Day 458: Determined.

“I’m gonna finish this if it kills me,” I muttered through clenched teeth. “I still have five days.”

I’ve been reading Life of Pi with the kids as our final novel study this year. It’s wordy and dense in a wonderfully descriptive way, and the kids seem to like it (especially K)—but it still takes a long time to wade through.

“Do we have to finish it?” One kid asked.

And that’s when I muttered something about finishing it if it kills me. Because right now Pi is stuck on a raft that’s attached to a lifeboat, and his only companion is a fully grown male Bengal tiger. As the order box at Krusty Burger once squawked at Homer Simpson, “I need closure on that anecdote!”

This afternoon we had twenty-two minutes before N’s piano lesson; I ushered them all out to the back porch with freezies, and read to them without stopping. For twenty-two minutes. We covered ten pages.

That’s only… uh… a hundred and fifty more pages to read. Divide by ten, carry the one… we should be able to do it in another three hours. Huh. That’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Math to the rescue again!

I have plans to gameschool my way through a review of our social studies topics form this year: I bought a trivia game about Canada, but we’ve only done four provinces so far. I’ll be spending some time tomorrow sifting through the existing cards for questions my kids could have a shot at answering correctly. Then I’ll spend another few hours writing my own questions with material straight out of our books. We’ll probably have to play a few times before we cycle through all the questions, but hopefully this will keep them from just forgetting everything we’ve learned this year.

Just the two of us · love and marriage

Day 457: Seventeen

It’s our seventeenth wedding anniversary today; and just like our wedding day, we’re sharing it with Fathers’ Day.

I have no idea how we have seventeen years of marriage under our belts. I don’t feel old enough, somehow. But I also feel like we’ve been together forever. Which we kind of have, since I met Mr. December when I was fifteen and started dating him when I was seventeen.

I was going to tell you about how I predicted that we’d get married before we’d properly met; then I realized I told you the story last year. The downside of having celebrated so many anniversaries is that I’m running out of material. It’s a great problem to have.

Seventeen years of marriage—which I once described as “like having a sleepover with your best friend every night, except you’re both exhausted because you stay up way too late talking. Every night.”

Seventeen years of him making me laugh at his antics and elaborate pranks.

Did I tell you about the time we went to an open house for a school we were considering? There we were, in the classroom, a teacher standing at the board talking at us about something or other. Suddenly I heard, “PSSST!” and turned to see him passing me a note. It was like he’d never left grade five. When I opened the note to see what was so important he couldn’t wait five minutes, it read: “I think you’re cute.”

I think he’s cute, too. Always have, always will.

Happy anniversary, my love!

Not a wedding picture. But here we are, roughly eighteen years ago, celebrating our engagement.
crafty · family fun · Keepin' it real

Day 456: Is it just me?

Can I please see a show of hands from the parents in the crowd?

Have you ever torn up the hole-riddled pants your kid refuses to part with (but finally took off tonight) into rags right away so the kid can’t find them and put them on again?

Have you ever had a kid say, “I’m sorry you had to sit here by yourself while we finished the hike,” and then had to bite your tongue so you wouldn’t say, “I’m not”?

So… it’s just me, then?

We went for a family hike this morning. Last week’s hike was classified as “moderate.” This one was “hard.” On the upside, it was only half the length.

It started off as an even dirt road, so I walked with Mr. December and the kids for a while. My ankle was already unhappy but I find forests deeply relaxing and energizing at the same time, so I chose to suck it up and limp along anyway. N was insistent that he would turn around when I did—he really did not want to be there at all—but Mr. December announced that he would be awarding XP (experience points, like in the computer games the kids like) for things like exploring off-trail. As soon as he heard “XP,” N (and the other kids) ran to do whatever challenges Mr. D cooked up for them.

At the end of the dirt path I had to turn back, to my great regret. The path had just turned into a narrow trail that climbed up into the woods over picturesque boulders and rocks—boulders and rocks that would make my ankle scream at me. I turned back.

I took my time heading back to the car. At one point I nearly stepped on a well-camouflaged frog that was just sitting in the middle of the road. I crouched down and watched him for a while, then continued on my way.

Back at the car I popped open the tailgate, folded down one of the back seats to give myself somewhere to sit, and put my foot up on a cold water bottle (another great reason to use these silicone water bottles: they make lovely squishy cold packs for injuries.) Then I pulled out my sketchbook and pencils and spent the next hour trying to capture the scene in front of me. I couldn’t get the shadows right, but otherwise I managed a credible likeness. When I could add no more detail I put away the sketchbook and read a book until the kids came running back.

Mr. December thanked me a few times for coming along for the drive even though I couldn’t do the whole hike with them. I told him—truthfully, of course—that I had enjoyed my solitude in the forest. I wouldn’t have spent my time nearly as productively if I had stayed home by myself. It was a lovely morning, and my only regret was that I didn’t get to take that beautiful rocky trail all the way around the water.

blogging · education · fame and shame · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · waxing philosophical

Day 455: Not as bad as you think.

I hear a lot of bad things about social media—probably you do, too. And there are a lot of downsides: comparing your imperfect life to someone’s touched-up selfie, getting angry because “someone is wrong on the internet!”, seeing humanity turn ugly behind the anonymity the internet affords. There are definitely days when I think I’d be better off without Facebook.

Duty Calls
You can find an image description here.

On the other hand, Facebook has some very good points:

  1. It’s my proverbial front porch. I sit there in the evening and catch up with the people I know. I get to hear about all the mundane things, all the frustrations, all the celebrations—just like I would if we lived in a close-knit neighbourhood and sat on the front porch every evening, chatting with each other.
  2. It can be a great resource. Both Mr. December and I are members of a few homeschooling groups on Facebook. Through those groups we’ve discovered some of our favourite curricula and courses. We’ve also been able to get a sense of what homeschooling looks like for many different families. I’m also a member of a neighbourhood group, from which I learn about traffic issues, why our city councillor sucks, and who’s giving away free stuff.
  3. It reminds me about birthdays. If I wished you happy birthday this year (or any year, really,) you can thank Facebook for that. Every day it pops up and tells me whose birthday it is. It even lets me post a birthday message directly from the notification. I do realize that some people do this with their own calendar—digital or paper—but Facebook makes it so easy for me.
  4. Some people do use it for the betterment of us all.

Point number four is the one that gives me hope for our society. I’ve recently joined a group dedicated to being a space where people can ask good-faith questions about all kinds of social issues and receive honest, thoughtful answers rather than scorn and derision.

(If you don’t get why a question would be met with scorn or derision, think of someone asking about transgender issues and being labelled a TERF because of that honest question. It happens all the time, and it’s ugly.)

I have learned so much from this group. People have taken the time to post complex answers to questions about racism, gender issues, disabilities, etiquette… it’s an excellent read and very eye-opening, as the group members come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’m enjoying it immensely. Even more incredible than what I’ve learned from that group is the simple fact that so many people want to ask questions, learn, and improve the way they relate to people who are unlike them.

I have similar feelings about the group where non-Jews can ask questions about Judaism and Jews answer them. I’m fascinated by the things non-Jewish people don’t know about us; from the big stuff, like the fact that we don’t revere Mary, mother of Jesus, to the minutiae of why inviting a Shabbat-observant friend to a wedding on Saturday is more complicated than just making sure they have accommodations within walking distance of the venue. I also enjoy being able to answer people’s questions and see their responses when they’ve read all of the answers.

People are learning, reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in ways that would never have been possible without the internet (and social media in particular.) To me, that almost makes up for how social media also makes it easy for people to foment hatred, recruit people to radical organizations, and spread misinformation. Almost. Maybe if enough of us participate in groups like the ones I’ve been part of, education and enlightenment will replace the ignorance and hate.

I hope so.

crafty · education · Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 454: Teacher Gifts

There are plenty of things I don’t miss about sending the kids to school—the drop-offs and pickups, the one-size-fits-all rules, the homework—but the one that always manages to surprise me is teacher gifts. Yes, I know the school year is ending. Yes, I want to show my appreciation and yes, I—wait, it’s now? I need to do the teacher gifts today? AAAAA!

It happens every year.

I’ve done some creative things in the past: handmade cards; a summer-themed gift of sunscreen, sunglasses, a movie gift card, and some packets of Starbucks instant iced coffee mix all packaged in a reusable cup with a straw; a custom t-shirt for the teacher who had all four of my kids with zero breaks in between; and there was the year I just wrote them lovely thank-you cards and delivered them with a fresh homemade challah for each teacher.

Other years I went in together on the group gift being organized by other parents. But the best gift (I thought), the most inspired, were the Montessori bead bar earrings. I made them for every school staff member who had direct contact with my kids. Everyone loved them—but that was years ago, and only a few of those teachers remain (and they’re not E’s teachers), so I decided to reprise that idea for E’s online teachers from Montessori.

Last time I did all the work after my kids went to bed. This time, E had a hand in the whole thing: she strung the beads onto the eye pins, poked the earrings through the backing card, carefully threaded the necklace chain into the slots I’d made, and helped me cut and fold the gift boxes.

And now all that remains is to write the thank-you cards to the teachers, and of course to deliver them to school. And then I’m guaranteed at least one year without teacher gifts sneaking up on me, because all four kids are being fully homeschooled next year.

Wait, if I’m their teacher, shouldn’t the kids be giving me a gift at the end of the year? Good thing some of them read this blog—they’ll get the hint.

Camping it up · el cheapo · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · Sartorial stuff · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 453: I never learn.

I feel like I’ve spent my entire day shopping online. If I have to look at one more sizing chart, I’ll scream: every few minutes I called a different kid over to my desk to be measured for clothing sizes. I managed to find bathing suits for all three big kids—no mean feat when you realize that the fashion and retail sector is always one season ahead of us. I had a hard time finding bathing suits at all, because all the summer stuff seemed to be on clearance and the only sizes left were for four-year-olds.

I thought we had all the large duffel bags we needed; but when I went to bring them upstairs so the kids could start packing, I found that two of the bags were shedding little bits of their waterproof coating all over the place. They had to go.

(It’s not like those bags owed us anything—they accompanied Mr. December and his brother to summer camp 30 years ago—but I was just so happy to think that at least I had luggage squared away.)

I decided to focus on bedding for a bit, so I went to the IKEA website and started loading things like inexpensive comforters into my cart. On a whim, I searched for “laundry bag” (because I needed those, too) and found this:

Image description: screenshot of the IKEA website. The product is a blue rectangular bag with handles, called FRAKTA. It sells for $3.99 and holds 76 litres.

It’s a 76-litre bag made out of the same indestructible material as those huge blue IKEA shopping bags you can buy at their checkout. This huge bag has zippers, carry handles, and shoulder straps (backpack-style.) And it costs $3.99. Four dollars for a bag that will probably never die? I hit “Add to cart” a few times.

And then I was sorely disappointed—again. IKEA has the worst e-commerce site I’ve seen in a while. They don’t tell you if an item is in stock for delivery until you get to the very end. So there I was, happily about to check out, when I was informed that the bag was out of stock for delivery. And for pickup. There were exactly zero 76L FRAKTA bags in their entire system. I almost cried.

And do you know where I ended up buying about half of today’s purchases? That’s right, Amazon.

So to recap, here are the lessons I should learn from today… but probably won’t:

  1. Don’t wait until bathing-suit weather to buy bathing suits—they’ll be sold out. The time to find swimwear for the kids is April.
  2. IKEA stuff looks promising but you’ll be disappointed somehow. (Didn’t we just cover this with the window shades, like, less than a week ago?)
  3. Despite your best efforts to buy from small local vendors, when you’re up against a deadline of any kind, or when you’re price sensitive, you’ll end up on Amazon. Again.

Lesson 1 I really should have learned the first time I had to buy bathing suits for camp, seven years ago. Lesson 2… well, as I said above, we just had this conversation last Friday. And lesson three… I’m still resisting, but sometimes it just seems inevitable.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn from today’s adventures, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour—which leads me to believe that after all these learning experiences, I’ve still learned nothing.

Camping it up · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 452: Packing

K accosted me this evening as I sat at my computer, about to start writing tonight’s post.

“Eema, you said we could talk about what stuff I need for camp that I don’t have yet.”

Right. I did say that. So we started going through the list.

Camp packing lists are tricky. On one hand, you really do need fourteen t-shirts because the laundry truck only comes once a week, so you have to have two full weeks of clothing (because one week’s will be at the laundry at any given time.) On the other hand, if there are things on the list that you don’t normally use, you might not need them at camp.

K balked at the fourteen pairs of socks. “I don’t even wear socks in the summer!” she pointed out.

“Then you don’t need fourteen pairs, do you?” I said reasonably. “Six or seven pairs will do, and one should be cozy just in case you have a couple of chilly nights.” Problem solved.

She moved on, “Four pairs of sweatpants? I don’t think I have any sweatpants. I don’t wear sweatpants.”

“Then don’t take them,” I said patiently. “Take comfy leggings instead.”

And so on, ad nauseum.

Shopping for this stuff is extra annoying this year: “non-essential” stores just opened a few days ago and can only have 15% of their normal (i.e. non-covid) capacity limit. This leads me to think I can expect long lineups just to get into the stores. Better to shop online, I think. Of course, that thinking is why my front hall looks like a shoe store specializing in Keens: we ordered a bunch of different sizes and styles online with the intention of returning the ones we don’t want. It’s a fine idea, but with six of us—four of whom are still growing—we ended up ordering a lot of shoes. And we’re not done yet.

The most annoying part of all this is that I’m carrying this mental load constantly, and I get distracted by it all the time. I’ve been writing this post for the past hour, because I keep suddenly thinking of a store to check for swimsuits, and then I’m off searching for a while before I remember that I have a post to write. But seriously, there’s a lot of stuff to get, and three kids to buy for, and it’s dominating my thoughts these days.

It’s a good thing the kids have enthusiastically (and diligently!) taken on the yearbook project. That’s one thing off my plate. I should delegate more often… maybe I should tell them to plan our upcoming travels and call it geography class.

family fun · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 451: Yearbook

This afternoon I sat the kids down to discuss their final writing assignment of the year: our homeschool yearbook. Like everything else we do, it started out as a tongue-in-cheek kind of lark, but will probably end up being a really great keepsake.

Image description: The kids sitting around the dining room table, with a laptop open to photobook editing software. There are bowls of popcorn on the table too, because meetings are better with snacks.

We started by listing all the things we wanted to include:

  • A message from the principal
  • Photos of the teachers, by subject
  • Student clubs (puzzle club, swing in the attic club, challah baking club, etc.)
  • Field trips and special events
  • A page for each subject with pictures of class activities and a short description
  • Feature: winners of the prestigious “student of the year” award (one per grade)
  • The “most likely to…” list
  • What happened in the world this year (“For context,” K said.)
  • Autograph pages (so students can sign each others’ yearbooks, and teachers can sign them too.)

I demonstrated how to use the photobook website, uploaded all the homeschool-related pictures from my camera, and then retreated to my desk to eavesdrop on them. Listening to them take charge of a project never gets old.

Mr. December is already chortling to himself about the banal messages he’s going to write in every kid’s yearbook: “Have a great summer” and so on. I was going to be just slightly more creative by signing every child’s book with “Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favourite student.” Too cheesy?

community · Early morning musings · el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · Sartorial stuff

Day 450: Bagels, Bugs, and Buying Shoes

Our day started early. We were scheduled to be at the community orchard for volunteer duty at 8:30; the kids resisted the idea of an early (for a Sunday) wake-up. In the face of their complaints, Mr. December and I did what any good managers would do: we added an incentive.

“Here’s the deal: Abba will be walking to the bakery to get fresh bread, and then he’ll head to the park. If we get there by 8:10 we’ll have time to eat our fresh bread for breakfast before the volunteer shift starts.”

It was beautiful out this morning as we enjoyed our fresh (still warm!) bagels and cream cheese at the long harvest table in the park. The kids even got there early enough to play for a bit before our work began.

Our job is to monitor the insect traps: we have to empty them through a strainer, examine and identify the bugs we caught, then rinse and refill the traps with bait and return them to the trees.

All the kids were on board a few weeks ago when we built the traps and mixed our first batch of bait. But this morning, as they saw the bugs collecting in the sieve, three of them backed away and asked the Orchard-Person-in-Chief for a different assignment. R and N spent some time digging and weeding in the pollinator garden bed while E was assigned the task of inspecting all the fruit trees for gypsy moths and ladybugs (squish the former, save the latter.)

K was my partner in entomological fun. She took some remarkably good pictures of the bugs we found. We spent a significant amount of time googling moth identification images and trying to figure out why the colouring was off; geniuses that we are, it was twenty minutes before we realized that the colouring was off because the moths had been sitting in a molasses-and-cider-vinegar bath for a few days. Of course. We confirmed that they were gypsy moths and then identified the cherry fruit flies (did you know they have stripes on their abdomen?). We even found a huge spider and her breakfast leftovers—half of a fly.

By 9:30 Mr. December and the two older kids had headed home to start their school day; R kept on weeding the pollinator bed while E and I went hunting for ladybugs to relocate to the aphid-infested plum tree.

I’m sure you had no idea—I certainly didn’t—but getting immature ladybugs off of their leaves is worse than getting four kids to leave the house… and the ladybugs can’t be bribed with bagels.

After the fresh bagels, the volunteer time in the orchard, and learning formal logic with the kids, I discovered that my feet fit into youth size six shoes. Why does this matter, you ask? Because I want a pair of Keens, and the kids’ sizes are nearly half the price of the adult ones—and they come in way better colours, too. And, as I put it to Mr. December:

“If I can buy kids’ shoes at half the price of the adult ones, does that mean I can get two pairs?”

el cheapo · family fun · water you paddling?

Day 449: Back to the Beach

At 8:00 this morning I didn’t feel like going anywhere. We had planned to go to the beach—we were to leave much earlier than eight, in fact—but I felt kind of lazy and would have been perfectly happy to stay home.

I’m glad we didn’t. As soon as I got out of the car and smelled the air I felt energetic. Inflating the kayaks took a bit of time and effort (less than ten minutes, but I got very spoiled last September at the cottage where I could be on the water in under a minute) but when R and I paddled out, it felt wonderful.

K and N had put up a fight about going to the beach, but in the end they came along. K didn’t go into the water at all, but she did enjoy some fries from the food truck (she’s a teenager now, which means she’s feeding a massive growth spurt, which means she’s always hungry.) N waded out in the water and then surprised the heck out of me by wanting to go kayaking.

As we were packing up the car to go back home, I offhandedly said, “Hey honey, I think I need a better kayak.”

“What’s wrong with the ones we have?”

“They don’t have foot pegs, and they drift a bit. And they feel kind of slow,” I answered.

“Why didn’t you do your research before you bought these ones?” He asked in exactly the tone of voice you’re imagining right now.

“I did my research! But if I’d said I wanted to buy a $600 kayak you’d have gone into a whole speech about how I don’t even know if I’ll use it that much, and so I bought the cheapest ones I could find to try it out first!”

“Well, you don’t seem to use them very much,” he observed.

“Maybe if they were easier and more fun to paddle I’d use them more!”

He conceded that he’s familiar with the chicken-and-egg case of higher-quality equipment making it more likely that you’ll actually stick with a new activity.

I’m not going kayak shopping right now. I’m being explicit about this because I’ve just spent half an hour looking at kayaks online; but I need to focus on getting the kids ready and packed up for overnight camp. They leave on July 7… and then I’ll go kayak shopping.