Sunday, March 08, 2015

Two days at MacSkimming

During my fall practicum I was placed in a Grade 5/6 congregated gifted class at Hawthorne Public School.  I fell head over heels for my students and my AT.  We were like one big family.  I really connected with all of the students in the class and I learned so much from my AT; we became close friends.

While I was in the class, students were getting quite excited about an event coming up for them in January: they would all be spending 3 days and 2 nights at MacSkimming Outdoor Education Centre in Ottawa's east end.  I was thrilled when my AT asked if I would be interested in joining them for the adventure.  I jumped at the chance.

Due to my school and personal schedule with my kids, I was only able to stay for one of the two nights but I was there for the first full day and most of the second day, spending about 36 hours there with my class. 

It was an amazing experience that I will not forget quickly.  Upon arrival, we unloaded our things and had an orientation in the main lodge "The Inn". 

The Inn

We were situated in the pioneer village section of MacSkimming and much of our time was spent in The Inn - we ate there, had leisure time there and did our learning there.  We slept in the pioneer cabins, which were heated only by wood stove.  They were very cold! I literally slept with my toque, mitts, and three pairs of pants - and I threw my down jacket over top of my sleeping bag... and I was still cold! 

The view we were greeted by on arrival at MacSkimming.
Our furry friend in "The Inn."

The cabin I stayed in with the girls in the class.  The wood stove didn't stop running after we arrived - no insulation meant it stayed very cold in there.

Icicles outside our cabin.
 The initial orientation gave us an overall understanding of the program we were partaking in.  The Weston Family Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow program is a 3-phase program that aims to increase the environmental literacy of Grade 6 urban students.  In Phase 1, students get a visit from a Royal Botanical Gardens educator via video-conference.  The students are introduced to natural science concepts and environmental issues that will be explored more during Phase 2 of the program.  During Phase 2, students have an immersion experience for two nights and three days at one of Ontario's outdoor education centres to continue lessons initiated in the classroom and develop the leadership skills needed to support personal and community action. Student learning is reinforced by providing hands-on opportunities and immersion in sustainable living practices, as well as an appreciation of the natural environment.  During Phase 3, students commit to both personal change and shared action by undertaking a project or stewardship activity in their school or community.  
After the trip, a trained educator from the outdoor centre will visit the students at school to reinforce previous learning and celebrate their efforts.  I joined the class for Phase 2.

Below is an introduction video to the program (not specific to MacSkimming): 

During our orientation, David, the educator who would be with us for the three days, talked about what we would experience.  One of our foci would be reducing our food waste while at MacSkimming and thinking constantly about our environmental footprint.  At each meal, students weighed their food waste and kept track of it throughout the visit with the goal of trying to get it to zero. 
The tracking sheet for food waste.

Sorting bowls for food waste.
The rest of our first day was spent cross-country skiing, exploring the trails around MacSkimming, finding traces of wildlife, finding a silent "sit spot" and listening to the sounds of the forest from our sit spots, and spending more time cross-country skiing before settling in for supper.  We also spent time getting the fires going, hauling firewood and getting a schedule together for chores.

On our first hike - hearing about the moose that have been leaving evidence in this spot, and what the moose like to eat in winter.
The moose "evidence" - a pellet.
Trying on skis.  For most of the students, they had never skied before but picked it up very quickly.  It was the perfect way to experience MacSkimming on our first day.
Heading down the trail.
Out for our second ski of the day.
Warming up after a long ski.
On our first night there, an amateur astronomer took us on a night hike (without flashlights) into the bush where we star-gazed using his telescope (and saw the moons of Jupiter) and did owl and coyote calls.
Some of the buildings in the pioneer village.
On our second day, we spent some time in The Inn taking part in different activities to increase knowledge about our environmental footprint, and participating in an environmental scavenger hunt game that took us through several stations where each group learned something new about our environmental footprints (ie water usage, energy use, etc). 

Some indoor learning about our environmental footprint.

One of the stops on the outdoor scavenger hunt: the water use area.
Each station on the scavenger hunt had a question that we had to answer using the materials left at that stop.
After a filling lunch, we played a class-wide Wide Game called Predator and Prey.  David took us out into an area of MacSkimming removed from the Pioneer Village.  The game had two purposes: to give us a lot of exercise and to teach the students about the food chain in the natural world.  Two students were carnivores and had no predators (except for myself and two other parents who were "disease" and could peg them off with plastic balls and take one of their lives), most students were omnivores (could be tagged by a carnivore or by "disease"), and a few were herbivores (could be tagged by everyone).  The goal was for each student to collect enough food and water to survive without losing all of their lives.  To do this, they had to find the punch stations on certain trees and punch their cards.  It was a great work out, lots of fun and the students learned a lot about the dynamics of a forest ecosystem.

My role at MacSkimming was to assist wherever needed.  I was often the teacher assisting David while my AT did other things back at The Inn.  I sorted students, led cross-country skiing, created and organized a chore system and "patrols" for chores, loaded firewood, kept students happy, played some games, tried to stay warm (it was -25 both days), and visited with the parent volunteers.  I participated with the students in all activities and worked to keep them focussed on David during the teaching phases, which was sometimes challenging given the students' excitement.

Students were expected to do all the indoor chores related to our visit: keeping firewood stocked, washing all the dishes, cleaning the tables and sweeping floors, weighing the food and scraping the plates.  We did not have to prepare any of the food. 

Dish duty!
Things always got silly at dish time.
My wow moments are hard to narrow down as there were so many: the beauty of MacSkimming in winter, the experience of spending intense time with your students, the engagement level of every student, reigniting my own love for outdoor education.  I'm not sure I had a personal "whoops" except that I would have brought an extra blanket and I would portion out the hot chocolate from the start rather than allowing a free-for-all.  One student in particular has a hot chocolate addiction!

This is an amazing program and opportunity for students and teachers. Weston Foundation pays for the entirety of the experience including busing, catering for every meal, the educators and materials, etc. Any Grade 6 classroom can apply to attend.  In Ottawa, it is a first-come first-served basis and they only take one class per month for the program at MacSkimming.   I hope that I am invited to attend again next year!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Teachers College and parenting - not the ideal marriage

Teachers' College is very demanding.  There is a lot of reading, even compared to when I did my Masters Degree in History.  And there are many, many projects, most of which are group work.  Everyone in my program is feeling the pressure and the very few of us who have kids, are feeling it especially because the pressures of home do not let up just because you are a full-time student again.  And being me means that I haven't let all of my extra-curricular volunteer activities go.

I've realized that it is foolish to expect to get much of anything done on weekends because the kids want to do fun things and I don't want them to languish in front of glowing screens which is what would happen if I spent hours on school work.  Also, John loves the NFL.  Enough said on that front.  Much as I have tried to push him to revisit his Sunday afternoon schedule, it is to no avail.

So, I spend late nights in front of my computer during the week and I don't get all my readings done.  That's just the way it has to be.

This coming week is Fall Reading Week at OttawaU.  Unless you are doing a Bachelors of Education, in which case you have classes and professional development.  On the upside, there are fewer readings.  So I guess that's a concession.

The reality is that I will get this done, and I will get it done well, but not as well as I would if I didn't have kids.  But having had my kids already gives me certain advantages and confidences and knowledge about kids and their brains that I didn't have before I had children of my own.  And thankfully, they are, so far, pretty understanding about Mummy's schedule and demands.

Also, I've figured out I can pay Emily $2.50 for looking after the other two while I work at my computer for a couple of hours.   GAME-CHANGER.

Now, back to my readings.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Great changes

So, yeah.

It's been a while....

And although it may sound like I am writing assuming someone is actually out there reading this, I am well aware that these words are blowing off my corner of the internet into the great ethos, with no other eyes taking a gander.

That didn't use to be the case.  And I'm okay with that.

Blogging used to be a huge part of my life.  Until life took over as the kids got older.  Which meant my wee Henry didn't get his fair share of face time on here.  Instead, his life, for the past two years anyway, was chronicled on Facebook, which means it hasn't been chronicled well.  And for that, Henry, I am so sorry.

And then, when life was already getting busy, I ended my glorious existence as a stay-at-home mum (something I relished and excelled at for seven lovely years) and returned to paid employment for Her Majesty.  I went back to a posting at Foreign Affairs and two months later landed a better-paid position at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

And then quickly realized that I needed to finally do what I had wanted to do for over ten years: become a teacher.  Because working for the government was not going to work for me long-term.  In fact, it wasn't working for me short-term.

I applied to teachers' college ten years ago and got into to the University of Ottawa's Teacher Ed program but at the same time found out I was expecting Emily.  And so that plan had to wait in lieu of my three amazing children.  And now, those children are older and Henry has started JK and, oh yeah, the Government of Ontario is about to turn Teachers' College in Ontario into a two-year program so my plan morphed into "now or never."  I chose "now".

In the past ten years I have never really questioned that I was meant to teach and every waking moment of my volunteer time was spent with kids (and there were many waking moments spent hiking, camping, running meetings and selling Girl Guide cookies), honing teaching skills and figuring out my goals and my philosophy of working with kids.  It was extremely worthwhile.

So, here I am now, one and a half months into my Teacher Ed program at Ottawa U.  And I am exactly where I should be and want to be and I am so excited to finally be here.

I've decided that in order to keep my thoughts straight and figure out my goals and intentions for my teaching career as well as chronicle this year and my imminent search for teaching work in the Ottawa area, it is time to restart this old rust-bucket and get back into blogging.  Because I do miss it.

So, I go back to the beginning.  The beginning was blogging just for me and for my kids.  So they know what I was thinking and feeling at certain times in my life.  So they can go back and read about themselves and our family.  So I can go back and reflect and remember and relive these moments of knowing exactly where I wanted to be and why.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A great start to summer

The first two days of summer have been pretty much perfect so far.  Yes, it was raining cats and dogs the first day and yesterday saw a cold wind blow in but that has had no affect on the perfection rating.

On Friday, we met lots of friends at the Museum of Science and Technology where we let our kids run wild and free and took in  a great physics demonstration by one of the excellent museum demonstrators/teachers.  I whispered to my friend that the kids probably learned more at that demonstration than they'd learned the entire last day of school. They were all really engaged with it and two of our group got to go up as volunteers.  Anna was even brave enough to risk having her face smushed by a swinging bowling ball.

I ended up coming home from the museum with more kids than I went with (thank you, Mazda 5, for making this possible).  The rest of the day was a whirlwind of playing, movie, playing, tea party, playing and then a very wet walk to the library in the rain.  It was such a great day and aside from two of my own kids being a bit whiny at times, everyone got along like a house on fire.

The crazies having lunch

I think they need to work on the drainage system at the park.
Yesterday I took the kids strawberry picking to Ovens Berry Farm in Osgoode.  We'd never been there before but we will certainly be going back.  The berries were great, there were very few people picking berries (it was threatening to rain... I have to assume that it is normally busier) AND they have rows and rows of Saskatoon berries as pick-your-own as well.  And no one but us was picking them! They also have pick your own rhubarb and lots of raspberries that they'll be starting to pick next week. The farm has to be the tidiest berry farm I've come across.  And thankfully they have a little play structure for the kids when they give up on picking (about 15 minutes into the process).  It's a small farm, just the right size for me.

Filling our baskets
Henry tried it out too but found he was better at sitting and eating.

Three batches made and more to come.
After we got home, the kids played Wii for a while and helped me make freezer jam (I am amazed how quickly Saskatoon jam sets) before we headed to our local wading pool.  Unfortunately it was closed - I continue to be flummoxed by how arbitrarily our wading pool is closed.  It seems to be at the discretion of the lifeguards but really? It wasn't raining, it was a bit on the cool side but there were kids there when we arrived who were equally disappointed that they couldn't swim.  The sprinkler park kept Henry happy while the girls played on the playground.  We ended the day with three very tired kids and more freezer jam.

Henry brings a lot of joy to the sprinkler park.

Friday, June 28, 2013


I've been searching for a way to break the ice after such a long absence from my once-loved blog.  I realized tonight that there isn't a smooth way to do this where I glide back in, segueing into a well-crafted post after a pithy sentence that somehow erases the months and months that I've been away (only proverbially... in real life my only absence was a lovely few days in Austin this spring).

Rather than explaining my absence (so very, very busy with... life) or trying to play catch-up (which would never work well), I'm just going to jump right back in and see what happens. It's my blog after all and that's how I want to do it.

Things are changing in my life.  After seven straight years at home with my children, I am returning to work this September.  I'll be back with the government, in fact, with the same department but in a much diminished role.  I didn't truly expect to go back at the same level I left, given I was away for 7 years but I didn't really expect to return to an entry level position.  However, things are really tough in Canada's public service right now.  People are losing jobs not getting them.  I'm just so thankful to have found something that will fulfill the debt that I owe the government from my maternity leave top-up.  I don't owe them money... I owe them time.  If I hadn't found a position, I would have had to pay that top up back. 

The position I've taken will be for one year.  I don't know what will happen after that.  I'm not too concerned at this point.  Right now I'm completely focused on reorienting our family from one where there is a parent home full-time who is largely responsible for most stuff at home - meals, laundry, cleaning, school work, play, lessons, etc - to having two parents working full-time and all the kids in daycare and school.

I'll be tough.  Particularly on me.  On the plus side, there will be more money in our pockets.

And that is the first transition.  The others are much more interesting to talk about, but I'll save that for another night when the UK version of Life on Mars isn't calling my name.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Gluten-free Monday: favourite pancakes

Obviously I took a week off but... here I am today, nursing a cold, ignoring a nasty diaper, and generally pinning things to my Pinterest boards that I really want to sew.

My love of sewing has been reignited the last few months.  It began when I pulled out my long forgotten and unfinished Christmas tree skirt (still unfinished, I might add).  Whenever I start to sew a project again (rather than just sew on Girl Guide badges or make minor repairs), I fall in love with sewing all over again.  My next project will be a fun bag to tote my Girl Guide stuff in.  After that, it is finishing some other quilts while making some summer skirts for the girls.  But first, I MUST finish my Christmas tree skirt.

I also have a Gluten-free goodness board on Pinterest.  You can find it here.  And like most of my other pins, I haven't made a single recipe on there yet.  Maybe I'll change that this week and try one out.  I'm thinking the chocolate cookies.  Yes..... I see a project for Henry and I today!  Expect a review next week.

In the meantime, I'm going to share my favourite pancakes with you today (sorry no photos).  This is a recipe that I got from Baking Beauties but I have fully changed around to make much better (in our opinion).  We always add blueberries but plain is good too, as is any other fruit you can think of.  You can also add canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices for a really great treat.

Karen's Pancakes

1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
3 tbsp tapioca starch/flour
1/3 cup potato starch
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xanthan gum

1 egg
1 cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)
1 1/2-1 3/4 cups milk, depending on how thick you like your pancakes.
3 tbsp oil
2 tsp vanilla

Whisk all dry ingredients together.  Mix wet ingredients separately, whisking well.  Add wet to dry and mix well.  Sometime I have to add extra milk to make a thinner batter as I don't like my pancakes too puffy.  Melt butter in frying pan and add large spoonfuls of batter adding blueberries or whatever fruit you like.

This batter also keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

I honestly don't think a wheat-eater could tell the difference eating these pancakes.  There is not GF texture here at all. Yum!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gluten-free Monday: GF flour blend & Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I know, I know.  It's Tuesday.  I realize now that posting on Mondays will likely be difficult because Brownies is at 4:00 every Monday which means my Mondays is normally dominated by running around, getting craft supplies ready, doing some shopping, etc.

Yesterday we had a skating party at Brownies so there was little running around and no crafting to be done but Emily was home sick so the day was strange and didn't follow routine AND I am starting to cut/limit Henry's naps so there was that added in the mix as well.

And so, on this very cold Tuesday, I give to you Gluten-free Monday: the second edition!

Last week, Julie asked if I would post my gluten-free flour blend.  I'll happily do that today.

In full disclosure, this is actually Carol's Sorghum Blend and not invented by me at all.

I love this blend.  I've tried many and this one is by far the best for our tastes.  No rice flour: win! Easy to mix: win! As close to wheat in texture and taste that you're gonna get: win!

I don't use blends too often, however.  Normally I gravitate to recipes that have a number of different flours and starches in the recipe and do not depend on an all-purpose blend.  These recipes tend to work best as the ratios have been determined for that specific recipe.  This is why I like MGCC's website so much.  Their GF guru, Julie, doesn't use blends either.

There are some instances that require a pre-made blend however.  I have a couple of recipes that ask for one and I go to this blend for converting some of my square and muffin recipes.  It works well.  I wouldn't use it to convert a cake or cookies, though. Be forewarned, it won't work.  It is great for thickening sauces, stews, or other recipes that ask for 1-2 tbsp of flour as a thickener.  This will be a great replacement.

Carol's Sorghum Blend

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
1 cup tapioca starch/flour

Mix and store.

I've used this recipe in the following muffin recipe to rave reviews:

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

I can't even remember where I got this recipe... AllRecipes, maybe? It's a GREAT addition to kids' lunches if they survive an hour past baking.

2 tbsp shortening
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups Carol's Sorghum Blend
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Cream shortening and sugar in big bowl.
Add eggs and applesauce, mix well.
Mix dry ingredients, add to big bowl.
Add in vanilla, yogurt and bananas.
Mix well.
Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into muffin cups.  Bake at 350F for 24-30 minutes.  Makes 20-24 muffins.