Friday, April 18, 2014

1001 Steps to the Beach

It's actually closer to 250 steps to the beach but that's still quite a bit. Our adventures geocaching brought us to bottom of multiple flights of wooden stairs that switched back and forth down the hill towards the beach. The stairs ended and we followed a pebbly path that paralleled a railway track and then went under a tunnel onto a rocky beach. The tide was quite low and we discovered some critters among the rocks. Purple starfish (Pisaster ochraceus) were tucked into crevices, we didn't notice them at first but on closer inspection they were everywhere. My eldest was excited and exclaimed "maman! this is the first time I've seen a starfish". We also spotted sea snails and a crab. Before we left the beach some shells were collected and we waved to a passing train. The walk back was definitely more strenuous, but everyone was motivated by the promise of popsicles.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

DIY Concrete Stepping Stones



The Learning Circle gathered today to make concrete stepping stones. We were lucky to have a couple dads join our groups and prepare the concrete. It is easier to use premixed concrete for this project but if you have a concrete mixer, aggregate, concrete powder and a guy (or gal) that knows what he's doing... well that's pretty easy too. If you do use premixed concrete simply follow the instructions on the bag.

My camera's been acting funny, randomly shutting off and stressing me out, so I didn't capture as much of the action that I was hoping too. Our mentor started by showing the children how to mix concrete and how to handle it safely. When working with wet concrete be sure to cover your skin by wearing long pants, long sleeved shirt and gloves. Whomever is mixing the concrete should also wear a face mask.

While the concrete was being mixed by the dads, the children prepared their moulds by greasing them with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly (Vaseline). There were a variety of moulds that people used such as drip trays for planter, aluminum pie plate or lasagna pans, boxes lined with thick plastic, empty 4L ice cream pails, and all types of plastic shallow dishes. The children also had some time to traded embellishments with each other. Everyone brought an assortment of things to decorate their stepping stones: glass rocks, seashells, keys, buttons, beads, rocks, bottle caps, chains, coins, sparkles and pieces of tile. For some children (like my eldest) trading what the best part.

Once the concrete was ready it was scooped into the molds. A bit a jiggling and tapping loosened any trapped bubbles and allowed the concrete to settle nicely into the mould. It does help to wait 10 to 15 minutes before adding embellishments so that the concrete can become a little firm but it isn't necessary. When placing the decorations be sure to press them into the concrete so they don't fall out when the concrete dries.

As you can see in the pictures above the stepping stones were so creative and unique and thankfully my camera cooperated so that could capture them. They need to cure undisturbed for a couple days so we'll have to wait until next week before we can put them in our garden.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Living with Anxiety

Easter is this weekend and it marks the beginning of what will be a month of various road trips and adventures. Our pace in the last few weeks has increased by several notches. We've been hiking, planning, spring cleaning, home learning, visiting friends, renovating and preparing our gardens. It's been wonderful, but amidst the business of our day to day life I have to constantly check in with myself.

I have a propensity towards anxiety and when life gets busy I start to place unrealistic expectations on what I should be getting done. These ridiculous expectations make me feel stressed, exhausted and ultimately anxious. Over the last year I have learned some great technique to help me stay in the moment, challenge my thinking and let go of unnecessary expectations. I still get anxious but not to the same degree or as long because I am better able to identify triggers and make necessary changes.

Anxiety is part of life, but there is a big difference between unhealthy pervasive anxiety and healthy anxiety. Unhealthy anxiety can be debilitating not just mentally but physically as well. I know because I've been there. It's easy to feel victimize by your own anxiety and think that you have no control over it. Thankfully, that's not true and there are some great resources out there that can make a big impact on living life without constant angst. Personally, I found cognitive behavioural therapy to be really helpful and highly recommend it. There are other options as well but I'm probably not the best person to give advice about them. If you struggle with anxiety know that you aren't alone and that asking for help can make a big difference.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hiking Peach Cliff

You never know what magical places you will find when you step outdoors and explore beyond your home. Sometime you don't even have to go very far. Today our Learning Circle hiked up Peach Cliff, an area that I've driven passed numerous time. From the road Peach Cliff is a formidable rock face with an elevation of 600 meters at the top. The cliff was formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago and rounded out by glaciers. When the last glacier finally receded it left a large volcanic rock precariously teaterring on its edge, this rock has been appropriately named the "balancing rock". But before you reach the "balancing rock" there are many neat sites to discover on the way up.

We started the hike by walking through a large cattle gate. As I write this post, there are about hundred head of cattle grazing on Peach Cliff. We never saw any cows, but there were lots of cow patties (poop) on the trail. The first leg of the hike brings you to what appeared to be a stack of pallets, but on closer inspection it is a storage contained for coring samples. There has been some mining done on Peach Cliff for silver, gold, copper and zinc and these cores samples are the first evidence of this history on the way up.

Around the corner from the coring samples is a small body of water called the gold fish pond. Apparently, this pond is filled with gold fish in the summer making the water glitter and shine. We didn't spot any fish but it's still quite early in the year. As the trail goes up from the pond you come to a point were you can follow the trail left up to the top of Peach Cliff or you can go up a littler further and see the "balancing rock". If you follow another trail to the right of the balancing rock you will come across an old mining cave. The cave is a home for rats and bats so you don't really want to go inside but it's neat to have a quick look. These areas are well worth exploring before heading up to the top of Peach Cliff even if it means a bit of backtracking.

I debated going on the final leg of hike to the very top. My eldest was keen but I wasn't sure how my daughter would do and I have a harder time helping her with Teddy on my back. So with some hesitation we set off and made the steep, yet relatively short, climb to the top. The climb was well worth the effort because the view from the top of Peach Cliff is incredible, just amazing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Garden Journal (vol. 16)

Raspberry cane.

Chinese cabbage.
Fast growing tomatoes.
There is no denying that spring has arrived. I see signs of newness everywhere. Birds are busy building their nests and searching for food. In the last week we've seen woodpeckers, robins, quail, red winged blackbirds and our resident stellar jay, all of them very focused on the task at hand. The cheery trees are beginning to bloom and the balsam root are starting to flower.

The tomatoes and peppers I started indoors are growing with vigour, the tomatoes especially. I was trying to remember when I had transplanted them into the gardens last year, and I think it was towards the end of May. At the rate the plants are growing I'm going to have a jungle in my house by that time! If the weather is warm enough I might put them out sooner.

Outside the overwintered plants continue to grow and I will probably be able to harvest some spinach, cabbage and kale in the next week or so. I planted some bok choy, spinach and mustard greens over the weekend. The pea haven't sprouted but I was impatient and dug into the soil a little to see if they were germinating. I was happy to see that they were beginning to send out shoots and I expect to see baby peas soon.

A Couple Weeks Ago: Garden Journal (vol. 15)

This Time Last Year: Garden Journal (vol. 2)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Western Toad

Can you spot the toad?

Friends of ours rescued a Western Toad out of their well pit last fall. The toad had fallen in somehow and wasn't able to escape. As a result, it was severely dehydrated and unprepared for the winter which was fast approaching. Our friends knew the toad wouldn't survive the winter and since the Western Toad is an endangered specie they took it home and cared for it throughout the winter. The toad not only survived, but thrived and was much loved. Before setting the toad free we were given the chance to care for it for several nights. I never knew a toad sleepover could be so exciting. My children were thrilled that Mr. Toad was staying with us. They fed it worms and occasionally my children would wiggle their finger in front of the toad to get it licked by the toad's strong tongue. The toad seemed comfortable in his well made home, and tolerated little face getting close to it.

Today we met our friends and hiked a short ways to a nearby pond. The toad seemed excited to be outdoors and was set free among the dried grass surrounding the pond. For a while it simply stayed in one spot as we watched in anticipation to see what it would do. After a while it tucked itself into a hole in the grass. We wished it well and took our leave. We hope that Mr. Toad has a happy life by that pond.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Geocaching: A Real World Treasure Hunt


The first time I heard about geocaching I thought it had something to do with rock hounding. Both geocaching and rock hounding involve hunting for something but they are quite different. Rock hounders look for special rocks and minerals and geocachers search for hidden objects using GPS coordinates. Geocaching is a "real-world treasure hunt" and there are close to 2 million geocaches worldwide that have been set up by members of the geocaching community.

There are geocaches everywhere! In fact, you've probably walked by a geocache before and not even realized it. Apparently, there are five geocaches close to our neighbourhood. Before going on a geocaching treasure hunt it's really helpful to download the official geocaching app, which cost $10. The app allows you to navigate to nearby caches in real time using your cellphone. If you don't want to buy the app you can still find a geocache by going to the Find a Geocache website.

Today our learning circle went geocaching, and it was our first time hunting for caches. We searched for three seperate treasures and found all of them. Two of the caches were in small plastic boxes and the other was in a film canister. If someone wasn't deliberately searching for the caches it would be easy to pass them by unknowingly. All geocaches have log books that you can use to record your name and the date you found the cache. The film canister cache didn't have a pencil so we weren't able to leave a note in the logbook. The other two caches had some small treasures that we could take. The rule for taking things from caches is that you must leave at item of equal or greater value in its place, so we made sure to bring a few things to leave behind such as colourful feathers, marbles, lego, stickers etc.

My children were really excited about geocaching and it was a great way to explore a new area. My daughter doesn't usually have great hiking stamina, but when hunting for caches she was keeping up to her older brother with no problem. I manages to carry Teddy in my beco carrier which made him quite happy and made me get some good exercise. I think there will be more geocaching in the near future. I don't think it's possible to get tired of hunting for treasure.