning to make stained glass windows (or, in our case, mobiles) for a while. The main drawback to this craft is that it can be adult-intervention heavy. To keep the kids interested and save your sanity, use a pencil sharpener to transform the crayons into flakes instead of a paring knife like I did.

Stained Glass Heart

You will need

wax paper

crayon shavings

iron

two older dish towels you don’t mind redecorating with splashes of colour

yarn*

How

I shaved an entire box of crayons, this was probably not necessary as you really don’t need that much. It’s very important to keep the layer of shavings thin, the melted wax spreads and if it too thick, you can’t cut the wax paper into shapes and sunlight cannot get through. This effectively ruins the whole point of making stained glass anything.

1. On a decent-sized sheet of wax paper (waxy side up), spread a thin layer of crayon shavings. To keep relatively mess free, do this      on top of one of the dish towels.

2. Play with colour. You’ll be surprised at how the colours will mix together.

3. Sandwich the crayon shavings with a second piece of wax paper, this time waxy side down. Cover with the second dish towel.

4. Iron on a low setting. A friendly reminder that you should be doing this, not your child. Pretend it’s a shirt – move the iron around slowly, this will spread the colours.

5. The reveal: Pull back that dish towel and have a look. Cover and go over any areas that still have lumpy crayon messes.

6. Allow to cool and cut into shapes. Miss N spelled her name, Boy did aquatic life.

7. String on the piece of yarn and hang in a window.

*I tried fishing line for Boy’s mobile and it didn’t work, the pieces of the mobile are too light to weigh down the line and it ended up twirling and making a mess so I had to restring it on the yarn.

a month-long awareness extravaganza

May is Speech and Hearing Awareness Month. It’s also Sexual Assault Awareness and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. I understand the initiative behind awareness days and months, it gives educators and regular people a reason to talk about different issues and keep them in the forefront, but if you listen to incredibly loud earphones, park in dark alleys and bake yourself to a crisp every other month of the year, the point of May’s awareness initiative is lost. Those promises you make to yourself and your family needs to carry through for the rest of the year. Not just today or until the end of the month.

The true intent of these awareness months is that we make life changes and sometimes those are really difficult. Do you know what else is difficult? Coping with hearing loss. PTSD from a sexual assault. Chemo. If that feels extreme to you, life is extreme. We all have this concept that it could simply not happen to me, it’s someone else’s problem. Well, sometimes it’s not someone else’s problem. Life is not a feel-good, inspirational movie starring Queen Latifah and Ryan Gosling’s ex-girlfriend.

I have written before about what it was like to learn Boy has unilateral hearing loss and it does not change who he is but it will have a lasting affect on his life. Roadie for a metal band is not a viable career option for him, not unless he wants to expand that hearing loss to both ears. The precautions we take with protecting his hearing (watching for signs of infection, keeping noise at an acceptable decibel) are actions we should all be taking. Once you lose your hearing, it’s not coming back, not without some very serious intervention. Be wise about it.