Sunday, May 5, 2019

Summer School

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can take breaks whenever we need or want to.  Last year at this time, the kids were on a six-week road trip west, and it was learning in a totally non-academic way!

In addition to taking breaks whenever we want to, we also have opportunity to school when the public system takes a break.  This summer, for example, the plan is for the kids and me to do more schooling than we have traditionally undertaken during the summer months.

It's been a busy school year and a fairly productive one on most fronts.  We are winding down on much of what we've been working on this winter.  The kids have all progressed well in their various areas, and it's been good to see them being able to take on a little more academic work.  But I'm also feeling a little 'behind' where I'd like to be with them, in a few different areas, and so we're going to focus on those things this summer.

First, I'm going to be starting history with them all, beginning with the History of the 20th century - my hope is that by studying something a little more recent than, say, the Victorian Era, history might grab their interest.  A friend very kindly sent me a copy of the outline that she used when teaching her kids about the 20th century and that has been incredibly helpful for this non-historian to wrap her head around.  My friend's list included the major events of that century, both for Canada and the World, and provided a listing of various resources (print, film, etc) that can be used in the process of studying it.  I need to do a little research into each of the events, but having these things laid out for me has been amazing as I've begun to prepare to work with the kids on it.  I find myself somewhat excited about this pursuit.

Second, we're going to be doing a little science.  Matthew took a science class this winter, with a small group of homeschoolers, but some of it appeared to be somewhat over his head (which I expected), and so I thought we'd back things up a little during the summer and see if we could provide a little more structure to underpin what he was studying this year.  I'll work with the younger two kids on a different program.

Math is a third area that I feel somewhat edgy about; we haven't done enough of it this year.  So we'll tackle that on a much more regular basis in summer, too.  This is the area that I still need to figure out a little more clearly.

Finally, we'll continue to work on a few things that we already did throughout this winter:  Spelling; cursive writing; and maybe multiplication tables.

I certainly hope that we have a fun and relaxed summer. But there's really no reason that we shouldn't also be tackling a few subjects that would be good to move forward. I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Ups and Downs of Life

There have been a lot of ups and downs over the past week or two.  It's hard to keep up with the roller coaster of emotions that go along with those ups and downs.

* Seth read his first real book of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  His reading is finally, blessedly coming along for real!  I've often thought of the process of learning how to read something like climbing a mountain - it's really, really exhausting, uphill work and sooo hard; then finally, just when it seems like it's never going to happen, all of the sudden you're at the summit looking down an easier path.  Seth has crested the summit; I believe that the hardest is behind him.  It has been years of effort and hard work, and it is paying off.  He is working five days/week with me, and twice a week with a tutor, and I am so proud of his hard work.  Recognizing his progress and seeing it confirmed has definitely been one of the 'up' points of the last week or two.

* All three of my children are in raging puberty, and the number of volatile emotions flying around here is enough to make me, quite literally, insane.  Added to this the turbulence of their pre-menopausal mother and we're really a hotbed of emotional mess!  I'm not quite sure if I'm going to survive the teen years...and I have a lot of years to go yet.  This would not be an 'up' part of the last week or two.

* Sunday morning was a historical moment for we five - it's the first time ever that we all went to the gym together!  The kids and I have been trying to go somewhat regularly (three times/week is our goal), and finished a one month membership last week; and over the past week Geoff got to the gym a few times, too.  So a few days ago, we all signed up for a three month membership!  We likely won't get there all together very often, but today was a watershed for us.  Definitely a positive aspect of the last couple of weeks.

* My mom's health is always fragile over the past couple of years - she was in the ER last week, and has had numerous medical appointments since then, trying to figure out what's going on with her various issues.  That is never a good point of any week.

* Matthew continues to cope relatively well with his various academic pursuits.  The load for his English Lit/Writing class is significant, in particular.  This week he started Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which I am reading aloud to him (I loved this book back during my English Lit days at university, and it's already proving delightful for me to re-engage after a long absence).  Matthew's writing is improving monthly (as are his keyboarding skills, slowly but surely), and he is learning lots of different writing techniques (essay writing, persuasive writing, newspaper reporting writing, descriptive writing, etc etc). This is seeming to be on a good trajectory.

* As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, it seems that any one of the kids is almost always mad at me.  When I make parenting decisions, I do not automatically make the same decisions for all three kids - I've never been someone who makes the same rules/parameters for all of the kids.  Instead, my inclination is to consider the needs of each child individually, and to make allowances or restrictions or parenting decisions based on each child's need.  As a result, however, one child or another almost invariably feels treated unfairly, because their only basis of comparison is how their siblings are treated, and because they're not mature enough yet to understand how I parent or to see that in the bigger picture, their needs (and often their wants) are met.  It just gets tiring sometime, to be the object of someone's wrath or another one's death glare.  It's emotionally tiring and takes a lot of resilience on my part.  In my most tired moments, I have often toyed with the idea of treating the kids essentially the same (this is how our culture usually works, it seems), but there's just something in me that rails against this approach; my children are very different from each other and have different challenges, different strengths, and different needs.  At any rate, I've been finding myself quite discouraged on this front of late...definitely not a recent highlight.

At any rate, I'm hanging in there.  Surprises like my experience last week at Pine Ridge are so precious...I'm still so moved when I think about what that young woman did for me, what God saw fit to do about the need I had.  I'm a big believer that we can't fully experience joy or satisfaction if we don't also experience the opposite of those feelings sometimes.  So I'm ok knowing that life continues to move, change, surprise, and test us.  I've got a God beside me that cares a lot about where my heart is at, and I am thankful for this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Little Mark of Encouragement

I was feeling pretty discouraged last week.  Throughout the whole week, I felt like anything that could go wrong did go wrong, mostly because of something I'd said or done.  I said to Geoff one day that I'm used to one of the kids being mad at me at any given point, but that on a few days last week it felt like all three were mad at me most of the time, in addition to him being upset with me for a few things.  I felt like I was messing everything up, at home and elsewhere.  In addition, a few life circumstances are occasionally so challenging that it's just plan hard juggling and managing everything.  I'm a pretty healthy person, emotionally, usually; and I'm generally fairly strong and resilient.  However, last week challenged most of my better qualities.

On Sunday morning at church, while our pastor was speaking, I was just plain discouraged.  I had a head ache that I'm sure was brought on by all of the anxiety and discouragement, and I didn't know how to regain my equilibrium.  So I prayed about it quietly, sitting there in church.  I told God about all of it, and then said that I don't ask Him for a whole lot just for myself, but that I really wanted to ask Him for a little encouragement.  I said that I didn't even know what that would look like, and I told Him that it was ok if the encouragement didn't come and that I'd be all right; but I also said that I felt like I really needed it from Him.  I didn't feel any differently after I'd finished praying; in fact, I beetled out to the van soon after, my head pounding.

Later that afternoon, having had no time to myself for weeks already, I said to Geoff that I really needed to get out of the house for 2-3 hours on my own, if he felt like he could manage the kids. He said he was ok, and so I decided to drive out of town a ways to one of my favourite places.

Pine Ridge is this peaceful, country place just thirty-five minutes away from home, and it has a  great shop and restaurant located on the most beautiful grounds, inside a picturesque provincial park area.  In summer and fall, I love to go there and walk around the expansive gardens.  It's where I wanted to go with my family for my 50th birthday celebration a couple of years ago and it's where I usually go once or twice a year for a delicious meal and a wander.  This was where I'd been wanting all day to be.

I went up into the restaurant and my server asked me how I was doing.  I said that I wasn't having the best of weekends, but that I was glad to be there because I find it so peaceful there.  She said that she hoped she could make my day a little better, and offered to bring me a cup of chai with almond milk.  I said that would be perfect.

Later, I ended up ordering supper, and while I ate, I wrote down a bunch of things that I'd been thinking about and processing.  I felt a little calmer and more organized in my head.  Eventually, my server came back and said that it looked like I needed some dessert.  I agreed, and asked her to surprise me.  She brought me some lemony thing that had dairy in it, but I didn't really was her favourite dessert.

Some time later, I called the server over and said that I was ready for the bill.  I was feeling a bit more relaxed and a little better.  The woman who'd been serving me said that my bill had already been taken care of.  I was puzzled and said that I didn't understand.  She repeated that there was no bill today, and that it had been taken care of.  It briefly crossed my mind that Geoff had phoned in with his credit card number, but that immediately didn't make sense because we share the same credit card account, so what would the difference be if he called it in?  I shook my head at the young woman I was talking to and said "What?! I don't understand."  Then she told me, almost reluctantly, that she had taken care of my bill already.  "What?!" I said again, stunned and totally not understanding.  I started to tear up and said that I didn't understand - why would she do that for a stranger?

She said that she had seen me when I'd walked into the restaurant earlier and that I'd just looked so discouraged; then she heard me say that I wasn't having a good weekend.  And she had wanted to make my day a little better, and to encourage me.  I started to cry, she started to cry, and then she came over and hugged me.  I'm sure we looked like idiots to everyone around us, but whatever.  I told her that she was a true blessing to me on a day when I really needed it, because that was exactly what I was in need of...encouragement.  I was so moved, and I hugged her again when I left a few minutes later, still teared up.

I cried most of the way home, so moved.  Even some of the words my young server had used were some of the precise words/phrases I'd used that morning when praying.  I felt/feel very thankful that God chose to answer that very specific prayer in a totally unique and unexpected way.  It wasn't about the was about feeling heard by the One who made me about a small need that He counted important enough to respond to in a very personal way.  In the Bible's New Testament book of Matthew, believers are encouraged to not worry about their lives, because as God takes care even of the birds of the air, how much more valuable are we to Him?  On Sunday, I had a personal experience of God caring not only for the sparrows; He took care of me.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Fam.

It's been a long time since I've posted any pictures of the five of us, so I thought I'd put up these recent ones...both taken in the past two weeks.  Neither are great pictures of me, but whatever...

Aren't the kids growing up?!!



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What Teenage Boys Like...Not.

I just offered to Matthew that I could make a delicious Roasted Broccoli Quinoa Salad to take to his potluck gathering later today at a friend's place.

His response (with both laughter and horror in his voice): "Mom! This is a group of teenage guys. We don't want to eat quinoa!"

This from the boy who actually loves this dish.  Sigh.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell to 2018

Another year has come to an end.  It's been a good year - busy, eventful, slow, fast, fun, hard. Good Bye 2018!

We are bringing the year to a quiet close this year.  Last year we spent it with dear friends, and part of me would like to repeat that experience.  But I have a sick kid at home and I'm tired at this year end - I've had a number of terrible sleeps lately, and I am craving routine and sleep.  So we'll keep this year end quiet.

For several years, I've tried to complete a series of questions to mark the year's end - it's a way of tracking events of the year just completed.  Here are my answers to the questions for 2018.

I wish you a happy and blessed New Year...each and every one.

1.  What did you do in 2018 that you'd never done before?
I took the kids on a 6-week road trip.  Just me and the kids (though Geoff flew out and joined us for a week in the middle of the trip).  I drove through the Rocky Mountains (crossed that off of my bucket list!) and drove 8,765 km over the course of those six weeks.  It was an awesome adventure!

2.  Did you keep your new years' resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I didn't really make any last year.

This year, rather than some strict resolutions, I have a few ideas about things I'd like to do differently, but I'm not making them absolutes because I'll undoubtedly fail if I make them so iron clad!

3.  Did anyone close to you die?
No.  Thankfully.  It was hard enough losing my beautiful sister-in-law towards the end of last year.

4.  Did you travel?  Did you visit other countries?  Where did you go?
Well, as a follow-up to #1, yes yes yes...I did travel this year...throughout western Canada. Our furthest point was the west coast of Vancouver Island, where we spent a week; our longest stops otherwise were Vancouver, Hornby Island, Calgary, and Edmonton. 

Other than that six-week adventure, the kids and I spent about four months at the cottage during the summer.

It was an awesome year for travel and adventure!

5.  What would you like to have in the coming year that you lacked in the year past?
Time.  I wish time would just slow down a little - the kids are getting so big and the weeks pass by so quickly.  Even though we are homeschoolers and spend 24/7 with our kids, I still want more time of it. 

6.  What date(s) from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
May 22 - the day the kids and I arrived home from our road trip.  I'd done it - accomplished this massive undertaking!  I felt proud of myself, sad to be finished the trip, relieved to be home, ready to go again.

May 24 - the day I began to eat plant-based.

7.  What was your biggest achievement of the year and why? or What things are you proud of?
Definitely the road trip...which seems to be the theme of the year, according to how I am answering these questions so far.  But it really was a huge undertaking and a huge achievement.  I researched the trip, prepared for it, packed for it, drove all 8,765 km of it, educated my children throughout, was brave during moments when I was scared, took some chances which turned out to be highlights, and so on.  I was able to cross a few things off of my life's bucket list, and I was/am proud of myself for just going ahead and doing it and creating memories for/with all of us.

The other thing that's been a huge accomplishment for me was turning upside down the way we eat in our family. We eat a 98%+ plant-based diet now, and it was a monumental effort on my part to make this change, figure out how to do it, and implement it.  We've been at this since June, so over half of my year has been dedicated to making this massive change.  I'm proud of myself for undertaking this.

8.  What was your biggest failure of the year and why?
Sigh.  My biggest failure of the year is the same as last year's biggest failure: I have barely touched any of my year's intended organizational tasks.  Granted, between our road trip and our months at the cottage, I was actually away from home for 5.5 months of the year (wow!) but I haven't really done any of my big projects since settling back into routine in fall.  And the house needed it last year already!!  Can you guess what kind of new year's resolutions I might be making??

9.  Did you suffer illness or injury?
Thankfully, no.  We have all been injury free this year.  I haven't even been sick since starting the plant-based eating plan.  I'm sure it's just a matter of time, but this has been a great year for lack of illness or injury in our household.

10.  What was the best/biggest/most novel thing you bought?
Huh.  Well, certainly the biggest single chunk of money that we spent was on the spring road trip...nothing cheap about that.

It's also expensive to do the upkeep on the cottage - in addition to mortgage payments, there are always things in need of repair or replacing (just like in a city home); and it's not inexpensive having guests at the cottage (food, gas for the boat, bedding, etc).

Other than that, I think that the ice fishing equipment that we've picked up over the past year has comprised the most significant purchases we've made: A large ice-fishing tent; and a gas powered ice auger.

11.  Whose behaviour merited celebration/recognition?
There are a few people I call out on this front - all of whom have navigated difficult circumstances this year and who have done so with grace and steadfastness.

I have a friend, D, who is married to my friend, P.  P is a pastor, and he lost his job in 2017, under difficult circumstances.  I have watched how they have handled what happened to him, and have been so moved and inspired by the grace and forgiveness and strength which has marked their journey.  I have watched how they continued to parent their children very wisely in the midst of challenging circumstances, and have seen them always looking heavenward for assurance and care.  They have modelled faith and grace for their children, and for those of us watching from the outside.  I admire them for this, and respect them greatly.  When I think of who merits recognition this year, I think of D and P, and how they have navigated this part of their life's journey.  P has recently found another pastoral job, and I couldn't be happier for both of my friends, and their children.

Another person I take my hat off to this year is my oldest friend, J.  She lost her mother to cancer this fall and, in anticipation of this, J took an unpaid, six week leave from work to be with her parents and to help her Mom die.  She was the rock in her family during that so-difficult time.  I cannot express how much I respect and admire how well she handled herself, how much I have learned from her authenticity and her grieving process.  The wisdom and care and intentionality (is that a word?) that she displayed during and since that difficult time has been nothing short of remarkable.  I have loved and admired her for many years; and only feel those things more deeply having watched her be her best self when rubber hit the road.

12.  Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?
Well, this has been the year of the me-too movement, where numerous women have come forward to protest against men (many of them celebrities or in positions of power) who have engaged in sexual harassment or sexual assault.  It all seemed to begin with the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, and it snowballed from there.  The behaviour of these men, and the men I have known who have caused me to say 'me too' in my heart of hearts, has truly appalled me and sometimes caused me great despair...that we have moved/changed so little after so many generations.

13.  Where did most of your money go?
Easy question.  Road trip.  Cottage.  Feeding my endlessly hungry children.

14.  What did you get really, really excited about?
Well, at risk of being really repetitive, it was the road trip this year that I looked forward to with huge anticipation...and a little terror.  I kinda got excited just about being so brave, too!

15.  What song(s) did you enjoy this year?
The worship music of Colton Dixon, whom Matthew and I got to see perform live at an outdoor concert in southern Manitoba in August - which marked Dixon's first time performing in Canada.  I love his music and often feel both moved and inspired by it.

Some of the other artists on my playlists these days include: Lauren Daigle; Toni Braxton; TobyMac; George Ezra; NF; Hillsong; Imagine Dragons; Sia; Twenty One Pilots; Pink; a little Bruno Mars; Cold Play; and a bunch of others.

Matt and I, along with two friends, went to an NF concert in March of this year, and I loved it.  I am a big fan of NF's lyrics and style, and we listened to a lot of NF while cruising down the highway on our road trip in spring (oh my goodness, major road trip flashback to the afternoon the kids and I were barrelling along the seaside highway north of Nanaimo towards the ferry terminal that we would take to Hornby Island - it was pouring rain outside and we were singing at the top of our lungs to NF's depressing Therapy Session, trying to drown out the thundering sounds of the rain pelting against our windshield)! 

I love, love, love music, and I find inspiration in much of it.  Just a few weeks ago, Seth found for me the tiny adaptor that enables me to plug my old ear buds into my iPhone so that I can listen to music on Spotify or iTunes.  That first evening after he'd found my adaptor, I sat in our library for about 2-3 hours, just listening to the music that I love, and actually being moved to tears with the sheer joy of that beauty. (I think the kids thought I was a little cuckoo!)  And now at Christmas, Geoff bought me wireless, noise-cancelling headphones which provide an even better quality of listening; I am in heaven when I can sneak off to my favourite chair in the library, close my eyes, and fully engage in the music of all sorts that I love. Little else moves me as deeply.

16.  Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?  Happier.  Last year was such a sad year all 'round, with the illness and death of my SIL.  I still feel all of those feelings, but also other things.  I have found this year that I am growing in my ability to simply be myself....bringing closer together the person I am to the outside world and the person I am on the inside.  There's something about getting a bit older that makes one just a little freer, somehow, to just be oneself with a greater degree of confidence.  And I like that feeling...and am getting better at it.  I hold things a little more loosely than I have before, feel less judgmental in general, and am more prepared to do what it takes to make things right where needed.

ii. thinner or fatter?  A little thinner, thanks to giving up meat products.  I thought I'd lose more weight as a result, to be honest.  But I'm grateful for even the few pounds that I shed this year.  

iii. richer or poorer? Poorer.  Geoff has a good job and a good income, for which I am very thankful.  But even then, sometimes, it feels hard to make ends meet.  Of course, we have made choices that have sapped our finances (cottage, the road trip, riding lessons for the kids) and I understand that we have made decisions that contribute to the 'poorer' feeling. We are so not poor; it's just interesting to me that we can sometimes (ashamedly) feel that way despite Geoff having a good job.

17.  What do you wish you'd done more of?
I simply can't think of anything here...and I don't want to procrastinate the finishing of this questionnaire so I think I'll leave this one.  :)

18.  What do you wish you'd done less of?
I wish I'd watched less Netflix at's such a sleep and energy sucker.  I don't watch every night, but a couple of times/week after the kids go to bed, when it's time for me to hit the hay.  When I do watch, I stay up too late and am tired the next day as a result.  I regret those hours.

19.  How did you spend Christmas Day?
We five spent the morning together, opening gifts and eating breakfast (monkey bread and fruit).  In the afternoon, we headed to my parents' home, along with my sister's family and a couple of family friends.  There we ate dinner together, opened a few more gifts, and visited.  It was a lovely day.  Of note, while the rest of the extended family ate a turkey dinner ordered in from a local hotel, Geoff and I enjoyed an entirely vegan meal that I prepared...and it was delicious!! I was proud of myself for getting through our first vegan Christmas intact, and satisfied with wonderful things to eat.

20.  What was your favourite tv program(s) in 2018?
- Kim's Convenience
- Anne (of Green Gables)...season 1
- Schitt's Creek...seasons 1 & 2
- Better Call Saul

21.  What's the best book you read this year?
Maybe The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak?  A number of vegan cookbooks that I have come to love? I can't actually think of a specific one!

22.  What did you want and get?
Headphones - wireless, noise cancelling.  I didn't even know I wanted these until Christmas Day when I received them.  Now I think it was the thing I wanted the most.  How good of Geoff to know what I really wanted, even before I did.  :)

23.  What did you want and not get?
- I have enough of everything.  More than enough. 

24.  What was your favourite film?
I can't even remember if I saw a single film in theatres this year - which is too bad, because I do love the big screen.  I'm sure I saw a couple, but nothing stands out to me.

Certainly watching the Netflix documentary Forks Over Knives, had a huge impact on was a main source of information for Geoff and me when we made the decision to move towards a plant-based diet. So it was undoubtedly one of the most impactful things I watched this year.

25.  What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I turned 52 this year.  The kids and I were in the city on my birthday (I can't remember why we came home from the cottage); Geoff was out of town on business and so the kids and I were on our own together.  The next day, when he was home again, we went out for dinner with my dad and mom...and we celebrated my mom's birthday that day, too.

26.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably satisfying?
Likely just a little more weight loss.

27.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
I discovered leggings this year (I know I'm about a decade behind)...full length and capri.  I've always thought that these aren't the best fashion choice for larger women, but I actually think they look good on me...with a longer shirt or sweater overtop.  That's my fashion statement this year.  I'm wearing some right now as I write this!

28.  What kept you sane?
In no particular order:  Friends; God; Geoff; being comfortable in my own skin; occasionally having a couple of hours to myself; my dogs (both of whom are with me as I write this).

29.  Which celebrity/public figure did you admire/fancy the most?
Hmmm....not sure that I admire or fancy her, precisely, but I certainly watched more of Meghan Markle than I've ever watched in the past.  I have a secret fondness for all things royal, and I loved watching the latest royal wedding in spring. 

30.  Who was the best new person you met?  Who did you meet for the first time?
Well, I'd been wanting to meet Cindy for quite a long time! She and I became online/email friends through the world of adoption and I've wanted to meet her for quite a while.  She lives in the Greater Vancouver area, and I've visited that area numerous times since we've been chatting.  But generally when I fly in to Vancouver, it's for a relatively short period of time and my hours are consumed by other things (my brother and nephews, mostly).  But when the kids and I went on our road trip and spent 10-11 days in Vancouver with my brother, I suddenly had the ability to branch out just a little.  And so Cindy and I met for a few lovely hours over coffee (well, actually, appies) one evening and had a chance to put faces to names...and talk at a heart-to-heart level that's hard to come by when a relationship is via online/email.  That was lovely!

Sharon is someone I met this fall through our church, and she has become a voice of candour and wisdom as it concerns one of our kids; I'm grateful to have met her and to have her in our lives moving forward.

Theresa is a homeschooling mom I've been wanting to get to know for some time.  I first heard about her a few years ago when a mutual friend tried to connect us via email.  Other mutual friends have talked about her many times since.  She lives just minutes from me, and yet it's only been this year that I've had the privilege of meeting her and getting to know her.  She is teaching the English Lit class that my oldest is taking along with a few other homeschooled high schoolers, and she's had a significant impact on both him and me this fall. She is someone of tremendous discipline and organization and faith, and I think I will be learning as much from her as my Matthew is!

There have surely been other wonderful people I have met this year for the first time; but these are the three that first jump to mind.

31.  Who did you miss?
Cathy.  Definitely Cathy.  My SIL.  It's been 15 months since we lost her and I miss her laugh.  Her smile.  The way she looked at life.  The way she had with people...with me.

32.  Any other highlights / lowlights of the year not already discussed?
Road trip.  Cottage.  Planning a surprise 13th birthday party for Seth. 

33.  What valuable lesson(s) did you learn in 2018?
It's not a new lesson, to be sure, but it's become important to me that I am/become who God created me to be; that my husband and children become who God created them to be.  We can't be anyone other than who we are, so I want us to become who we are meant to be, in Christ.  We don't know how much time we have on earth, so I want to make the most of it.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Down and Fur Jackets? Are we Not Able to Stay Warm without Them?

When Geoff and I became plant-based eaters, it wasn't for animal rights was because we thought it was a healthier way to eat.  I had never previously thought about never again eating meat; I'd never previously thought about eating a plant-based diet.  But here we are.  Over the past six months, as we've gradually become accustomed to eating differently, I've also become a little more aware of other valid reasons for not eating meat...mainly, the killing of animals and the environmental impact caused by methane-gas-producing animals.

I want to be clear that I am in no way close to living a consistently plant-based existence.  There are many inconsistencies in my life, a few of which I will outline here:

* I still have leather goods at home (purses, shoes), which I think would be wasteful to throw out before they are fully used up.  Also, I occasionally wear an older synthetic jacket and have wondered, from time to time, if it has down in it - and, even if it does have down in it, does that knowledge mean that I should discard the jacket, or continue wearing it until I am ready to purchase something else?

* My grandfather was a big game hunter when I was a child, and we have some of his exotic trophies in our home and cottage (zebra and bison rugs, deer antler and boar tusks, a hippo foot).

* One of my sons, who is neither vegan nor plant-based, is a fisher and wanna-be hunter, and we want to support as much as we can (and as much as we can stomach) this deeply held passion of his, even while wishing desperately that he find a different pursuit. I don't control his choices and passions, but I can educate him as well as I am able so that his choices are at least informed. This approach is troublesome to me, but it's where I'm at.

* My dogs eat raw meat/bone/organs, along with their fruits and veggies.  It's difficult to get dogs onto a vegan diet, although it is something I intend to look into in the new year.

* I occasionally eat dairy cheese, as I am finding it difficult to give it up entirely, though I hope to make a complete break eventually.

So I am admittedly and somewhat-ashamedly hypocritical, all while trying to make small, every day changes to continue to move in a direction all the more consistent with the plant-based life I aspire to. I am sharing this with you because it is part of the journey that I am on, and I'm trying to figure it all out.

Recently, my own reaction to something took me completely by surprise, and made me realize that I really am processing these issues differently than I ever have before.  I was on Instagram, scrolling through pictures, and came across a picture posted by an acquaintance.  It was a picture of a jacket she'd just purchased - a very expensive, Canadian made jacket, filled with duck down and trimmed with real fox fur.  Whereas I likely wouldn't have thought twice about this six months ago, I had such a strong, visceral reaction to that picture that I almost vomited.  Truly.  I'm not exaggerating.  I totally shocked myself.  What was coursing through my mind were questions, over and over, on repeat: How many farmed foxes had to die in order to trim that one jacket and create those beautiful pom poms (very horrible deaths, btw, after being ill-treated during their lives...the company has been called out on these issues before, I have learned)?  How many ducks had to live in terrible conditions and ill health, only to die so that a person can have a jacket stuffed full of the softest, fluffiest down (something that the company's website talks about)?

The answers to these questions make me feel ill.  Genuinely, physically ill.  There is something terribly wrong with this picture.  I could barely continue with my bit of research into how the animals used by this very company live and die - I just felt sicker and sicker and began to cry.  This goes well beyond eating meat; it is purely for vanity's sake that those animals die - and yes, I get that animal fur is super warm (my mother had a fur coat when I was younger...I heard all about the warmth)...but there are alternatives.

These thoughts, this turbulence, is so new to me.  I don't know what to do about it.  Am I to become an animal activist?  I don't really want to...there are already so many things that I am an advocate for.  Do I say something to this acquaintance, clearly so pleased with her purchase of this jacket?  It's not my right to try to impose my will on someone else....and if it were my right, what do I do about my own son's interest in hunting and fishing? I'm up at night thinking about these questions.

I don't know the answers to any of these questions and I find myself frustrated...with myself and with a society that I think has some odd values.  Of all of the issues I've grappled with in my life, these are very new and surprising to me.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Gamble That is Homeschooling...and a Narrative Piece by Matthew

Homeschooling has, at times, felt like a bit of a gamble. I suppose that any of the education that we choose for our children carries inherent risk with it...but maybe homeschooling is a little scarier than mainstream, just because it is a little less common??

I'm not sure.

But at any rate, because I was educated in the public and private school systems, following curriculum is what I have always been most comfortable with. So homeschooling seemed like a pretty 'out there' kind of decision years ago when we first made that call.

I have a 14 year old boy who has been homeschooled from the start...he and I are in our 10th year of homeschooling together.  For most of those years, I have lived on a spectrum of discomfort, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to extremely uncomfortable, depending on the year.  When Matthew, at ages four, five, and six, showed an extreme aversion to anything having to do with reading (and most academics, for that matter), I had to move well beyond my comfort zone towards using no curriculum, because what I wanted mostly was for him to not hate learning and to not hate reading.  We did life learning, unschooling...all sorts of things to get around using curriculum.  For years.  I asked the advice of many homeschoolers whom I respected and they all said the same thing: stop being so focused on schooling, and just play with your child and read to him...he'll read when he's ready to read.  So that's most of what Matthew and I did together when he was young.  He was an only child for much of that time, and so we just hung out together...we played, I read books, we did chores and errands together...basically lived life together.

His (and my) world was shaken shortly after he turned seven, when we brought new siblings into his life via adoption. He went from being an only child for 7.25 years to having two siblings who were turning six and four, and whose personalities and tendencies were already fully established.  It was an immense change and so our move into unschooling (where we used no curriculum whatsoever, and simply tried to live life and cultivate interests as much as possible) was both convenient and necessary.

We unschooled for three-and-a-half years...likely closer to four years.  During that time, we adjusted to living life as a new family of five; we read books, learned to play together, and did other sorts of casual learning.  Although Matthew's adjustment to have siblings was very difficult, the transition to unschooling was an easy one. It just made sense for him that he shouldn't be bound by work books and by a way of learning things that was a cookie-cutter approach for all kids rather than for this specific one.  At some point in those years, we found a lovely woman who ended up tutoring Matthew in math-related subjects, but even this closely resembled our unschooling methods, because she used games and play to follow his interests in math subjects; he seemed to learn math at a fairly deep level, although it was unconventional and certainly did not follow curriculum.

During those years, I would pull out a how-to-read curriculum every few months, wondering if the time had come when he was ready to learn how to read. "NO!" he would scream at times. Or he would take one look at the book and shake his head and simply refuse to sit down at the table.  I was so determined that he not hate reading that I never forced the issue. On the inside, however, I was a wreck of anxiety, wondering if my child would ever learn to read, and wondering what his future would look like in a non-reading world.  Would he ever get a job?  Would he be able to go to university if that's what he chose to do?  Had I failed him as a parent?  Had we made the wrong choice by homeschooling?

Finally, just as Matt was soon to turn ten years old, he began to read. In fact, it felt like something of a miracle when he went from non-reading status to grade five-ish reading level in four days.  He was simply ready to learn at that moment, and so it took almost no time whatsoever.  Whew...the sense of relief was profound.

In the four years since, Matthew's reading skills have gradually improved.  He next began to pick up writing skills when he was thirteen years old...arguably late in the game when compared to kids who are publicly schooled, but consistent with his learn-when-he's-ready-to-learn approach to life. Just in the past year, he's learned to brainstorm and write paragraphs, and has learned a lot of grammar and spelling.

After such a lengthy process of learning how to read and write, over the course of years, it has taken me by complete surprise that this is the year that my oldest became both an avid reader and a pretty darn good writer.  For example, just since summer, he has read many novels for pure pleasure. A few that come to mind are: The Book Thief; six of the Artemis Fowl series; Ender's Game; all three in the Hunger Games series; The Shining; the Gunslinger series; and so on.

In addition, he is taking a high school Literature course this year with a group of five other homeschooled kids, and has worked through several assigned books this fall, including Frankenstein, A Jury of Her Peers, Silas Marner, and Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  All together, this is a pretty impressive listing of significantly-sized and sometimes-weighty books for a boy who, until this year, would not have been considered a reader by anyone's definition!

In addition, through the Literature course, he prepared several written assignments this fall. I helped in minor ways with all of his writing assignments - but my contributions were 15% at most of the entire effort required and were limited to keyboarding the assignments into the computer and helping with punctuation and spelling and the like. The ideas and the creativity and the words were all Matthew's.

I can hardly believe that my boy, who could not read until four years ago, and who has learned to write in the past year, is now fully capable of taking (and succeeding at!) a high school English Lit class with kids who are mostly older than him, and that he is a fully capable reader!  It actually kinda blows my mind!

Clearly I am proud of the work he has been doing; but truthfully, I feel relief more than any other feeling!  Such relief.  One never really knows, when doing things so differently than the mainstream, how these things will turn out.  Homeschooling is a still is.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the risks we take pay off in big ways, and when they do, it is so amazing to see the payoffs manifest in our children.  My 14-year-old is doing stuff...growing, developing, emerging into his own unique and talented (and sometimes difficult) self, and I couldn't be prouder and more relieved than I am to see him begin to take flight.

I leave you with a story Matthew wrote for his Lit class last month.  He was to write a narrative essay of no more than two pages, and the subject was about WWII and the importance of friendship. He was to employ the use of similes, metaphors and personification, and to engage his senses as he wrote scenes. This was also a great opportunity for Matthew to do some research about WWII: he researched concentration camps and the cities nearby; what bombs sounded like when they fell; about the people who hid Jewish families at great risk to themselves; the role of the SS; how some Jewish people were able to be out and about and others not; the methodical processes undertaken by the Nazis as they burned books and closed down Jewish businesses; when the concentration camps were liberated; how people were rescued from the concentration camps and found their way home; and so on.  It was a great learning experience.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little piece by Matthew!


Every day was the same. The same dusty little shop. The same worn out faces. The same terror that I might never see my father again or that I'd lose my mother, too. The war was in full swing, with bombs dropping like flies on the city of Munich, where we lived. My family lived in fear of the Nazis; they were burning the books and possessions of Jewish people, and hunting them down to kill them or take them into concentration camps. My mother and I looked a little more German than Jewish, with our dirty blond hair and pale blue eyes, so we still enjoyed some freedom to be outside, but I'd seen my father ripped away from our family a few months ago, presumably dragged off to Dachau. I had taken his place as the head of the family, tending to the shop by myself because my mother, Berta, was growing older and weaker every day from the struggle for existence. There was almost no work to be done anymore, though; Jewish businesses were being boycotted and many of them had been barricaded and shut down. Any business we still did get was from my neighbour Hans; he and his parents brought me their work to do, and gave us most of the food we ate.

Hans and I were both fifteen. We'd known each other since we were toddlers running around on the street we shared, and we'd gone to school together until all of the craziness started a couple of years ago. We were best friends, and somehow more than that in the past couple of years when his family had done so much to keep mine safe. We knew each other's houses and parents almost as well as we knew our own, and it had never mattered to either of our families that they were German and we were Jewish. In this crazy world where friends and neighbours had been ripped apart all too often, they had a depth of goodness in their hearts that I could barely comprehend. The Kramers had stuck with us, providing not just food but also shelter when the bombs dropped or when we heard rumours of an SS raid coming to our street. Even thought they risked their lives for us with every act of kindness, they did so simply and quietly and without question.

Standing there in the shop, I was pulled deep into an undertow of overwhelming thoughts. Was my father ok? Was he dead or alive? Would I make it through today? What if we were caught, or the Kramers were discovered to be protecting us?

Somewhere in the distance, I heard a familiar, high pitched whistling sound just as Hans burst through the shop door and snapped me out of my daze. "A bomb," he shouted. "Lots of them. Sol, quick. Bring your sister into our basement. Your mother is there already." Hans gave orders like a commander giving orders to soldiers. I sprinted to the back of the shop where our home was, and grabbed my little sister, Miriam, who was sleeping in a bundle of old blankets. I'd been looking after her that afternoon while my mother did some cleaning for Hans' mother. I ran through the back door of the shop, and bolted down the lane for Hans' house a few doors down. Terrified, I could feel my heart pounding, a drum in my chest. Bombs screamed all around me, and the all-too-familiar smell of sulphur singed the inside of my nose. I could feel every point of gravel digging into the soles of my bare feet, and my body tensed in anticipation of the next shock wave to hit the ground.

I shoved the Kramers' back door open and raced down the stairs to the basement, holding a crying Miriam in trembling arms. I glanced around quickly at our home away from home. The corner below the stairs held blankets and the various meagre possessions that we'd accumulated over time since we'd been invited to use the Kramers' basement for protection. Hans was already there, with his parents and my mother. Mrs. Kramer breathed a sigh of relief and smiled shakily at me while my mother ran to us, taking Miriam and thanking God that we were safe and together. Outside the whistling sound of bombs dropped lower in pitch as the weapons fell low and struck somewhere nearby. Their lust for destruction was endless. Tremors like from the aftershock of an earthquake rippled through me from the floor, knocking me to the cold cement. It was Mr. Kramer who picked me up and smiled at me, comforting me. We all sat down against a wall and held hands, praying, waiting it out.

And then it was over. Silent. The whistling was no more and we five still sat together, unwilling to give up the comfort of each other's presence. Miriam slept. Dust from the ceiling still drifted down, and a few pieces of plaster fell like chunks of salt; the air, our skin, everything was grimy. Finally, Mrs. Kramer stood up and said that we should wait, that we would have some food before we went out to see the destruction. Kind, even hospitable, to the last.


Soon after that last time in the Kramers' basement we heard that the war was ending. The bombings stopped and we heard rumours that the Allies had freed Dachau. We waited forever to hear news of my father. Minutes felt like hours; hours felt like days; days felt like weeks.

In early May, 1945, while I was tending to the shop, I heard a truck outside. I went to the window and looked out the door. There was a white truck with a red cross on it, and a man who appeared to be in his forties got out of the passenger seat. When he looked up, I saw the man I had been wondering about and waiting for for so long. It was my father. As I ran towards him, I knew in that moment that those terrible and endless days of war were over. In the coming months and years, as we gradually rebuilt our lives, we kept our close connection with the friends who had become family. In honour of the Kramers' unforgettable kindness to us, I would spend those years finding ways to help build community and structure in our broken world.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sticking with It

Yes, another plant-based post. I realize that this may not be of interest to everyone in the same way that it is for me, and I'm sorry to consume so much air time on the subject. I do hope you will feel comfortable simply to roll your eyes at me and then move on to what will surely be a more interesting blog at another http site! I'm just here because it is my favourite venue to work out my thoughts and it's a way to share with family and friends and interest people what's going on in our little world...or maybe just in my brain.

I've been more than a little surprised that I've been able to stick with this plant-based eating thing for about four months now. That's a third of a year and we're all still alive...and, dare I say, flourishing?

I've rarely stuck with a food plan / diet for as long as this, though I've desperately needed to for many years now! The longest I ever stayed with a diet was my year at Weight Watchers, where I dutifully recorded everything I ate, counted points, attended weekly meetings for 52 weeks...and lost two pounds! Two! What a waste of a year that was; I will never, ever repeat it. I appreciate that many have benefited from Weight Watchers (and/or many other such programs) and are convinced of its merits; but it absolutely did not work for my body and I was very faithful, other than not exercising as much as was recommended at the time. I've tried other things, too, over the years, and finally gave up about 10-12 years ago when I just decided that maybe the simpler thing was to eat as healthily as possible and just accept my body.

I mostly have done this. For over a decade (until a few months ago), we ate pasture-raised, organic meats; organic produce as much as possible; organic milk (mostly because I was trying to delay the onset of my daughter's puberty); and so on. I meal planned healthy meals and served them up pretty dutifully. And gained/lost a few pounds along the way, depending on the year.

And then along came the documentary put out by Netflix: Forks Over Knives. I've explained in a previous post how Geoff and I watched that together while on vacation in early May of this year, and how it changed our outlook on food from that very day onwards.

Since the end of May, I have been eating a plant based diet, mostly whole foods (though junk food plant food is definitely possible and we have certainly fallen into that trap from time to time). And despite ongoing and intense cheese cravings and occasional mouthfuls of that lovely dairy addiction, I have stuck to this plant-eating thing. I have been calm about it, and undeterred in my pursuit of it, in a way that I have never been about any other diet.

The truth is that I don't view plant-based eating as a diet. Not at all. I have cringed even at the necessity of including the words plant-based eating in the same sentence as the word diet, except in that I'm using the word diet in the broadest possible terms to mean the food that we eat as part of our daily routine. The word diet conjures up bad and self-defeating associations for me. Somehow this way way of eating is different for me than any other way I've ever eaten. And maybe as a result of that difference, I feel like maybe it's more sustainable than any other way I've eaten before. It just make sense to me to eat this way, even while it's a challenge to re-learn everything I've lived with for so many decades.

Recently, while Geoff was out of town, he and I were texting about the latest plant-based book that  I'm reading: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Calwell Esselstyn. I got the cookbook to go with it and I'm finding some really good new options to add to my list of meal/snack ideas. Geoff texted  that he was impressed (maybe surprised??) by how I have pursued this new-to-us way of eating. Here's what I wrote back to him:

"In all honesty, it's the first way of eating that has ever truly, immediately, and deeply made sense to me. Deep down I don't believe that we should have to count calories or points, eat weird food, deny ourselves food when we are hungry, kill animals for our satisfaction, substitute fake ingredients for whole, etc. Deep down, I believe that the closer we eat to nature, the better off we'll be, simply because that's how God designed our world. So even thought I've tried (and failed at) many other food plans and diets and theories, this is the one that is most consistent with my internal beliefs and how I view God. I hope I can stay with it long term for this reason and believe it's why I've been able to stay with it so far."

That's exactly how I feel. It doesn't mean that I am imposing what I believe on anyone else; but for me, this is what makes the most sense...and I hope to be able to stick with it for the long term because it's so consistent with what I believe otherwise. And it really seems to benefit me: My insides feel so much better; I've experienced the healing of several skin, and other, issues that have plagued me for a very long time; I'm off of most of my blood pressure medication now (which I've been on for three years); I've lost a little bit of weight; I (oddly) don't need quite as much sleep as I used to; I have a little more energy than I used to (which I notice most in the evenings, when it seems like I still have enough capacity for one or two tasks that I didn't have before); and it feels intuitively like I'm finally headed in the right direction.

There are two more things that I want to change over the coming months, as I continue in this trajectory:

* first, I want to reduce the amount of oils we use. The more I read, the more I begin to believe that they're not necessary; and because I'm overweight, surely I could benefit from this reduction. I've already begun this process. Last week I eliminated oils from the frying pan; when cooking up veggies, as I do many times/week, I use water or a little veggie broth if the pan gets too dry, and this has been working beautifully without any noticeable taste change. My next step will be to eliminate oils from salad dressings - something that may prove a little more challenging. I've begun to look for recipes to experiment with, and know that this might take a little longer. But that's ok; I'm in this for the long haul.

* second, grrr, and I really don't want to write this down...I need to exercise more intentionally. Deep down I believe that if I were to exercise more, I would lose some of the bulk that I'm carrying. I've definitely lost a few just by changing how we eat, but I could kick that portion up a notch by exercising more. I'm contemplating rejoining the nearby Fieldhouse gym again...the one that the kids and I joined for two months earlier this year before my achilles tendon started ripping again (I think it's in better condition now, though). I truly despise all forms of exercise, weight bearing or non-weight bearing. I hate sweating!! And because I now experience the oh-so-lovely (NOT!) hot flashes that signify peri-menopause, I sweat so much at times that to contemplate exercising in order to bring it on intentionally seems more than I can bear at times. But sweat I must if I really want to continue this healthy trajectory. So I must pursue this again, like it or not.

And that's it for now. If anyone had said six months ago that this is what I'd be processing, I would have laughed. Loudly.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dare I Call Myself Vegan? I'm Not Sure.

You may have noticed that between my first post on the subject of plant-based eating a couple of months ago and my post of a couple of days ago, I've begun to use slightly different language to describe what we're doing. In my first post on the subject, I noted that we are now eating vegan. Now I tend to talk more about plant-based eating. There's a reason for this change in language. As I get more familiar with the culture that is encompassed within the spectrum of veganism, the more I realize that we may not entirely qualify for such a title. Yes, it's a simpler term and I'll likely continue to use it on occasion, because most non-vegan people understand its usage...but I'm intentionally shifting a little away from it.

There really is a whole spectrum of vegan people out there....waaay more diverse than I'd ever considered before jumping on the bandwagon. For many, this way of eating is about way more than a way of eating - it encompasses an entire lifestyle that includes animal activism. For people at this point on the spectrum, eating vegan is very much about animal rights and activism - how one eats falls within that larger purpose. Not that long ago, I read an argument on Facebook about who was entitled to call themselves vegan - and could a person who still carried a leather purse or owned other leather goods call themselves vegan? The jury seemed somewhat out on the answer to that question, but I'd say that more people than not felt that true veganism meant that as leather goods in our homes need replacing, they be replaced with items that are not involved in the harming of animals. And that makes total sense to me. One of the benefits of eating this way is that we aren't the cause of animal suffering or death, and I like that. But it's not the initial reason we made the change to eat this way, and I don't claim to be an activist.

What am I supposed to do about that as someone who might otherwise call herself vegan?

In addition, I had a grandfather who was a hunter - a big-time, big-game hunter who travelled the world. He was born and lived in an era when that was a celebrated pursuit, and something that only the wealthy could do. He loved it; it was a passion of his, and he and my grandmother travelled extensively to fulfill this love. He hunted, gave all of the meat to the natives of the land, and kept the hide. He had the largest trophy room in the entire country of Canada in his day! True story. He died about eleven years ago, in his late 90s, and with him passed an era of hunters - that's just mostly not done these days (or at least, not approved of by much of the world...and certainly not by those who espouse veganism in the fullest sense of the word). Most of my grandfather's trophies have been donated and sold elsewhere now, but I inherited a few of his pieces. For example, I am the owner of two buffalo hides, an elephant foot, a zebra skin, boar tusks, and two deer head trophies. All of them inherited, all beautiful, all beloved by my children.

What am I supposed to do about that as someone who might otherwise call herself vegan?

Also, I have a son who has inherited his great grandfather's love of hunting. He is driven by a love of fishing and hunting. He lives, talks, breathes hunting and fishing, and most of the conversations I have with him in the car, as we go about life, are about hunting and fishing particulars. This is not my interest, never has been, but he has been this way for at least five years and I don't know where he got it from other than through passed-down genes from his great-grandfather. He's careful with his pocket money, and the only thing he spends his money on are things he needs to further these interests. Ironically, he has been the easiest of my children to adopt a plant-based eating habit, and it is not uncommon for him to pack plant-based foods for snacking on while in the fishing boat. He is so very proud to be a hunter and fisher. What do I do about that conundrum? I don't like that he hunts, and it actually turns my stomach. But I support him and his unique interests (that don't need to be the same as mine), and he thrives on these things.

What on earth am I supposed to do about that as someone who might otherwise call herself vegan?

The simple solution, I think, is to describe myself as Whole Food Plant Based living. I'm not sure that I qualify as a vegan in the truest sense of the word.