…the fire is burning…

…the fire is burning
the long night draws near
all who need comfort
are welcome by here…


The girls and I spent this evening building snowball lanterns in preparation for Solstice on December 21st

…we’ll dance ‘neath the stars
and toast the past year
for the spirit of solstice
is still living here…


The fire pit now has outdoor lighting. We’ll be dusting off the log stumps for friends to gather round the bonfire to hold back the night.

…we’ll count all our blessings
while the Mother lays down
with snow as her blanket
covering the ground…

We are fortunate enough to have a gorgeous yew tree in the backyard. We'll be decorating this living tree with popcorn strings, pine cone bird feeders and apple ornaments as gifts to our animal friends.

We are fortunate enough to have a gorgeous yew tree in the backyard. We’ll be decorating this living tree with popcorn strings, pine cone bird feeders and apple ornaments as gifts to our animal friends.

…thanks to the Mother
for the life that she brings
she’ll waken to warm us
again in the spring

the poor and the hungry
the sick and the lost
these are our children
no matter the cost…


Every year we make lanterns. This year it is snowball lanterns to line our walk way and welcome our guests. In years past we’ve used glass jars hung from sticks with wire to take with us on our lantern walk.  This year we’ll take apple candle holders with us while we go carolling.



Our decorations are all taken from nature. The snow lanterns require only a tea light and the right kind of snow. We’ve brought fresh greenery, birch bark and berries indoors to decorate our table and mantle.

…come by the fire
the harvest to share

for the spirit of solstice
is still living there

the fire is burning
the long night draws near
all who need comfort
are welcome by here…


Part of the fun of planning which crafts we’ll do and how we’ll decorate is watching the girls add their own bit of magic to our celebration. Our connections are strengthened to the earth and in our community. I love how the girls look forward to Solstice as part of our holiday celebrations.

…we’ll dance ‘neath the stars
and toast the past year

for the spirit of solstice
is still living here
for the spirit of solstice
is still living here…

~ Lyrics to “A Solstice Carole” by the Wyrd Sisters

Snow Day Fun


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!



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 hideout: an update

IMG_1838The hideout turned playhouse is coming along.  The walls boards are up and we’re starting on the finishing touches.  I admit the inherently slow pace of an upcycle project like this one has its downsides but we’ve enjoyed the challenge.

IMG_1841You know, the challenge of finding one more fence board that fits that wonky spot.  Or the challenge of almost finishing a wall and then running out of that kind of tongue in groove wood of that particular width and MacGyvering something that will do.  Finding enough similar looking shingles was interesting…

IMG_1852It turns out we didn’t know enough people with old fence panels and old wall sections to finish the back wall.  So we used the left over pieces of chipboard that went on the roof.  Definitely NOT as pretty as the other rustic looking sections.  So we decided to paint the interior.  It was amazingly easy to find old paint.  White was a no brainer given that we could mix our donations and paint can finds together to cover it all.   We found an almost full can of (OLD) white primer in our garage and we had a number of white tester samples to mix.  The rest came from neighbours and we’ve been told our local Restore carries paints as well.

IMG_1844The girls had a blast and worked hard to finish before sunset.  It is getting darker earlier and earlier though and we’ll have to finish another day.  This seems to be a theme with this space…each time we are working on it we think of some other amazing detail to add…another day.  It keeps us thinking.  It has us researching.  We’re thinking of this, and this and a slide like this.

IMG_1866And so we dream up big possibilities and have fun working together until we’re tired.  And then we have fun taking breaks and making more plans.

IMG_1860Ultimately we’re learning that if we really want to stick to our budget and committment to use used wood and materials then we must be patient.  So far our biggest gift is learning how generous and resourceful our friends and neighbours are. Heck we’ve met so many new people and we have on occasion come home to gifts of shelves, baskets, markers (for future art work of course) not to mention the lumber, roofing paper, shingles and nails we already received.  This is certainly a labour of love.  And I’m not sure I actually want it to ever be finished.

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:



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):


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

10 things I’m in love with right now…

1. Needing to shut off the light in her microscope every night for the past 4 nights when checking in on Lil’S before I head to bed.

2.  Sipping hot chocolate rink-side with Mrs. Iverson and having her turn to me and say “mama,  I love everything!” (she is not one to limit her love to a mere 10 things).

3.  Listening to cousins play together, especially when the 11-year-old is just as into it as the 4 year olds.

4.  Meandering through vintage shops and architectural salvage haunts picking up needed bits to finish off the kitchen.

5.  Listening as my daughter composes a song on the piano that she is working hard to have sound like “morning, birds and joy”.

6.  Watching the Missus channel Robert Munch himself as she read “50 below zero” to her newest cousin during his visit.

7.  Surprise visits from metropolitan uncles.

8.  Walking to school in snowstorms.

9.  Skiing at night with a really great bunch of women.

10.  Joining in spontaneous singing of Ho! Hey! by the Lumineers ,with the rest of the patrons at the coffee shop while my children danced.

Secret Agent Gal

As many of you know Lil’S is into “spy stuff”.  After making her this book as part of our handmade holiday exchange last year her love of spying has only increased.  This summer at the height this spy craze she asked to have a “spy birthday”.  Sure, I thought, that’ll be easy.  And it WAS!  About three months into our planning and gathering of ideas I stumbled upon some great blogs and did I mention Pinterest?  Oh my.

My advice?  Do a spy party at least once in your life.  We had a blast!  But first you need to start with an invitation…

This invite came from a grab bag of my ideas and those of other bloggers.  I want to give credit where credit is due of course so check out some of these great sites:  birthday party ideas (there is a whole list of links to blogs that have done a spy birthday party…have fun going down that rabbit hole!), creative party place,  WillowdayChicken Babies and Frugal Family TImes (I love that both Chicken Babies and Frugal Family Times freely share their ideas and their templates for passports and Agent ID cards – THANK YOU!!).

The invitation really set the tone for the party and there was much anticipation for those invited.  When the “recruits” arrived they saw this on the front steps:

And when they went around to the Milk Door they saw this:

And when they followed the instructions the door opened and they met this guy:

The password (which was written in code in the invitation and a cipher had been included for decoding purposes) was uttered and the recruit was taken inside for “processing” (boots and jackets put away : ).

Once everyone had arrived they were given a debriefing.  They discovered that 1. J and I were real spies and that we were running a spy agency out of our house 2. Dr. Evil had stolen the loot bags and they would need to use their newly acquired spy skills to solve the mystery.  So, first things first…

Each recruit was issued an ID card, a code name and a passport:

I used this template from Chicken Babies for the ID cards.  Instead of using photos we just fingerprinted the recruits with an ink pad.  They also wrote their Code Names on the cards.  To get their Code Name they pulled a colour out of one container and an animal out of another:

It made for some really neat names like Emerald Hawk and if you can believe it, the Pink Panther!!

Next they were issued Passports (thanks Frugal Family Times!):

As you can see each passport had a list of the training activities:  Bomb Diffusion, a Laser Course, Voice Modulation, Art of Disguise and Code Deciphering.  As each skill was acquired they received a check mark and handshake.

Bomb Diffusion was the first activity.  We blew up around 24 black balloons.  Two of them had clues from Dr. Evil inside.  The kids took turns popping the balloons until the clues were found (we cleverly made sure one was “discovered” at the midpoint and the second at the end).  Then they worked together to crack the code.  The teamwork was impressive!

Next up was the Laser Course.  We used painters tape and red yarn to “booby trap” the dining room.  The kids LOVED this game and they just kept taking turns over and over again well after the clue was retrieved!

Once the laser course was “disarmed” we took it down and had some snacks.  Before the party Lil’S had helped prepare “truth serum” labels for our drinks:

We played a game of “two truths and a lie” whilst eating.  Hilarity ensued.  It was even funnier when we tried speaking in various accents to pass our Voice Modulation test.

After the snacks we moved on to the Art of Disguise which involved the kids dressing up in costume and sitting down to take a picture of themselves with Photobooth on the computer.  The pics were then emailed to the kids after the party.

Then Dr. Evil threw another wrench in our party!!  A bomb had dropped onto the cake and the kids had to try to blow it out before our cake was blown to smithereens!

After cake (which didn’t blow up because I guess all that huffing and puffing really did put out the spark heh, heh) we set to work decoding the rest of the messages.  All in all 5 secret clues from Dr. Evil were found.  It turns out the loot bags were hidden in plan sight all along!

And some spy gear to take home.  I love the Pop Rocks label “warning: explosives”.  I cannot for the life of me remember which website I saw that on – so sorry!

One of the parents stayed to help out which I was forever grateful for.  We (the adults) had a great time too.  Mrs. Iverson was the youngest guest and surprisingly she didn’t follow the dress code of all black.  She wore a glittering princess gown and a tiara.  We referred to her as “the socialite”.  And really doesn’t every Spy Party need a socialite on the guest list?

Most importantly, this Secret Agent had a fantastic time with her friends and some new spy gadgets to occupy her for a long, long time!

A birdie for Wren

Oh dear.  It appears I am about to write another post that is not quite about Squam.  I’ll get to it, I really will.  Life is busy.  My mind a little preoccupied with the everyday happenings.  But Squam is there.

I arrived back home with gifts.

A ceramic candle holder for Cathy and Eric.  A thank you for looking after the girls while I was away.  A set of five finger puppets for Mrs. Iverson.  And for Lil’S, the embroidery sampler from my class with Rebecca Ringquist.

She LOVED it!  We set to work straight away.  Scarlett already knew that she wanted to make something for her cousin Wren’s upcoming birthday and now she had an idea.  It took a bit to get her to slow down enough to learn each stitch.  Mrs. Iverson took right to it and it seemed had already been taught how to embroider?  I showed them how to tie a know in the back of the work and Ivy turned over her piece and, ta-da, she deftly made a knot!!

Scarlett was particularly curious about the sulky solvy that I had used to transfer an image onto a piece of fabric I was embroidering.  I had some left over from my class with Rebecca so I let Lil’S use it.  Up to her room she went.  Down came one of the number flashcards on her wall.  The one with the wrens on it (be still my heart, this crafty and thoughtful girl of mine makes my heart ache sometimes).

You can see the flash card on the table in the picture above. She traced one of the wrens onto the sulky solvy with a Sharpie.  The embroidery hoop kept the solvy and the fabric in place and she started to embroider.  I’ll admit she did really well for a beginner.  But she really did want to fill in every last bit of space and that took some time.  So she would occasionally pass the hoop to me and ask me to fill some in for her.  She’d snatch it back after some time had passed though, worried that if she didn’t do more that she wouldn’t be able to say she made it.  A joint effort and so lovely:

While this joint project was being worked on by Lil’S I worked on a special addition to the gift myself.  Actually I had started it at Squam with a mind to make one for each of the girl cousins for Christmas this year.  Wren got hers early I suppose : )

We then had a brilliant idea to make this into a door hanging instead of two separate hoops to hang.  We ran a bright yellow ribbon (Wrennie’s favourite colour) behind the fabric in each hoop.  Viola!  What do you think?

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!!

Lil’S woke up first thing this morning and scanned the yard for litter.  She somehow got it into her head that that was what we were supposed to do for Earth Day – pick up garbage.  It is not that that is a bad way to honour the earth, but I was imagining something more along the lines of THIS fine idea by the folks at Imagine Childhood.

There truly wasn’t much garbage to pick up so that activity was short-lived.  Next J and the girls then met up with some friends and walked down to Queen’s University to check out some flying squirrels as part of their earth day celebrations.  Lil’S tells me it looked like this:

And we went for a walk (how happy does a baby carrying, dog-walking kid make this mama?):

Lil’S stopped to practice drawing the flowers she saw:

Which she then used to make this (gotta love the studious approach to creating):

All in all a pretty nice day.  We are quite enjoying the activities that abound here in Kingston on days like these.  Speaking of, I didn’t have time to blog about the Earth Hour Celebrations put on by Kingston Unplugged a little while ago but I did want to share with you how wonderful it was…and suggest you definitely attend next year.  It was magnificent!

Laughter is the best medicine…

I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me cry.”

~ Cat Stevens

This is why I went home.  This is why the tears came the moment I heard something was wrong.  This is why it was so easy to hop on a plane…  Maybe it was to make her laugh.  Maybe it was to hear her laugh.  But I know for sure it was her laugh.

My littlest sister is one of the strongest, smartest, most amazing people I know.  She is also the funniest.  I used to be the funny sister.  I taught her everything I know.  I’m like SNL.  She is like Kristen Whiig.  There is funny.  Then there is incredible talent.  Damn funny this girl.

It is so hard to live far apart in moments like these.  I wish we lived closer.  I wish I could hear her laugh more.  I sincerely wish she had more reasons to laugh right now.

So after a weekend of navigating the health care system, putting things in order, having friends fill a freezer full of tasty food, hugging and kissing my niece and nephew with as much love as I could put into those hugs and kisses…I found myself here:

…in my sister’s hospital bed.  Two grown women fooling around just like we did when we were kids.  I’m not sure I could explain exactly what we were trying to do nor why we have a picture of it…but it was funny, I promise.

…And it felt so good to laugh…with her…not something I’ll ever take for granted again.



and you might enjoy these other great moments in a not-so-great time:

…a game of Go Fish, or “Goldfish” as D liked to call it.

…I brought C to the hospital one evening for a quick snuggle with mama before bed.  I love that kid!