Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent week 1

Advent 2012: Week 1, Crystals and Stones

The first week of Advent in the Waldorf tradition is dedicated to the kingdom of minerals: crystals and stones. Likewise, our scripture lessons and verses for this week relate to this theme. The overall themes for advent - waiting and preparation, lighting the darkness, peace and the coming Christ-child - are present every week.
We light one candle shining bright 
Upon this Holy Advent night 
Fill Our Hearts with loving might 
Lead us to Christmas Day's brilliant light!
 - M.T. Shuneman

See my candle burning
With a golden light,
Shining from my window
Out into the night.
I can light a candle,
God can light a star;
Both of them are helpful,
Shining where they are.
 - Traditional

Scripture passages

Isaiah 28:16: So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.

Matthew 21:42: Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: " 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes' ?

1 Peter 2:4-9 : As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, " 8 and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Sunday evening story

Once upon a time, a tiny mouse asked a dove to tell him the weight of a snowflake.
“The weight of a snowflake is nothing more than nothing,” replied the dove.
“You would think so,” said the mouse, “but let me tell you a story. Last winter, I sat on a branch,
huddled close to the trunk of an evergreen tree, when it began to slow. IT was a gentle snow, and,
since I had nothing better to do, I began counting the snowflakes. One... two... three... on and on
they came, until they numbered 3, 567, 655. When the next snowflake dropped to the branch - nothing
more than nothing- the branch broke off.
The dove thought for a moment, and said, “Perhaps like that snowflake it will take just one
person’s voice to bring peace to the world.”

advent: preparation and wonder

One of the elements of Waldorf education that I quite appreciate is the importance of marking cultural festivals, days of social and even sacred significance. In the next post of my series on Waldorf in our home I'll be talking about this as I look at reverence in Waldorf living. What is notable is that, while Waldorf traditions are most definitely and undeniably Christian in origin, the traditions can be easily adapted to suit a home which is not Christian. Fortunately for us, these traditions align perfectly with our faith, so we have been happy to embrace all of the Christian elements of Waldorf traditions. Advent is a particularly emphasised season in the Waldorf year, and as I have been planning how our family will be marking the days of Advent I have considered how I can incorporate some Waldorf elements into our devotional.

Rudolph Steiner divided the four weeks of the Advent season into four themes. As the weeks progress, the complexity of the themes increases. The four weeks are ordered thus:

The first light of Advent is the light of stone–.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants–
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts–
All await the birth, from the greatest and in least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind–
The light of hope that we may learn to love and understand

With that in mind, this year our nightly Advent devotional will follow the theme of the week, using scripture passages that align with that theme. We'll also be creating an Advent display as we did last year, only this year using beads to represent the week's theme.

In keeping with the ideas of rhythm and predictability, we'll be using the same scripture readings, short song and rhymes Monday through Friday of the week. On Sunday - to begin the week - and on Saturday - to close it - we'll add a short story. We won't be engaging in a great deal of conversation about the evening's devotional, just a short check-in with Peanut about what she's hearing and what she may be thinking. She's so free with her thoughts, I'm sure she'll have lots to say. My aim is not to educate but to expose, to give our girls an experience of preparation and waiting, of wonder and amazement, and to simply see the advent and nativity stories expressed. In turn, I think Jon and I will have much to learn from them as they encounter the overriding themes of the season.

Our advent display for this year will hang suspended from the chandelier over our dining table. Wires will be hooked onto the five shades of the chandelier and the beads will be strung onto them. By Christmas morning, we will have a mutlicoloured bead star over our heads as we eat. I think it will be beautiful.

I'll be posting the readings for each week's devotional: just click the button in the sidebar to the left to access the weeks that have been posted. If you are looking for a way to mark the season with your family, I hope you'll feel free to use these posts to make your own season one of preparation and wonder.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


:: I was very surprised by the level of interest generated by my previous post, particularly with regard to what Waldorf living looks like. I had been planning to write a follow-up post, but I think I'm going to make it a three-part series: rhythm, reverence, and finally resources and fellows. First we're looking at rhythm, the manner in which the Waldorf life is ordered so as to lay the foundation for all learning. ::

Scarlet sings

Rhythm is a vital part of the Waldorf home. As a family that has been fairly "fly by the seat of our pants" for our entire parenting journey, this has proven a bit of a challenge, but also a delightful remedy to some of our struggles. Rather than focusing on structure, Waldorf focuses on rhythm and flow as well as intention, having a routine which is predictable and comfortable so as to provide familiarity and security for the child, while living with intention so that the elements of the day are part of a conscious decision for living. The rhythm fits the family, and not the other way around. I have only just started implementing an intentional rhythm for our days, and we're still pretty shaky on it, but the more we work at it, the better our days seem to proceed. I'm not putting too much pressure on us to get everything right and become The Ultimate Waldorf Family, but rather gradually move toward the kind of rhythm and home that is our goal.

painting day

Inspired by this post from Simple Kids, I've set aside each day for one particular creative activity to make that day remarkable. We already had a few established activities - Tuesday afternoon is dance class, Wednesday afternoons have a visit from Gran, Sunday church - but now we have something planned for each day. For now, the rhythm of our week looks like this:

Monday - baking
Tuesday - painting
Wednesday - crafts
Thursday - play dough
Friday - handwork
Saturday - park with Jon
Sunday - church
I didn't include colouring or reading because those are such daily, near-constant activities.

rhythm: painting

Each day has its own rhythm as well. Again, it isn't a schedule with set times, but rather a general flow to how the elements of the day proceed. Here's a very rough idea of how our days are proceeding:

Say good-bye to Jon
Make breakfast - girls play in the living room
Eat breakfast together
Clear the table
Wash dishes - girls are either still dressing themselves or playing together
Tidy the living room
Circle Time
Playing/reading stories/I might check my email/errands
Make lunch
Eat lunch together
Clear the table and wash dishes
Afternoon activity (baking/painting/crafts etc.)
Jon arrives home
Make dinner
Eat dinner together
Clear the table

Admittedly, the wheels tend to keep falling off around dinner time. Postponing starting dinner prep until after Jon arrives home is making dinner pretty late most evenings, and hungry children and the end of the day are a bad combination. It's something to work on, and I suspect the remedy is found in my crockpot.

So that's our daily and weekly rhythm. In the next post in this series, we'll look at the theme of reverence in the Waldorf home and how it relates to rhythm.

2012 December Photo Project

December Photo Project 2012

I'm in for another year! Daily photos posted here, on my Facebook page and on the DPP Facebook page. I hope you'll join me! 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

buckwheat pancakes made with love

When I first eliminated gluten, one of the first things I made was buckwheat pancakes. "Mmmm!" I commented to Jon. "Who needs gluten! These are great."

I was lying. They were terrible.

buckwheat pancakes

I made them three times and then gave up. I blamed buckwheat. "I hate buckwheat!" I thought to myself. I bought some bagged mix which made far better pancakes but was insanely expensive. Eventually, I abandoned pancakes altogether. 

That was over a year ago. This spring, my mother found some all-purpose gluten free flour from 1-2-3 Gluten Free (very good stuff: I highly recommend it if you're looking for something prepared) and I started using it to make pancakes the way I always had using wheat flour: by eyeballing. It worked and we had lots of glorious, fluffy, gluten free pancakes. After I ran out of that flour, I was feeling more comfortable with making my own flour mixes, and did so using primarily rice flour but incorporating some chickpea, which seemed to off-set the grittiness of the rice. It worked fairly well. A while later I learned about amaranth flour and tried incorporating it: fantastic! Big fan of amaranth flour.

Then last week, it happened. It was 7:30am, the girls were hungry...and we had no rice flour. At all. And only about a tablespoon of amaranth. Disaster.

buckwheat cooking

But we had buckwheat. Buckwheat, which I had summarily blamed for the terrible pancakes of a year ago. "Yecch," I thought to myself, "these are going to be awful. Maybe the girls will eat them. I'll just go hungry until lunch time."

So I started making my standard flour mixture, using buckwheat in place of the rice and amaranth flours. I got the batter ready - dark, and brown and bubbly - and started frying them up.

bubbly buckwheat

They were like little chocolatey-scented clouds of awesome.

They cooked up beautifully. They smelled amazing. I started to feel very optimistic. I served them up to the girls - and to myself, so great was my optimism - and dug in.

Oh my.

buckwheat stack

I am in love with buckwheat pancakes. They are unbelievably good. They do taste strongly of buckwheat, but it's a wonderful flavour, rich and homey and almost chocolatey and perfect for a wholesome, warming breakfast. Light and fluffy and spongy and springy. Perfection.

It turns out that those terrible pancakes were not buckwheat's fault, but just one really terrible recipe. But now I have my recipe. And you do, too.

buckwheat stack

Buckwheat Pancakes

1C less 2Tbsp buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp tapioca starch
1//4 tsp xanthan gum
1tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
dash of salt
2 medium-large eggs or 3 small eggs
1C milk
1/4C melted butter
1Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

1. Combine dry ingredients well in a medium-sized bowl. GF ingredients have a tendency to clump, so be meticulous in your stirring or better yet, sift them together. 
2. While combining dry ingredients, melt your butter. I melt the butter in the frying pan I'll use to cook the pancakes, which serves to grease the pan as well.
3. Whisk together eggs, milk, melted butter and lemon juice.
4. Using a spatula, stir dry ingredients into wet. Combine well. Allow it to sit for at least a minute or two before pouring your first pancake.
5. Fry over low to medium heat until the edges of the pancake begin to dry slightly and bubbles are bursting across the surface of the pancake. Flip and cook another few minutes until both sides are golden brown.
6. Serve with maple syrup. Try not to eat until you explode.

Bon app├ętit, lovelies!

buckwheat pancakes

Saturday, November 17, 2012

a new step on the journey

Perhaps you didn't notice, but there was a landmark post missed a few months back. All the other parent bloggers seemed to do it, but not here: the obligatory First Day of School post. Ontario offers junior as well as senior kindergarten and is rapidly moving toward having all junior and senior kindergarten classes consist of a full day curriculum. So where is the photo of Peanut in her special first day of school outfit, with her oversized back pack and giant grin?


Well, she didn't go. And she hasn't gone. She's at home with me and her sister.

It took a lot of conversation, a lot of discussion, a lot of meditation and consideration but eventually Jon and I decided two very important things: first, that she wasn't ready for full day curriculum (and prior to our recent move the school she would have had to attend has moved to exclusively full day kindergarten) but also, that we just couldn't get behind the current structure for mainstream elementary classes. I wanted to, truly, but I just couldn't reconcile myself to my four year old potentially having homework (which is something Jon and I have personally witnessed within our own school board). Moreover, we couldn't reconcile ourselves to the idea that at four years old she in any way needs formal education. Stimulation and experiences, yes, but formal classroom instruction, no. And stimulation and experiences, opportunity for play and discovery and newness and wonder are things that I am more than capable of providing for her, as are socialization with other children and other adults. I simply do not believe that suddenly in September I was no longer enough for her. The fact that education is not mandatory before age six suggests that the province more or less agrees with me. So she's home.

very strange tableau

As Jon and I started realizing that we likely weren't sending her to school any time soon, we started investigating what home learning might look like for us. Along the way, I had heard of Waldorf education, so I started looking into that. With an emphasis on the natural world and on the importance of free, unhindered play, Waldorf education heavily discourages formal instruction before age seven. Song, rhymes, story telling, movement, creative activities and handwork are key elements in Waldorf. Serendipitously, last December we were out for a walk in the first real snowfall of the season and ran into a mother out for a walk with her daughter and son. She mentioned that her daughter was four years old, and I commented, "Oh, are you homeschooling?" to which she replied, "Yes, we're doing Waldorf at home." At the time we were still unsure of what we would ultimately decide for Peanut. She's now a friend of mine, her daughter is a friend of Peanut's and we, along with several other Waldorf-ing families, are working on pooling our resources and ideas to support one another in our children's learning. It's pretty wonderful, watching our little community of families slowly grow and come together.

One of the wonderful things about Waldorf is the sheer wealth of online resources available. I have only begun to plumb the depths of blogs and sites dedicated not only to Waldorf education but to Waldorf living. It's a holistic style of education: not merely consigned to particular hours of the day, it is a gentle and intentional manner of living, of ordering the day, the week, the seasons, the year, the entire home to create a comfortable, harmonious environment in which all in the family can live and grow. Which is not to say that we are now magically living in some family utopia: there's still lots of normal strife around here.

joy in every thing

I've been very hesitant to write this post, to be quite honest with you. It isn't just that I know that choosing home education is a pretty controversial decision, it's that I truly do respect the work teachers do and would never want to give the impression that I do not. I have several friends who are teachers, who - I have absolutely no doubt - are truly inspired and inspiring educators. Their students are privileged to have them in their life. And I also would never want to in any way imply that this is a universally right decision or that we find fault with parents who send their children to mainstream school. Far from it. This is simply the right decision for us, for this child, at this time.

my wondering girl

When Peanut was first born we had no idea that we would end up here, educating her at home. Occasionally  I still find myself surprised by our decision. But as we paint together, or practice finger knitting, or learn songs I feel a calmness, knowing deep down that this is what we are meant to be doing, and when she surprises me with a new cleverness, a new discovery or deduction, I feel utterly blessed that I am a party to her learning. Such a journey of discovery is youth, and I have the privilege of walking that journey with her.

We are so blessed.

a case of the sillies

Sunday, November 11, 2012



He’s told me this story before.  It’s the only story of his time serving overseas he has ever shared with me. Working in heavy machinery, he doesn’t have thrilling tales of firefights or diving into foxholes, no daring accounts of storming stoney beaches with surf thundering around his waist and bullets whistling overhead. And I am glad. I want a lifetime of safety for my grandfather.

The last time he told me this story I was a child. He laughed. We all laughed.  He told the tale as a joke, a humourous memory of one late night in France. But now I am older, he is older. No longer a child, I am now a mother with children of my own. And my grandfather? He is now older than nearly everyone I have ever known, older than his neighbours, older than most of the people at his church and mine. He has lived longer than most people are able, a fact which fills me with pride. My gloriously old grandfather. My strong grandfather. Full of days.

But he tells me this story again, but without the laughter. This is no joke, no happy memory. His wrinkled face grey with remembered fear, his eyes looking back over an ocean, over years, over lifetimes of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as he recounts for me again that night. How he and two buddies had left where they were stationed to go to the local bar. How he and one of the buddies had to carry the other back to his bunk, he was so drunk. How there was a small bridge over a shallow creek between them and their destination.

How the air raid sirens blared as they were crossing the bridge. How they heard the roar of the engines of the Luftwaffe overhead.

How they both dropped the drunk buddy in the middle of the bridge and each dove off a side.

How he thought he was leaving his buddy to die, because he could not save him, and himself.

It was a nuisance raid. He wasn’t fired upon. They pulled themselves out of the creek bed, damp and muddy but uninjured, picked up their friend and continued back to their bunks. Just another night out in France during the war. And he laughed about it for years.

Until he couldn’t. Until the weight of knowing how close he came, of knowing how easily the story could have ended so very, very differently proved too great. And he does not laugh as he tells me the story now.

As a child, at school on Remembrance Day we sang songs written by flowerchildren – Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and One Tin Soldier, and How Many Roads – and we watched videos from WarAmps declaring “Never Again” and we stood solemnly. I tried to remember. I tried to muster up feelings of sadness for this annual national funeral. I tried to think somber thoughts and really remember, whatever that means to a child of 9 who has never seen a war, never lost family to conflict, never experienced violence. I fought to find tears of grief for a grief inconceivable to me. After all, my grandfather came back. I am here because he survived.

Now, I have watched footage of Canadians in Iraq and Kuwait, in Bosnia, in Somalia. I have watched us participate in the invasion of Afghanistan. And I have watched Remembrance Day change. It no longer feels like the national funeral it once did, a national day of mourning not only the dead but the sheer senselessness of war, the utter absurdity of rallying scores of people to die violent deaths and return that violence with violence. In our attempt to stand in solidarity with our servicemen and women we have lost the songs of flowerchildren, the knowledge as clear as the keening of birds that war is always terrible, always a sign of our human failing to live as humans should. We have come to the mistaken belief that it dishonours our current servicemen and women to decry the horrors of violence and war, that in order to stand in solidarity with them we must clasp and raise and shake our hands, crying out at the might of our nation. But we dishonour them when we dismiss what they have done and seen, things that can not be unseen, which cannot be forgotten.  We dishonour them when we cry out that we must make more war. We dishonour them when we forget the lessons past generations spent so long teaching us.

I no longer fight to find the tears. They come easily and unbidden and I fight to hide them.  As my grandfather fights to hide his tears as he tells me his story, his lasting memory, raw and unforgettable, while his great-grandchildren laugh and play on the other side of the room. Seventy years later, he has not forgotten. We must not either.


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