Tuesday, August 25, 2015

School, special needs, and parenting

The school year is about to start, and if your child has special needs or faces other challenges in life, there can sometimes be added worries for both parents and children about school, and all the social activities that come with the school year.

I'm very lucky that my son has a wonderful school to go to, and a class where his abilities are allowed to develop and grow. Before my son came along, I was a lot less knowledgeable and educated about  the challenges children with special needs can face in school and society. One of the biggest things I've learned is that while "labels" for various conditions do matter to some extent, each child with special needs is unique: an individual and not a label. I no longer fear the "labeling" of my child as much as I once did, mainly because I now understand that no label can ever capture or limit who he really is.

I follow Ellen Seidman's blog Love That Max, which is about her family, and her son Max who has cerebral palsy. A few years ago, Ellen compiled a wonderful list of tips titled: What to teach your children about kids with special needs.

If you have kids, and even if you don't, this is a great read.

  1. Please don't pity me
  2. Teach your kids not to feel sorry for ours
  3. Play up what kids have in common
  4. Help kids understand there are many forms of expression
  5. Know that making friends with a kid who has special needs is good for both kids
  6. Encourage your kid to say "hi"
  7. Encourage kids to keep talking
  8. Keep explanations simple
  9. Teach kids respect with your actions
  10. Help kids see that kids who can't talk still understand
  11. Kick-start the conversation
  12. Don't worry about embarrassment
I also highly recommend the following blogs, all written by parents who have kids with various special needs. If you have kids, whether they have special needs or not, and if you want to broaden and deepen your knowledge of life and the world; if you want to challenge your preconceptions about special needs parenting, and read stories that will both teach you something new and touch your heart, these are great places to visit:
  • Mama Be Good - written by Brenda who blogs and writes about (and I quote): "Parenting, Shoes, Autism, Coffee, Kids, Shoes, Unschooling, Shoes."
  • Herding cats - A wonderful blog about raising kids, including a child with special needs.
  • Along came the bird - A great blog about raising kids and being a parent.
And if you're looking for travel tips for children with special needs, they are pretty much the same as for all kids, though each family and parent will probably need to tailor the advice and tips to their special situation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Little adventures with my traveling kids in Västerbotten, Sweden


When we're away on holidays in Sweden, we always head out on excursions and adventures around the area. There's lots to see and do where we spend our summers, and you can read about some of our adventures this year here on the blog.

However, there are also smaller adventures going on every day, right on our doorstep. Here are some of those little adventures.

Finding a bonafide five-leaf clover in the grass. I could hardly believe it when my daughter brought this over. She just spotted it, right in the lawn and plucked it out. It's currently being dried, and will be mounted on the wall!

Enjoying the calm and the scenery on the lake in Mjödvattnet, outside Skellefteå. My son really loved relaxing on my aunt and uncle's raft. It was a sunny day, and the water's edge was populated by tiny water-striders running along on the surface. A great day, especially as long as the mosquitoes stayed away...



Admiring my aunt and uncle's door-knocker. Best invention ever, according to my kids.


A trip to "Hällorna" (roughly translated: "the smooth rocks") in Burvik, Sweden. This smooth rocky shoreline is a favourite picnic spot for locals and tourists. There are great views of the water and surrounding coastline, and over by the docks there's a great space for swimming. It can be reached by boat or by walking from the road.



Catching a baby pike off the dock. My daughter likes to catch (and eventually release) little fish from the dock, but this year was a first: she managed to catch several baby pike! They looked exactly like miniature versions of the adults, including that long, crocodile-ish snout and mottled green-grey skin!


Swimming! The water wasn't exactly warm here in Burvik when we arrived: 14 Celsius! But, the temperature can change pretty quickly depending on the weather and the currents, and towards the end of our stay it was 18, 19 Celsius. The kids love splashing around and jumping in from the dock. They even tried out the Swedish sauna a few times, though they weren't quite convinced that it's a good thing to sit in a super hot and steamy room for so long...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Great adventures with my kids in Västerbotten, Sweden

Our trip to Sweden has been a lot of fun, as usual, this year. None of the crazy heatwave weather we had last year, but some very enjoyable days, and a lot of fun activities.

We are just outside Skellefteå in the county of Västerbotten in northern Sweden, and here are some of the fun things we've experienced so far!

"Loppis"

Flea markets, auctions and second hand-shops of all kinds are a big thing in Sweden, especially in summer-time when you can see signs for "loppis" (flea market) almost everywhere: some more larger and more established places, while others are smaller ventures in people's yards or houses. You can find a lot of junk, and some treasures at a loppis! My daughter found this gorgeous necklace at the small "loppis" in Bureå, Västerbotten, Sweden. '

Bjuröklubb Nature Reserve

We also visited Bjuröklubb nature reserve. This is a great place to visit: there's an old lighthouse at the top of the cliff, there's a café, historical landmarks, trails, and beautiful views of the water from almost every angle. In the harbour near the lighthouse, there's a place to buy fresh and smoked fish from a local fisherman, located on a small boat. A highly recommended treat: the smoked prawns!

Björn Larssons Krukmakeri / Pottery
On the road to Bjuröklubb, you can also find a fantastic pottery shop: Björn Larssons Krukmakeri.


This local craftsman makes gorgeous cups, bowls, platters, and other items.

His small shop is worth a visit all on its own: the kids got to pick a shard of pottery each to bring home! I bought a new tea-cup and have been enjoying my morning tea even more since!

Fällfors

Fällfors is a small community near Byske on the coast of Västerbotten. It's located right on the river, and salmon fishing has been important here for a very long time.


There are two sets of fish-ladders to help the fish navigate the rapids and get up river, and once a year the local fishermen show off some old fish-capturing techniques here. The water is shut off for a portion of the fish-ladder and the salmon trapped in the pools are then taken out with a fishing-net. It's no longer used for large-scale fishing (only two salmon are taken out to demonstrate how it used to be done), but it's pretty exciting to see the huge salmon up close and personal!

There is also an old power-station to visit, with turbine and gauges still intact!

4H in Moröbacke

The local 4H organization in Moröbacke, just outside Skellefteå, is a great place to visit if your kids like animals. It's called Lilla Lyckan, and there are lots of different kinds of rabbits, pigs, goats, sheep, and ponies to be looked at and petted.

Rismyrliden

Another fantastic place to visit with kids is the old-time farm in Rismyrliden.


There are cows, sheep, goats, piglets... and a variety of old, traditional farm-buildings to visit and look at. You can learn how tar was made and how the houses were constructed. You can buy locally made dairy products, and taste some home-made bread and waffles in the small café. There's even a small gift shop with locally produced arts and crafts (and ice-cream!).


If you ask my kids though, the best thing about Rismyrliden are the kittens: this year there was a black one with a white "gem" at his throat, and a fluffy black and white one with a jaunty tail! You don't pay a cent to get in and enjoy the farm, but it's all powered by volunteer work and effort, so buying a coffee or ice-cream, or a bag of Rismyrliden-tea is a nice way to show your appreciation!

Finally, a reading tip from my kids:

If you're looking for a funny and heart-warming picture book, you can't go wrong with Guji-Guji, by Chih-Yuan Chen. It's sort of a twist on the old "ugly duckling" tale, and it brought laughs and smiles for my kids.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jet-lagged in Sweden

A couple of days ago I arrived with my kids in Sweden for our summer-visit. It's been wonderful as always, even though we are battling jet-lag: my daughter was up at in the middle of the night on the first night, and slightly later in the middle of the night on our second night. Still, we're not complaining and are trying to take the edge off the jet-lag beast with some naps: it seems to be working, and hopefully we will be "sleeping in" until 5 or 6 am in no time!

Coming over on the plane I had my first ever "blogger-fame" moment: I sat next to a lovely couple on the Reykjavik - Stockholm flight who recognized me from the website, and had been taking notes here for the trip with their 6 month old (a very charming little guy, I have to say!). Huge thanks to the lovely Swedish/Canadian couple (you know who you are!) for giving me the thrill of being recognized and appreciated! Also big thanks to my kids for behaving on that flight....

Here are some very early morning pics from our location in northern Sweden:





Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It's that time of year again - strawberry U-picking with my kids

Strawberry season came early this year to our part of the world (that would be just outside Vancouver on Canada's west coast). It's been a dry and sunny spring, so the berries were ready for picking a few weeks early.

Going to the U-pick for strawberries has become a family tradition. The kids love it: both the picking AND the eating, and it's a great activity to do with them. As an added bonus, we end up with a whole lot of fresh strawberries, freezer jam, and frozen berries.

Picking our berries a couple of years ago.

We usually don't pick for longer than an hour, and this year we ended up with about 8 kilos of berries: that's about half our usual haul, partly because the berries were smaller than usual (because of the lack of rainfall, though they were also very sweet because of all the sunshine), and partly because the fields were busy and it was probably a bit early in the season. Still, we brought it all home and enjoyed every berry!

As usual, we headed to Ladner's Westham Island, though we couldn't pick at our usual place (Bissett Farms) since they had been picked out the day before we got there. Still, we found a great place to pick at Ellis Farms, part of the Westham Island Herb Farm.

Strawberry fields forever.

U-picks and farmer's markets are a great way to get outside with your kids, and get some tasty fruit, berries and veggies at the same time. You also do save some money compared to buying the produce already picked, but the main attraction is just the joy of doing something together.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Our year with a dog - hikes, happiness & a lot of hair (and some off-leash park tips)

In April last year we got a puppy. A mixed breed black dog with white markings: some labrador, some golden retriever, some border collie (probably), and who knows what else.

His first day in his new home.
He's been a wonderful addition to our family (even when he put holes in every shirt my daughter owned with his puppy teeth!), and I wanted to celebrate his contributions to our happiness and health.

Taking the puppy for a walk.
Yes, I do believe he keeps us healthy as well as keeping us happy. We have always been a walking, hiking family, but now we are even more so: every day the kids come along for at least one dog-walk. Sometimes it's just to the local dog park, sometimes it's stroll around the neighbourhood, and sometimes it's a longer hike in the woods on Vancouver's North Shore. The kids also play with him in the backyard, giving both him and themselves a workout!

Spot the dog.
He's been good for my health too: I take him for a walk most weekday mornings before I sit down to work, and I'm sure the increased activity for me is making me healthier than I was before he came along. Of course, the increased vacuuming has also increased my activity level, though I don't appreciate that quite as much as the walks in the woods!

Dog selfie. Sort of.
Since he's a big dog and loves to run and play and frolic, we like to take him to places where he is allowed to roam around off-leash. Here are three of our favourite off-leash places to go for walks and hikes around Vancouver:




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

12 items that will make your beach-time better

Summer time is coming closer every day in my part of the world, and for my family, summer usually means a lot of time at the beach. Here are 12 items that can help time spent at the beach, a little better and more comfortable.


1. Rashguard shirts and sun-safe baby suits
While wearing sunscreen is important, clothing protects your child even better. A good rashguard shirt makes your life a lot easier at the beach, and you won't have to worry so much about sunburned shoulders and arms when your kids are playing at the beach. A one-piece sun suit for your baby is also a great idea.


2. A pair of beach shoes
A pair of thin, flexible shoes that can be worn in the water are also a great idea for the beach. They protect feet and toes from sharp rocks and hot sand.


3. A water-proof phone case
Sand and water, sunscreen and messy snacks... there are a lot of things that can make a mess of your cellphone at the beach. A water proof case or pouch is a great idea to help protect your phone or other electronic device.


4. A sand-free bag for toys
Carrying your children's supply of buckets, shovels, and other beach-toys can get pretty sandy and messy, but a mesh bag makes the chore a little easier. Leaving the sand at the beach is just a lot better than bringing it all into your car!


5. Beach towel stakes
Towel stakes can help keep your blanket or towel in place at the beach. If you've tried in vain to pin a towel down with rocks, shoes, and assorted other objects, you'll appreciate this item!


6. A dry-bag for wet stuff
Keeping your wet gear separate from your dry clothes can be a challenge when you're packing all your stuff up at the beach. A regular plastic bag can come in handy, but a reusable dry-bag is also a great option.


7. Some handy snack cups
Snack cups are great for bringing snacks along, and for kids to eat from with less chance of a spill or mess. A good lid, and grip-friendly container can make your life a lot easier at the beach and elsewhere.


8. A good water bottle or two
Staying hydrated is important in the sun and heat, and a good water bottle makes it easier to bring water along. It also helps avoid buying bottled water: the less we do that, the better, in my opinion!


9. A sun-smart tent
Babies and toddlers can get too hot, and too sun-exposed rather quickly. A small tent or cabana can help give them some shade, and keep them cooler on a hot, sunny day. They also provide a safe spot for babies and young kids to nap.


10. A beach blanket
A sturdy blanket that is easy to bring along is a must if you're headed to the beach, or out for a picnic. The ones that roll up and come with a carrying strap or bag are especially practical.
mini umbrella


11. Sunscreen
You can't go to the beach without sun screen! Pick a kind that your kids are OK with: my kids are both rather sensitive to both the smell and texture of sunscreen. Waterproof, fragrance free, and something that isn't too thick and difficult to apply evenly is a must. For the beach, a non-sticky sunscreen that won't make all the sand stick to your skin, might be a good idea.


12. A waterproof wallet or pouch
When you're at the beach, it really helps to have a small waterproof wallet or pouch to keep important stuff like your driver's license, money, credit cards, etc. safe from sand and water.
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