Tag Archives: Family Childcare

The Snowball Effect

First, a bit of history…

I have four large outdoor lounger cushions. I bought them many years ago at an end-of-season clearance sale – the discounted price meant I got all four of them for less than the cost of just one toddler cot so I couldn’t resist. I briefly used them for napping children – they are thicker, wider and longer than other nap mats. They are very comfortable but also very heavy and cumbersome to set up and put away for daily naptime and take up a lot of space so I ended up getting more cots for naps indoors.

The fabric on the lounger cushions is intended for outdoor use so that is where we used them most – for napping or relaxing in tents or on the deck etc. When not in use they were stored in bags in the big shed. During the Vacation 2019 renovation, ‘Frankenshed’ was disassembled and the new toy storage shed was too small to store the large cushions so they were brought back inside and again stored with the other cots and bedding.

The small room off the main playroom is used for napping infants and storage of cots, bedding, books, and bulky items I don’t want to haul down to the basement storage area. This area is still sometimes referred to as the ‘Nature Area’ because I left the trees in there from when this used to be a play area – written about in the Nature Area and the Quiet Space posts.

Now, this is when the snowball began to form…

I recently wanted to use the big cushions for a toddler activity, but found it was very inconvenient to get them off the shelves behind the tree branches. I decided that on the upcoming long weekend I should move the trees into the main playroom. Afterall, though it did look nice having the tree branches forming a canopy over the cribs, it would be wonderful if the trees were in the playroom where everyone could enjoy them.

So, I started looking for the best place to mount the trees in the playroom…and decided that I would first need to move the toy food counter…which then meant I would need to change the block storage area. *sigh* The list of necessary changes continued to grow and after thirty plus hours of demo, rearranging, building and organizing the playroom has been mostly ‘prepped’ for the arrival of the trees but, even with a three-day weekend, there wasn’t enough time to actually move the trees.

I am pleased with the new arrangement – so far – and the children seemed to like it too. All of the children in the current group have only ever seen the trees as decorations in the nap area – never as part of the play space. They are familiar with having other things in the play environment change but probably don’t realize these trees can be relocated. I am certain they will be excited when I manage to complete the project – and with the cushion activity too whenever I get around to that.

There are still a few more little tasks to complete before the trees get moved but hopefully that will be done this weekend. The snowball forming now it the growing list of paperwork that I should be doing 🙂

Summer Recap part 2

In my last post I covered some of the changes I had made to our outdoor play area. I mentioned that I had built a new roof over the little house in the corner of the yard and that moving the bus benches here made this a favourite sit spot all summer. However, I did not have a picture to include in my last post – but I do now;

I also promised to write more about some of our summer activities so that is what this post is for. Although International Mud Day occurs before my summer vacation, I never write about it until after. I didn’t write a dedicated ‘Mud Day 2022’ post but I can’t have a summer activities post without at least a couple mud day photos. This particular group was highly motivated to wash muddy toys so much of the activity was ‘mud on, mud off, repeat’.

Children playing in pool of mud
Children playing in mud and washing toys

The building area of the yard was popular all summer – surprisingly more popular than the water area or the climbing wall. Often, we had all eight of the children wanting to play here at the same time though they still preferred to create separate small ‘homes’ in a ‘town’ rather than work together on a single, large structure like other groups have in the past.

Children building structures with loose parts

The gravel/digging area, of course, was always popular though usually only for smaller groups at one time. It was interesting to note that, no matter what the activity was, these two were always choosing to play together. The oldest and the youngest in the group – nine years difference in age – but they played so well together all summer. Observing friendships like this is one of the things I like best about having a mixed age group.

Children pouring gravel in a tube

We also started a collection of ‘nature stuff’ to use to make mandalas. Some of the children only liked the ‘collecting’ part, others preferred simply sorting the items that were collected on our walks. Only a few actually seemed to enjoy creating the mandalas though.

Children creating mandalas with items from nature

As usual, we went to parks almost every day to play tag or other group activities that require a big open space that we can’t do in my yard. I almost never take the children to playstructures but we do love the climbers they have at St John’s Park.

Children climbing poles
Child climbing rock
children on monkeybars

Whenever the basketball court was empty, the children always wanted to play line tag.

Children running on outdoor basketball court

Some of the children tried cutting tree cookies. Even though we only used small branches this was a surprisingly difficult/time consuming activity. The children who were persistent enough to cut all the way through were very proud of their achievement – so was I 🙂

Preschool child using hand saw to cut branch

Fantastic Summer!

Things I Should Have Said

It has been far too long since I wrote a blog post about anything. I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by tasks I’ve committed myself to complete for other people. Since all of these ‘other’ things have had a screen time component, I’ve been putting all my own screen time stuff on hold.

I like working on blog posts but there is only so much sitting/screen time I can handle – honestly, I’d just die if I had to work in an office every day, I’d rather clean bathrooms than sit at a desk even if the paper/computer work was interesting. Some of the other projects are very interesting, even quite exciting, but the time commitment is daunting.

Also note, it isn’t just the screen time that prevents me from doing office work. If I have to talk on the phone then I must also be pacing or doing laps in order to maintain some type of focus on what the caller is saying. There is a strong possibility that I will see an interesting nature thing through a window and completely block out anything the caller is saying. They would be completely unaware that I had mentally left the conversation. Please don’t phone me with important info.

Back on topic…

Most blog posts don’t actually take a lot of time but some of the other projects I’ve committed myself to do are very time consuming. So, as these other projects have deadlines, I’ve felt a little guilty if I ‘wasted’ any stationary time working on my ‘fun’ computer activities when I had time sensitive commitments. The fun vs work turmoil has made me avoid most computer activities even when I probably had the time.

I finally managed to eliminate some of these ‘other’ things so I’m going to catch up on a few of our past activities I would have/should have written posts about. First up – the bannock we cooked over the fire during spring break – yes, almost five months ago.

Having campfires with babies is tricky which is why we usually only manage them during winter break when my husband is off work and can tend to the fire while I watch babies. I’ve written about some past campfire cooking in 2017 and 2020. This year, spring was so late that spring break was more like winter so we had winter type activities instead.

With three mobile babies I didn’t think there was any safe place to put a fire pit in the yard so we just used the wok in the parking area. The babies and I could see, and smell the yumminess safely and the older children were trustworthy enough to be outside the yard fence with my husband tending the fire.

We had a little trouble getting the strips of bannock dough to stay wrapped on the metal skewers (branches would work better but I don’t trust the sticks we collect in the city due to chemicals etc.). It was taking a long time to cook the bannock when we had to keep taking them out of the fire to rewrap. Putting multiple strips of bannock in hotdog roasters was much easier and faster – we had a lot of dough to cook!

The babies waited eagerly by the gate every time I went outside the fence to take a few pictures and get some of the cooked bannock. Getting back in was challenging as all the babies crowded around my legs with their mouths wide open like little baby birds waiting for morsels of tasty bannock. They couldn’t get enough – ate more than all the bigger children who preferred cooking over eating.

The bannock cooked in the hotdog roasters did look rather unappealing – several comments were made about ‘dog turds’ – but it tasted wonderful! The little nuggets were actually perfect bite-sized pieces for easy snacking.

It was a great spring break activity though on subsequent walks there were a few extra reminders that we never pickup anything from the ground when we are out for a walk – even if it looks like bannock.

Winter Yard 3

I was excitedly anticipating winter this year – every year actually, but this year in particular. We loved all the little play areas that were created during my 2021 yard renovation. Sure there were a lot of fun things to do here in the warmer weather but, when I first designed the plan for the play spaces in the backyard, I was actually also considering how we would use it in the winter.

We love snow – climbing on snow piles, digging tunnels and dens, building with ice and snow. I’ve written posts about our winter yard in 2016 and 2019. Sometimes though, we have had issues with the ‘climbers’ wrecking the towers built by the ‘builders’ or the ‘diggers’ destroying the mountains created for the ‘climbers’ etc. Sure, problem solving and dealing with social disputes are important skills but sometimes we just want to engage in our favorite activity – uninterrupted by those who prefer different activities.

The yard renovation provided an active play area with swings, pathways, stumps and logs perfect for the climbers and jumpers – and also for creating pathways around mountains of snow. The yard renovation had a separated area for digging in gravel – or snow – and a large building area with plenty of loose parts – or ice blocks and snow. The plan was to allow space for longer term/larger building projects without infringing on the needs of the climbers and the diggers.

We have a different problem now though – there is too much snow. For the past several years we’ve thought there wasn’t enough snow and we spent more time hiking to parks etc looking for spaces with more snow. I think the last time I complained about too much snow was in 2014. However, in 2013 I wrote about a year we had the perfect amount of snow for that yard configuration and the group of children enrolled at that time.

I first started writing this post – and took the pictures – in January and we have received a lot more snow since then *sigh* I have no desire to take updated photos before I publish this post so these older pictures will have to do. In the active play area we have two climbing hills and over 100 feet of ‘hiking’ trails around all the snow hills and other structures.

OK, in the picture the ‘mountains’ don’t look huge but they have been packed solid by the climbers. I can’t make them any taller because they can’t go any wider. Besides, when the preschoolers stand on the snow hill under the arbour they can touch the beams the swings hang from in the summer. I usually need a step stool to hang the swings – now the beams are at my shoulder height. The problem is that the ‘pathways’ between the hills are actually almost 18 inches high. I haven’t had enough time to clear all the pathways between snow falls this year.

The picture above shows the bench the babies usually hold on to when they reach up to spin the wheels on the fence. The wheels are now baby hip height and that snow pile in the back is NOT for climbing on. It is on the area of the deck I usually keep clear so the babies have a flat space to practice walking in heavy boots. Besides, if you climb over that hill you will be in the neighbour’s yard.

Above – another view of the pathway between the climbing hills to the gate and beyond – to what should be the digging area. It is downhill all the way from the back door to the gate now – though in the summer it is slightly uphill. Below is the gate to the toy shed and garden area.

Note: as part of my summer renovation I changed the hinge point of this gate – it used to open inward which had posed a problem because I couldn’t open it to clear the snow to the shed. Now it opens outward and although I’ve cleared a path to the gate I’ve given up trying to clear a path beyond it and can no longer get to the shed. I have managed to keep one half of the compost bin clear enough that I can partially open the lid and dump the compost pail when it is full.

I’ve only managed to clear less than a quarter of the building area but not all the way down to the rubber mat.

I made dozens of coloured ice blocks for winter construction projects – we found a few to include in this photo but the rest are buried too deep. The recent snowfalls have hidden these ones now also. All of the ‘convenient’ storage bins full of wood and loose parts for building are not accessible now either. No one has any interest in building anything here – barely enough space to sit – and don’t stand up or you’ll be stabbed by a tree branch.

I do love the trail to the digging area, past the cedars and into the little house in the back corner of the yard.

That area on the right is the digging area – I don’t clear that area. I figured the diggers would like to do that – but they can’t find the shovels…or sticks…or buckets…or even the table or anything else other than snow.

Arriving at the entrance to the little house is like finding a secret little hideaway.

It is so peaceful and sheltered inside the little house. I’ve tried to persuade the babies this is a great place to sit and play – no wind, little snow, level ground – but they don’t seem to like it when I bring them in here.

I think maybe they feel trapped when we sit inside the little house. If they have to be outdoors they would rather just sit in the sled – I’d prefer if they were more active – you will be warmer if you keep moving. To them, from this viewpoint it probably seems like a very long, arduous journey to get back indoors where all the bulky outerwear is unnecessary.

When I took this photo there were infants and preschoolers playing in the yard between me and the house but I can’t see them. You know what would be fun in this yard – a game of hide and seek. I used to have a group that loved to play hide and seek all the time but there were no good hiding spaces in the yard at that time. Some of these children don’t like it if they can’t see me and the ones that like to hide are probably doing something I’ve asked them not too….

Yep, too much snow.

Indoor Exercise

We usually spend a lot of time outside so there is plenty of opportunity for the children to engage in active, gross motor play. During the long winter months our outdoor activity is occasionally limited by extreme weather conditions so I add some indoor physical activities like yoga, resistance band exercises and obstacle courses. I have a a bosu ball, a small balance beam, some balance pods and tunnels that can be used to enhance these activities but outdoors remains the preferred space for gross motor play.

Summer 2021 was a particularly active period as I temporarily used preschool spaces for some additional school age children. Having a group of older children meant our schedule was more flexible – we could go on longer outings and more organized group games/activities were possible. However, in the fall when the older children all returned to school I enrolled three new infants which resulted in a drastic change to our schedule.

We still had some long periods of outdoor time in the fall but I was a little concerned that by winter the two remaining older preschoolers may not be able to get as much outdoor play/exercise as they were accustomed to. It was a bit of an impulse purchase when I stumbled across an ad for this Swedish ladder/stall bar/jungle gym/exercise wall – and I had the perfect space to install it too.

Of course the children’s initial excitement about the ‘indoor play structure’ was anticipation for somewhat reckless behaviours that I wouldn’t let them do indoors – news flash – still can’t. The various activities were introduced gradually so it wasn’t overwhelming and we could discuss the necessary safety rules.

They soon discovered that using the monkey bars, rings, ladder and climbing rope were not easy activities. They needed to develop more skills before they would be able to get far on these. Even the school age children were surprised at how difficult it is to use only strength without the assistance of momentum like they could on a large outdoor play structure.

Luckily the stall bar allows us to do strength and flexibility exercises any time throughout the day without the extra time to set up the fall mats and other equipment. The children and I have done strength training exercises with resistance bands in the past.

However, we’ve had some limitations on which exercises we could do because we had very few anchor points available and the children are different sizes. The stall bar provides various anchor points for the resistance bands so it is easy to switch from one exercise to another and to adapt the exercise to the height of each child.

They are very interested in watching their reflection in the mirror and sometimes have difficulty focusing on the actual exercise because there is so much giggling. The infatuation with the mirror reminds me of some of the guys I’ve seen at the gym – hilarious!

This handstand backwards walk up and down the stall bar is definitely one of their favourite activities – and it is so great for the vestibular and proprioceptive systems 🙂

Another favourite exercise is the leg raises – great for core strength!

There are bars low enough for the toddlers to use if they want to try and high enough for me to use to demonstrate the exercises. The system is strong enough to support my adult son doing pull-ups from the top bar – I can’t reach the top bar without a stool, nor can I do a pull up LOL.

Stretches are popular too. I model stretches often during the day especially after spending prolonged periods sitting on the floor with the children or carrying cranky babies.

We use a minute timer for our stretches. It is so rewarding when after practicing the same stretches every day the children go from ‘It is too hard, I can’t do it’ to ‘What!? That was a minute already?’ when the timer beeps. They also realize that if they stretch on an ‘easy’ bar for a minute first, then they can sometimes reach a higher bar afterwards – one that was not initially possible.

We discuss the importance of choosing the bar height that is an appropriate stretch for you – not competing with others. Someone who is tall may not be as flexible as someone who is shorter so their height does not necessarily determine which bar they use. There are not many of us that can naturally do this;

When I first installed the stall bar I was a little apprehensive that I may need to be constantly redirecting children who tried to climb the wall – and I really prefer indirect guidance so I worried I may be setting them up for failure. I have been pleasantly surprised that it hasn’t been an issue.

Even the babies – who like to climb on the toys shelves – don’t climb the bars. Their favourite activity is rolling things down the ramp.

Sure, we still much prefer playing outdoors but this purchase has provided a lot of indoor fun too – and it doesn’t have a screen.

Three Things

I must say 2021 had its ups and downs but towards the end it really pushed my limits.

The first thing was the dishwasher. I know, dishwashers may be considered a luxury appliance more than a necessity for most people but the periods of time that I’ve been without a working dishwasher in my childcare home have proved to be difficult. I’ve replaced my dishwasher more times in my 25 year childcare career than all my other appliances combined. I will admit that I work them hard – running as many as three full loads per day.

My current dishwasher started acting up this past summer – occasionally it would leak, though not consistently. Sometimes it leaked immediately though sometimes I didn’t start leaking until it was more than an hour through the cycle and it often went for weeks without leaking at all.

It wasn’t just ‘when’ it decided to leak that was inconsistent but also ‘where’ it decided to leak from. Sure, if it always leaked from the door I could assume it was the door seal and replacing the gasket would solve it – but the gasket looked fine. Sometimes the door seal would be completely dry but there would be a river flowing from under the dishwasher across the kitchen floor – or worse, a waterfall in the basement that was not noticeable from upstairs.

Then, in the fall It started intermittently sending codes that it was unable to reach temperature high enough to sanitize. Being able to use my dishwasher to sanitize dishes, and toys, is extremely important. So as ‘unable to sanitize’ warnings increased and the constant supervision required to watch for leaks I just decided to stop using it for anything more than a drying rack. I’ve ordered a new one, but it won’t be here until February. *sigh*

The second thing was the little stray cat. On November 12th, just after the first snowstorm, my husband called me from the back door to tell me there is a very upset kitten shivering in our yard. I was busy with the children but told him if he could get it into the cat carrier and put it in the basement I’d post a picture on the neighbourhood association site to see if anyone in the area had lost it.

Working together my husband and son were able to contain the very upset kitten. No one in the neighbourhood claimed it though others in the area reported having seen it around for a month or more. It was terrified and starving, I could feel all its bones but it just curled, motionless, in a tight little ball when touched. I made a makeshift kennel for it in the basement so it could have a litter box and food dish but it still spent most of its time hiding at the back of the carrier.

I made several ‘ found cat’ reports and contacted shelters. No one had room for it – one suggested it sounded semi-feral and I should put it back outside. I certainly couldn’t do that, however, I also couldn’t have an unvaccinated cat around my cats or the children. I felt bad leaving it alone in the basement but at least it was warm, dry and had plenty of food which it devoured.

I knew it would have a better chance of settling down if it could at least see people and other cats so I took it to the vet. After two weeks of four meals a day ‘she’ now weighed 2.4 kg. ‘Beebe the basement cat’ was estimated to be 8 months old, now fully vaccinated, dewormed, tested FIV negative and cleared to be around people and other cats. She still only wanted to hide.

I had ordered a large three tiered kennel for her but the shipment was delayed. It the meantime I periodically brought her upstairs in the carrier for visits with us. She seemed to really enjoy watching TV and was extremely interested in anything on a plate – I was certain she had been in a home at some point in her past.

My two older cats were unimpressed by her presence but Montgomery absolutely loved her. He got so excited every time I brought the carrier up from the basement and sulked when I took it back down. Wherever Beebe was, Montgomery was as close as possible. Here they are enjoying the sunshine.

Beebe was not thrilled by all his attention and most definitely did not want to come out and play with him but she didn’t seem to mind the company if he remained calm. She also was becoming a little less timid – mewing from the basement when she heard me get up in the morning. Watching me prepare her food but running back to hide in the carrier when I got close.

Once the big kennel arrived she did seem a little more relaxed. Accepting pets and offering head butts through the bars as long as there was a barrier between us. Outside the kennel she was still very stressed. The kennel could be moved easily to various places on the main floor so she could enjoy the sunshine, watch the children play, or have some quiet time.

On December 23rd she went to the vet to be spayed. Initially still groggy when she came ‘home’ she did eat and move around. The following day she seemed a little less active but ate her food and used the litter box. She was alert and greeted me with head butts on Christmas morning but refused to eat. She deteriorated rapidly throughout the day and in the evening we took her to the emergency animal hospital. She was in respiratory distress and had arrhythmia. Sadly, euthanasia was the best option. RIP my poor little Beebe. – such a short hard life.

The third thing – day three of my four day Christmas break I was notified that I was a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid 19. As a precaution I decided to close for the three days between the Christmas long weekend and the New Year’s long weekend to give myself a 10 day isolation period and protect the children in my care. I am fully vaccinated and have now tested negative so it probably wasn’t entirely necessary.

Still, as 2022 begins I am happy to report that I am off to a great start. I’ve got almost all of my year end paperwork done already – it is usually March before I do that. I have completely cleaned and reorganized the basement – that has been on my ‘to do’ list for a very long time.

I am getting used to this handwashing all the dishes thing. Yes, there will be a lot more dishes once the children return, but I know the new dishwasher is coming so the extra work is temporary.

I have an empty cat kennel. I considered donating it to a shelter but then also thought it may be good to hold on to in case another stray cat in need shows up on my doorstep. I’m even contemplating possibly fostering cats/kittens – could risk becoming the crazy cat lady 🙂

Apple Burgers

One of my childcare families asked for this recipe recently and I replied that it was ‘on the list of future posts’. I actually have a list of blog posts waiting to be written…lack of post ideas is not the reason for the long periods of time between posts. Sometimes I just need a a nudge to move a post to the top of the list and get busy writing.

As I mentioned in my last post, this past summer we didn’t follow our regular four-week-revolving menu. Instead, I had made a list – yes, another list – of new recipes I would like to try without necessarily adding them to our regular menu. Apple Burgers were one of the new recipes that the children requested multiple times over the summer and asked to have added to the regular menu permanently.

In the spring, when I first started going through my recipe books to make the ‘new recipes’ list, I almost skipped reading the Apple Burger recipe…again. I say ‘again’ because all my recipe books are more than 20 years old, some may even be older than me. There are no pages in any of my recipe books that I have never looked at but there are definitely recipes that I have not read past the title.

Apple Burgers fell into the ‘skipped’ list because I don’t generally like apples. I mean, I won’t entirely refuse to eat them – like seafood (gag) – but anything apple would be near the bottom of a list. Like on my ‘pie list’ all other fruit pies and most meat/veggie pies would be ahead of apple pie. So, my initial response to reading the title ‘Apple Burgers’ would be ‘eww, why wreck a burger by putting apple on it’ and I would turn the page.

However, this time I read it – after all, I was looking for recipes for lunches for the children and even most of the picky eaters will eat apples. I discovered that ‘Apple Burgers’ are really just chicken/turkey burgers with applesauce in them. MMmmm, chicken and turkey are pretty high up on my list so Apple Burgers got added to the summer recipes to try list.

Now, I will first post the recipe ingredient list as it was originally written with the usual disclaimer that I have NEVER followed a recipe without modifying it. Then I’ll try to guess at what I really did since I don’t measure ingredients.

Apple Burgers
  • 1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 tbsp chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp chopped red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

After reading the original recipe my first thoughts were; 1) the children will not even try these if they see a piece of onion or red pepper, 2) there is not nearly enough seasoning/flavor, and 3) why is there no egg or breadcrumbs?

So, when I made them I added the things I thought were missing – and I have done it differently each time I have made them so I don’t really have a ‘recipe’. Seriously, I just play with food like the children mixing potions with loose parts…as long as it is edible I’ll consider throwing it in a ‘recipe’. Also note, I am cooking for a big group so I usually start with double the above recipe. These are some of the other modifications I have made.

First, I add a lot more seasoning. I have dried vegetable seasoning (onion, peppers, garlic) that I add to things like scrambled eggs or herb bread etc when I want the flavour but not the chunks or moisture from chopped or pureed onions and peppers. I have used the dried vegetable seasoning in these burgers and I have also used oregano, thyme, rosemary – total of probably at least two or more tablespoons of various dried seasonings. Sometimes I add bacon bits, soya sauce, BBQ sauce, or Thai sweet chili sauce.

Second, I add an egg and some cornmeal/oatmeal/breadcrumbs. Actually, never breadcrumbs, I don’t buy or make breadcrumbs but they would work too. I usually add cornmeal to all my ground meat loaves/balls/burgers. Sometimes I use oatmeal though I put it in the food processor first because I only buy whole oats and they would make the burgers chunky if I didn’t grind up a bit it first. If I am adding pureed onions and peppers I will put the oatmeal in the food processor at the same time.

How much cornmeal/oatmeal? I have no idea, I just dump it in straight from the bag, maybe a cup? Normally I would add enough to enable me to handle the mixture and form patties but honestly every time I have made these I feel like I’m adding way too much filler and they have still been too wet to handle. I have spooned the mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet like a drop cookie, shaped them a bit and then baked them. I usually get 16 smallish patties out of a recipe starting with 2 lbs ground chicken.

The original recipe says to broil them 8 minutes per side until no longer pink. Hmpf – too wet to put on my broiler pan – would make rippled burgers LOL. I bake them for about 25-30 minutes at 375 F on my oven’s convection roast setting (400F on regular setting) flipping after about 15-20 minutes so they brown a bit on both sides. I always use a thermometer to ensure min internal temp of 165F/74C. They always set up very solid, never crumble so I don’t know why they are too wet to handle raw.

AAannnd – no picture. That is probably why I kept putting off writing this post. I have never remembered to take a picture of the Apple Burgers – too busy eating them. I let the children choose the condiments they want on their burgers. For me, it is mayonnaise and Thai sweet chili sauce for extra flavour 🙂

In lieu of an apple burger pic – here are some barbecued beef patties my husband cooked for me (I’m a little fearful of the gas BBQ thingy). I’m always sad when he doesn’t BBQ beef burgers ‘crispy’ enough for me so he cooked these ones special just the way I like them…

A Variation

I didn’t manage to write any posts about our activities this summer. Additional screen time from virtual meetings may have been a factor that deterred me from computer related activities like paper work and post writing. My preference for spending time outdoors over indoors was definitely a factor too, but that is nothing new. Probably the main reason I didn’t find time to write was due to our schedule and some of the changes I made to it.

This summer was different than usual because I had a much older group of children. All my part time ‘inservice day only’ school-age children needed summer care and with some juggling of family vacation times I was able to accommodate everyone. I also chose to wait until fall to fill a vacant infant spot so, for the summer, that space could be used for a school-age child.

This unusual grouping meant that only one of my children was under four years old. It also meant I was busier than usual and there is oh so much TALKING. Transitions between indoors and out, play and meals, etc take soooo loonngg. Honestly, dressing five toddlers for winter play takes less time than getting seven 4-9 year olds to stay focused on what they need to do to get ready. So much time discussing/planning what they are going to do – please just do it!

I was expecting this – I had witnessed it on inservice days even when ALL of them were not here. The older ones tend to arrive later than the little ones – maybe because they are used to the later start of school classes or maybe because their parents face similar delays getting the out the door at home. I decided to make a few changes to our daily routine to lessen the delays.

Usually the little ones have been here for an hour or more already and it is almost morning snack time when the older children arrive. If I let them go play ‘for a few minutes’ until snack then we have a transition from arrival to playroom, a transition from playroom to snack, a transition to get ready to go outside – which will also require a bathroom break because the first two transitions and snack took an incredibly long time. It will be at least 10:00AM before we manage to get everyone out the door – no way I’m waiting that long before going outside to play in the summer!

So, I decided to make some adjustments to our (my) schedule and in order to do that I’d have to modify the menu. In past summers we have occasionally packed snack to take with us to have on a hike or at the park. On our regular menu not many of the morning snacks are portable so I created a special ‘summer’ menu in which all the morning snacks were portable. Our picnic bag was packed and ready before the older children arrived. The younger ones who arrived early had some indoor play time, bathroom break and were getting ready to go outside when the older ones arrived – also ready to go because they hadn’t actually come in.

That one schedule change meant we were heading out about 30 minutes ahead of our ‘normal’ schedule when I have only preschool children but up to 2 hours earlier than if I had let the older ones play indoors and have snack before going out. It also meant we got our walk, picnic snack and active play/tag/game time in the park early in the day before it got too hot. We still had time for lower energy, outdoor constructive and creative activities in the yard under the sunshade before lunch.

active play in the park

Since that schedule change required a modified morning snack menu, I decided to do a completely different ‘summer’ menu for lunches and afternoon snacks too. Even though I intended to ‘simplify’ the menu for summer, it turned out to be a very time consuming endeavor.

I involved the children in the menu planning with discussions on what they would like to have the following week. They were not very helpful. There were the some who loved everything and couldn’t decide and others who really would prefer only marshmallows and gummy bears. We did try a lot of new recipes – some of them were very popular and have been/will be added to our regular menu. I might have time to write a post about them sometime in the future.

However, there were many weekends when I was left scrambling because I had no idea what groceries I needed for the upcoming week because I still hadn’t completed writing the menu. Meal prep was also arduous as unfamiliar recipes required more time and thought even if the recipes were ‘simple’.

Nap/quiet time in the afternoon was shorter with mostly older children. I barely had time to clean up lunch and only very occasionally got to take a ‘break’ before it was time to get nap/quiet time stuff put away and start prepping afternoon snack. We had ‘refreshing’ afternoon snacks like frozen fruit smoothies or ice cream and berries before heading outside again until home time. Some days I didn’t sit down at all between 6AM and 6PM. When I did finally sit down, writing blog posts was the last thing on my mind.

The older children have all gone to school now. Our routine is changing again. We have welcomed two new infants into our group. The four-year-olds are adapting to their new role as the ‘big kids’ setting examples for the new ones. The former ‘baby’ of the group is now suddenly the ‘middle’ child. It has been surprisingly quiet – and I’m doing a lot more sitting because if I stand there will also be an expectation that I carry one, or more, of the children.

It is another variation – a new phase – in a mixed age group in family childcare.

Vacation 2021

I didn’t take vacation time in 2020 so this year I was really looking forward to the time off to complete some much needed projects. I had a total of 19 days this year and five projects planned. Only one of the projects was an indoor project – replace foam tiles on playroom floor. It had originally been on my list for 2020 but then – no vacation, no reno.

I have replaced the interlocking foam tiles many, many times as a weekend project because removing old worn tiles and installing new ones isn’t very difficult. However, this time it was going to take longer as I was NOT planning on adding more foam tiles because Montgomery eats them and I don’t need more vet bills.

This time I went with much more durable rubber gym flooring. Like the foam, it provides traction and sound dampening over the hardwood floor and is so much nicer for sitting or crawling on.

My second project was not a play space but it improved access. The front sidewalk was just off centre of the front yard – two fence panels on the West side of the walkway and one fence panel on the East. There were stepping stones from the sidewalk to the front steps and side gate both located on the East side of the yard.

Now all three fence panels are together and the sidewalk is located on the East side of the yard and leads directly to the front steps and back yard gate. Bonus result is I could also expand the native prairie garden into the space where the sidewalk had been. The opportunity to add garden space means this project was more ‘relaxing’ than actual work even though the temps were about 30C every day! Oh, and we also added a garden bench because we had some extra wood! Only needed to buy a little soil and mulch, otherwise everything for this project was recycled/reused so total cost under $100 🙂

The remaining three mini projects were all part of the full back yard renovation. The main purpose of which was to define the spaces better and improve storage for all the loose parts.

The picture below is from 2019 and shows the deep gravel ‘digging’ area on the right surrounded by stumps and the lower ‘building’ area on the left. I tried to keep the gravel in the building area level and packed – better for building on – but the children tended to dig here too, after all it was gravel.

The full back yard now looks like this (reverse viewpoint from above photo);

The logs, stumps, table, stepping stones, composter and main garden have not changed this year. The benches have been removed from the swing area, a new herb garden space was added and the mulch was replaced with turf tiles. Though part of the ‘master plan’ this project was actually completed on a weekend in the Spring prior to my vacation.

The first of the three backyard projects during my vacation was the loose parts storage wall between the gravel digging area and the new, larger building area with recycled rubber surfacing (and a carpet in case it gets too hot to sit on – though it is fully shaded). I kept the water area adjacent to the building area because the children LOVE building bridges.

There is so much more space for storing loose parts/building supplies and it is easier to access than the previous deep bins. I used pallets for the wall so more recycled wood!

Bigger items are still stored in some of the bins.

The other side of the pallet wall has new storage for the digging area which never used to have any loose parts or storage, just a few pails, pots and digging tools. Now there are so many more options.

Backyard project two was to replace the tipi – I know, everyone loved the tipi but its shape and placement were not very functional. I used the poles and covering to form a roof over the entire corner of the yard. It makes a larger ‘house’ and the tunnel was moved here too.

This is the view of the yard from inside the house;

The third backyard project is the new messy play area. Located inside the garden wall it is separate from the other areas. Made from reclaimed wood, tile samples, and a salvaged laundry sink, the total cost for this project was $0. We have not used it yet (only been one day), I don’t think any of the children even noticed it as they were so excited to explore all the other new spaces. Besides, I’m still collecting some containers of ‘ingredients’ for the children to use here but…soon…

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.