September 29, 2013

Oh, the irony is delicious…

by Decemberbaby

Whew. That was a long month… my kids had exactly 9 days of school in September, and too many days off to count without actually using my brain. I’m all holidayed out. Thank God, we’re done with holidays until Chanukah.

It figures that the thing to finally bring me out of the latest blogging hiatus would be my lovely tendency to ridicule and mock… but really, isn’t this too ironic?

Image

Kinda makes me want to buy it and then use a sharpie to add: (… except this pillow.)

I mean, for $39.95 at Indigo you can have a tangible reminder of the fact that you shouldn’t be spending $40 on stuff like this. I suppose it’s the only way for retailers to jump on the latest decluttering and minimalism bandwagons. Right?

 

September 7, 2013

Gratitude, not Attitude.

by Decemberbaby

Those of you keeping track might remember that K is now five and a half years old. She’s got a wonderful neshama (soul) – she can be mature, thoughtful, gentle, and kind. She also feels things deeply. When she’s happy, you can feel the joy she radiates. When she’s angry… well, do you remember the old nursery rhyme? The one that goes:

There was a little girlwith a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
she was very, very good;
and when she was bad,
she was horrid.

It’s like that. I imagine that, were she an optimist by nature, this wouldn’t be as big an issue as it’s become. The fact is, however, that K can be a real complainypants.

I’ve tried to instil in her the Jewish principle of hakarat hatov – recognizing the good – in an attempt to minimize the number of complaints I hear. If you passed us a few months ago at the local shul, it would have sounded like this:

K: No fair! I only got one candy and those kids got three!
Me: Let’s try that again. Isn’t it wonderful that we get to go to a shul where there are grownups who give out candy to the kids just because they want to?
K: But they got more than me!
Me: But look! You got candy! And it’s purple – that’s your favourite! And it’s so yummy!

… and so on.

I’ve made this a priority with K right now. I know that what we do becomes who we are, and I don’t want her to go through life complaining about every minor injustice. Gratitude leads to happiness, and all that. What I really want to do is make gratitude and hakarat hatov habitual for her. I can’t change her personality, but I can help her change her default behaviour (can’t I?).

So a couple of weeks ago I went to Dollarama and brought home this:

journal

It’s a fuzzy journal. You know, for all the things that give her a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s her hakarat hatov book, and we write in it every night. K chooses one good thing about the day, that she’s thankful for, and we also write down one Mitzvah or Chesed (kindness) she did during the day.

So far it’s slow and painful going. Every night I ask what she’s grateful for that day, and every night she says, “I don’t know… I don’t remember!” I list all of her activities that day and she still doesn’t know, or she’ll say, “Yeah, that one.” as if she’s too lazy to repeat the words I’ve just said. I insist that she says the words herself (“I’m thankful for the tooth fairy.”) As for naming a mitzvah she’s done that day, right now I’m telling her what I noticed. Maybe in future she’ll identify those for herself. Right now I’d settle for her telling me – the first time I ask – what she was most thankful for.

I hope that gratitude is like a muscle, and that K’s will grow stronger with this exercise. For the time being I’m grateful for the opportunity to help her build character.

August 22, 2013

On knowing your limits.

by Decemberbaby

“I could never do that.” I hear it all the time. From friends and family commenting on my new spice pantry to random passersby admiring my cargo bike laden with three kids, people seem absolutely positive about what they can’t do. Sure, it’s good to know your limits… but I’ve come to believe that most of us don’t know our limits at all, because most of us don’t push them.

We have a concrete walkway from the street to our front porch. It’s been there for as long as the house has, and it shows. One square in particular was all cracked and uneven because of the massive tree roots that grew directly under it. It was a serious tripping hazard, and it needed to be fixed.

Our recent foray into living frugally led me to wonder how hard it could possibly be to break up about 6 square feet of concrete and pour some cement into the resulting hole. Seemed like it would be worth $200 to do it myself rather than hiring someone to do it. And so off to Home Depot I went in search of a rental jackhammer. I was thinking of something smallish, like this:

small jackhammer

Instead, what I got was this:

concrete breaker

The thing was so large it needed a wheeled stand for transport. I couldn’t even lift the thing. I got it home, installed the humungous drill bit (bruising my palm in the process,) and dragged it over to where I needed it. I pressed the button and pushed down on the handles. The bit skittered across the concrete and lodged itself in the lawn. I tried starting on an existing crack. It was better right up until the bit got stuck and I couldn’t pull the breaker out. The neighbours were stopping to watch. One came forward and offered to play with R while I solved my problem. In the end, the handyman who was working next door came out and helped me sledgehammer away some concrete so I could remove the breaker bit and start all over again.

After an hour and a half of inept fumbling, and with childcare provided by Sesame Street, I had finally, finally broken up the concrete into pieces the size of half a cinder block each. My arms were shaking as I dragged the tool back to the car and heaved it into the trunk. My hands were too weak to remove the bit, so I coiled up the power cord and hoped that I hadn’t caused any permanent damage to the machine. Or, you know, myself. We took the breaker back to Home Depot and then the kids and I celebrated my triumph over the concrete with frozen lemonade and cookies.

On a side note, I used a sledgehammer at various points along the way, and afterwards a contractor who was working a few houses down complimented me on my sledge technique. That just about made my day.

So now there’s a pile of rubble where a concrete slab used to be, and as soon as I can lift my arms again Mr. December and I will clear it out so I can pour the new concrete.

While I was wrestling with the stuck machine, the neighbours came over and started talking about all the former neighbours who tried to remove a concrete walkway by themselves. Apparently none of them succeeded, and the implication, of course, was that I would fail as well. My mother’s response when she heard about my adventure was, “why didn’t you hire someone? You shouldn’t do that kind of thing yourself!” But why not? Because most people don’t? Because I’m not a hugely muscular male? Because everyone imagined I couldn’t?

I could. I did. And I never would have known had I not tried. It’s reminiscent of how I thought I’d never be able to bike the kids all the way to school and all the way home without being red in the face and wishing my legs would just fall off already, and now I can comfortably bike 20 kilometres in a day and wish I had somewhere else to cycle off to. There’s no mystique to using a jackhammer or cycling a cargo bike or building a pantry inside a wall – the trick is to go and do it.

I don’t know what my limit is. I can bike 200 pounds of bike and kids (plus myself,) I can demolish a sidewalk, I can sew a quilt. I haven’t yet failed completely in anything I’ve tried. Practicality may win out in the end, and I may never truly know my limit, but I know that I haven’t hit it yet.

As the Jewish New Year approaches I’ve been more introspective than usual, and I wonder where my spiritual limits are. I feel like I’ve gotten spiritually lazy and started saying “I could never do that” rather than trying and then deciding whether I want to “do that.” It behooves me to be as brave spiritually as I’ve been physically, and start trying.

Which of your limits would you like to push?

 

August 15, 2013

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

by Decemberbaby

According to the statistics collected by WordPress, people are still reading this blog. Amazing. I haven’t posted in two months. Before that, my posting was down to once every three weeks or so. And yet WordPress maintains that I’m getting about 20 unique visitors to my blog every day. Are you really checking up on me that often, or is my content so amazing that people land here from google searches?

Anyhow, I wanted to reassure you that life is good – really, really good – and I’m okay. The kids are wonderful. It’s just that I’m so mentally exhausted by the end of the day that I can’t make myself sit down and write anything. Believe me, I’ve got plenty of thoughts, rants, ideas, projects… I just haven’t been writing about them. But I will.

So if you’re still here, thanks for sticking with me. And if you’re not, come back sometime. I do miss my bloggy friends.

June 12, 2013

Afraid of the iPhone…

by Decemberbaby

I have a dumbphone. I use it to phone people. That’s all. The technological high point of my cellphone use was when I enabled bluetooth and linked it to our minivan’s computer. I don’t text, I don’t browse, I don’t even keep people’s numbers programmed into my phone. Dumb, right?

About a year back I bought myself an iPod touch, to see if I could use it to get more organized. Now I’ve been using it for alarms, reminders, “to do” lists and my calendar, and I like it.

So maybe I should get an iPhone, right? That’s what I’m thinking… but I’m scared.

Of what, you ask? Well, aren’t you the nosy one.

I’m scared of lifestyle inflation.

One minute I’m paying a total of $25 a month for voice calls and using an iPod touch with no data plan – its access to the internet is only through WiFi – and the next I’ll have an expensive iPhone, I’ll be paying $45 a month for a data plan, and suddenly I won’t be able to imagine life without it. I won’t survive a day out without checking email and facebook. I won’t have a conversation without looking up some trivial point of interest. And I won’t want to.

This is my nightmare.

Right now I’m very happy not being connected all the time. Sure, maybe once every 5 days I think, “hmmm, this day would work so much more smoothly if I had a smartphone right now,” but I get over it pretty quickly. Many days I leave the house without my dumbphone and, though mildly annoying, it’s not a disaster. So… why mess with a good thing?

The major upside (aside from mobile internet capability) is that I’d only have to remember one device instead of two. It seems that one is the most I can keep track of consistently, and I use my telephone so infrequently that it gets forgotten most often. Then again, if I use it so infrequently then why do I need an expensive iPhone? Why not just carry the iPod around all the time like I already do?

And so it swirls round in my head. I’ve already wasted way too much time debating this, so I’m turning it over to you, the internets. Please comment and tell me what you think. I need to hear from voices outside my head for a change.

May 29, 2013

Hipsterriffic!

by Decemberbaby

My hubby has a new bike.

Actually, it’s a new-to-him bike. The bike itself is very, very old, having been a bar mitzvah gift to my father-in-law (he’s now 68 years old – you do the math.) It’s been hiding in my in-laws’ garage for a long time – twenty years at the very least – but its potential was easy to spot even through decades’ worth of dust and grease. As soon as I saw it I knew it had to be Mr. December’s next bike.

Now, I’m not a bike mechanic. I didn’t know the second thing about bikes (I did know the first thing – that sometimes tires need to be pumped up and chains need to be oiled.) Fortunately for me, there’s a collective called Bike Pirates that offers a DIY bike repair space, tools and parts, and volunteers to help guide you – on a pay-what-you-can basis. Even better? Sundays are reserved for women and transfolk, with the aim of removing at least some of the barriers that exist for women and transfolk to learn to fix their bikes. In practical terms this means that when I arrived with a curious toddler, a volunteer was happy to entertain her with random bicycle parts while I worked on the bike. And worked. And worked.

I installed a new rear brake and new brake pads in front and in rear. I de-greased. I scrubbed the chain and oiled it anew. I removed the tires, checked the inner tubes, and installed new tires. I trued up the rear wheel. I replaced the gearshift cable and learned how to oil a Sturmey-Archer internal hub. I fixed the lopsidedness of the handlebars. I installed a (previously loved) kickstand.

Then I came home and installed a rear carrier rack… with zip ties, since I was missing some of the hardware. And finally, the piece de resistance… a milk crate.

Isn’t it a hipster’s dream?

Hipsterriffic bikeIMG_4210IMG_4206Now here’s the question: Initially we decided not to re-paint the rusty parts, and to put on a milk crate instead of a fancy cargo-carrier, on the theory that it would look less shiny-new and less worth stealing. Seeing as it’s extremely retro-cool, do you think the bike is more likely or less likely to get stolen than if we had given it a new paint job?

 

May 1, 2013

Coping

by Decemberbaby

I’m typing this outdoors on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. The sky is perfectly blue. There’s a breeze. My children are affectionate and adorable. And I’m numb to it all.

Oh, sure, I appreciate it intellectually. I’m impressed that spring is here. But all I can summon in response to anything right now is “meh.” And isn’t that just the best description of depression? Everything is just “meh.”

I don’t know what exactly has exacerbated my depression, but something has, and it’s cast a vague dullness over everything. At the same time, the smallest annoyances overwhelm me. I’m fully aware of my symptoms, and equally aware of how out of proportion my responses are, but trying to stop it is rather like trying to plug a leaking dike with your finger.

And so here I am, engaging all of my coping mechanisms. I forced myself to bike the children to school this morning because I know that the fresh air and exercise does me good. I didn’t feel up to being alone with R (I’m not sure what I feared more – that I might fall asleep, or that I might stare off into space and hurt her feelings with my indifference,) so we went for some visits: first with my Mum, and then with my elderly great-aunt and great-uncle. It wasn’t the magic cure that people seem to think; visiting and helping someone who is in worse shape than you doesn’t necessarily make depression go away. But it used up some time, and it forced me to interact with people, and R had some interaction with someone other than me, so I suppose it was a good thing.

Back at home, I decided to do a project that seemed simple enough – laminate some pictures onto hardboard using some Mod Podge. For whatever reason it didn’t work as expected, and I just gave up and… wandered away, really. It’s a common problem when my depression is bad. How common, you ask? Well, I washed my paintbrush, left the hardboard and pictures where they were, and went to the bathroom… where the floor was littered with the remnants of yesterday’s decluttering project. At times like this I’m tempted to call myself names and decry my lack of focus and productivity. Happily, I’m self-aware enough now to remind myself that it’s a symptom of a disease, not evidence that I’m a worthless layabout.

And so entered the next coping mechanism. I sat down, determined to write out a plan for a simple DIY project and email it to Mr. December. The whole thing should have taken me 20 minutes. An hour later, I finally finished and sent it off. At least I accomplished something today.

What else have I done to cope? Hmm. I overcompensated for today’s indifferent parenting by pulling over behind an ice cream truck and treating K to an ice cream. I’m not sure if that’s a healthy coping mechanism or not, but at least now she’ll remember today as “the day mummy bought me ice cream from the ice cream truck” instead of “the day mummy yelled at me to get myself dressed because she couldn’t cope with my shenanigans.”

And I’ve forced myself to sit down and write this blog post even though I’d rather just not. At least I can get to the end of the day and list a couple of things that I’ve done from beginning to end.

I’ll wrap up the night (after the kids’ bedtime, which is truly painful when I’m like this) with a cup of decaf tea and a crossword, take an ativan and hope that a long night’s sleep will lead to a better day tomorrow. In the meantime, meh.

April 24, 2013

If this van ain’t rockin’…

by Decemberbaby

I woke up a few days ago with that achy feeling in the back of my throat. You know the one.

“Ugh,” I groaned. “I think I’m getting sick. How did that happen?”

Mr. December rolled his eyes and said, “You know that the kids drink out of your bedside water glass all the time, don’t you?”

Actually, I didn’t. In their eagerness to share with me, the children have given me a wicked sinus cold which has since migrated into my lungs. I’m on puffers, but also trying to decide at what point I should seek medical attention for the sensation of a brick sitting on top of my lungs.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real point of this blog post (aside from ensuring that I post at least once a week) is that I’ve made an important decision: from now on, we need to keep an inflatable mattress and appropriate bedding in the van at all times.

No, seriously. If I have to drive around with the equivalent of an entire living room on wheels, I might as well have a cozy place to nap while I’m waiting for my children’s extracurricular programs to end. I’m expending way too much energy just trying to remain upright as I watch my daughter bounce around on a trampoline. I wish I could just lie down right here, but vinyl tile and fluorescent lights don’t make for a healing environment.

So, a BYObed it is. Also, a bumper sticker: “If this van ain’t rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’!”

April 17, 2013

I know this great hole in the wall…

by Decemberbaby

No, seriously. It’s a hole… in the wall. Or it was. See?

IMG_3704

In my eternal quest for more space in our little house, I started thinking about all the wasted space between the walls. The more I thought about it, the more I pined for a shallow pantry in which to store our canned goods. My longing turned into a burning desire, which turned into the above hole. Seeing that empty cavity inside the wall made me sigh with contentment.

Then I got to work.

After enlarging the hole and building wooden carcasses for the cabinets, I slid the carcasses into the wall:

IMG_3733As you can tell in this photograph, they’re not level. That’s okay, though – neither is anything else in my house.

At this point, Mr. December frowned and complained about the gaps between the carcasses and the edge of the wall. I tried to explain the magic of trim and quarter-round, but he didn’t seem to get it… until the trim was all in place:

IMG_3839Suddenly it looks like something you might actually want in your kitchen, right?

I painted the trim…

IMG_3900

And added doors to match the rest of our kitchen (thank God for IKEA)…

IMG_4038

And then filled it up.

IMG_4039Oh, and we painted the inside my favourite colour… so now I smile every time we open our pantry. And you would not BELIEVE how much stuff it holds! The shelves are only deep enough to hold one can, which means we can always see everything in there. This pantry has freed up three whole drawers in my IKEA pull-out pantry, which now proudly house the small appliances that were cluttering my countertop. I love this thing. It’s the best hole in the wall ever.

IMG_4042

And now I’m eyeing a huge expanse of wall in the hallway where our bedrooms are. With no plumbing and no electricity running through it, that wall is wasted space just waiting for a purpose. I can’t wait to build floor-to-ceiling cupboards there to store toilet paper, lightbulbs, cleaning supplies, extra toiletries, craft materials…

If you could have a cupboard like this anywhere in your home, where would you put it? And what would you fill it with?

April 10, 2013

Remember Me?

by Decemberbaby

Hi again. Remember me? Yeah, so do I. I think. It’s been a while.

What did I last blog? Mastitis? Sinus infection? That was so four weeks ago. A lot has happened since then.

So I got over the sinus infection and had to start preparing for Passover. In my universe, that means spending a week freaking out about Passover cleaning, followed by one day of actual cleaning, followed by bringing all the Passover dishes and utensils upstairs and finding them homes in our kitchen.

And then, the deluge Passover break. Our lovely nanny had the entire holiday off, which meant that it was just me and three children for a week and a half. Not so bad, you may say, and you’d be right, except for the fact that it was Passover. I don’t use my dishwasher on Passover, which means lots more time spent doing dishes and cleaning up. We can’t eat out on Passover, which meant no ordering in and no convenience foods if I was feeling overwhelmed. And the weather was icky, so I couldn’t kick them out into the backyard. As much as I adore my children, there’s such a thing as too much family time.

And then… some kind of stomach bug knocked me flat. It’s a good thing that Mr. December knows how to rise to a challenge, because I was weak as a kitten and completely unable to get myself a drink, let alone stand up long enough to diaper a child. I’m still feeling the aftereffects – a bit like a hangover – and can only hope that more fluids and some solid nutrition will have me feeling good again soon. And as we all know, feeling good leads to blogging… right?

Well, a girl can hope.

What have you been doing lately?

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