Saturday, January 17, 2015

Crafty Winter Projects

The months before Christmas rolled in I was actually very busy with projects as I like to call them. Wee things to fill my evenings while I stared at the telly or computer or to do with the kids during the weekends. Mostly crochet or knitting, but also some other interesting projects. 

My fibre work. I found a local yarn store Lankamaailma that is too wonderful and I keep popping in to pick up a few things. I never spend enough in one go to collect my money off stamps though. Looks like I need to make some bigger purchases in the new year to remedy that.

As an aside, lots of stores in Finland have these cards where you spend so much and collect a stamp and then when you fill the card you get some money off or a free product. As a family of 6 we need these kind of money saving incentives, so my wallet is full of cards. We buy 5 haircuts and get a sixth free, we get 30% off from the winter clothes store I use, I get an occassional free ice cream (and yes, it's always mine). Very handy. 

Anyway, what I've been working on. 

Crocheted Snowflakes

A neckwarmer for the Chief. His design.

This was crocheting with fabric, wish I had put something in for scale. It's bigger than a serving tray. It near crippled me as it was so heavy to work with. But I'd like to work with it again, just very slowly. 
More snowflakes. I really enjoyed making these though some were small and finicky. I tried to make them all different, but now see I have two the same. I just googled 'crochet snowflakes free patterns' and came up with tons of patterns to try.

Legwarmers that were a bit too big. The knitted pattern was quite complicated and were supposed to be repeated all the way through, but I decided just to do four rows of it just to learn how to do it. If you examine them closely quite a few of the wee bobbly bits didn't work. But it was just an experiment. I bought some ribbon to tie them up with, but now can't find it in the post-Christmas mess. Yes, we still have that, I haven't been able to get on top of all the new stuff yet.
A scarf in progress. Quite a complicated knitted design for me, Lintilla by Martina Behm. I actually bought the pattern I liked it so much, but I'm not sure if it's coming out right. Not sure why mine curls like that at the ends.

Other wee projects.

Rainbow play rice. Easiest thing ever. The first day Bumpshie and I did it I only had black, blue and green food colouring. You just add a few drops to some rice. Stir, add more if it's not bright enough. Then let dry. I kept stirring it as it dried because I was afraid it would stick together, but I'm not sure it's necessary. Bump and Pudd wouldn't let it dry they were that excited, so I let them at it. 

It got everywhere so they were in the shower room for easy clean up. The next day I got the other colours and made up a full rainbow's worth. Bump took a tray in the shower room and came back to proudly tell me she only spilled a few but picked them up. So sweet. She loves the stuff. 

Pudding does too, maybe too much. I took her away after a bit as I wasn't sure what handfuls of dried rice does to a toddler's stomach, but she suffered no ill effects. I keep the pot stashed up high, but it'll last for ages and is handy for indoor play days. 

For teachers' Christmas gifts I made chocolates and mints. The chocolates were yummy and fun to make. The mints were too sweet for me, so I won't make them again. 

Another fun kid project I did was ice sun catchers. Filled a tray with random found garden things like rowan berries, pine needles, a few brave pansies. Added water and food colouring and then froze it with a circle of string over the side. 

It only lasted a day in our crazy weather, -15C a few days, then 3C a few days, but it was lovely. The food colouring goes patchy and weird in ice, so it made interesting patterns. Foo made one too the next day, but the string fell inside as it froze so I couldn't hang it and then it got knocked over when I was trying to find some place for it and broke. But if it freezes soon I'll do it again. I've also seen a woman use a Bundt cake pan to make ice wreaths with the same technique, using more berries and greenery. 

I'm pretty exhausted after Christmas so haven't made anything lately. Plan to finish my scarf and then I have a few other things I'm considering. So we'll see where spring takes me. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Unprocessed Family Updated

You can follow our unprocessed adventure here:
Part 1 - Food For Thought
Part 3 - Substitutes

A few months ago I set myself a goal of cutting down on sugar and unprocessed food in our diet. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I now realise that was an understatement. The time needed for research and development, trial and error, finding specialist ingredients and convincing the kids it isn't evil is immense. I'm not sure about the costings, if it works out cheaper to buy the ingredients to make stuff myself or to buy the processed versions. Maybe next time I do a big shop by myself I'll look into this. 

Cutting down on sugar hasn't been as successful, 4 kids and the Chief and I with a mean sweet tooth. I've cut down the sugar in most of the things I make from scratch, but we still eat a lot of sugary things, especially with the run up to Christmas. 

So what has worked. I enjoy making my own stuff. I sit down on Sunday with my recipe books, Pins and recipe websites to make a meal plan. I try a new recipe every week and try and keep our menu mixed up. I do categories every week to make things easier rather than repeat the same recipes over and over. So our schedule looks a bit like this

Monday - slow cooker
Tuesday - chicken dish
Wednesday - soup and sandwiches 
Thursday - fish and leftovers 
Friday - pizza
Saturday - easy kids' choice
Sunday - breakfast for dinner

Wednesday is our busy day with physio and guitar lessons so I keep it simple. I also try and keep it vegetarian. Thursday the kids and I have fish and the Chief usually has a leftover from earlier in the week as he's not a fan of fish. 

To replace processed foods I had to use up what we had. It's amazing how much I've come to rely on and how many everyday recipes use processed ingredients. Especially American recipes, they all use canned this, packet that, pre-made sauces and flavours. Thank goodness for the internet as I have been able to find homemade replacements for most things. 

My cupboards are full now of things like beans, coconut oil, milk and cream, big packs of herbs and flour, lots of flour. I haven't totally succeeded at making bread, but can now make pizza dough, pita bread and sweet dough for Finnish pullat (sweet buns). I have a bread recipe I've tried twice: once it worked well, but I didn't have a proper pan; second time the yeast didn't rise and the bread stuck to my new pan, so need to try again before moving on to a new recipe. 

The kids have adapted to the new meal plan well, but not to all the changes. They're happy to try most new foods, but I have to have veg that they like as backup as they won't always eat the new things. But replacing things they love doesn't always work. I have to offer something several times until they forget the old stuff, sometimes it works, other times it fails spectacularly. I have spent ages trying to find a granola bar they will eat. I've tried 3 different recipes and have now put a pin in that for now as I found one that was tasty, but can't keep its shape which isn't good when you have 3 kids eating them in the waiting room of the swimming hall, dropping crumbs everywhere, so will try firmer baked ones next. 

I've had a similar problem with replacing our ice lollies. I tried lots of coconut milk based recipes and while Pudding likes them all, the older kids don't. But this fudgesicle recipe seems to be a big hit. I think it tastes just like the ones I grew up with. Even Mouse, my pickiest eater, seemed impressed with it but hasn't had a chance to really have one. I can control the sugar content and make it with lactose free milk and cream, so he can eat it without having an upset tum or take his lactose pills. Score. 

There's still some things I want to replace. Tortillas are a big one. Mouse eats several a day so we're going through 2 or 3 packs a week if anyone else has one. I have several recipes, but haven't been brave enough to try making them as I have a feeling they are finicky. I also want to make Scottish potato scones, the one thing we really miss from Scottish cooking, but my previous attempts have failed I believe because I used leftover mash potatoes which have milk and butter in them, so didn't set right. I will try both of those again in the new year. 

One problem with making everything from scratch is having stuff in reserve. This week I have made stewed cinnamon apples for my eldest daughter. She loves them from her father's creamy rice dish, but doesn't like the rice or my replacement rice pudding much. She suddenly loves the stewed apples, but I've had to make them every day. There's no quick fix, I have to chop a bunch of apples and cook them down. And she eats the lot in one or two sittings, the wee gannet. So some days I feel like I am constantly cooking. 

Once we're back in our usual routine in a week I will try and make a big supply and either can it or freeze it. I also need to replace my applesauce and apple butter supplies as our apples didn't make up much, but I hate buying that much fruit out of season. I do have strawberries in the freezer from this summer, waiting to be made into jam though. 

I need to figure out how to freeze and preserve more things, though I can now freeze dough if I make extra. My canning this year has failed. One can of pumpkin and one of applesauce went off and several frozen things just didn't defrost and cook properly. I'd like to be able to cook more meals in advance and stick them in the freezer, but I can't get the proportions or the freezing right. 

So I'm happy with where we are, things to work towards, but improvements made.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Finnish Education for Foreign Parental Dummies - Lesson 2 - Esikoulu

For Lesson 1 on starting to understand Finnish Primary Education please follow this link
Lesson 3 on Applying for Primary School with a Special Needs Child here.
Lesson 4 on Starting Primary 1 at a Finnish school here.
Lesson 5 on our choice between a Finnish and an International school here.

Second son Foo is possibly heading to school next year, so we have had a whole bunch of new experiences with Esikoulu - pre-school, the kindergarten year. Mouse's experiences were a bit different as he was in an English nursery. Foo and Bump are in a Finnish nursery and it's all new and exciting. 

The deadline for applying is the end of January, one of those things that everyone thought I knew last year, but didn't. One of Foo's nursery teachers thought to ask me if I had applied and my blank look said it all. So she sent me off to the Helsinki Education website and to the nursery near our home where they had a mixed needs group we hoped to get him into. Luckily they had the application form in English and the Head Teacher was very helpful. 

But as in all things there was a bump in the road. The nursery didn't have any other kids who were going into Esikoulu so they couldn't take Foo. I met with the local special needs organiser and she asked me tons of questions about what kind of group Foo would need, thinking I understood this. So after a half hour I had to admit I didn't understand what was going on and we backtracked. There wasn't another special needs group in the area, so we had to find an alternative mainstream nursery. I was in shock at the thought of him going into a bigger, more hectic group, but in the end we found a great nursery with 2 Eskarit groups, a special needs teacher that works with the whole nursery and an assistant for Foo. He has absolutely thrived there. The teachers have worked hard to keep me calm and him supported. We had a meeting early on to discuss his needs and how to cope. The staff all went to his Occupational Therapy session to see what he does there and to learn more about his issues. They also had his Physio come in for a few weeks and do sessions in the nursery and they have followed up with some exercises there. 

Esikoulu is brilliant, it is a little more structured that regular daycare, but there is no stress to learn to write or anything. It's four hours a day, from 9-13.00 and is free. Any extra hours you need are considered regular daycare and charged appropriately. Some kids I have seen even walk to and from Esikoulu if they are local, first steps toward primary school. 

They have a little workbook they do once a week, things like circling similar objects, telling stories about your family (parents write it out after discussing with child) and colouring. They played board games to learn everyone's names and to learn to take turns and other social niceties. 

In the autumn they went weekly on themed forest walks to learn about mushrooms and other flora and fauna, find a fictional elf. Foo needed assistance for walking back as it's a long trip, but he did lots of running and climbing while there and was always exhausted on those days. Now that the weather is a little less welcoming, they have a jumppa  - exercise - session in the gym.  

Foo in the buggy on a metsäkarit - forest walk
They've visited the local schools for various activities like singing Christmas songs with the first graders there. They also went on a big trip to the Tram Museum. Lots of crafts, lots of singing, fun all around. They also go ice skating and cross-country skiing in winter. 

As January has rolled around again it's time to apply for primary school. Application is online from mid-January and the applications are due at the schools on the 28th if you don't do the online version.

With Foo's special needs we have to do things a bit differently. We're waiting for a neurological and psychological assessment to say whether he is ready for school. They prefer to get most kids into mainstream schools, so we need to make sure Foo will be able to cope and what help he will need if any. There is a halfway house called Startti-Koulu (start-up school) which I'm still learning about. It's for kids who have deferred going to primary school until they are 8. I don't have much info about that yet, except that it is a possibility. 

We also need to decide if he'll go to an English school or a Finnish school. The entrance exam is in early February, he will pass the language part easily, but there is a question about his fine motor skills and ability to follow instructions. We probably won't know if Foo will be ready as we have only the psychological assessment booked for next week, so he may take the test for naught, but it will be good practice and an indication of where he is at. 

We also need to see his neurologist again and then have a meeting of all his specialists. All of his therapists, teachers and the area special needs kindergarten organiser also want to attend. I'm happy with as I really need their opinions to help us decide what to do as I'm at a loss, but not sure if it's the done thing, as they've left a lot of the communication up to me, the one person who has no idea what's going on and an inability to speak the language.

Foo says he wants to go to a Finnish school. The international school Mouse is in is good, but may not have the best support for his needs. It does have an attached Finnish language school, so I'm hoping Foo can be transferred from our local school to here if we decide to keep him in the Finnish system. It's all so confusing for me. We're not staying in Finland forever, so it might be better to put him in the English school from the beginning. 

Next week we have our LEOPS meeting where the nursery makes a plan for the child which will follow him to primary school, high-lighting what areas they need assistance in, where they are on track, etc. I am really keen to hear Foo's assessment. Our nursery have invited the special needs coordinator from the school we're interested in, his therapists, the local special needs kindergarten support worker and anyone else they can think of, it seem. And a translator for all of us. 

So that's where we are now, waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. I panicked that we wouldn't have all the decisions made in time for the end of January application deadline, but I am have told that I just take the application into his local school on the final day and ask them to keep his case open as we are waiting for the assessments. That takes a bit of the pressure off me, but there's still a lot to figure out. 

I'll update once we get through to the other side and know what's going on. 

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