Monday, January 18, 2021

Artsy Mondays

 Every Monday my sister-in-law and I get together and teach our boys a science & art block.

...I should rephrase that. Every Monday my sister-in-law teaches the children a well-prepared lesson in Marine Biology with thoughtful experiments while I scramble to think of an art project to occupy them, afterward. (Sorry Lu!)

All three of our boys are very artistic and creative and love drawing, creating and making music, so art is an easy thing to teach. Sometimes we are casual about it and just draw whatever's in our imaginations that day and sometimes we have a little more structure to things, like today.

Every year on this day we celebrate, read about and continue to be inspired by the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This year, I thought I would entwine his legacy and story for the boys into a creative art project : a Mosaic style drawing of MLK Jr., representing all the many colours and differences in the people around us. A mosaic reminding us that we are all different, unique and yet part of one big picture, when we come together.

Colour is so beautiful and today, it really helped show the kids how different, but equal, we all are!

While we coloured, we listened to music, took turns reading about Dr.King and who he was, compared crayons to see their value despite being different colours & discussed our own family heritage.

Within our crazy little blended family, the places of origin stretch from Ireland to Italy to Denmark to the West Indies and many places in between! (Don't come at me for Geography, I'm sure I couldn't made that trip much smoother!)

As a family, we look a lot like this mosaic; mixed, blended, bright & colourful. 

We coloured away and, as we put the pieces together, we read out some of Dr.King's famous "I Have a Dream" Speech.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."      - MLK Jr. 

Martin Luther King is a source of inspiration, for so many of us, and I am so thankful his legacy lives on to share with our children. In a world where things were black and white, and separated as such, he dared to dream of a more colourful world; a world where we are seen for more than being just one thing or the other. A world where love and compassion guide our actions, not race or status. 

MLK Jr. reminds us that we don't have to all be the same to love each other. We don't have to look the same, live the same or even think the same, to love each other.  He reminds us, as he famously said, that only love can drive out hate and only light can drive out darkness. 

Thanks for the reminder, Dr.King


Monday, August 3, 2020

Cold Toast

My grandpa always ate cold toast.
It is one of the most vivid memories I have of him.

Cold. Toast.

In our happy, busy home (the same one I live in now, actually) we lived in true Full-House-style, complete with my mom, brother, aunt, two Irish grandparents & myself...all under one roof. We got along beautifully, said 'I Love You' every time someone walked out a door and all had our little quirks. My sweet little grandma, who grew up in Dublin during the Great Depression, regularly fed us things like porridge, fish-sticks & mushy peas, which we would choke down to get to her unbelievably delicious oatmeal cookies. My mom would paint late at night in her workshop, had crazy nicknames for all our pets and my grandpa loved to play table-top hockey, using coffee creamers & a rolled-up paper ball, with my brother when we went out for meals. The adults in my life worked hard during the week and my brother and I spent most of our free-time riding bikes with our neighbours out on the street. I cherish my childhood memories.

And one of them will always be...Papa's cold toast.

I remember it most at breakfast time; we'd all be buzzing around getting ready for school or work and my grandma, always awake before everyone else, would faithfully place two slices of rye bread into the toaster, to get Papa's breakfast started. The toast would soon pop and my grandma would pull each piece out, slowly, with a paring knife (which always made me nervous, as we were taught never to put anything that wasn't toast in the toaster!). She, then, would carefully place each slice inside of a silver toast rack, bring it to the kitchen table and move on with preparing everyone else's meals.

"George! Toast is ready!", she'd holler down the hallway as he'd slowly saunter into the solarium (Papa was never in a hurry).  He'd usually bend down to kiss one of us on the head to say good morning, give our big, furry cat, Patches, a scratch and then pull up his seat for breakfast, right at the head of the table.

I can still recall the sound of his bone-handled butter knife scraping the cold toast with the even-colder butter.

"Crunch!". He'd dig in. He'd always eat slowly, wipe his mouth politely, then thank Nanny for breakfast and go straight down to his study to read the Bible for the rest of the morning. A habit that modelled his deep commitment to the Lord.

It's a picture I could paint you clearly, every time you asked about it... Papa's cold toast.
This man who raised me from birth, as a father, when I had none. This man who was called a "giant of the faith" at his funeral by many a friend and comrade. This man who faithfully prayed for our family every single morning, without fail; whose life and dedication to the Lord was biography-worthy, and yet every time I think of him, I can't shake this memory of cold toast for breakfast.

...and today I wondered why.

Why does that memory stick out just as clear (clearer, actually) than many of the things he said to me or even things like him watching my baptism or other milestone-moments he was there for?

Perhaps it's because things like these -- regular, mundane, everyday things -- are the stuff of life. The things we repeat. The lives we live. What we do most regularly and without thinking — our habits. Maybe not the most notable but the most noticed? These things make up so much of who we are, especially in the eyes of our children.

Of course there are the big, unforgettable milestones in a life and the valleys we walk through —those are sure to stick with us. There are the jobs we do and the places we go, the faiths we profess and the opinions we carry; but, I have to say, those things about my precious grandparents are faint memories, compared to the little things that made up our lives, together. The cold toast, the mushy peas, the table-top hockey.

Those little, everyday things add up to big, lasting memories of who we were in the minds of our children — and their meaning may be more than we give them credit for.  My grandma waking up so early to make us all breakfast showed me how much she loved us. My mom’s painting and crazy cat nicknames (seriously, ask me about them sometime) modelled her amazing creativity & joyful, free-spiritedness (which I admire and aspire to, today) and my grandpa’s hockey games with the coffee creamers at restaurants left a forever-memory, for me, of his understanding of and commitment to the role of “dad” for two small children who needed it so badly.

Naturally, it gets me thinking - what is my ‘cold toast’? What will my son remember about me when he is married and thinking back on the life we are living right now?

Of course we all hope to be remembered as the loving, hard-working, supportive parent/grandparent/friend, and that is very likely to happen - but what everyday things do we do that will also linger in the rear-view mirrors of their minds?

Will he remember how I liked to stay up late? My homemade mocha-brownies that he loves so much? How much I loved our picnic table card games? Will he remember how I always got so mad when I stubbed my toe?

— and what will it all mean to him?

It was a sobering realization for me, today, that my life is being monitored. If I didn't think it mattered, the little ways I live, I was reminded this morning, as I watched the butter melt on my son's toast, that it sure does.

Maybe it's putting your feet up on the coffee table, or how you knit during the evening news. How you always went for your morning walk, the way you answered the phone or always left cupboard doors open (hello!). Maybe it was how you gossiped about the neighbours or how you always yelled at the barking dog next door. I don't what it is for your children or what it will be for mine, but I know it matters. I know those everyday things that they are witnessing are a lot more memorable than they seem.

I know that I can't remember many of the conversations or convictions that my grandparents had but I'll always remember the bedtime stories, the family dinners & how they were 10 minutes early to pick us up from school, every single time — and the love that showed.

Like a path forged in my mind by the repetitive motion of their faithfulness, they etched themselves in my heart by the ways in which they chose to live, day-in, day-out. Cold toast and all.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tips for Home Learning

Many of us are tucked in at home these days and for some, like our family, routines are not too terribly different. We already school at home, my husband & I work from home and my parents and brother's family live right next door. 

For others, however, jobs and school are all moving homeward and you may be wondering just what to do with yourselves! 

My parents always say we are "blessed to be a blessing" and so I wanted to share some of the resources that we use regularly in homeschooling and home-based living that might be of some help during this extra time spent at home!

Here are some helpful resources for doing life, from home.

1. Exploring Nature With Children

This is easily my favourite resource that I've come across in 6 years of homeschooling my son. Exploring Nature With Children is a complete, year-long curriculum from Raising Little Shoots that we are now in our second year of. (When we finish it, we just start it right back up again and it always feels new). 

This curriculum is everything I love; simple, fun & creative! It is a weekly, nature exploration plan for children and families of all ages (I actually think it would even be fun to do on your own, as an adult!). Each week you walk through the same nature trail in your area (can even be your backyard) and discover a new piece of nature to study. There are poems, book lists, songs, art work & lots of extension activities for each topic. 

We always end up painting what we see, too (pictured above) - this curriculum can easily be science, language arts, art and even P.E. if you walk far enough!

This program can easily stretch into a week's worth of activities, every week, for a year and will surely be a fun use of home time! There is even a fun hashtag to follow on Instagram to see what everyone else is up to with this program! #ENWC

2. Wild + Free

Wild & Free is more of a resource for parents to gain ideas - but their entire focus is to get outside with your kids and be just that...wild and free! Who couldn't use a bit more of that?

Wild + Free has an endless stream of ideas for thriving together at home and outdoors.  Find them on Instagram There you will find nature based ideas for simple handcrafts, recipes, outdoor exploration and lots of other activities based around home learning. They have some online courses for kids as well as beautiful community filled with connection points for mamas.

They also have monthly bundles you can subscribe to, where you receive beautifully curated magazines, full of inspiration and ideas for connecting with your children and being wild and free!

My friends Sarah, Marla & Louise and I run a Wild & Free Group chapter here in our area, and we can't wait to get back to our regular nature hikes and exploration dates! (Find us on Instagram under the hashtag #wildandfreeislandkids to see some of our adventures together!).

3. The Nature, Food & Farm Anatomy Series by Julia Rothman

We love these books. Julia Rothman is an incredible artist and has put together 3 books that beautifully combine art & science. The simple artwork and artistic expression bring biology themes to life in a whole new way!

Our family uses her Nature Anatomy book on a regular basis and it takes such little preparation to incorporate this into your learning. We have taken single pages of her book and turned them into experiments and entire units, sometimes! 

Earlier this year we learned about cloud patterns and crafted the different shapes of clouds out of bead foam, guided by the pictures in the book (pictured above)!

I recommend the Nature Anatomy book to start with, available here. If you are keen to pick them all up, the full set of Julia Rothman's Anatomy Series is available, here. 

4. Create-Your-Own-Unit-Study

This is a method I use in our homeschool every single term. Led by the idea of interest-based-learning, I either sit my son down to see what he wants to learn about, or I just choose a topic that I know he is interested in and begin gathering activities on that topic. I try to incorporate most subjects into this topic (even math!) and then the fun begins!

We create journal entries & art projects, find research opportunities, online worksheets & videos all based on our topic and then...get learning!

A really fun way to end your unit is to find a movie that focuses somehow on your topic of choice. The kids will feel so good about all they know on the topic when they take in the movie! (Ie. Study Rio de Janerio and then cuddle up at the end of the unit and watch "Rio"!).

As a homeschool mama with a very busy life schedule, this "home" time of life is really a big blessing for me - the gift of time to explore more of what we really want to do, instead of just what we feel we "should" be doing! No rushing around anywhere, we have time to spend 3 weeks learning every single thing there is to know about...pugs or rocket ships or Ancient Egypt! 

The final resources I've listed below will really be a help to you in gathering resources and putting together your own fun unit study to learn about...whatever you want!

TPT is a rich resource that I pull from often in my homeschooling. They offer over 3 million free and paid resources for every subject and every age of child - and the best part is, it is all created by teachers and home educators. The company's motto is "Unlocking the Collective Wisdom of Teachers", which I love.

You can use TPT to download single worksheets to fill the space of an hour, entire unit studies to work on all month or single items and inspiration to create your own unit. (More on that below).

This fun website is packed with ideas for science experiments and at home research to do! What kid doesn't love to explode a volcano made of baking soda and vinegar or learn more about what makes you hiccup?

They are even offering free K-5 Science lessons right now. Definitely worth exploring!

Missing church right now? Right Now Media is an online library of Bible studies and faith videos with a wonderful children's section. They are being wonderful and also offering free access right now to those who don't have an account.

If you are a mom, you undoubtedly have boards on Pinterest filled with fashion, food and ideas for your dream home reno - but there are also endless (and often free) educational resources available on Pinterest, too! 

A virtual inspiration board, Pinterest is a great place to go to find ideas. Searches like "Grade 5 Ancient Greece" or "Preschool Butterfly Art" will provide you with endless ideas to do on your own or add to any unit you are working on! 


I hope these resources and ideas help you with some creative new ideas for learning at home together! I'd love to hear about how you're all learning at home, whether you've been doing it for years or are just stepping into it tomorrow morning! 

Have so much fun!
Love from,

(PS. Fun tip, in gathering links and hashtags for these resources, I remembered that our family has a little hashtag to keep all our homeschool photo memories - find it on Instagram here @ #happyhomelearner !  You can also find me on Instagram at @lovefromvalerie!. )

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Broken Together.

Do you like puzzles?

My mom has always loved them. When were kids, she would pull out 5 or 6 puzzles and excitedly declare a rainy Saturday "puzzle day!" - (an exclamation that was often met with whining and bored sighs -- sorry mom!).

Growing up, I never really cared for puzzles. As a chatty, busy child I thought they were 'too boring', as a young adult I couldn't be bothered to stay still long enough to complete one and as a young mom, it was hard to justify time in a day to not be doing housework or something else more productive!

With each new age, I am made more aware of how wise my mom is; God has gifted her with a strong sense of good discretion, and I have really learned from that. She has advised me in things like getting better sleep, having simple faith and not being too busy with my spare time. In each new season of life, I find myself thinking "man, mom was right about that, too!".

Turns out...she was also right about puzzles!

With a little more time spent at home right now, I'm currently working on a large, 1000 piece puzzle (start small, right?!); which, when finished will be a beautiful canvas painting of 2 yellow birds, sitting on a tree stump, filled with wildflowers of all sorts. It's a beautiful and challenging puzzle and I'm actually really enjoying it. I even view it as a source of relaxation and self-care. A time to sit, be still, even hear God's voice as I take in the quietness.

Last night, I was trying to fit together pieces of a large, brown, stump, finding myself getting more and more frustrated, losing sight of why I'd even started...then something struck me...

...It occurred to me that this beautiful puzzle would never come to be without 1000 broken pieces.

A thousand small, seemingly insignificant on their own, little puzzle pieces.

...And it made me think of us. Our countries, schools, churches, families - the communities we're a part of - we're one potentially beautiful picture that can never fully come together without each individual little piece.

When I look at a puzzle box, with all those broken, mixed up pieces, I see a challenge. I see a lot of work and sometimes, I just want to close the box and do something easier.

Meanwhile, God looks at those same broken pieces and sees potential. He already sees the clear, finished image. He looks at millions of broken people, every day and He loves them. He doesn't see broken, He sees useful.

So one piece has got jagged edges and one piece is loud and full of color and another piece may just be indistinct and plain...every single piece is needed.

And most importantly, like a puzzle, each piece is most valuable when connected to another piece.

Like Jack Johnson said, we're better together. When a plain piece of a brown stump, connects to a bright yellow piece, and then another, and another - and you start to see the image of a bird come to life - each individual piece starts to have more meaning. You suddenly put so much more value in that plain, brown piece that has no clear image. You start to remember that it's a little part of something bigger.

The really good news here is that, God knows the plan. The Maker has seen the original image and knows where each piece goes.

So let's take a lesson from the little puzzle piece. Let's trust the process of being built. Let's connect with each other, sync up and create something beautiful. Let's hop in the box, mix up with each other and trust the Hand that's putting it all together.

We may be broken, but let's be broken...together.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Unhurried Time : Gratitude Project Week 2

Do you ever start a project with great enthusiasm and then feel a sense of derailment or distraction soon after? 

That's where I've been this past week, or at least I thought that's where I was. This week, our family has been enjoying nights off together, Christmas-decor perusing through the stores and just a week of unhurried-ness. I have still been acknowledging gratitude, daily, but have been less inclined to type it out. I felt discouraged that I was already giving up on my gratitude project... but then, upon reflection (which is always recommended when discouragement sets in), I realized that is exactly what I am grateful for this week: unhurried time.

What a blessing that is! When I look back on my last few years of relationships, friendships and time spent with others, it's always the unhurried moments where I am the most content, and the ones that stand out most. The coffee date with my husband after our little one is in bed, a relaxing afternoon out shopping with my mom with no time limits or an evening in with friends, sitting around a table laughing, talking, sharing and just being "together". Those are the moments that are truly rich.

That quote that says "The best things in life aren't things" sure hit the nail on the head. 
The best things in life are the moments, and for me, the unhurried ones. 

I love simplicity. I like that we live in a small home, on a quiet little spot in the world. I like talking to someone I love without being in a hurry. I like reading my Bible in the morning before there is anything else I have to do.

Now, it should be said that I also love the busy-ness that is my day-to-day life and the richness that brings. I enjoy the run around and all the things I get to be a part of, but would I trade a busy, productive, fun week for one weekend of nothing-at-all to do? You bet I would! 

I think it all comes with this season of "cozy" that we are entering. When it gets dark at 4pm it's hard not to want to spend all the time in the world under a blanket getting warm and cuddled! But more than coziness, it's unhurried time with others that is truly what my heart craves. I read in a blog that "we truly open our hearts when we have unhurried time". Time not spent thinking about where we have to be next or what meal we need to prepare or...anything else. When we have that time, we can truly relax, let our guards down and connect.

And that time is what I'm most grateful for this week.

All my love,

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Gratitude Project: Today :: Day 7

For morning light and sunrise hues
For earth and sky, the greens and blues
For every mercy made brand new
We thank You for this day

For sights and sounds and warming fires
For keeping us from wrong desires
For giving all that we require
Lord, we thank You for this day.
. . .

These are the lyrics to a song by Joy Gardner called "For This Day" - and today, that's exactly what I'm thankful for.

 In this moment, all the school work is finished, my work day has ended and we are in the quiet moments of "in between". Later I will head off to choir and then Bible study with some precious friends and as I sit here, I am so grateful, simply for what today has been. The sweet sounds of my son and my two little nephews playing in my kitchen fill my house, with Christmas music in the background and I am just enjoying...the moment, the family...everything.

So as Joy Gardner so beautifully sang; Lord, we thank You for this day.

Love from,

PS. If you are wondering...where's Day 6? You caught me! Let's just say I am thankful for the time I spent with my family instead of blogging! ;P 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Gratitude Project: Frederick Banting and a few poorly puppies...

In a world without good Canadian doctors like Frederick Banting and his team - life for my family would be very different....scary different.

In 1921 Dr.Frederick Banting and his team of doctors and chemists, discovered a hormone called insulin by testing the pancreas's of diabetic dogs. Insulin -- a hormone that our family now spends hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds?) of dollars a year on, to support the 2 Diabetics living in my home.

My husband was diagnosed with T1D in 1989, at age twelve, in Boston, MA. His journey was not an easy one. The many changes in blood sugar testing and regulation of that time paired with living in a country that did not provide the kind of medical support we get in Canada created an expensive and tiring life for him and his family. Thanks to all the advances and moving to this beautiful place, things are completely turned around for how he manages this disease. (Another note of gratitude!)

Fast forward 28 years, and our sweet, seven-year old son started showing all the awful symptoms of Diabetes and shortly after, was also diagnosed with T1D. (A little harder to find gratitude here...)

This rocked my world, shook me to my core (and any other cliche statement that illustrates devastation...). Part of me wondered, I would venture to say that even a very small part of me knew that when we were experiencing the telling symptoms of Diabetes, that it was in fact, going to be the very thing we dreaded since we first found out we were pregnant. 
(I won't get into the fact that our OB/GYN told us 100% that this baby would not have Diabetes because it doesn't explicitly pass down from parent to child. For that reason, we doubted it being the big D from the beginning...slightly massive letdown.)

Our boy lost 11 pounds in just over a month, started wetting the bed out of no where (this from a boy who potty trained in 2 days while we were in Nashville, TN at age 2 and hadn't had an accident since), became ravenously thirsty 24 hours a day and... I could go on. He hadn't truly smiled in weeks. He was exhausted, but no one knew why. His collarbones were popping so far out of his little neck that he thought they were going to snap. 

The symptoms were confusing and scary, but gradual and almost "gentle" in a way that made it hard to realize how serious things had become.


After leaving several doctors appointments, unsatisfied with answers like "growth spurt" and "bedwetter" - we finally pushed and got referred to a paediatrician, who, after hearing the symptoms, gently suggested a quick blood test that next morning.

Cut to 11 missed calls from the hospital while I worked that day and me finally answering the phone, to have our new paediatrician say " need to wake your son up and bring him to the hopsital NOW. His blood sugar is critical high and...I didn't want to say this over the phone...but we strongly suspect it is Diabetes".

A quiet whispered update to my husband, asking him to be calm for me.
And then running.
Running over to my parents house.
Slamming the door behind me.
Crying into their arms.

"They...they think...THEY THINK JAKE HAS DIABETES...I...I have to go NOW...we have to go now."

. . .

Everyone was so quiet and so reassuring that everything would be fine. Jake, although skinny as a whip, thirsty and slightly confused, was fine. He was so lifeless, now that I look back. Normally a rushed trip to the emergency room in the night, with a crying mom and every other family member that can fit in the car along with us, would worry him - but that night, the elevated blood sugar had taken so much from him that he hardly flinched at the ordeal.

I kept thinking: "I should have known".
But the grace of God and the strength of my family kept me from thinking it too often.

And then, like I said...and thanks to Frederick Banting and a few poorly pups in the 1920's...ENTER INSULIN.

Within minutes he was given insulin and the life slowly came back to him.
It was magic. 

(...Who am I was hell on earth watching my child be injected with something so foreign)

But it was magic.
It was healing. 
It was helping.

Here are 2 photos.
The first one...I hate. Truly.
It is his perfect face but, I almost don't even see him in it.

The after 1 day with insulin in his system.

Day 1

Day 2


Life changing, Dr.Banting. Life changing.

I get teary when I read of the first people who were treated with insulin.

"Witnesses to the first people ever to be treated with insulin saw "one of the genuine miracles of modern medicine," says the author of a book charting its discovery.1
Starved and sometimes comatose patients with diabetes would return to life after receiving insulin.

Ultimately, the first medical success was with a boy with type 1 diabetes - 14-year-old Leonard Thompson - who was successfully treated in 1922. Close to death before treatment, Leonard bounced back to life with the insulin. "

Can you imagine his mother??
Her son, close to death, with a disease that had killed countless others, with no help in sight (or in history)...simply "bouncing back to life" with the treatment of insulin.

So, thank you, Frederick Banting. 
You saved my guys 
You saved so many others.
You took a death sentence and turned it into a manageable disease.
You pressed on in your research and changed the world.

...and this mama is ever grateful.

Love from,