Some lessons from the cottage

We’ve been back for a bit over a week. The clothes are washed and put away–no smells of camp fire remaining. The suntans are still there, and to some extent so is the deep sense of rhythm and calm that set in somewhere during the middle of the second week. While I was there I had this realization: simplicity! Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

Here are a few aspects of simple cottage living I decided to take home with me:

Lesson One: We don’t need a lot to have a good time. We packed for the long weekend and stayed for a month. We had six books, a box of crayons and some paper and a small bag of toys. We had about 3 to 4 outfits each (though some of us spent more time naked than creating dirty laundry). What we did have were sticks, pine cones, sand and water. Plus some wonderful family members who spent a lot of time with the kids!

Bringing it home: Knowing how few clothes we got away with removes any pressure to amass a large wardrobe for myself or the kids for the fall. It also gives me courage to further limit the amount of toys that are accessible at any given time. The kids do just fine with a limited supply, and the fewer there are out, the easier it is to tidy.

Lesson Two: We don’t need screens. One month, no videos, very limited email and web access. Even limited phone access. We really thrived in this low tech bubble!

Bringing it home: Knowing how well we did without videos or internet access helps with reducing our screen time at home–both mine and the kids’!

Lesson Three: Mother Nature has it all. Trees were castles and fairy houses. Sand was cakes and pies. Sticks were people and crutches. We even found a piece of drift wood that looked very much like a circa-1980s car phone.

Bringing it home: While I have read and believed that unstructured natural play areas are the best for kids, this experience really proved it for me. So we’ll be seeking out the corners of nature that are available to us in the city, at least as long as it’s not too cold to ride the bike! I’m also making sure we have lots of sticks, pine cones and sand around at home.

Lesson Four: We don’t need to do a lot to have a good time. We had a rich environment at our home base to explore, so we didn’t push ourselves to go out and do a bunch of stuff while we were on Manitoulin Island. We had a handful of outings scattered over the whole month. It never felt boring, it just felt relaxed and calm.

Bringing it home: With the beginning of homeschooling this fall, I am going to keep our routine here simple. There will be a hole created by friends going /going back to school, and other friends leaving town, but we don’t need to rush to fill in that hole with a lot of activities and playdates. We can hang out and explore our own back yard–both literal and figurative.

So, while we can’t live at the cottage all year round (darn!), we can try to bring the essence of the place back with us. And when it gets all stressful, as I know it will, I will try to remember breathing the forest air, and somehow come back to this feeling of peace.

Guerrilla gardening in my own back yard

Our apartment building has a side yard, breezy and shaded by several large trees and a row of small cedars. It faces south onto a parking lot, and no one goes back there. Last year a young guy who lived in our building used to smoke back there and play his guitar, but he moved out in the winter, and now we’re the only users of the leafy green space.

It’s falling into disrepair. The old super’s wife used to tend the garden, but since he died, no one has weeded or pruned or planted. The leaves are still on the ground from the fall. So I started poking around, doing a bit of weeding in the front, and one day a company rep said I could “probably put in a little garden in the back” if I wanted. He couldn’t see why not. And do I want? Oh yes!

I’m not sure why I never tried this before. I guess this year things are looking so particularly dire back there that I know I wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. And since the general yard work isn’t being done, I figure I can earn my keep by raking, pruning and weeding.

The other thing that always kept me from leaping into the dirt back there is that it is quite shady. It’s glorious on summer days, but I’m just not sure what kind of food I could grow back there. There are rose bushes that flower, and peonies, and even a grape vine. Is there any way I can predict what might grow other than by trial and error? Any food recommended to grow in shaded south-facing lots?

I’m completely new to gardening, but now this summer I find myself gardener times two! Any help or advice is appreciated!

My plans thus far include:

– a rhubarb plant. I figure they will need more light at the beginning of the season, before the trees come into leaf. If anyone has a cutting for me, let me know!

– strawberries

– leafy green things like lettuce and chard

– some cooking herbs

– carrots

– green onions

– potatoes?

So, I’ve got lots of plans. I probably won’t grow all of these things this year, but gradually add more each year until I’m producing all our food from this little lot. Let me know what shady food plants you’ve successfully grown! And then in August, come over and share my harvest 🙂

Staying the Course

Our little guy in the newly cleaned-up play space

All in all, last week’s Waldorf Week experiment was a great success! We got out in Nature and made a Nature Table, we eliminated daytime TV, we did cooking and housework together (my girl can crack an egg!), and I revolutionized her room to make it tidy, safe and completely playable. It was a great week, and this week’s plan is simply to stay the course and keep on Waldorfing it up over here.

I’m also very happy to say that my whole blog-the-meal-plan plan has been working too. Meals have been much more organized and our food costs are much more stable. We’ve cut way down on our meat, and amped up the veggies significantly.

All in all, it’s a very boring “life is good” post that I have for you today. Of course, that doesn’t count our trip to the emergency this afternoon (daughter’s headache turned out NOT to be meningitis), followed closely by almost burning down our apartment (yeah, if you go to the emergency, make sure you don’t leave perogies boiling on the stove. Luckily the smoke alarm worked and the super came and turned everything off and opened our windows. No damage except the pot, and a residual “barbecue” smell about the place).

Apart from that, life is pretty good . . .

This week’s meal plan:

Monday: salmon cakes and tabouli

Tuesday: pizza

Wednesday: Stir Fry with Sesame-Peanut sauce (we didn’t have this last week)

Thursday: Chicken drumsticks with broccoli and mashed potatoes (planning to check out Saslove‘s selection of organic chicken and hopefully soup bones–fingers crossed!)

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: veggie lasagne

Sunday: poached eggs

Waldorf Week

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Waldorf education and way of life. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark the specific article that really inspired me, but a few of the sites I was browsing were www.naturalfamilycrafts.com, and www.waldorfinthehome.org. (Update: Found it! The really inspiring article was here.) If I wasn’t such a staunch supporter of public school, I would totally send my kids to Waldorf school. (Ahh, also if I won the lottery.) I still don’t know or understand everything about it, but here are some Waldorf-y things I’m incorporating into our life this week:

The Natural World

Waldorf education stresses a connection with the natural world, as well as emphasizing natural materials, to foster a connection with nature and natural systems. Since we live in Downtown Ottawa and don’t have a car, it’s a bit hard to get out in The Nature. But we’re trying. Actually, the River is within walking distance and it offers a very natural setting in the middle of the city. We took a walk there today for an afternoon play date and had a really nice time. We saw ducks and heard red-wing blackbirds and watched the river flow . . .

Less TV

When our little guy was born in October, Daddy would get up with our older girl, and watch morning cartoons. Mostly this was a coping mechanism because we were all too tired to think in the morning, especially while I was still night nursing both of them (crazy!). However, this quickly became the routine and has been the way the morning goes for the last six months. Today I did things differently. We got up together and instead of turning on the TV, my girl and I played. I had forgotten that she is often at her best in the morning, very focused and calm, and she really enjoyed the time together. Of course, it helped that the little guy was still sleeping, but I’m going to try to keep this going. Of course this isn’t specifically a Waldorf thing, but it certainly fits the theme.

Work as Play

When I read about this, it seemed so simple, I thought it wouldn’t really work, but it did. The idea is, instead of, say, putting the kids in front of the TV so you can cram in a load of laundry and quickly chop some veggies for soup, you involve your kids in the housework and make it a part of your activities for the day. This teaches the kids that they are not nuisances to be silenced while you frantically do the real but unpleasant work, but rather that housework can be fun, and a shared activity that involves satisfaction and learning, but also that the kids can be a part of making their home a nicer, cleaner, more orderly place. My girl is three, and she can now do things that actually help me and save me time. It was really pleasant doing housework with her today. Again, maybe today was special, but I’ll be trying this again for sure.

Reverence

We are not a religious family, so we don’t have many spiritual practices in our household. However, the more I read, the more I see the value of rituals and valuing the spiritual side of life. It’s funny–even though I’m not religious and never have been, I do consider myself to be spiritual, mostly in connection with the natural world (this is probably why Waldorf appeals to me so much). So this idea of reverence really struck me. The article I read (which I cannot find, gosh darnit!) spoke about using gratitude as a path to reverence. That is, thinking about where things came from and thanking the creatures and forces and beings that brought these things to you. Our girl got right into this. For our broccoli soup at lunch, we thanked the Sunshine, and the farmer for the broccoli, and Daddy for buying the broccoli, and Mommy for making it. This idea of stopping to think about where things come from, and then thanking those who brought or created it is common to Buddhism as well.

A simplified play space

Okay, I’m working on this. But our girl’s room has become messy to the point of being dangerous. She just has too many toys, all out and accessible all the time. Quite often, she flits from one thing to another. Other times, she works in “creative destruction” of her toys, painting them, cutting their hair, etc., it makes me wonder if she really values them. So my plan is to take away all but a few of her toys to play with at one time. The other things are going into her closet, so she isn’t worried about missing them. It will only make a visit to the closet extra exciting, but once this is all in order, I will make sure she’s only playing with a few toys at a time.

Today just felt so wonderful and so right. I know not every day can be like today, but I’m going to continue the experiment. I figure it can only bring good things!

And here is our Waldorf Week Meal Plan:

Tuesday: tabouli and hummus

Wednesday: chicken stir fry with peanut sauce

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: black bean soup and cheese quesadillas

Saturday: fish of some sort

Sunday: spaghetti (I’ll try to make it to the Organic Farmer’s Market on Saturday for some local beef–wish me luck!)

And then there’s the breastfeeding

The other day I wrote about my many frugality failures, and a few of my wins, over the last month or so, leading up to and following the birth of our son. One key thing I forgot to mention–probably because it is already so much a part of my life–is the breastfeeding.

From a frugality standpoint, there is no question that breastfeeding is the best choice for feeding your baby. No powders to buy, no bottles to buy & sanitize, no containers to throw away, no water to heat, and it’s often a fantastically effortless way to lose the weight you put on during pregnancy. What a miracle worker that Mother Nature is to design such an elegant system!

But there are also benefits for my nursing daughter who turned 2 1/2 just before Nicholas was born.

Having “mokies” calms her when she’s having a meltdown; it puts her to sleep, and back to sleep in the middle of the night; it allows us to keep our physical closeness, even when the new baby is attached to my body for 90% of the day; and most of all, I can see it helping her to start bonding with the little guy as her little hand (big in comparison to his) plays with his foot, strokes his belly, holds his hand.

While this isn’t strictly about frugality, continuing to nurse my girl is helping me keep things together in these crazy newborn days. And that is a cornerstone of keeping the house running well.

Frugal Family Fun in Ottawa

My friend just forwarded me this site that has all sorts of free & inexpensive events for families in Ottawa.  I’m so excited about the drum and pipe show on Parliament Hill this Thursday through Sunday.

Check it out the site if you are looking for something to do: http://www.frugalfunottawa.ca/

This would also be great for families planning a trip to Ottawa–drop me a line if you do!

A man, a girl, and a box

It’s the common comment: buy a kid a fancy toy, and they’ll spend more time playing with the box.  Well, yesterday I bypassed the fancy toy and went straight for the box. Actually I found the box in our basement recycling area, probably left over from someone’s August 1st move.

It’s a big box, but not appliance-big: about 3 feet high and 2 feet deep and wide. Just big enough to be a little house for a two-and-a-half-year-old.

I knew she’d have a ton of fun with it, but what I didn’t figure in was how much my husband would enjoy the “project” of building a cardboard box house for our little girl.  To begin with, he opened up and reinforced the bottom (was the top) to give the structure about 6 more inches of height–enough for our girl to stand up straight inside.  Then he got out his X-acto knife and cut out a lovely door.  He’s still planning on making a cabin window in the side for her to look out of, but he’s planning an a-symmetrical design to look x-tra cool.

Well, it was a big hit right from the start: she kept wanting to go in, and her daddy kept on saying, “Not yet” and telling her what the next stage of the process was. Then when he got the door cut out, she went inside right away and hid, and brought her blankie in, and hid . . . it was really fun to watch her play with it.

If it rains today (and probably even if it doesn’t), we’re going to get out the paints grandma gave our little girl for Christmas, and paint the house all pretty.

When I picked up the box yesterday morning, I had no idea that it would make for such a fun family project.  The excitement we all felt about turning this box into a toy was something I will remember, and I hope she will too. I want her to remember that joy of making something from nothing. To me it shows, it’s not the money you spend on your kids, but the time you spend with them that counts.