DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · love and marriage · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 255: I’m Not a Tootah

Did you read the title in Arnold Schwartzenegger’s voice? Just wondering, because that’s how I wrote it.

After building my first FIFO can rack, I realized I’d need another, and decided it was high time for me to post a tutorial. I thought about the modifications it needed and designed the whole thing in SketchUp. Then, one morning last week, I gathered my materials and set up Buttercup, my beloved table saw. I even asked Mr. December to take a good photo of me cutting the material.

I was going to explain to you how I upcycled my IKEA PAX drawer dividers from my old closet to serve as the dividers between rows of cans, and how I cut dadoes (grooves) in the shelves to hold the dividers.

Even when one of the boards slid sideways during cutting (note to self: ALWAYS double-check to make sure the guide fence is locked!) and I ended up with some dadoes that looked more like the mark of Zorro than a straight line, I was still committed to the tutorial.

But then I aligned, glued, clamped, and screwed everything, and my mistake became glaringly obvious: the top shelf was too narrow. Where it should have let just one can drop through, it had space for at least two.

Mr. December heard my frustrated moan and my cry of “OH, COME ON!” and laughed. Then he came out of his office to see what the fuss was about and he laughed some more. And that’s when I gave up on making this thing a tutorial.

I fixed it, in the end, by adding a small strip of wood to the back of the top shelf. You can see it in this photo:

Instead of being a relatively quick project with nothing but simple assembly once the pieces were cut, the can rack became a labour-intensive piece of work. I didn’t have the wherewithal to drag Buttercup back out to make dadoes on that tiny piece of wood, so I used my acrylic cutter blade to carve into the plywood. Then I used a flat-headed screwdriver to pry out the top few layers of wood, so the dividers could fit into the slots.

Finally finished, I carefully slid the whole thing into the shelf it was destined for… and discovered that I’d made it about three inches too short. $#!%!!!! I could have fit a whole ‘nother row of cans in there! At this point my confidence in both the ease and quality of this build was shattered.

The rack works, and it makes Mr. December inordinately happy to look at (I picture him walking in there after a tough work meeting and taking a deep, cleansing breath at the sight of his stockpile,) so in that sense it’s a success. My plan for a tutorial, on the other hand, was not. The whole process was a lot less Instructables and a lot more Fail Blog than I thought.

But if you’re a crazy survivalist prepper with a large family, or if you’re married to one, you could make one of these with only some IKEA drawer dividers, plywood, trim, a table saw, lots of glue, some clamps, and a Perspex cutter. And if you manage it in under 8 hours, send me a picture, will you?

education · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · parenting · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 253: Better and Worse

Thanks for all your well wishes—I’m feeling quite a bit better today, although my legs are still pretty painful. It’s not my pain that made today painful, though.

It is so difficult, as a parent, to watch your child struggle and not be able to really help. Mr. December thought I was upset because I had a kid yelling at me constantly while I tried to offer support, but what really made me feel like crying was seeing how miserable said kid was. From the outside looking in, you might think that this was a case of terrible disrespect and laziness; from the inside, I can tell you there’s a lot of fear, frustration, shame, and sadness behind every outburst.

I’m sorry for being so non-specific, but as my children get older I feel that some of the frustrating things need to stay more anonymous; I also realize that while I know my children as wonderful people with their own difficulties, my readers don’t, and I don’t want to create the wrong impression. At the same time, my frustration as a parent is front-and-centre some days, and I want to be able to write about it. It’s a delicate balance.

Today I found myself idly wondering where we went wrong in our parenting. Maybe we’ve been too patient and supportive? Maybe we needed to be stricter? Or perhaps, as Rowan Atkinson suggested in one of his comedy sketches, if we “had administered a few more fatal beatings…”? Okay, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea. There was a lot of self-doubt in my head today.

One of the biggest frustrations for me is how long it takes to help our kids with their issues. First, it takes time to identify exactly where the problem seems to be, and which professional to engage on it. Then we wait for an assessment appointment and then come the interventions, which take time to work… or to not work. It’s trial and error, and as we go through this process repeatedly, years of the child’s life are going by: years where maybe we could have chosen a different intervention or clued in to a different aspect of their problem.

For a child who had difficulty learning to read, we tried the following: extra phonics support; vision therapy; Orton-Gillingham tutoring; Occupational Therapy; and finally, intensive (15 hours a week) one-on-one tutoring at a specialized centre. It took us two years to get from recognition of the problem to a solution.

The child who spent most of the day yelling at me was particularly solicitous this evening, helping me tidy up and get dinner to the table; they also voluntarily practiced an instrument and really put in a good effort. Maybe it was an attempt to remind me of something I’ve never actually forgotten—but the child perhaps fears I might—that they have their bad days, certainly, but mine are fundamentally good kids, doing the best they can with the skills they have.

family fun · whine and cheese

Day 252: At least the puzzle got finished…

We finished the puzzle! Thanks to Mr. December’s algorithm, it didn’t take us long at all. We’ve been working on it for maybe an hour a night (usually less) for the last ten or so days. Yay us!

See the triumphant and relieved expression on Mr. December’s face? I don’t. All I see is that now my husband has better—thicker, shinier, longer—hair than I do. Life can be so unfair.

In that vein, I’m sick today. It’s some kind of stomach bug, I think, but I’m also cold and fatigued. My thermometer assures me I don’t have a fever, and my stomach assures me that it doesn’t care what the thermometer tells me; I’m still sick.

I was in E’s room, watching her work on a sudoku puzzle. At some point I think she gave me a pillow and blanket; next thing I knew, an hour had passed. That was only five hours ago and I’m completely ready for another nap. I’d love to stay and regale you with stories about everything, but I’m gonna go and work on feeling better.

Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 251: Registration

You can learn a lot about a school or a summer camp by the questions they ask on their registration form.

Is your child eager to attend camp? Or are they being “urged”?

Translation: We know some of you folks don’t give your kids any choice; please give us a heads up if that’s the case, so that when the kid refuses to participate or acts like a total jerk, we’ll at least have an inkling of why that might be.

Is your child aware of the educational and religious aspects of camp?

Translation: Please, please, please don’t make us to be the ones to tell your kids that they’re expected to pray after each meal and attend a class or two a week. It’s really best to start getting them used to the idea sooner rather than later.

Tell us about your child. What strategies work best for you?

Translation: We’ll only have your kid for eight weeks at the most, probably more like four. We don’t have time to waste on trial and error—and we want everyone to have a good time. Just tell us what to do with your kid so we can get on with having fun this summer.

Please describe any dietary issues or restrictions.

Translation: We want to know about allergies, obviously. We also want to know whether your kid is going to be one of the picky ones eating jam on bread for every meal. Does your kid eat vegetables at all? Are they super picky? On an all-carb diet? The more you tell us now, the more accurately we can order food to prevent waste. Otherwise we’ll be dumping chicken fingers down the gully every Wednesday night, and that never ends well. Just ask our custodian, Armless Joe.

Does your child take any medications to assist them with focus or attention?

Translation: We know that at least a third of the campers probably take ADHD meds during the year. You could answer “no”, but we’ll figure it out as soon as we meet the kids, so you might as well come clean now.

Are there any medications your child takes during the school year that they will not be taking at camp?

Translation: We know how tempting it is to take your child off their meds at camp. Please think carefully about whether that’s a good idea. For heaven’s sake, do you have any idea what it’s like to have four out of twelve campers in a cabin who are off their meds for the summer? You have seen your kid off their meds, haven’t you? Do you really wish that, times four, on a couple of eighteen-year-old counsellors?

Yes, I’ve sent in applications for three of my kids to go to summer camp. And yes, I was once a camp counsellor with a cabin of twelve 12-year-old girls, four of whom were off their meds for the summer, and one of whom was seeing a psychiatrist regularly but hadn’t indicated that on their medical form. That was a fun month.

No custodians named Joe were rendered armless in the making of this blog post.

DIY · family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · whine and cheese

Day 250: And that’s the kind of day it’s been.

Today is done… and so am I. In fact, I was done an hour after waking up. And judging from how far sideways the rest of the day went, so was everyone else.

Very little work got done today, and not for a fun reason like tobogganing. K was getting frustrated by the simplest tasks, R was screaming about how she couldn’t do it (no matter which “it” we were talking about), and E was doing her best to resemble a floppy noodle.

When I walked into E’s room just after her morning zoom class and saw two chunks of hair on the floor and a pair of scissors on the desk, I knew this was definitely going to be a weird day.

“I got tired of it being in my eyes,” she explained patiently.

Puzzled, I asked, “Why don’t you just let me braid your hair? Or put it up in a ponytail? Or cut it short?”

“I don’t like having it brushed or braided. And I don’t want short hair.”

“Okay, whatever.” I sighed. “Can you please just put the hair into the garbage can? Thanks.”

Not sure if I mentioned it or not, but I seem to be having a fibro flare. My legs hurt like they used to in fourth year university, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what brought this on. I’ve been sleeping nine hours a night, exercising, eating well… why do I hurt again?

In happier news, we’ve been working on the puzzle a little bit every day. Look how much we’ve done:

In unhappier news, there’s no ice cream in the house. Despite the lack of empirical evidence, I maintain that there’s a positive correlation between ice cream consumption and the tolerability of a fibro flare.

I took the kids tobogganing this afternoon. We only have three sleds, so K and R built another one out of a cardboard box and a garbage bag. I was impressed by their initiative.

When we got to the park, they took off with two of the better sleds, leaving E with the box. They had hyped it up so that she was very excited about her box sled and how it was made from scratch at home, but it was a little sad watching her trudge through the snow trying to hold the box, which had no handles or rope to pull. Sometimes being the youngest is a bummer.

At least R and K redeemed themselves by returning after half an hour and swapping sleds with E.

All of us—the four kids, Mr. December, and I—are hoping that today is just a blip on the radar and tomorrow will be a much better day.

By objective standards, though, our day—in our warm home, wearing comfy clothes, with food in the fridge (but no ice cream), together as a family—seems pretty good after all.

education · Homeschool · Kids

Day 249: When the kids talk about homeschool

“You know what’s weird?” K offered the other day, “we do so much less work than we did at school, but we’ve learned so much more!”

(I wisely refrained from pointing out that she didn’t really do much of the assigned work at school.)

She went on: “Like, there was so much stupid busywork. And we had to write so much more. But I didn’t learn anything close to what I’ve learned since March.”

I appreciated hearing that perspective, because so often when we ask the kids how homeschool compares with school, they shrug and say only, “I miss my friends.”

Later that same day R was playing Roblox online with her friends and talking nonstop. I can only assume that the other kids had asked about homeschool, because I heard her say, “Well, we’re doing Kumon workbooks for math, and my mom found a curriculum for language arts. It’s not too bad.”

N, in the meantime, was observed proudly showing his friend the pre-algebra work he’s been doing this month. His friend, not to be outdone, said something like, “Pre-algebra? Hmmm. At school we’re doing baby math. But with my tutor, I’m already doing post-algebra!”

I never made it to post-algebra, as far as I know, so I can probably be forgiven for not knowing it existed. I guess there’s always more to learn, right?

Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 249: Too much information.

Three weeks ago, I got a fitbit.

The idea was for me to use it for a couple of weeks, to see whether I would sleep as well with a mouth guard as with my CPAP machine. I dutifully recorded my sleep for one week using the CPAP and another week using the mouth guard. I even did a couple of nights with neither intervention, to see what a baseline would look like.

Now I have reams of sleep data: heart rate, oxygen saturation ranges, restlessness, time spent awake vs. asleep, and amount of time spent in various sleep stages. I had na├»vely assumed that with that much information I’d be able to see the advantages and disadvantages of each sleep intervention.

I wasn’t. Not because there was no discernible difference, but because there was so much noise. One night N woke me up at midnight because his nose was bleeding; another night I went to sleep late and inexplicably woke up at 4 a.m. You get the idea. I see why good empirical studies are hard to do: you need such a large amount of data to know anything for certain.

While the sleep issue is still an open question, the fitbit has been helpful for convincing Mr. December that we need to pick up the pace of our morning walks. I was incredulous at first, but we can walk for twenty-five minutes and still not have logged even one minute of sufficiently elevated heart rate (over 110 bpm, apparently.) I’ve also learned that on an average day, I climb the equivalent of twenty-four flights of stairs just by running up and down between the kids while they work.

This morning the skin of my wrist was very irritated underneath the Fitbit band. I took it off and decided not to bother wearing it for a while. Instead, I’m letting N wear it for a few nights. We’re still trying to figure out his sleep issues. Are his oxygen sats highly variable? How long is it taking him to fall asleep?

After my experience with it, I’m not holding out much hope of clear answers. I was right that the Fitbit would give me plenty of information; but I can’t seem to analyze it in any meaningful way. In the end I’m just left with an itchy wrist and too much information.

Homeschool · Kids

Day 247: Raising a Writer

The writing curriculum I’m doing with the kids emphasizes quality over quantity, and word games and poetry over drills. There is a single writing project per month, which to me doesn’t sound like much. I know I have to trust the process and give the curriculum a chance to work its magic, but I can’t help but wonder if my kids are writing enough.

K hates writing. She’s articulate and insightful when she speaks, but ask her to write it down and you may as well be pulling out her fingernails with rusty pliers. These days N writes when he needs to, and he’s getting much better at checking his own work for punctuation and capitalization. I’ve never seen him go out of his way to write anything, though, with the exception of a “do not disturb” sign for his bedroom door.

But my faith has been restored by R, who asked for a locked diary for her recent birthday. “I’m reading some books that are like diaries now,” she said of the historical fiction she’s been enjoying, “so I thought I might write my diary sort of like theirs. I have an imaginary person I’m writing to in the diary, and I have to explain everything about our family and our home and stuff.”

Every evening, and sometimes during the day, I find her sitting on her bed, knees drawn towards her chest, balancing her diary on her thighs, writing furiously.

I have no idea what she writes in there, but she’s doing it voluntarily every single night. Not only that, but she’s conscious of having to tailor her writing to her intended audience (in this case, an imaginary one.) I can’t help feeling that what she’s doing is so much better than an arbitrary writing assignment. At nine years old she’s already a writer. And thanks to homeschooling, she has the time and flexibility to practice her craft.

family fun · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · love and marriage

Day 246: Team

“Do you have a curved one-zero-zero-zero?” Mr. December asks.

“What?” I furrow my brow in confusion.

“A one-zero-zero-zero.” He explains, then holds up a puzzle piece that looks like this:

“Oh!” I exclaim. “You mean an Inukshuk-looking dude with spade-shaped feet!”

And that, my friends, is the difference between an engineer and an artist. Mr. December is sorting the puzzle pieces by encoding their ins and outs in binary. I, on the other hand, have sorted them into the following categories:

Clockwise from top: Cartoon mouth, Inukshuk dude with spade-shaped feet, Stingray, Four-way arrow.

  • Inukshuk dude with spade-shaped feet
  • Inukshuk dude with flat feet
  • Four-way arrow
  • Comic-book burst
  • Stingray
  • Cartoon mouth

Not that it makes a difference to our ability to do the puzzle, I just find the whole thing rather amusing.

Way back in March, Mr. December decided we should stock up on non-perishables “just in case.” He went to No Frills and came back with rice, canned beans, dried beans, rolled oats, and two bars of dark chocolate.

“What is this?” I asked as I unpacked.

“Emergency provisions,” he said.

“Honey, we’re not preparing for a zombie apocalypse where the kids will just be thankful they have something to eat. We’re preparing for a possible quarantine, where everything’s fine, everyone’s bored, and the kids are still picky.”

The next day I went out and bought dried fruits, shelf-stable milk, nuts, chocolate chips, canned fruit, vegetable broth in a box, and canned corn. You know, the stuff that makes staples like oatmeal and rice taste good.

We’re good that way, Mr. December and I. There’s very little overlap in our skill sets, which means we function better together than apart; and because we’re aware that our skills differ, we can avoid the whole “Whose job is this?” question and just stick to our respective strengths. He figures out how many cans of beans we need and emphasizes the need for a FIFO system, and then I go and build it. He makes sure things are efficient and scalable; I make the actual things that enable us to be efficient and scalable, and I add some beauty, because that’s important too.

We’re lucky to have each other. Even when Especially when he talks in binary and I speak in images.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 245: Minor Crises

Yes, I said crises, not crisis. Crises, plural.

Over the weekend our car had a bit of an issue and ended up getting a new alternator, tensioner, and belt. The mechanic thought our battery was fine and just needed charging.

This morning I drove out to the supermarket to pick up my Click & Collect order. I turned off the engine and opened the trunk. Then I waited. When I got chilly, I turned the car on again so I could run the heater—but the car didn’t turn on. I had to call roadside assistance and then wait for half an hour with my groceries in the back of my van. At least I didn’t have anything terribly perishable in there.

I got a boost from the roadside assistance guy, and was told to keep the engine running for forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the store is only fifteen minutes from home, I had to leave the car running in the driveway for a while after we got home. I set an alarm for thirty minutes and went about putting away the groceries. Two hours later, in the middle of doing something completely unrelated, I suddenly looked up and yelled, “Oh no! The car!”

The car was fine. Everything was fine.

Then the kitchen sink backed up. Both sinks, actually. The dishwasher was running, so I turned it off because it’s attached to the sink drain. Of course, when you turn a dishwasher off mid-cycle, it drains itself. The sinks began to fill up.


The kids crowded around as I pulled out the drawer under the sink and explained what a P trap is and what it’s for.

“I think we should take the P trap off,” I said, “so we can get out whatever is blocking the drain. Somebody please get me some wrenches. Also some buckets. Big ones.” The kids ran off to do my bidding.

I was impressed—K got right in there with me and helped me unscrew all the connections. I tried to open it slowly, so that the water wouldn’t all come rushing out, but I loosened just a bit too much and suddenly we had a deluge.

“Quick! New Bucket!” I shouted as the greasy water approached the bucket’s rim. The kids passed me the bucket and I switched it out quickly, but not quickly enough; the water spilled into the cabinet and onto the floor.

“TOWELS!” I yelled. “And not the nice ones from your bathrooms! Get the old faded red ones!”

When we finally took off the P trap, it looked like the problem was actually further into the drain. And what was the problem, you ask? To me it looked like couscous. But who puts tons of couscous down the drain? In any event, we couldn’t clear it all out the way we wanted to—but I still used it as a learning moment:

“You guys. THIS is why we ask you to scrape off your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. If food goes down the drain, it will eventually clog.” N and R nodded, wide eyed.

In the end, we cleaned out the P trap, reinstalled it, and then used a bottle of Liquid Plumr to unclog the drain. I guess we could have just used the Liquid Plumr to begin with, but where’s the fun in that?

After cleanup and a shower (my pants were soaked with greasy, couscous-laden water) it was pretty much the end of the school day. I didn’t dissuade the kids from doing their work, but I didn’t push it, either.

At least we ended the day on a restful note, with scones and jam for poetry teatime. All’s well that ends well… right?