Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

Advice on adapting to your environment

by Decemberbaby

Dear Snarky Advice Lady,

Our home has a steeply sloped driveway which gets very slippery in the winter. We were trying to get a young family member back to her home as per our arrangement, but neither of our cars (one over a decade old with no winter tires, the other with rear-wheel-drive) could make it up the driveway from the garage. It’s almost the little girl’s bedtime. What should we do?

Confused in Canada


Dear Confused,

You should definitely shrug your shoulders in defeat and ask the girl’s mother to get her baby out of bed and drive over to get her daughter. And then you should hunker down in your home and wait for the spring thaw. Heaven knows that applying road salt or sand to the driveway would require too much foresight – you’d have to know both that you were expected to bring the kid home and that your driveway is slippery when there’s ice on the ground – and putting winter tires on your cars is just stupid when you live somewhere it snows as little as it does in much of Canada. No, you did the right thing. Don’t forget to apologize profusely – it’s the only way the mother will forgive your shameful lack of common sense and planning ahead.


January 31, 2011

Menu Plan Monday – January 31 edition

by Decemberbaby

This is a strange week for us, since we’re leaving on Wednesday for a month in warmer climes. I’ve planned today’s and tomorrow’s dinners… everything else is just a guess, at best.

Monday – Moroccan grilled chicken breasts and citrus-nut couscous (I STILL haven’t had a chance to make it, even though it’s been on my MPM post for the past two weeks at least!)

Tuesday – Brisket, mashed potatoes, and broccoli

Wednesday – Willing to bet we’ll be invited to eat dinner at my aunt’s house. Usually some kind of meat with gravy, and either rice or mashed breadfruit.

Thursday – Probably dinner at Just Grillin’ : grilled fish or chicken, grilled veg, salad

Friday – Shabbat dinner at aunty’s house. Chicken soup, egg ‘n’ onion, some kind of main course. I’ll bake challah. Dessert at synagogue after services.

Saturday – I’ve got a hankerin’ for pizza from Chefette.

Sunday – I’ll probably push for a bigger lunch, maybe at Flying Fish, and then breakfast for dinner: French toast and fruit.

Wow, and that’s it! What are you eating this week? If you’re stuck for ideas, go check out some other menu plans over at

January 30, 2011

Demystifying Montessori

by Decemberbaby

A few weeks ago Mr. December and I attended a parents’ information breakfast at K’s school. The topic: “Your tuition and the economics of eduction”, or as we termed it, “why our school costs so damn much”. It gradually turned into a discussion of how to attract more students, which in turn became a discussion of what makes us different from the other Jewish day schools in the city. It dawned on me that even some of the parents with kids in our school really didn’t seem to understand that it’s not just another private school – it represents a significant shift away from the average educational model. If parents of montessori students don’t understand that, why would we expect anyone else to?

I came home on a mission – to figure out what the average person knows or assumes about montessori. I turned to Facebook and posted the question in my status. Four friends were kind enough to answer. I want to use their comments and questions as a jumping-off point for a bit of an explanation about Montessori – what it is, what it isn’t, and why I’ve chosen it.

Disclaimer – I am writing about montessori from my point of view. I am by no means an expert, although I have borrowed some books from the library and I do intend to read them :p Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. As Mr. December always says, “trust but verify”.


Here are two of my friends’ comments in response to the question, “what do you know about montessori?”:

“Something about making choices and centers for play. I do remember I didn’t totally agree with the philosphy behind it when I originally learned it in college. But other than that, I have no idea.”

“No idea… something about “accidental/experiential” learning vs being taught? I just know(/think) that it’s expensive. ;-)”


The first thing that struck me when I read these responses was the use of the words “play” and “learning”. When K arrives at school, her teachers ask “what work would you like to do today?” or “what materials will you work with first?”. At montessori, what the children do is called “work”. “Learning” is not a word that is avoided, but it’s more common to ask, “what work did you do today, tell me about it?” than “what did you learn today?”

The repeated use of the word “work” when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers puts many people off. Work has an unpleasant connotation in our society: it’s the thing we have to finish doing before we can play. But Maria Montessori saw work very differently, as the productive activity undertaken by people in their day-to-day life. Cooking, playing music, gardening, woodworking – these are all forms of creative work. Reading and researching new ideas is academic work. Setting the table, tidying up, fixing things – these are the work of maintaining and beautifying our environment.

Kids love work. Why else would there be so many replicas of adult tools? Toy lawnmowers and vacuums, play kitchens, tiny watering cans and even toy laptops are ubiquitous. Children have an innate desire to imitate the adults in their life and contribute to the productive work of their family. In our society, we shelter them from real work for a variety of reasons: it would be too messy, they can’t handle the tools, it will take so much longer if I let them do it. Maria Montessori, however, believed that given the right-sized tools and taught at the appropriate times, children can learn to do productive work and will participate enthusiastically.

Here is a rundown of some of the work that K has done at school that transfers to her life at home:

  • wiping up spills
  • pouring liquids without spilling (accidents happen, but they’re rare)
  • spooning food from a serving dish into individual plates
  • setting the table
  • putting her plate next to the sink at the end of a meal
  • spraying and then wiping down the furniture
  • stirring and whisking
  • washing and cutting fruits and vegetables (with close supervision, but little interference)

She is, I’ll remindĀ  you, three years old. This is the age where “I can do it myself” and “I want to help” and “let me do it” are the commonly heard refrains (sometimes spoken, often whined). Nothing pleases K more than being “allowed” to pin diapers to the clothesline or crack eggs for challah. She even seems to prefer these activities to “play” most of the time. Of course she has a dress-up box and crayons and dolls and stuff, and she does like to play as well, but she’s eager to work. Thanks to montessori, she knows how.

Working in their classroom also gives the students a sense of ownership and responsibility. Snack is not just put out for them – they are responsible for preparing it, planning and making signs to explain how much everyone can take, and cleaning up after themselves when they’re done. If something in the classroom gets dirtied, the kids clean it up. In the older classes they plan their own field trips (more on that later), including recruiting parent chaperones. The teachers do nothing for the kids that they are capable of doing for themselves.

Have I mentioned that I believe strongly in child labour teaching independence? Some effort on the adults’ part now will reap huge rewards later… I hope!


Next time on “Demystifying Montessori”: choice and experiential learning

If you have any comments or questions about this, I’d love to hear them… and answer them in another post.

January 28, 2011

Homeschooling, sort of.

by Decemberbaby

This Wednesday I will be getting on a plane with two kids and my Mum and heading to a warmer, sunnier place for the next month. Yes, a month of Vitamin D and no snowsuits and running around barefoot or even naked (the kids, not me). But also a month without school.

As much as I love letting K run in and out freely, I do think that some structured activity would be a good idea. I’d like her to have some small sense of routine that is constant from school through our extended vacation. Hence, I will be kind-of-homeschooling her, in montessori fashion, while we’re gone.

I’ve been seeking ideas for work K can do that doesn’t require a lot of equipment from here. Activities involving regular household objects, basic tools, and things found in nature would be best. Here’s my list so far:


Activity: transferring

Goals: fine motor control, focus and attention span, hand-eye coordination

Materials: tongs or tweezers, several small-ish objects (nuts, marbles, stones, etc), empty ice-cube tray or muffin tin

Description: child takes a tray containing the above materials, with the small objects in a bowl. Objective is to use the tongs to move the objects from the bowl into the individual sections of the ice cube tray so that each section contains one object.

Add-ons: can be turned into a matching/sorting activity by having two or more of each type of object (i.e. two stones, two seashells) and having the child put all objects of each type into one compartment.


Activity: using a water dropper

Goals: develop/improve pincer grasp (important for writing later on), hand-eye coordination, focus, fine motor skills

Materials: suction-cup pad (the kind you can find in the bathroom aisle at a dollar store), shot glass of water, small dropper

Description: child uses the dropper to put one drop of water into each suction cup. When completed, child transfers water back into the shot glass

Add-ons: with some food colouring and markers, this can be turned into a colour matching activity (drop red liquid into the red suction cups, blue into the blue)


Activity: sweeping

Goals: develop practical life skills, gross motor control

Materials: tray with sides, whisk broom or hand broom, dustpan, bowl of dried beans (needs to be about as wide as your dustpan), electrical tape (to mark a rectangle on the tray)

Description: child pours the beans onto the tray, uses the broom to sweep them all into the taped-off rectangle, then sweeps them into the dustpan and empties the dustpan back into the bowl

Add-ons: once this has been mastered, it can be made more challenging by using smaller and more numerous objects to sweep (i.e. popcorn, rice, sand)


Those are three ideas. I’m also thinking about a scissors/cutting exercise (cut along the lines), folding washcloths, matching socks, sewing… you know, good old-fashioned child labour montessori tasks.

Anybody have any other ideas? I’ve got ’til Monday night to round up materials.

ETA: I just foundĀ this site which has descriptions of many common Montessori materials for ages 2.5 to 5. Now I’m off to create some materials.

Oh, wait, Shabbat starts soon. Guess I’ll make materials on Sunday. Shabbat Shalom, everyone!

January 28, 2011

What a haul!

by Decemberbaby

I went shopping today. The local used kids’ clothing store was having a clearance sale, so I picked up a bunch of clothes, mostly in next year’s sizes since the clearance was mainly on fall and winter stuff. Have a look:

I bought:

  • 2 pairs of crocs*
  • 2 sets of overalls
  • Rugby shirt & corduroy pants set
  • 1 Sweatsuit
  • 2 summer rompers
  • 1 waffle-knit onesie
  • 1 pr shorts
  • 1 hoodie t-shirt
  • 1 pr turquoise cords
  • 1 striped hoodie sweater*
  • 1 puffy vest (fleece-lined)*
  • 1 pr. jeans*
  • 1 suction-cup toy (perfect for entertaining N at restaurants on our trip)*
  • egg shaker and bell rattle*

The stuff with an asterisk (*) was regular price. Everything else cost 1 dollar. With the exception of the green sweatsuit and blue romper, everything looks new. So, for 20 items I paid a grand total of… $50.

I might even try secondhand clothes-shopping for myself one of these days.


January 26, 2011


by Decemberbaby

I’m so excited. We’ve put down a deposit on a Bakfiets. A black one, with a silver rain cover for the kids. It should arrive towards the end of March or beginning of April. Here, take a look:


I love biking. It’s fun, which means I can get lots of exercise without feeling like I’m exercising. And it’s free, i.e. no parking costs, insurance, or gas. It’s social – rather than traveling in a bubble (i.e. private car) we can wave to the people around us and even stop and offer a lift to a friend. It brings us closer to nature, slows down our travel, and allows us to really notice the world around us.

Mr. December and I are hoping to go car-free at least five days a week this spring, summer, and fall. The bakfiets will allow me to take K to school, do my grocery shopping, visit friends, and even haul home plants and new project materials.

Boy oh boy, I can’t wait.

January 26, 2011

Work in Progress Wednesday – January 26

by Decemberbaby

Wow, it’s Wednesday again? Already?

I must say, being accountable to my readers definitely helped me this week. What I really wanted to do, of course, was reorganize the spare room into a quiet reading room… which I did, sort of. But I couldn’t report back to you all and say that I didn’t finish what I said I would, right? So I abandoned the reading room for now, and finished the baby blanket. Thanks for keeping me honest.

If you’d like a crowd to cheer you on, why not join Work in Progress Wednesday? Just use the Linky tool to enter your link and view everyone else’s works in progress.

And now, what you all came here to see…

Completed: Baby Blanket

This one took me about two hours. I’m obviously getting lazy – I used to applique the kid’s entire name, but these days I prefer to do one large initial. Anyhow, the turtle fabric is a jersey knit (t-shirt material) and the other side is something deliciously cuddly. Here it is, all folded up and getting ready to be gift-wrapped:

In Progress: the reading room

I don’t have a “before” picture, and I’m feeling too tired and lazy to take an “in progress” picture. But by next Wednesday, I plan to have done the following:

  1. put the slipcover back on the sofabed
  2. mounted a wall light in K’s reading corner
  3. backed up my old iMac and prepared it for use by K
  4. found, built, or adjusted a chair to the correct height for the kiddie table

That’s it. I’ll have pics for next week, I promise. And after that I’m going on vacation, so you can expect my works-in-progress to be more along the lines of portable projects – scrapbooking, perhaps, or writing some new songs (I haven’t done any songwriting in years), or maybe some garden planning.

January 25, 2011

Advice at 6:30 a.m.

by Decemberbaby

Dear Snarky Advice Lady,

I am a psychiatrist. This morning I woke up with the flu, and I now have to cancel my appointments for the day. It’s 6:30 in the morning. Is it ok to call my clients now, given that they’re all mothers with small babies?

Dr. E.

Dear Dr. E.,

It is NEVER okay to call people at 6:30 a.m. When I heard the phone ring this morning and looked at the clock, my first thought was, who died? That thought woke me up so completely that I was unable to get back to sleep. And as you know, sleep deprivation is a huge risk factor for postpartum depression. “First do no harm”, my backside!

You have shown an appalling lack of common sense. Next time, leave a voicemail for your receptionist and ask her to cancel your morning appointments. Or get with the twenty-first century and send a text message or email to your first patients of the day.

But never, EVER call me at 6:30 again. Ever.

Oh, and feel better soon.

– SAL (Snarky Advice Lady)

January 24, 2011

Menu Plan Monday – January 24 edition

by Decemberbaby

Here we are again… Monday. It’s freezing cold out there, as in 30 below zero, so I’m thinking lots of comfort food this week. Last week got a bit shuffled around, what with the in-laws coming over, so certain things never got made – they’re on the list for this week.

Without further ado, I give you my kosher meal plan for our family of 3 plus an infant. If you need more ideas, I suggest you browse the rest of the menu planners over at Organizing Junkie.

Monday: Mommy playdate with friends. Pizza.

Tuesday: Root veggie stew (frozen from two weeks ago) with cheddar cheese biscuits

Wednesday: Baked beans with sliced hot dogs

Thursday: Baked pasta casserole with garlic bread sticks

Friday: Dinner chez my parents. I will bake challah, as usual.

Saturday: Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup

Sunday: Moroccan chicken breasts and citrus-nut couscous

What are you eating this week?

January 23, 2011

Tiny Torah Tutuorial

by Decemberbaby

For all of you who want a toy torah that doesn’t look like everyone else’s toy torah… I’ve written up a tutorial!

Now, I’m not the type to measure and plan everything ahead of time – I like to plan as I go – so I don’t have exact measurements for you. What I do have is a LOT of photos and a bit of advice. Ready? Here we go…

What you’ll need:

  • a sewing machine
  • white or beige fabric for the parchment
  • wood-coloured felt for the handles (small scraps will do)
  • a wide ribbon, any colour
  • small bits of velcro
  • pretty fabric for the covering, and a piece of felt to match

Step one: preparing the “parchment”


Cut out a rectangle of fabric for the “parchment” of the torah. To reduce the amount of work, you can make this portion out of felt – it won’t unravel or fray. If you’re using any other fabric, be sure to serge, hem, or satin stitch the two long sides.

Measure your rectangle and divide the length into three equal sections. This will matter later.



Step two: handles


Cut 8 of the shape you see in this photo, from the wood-coloured felt scraps. Sew pairs of them together all around the curve, leaving the short straight end open. You will end up with four of these. Turn them inside out so that the seam allowance is not seen.



Cut four circles for the handles. Their circumference should be just a bit smaller than one-third the length of the parchment. In the middle of each circle, snip an “x” large enough for the finger-shaped handles to fit through.




Put a handle through the cut in the circle. Sew the open end of the handle to the loose flaps of felt on the circle. Repeat. You’ll have four handles that look like very long nipples.



Step three: putting the body together


Starting at one end, pin the long side of the parchment to the edge of one of the handle-circles until it overlaps itself slightly (this should bring you to the one-third mark). Sew around the edge of the circle using a satin stitch (zigzag stitch with wide width and short length), being careful not to sew the parchment to itself. Repeat on opposite long side (so that you have two handles, one at the top and one at the bottom of the short end)


Take the overlapping end of parchment, fold it over a bit, and stitch it to the body of the parchment so that it forms a tube, capped on each end by a handle. Leave a small part of the seam open for stuffing.


Repeat these steps on the other end of the parchment so that you have two tubes with handles.

Stuff each tube through the small hole, then close the gap in the seam.





Step four: the belt

Close up the torah (roll the two tubes until they are touching each other) and measure around the middle. Cut this length from a piece of wide ribbon, adding a bit of overlap. Make note of where the ribbon overlaps, and attach a small piece of velcro to each end (they should be on opposite sides of the ribbon, i.e. on on top and one on bottom) so that the ribbon forms a belt to keep the torah closed.


Open the torah, place it face down, and then pin and stitch the middle of the belt to the middle of the parchment. This ensures that the belt won’t get lost when the kids are playing with the torah.




Step five: the cover

Close the torah and fasten the belt. Stand it up on a piece of felt and trace around it, adding about 1/2 inch for a seam allowance. Cut out the felt shape – should be halfway between an oval and a rectangle.

Cut a rectangle of fabric for the cover. It should be long enough to cover the torah from one handle to the other, and wide enough to wrap around the torah with a couple of inches of overlap. Pin the wide end of the rectangle around the edge of the felt and sew together. It should look like this:


Fold the felt part in half widthwise and place in front of the torah handles to measure the location of your holes. Cut generous holes for the two top handles to fit through. When you’ve finished cutting, it should look something like this:



You’re done the sewing, if you want to be. For a fancier torah, add trim or appliques to the cover. I just cut the cover material so that the raw edge was visible at the bottom, giving me a nice frayed fringe. It looks like this:


If you do make one of these, please send me a picture to share with the other readers. Happy crafting!