Snow Day Fun

tobogganoutsideplayhouse

Yay!  Winter is upon us!  When the snow flies the girls fly out the door.  I have the easiest time on these snowy winter mornings.  They can’t dress and eat breakfast fast enough.  A quick ski around the yard or jumping on the toboggan:

toboggan1But it can’t all be fun when there is work to be done.  Winter blew right into our lovely little playhouse and the girls had some cleaning up to do.

toboggansnowinsideWhich can be fun too!

snowinside1

snowinside2

snowinside3The Missus took care of the porch.

tobogganisweepingDoes this mean we can call the playhouse a four season fort?

toboggangirls inwindow

It was a great morning and we decided afterward that the pictures would be perfect for our annual “Cool Yule” card.  Happy Holidays to all!

Cool Yule 2013

The Backyard Part 1: Natural Playscapes for kids

We have a lovely, large backyard.   The woman who lived here before us was a champion gardener and a member of the horticultural society and there are incredible flowerbeds…everywhere.  I am not complaining, afterall, that is quite a gift (even if I have my work more than cut out for me trying to keep them up).  But while flowers are pretty we needed some areas that the kids could play in and explore.  And we needed to do it on a budget.  Natural playscapes appealed to us and we were intrigued by living willow structures and had even found a Canadian source for willow cuttings.  But again, we had that budget…

So, we started last fall by transporting some tree stumps and cedar logs from J’s parents place in the forest to our urban backyard.  These were instant hits with the girls:

Hideoutbackyardstumps

Hideoutbalancebeam

Who knew jumping on stumps was such fun?  Or that cedar logs made such great balance beams?  Amazing, natural and cheap.  We loved it.

Next we starting making a “hut” like structure out of tall, skinny tree branches (again from J’s parents place):

Hideoutbackyardbefore

We used jute twine to tie the branches together forming a dome.  We added a door shape and a few windows on each side.  In the winter we cut up our evergreen tree (and a few of our friends) and wove the boughs through to give the structure form and privacy.

Hideoutbeforewith firepit

Here is what is looked like this summer.  We had placed the stumps in a semi-circle and moved out fire pit to the centre.  It has been a great spot for roasting marshmallows!  You can see the “finished” structure in the background after we had removed the old and dried out christmas branches and other yard waste the kids had woven in.  Next we removed the sod/grass in a circle around the play structure, added soil and planted beans with the idea being that they would grow over the branches and give cover that way.  Unfortunately, there was a heat wave while we were away for vacation this year and the beans didn’t really take.  We came home to a sad little wooden dome that was not much more than a bunch of dried out sticks.  Which is just as well since it was meant to be temporary (although we had hoped it would last through this season.  Since then the girls have hatched another plan anyways.  A bigger and more involved plan – a hideout!!

The have drawn designs, discussed various fort “must-haves” such as a lookout and a trap door.  The area behind the temporary dome seemed like a great space and so we went straight to work.  I can’t wait to show you the progress we are making on the much larger and more involved play structure in Part 2 of this series.  But for now you can ask friends and relatives for stumps and branches to get you started on building a natural playground for your kids…

We’ve got rats in the house…and we’ll never be the same…

My guess is that you thought 1 of 3 different things when you read the title of this post:

1.  “Oh my god!  You have rats?!  Poor you!”
2.  “Eeeewww, rats are so gross…with their gross rats tails and the gross diseases they carry…so sick”
3.  “OMG you have rats?!  I LOVE rats!!  I just posted a video about my rats on youtube because they are so cute”

If you are looking for a lurid rat tale filled with rat nest locating, rat trap placing etc you can move on.  This isn’t that kind of post.  In fact it is more like a love story.  A rat love story.

Exhibit A:

ratsbeckyandnoriHow could we not fall into love with these two?  Becky is on the left and is a Dumbo rat.  She is such a sweet, snuggly and gentle girl.  Nori is the one on the right.  This pic is very Nori.  She has loads of curiosity and spunk.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” you say?  “Are you talking about rats?” you ask?

Yes.  I am.  I kid you not.  It all started with the girls wanting a small pet they could snuggle.  Like a cat.  Their dad is allergic to cats.  This is upsetting to them to say the least.  Lil’S has been know to write songs about this topic including hits like “I have a choice: my dad or a cat”,  “I’ll get a cat when I get my own apartment” and “Run, Kitty, Run”.  Since the cat is a no-go, we moved on to researching other small animals for pets.  The Missus was determined to get a hamster.  We read and researched and visited some hamsters at pet stores.  But hamsters are solitary animals and I had visions of fights over who could hold said hamster and possibility of “squishing” seemed high in that scenario.  Also they bite a lot.  We moved on to information gathering about gerbils.  You need to get at least two of those at a time.  We even found an animal rescue with some gerbils looking for homes.  Gerbils bite less than hamsters.  But they are jumpy and skittish.  Not a great cuddle factor rating.   I had images of the kids loving them for all of two seconds and getting bored or bitten.  I saw days of mama cleaning stinky pine shavings and of sad neglected rodents living in a cage….

I saw a rat in one of the pet stores.  It was in plastic hut with only its tail sticking out.  I thought to myself “ew, who in their right mind would have a rat as a pet?”.  The sales person had a soft spot for rats and gave me a pamphlet (only one gerbil in stock that day).  I got back in the car and read the pamphlet and was intrigued.  They are really smart.  They can learn to come when you call them by name.  THEY CAN BE POTTY TRAINED!!!  They can learn tricks.  They very rarely bite.  They don’t live very long (don’t think less of me…this is a new venture and I liked the idea of a short-lived foray into the world of rodents if it went badly).  I went from a visceral negative reaction to a pragmatic, rational response of “this pet option seems to best fit with my family’s needs”.

ratspictureperfectAnd look at this picture.  I mean really look at it.  She is in love!  And so am I.  And so is Becky.  Here is a picture of Becky grooming Lil’S.

ratsgroomingI don’t know if you can tell, but Becky is licking her hand.  Lil’S can hold and pet Becky into an almost catatonic state!  We’ve had Becky and Nori for four weeks now and they are potty trained (mostly) and are starting to come when we call them.  The kids rush home to play with their rats.  The rats rush to the door of their well-appointed cage to be let out and play.  They are clean and easy to care for.  We used the purchase of these animals to teach the kids about budgeting and we price compared everything.  The kids are paying for their food and toys with their allowance.  They are quiet pets.  They are social and easy-going.  They are fun to watch.  We have plans for these rat girls of ours.  They’ve stimulated great discussions on stereotypes and prejudice.  “Why do people hate rats so much mom?”, “why do people think they are gross (dirty, carry disease, stupid)?”,  “why won’t people give rats a chance?”.  Given my own initial reaction to the idea of having rats I’ve had to examine my own strongly held beliefs.  Who knew?

We also have a rat guru in the form of an amazing 16-year-old girl who produced this video that I think you’ll enjoy.  I know the girls and I are looking forward to mastering these with our rat babies:

We’ve corresponded with her through her facebook page and she has amazingly insightful advice for the newbie rat owner.

I still can’t believe I’m writing about rats.  I still can’t believe I OWN rats.  Most importantly I can’t believe how easily they wiggled their way into our hearts.  We may even join the crazy rat lovers out there and one day produce a “look how cute my rats are” video ourselves.

Peace out!

For those of you looking for more rat owning information start here (we did):

The Ratty Rat
Discover Pet Rats
Abby R. Rat Training Facebook Page

A Solstice surprise

I know that many of you were left wondering after my “This Moment” post earlier.  I must say the story of this doll house is one that really touched me.

I was approached by an acquaintance at KUF who asked if I might be interested in the doll house.  An older gentleman and his wife were looking to find it a good home.  It belonged to their daughter and as she is now 40 years old and has only boys it wasn’t something that would be passed down.  As it happens, I have been looking for exactly this kind of doll house for years!

And so I went to go see it.  It is just so precious.  The gentleman told me about how a friend with carpentry skills made it for his daughter for Christmas many years ago.   He was still painting it that Christmas Eve!  You can clearly see how thoughtful the person making it was.  The staircases, the railings…the perfectly chosen faux wood floors in the living room and bedroom, faux tile in the kitchen and bathroom and the velour “carpet” in the attic.  Even the wallpaper is on a scale that is perfect for this tiny house!

I was gushing with gratitude saying how I promised that my girls would take such good care of it when away he went again to find the accessories.  Accessories?  Oh my goodness, wait ’til you see…

Are you kidding me?  There was a side board for the kitchen, a letter writing desk (which actually works!), a grandfather clock and a cuckoo clock, a market basket, a canopy bed and a lamp that is actually wired for electricity!!

I mean for Pete’s sake!  Look at this phone!

This fireplace!  Have you ever seen anything like it?!  The bucket with the faux wood, the fireplace tools, not to mention the tiny silver tea set and those books!  Those are honest to goodness real books….with pages you can flip!

Clearly I couldn’t wait to set it all up when I got home and look at each and every precious piece.  Dust and all, I put the whole thing together taking notes on what needed repair and what needed doing (a new cover for the bed mattress is in order I do believe).

I would have died to have a doll bed like this as a kid.  Amazing.

So cozy!

Do I even need to tell you how much I love this cradle?  And this stroller?

Yep.  This is the bathroom.  It has a soaker tub.  Goodness.

The bedroom!  Doesn’t it look like it is out of a magazine or something?

Another adorable fireplace and this lamp…clearly, I need to look into wiring and electrical for miniature houses!

And that completes our house tour.  What do you think?  Will the girls love it or what?  I was really and truly touched by this generosity.  The exchange was finished with a handshake and a heartfelt Merry Christmas.  Merry Christmas indeed.  I’ve been thinking of ways to pay it forward ever since.

a room of her own – the prequel

Some of you may already know that I am taking an AMAZING online art course called Pages and Paint with incredibly talented Sarah Ahearn Bellemare.  In the first week of the course we (students from all around the world), were charged with gathering supplies, creating a work space and creating an inspiration board.  Our job was then to photograph all three and post them to our private flicker group.  I’m finally getting around to photographing my space.  I still need to tidy it up a bit before I’ll let anyone see.

So until I get those photos up, I’ll share with you how this flurry of artsy activity in this house has sparked a whole lot of…well, artsy activity (not that we have a shortage of that here ; ).  Lil’S has decided that she too needs a space of her own to do her “work”.  She spent this morning and most of the afternoon gathering and arranging, choosing her furniture and her art pieces.  When she was satisfied she sat down and drew a picture of her sister who was playing nearby.  “Look mama” she said as she showed me her drawing.  “This is great.  I love my new space…but I’m gonna need something with drawers”.  Already she is planning an upgrade!

She sat at her desk and carefully chose which drawings and paintings she wanted to put up over her desk.  She fussed over the perfect placement of everything; which containers she would need…

I love how she added paper frames to her drawings!

A few of my faves from her “How to draw monsters and bugs” book…

The final result.  She wanted quite a few supplies within reach and so there ended up being paper and books under her desk and beside it in a basket.  Maybe she does need something with drawers after all!  PS.  I love that she drew on her chalk board “Scarlett’s work space”…just in case there was a question.

***************************************************************************************************************************

And now for the rest of her room.  The title is a bit inaccurate, as none of us actually have a room of our own.  This room was supposed to be my craft/art space but J’s treadmill didn’t fit where it was supposed to and so I lost my dream of a room of my own.  The girls use it as a playspace (which now include’s Scarlett’s work area).  Here is what the rest of the space looks like:

Here is our beloved craft supply closet.  (Also, why are Mrs. Iverson’s dolls always in some sort of compromised pose?)

The girls love it because of this fascinating old key.  They love to pretend to lock the closet (it doesn’t actually lock), take the key out of the lock, place it gently into their apron pockets, walk around aimlessly for a while, only to arrive back at the closet where they withdraw the key from said pocket and insert it into the lock, cautiously look around (lest someone should see what is held within this magical closet), turn the key and dramatically open the doors.  Repeat.

You are some of the lucky few to get a glimpse at…er, our craft supplies.

And then there is the “horse corner”.  What is it about girls and their horses?  The two riding horses were given to us by our dear friend Heather.  Her daughters had outgrown them and they were a happy addition to our home.  I made the harness you see on the white horse out of ribbon and metal washers.  I suppose I should get around to making one for the other horse sometime…maybe I’ll show you how if I do…

This is Mrs.Iverson’s kitchen.  She is quite serious about her “cooker-maker” duties here and in our real kitchen.  Here is a question: see that doll house to the left?  I would have killed for it as a child.  I thought my kids would love it.  They don’t.  They don’t play with it at all.  Maybe once in a blue moon.  Yet they won’t let me get rid of it.  They are little still so maybe I should hang on to it and they will hit a stage where they do want to play with it?  Thoughts?

These Alice in Wonderland pictures were from an oversized colouring book from Auntie Patty.  We love them…

There is a whole other corner of the room that I didn’t photograph.  It holds our old coffee table that is the perfect height for using clay and playdough, colouring and painting for Mrs. Iverson.  Beside that is another bookshelf with toys and musical instruments.  Clearly this shelf belongs to the Mrs.  Sometimes I see little scenes like this and totally crack up.

So there you go.  Another room shared for those of you who have been asking for more house stuff.  I promise to share my new space soon.  Until then!

Happy Canada Day weekend!

Such a lovely weekend!  It is easy to get excited when you have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old absolutely thrilled with all of the festivities going on around town.  Friday, J had his last day of work while the girls and I picked raspberries and strawberries at Fruition Berry Farm north of the city and met up with friends at the splash pad and beach at Joel Stone Park in Gan.

Not one to miss an opportunity to dress up, Mrs. Iverson made a splash picking berries in a dress and crown.  “Princesses looove strawberries”.  It is true, they do!

Lil’S chose more practical attire but still turned heads in her vintage Kids CBC t-shirt.  Notice the bottom of the shirt cinched with a hair elastic of to the side!  I totally remember doing this as a kid but have no idea where she got this bit of flare from…

A headless “Venus of Willendorf” shaped strawberry.  She tasted pretty good too!

I am so glad the girls and I went.  They loved picking the raspberries and we devised a great team approach with Mrs. Iverson taking the low berries, Lil’S the medium height branches and me taking from the top.  Strawberries were a little harder to get at but we had a great time none the less.

Saturday morning we started working on this:

I could look at this sign all day it makes me so happy.  See the lemon and the pitcher down at the bottom?  Love, love, love!  Lil’S and her friend B were so very excited to have a lemonade stand.  We made two kinds of homemade lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade and Regular Lemonade.  Well, I suppose there were three types, strawberry, regular organic and regular regular.  The stuff made with organic lemons was hands down the best.  I couldn’t believe there was a difference!  Try it you’ll see.

See?  I told you they were excited!

Their first and best customer was Mrs. Iverson decked out in her Stepford wives dress.

Ah, refreshing.  Such a great idea this lemonade stand was.  S got to reconnect with her friend.  Both got a great lesson in business administration and the stand was so darn adorable (did you notice the fresh-cut flowers on the stand?) that we met even more of our neighbours.  The girls, anxious for customers did do a door to door campaign at one point and a “running down the street with their sign” campaign.  They yelled “Come and get your fresh, homemade lemonade!” over and over.  So cute.

We finished up the weekend by heading to Gan for the fireworks there.  It felt so special lying on the hill on a blanket snuggling my girls. The fire-flies did their part keeping the girls entertained while we were waiting for things to start.  A friendly stranger went around to all of the children and passed out sparklers.  It was so sweet!  It didn’t take long for the kids to start visiting other blankets in search of those people who might have brought a lighter or some matches.  By the time the show started we had interacted with all of the families on blankets around us – a great way to create instant community.

Lil’S decked out in red and white (I made her skirt out of an old ikea duvet cover using the twirly skirt pattern from Sew Liberated.  Mrs. Iverson went in her pjs.

Not a bad way to end a great weekend (excuse the poor quality blackberry shots).  The kids were asleep in seconds afterwards.

Did you have a good weekend?  How did you celebrate Canada’s birthday?

Waiting for Santa…and snow!

Waiting for Santa

This year, as we have for the past four years, we gathered with friends to line the streets of Gananoque for the Annual Santa Claus Parade.  As I snapped pictures of the kids enjoying the free hot chocolate, candy canes and sweets, I was struck by how big they looked all of a sudden.  There is nothing like an annual event to mark the passing of time and to remind you how fast it all goes.  So I took a deep breath, a sip of hot chocolate and savoured the moment.

A sight never before seen in Canada

I also didn’t sweat the fact that my daughter was running around in a SHORT SLEEVED T-SHIRT!!!  Pinch me!  My usual bag stuffed with snowpants, hats, mitts and fleece blankets to cover the curb so that little bottoms can sit comfortably whilst they wait for Santa was totally unnecessary given the unseasonably warm weather.  Fortunately we still had the singing, the lights, the dancing and general merry-making to get us all into the celebration.

The theme of the war of 1812?!

I admit I don’t really understand having a war theme for a Santa Claus parade.  Sure the musket firing was neat and soldiers looked sharp in their uniforms but isn’t this season about peace?

Frosty!

This guy was hands down my favourite character in the parade.  He looks so cheery! I  nearly fell over when his stick arm waved!!  What a great costume.

The big guy himself.

When Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived the kids were beside themselves with happiness! I don’t mind the kids loving a man who brings presents to all and promotes goodwill and peace – that is the kind of celebrity culture I can get behind.

The season officially starts now.  All we need is some snow!

 

For the spy in your house.

There are secrets being kept in our house of late.  Requests for “secret and safe” places to stash belongs or freshly made gifts are frequent.  Scarlett is the most keen to hide things of all sorts.  She let me know recently that Ivy “messes with her stuff” and so she showed me her “secret spot”.  Behind her clothes, on top of the dresser in her closet was a large pile of party loot bags, stickers, school crafts etc.  Basically anything she did not want her sister getting into was there.

We have a tradition at solstice to exchange handmade gifts.  The secret keeping and stashing plus Scarlett’s love of “Harriet the Spy” inspired me to make this for her this year.  I think she is going to love it!

purchased for $2 at a local thrift store...

I found this gem of a hardcover book at the M.O.D shop in town for $2.  Then I went here and here to find out how to make a hollow book.

the hard part is done!

I won’t go into all of the details because the links have much better pictures than I do to illustrate the process.  Basically I used an exacto-knife and a ruler to cut into the pages a few at a time.  Bits of paper were all over my desk but the clean up was fairly easy.  I used glue thinned with water to glue the pages together and applied it with a paint brush.

spy paraphernalia

When it was dry, I filled it with Dollar store spy items.  A retractable flashlight, a book with a lock and a magnifying glass are all a junior spy should need.  And of course it doesn’t hurt that it cost me about $5 to make.

can you tell the difference?

Looking at the girl’s bookshelf, you’d never know!

I can’t wait to see Scarlett’s face when she opens this.  I love handmade holidays!!