Thursday, 26 September 2013

Homework Dilemmas

I've been thinking a lot about homework lately.  In fact I wrote a post about it which I never ended up publishing (I have a few of those - posts that I write that I then wonder if they are indeed for public consumption - it's an internal debate that I keep having).  Anyway, homework.

They don't get that much homework.  The 5 year old got more at her preschool than she does now that she's in Kindergarten at public school.  I think the rule of thumb around these parts is a half hour a week for each grade level minus a half hour.  So for kindergarten they get none.  For grade one they get a half hour, grade 2 they get an hour and so on.  Generally the teacher sends it home on Friday and it isn't due back until the following week on Thursday.  Which is plenty of time to get the work done.  In addition there is a reading requirement every day and spelling tests once a week (last year it was once a fortnight).

So the question becomes - do you insist that the work gets done as early as possible to avoid last minute scrambling?  How much participation is required of the parent?  How much quality control do you engage in (if at all)?

Up until now I've been somewhat laissez-faire about school and the work involved.  In preschool I let the children do what they wanted to do.  I didn't believe in pushing them into reading if they didn't want to read though I read them tons of stories.  I didn't insist they learned their alphabets though I sang the songs so they learnt them anyway.  My kids picked up books on and off as desired.  They wrote stories and poems if they felt like it and if they just wanted to play they did.

Both girls were able to read by the time they started Kindergarten although it wasn't until this summer that my older daughter (she just turned 7) really got into books.  She can't read them fast enough now.  The younger one is happy to look at pictures but she won't read the words unless we make her do it.

Last year my older daughter was in grade 1.  I made sure she did her homework, helped her prepare for spelling tests and generally participated enough to know what she was strong at and what she needed extra help with.  This year, I am finding myself a little more rigorous.  She's in grade 2 now and I think the expectations should be a little higher.  If her writing is messy, I insist she redo it.  If she makes spelling mistakes, I correct them - especially if they are words she should know or words she's copying from one list to another.  I insist that she does the homework at the weekend so that we're not scrambling during the week to get it done.  On Tuesday or Wednesday night I ask her to review the work she did to catch any errors.  I sit with her while she does her reading and I ask her questions to make sure she understands what she's just read.  We're learning how to use a dictionary.

I just wonder though - am I doing too much?  Would it be so bad if she handed in sloppy work?  Would the teacher say anything to her?  Can I trust the teacher's expectations?  How do I get my children to be intrinsically motivated?  Does that just happen over time?  Is discipline taught or practiced?

A teacher friend of mine once said to me that teachers can't do all the work -  that the children whose parents participate in their education tend to be more successful that ones whose parents left them to it.  And that really in high school, when most parents tend to back off, is when children really need the most guidance.  But, she said, you can't very well leave them all through elementary school and then suddenly show up interested when they start high school.  So right now, I am just laying the groundwork.

Honestly I never thought I would have to go through school all over again when I had children.  And the irony that I was somewhat of a slacker student is not at all lost on me.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Oatmeal Pancakes

During the week our breakfasts tend to be rushed.  In fact I generally skip breakfast in favour of a latte when I get to work.  The children usually have either toast, cereal or eggs depending on how much time they have.  My daughter's current favourite is toast with cream cheese and avocado (though I substitute the cream cheese with some goat cheese - delicious on rye toast!)

The breakfast discussion over here a few days ago led to a request for my recipe for oatmeal pancakes.  Pancakes are our weekend breakfast staple.  And if there are leftovers, I keep them in the fridge and stick them in the toaster for whoever wants them during the week.  I've read about people freezing them and doing the same but to be honest I've never tried it - they don't last long in our house.

Pancakes were one of the first things I learned to cook and for years I used the recipe from Jean Pare's Muffins and More cookbook.  Recently though, I discovered this recipe for oatmeal pancakes.  And I have to say I love them.  They leave you fuller (you don't eat as many) for longer and are delicious.  The one thing I noticed though is that if you don't soak the oats, you get a bit of a chewy, grainy texture in the pancakes.  Soak 'em and the texture is much smoother.  In fact, I've been known to mix the batter the night before, stick it in the fridge and cook 'em up in the morning.  

I also like that they don't have anything extra in them.  My SIL will put cinnamon or vanilla in pancakes.  I guess it works for some but for me, I like them a plain as possible to make room for the toppings.

In our house, it's maple syrup and nothing else will do.  While in Aus, we had people bring us pints of the stuff whenever they came to visit.  It's always easy to know what to give a Canadian who's living outside of Canada (if you're visiting them from Canada).  We really rationed the stuff while we were there.  We had Canadian friends come to stay with us while we were there and I remember watching in horror as they poured our liquid gold extravagantly over their pancakes.  Little did they know that we savoured the stuff knowing that it would be awhile before we got anymore.  (Maple Syrup is available in Australia but costs an arm and a leg for what they classify as Grade B.  Not that I'm a connoisseur or anything).

Anyway, back to the recipe.  It's a good base.  You can add cinnamon if you like or even apples to make some sort of fritter.  But as I said, for me, it maple syrup...and maybe some fruit.

Here you go.  Enjoy!

Oatmeal Pancakes
(Modified from this recipe)

  • 1 tbsp. cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. milk (I am sure I use way more than a cup and a half)
  • 1 1/2 c. oatmeal (dry, I use quick cooking oats but regular ones should do - just maybe soak them for longer)
  • 1 c. flour (can use ½ all purpose and ½ whole wheat)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • In a bowl add milk to dry oats.  I usually add enough milk to cover the oats.  I think this ends up being more than a cup and a half of milk.  Let the oats soak for at least 5 minutes while you get the other ingredients together.  (If you're not using quick cooking oats, then soak them for at least 2 hours.)
  • In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the oil and honey - the honey lightens in colour as you mix them.
  • Add the egg and beat until well combined using an egg beater (or a whisk or a spoon).
  • Add the oat and milk mixture.
  • Add the dry ingredients and beat the mixture just until the batter is smooth.
  • Add more milk if the batter seems too thick and sludgy.
  • Grease an electric skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil and heat to 375 degrees.  I use a frying pan on medium heat.  I usually use a non-stick pan that I grease with a little butter (the butter is unnecessary if using non-stick, it just makes the pancake taste a little buttery :) )
  • Use about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake (I use 2 tablespoons for each pancake).
  • Cook until the edges look a bit dry, and bubbles start to form and pop on the top (you may need to reduce the heat a little to prevent the first side from burning while it cooks through), then flip over and cook about 1 1/2 minutes longer.
  • Serve with maple syrup or any other toppings you like.  A friend of mine used to cook up her strawberries/bananas/mixed chopped fruit in a pan with some maple syrup - makes a delicious topping.
Note: If you do decide to refrigerate the batter and cook the pancakes the following morning, you might find that the batter has a lot of bubbles and is stiff looking.  I just start scooping from the bowl without mixing it up - I figured that the bubbles are good thing.  I'm no expert though, it's just what I did.

My partner heard a podcast once where the person was talking about the perfect pancakes.  According to the podcast, the ratio of baking soda/powder to flour is 1 tablespoon of baking powder OR 1 tsp of baking soda for every cup of flour.  In this recipe I counted the oats and flour together (2 1/2 cups) and adjusted the baking powder accordingly.  I have used this ratio in my regular pancake recipe as well and found that it totally makes them fluffier :)

If we make these at the weekend, I'll work on taking some photos for you.  In the meantime, let me know how they turn out!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A perfectly good egg

Upon hearing a rendition of Humpty Dumpty from a CD that her little brother had insisted on playing in the car, my older daughter piped up from the back seat, "Too bad Humpty Dumpty didn't crack straight into a frying pan."

Meanwhile her Knock Knock jokes have a way to go.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Labour Day

What is it about Labour Day Weekend that indicates that it is the end of summer?  

Last week we were melting in 30+degree weather.  It was hot and humid and altogether uncomfortable (which makes me then question what I'm on about now).  It was summer.

Monday was Labour Day.  The last day of the holidays.  It threatened rain all day and then there was a burst of sunshine long enough for us to enjoy a barbeque and a swim.  I'd say it was the last until next summer but we're Canadian - we'd barbeque in minus 20C.

I don't go to school.  This year I even worked through most of the summer.  So why is it that Labour Day weekend triggers the same awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that I'm sure hundreds of thousands of children feel around the world (well, where ever they have Labour Day as the last day of summer holidays)?

The children went back to school on Tuesday.  The air was crisp and the wind sent a chill through our clothes (which were foolishly a little lighter than was called for).  Where does summer go?  Does it smell the scent of school and decide to skedaddle?  And why does 15 degrees in September feel colder than the same in March?  

Autumn, Fall, whatever you want to call it, is a beautiful season.  And I love it.  But somehow, as the possibility of sun-filled days diminishes, it fills me with desperation.   I become obsessive about making the most of each sunny day, anxious to soak it all in, savour it and bask in its warmth and glory, desperately trying to hold on to it, willing it to not disappear.     

For those of us who live our lives around the school calendar (which is all of us at some point or another), it is this day - the first day of the school year - that holds far more significance than New Year's.  It is in many ways a milestone.  It is inevitable.  As is the end of summer.  A marking of the passage of time.

The first day of school (and the end of summer) is full of new beginnings - new teachers, new friends, new experiences.  To celebrate, the leaves begin to show off with beautiful hues of red and gold before revealing the branches for what they are.  

Even endings bring the beginning of something else.

A taste of what's to come -   this particular bush on our way to school,
 turns a beautiful fuschia before succumbing to winter

The theme over at Tara's Gallery this week is "Back to School".  Just as I've been inspired by other blogs to start writing, her blog inspires me to take more pictures.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Let them eat cake - Part 1

Ok so not the most original idea for a title.  But I was so very flattered when I was asked for my delicious, fool proof cake recipes (it really doesn't take much).  Have to say I am often asked for the recipes but never by someone who hasn't tasted them is really is just going on my word (which is good but at the end of the day, is just that) and as they say, the proof really is in the pudding.  

I can't very well share the recipes without revealing their sources.  Recipes over time become our own, but really they almost always originate from somewhere else.  

The chocolate cake recipe was my aunt's - when I was growing up we would often spend our summers visiting cousins in either Kenya or Canada.  My aunt in Kenya would make this cake.  And my cousin was an expert at making the most beautiful looking cakes out of these cakes.  She made me a guitar once (out of cake).  For the record, I don't play the guitar - but I think I was going through a phase where I wanted to.  You can find this recipe on the internet by the way and I've seen versions where they use sour cream instead of yoghurt but I got it from my aunt first and I always use yoghurt.



  • 1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar 
  • 2/3 c. cocoa 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. soda 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 1/2 c. plain yoghurt 
  • 1/2 c. shortening (butter, softened)
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla


  1. Measure all ingredients into a large bowl
  2. Blend on low speed then beat on high speed for 3 minutes.
  3. Bake in 9"x13" greased and floured pan for approximately 30 to 35 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean) at 350 degrees (176 C).
It really is that easy.  But I make notes every time I make a recipe (helps for the next time) so I've copied them here in case you need them.

My notes:
  • Last time I made 1 ½ times the amount - I found it fit in the rectangle tin better (i.e wasn't so thin)
  • For a layered cake, this recipe fills 2 9” rounds nicely  - just remember to split the batter in half so that the two cakes are even
  • The cake is fudgier on the second day.
  • Obviously if you make more of the recipe and put it all the same pan, it takes longer to cook.  Check it after 30 minutes and add the time according your own oven and how much of the mixture you've put in there
  • The recipe makes great cupcakes.  Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 and adjust the bake time (about 15 minutes for large cupcakes, less for mini ones) - it makes just a little over 12 regular sized cupcakes
Icing Options (totally optional - it's great without): 
  • Sprinkle icing sugar on top
  • A buttercream icing or other icing
  • Make a strawberry coulis/sauce (boil strawberries, sugar and water).  Put in the middle of the two rounds.  Whip fresh cream and put on top and through the sides.  Make sure the coulis & the cake are well cooled before putting on the whipped cream or the cream will separate.  Decorate with fresh strawberries on top.
  • Make a chocolate ganache by melting chocolate chips with cream (check internet for recipe).  Pour over the cake and allow to harden.  This option makes the cake seem a lot richer.
Do let me know how it goes if you try it.  Unfortunately I don't have photos for the steps... it would require me to make the cake again and honestly I think I need to hit the gym after all the cake I've consumed in the last couple of weeks!  Maybe next time.

Off I go to Kindergarten orientation - round 2 here we go!  More on that next time.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Birthday Party Brag

So the birthday party was awesome.  Brilliant fun.  Great even.

We'd invited guests for 5p.m. and the first showed up at 4:45.  We were far from ready but it worked out ok.  My mum and brother had dropped by and helped me get all the last minute stuff together.  The birthday girl, my oldest, greeted her friend and took her off to play. 

The children played games from different countries, ate food from around the world (nothing fancy just birthday party staples - pasta bake, phyllo triangles, fairy bread, chips (crisps for the English), fruit, and of course cake.  C, my other half so to speak, acted as tour guide and captain of the "aeroplane".  (C doesn't stand for his name but rather a title he once chose as a lark but has since followed him around).

At one point, we almost had a mutiny on our hands.  The games we'd picked were off the internet and it turns out seven year olds are better at making up their own games.  "This is boring," moaned one boy (the same boy declared at the end that it was the best party he'd ever been to).  Luckily our tour guide is a quick thinker - "No worries, you don't have to play," and he directed them over to Italy for their supper.  After which they had participated in a treasure hunt. 

I think the treasure hunt was the piece de resistance.  C put that together as well.  His riddles were clever and it was fun to watch the children run around the garden and house, en masse in search of the next clue.  I'm not sure if they had more fun or if we did, putting it together.

I made 2 chocolate cakes and 2 vanilla cakes.  I have a recipe for each that are fool proof, taste great and work well for sculpting.  This cake was easier than ones we've done in the past though (last time, for her 5th birthday she wanted an aeroplane cake).  This time, we stuck the cakes together to make a big slab, covered it with buttercream and the "drew" a map of the world using a stencil we printed from the internet.  I say "we" but in all honesty, it was all C.  She described what she wanted and he delivered.  And the cakes tasted great (I can take credit for that).

Not bad for an amateur eh?

I love the Aussie tradition of giving three cheers for the birthday person after singing Happy Birthday.  It's one we've tried to continue since coming back to Toronto.  Unfortunately it often falls flat around these parts.  Not that stops us from trying...

We had a couple of trampoline casualties - one fat lip and one of the girls got checked in a basketball game and her glasses fell off.  Luckily she wasn't hurt too badly, her glasses were intact and her mum (who was already there to pick her up) was very cool about it.  She sat and had her cake while icing her eye while my sister-in-law applied mendhi (henna) for her (the last stop on the tour was Pakistan/India).

Afterward we invited the children's families to stay for an outdoor movie night.  We set up a screen behind the garage and blankets on the grass to sit on.  The moon was out, the weather cooperated and the mozzies weren't too bad which all made for a lovely end to a fun afternoon.

Thank goodness I don't have to do it again for a couple of years. 

(Well I do - my little guy turns 3 in October - but it was a good way to end this post.)