DIY · Jewy goodness · The COVID files

Day 304: I got this.

Our living room is set up for services. On the lectern are printouts of K’s speech, her Haftarah and its blessings, and the blessings for the Torah reading. Siddurim are printed and stapled. The kippot are set out for the ten of us. I even ironed K’s bat mizvah logo onto white face masks. As Bryan Adams sang, I’m ready as I’m gonna be.

I remember helping my mom get ready for our b’nei mitzvah almost thirty years ago. There was no COVID, of course, so we had actual in-person services. I remember helping mum make little amenity baskets for the synagogue bathrooms: extra pantyhose, mouthwash, dental floss, pads and tampons, hand cream. I remember a scramble to finish our speeches and the introductions for the evening’s candle lighting ceremony.

They were all-weekend events: Friday evening there would be Shabbat dinner in our home for twenty or thirty (or more?) people. Then we had the service (i.e. the actual mitzvah) on Saturday morning followed by some kind of luncheon, a four- or five-hour break, and then a fancy party in the evening. Sunday morning was a brunch for all the guests from out-of-town. It was a happy, exciting whirlwind.

Tomorrow morning we’ll have over one hundred people joining us via Zoom, from near and far. Some of them wouldn’t have been able to join us if this was a normal in-person bat mitzvah; I guess that’s one point in favour of the Zoom-Mitzvah. K won’t have all the parties and the hullabaloo, but I hope that her bat mitzvah will at least feel special. I also want it to be memorable for reasons other than COVID.

I guess I’ve done all I can do. I’ve written all I can write. I promise to tell you all about it tomorrow night or Sunday.

DIY · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · The COVID files

Day 303: I’ve learned so much

Usually it’s the Bat Mitzvah girl who has to learn a whole host of new things: how to read the trop (cantillation signs), the intricacies of the torah service, and text study of the parsha she’s reading. In our case, though, because of COVID-19, I’ve had to learn a great many new things in order to make this bat mitzvah work.

I’ve learned all about hosting a Zoom meeting: how to mute all participants, how to share a video, settings that give participants the option to unmute, and how to make it so that the same speaker is always fullscreen no matter who’s talking (this is called spotlighting, FYI.)

I’ve learned that there are new ways of calling people up for an aliyah to the Torah that are gender-neutral. One in particular really appeals to me: instead of calling someone “(firstname) son/daughter of (parents’ names)”, we can say “(firstname) mi-beit—which means “from the house of” (parents’ names.) I don’t know why I’m so into it, but I am.

I’ve learned that there’s a local-ish florist who does beautiful work, is reasonably priced, and is a lovely person to work with. I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of freedom (for me) in telling the florist, “This is my budget, this is what the flowers are for, make me something beautiful.”

I’ve learned how much work it takes to get things exactly right. I compiled a booklet that contains the abbreviated Shabbat morning service we’ll be doing; I had to go back and fix it four or five times. The sixth time I noticed an error (there were no page numbers) I said, “Forget it—we’ll number the pages by hand.” From now on I’ll be a lot less critical of people who publish books that contain what I think are obvious typos.

I’ve learned roughly how much my kids remember from their time in Jewish day schools; As I practice to lead most of the service, I sometimes catch them singing along. It’s neat to see that even a few years of daily prayers have given my children quite a lot of familiarity with the liturgy.

I’ve learned that I can totally pull off a bat mitzvah with only about two weeks of planning—except for the kippot, which I ordered five weeks ago and which arrived today. They were too late to be included in most of the packages we delivered to local friends and family, but I suppose K can mail them out with any thank-you notes she has to write, as a souvenir of the occasion.

Most importantly, I’ve learned what is necessary and what is just nice to have. A new dress for me—nice, but not necessary. A Torah scroll—pretty necessary for what we’re doing. Guests—necessary. Food—necessary. A fancy catered meal—nice but not necessary. At least one person with knowledge of Jewish ritual and liturgy—necessary. Four-foot-high letter outlines, filled with small balloons, that spell out the bat mitzvah girl’s name—really not necessary.

Mr. December has always expressed the opinion that our children’s bar and bat mitzvahs should be “less bar, more mitzvah.” Thanks to COVID-19, his wish has been granted.

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Jewy goodness · The COVID files

Day 301: Mikdash Me’at (a little temple)

Jewish tradition says that ever since the Beit Hamikdash (main temple in Jerusalem) was destroyed, each Jewish home is a Mikdash Me’at (little temple.) I usually take that to mean that all the small Jewish rituals we do in our homes—Chanukah candles, Kiddush for Shabbat, Havdallah, even thanking God after meals—make our homes a place for spiritual connection with the divine. But today I got a bit more literal with the whole “little temple” thing: I turned my living room into a chapel of sorts for K’s bat mitzvah.

I feel like this should be a tutorial. I could show you how to make a Torah-reading table out of an IKEA desk, some leftover moulding scraps, a spare drawer box, and some Masonite. You have all of those things at home, don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?


Does that mean you also don’t have seven metres of sheer drapery fabric sitting around? Because that would be really useful to hide the computers and messy cubbies from the webcam.

Nevermind, then.

Image description: white plastic envelopes, each sealed with a duck-shaped sticker.

K and I prepared little packages for some of our more local friends and family, containing the siddur (prayer book) I’ve compiled for the event as well as some soft candies to throw at the bat mitzvah girl. We sealed them with the logo stickers I designed (rubber ducky silhouette wearing a blue kippah and a blue mask,) and spent two hours driving around to deliver them in person, before the stay-at-home order comes into effect at midnight tonight. We didn’t get to a few people, but they’re the ones who live close enough that we can go for a walk and just drop the package into their mailbox, so we can do it tomorrow or Friday (I’m pretty sure a stay-at-home order still allows us to go for a walk.)

Below are some pics of our reading table uncovered, N playing on the computer behind the drapes we put up (using a tension rod) to hide all the clutter, and K reading during our Zoom rehearsal (note the computer sitting on a stack of game boxes.) There’s plenty I could tell you about our rehearsal, but I’ll just say that it was much needed. And now I’m off to relax a bit before my bed beckons any louder.

family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · mental health · The COVID files

Day 300: Getting Ready

I spent most of today getting ready for K’s Bat Mitzvah, which is this weekend. It won’t be the grand affair we imagined last year, but there’s plenty to do: tidy up the part of our living room that will be on camera (anybody who Zooms knows how that goes); arrange to pick up the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) from our synagogue office; compile a booklet of the abridged service we’re doing on Saturday and format it so people can download the PDF; figure out what K wants to have for brunch after the service and order it.

Oh, and I’m leading the whole service, so I should probably rehearse a bit and make sure I know what I’m doing when. And practice the Torah reading. That’s all.

I got thrown for a bit of a loop this afternoon by the announcement of tighter COVID restrictions. For a tense few hours I was worried that we had lost the ability to have ten people, physically distanced, for a religious ceremony or rite. Thankfully that rule remains unchanged with this latest announcement. In fact, I’m having a hard time seeing what did change, really. We’re now being told not to leave the house except for medical care, groceries, and outdoor exercise (physically distanced, of course.)

After the announcement I had a sudden sense of being hemmed in, and a mild panicky feeling. I don’t know why—absolutely nothing has changed for us from last week, and we haven’t gone anywhere in ages—but suddenly this announcement made me feel like we’ll be stuck here forever, in an endless cycle of opening up and then locking down. As of now, the emergency order is for 28 days. After that… who knows?

But this weekend we have a simcha (happy event,) virtual though it is, and I’m determined to make it feel special for K. Tomorrow (while we’re still allowed to leave the house) we’ll be dropping off packages (that contain a copy of the booklet and some candies to throw at K) at the homes of our nearby family and friends. K is coming with me: putting a package on the doorstep, knocking, and then stepping away is as close as she’s going to get to actually seeing anyone in person.

Mr. December has taken on the task of schooling the kids tomorrow while I do whatever needs to be done for Saturday. I’m hoping he’ll be just as agreeable when I tell him that one of the tasks on my to-do list is a nap.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health · waxing philosophical

Day 299: Avoidance Hobbies

I took up the viola again when E was eight months old. It became my default activity anytime I wasn’t motivated to do anything else. If it was a bad depression day, I’d just play the songs that I knew so well they were automatic. On other days I would work on newer pieces. That process was automatic too, actually: play each phrase on its own, identify the trouble spots, play one slowly at first and increase the tempo gradually, repeat again for muscle memory, next phrase. Practicing viola was easy for me, even when the pieces I was learning were hard.

It sounds like I was using my time productively, and in some ways I was. But to my mind it was just like taking a nap to shut out the world, except that it sounds productive. Day after day I would practice viola until my hands hurt, while my responsibilities—mail, bills, correspondence, scheduling—went undone.

I injured my left arm on Friday, which means that I can’t play viola right now; but I just happened to get some new calligraphy pens this weekend, and it’s turning into my next “avoidance hobby” (for lack of a better term.)

I bought the pens for a specific homeschool project: illuminated manuscripts of the kids’ chosen quotations from Pirkei Avot. I took the pens out to try them before introducing them to the kids; an hour later I was still practicing my Hebrew calligraphy and marveling at how perfect some of the letters looked. One by one the kids joined me and practiced writing Hebrew letters (much more willingly than they would have otherwise.)

Today we were doing some preparation for Passover (this will be the year that my kids can actually read some of the text fluently in Hebrew) which involved copywork. The kids are usually reluctant to do it, but they jumped at the chance to use the calligraphy markers again. I did it alongside them, enjoying the focus and flow that comes to me when I’m creating one letter at a time.

Now I can’t decide whether the calligraphy is meditative enough to call it a mindfulness practice, or just another avoidance strategy? I certainly have plenty to do—mail, cellphone contract re-negotiation, finishing up things for K’s bat mitzvah, adding a sketch to the email I drafted for the landscape designer—but I can’t bring myself to do them right now, whereas I’d happily sit down with the markers and some lined paper for another hour of calligraphy practice.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 298: A Mixed Bag

This morning I announced that there would be no computer use after 12:30 p.m.

There were moans and complaints, but we stood firm. They got off the computers, went upstairs, and started playing. It was the kind of play I love to see from kids: there was an imaginative storyline, there were props, there were roles and rules. Every so often I heard snippets of conversation, but for the most part it was the four of them in the attic.

That’s right, four. For reasons unknown to me, K joined their game today. They were all laughing and having fun and there were no major fights or calls of “Mo-om! He hit me!” They played like that for hours.

Mr. December and I spent an hour going over our financials from 2020. We concluded that, among other things, ordering in pizza was too frequent and too expensive last year. Mr. December suggested that we go back to making homemade pizza.

The kids cheered when they heard we were having pizza for dinner. Then I revealed that we were going to make it ourselves, and they booed. The complaints started:

“I hate pizza!”

“I can’t eat it. Every time I eat pizza that isn’t from Pizzaiolo, I throw up a little.”

“I don’t like cheese! You know I don’t like cheese!”

And so on.

I quickly scrapped my make-two-large-pizzas plan and announced our first “family make-your-own-pizza” night. I divided the dough into sixths, distributed them, and told everyone to do whatever they wanted with the dough. E wanted garlic bread, so I showed her how to make garlic breadsticks with pizza dough. R and I made fairly conventional cheese pizzas; I also used half my dough to make an olive oil & za’atar flatbread. N made a weird deep-dish type pizza, and K made a pizza crust topped with melted chocolate, bananas, and strawberries.

Mr. December challenged the kids to make him “something weird.” They added all sorts of things like mango, olives, and hot sauce; then they insisted that he wear a blindfold while tasting their creation. He successfully identified four of the five toppings, and pronounced the pizza “really good!”

Image description: a man seated at a wooden table, wearing a blue scarf as a blindfold. A plate in front of him holds a pizza with many toppings. Two girls observe, smiling.

I got a plant dumped on me tonight. E was climbing up on the windowsill behind my desk chair. She must have reached up to the ledge by my desk to steady herself, and the trailing plant I have on the ledge came down on me. There was soil everywhere. I vacuumed up most of it, but as I sit here I can see that I forgot the surface of my desk, so focused was I on the chair, the floor, and my clothes. To E’s credit, she did do some of the vacuuming up.

Everything hurts. I did something to my left arm on Friday night, and now it hurts if I bend my hand forward. And the fibro pain has also migrated to my arms, along with a fatigue that made it hard to hold my cards during our evening board game. The pain makes it hard to distract myself with my usual activities (viola and quilting—not at the same time,) but between the board game and make-your-own pizza night there was enough going on this evening to keep me from feeling too bad.

Still, this lockdown can’t possibly end soon enough.

Apathy · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · parenting · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 297: Get Outside

I’m not the only one in this family feeling the strain, and it’s really starting to show. A few nights ago I asked E to get ready for bed; she dug in her heels and refused, then began to cry. Eventually she calmed down and when I asked her what happened, she answered tearfully, “You know, Eema, I’ve just had a really stressful day.” Not what you want to hear from your six-year-old.

Last night we were reading in bed after tucking in all the kids. After knocking on our door, R came in and jumped onto our bed for a hug. She does this from time to time, coming in for a few hugs and then going to bed. Last night was different, though: at one point she started to cry, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me what was bothering her. She ended up sleeping on a mattress on our bedroom floor.

N begged me to stay with him until he fell asleep last night, but I suspect that has more to do with Mr. December’s choice of movie—Contagion—to watch with N and K than it does with any kind of lockdown-related angst.

And K… well, she’s a teenager now, which means emotional outbursts are par for the course. Come to think of it, outbursts have been par for the course for a long time with her: ADHD will do that. Bottom line: I don’t know where “normal” teenage reactions end and “crisis” reactions to COVID restrictions begin.

We forced the kids outside today. The sun was shining and it was above zero. Still, the kids resisted. They begged us to let them keep playing Roblox. They insisted they weren’t going anywhere. E cried in frustration. I don’t remember how we did it, but we somehow got all of them outside. Some of us went for a walk, others played on the trampoline and swings, and still others sat on the porch, reading; but we all got outside, and it did us good.

We should be getting everyone outside every day, rain or shine, but it’s just so difficult to get the kids to do it that on my more depressive days I can’t summon the strength of will to outlast them. I hope that one of these days they’ll realize how much better they feel when they have some outdoor time, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe I’ll just make screen time contingent on having spent a certain amount of time outside.

After dinner tonight R came to me and asked permission to play on the computer again. I said no. She nagged, she begged, she cried. I stood firm. It was a rough half-hour, but as I type she’s sitting on the floor with a book while the Secret Garden Broadway cast recording plays. N is reading too, and E is inventing a game with random small objects on the coffee table. I haven’t heard “Can I play Among Us?” in at least an hour.

I wonder what life would look like in our house if I just took away the computers. I don’t know if I have the fortitude right now to withstand the whining and nagging that would surely ensue, but it’s very tempting.

Apathy · Fibro Flares · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 296: Beyond Caring.

K’s bat mitzvah is in one week, and because of COVID stuff I’m leading the service. I’m not ready.

My kids are spending way too much time on screens every single day.

My tween’s attitude can poison an entire homeschool lesson for everyone involved, and this afternoon it did.

I owe an e-mail to the landscape designer. It’s only about four months overdue.

I’ve been bringing the mail inside, but haven’t opened any in months.

I’ve gained more weight, again.

My legs have been hurting for two weeks straight.

Our Premier made vague reference to even tighter restrictions than the current lockdown.

It’s been too long since I last hugged my parents.

I want to get outside with the kids everyday but they fight me every step of the way, and these days I don’t have the fortitude to make them; they spend entire days without going outside.

I think I’m getting cabin fever. I want to go somewhere but that’s obviously not going to happen anytime soon.

I want the sun to come back.

I want to not be depressed.

Sorry, folks. This is all I’ve got right now. Don’t worry, it’ll pass.

Shabbat Shalom.

el cheapo · Keepin' it real · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 295: Murderers.

My children are murderers, I tell you. Murderers!

The broken bodies of their victims are strewn across the living room, their cords severed and frayed, their headbands snapped. Poor things. They never stood a chance.

And what’s my role in all of this? I have to bring in new victims when the current crop are all dead. Today’s shiny new headsets are tomorrow’s junk. It’s a sad cycle.

Image description: close-up of several pairs of headphones, each broken somehow: a severed cord, one has exposed copper wire, broken headband, disconnected earpiece.

It’s not that my kids are maliciously trying to ruin every set of headphones I buy. It’s just that things happen. E leaves the computer quickly to go to the bathroom, forgetting that she’s wearing headphones, and the cord stretches to the breaking point. N, ever fidgeting with whatever he can get his hands on, plays with the cords until he’s peeled off the outer coating, exposed the wires themselves, and frayed the wires beyond repair. Or someone sits on a pair of headphones that were left on a chair, and the headband snaps. The kids are clearly not setting out to ruin their headphones, but somehow that’s always the end result.

I’ve bought cheap headsets so that I wouldn’t be upset about having to replace them. I’ve bought expensive headsets, hopeful that their higher-quality construction would protect them. They’re all useless now.

I’ve never bought cordless headsets: I avoided them because I assumed that the kids would wander away from the computer, take off the headsets somewhere else in the house, and promptly forget where. I still think that’s a valid assumption, but I can’t just go on luring unsuspecting headphones to their deaths: I need to try something different.

So today I ordered our first ever cordless headset (for the kids; I have my own), and it arrived this afternoon (curbside pickup.) It’s set up and functional. I hope it’s longer-lived than its wired predecessors; I guess time will tell.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · lists · mental health

Day 294: My day in Google searches

Lenovo usb-c monitor only works intermittently
It works beautifully, except when it doesn’t—which is every few days. Apparently it’s a common problem, although nobody mentioned it in the product reviews I read before I bought the darned thing.

“Morons of Peggy’s Cove”
We just learned about Peggy’s Cove, NS in geography. We were discussing the dangers of walking on the black rocks when I mentioned a Twitter account dedicated to shaming people who ignore the warnings. Naturally, the kids wanted to see it.

Unicorn Colouring Sheet
E regularly asks me to print colouring pages for her. The subject changes every so often: it used to be Paw Patrol, then Peppa Pig. Today it’s unicorns. E really is getting quite good at colouring inside the lines.

ADHD meds in non-pill form?
All I’m going to say here is, if ADHD meds are so commonly prescribed to kids, why has nobody come up with a liquid formulation that doesn’t taste absolutely awful? If Tylenol can do it, why can’t Concerta?

Teach beginning guitar
I’m cracking down this term and making sure that all of the kids are learning musical instruments. I gave R a free choice (of any instrument we own) and she opted for guitar. I can play guitar, but it doesn’t naturally follow that I know how best to teach it. Google to the rescue!

Good winter hikes near Toronto
I need to get all of us out of the house more often, and it seems the only way to ensure everyone’s participation is by taking them for a long(ish) drive to a hiking trail. If we try for a hike close to home (in the neighbourhood) the kids who don’t want to go will just turn around and walk home by themselves.

Seasonal affective disorder irritability
This would explain why I completely lost it and shouted at the kids several times today. It’s rough.

COVID numbers Ontario
We’re on week 3 of a “lockdown” and numbers are still rising. What gives?

COVID numbers Barbados
This was just wishful thinking. Mr. December thinks it would be fine to travel. I don’t. Did I mention the lockdown?

Is this a coup?
My cousin (who lives in Washington, DC) posted to reassure everyone that he and his family are safe, which led me to ask why they wouldn’t be, which led me to Google. Again. The USA is still a flaming dumpster fire. Maybe we should unplug them, wait ten seconds, and plug them back in?