Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Day 922: Shana Tova!

What with my computer being unusable, I didn’t blog the last two days—so I missed the opportunity to wish everyone a happy, sweet new year. Shana Tova U’metuka!

I made something cool with challah dough—challah napkin rings. Everyone could break open their napkin ring as soon as the blessing was said, instead of having to wait for one person to rip and distribute pieces of the large challah.

Challah napkin rings on blue napkins, on a table set for Rosh Hashana.

I made a large challah as well, and it was pretty cool: I basically made challah buns in a variety of sizes, stuck them together around a mason jar, and baked it like that. Then the mason jar came out and was replaced with an apple—hollowed out, filled with honey, and fitted with a spoon through the “lid.” Among other things, making it out of many buns stuck together meant that the challah was easy to pull apart.

(On a side note—because I’ve heard a lot of people make this mistake—the “ch” in challah is pronounced like the “ch” in the Scottish loch, not like the “ch” in “child.” If you can’t make that sound, it’s fine to just say “Hallah.” But “tchallah” (hard ch) is right out.)

A round challah bread on a decorative platter. The challah has a hole in the center in which there's an apple with a spoon sticking out of it. You can't see it, but the apple has been hollowed out and is full of honey.

May this year be filled with sweetness, good health, and peace—for all of us, and all the world.

whine and cheese

Day 919: It’s dead, Jim.

My computer is dead. First it went senile—thinking it was charging when it wasn’t even plugged in—and then it refused to charge.

It’s done this before, little drama queen that it is, but I’ve always been able to solve the problem by resetting the SMC. I tried that this time… four or five times. All it did was deplete the battery. Now what?

I can take it to the Apple Store… but not until next week. You may be seeing a lot less of me around here, because my computer was the second laptop to die in the last month—the family PC laptop doesn’t work anymore—and now there are two computers for five people (Mr. December has his own, of course, which nobody else is ever allowed to touch.) Computer time is a scarce resource… and I’m not at all okay with blogging from my phone. I still type text messages with one finger.

Anyhow, we’re okay even if our tech isn’t. Have a great weekend—I’ll try to write, but no promises.

ADHD · Getting Organized · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 918: Evolution

My shameful secret (okay, fine, it’s neither secret nor am I particularly ashamed, but it makes a great opening, no?) is that I’m fabulous at organizing things and creating systems, but I can’t maintain those systems to save my life. I’d make a great personal organizer on TV—swoop in, figure out what people need, make it all organized and pretty, and then leave.

For years—but especially since I was diagnosed with ADHD and I accepted the utter futility of trying keep track of things in my head—I’ve been searching for the holy grail of organizers. I tried apps, reminders, and Trello before I landed on bullet journalling last March; so far it’s been pretty successful, in that I’m still using it most days.

Organizing the kids’ school tasks has been a similar challenge, and we’ve been through quite a few systems in the two and a half years since we started homeschooling. First we had these weekly checklists:

Then at Mr. December’s request, we went to a schedule-type system with magnets for each subject (so we could move them around at will):

The magnets became a bit of a pain to use, so we removed them and just used whiteboard markers to fill in the schedule:

Eventually, however, even that became too high-maintenance for me, and for a couple of months we had no particular system in place. It was… not ideal, to say the least. N in particular needs to know what’s going to happen and what he needs to do.

So this year I decided to go extremely low-tech and low-prep (because really, preparation is the problem for me; I can do almost anything on the fly.) I gave each kid a spiral-bound notebook (colour-coded, of course) to keep on their respective (colour-coded) clipboards. We use it like a bullet journal—every morning I create a checklist of tasks; the kids check things off as they do them, and I use arrows and other symbols to indicate when a task needs to be pushed to the next day. The clipboards are hung on the wall—easy to see, hard to lose.

Three plastic clipboards (one blue, one green, one pink) hanging on hooks. Each one has an open spiral notebook in its grasp, open to a page with a checklist.

It’s not the prettiest organizer, nor is it the coolest. But it takes me five to ten minutes every morning and requires zero prep, which makes it way easier to maintain. The kids seem to like it; Mr. December likes it; and so far, it’s working for us.

Homeschool · water you paddling?

Day 917: YOLO

YOLO=You Only Live Once

(Unless you’re Buddhist or Hindu, in which case you live many times unless you manage to reach enlightenment in the first go-round.)

It was beautiful out this morning. Mid-20s (Celsius), sunny, no humidity. We had our first hour of school on the back porch. It was lovely, but the wider world was calling to me. So…

“Let’s go to the beach,” I announced to the kids. “I’ll bring the kayak; you can bring whatever your want. Go get ready now… and I’ll call Savta.”

My mum (whom the kids call Savta) loves large bodies of water. Just sitting on a boat in the middle of the lake makes her happy. That’s why I knew I needed to drag her along with me. I woke her up when I called just before 10:00. “Get over here, we’re going to the beach,” I told her, and she did.

It took us forty minutes to get there—we listened to a podcast about the history of penicillin, which definitely counts as school (incidentally, did you know you can extract penicillin from the urine of someone who is taking it?). Then some of us chose to sit on the beach and read or whittle (K brought her knife) while the rest of us either waded around or kayaked. The beach was deserted, the water was warm (but shallow: the water level is alarmingly low,) and the sky was clear. Beautiful.

Today we didn’t do any math, geography, grammar, or music; but there will be plenty of time for multiplication drills, instrument practice, and geography quizzes on days that are rainy, cold, dreary, or just plain blah. There are only so many nice days left this year. Heck, there are only so many nice days left this life. I’m glad we took advantage of this one.

Jewy goodness

Day 916: Not Ready

The holiday season is upon us. Rosh Hashana starts on Sunday night. Here’s a list of things I don’t have ready yet:

  • Dressy clothes for everyone
  • Reservations for the synagogue services of our choice (because numbers limited due to COVID)
  • Open area on ground where the sukkah needs to go (it’s got waist-high weeds all over it at the moment)
  • Meal plans for any of the meals I’m hosting
  • Guests for any of the meals I’m hosting (drop me a line if you want to visit our sukkah)

On the upside, I think K is starting to feel a bit better. I was better enough to walk a few blocks to the optician today and order some new glasses. Another thing that isn’t ready in time for the holidays.

Four more days to get ready, not counting Shabbat. I can still pull this off. At least the sukkah doesn’t need to be ready for another two and a half weeks…

better homes than yours · DIY · Renovation

Day 915: Layers

“Know what else has layers? Parfaits! You ever meet someone, you say, “Let’s go get some parfaits,” they say, ‘No, I don’t like no parfaits’?” -Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Shrek

Donkey wasn’t wrong about parfaits, but you know what else had layers that nobody even knew were there?

Our driveway.

The paving contractors came today to dig up our driveway and lay down the gravel base for the new pavement. It took eight men (at least), two dump trucks, and three pieces of heavy equipment (diggers and a roller) six hours to get the job done. Why so long?

Well, there were two different layers of asphalt and an entire concrete driveway under there (“Guess that’s why the driveway wasn’t in really awful shape,” Mr. December mused.) Also hidden among the layers of pavement were two municipal water shut-off valves—both of which are obsolete (the current shutoff valve is in the middle of the front lawn.)

“We didn’t wanna pave over these without asking you first,” the foreman said. “I dunno, maybe this one is for your neighbours’ house or something?”

“Well, obviously nobody has needed it for the last thirty years, since it was under the asphalt. I’d say it’s safe to pave over again,” I reasoned.

I regret to tell you that I didn’t take any photos of how deep they had to dig to get down to bare earth. I should have—it was pretty impressive. The kids were impressed when they saw the giant hole, though.

Now we’ve got three weeks of parking on gravel before they come back and lay the asphalt. And then it’s time for a family DIY project… stay tuned!

Good Grief

Day 914: Aunty Clara

The world lost a very special woman last Friday; my Aunty Clara died.

Aunty Clara wasn’t my biological aunt—she was one of the Aunties I’ve known my whole life. You know how sometimes life gifts you a person who just makes it clear how much they love you without actually saying those words? Aunty Clara was that person.

Anybody who knew her could tell you that she was elegant, poised, welcoming, and an avid gardener. A smaller group of people might remember that she always smelled like peppermint chewing gum, and that she was superstitious enough to say the opposite of what she meant so as to confuse the evil eye: “such an ugly face,” she’d croon lovingly while holding my face in both her hands. I didn’t understand it as a kid, but looking back now I can see and hear the love and affection with which she said it. For the record, she said it a lot.

When I was twenty (give or take a year, I don’t remember) my parents took me on a cruise; Aunty and Uncle joined us. I remember sitting with Aunty on the top deck of the boat, talking about my boyfriend (Mr. December, of course) and the challenges of balancing time with my family and time with him. I don’t remember what Aunty said, but I do remember feeling heard and understood… and loved. Always loved.

Aunty lived a long life, and a good one. We should all be so lucky.

I’ll miss her.

Just the two of us · Kids · love and marriage · Worldschooling

Day 913: Midnight Monologue

Thursday night was a total bust, in terms of sleep. I think I might have gotten four hours, if that. Mr. December didn’t fare much better (except that he handles sleep deprivation way better than I do); when I realized he was still awake, I scooted over to him and snuggled into his side. Then I started talking.

“Did you get my email tonight? The one about traveling? I looked at Vietnam and it looks so cool—they have these entire villages, each of which specializes in a different handicraft! We could do a tour of them… pottery, bronze casting, conical-hat-making, woodcarving… the kids would love it. I would love it. We should do that, okay?”

“Mmph,” he grunted. I took that for assent… and encouragement to continue.

“Oh, and I found a program in Thailand where you do a four-day homestay in a remote village, learn their weaving technique, do some cultural exchange, and observe the elephants. Doesn’t that sound cool? You don’t have to sleep in someone’s house—there’s a lodge you can stay in instead, but you still get assigned a host family and you eat with them and stuff. We should do that. The cultural exchange stuff is always the best part of a trip, right?”

“Mmph-hmm.” Seriously, if he didn’t occasionally grunt or squeeze my hand, I’d have thought he was asleep. But he was listening.

“The driveway contractor said he had a cancellation tomorrow afternoon and might be able to squeeze us in. Isn’t that exciting? I guess I need to figure out how to get permission to park overnight when we have to stay off the asphalt. That won’t happen for a few weeks yet… first they have to lay down the gravel base and let it settle… but I should get it figured out anyway. Oh, and I think we should do a concrete walkway with embedded objects or a mosaic or something between the driveway and the front steps. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

“Could be…” he mumbled.

“I am so proud of E! She dictated a whole story—three pages of text—to me today! And did you see the adorable pics we took of her stuffies? We’ll use those as the illustrations for her book. I looked into Amazon self-publishing and I think that would be way cheaper than having it printed as a photo book. Besides, then we can get more copies whenever we want to…

“Oh, and N did amazing with his Hebrew work today. He was answering a question in the workbook, and you know they give you all the vocabulary you’ll need, but he wanted to say something different, and he just made up the spelling for “trampoline” and he was mostly right! I had to teach him the spelling rule about the difference between tet and tav, but isn’t it great that he branched out and didn’t just write the easiest answer?”

“Hmmmm…” a hum of agreement from my bed buddy.

“I love you,” I said. “We’re so lucky.”

He nodded and squeezed my hand.

“I don’t think I can sleep yet,” I sighed, “but you probably should. Goodnight, love. Sleep well.”

And then I continued silently, in my head:

Man, it’s so true what I used to say about marriage being a sleepover with your best friend every night. Speaking of best friends, I should call S and see how her family is doing… and I haven’t called L in a while. Did I remember to reschedule that doctor’s appointment? Ugh, I’d better check tomorrow…

My brain is a noisy place at night, I tell you.

better homes than yours · el cheapo · Just the two of us · Renovation

Day 911: The Driveway

When we renovated our house, we decided not to include any landscaping or paving in the project; I think we didn’t want to make the build any more expensive than it already was.

That was a mistake.

It’s better to cry once, as Mr. December says. If the house had cost an extra $10K but with the exterior taken care of as well, it’d be done now. Instead I get to go back and forth with him over whether it’s worth spending money to fix our driveway.

His argument: The driveway is fine. It still works.

My argument: The driveway is all cracked and crumbling. It’s uneven enough to cause twisted ankles (ask how I know) and meltwater doesn’t drain properly anymore, so we get sheets of ice in winter.

His rebuttal: I’d still rather not.

I mean, what do you think? Bear in mind, the worst parts are right where the car’s shadow is, to the left of the car.

Photo of our driveway and the front yard. Driveway is cracked with weeds growing up through the cracks.

Here’s a different angle, a screenshot from Google’s street view. All those dark areas? They used to be patches; now they’re mostly holes with a drop-off at the edge.

Our driveway and minivan. The driveway has multiple patched areas.

The issue came to a head when I injured my knee and the ambulance came to take me to the hospital. The stretcher wheels got stuck in the cracks and potholes at least three times. It was embarrassing—I wanted to pretend that we were just renting and it was the landlord who was a cheapskate. Sadly, the cheapskate is…

…look, we all know. I’m not naming names again.

Point is, the driveway needs to be done. At this point it’s a safety issue—especially with R’s and my unstable ankles and knees.

I got a couple of quotes—not a lot. In the end, I decided to get asphalt again. I’m just not sure that I want to spend an extra $15K on interlocking brick. Does it look nicer? Of course. But are there like five other things I’d rather do with the money? Um, YEAH. In the end, I need a driveway that’s even, and properly sloped.

So I chose a company: excellent reviews, in business for decades, no deposit (payment upon completion)… how bad can it be?


Day 910: Teaser

I spent a lot of time helping E with a project. Tell me these aren’t some of the cutest pics you’ve seen today:

Three guesses as to what the project is…

I’ve started a new system for keeping the kids on task during homeschool hours. Riffing off my bullet journal, I gave each of them a spiral-bound notebook (in their respective colours, of course.) We’ll list their goals for the term and for the month at the front, and then each day we write a checklist for them to complete. If we’ve excused them from certain items, those get moved to the next day’s list. It’s simple and it worked well today. I’ll keep you posted.