Traffic Woes

I get excited every time I hear mention of lowering speed limits. At the moment it is only residential streets that the city of Winnipeg is considering lowering speed limits on but if I had my way it would be ALL the streets and lanes. If I were in charge back lanes would have a max speed of 20 km/h, residential streets would be 30 km/h, undivided main streets could be 40 km/h and only divided ones could be 50 km/h. Main roads with three or more lanes in each direction could have a speed limit of 60 km/h. Major roads with absolutely no pedestrian traffic could allow speeds up to 70 km/h. No roads anywhere inside city limits require any speed over 70 km/h – if you want to drive faster, take the perimeter.

I’m sure some people may be horrified at the thought of driving that slow and it may make you angry that I also think there should be traffic cams and photo radar everywhere. There is photo radar near my home – and there is also a guy that frequently stands on the corner and holds a cardboard sign to warn drivers of the camera ahead. I once told him he should just let them get a ticket – a consequence for their actions. He probably drives a black truck…I’ll explain why later.

It is no secret that I love to walk places – I do also drive, but whenever possible I prefer to walk in all types of weather. Actually, even in very cold weather I would prefer to walk than sit still in a frigid cold vehicle. Still, sometimes even I must drive instead of walking. Those drivers (and pedestrians) that choose to defy road rules cause me angst both as a driver and a pedestrian. Though sometimes even the drivers that are trying to be ‘helpful’ are really not.

My childcare home is located in a residential area that is bordered by several major streets. Even if we were to restrict our daily walks to the sidewalks in our little neighbourhood we would not be able to avoid disrespectful drivers taking shortcuts to avoid slowing down for traffic at the busy intersections. That is one reason why, throughout all our walks, in our neighbourhood and beyond, the children and I have constant conversations about all aspects of the environment around us.

Those conversation may be observations about decorations in someone’s yard/garden, birds, plants, people, animals and most definitely vehicles. Everything is a teachable moment – an opportunity to share an interesting fact, personal likes/dislikes, and of course identifying hazards. Is it safe to pet that dog without the owner’s permission? Is that tree/fence an appropriate place to climb or does if belong to someone else? Will that driver stop for us or should we wait?

Long before we have even reached an intersection we will notice if there are stop signs and count them. We discuss which direction we are planning to cross and whether the cars should be stopping for us or if they have the right of way and we should be waiting for them. Respect for drivers and pedestrians goes both ways. That is where we sometimes meet those ‘helpful’ (not) drivers that stop where they do not have a stop sign and try to let us cross – it is confusing for the children but luckily it doesn’t happen often.

Toy cars and people

I wish our encounters with disrespectful, anti-pedestrian drivers were as infrequent. As pedestrians we always follow the road rules – many of which already strongly favour vehicles over pedestrian. For example, at all the intersections with traffic lights in my neighbourhood my little group can barely make it all the way across the intersection before the light turns red IF we start instantly when it turns green AND we hustle all the way across. If our light is already green when we reach the intersection we won’t have enough time to cross and will wait for the next green light – another opportunity to observe traffic and discuss safety rules.

We have encountered drivers who are too impatient to wait for us to cross the street before they make their left turn and will try to turn in front of us instead of waiting for us to cross first. One driver actually thought it was necessary to turn into the oncoming lanes first before crossing over to the proper lanes just so he didn’t have to wait for us to clear the lane he should have turned into. He must have actually planned this in advance considering, like us, he had been waiting at a red light prior to entering the intersection and was most certainly aware of our intention to cross.

Another one of my personal opinions is that all slip lanes should be eliminated. Even though I put reflective safety vests on all the children when we go for walks near traffic, some drivers don’t see us – or choose to ignore our attempt to cross the slip lane. Other cities have some great ideas for replacing slip lanes. I’m certain the businesses on the corner near my home would appreciate the increased pedestrian traffic if the slip lane was removed.

Back lanes are another issue. I am sure that there are drivers that think pedestrians shouldn’t use back lanes – ever. Personally I think both pedestrians and vehicles can both use back lanes if they need to access property located on that lane. The children and I DO walk down my back lane to get to my back yard but we don’t travel down back lanes when we have no purpose to go there. Whenever we see a vehicle we move off the lane, into the nearest driveway, and stand still respectfully yielding right of way to the passing vehicle. This is easy to do IF the drivers are also respectful and obeying speed limits.

I am fairly certain that only the drivers who actually live on our lane obey the speed limit – which is still too fast. The drivers using the lane as a thoroughfare or shortcut to avoid the lights drive much faster than the lane speed of 30 km/h. In fact, there have been vehicles that sped down my lane so fast that I couldn’t tell you what colour the vehicle was because all I saw was a blur as they passed my yard.

When there is no snow the lane is wide enough to allow cars to pass us even if they don’t choose to wait for us to get off the lane. In warmer seasons we do always walk on the edge of the lane but we still try to move into a driveway when a car approaches. In the winter the piles of snow along the edges of the lane make it impossible to walk there and the tire ruts are treacherous. For this reason we tend to walk in the middle of the lane in the winter.

When there is ice and snow, we move slower and have fewer spaces to get off the lane when we see a vehicle. I always remain in the centre of the lane until all the children have reached a safe spot and are standing still so there is no chance they may slip back into the lane. Consequently sometimes drivers must stop and wait for us and some of them find this very frustrating – especially the ones that are using our lane as a shortcut to avoid the traffic at the major intersections. This is where we have met the driver of the black truck…

The first time we saw this particular truck approaching, I stood in the middle of the lane as usual however, when the driver did not slow his approach I grabbed the last child and jumped to the side of the lane as he swerved slightly around us. I don’t care how great you think your steering skills are, I still expect that you will also use your brake pedal! We have encountered this truck several times now and he has never slowed down.

We haven’t been for long walks since the weather got very cold so our schedule has changed. We’ve also taken to only walking the short way down the lane just in case the driver of the black truck chooses that route. Still, one day when we were almost to my driveway, the three-year-old ahead of me yells “Ackk, it’s him again! I don’t like that guy.” and then scurries up the driveway into my yard.

The black truck had just turned onto the far end of the lane ahead of us. I find it sad that a three-year-old can recognize a disrespectful driver from almost a block away. Just slow down. Please.

Unexpected

We love playing outdoors in the winter. Compared to the warmer seasons our winter walks are shorter as is our total time outdoors but we still manage to spend 1-2 hours playing outdoors everyday.

In the winter there are no ‘toys’ in the yard – most break easily in the cold. Of course we still have sticks, pots, and the ultimate loose part – SNOW! I also routinely make various ice blocks for building, collecting and sorting. It is the perfect activity for frigid cold winters.

small coloured blocks of ice

With the addition of liquid watercolour paint to the water before freezing these blocks add a nice pop of colour to the yard. Sometimes I freeze dozens of trays full of coloured ice cubes and scatter them all over the yard. It is best done just before a snowfall because the children love hunting and digging for ‘gems’.

This year I decided to make some bigger ice blocks using both ice cream pails and square containers. I imagined the children may enjoy using them for stepping stones – they love the slippery spots in the yard. I also figured with bigger blocks they could build bigger structures than they could with small ice blocks. The gross motor skills required for manipulating the large blocks would be a bonus.

ice blocks and pails

The result was unexpected. The combination of the large containers and the above normal January temperatures meant the blocks took longer to freeze – I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that the liquid watercolour would separate from the water during freezing and even disappear completely!

green circular block of ice

Only four of the ten blocks remained intact when I removed them from the containers. The other ones were fragile because they were hollow! That was certainly unexpected and why it happened I do not know.

hollow round ice block

The centers of these hollow ice blocks were not wet and any colour that remained was a fine powdery texture. It was like, once the liquid watercolour paint separated from the tap water, the liquid part of the paint evaporated. How that was possible confuses me – the tops of all the blocks are solid thick ice – the bottoms are the thin delicate parts that shatter when touched to reveal the hollow centers.

hollow square ice block

Well that was unexpected and I still wanted some usable ice blocks so I filled all the containers with water again. I decided to not use any liquid water colour paint this time but I wanted something to make the ice blocks stand out a little in the snow. I found an old bag of potpourri and tossed a few pieces in each bucket. Interestingly, the next day the water had turned a nice shade of red,

containers full or red water

However, after four days outside, in the shade, in January, there is only a thin partial layer of ice on the surface of each bucket of water. How is it possible that in Manitoba I cannot freeze water outside in January?

That is unexpected.

Hamburger Tarts

When discussing menu items in my childcare home ‘favourites’ can be defined in many ways. It could be a meal that all of the children eat at least some of and no one refuses to eat. It could also mean that some of the children really enjoy it and consistently ask for seconds but there may be one or two children who barely eat any at all. After all, not everyone likes the same things.

Sometimes it may be defined as one of my favourite things to make because it either doesn’t require a lot of work or it can be prepared well in advance and baked for lunch. I always prefer meals that don’t add to the already busy lunch time – between returning from outdoors and getting ready for nap time there is already a lot to do without including food prep.

Hamburger Tarts are one of the items that tick a lot of boxes. They require a bit of fairly easy prep early in the morning before the children arrive and then bake a bit just before we come in from outside. Most of the children like them – some don’t – some ask for seconds. Personally I find them addictive and left unchecked I could wipe out the whole batch because seriously – bread, meat and cheese is really just like pizza which I could eat all day every day.

This is the ‘original’ recipe which of course I only use as a starting point and then modify – a lot.

First of all, I don’t fiddle with cutting crusts (best part) off bread, buttering the slices and pressing them into muffin tins to essentially make more crusts. I use yummy brioche buns, placed upside down in a 9×13 pan, and hollowed out (keep for free bread crumbs). I have also tried this step using scratch made bread dough pressed in the pan and using a cup to make 12 indents for filling – good too but it requires much more effort and time and most of the children prefer the brioche buns

For the filling I do saute the onion and lean ground beef though I use much more than half an onion – more like one very large or two medium and very well cooked before adding the beef. One lb of ground beef will fill 12 buns. I never use the yucky mushroom soup – usually tomato soup or cheddar cheese soup.

I add all the saved ‘bread crumbs’ from the buns, eggs, and ketchup as well as some mustard and BBQ sauce too. I don’t usually grate the cheddar cheese to add to the filling. To save time I most often just place a thick square slice of cheddar in the bottom of each bun cup before filling with the meat mixture. At this point I cover with foil and refrigerate until closer to lunch time then bake covered at 325F for about an hour to heat through. Uncover for the last bit of time to brown a little without drying out.

Serve with salad or coleslaw – pick them up and eat like a burger or cut them up and use a fork (not as fun) – Mmmmm good.

Catching Up

I’m spending a portion of this four day holiday weekend catching up on some of the things I never seem to have enough time for. This morning my task list included going through a multitude of photos I have taken and deciding which to delete, file, add to the entrance area slideshow or write blog posts about.

Now I have to actually write some posts – this first one is actually about TWO projects that we worked on last summer. Yes, I am that far behind which is why I’m combining two projects in one post.

Back in June I wrote about the new octagon shaped dining table. I also wanted to write about the place mats the children (aged 2-8) made to define their spaces at the table. Each child worked on their place mat design independently so each one would be unique as some of the children are prone to copying or competing with others.

When they were all complete and dry I covered the place mats with clear plastic film to protect them from spills. Only once they were all together on the table did the children get to see what the others had created.

For several weeks these place mats were the main focus of discussions around the table at meal/snack times. The conversations were amazing. So many questions. So much interest in what others had done.

Interestingly it was the work of the two-year-old that garnered the most attention – ‘Hey, how did he do that?’

The answer to that question is ‘After he added paint, he used the handle of the brush to create the textured pattern’. This was exactly why I had them all work independently. Had they all been painting at the same time then either someone would have ‘corrected’ him by telling him he was using the wrong end of his paint brush or everyone would have copied him and the place mats would have all looked the same… End of conversation.

The second project didn’t involve the children but was a space I created for the children. The ‘Nature Area’ is the small room off the main play space. It has always been a quiet space to read, relax or reflect. This post from last year show what it used to look like after the addition of the nest swing.

The babies’ cribs used to be situated on opposite sides of the room with their long side against the wall and the ‘quiet’ space in the centre of the room. There was some ‘extra’ space at the ends of the cribs – not really enough to be considered useful for storage space or play space just wasted space. Wasted space bothers me immensely.

Last summer I moved both cribs to the same side of the room with their short sides against the wall and the cot storage between them – no more wasted space. At nap time a temporary divider wall is placed between the cribs to provide a little privacy for sleeping babies now that they are much closer to each other.

The open area of the room is now considerably larger with the addition of the space on the other side of the room. I rearranged the trees and added some cushions and a wall tapestry. It is now a much more cozy, comfortable area for reading and relaxing.

There is still plenty of open space in front of the window if the children want to stand and look outside at ‘real’ nature. Of course there are still fake branches, bird and butterflies to look up at when you lay on the nest swing.

But that could change too. I did buy another tapestry that I considered hanging on the ceiling here…but I love it so much I might put it somewhere else. I just haven’t yet decided where that may be…

The compromise

More than a decade ago I wrote my first post about walking with children – since then I’ve written many more posts about the subject – search ‘walking’ or ‘hiking’ in my search bar if you want to read some of them.

We go on some very long walks though distance and time are not always relative as other factors like snack breaks, exploring, playing games and destinations like the library or store may affect the length of time but not the distance. Some of our walks are great distances – our longest has been about 10 kilometers – though these long distance walks require advance planning so they can’t be spontaneous when the children ask.

I’ve received stunned responses like “Why do you make them walk so far?” and I have to explain that I don’t ‘make’ them – I ‘let’ them. Most of the time it is the children choose the destination and/or the route. We go on a walk everyday as part of our daily routine. As soon as babies take their first steps I let them walk – they become our pace setters. At first it may just be out the front door and around the short block to the back yard. Once they become more confident we add some more distance.

Back in 2012 I wrote about adapting our walks to accommodate the abilities of children at various stages of development. Being able to understand/accept the needs of the younger children is a learning experience for the older children too. I am not opposed to carrying or putting a baby in a stroller when they don’t want to walk, however, I am opposed to assuming they can’t walk as far as the older children when given the opportunity. Please don’t underestimate their abilities!

I have had a 19 month old child that walked nearly 9 km in under 4 hours – I had the stroller available if he wanted to use it but he adamantly insisted on walking until we were almost all the way back (and it was approaching nap time). Last summer on our longest/farthest (4.5 hour 10 km) walk, every time we stopped for water/snack breaks I was the only one who chose to ‘rest’ – the children (aged 18 months-8 years) always wanted to run around and played tag instead.

Over the years there have been a few children here who were reluctant to walk anywhere – honestly most were school-age who came here only briefly and had never been required to nor given the opportunity to walk anywhere – they also struggled with the complete lack of screen time options here. With the little ones often all they need is a chance to choose their walking partner, or the destination, or even just carry a stick or leaf to make walking an enjoyable activity.

Winter tends to be the biggest obstacle that limits the distance of our walks. Even experienced walkers sometimes struggle with winter conditions. Slippery ice, deep snow, cold wind gusts and bulky winter clothing can be frustrating so we don’t often go on very long winter walks.

However, even in winter we do play outside every day so at minimum we walk around the short block from the front entrance to the back yard. The side yard and back entrance are not childcare areas and that makes them more difficult routes than the familiar walk around the block.

This past summer/fall was one of the few years that it wasn’t the weather that made walking difficult. Baby One did not like to take more than about 10, very slow, consecutive steps without being picked up and carried – but not for more than a minute before demanding to be given the opportunity to take a few more independent steps. They did like long stroller rides and that was fine until Baby Two – an accomplished hiker – decided it was not fair that Baby One got to ride. *sigh*

I do have two little strollers but I can’t push both of them at the same time or push one while carrying a baby. Some of the school-age don’t mind pushing a stroller but when they are in school they are not available to help. Besides, if the older children do not enjoy the additional responsibility it could ultimately lessen their desire to walk and we don’t want that.

I have discovered that often it is easier/quicker/better to just leave the stroller(s) and take the chance that I may have to carry TWO babies if they both decide to quit walking. Someone suggested I should get a double stroller but I am stubborn, haven’t needed a double stroller in 23 years – not going to concede defeat now. Besides, the gym is closed and I need a workout.

The short block hike from the front door to the back yard is my physical limit for carrying two babies – but with the addition of slippery snowsuits it is extremely difficult. The three older preschoolers have threatened to mutiny if we have to walk super slow baby speed – all the time. They have also lamented that they miss the longer walks.

So, I compromised and bought a sled – the heavy duty cargo kind with high sides. The babies love it. The three older ones have been so excited about not being limited by baby steps they have demanded some longer walks. In fact, with all their pent up energy their 1-2 km winter (actually fall with snow) ‘walks’ are really runs. Great – more non-gym workouts for me to keep up with energetic preschool pace-setters while pulling babies in the sled.

Sadly, most of our early snow has melted away so we are back to walking slow again until we get some more snow for the sled. Interestingly though, Baby Two has decided they don’t need to be carried any more so we’ve managed to take a couple slightly longer walks without the sled and only one baby to carry.

Maybe I didn’t need to compromise after all – I just needed to wait a little bit longer for this particular group to find a balance that works for all of them – together. I bet by Spring even Baby One will be itching to walk independently on a long walk too – they just need a little more confidence and the opportunity to discover how fun it can be.

The Scary Pumpkin

We go outside to play every day after morning snack. This is our routine in all seasons. As the children finish eating I start sending the more independent ones to begin dressing to go outside. I finish cleaning up snack dishes and then bring the little ones to get dressed.

On this particular day, as I was cleaning off the table I was listening to the three year olds chatting as they put on their coats and boots. They were discussing the ‘scary pumpkin’ – I assumed they were talking about the jack-o-lanterns we see in neighbours’ yards when we are walking around the block.

However, I was a little confused when I heard them asked each other “Why did Cheryl put the scary pumpkin up there? ”

I didn’t put up any Halloween decorations this year. I do have some autumn/fall decorations at the front entrance including a pumpkin with a face but I wouldn’t consider it ‘scary’. Besides, it has been there for almost two months already – not likely to be something new to discuss.

I finished cleaning up and took the little ones to the entrance to get dressed. I asked the three year olds why they thought that pumpkin was scary. They corrected me “Not that pumpkin, the one up there” pointing to the ceiling in the hallway.

Whoa! That is…pretty cool actually.

I can’t take any credit for putting the ‘pumpkin’ there though. All the ‘pieces’ have been there for years – the Welcome wreath hung on the front of the cats’ loft and the little red tent in the loft where Montgomery likes to sleep.

At this particular moment however, the sun beam coming in through the stairway window is shining directly into the tent behind the Welcome wreath. A combination we haven’t noticed before – or since. The location of the sun in the sky at this time of the season, following the recent time change – that is what created the conditions for this to occur at the moment we were getting ready to go outside to play.

Yes, a very cool, not-so-scary ‘pumpkin’ – and some very observant three year olds.

Paper Towels

Around here we wash our hands a lot – before and after every meal/snack, after diaper changes/bathroom breaks, after outdoor play, after crafts/sensory play activities and more. We’ve been doing this since the first day I opened my childcare home. Even before the babies can stand on their own I hold them and help them to wash their hands – teaching them all the steps until they can do it on their own. It becomes a habit – a good habit.

The children are also not allowed to share hand towels when drying their hands. Early in my career I briefly used small cloths for drying hands – single use, one per child after every hand washing and laundered daily. Even with my small group of children it was a lot of laundry. It didn’t take long for me to switch to single use paper towels.

For more than twenty years now we have used paper towels to dry our hands. They were convenient and with the dispensers they were easy for even the littlest ones to use independently. The monetary cost wasn’t unbearable but the environmentalist in me sometimes wondered if there was a better option.

As long as we used a separate bin for used paper towels I could put them in my composter but especially during the winter we would run out of room for them. Around here the only bin that never gets very full is the garbage bin – other than diapers and cat litter almost everything else gets recycled, reused or composted.

When the children crumpled their paper towel in a ball before trying to dry their hands we’d do ‘science’ experiments to show how much more effective they were when they were flat as opposed to balled up. I found it particularly frustrating when the older children would quickly yank three or four paper towels from the dispenser, fold them in half, toss them in the bin and then wipe their hands dry on their clothes. Ugh! Seriously – WHY?

Sometimes I’d see whole stacks of unused paper towels in the bin because they just fell out of the dispenser and someone decided to toss them instead of reloading. A few years ago I doubled the size of my composter but we still don’t have enough room for all those paper towels which take up more space than all our food scraps.

I contemplated going back to using cloths and doing laundry but decided against it. Instead I started researching commercial air hand dryers and discovered that there were many compact affordable options available. In fact, some were smaller than the paper towel dispensers and cost less than a one year supply of paper towels!

A month ago I bought two – one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen. I should have done this years ago! We are loving the hand dryers.

Except every once in a while when I hear a dryer running longer than necessary and find a child huddled underneath it. *sigh* ‘If you are cold we can get you a sweater.

Recipe Requests

After my last post about our new menu there were a few requests to post some recipes – an easy post but it still took me a month to get around to it. I think my increased procrastination may be due in part to my lack of early morning trips to the gym. I miss those 4 AM workouts that were always a great way to get energized for a productive day.

The first request was for ‘Texas Hash’ which was pictured in my last post. I rarely measure anything so all my recipe amounts are only approximations. I also buy a lot of things in bulk when they are on sale and I have time to cook and package them in meal sized portions. I always have a variety of cooked meats in my freezer ready to add to casseroles, stir fry’s, sauces etc so this step is not in most of my recipes.

Texas Hash

Dice 2 large onions and 5 green/red peppers, cook until tender.  Add 1 can tomato sauce/puree/soup (roughly 300 ml?), 1 lb cooked ground meat/soy protein, 1 cup frozen corn, and 3 Tbsp taco seasoning.  Simmer until heated through.  Cook 2 cups rice (I use brown jasmine or basmati) in 4 cups water and then add to warm sauce mixture.  Serve now or put in casserole dish to keep warm or reheat later. Pictured below: first just sauce mixture before rice added and second plated with jasmine rice added (sorry, blurry pic). Note: I rarely use beef, usually soy protein of pork.

Meatloaf

In a large bowl soak corn meal in milk (I’m guessing 1/2 – 3/4 cup of each but I have never measured it). Add 1 pkg onion soup mix, 1 egg, salt, and 1 tsp of liquid smoke. Mix. Add 3 kg ground pork (I buy the chub pack from Costco). Mix well and press in to 9×13 pan. Bake in 325F oven for roughly 90 min until centre tests to 74C. I cut the cooled slab into three 9×4 inch ‘loaves’ and package for the freezer until needed.

The New Menu

As stated on my Menu & Recipe page; ‘We have a four week revolving menu. Occasionally I make changes the lunch menu due to the likes and dislikes of the children in care.’

When I make changes to the menu it is usually only one or two items that either the majority of the children dislike or have grown tired of. Sometimes, about every two or three years, I do a complete overhaul of the menu and try a bunch of new recipes.

One of the things I did during the low attendance/quiet period this past spring was to go through all my recipes and pick some new ones that I wanted to add to the menu. Possibly the biggest change I made to the menu was moving Sandwich Day to Wednesday instead of Tuesday but only one of the currently enrolled children seemed to really notice that change.

There were just three lunches that I left on the menu as I feared there may be a riot if I removed them. ‘Taco Pie’, ‘French Toast with Applesauce’, and ‘Fries with Meatloaf’. The children might actually prefer that I paired the meatloaf with something other than fries – for that meal it is the meatloaf they want, not the fries. I still struggle to find potato dishes that the children will eat. Read more about that here.

The completely new four week menu was introduced beginning on the week of June 8th as most of the children were returning. In retrospect I probably should have waited a little longer. My preschoolers may have actually preferred to have some familiar lunches after being away for two months. Also, the school-age children were attending full days now and are generally far more picky eaters than any of my preschoolers – their behavior greatly influences the little ones.

For the first four weeks each day was the same – all the children sitting around the table looking at each other, occasionally poking at or nibbling their food but no one willing to actually take the first real bite. I was eating my food – I always sit with the children and eat the same food that I serve them – modeling. This is the reason the little ones are generally willing to try new things but that strategy is less effective with the older children who have well developed preferences.

Interestingly there were more vegetables eaten during that first menu period – vegetables were familiar – not like the unknown main course menu items. Even once I told them what all the ingredients were they were still hesitant to try the new foods. I found it amusing that one of the school age children, striving to be a good role model for the little ones, would rave about how great the day’s lunch was going to be but would still refuse to eat any citing “I’m just not hungry right now”. LOL – translate to “I only eat sugar”.

The second round of the new menu was slightly more successful. Most of the children at least tried the new items but were still too unsure to have seconds. I was beginning to doubt some of my menu choices – I was finding some of the new recipes a bit too labour intensive. I missed some of my favourites from the old menu. If there was going to be a lot of leftovers I wanted it to be something I really enjoyed 😉

Still, I persevered and the third time the new menu was offered almost all of the children were eating the majority of the meals. Some were consistently asking for seconds. However there were still a few lunches that most of the children were not enthused by and were reluctant to eat. I was a little perplexed by some of the less popular meals – like grilled cheese sandwiches.

Seriously – it has been at least 10 years since the last time I had grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu and the reason I took it off was because it took too long to make enough – we could easily consume 18 or more at lunch – and it is not a menu item that is nice to make ahead and reheat. Yet this group was unimpressed by grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, a total of FIVE sandwiches was most this group of eight children managed to eat in one meal. Some don’t like cheese, some don’t like bread, some don’t like cooked sandwiches. *sigh*

We are now midway through the fourth go-round for this new menu and there are some emerging favourites. There are also some items that continue to be unpopular and may be replaced once I am certain that the majority of the children consistently refuse to eat them. I can’t automatically assume that they don’t like a menu item when it is not a familiar food.

I won’t force them to eat things they don’t want but I also won’t offer them an alternate food item when they refuse to eat what is on their plate. Sometimes they may be too tired, grumpy, or just not hungry – I won’t assume they really don’t like a specific food until it has been offered multiple times and in various forms. Favourite foods are familiar foods.

Texas Hash is one of the emerging favourites.

Changing

I’ve been neglecting my website – haven’t written a blog post in almost three months!

This pandemic has brought many changes. For me personally most of these changes have had very little negative impact. I don’t like crowds, concerts, festivals, sports, traveling etc so these limits/closures haven’t bothered me but I understand many people have been greatly impacted.

Line-ups for the grocery store and empty shelves were a bit of an annoyance but nothing I couldn’t adapt to. I’ve always been a borderline hoarder – I have three freezers and two pantries to store all the stuff I stock up on when things are on sale. Still, there were a few items that even I ran out of and had difficulty finding and the increased costs have been rough on my budget.

Luckily my hoarding tendencies apply to my bank account as well – I’ve been called a miser – so my lowered income level wasn’t a disaster. I could still feed my family and pay my bills. Yet honestly, when CERB was announced I did fantasize about what I could do with even a one month paid vacation. I haven’t had a paid vacation in….my entire life! It was just a fantasy though as I didn’t qualify for CERB.

I did have two months of low attendance – which means lower income for the same 11 hour work day. Same number of meals and activities to plan, same amount of supervision, just slightly less busy throughout the day – and that for me is a negative. I would have much preferred either the, sometimes hectic, excitement of having everyone here or having no children here and uninterrupted time to tackle some other projects.

However, knowing that I would have low attendance for an extended period of time did allow me to make some changes. I was able to close some play spaces temporarily – I still had to wait until the children were gone before I could do any of the rearranging, demolition, or construction but I didn’t have to finish the project before they returned. Even with some ‘off limits’ areas there was still enough play space available for the number of children attending.

Work on the loft was the big project I had originally planned to tackle on my summer vacation but instead I was able to break the project down into smaller phases which I could then complete over several weekends in April and May. The finished play space looks like this;

Open gate between main play room and art/dining area with new table (previous post) and reorganized shelves.
Rearranged housekeeping/store area under new loft.
Entrance to housekeeping/store area, side view of loft stairs, animal/nature shelves.
View inside housekeeping/store area and stairs to the loft.
Looking North in the new loft – two separate areas, one for block play, one for doll house
South view from loft block area into doll house area.
Wide view of West side of playroom including entire loft and entrance to quiet/relaxation space.

I’ve had all eight children here full days for the past three months – the longest I’ve ever had all my school-age spaces full. I decided not to close for a summer vacation this year because the need for summer care was so high and I had already finished my summer projects. It has been an amazing summer – we’ve really enjoyed the new spaces during the limited time we’ve used them.

Really, 6:30 – 8:30 AM is our longest indoor play period. Otherwise the majority of our day has been spent outside. In fact, the reason I haven’t been writing is mostly due to long periods outside, away from my computer – trying not to obsess about what the government has done to childcare in Manitoba.

Spending plenty of time outside is nothing new for us – if the pandemic had restricted our outdoor time we would definitely have struggled – even with our new indoor play spaces. September will bring more changes. The school-age children will be leaving again – we will miss having them here all day. We hope they will still get to spend plenty of time outside – even in the winter. We may not be outside all day in the winter but we will still be outside several hours every day – and loving it.

Change isn’t always easy – sometimes it seems like an insurmountable challenge. We’ve faced it before and we’ll do it again. The unknown factors may be scary but we’ll figure it out.

Adventures in Family Childcare

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