Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

Work-in-Progress Wednesday – sprained ankle edition

by Decemberbaby

Whew – what a week! What with N deciding to walk and climb independently, Mr. December going back to work, and K being clingier than usual, it’s amazing that I’ve gotten something done.

As of posting time I don’t see anything from Lisaleh, so we’ll all just have to hound her. Hanna just let me know that she’s taking a vacation from the electronics in her life. So it looks like WIP Wednesday is just me this week.

Want to join me and feel good about being productive? Check out this post for more information about how it’s done.

Almost completed! Kids’ wardrobe makeover

Sadly, I have no photograph to show you as yet. But the piece has been fully painted and all the rails, drawer, and shelves installed. I just have to attach new knobs to the drawer (I’m thinking of painting some with silhouettes of socks and underwear to remind K of what’s inside) and move it back into the kids’ room. Oh, and I have a bit of patching to do with wood filler. But then phase one will be done, and I’ll be ready to ask your opinion on phase two – what to do with the back of the unit? Right now it’s just the regular thin hardboard that IKEA uses as backing for all its bookcases. Should I upholster it? Paint it? Turn it into a small bedroom library by outfitting it with book ledges? Help!

In progress: Healing this ankle

Yeah, seriously… I’m not committing to any projects this week because I really, REALLY need my ankle to heal. I might try to catch up on paperwork and filing, or maybe do some more sewing and finish all the placemats I want to make for K. But I just won’t commit right now. I hope that by next Wednesday I’ll feel up to building a toddler bed for N and possibly doing a makeover on my ugly glider rocking chair.

For now, I hope you’re all getting in the mood to be productive. Happy Wednesday, everyone!

August 30, 2011


by Decemberbaby

I had no idea he could do this until I found him at the top of the climbing wall. Did I mention he’s only 14 months old?



August 29, 2011

The one about kids’ birthday parties

by Decemberbaby

I’ll say it: most birthday parties drive me nuts, both coming and going.

The oncoming party brings on the deliberations: What does this kid need? Is there anything this kid doesn’t own yet? (a valid question in our circle of friends, where we seem to have the fewest toys of the people we know – and if you’ve seen our house, that’s pretty amazing) What can I give them that won’t just become clutter in a week?

I’ve solved most of these problems by trying to get gifts that are designed to be used up. A giant bucket of craft supplies, for example. Alternately, a box of washable paint, some brushes, a roll of paper, and (for the parents’ sanity) a plastic shower curtain to protect the floor. In the case of K’s montessori classmates, it’s easy: until every kid in her class has a personalized placemat for their lunchtime ritual, I’ll be making those as birthday presents. I’m not quite sure that the boys are as interested in the crafts, though, and I certainly don’t think they will be a couple of years down the road, so I’m not in the clear as gifts go.

Then the party arrives and ends, and K comes home with a loot bag. At best, it’s some kind of craft that she made during the party; at worst, it’s a bag full of Dollarama toys that K loves for a day and then promptly forgets. Inevitably, I’m driven crazy by the fact that I now have more useless crap in my house when what I really want to do is get rid of clutter.

But sometimes, parents really, REALLY get it right.

K went to a birthday party yesterday morning. The invitation came with a card requesting donations to the children’s hospital in lieu of a gift. Very nice. We made the donation, although I also made her a placemat (wouldn’t want her to be the only kid in class without a special one, right?). The party itself was a blast – a gymnastics class for all the kids followed by cake. Each child left with a balloon, a tiny container of play-doh, a few good-quality personalized sticky labels, and a card saying that the birthday girl had made a donation in honour of each of her guests. Lovely.

The labels are already at work on K’s new lunchbox and water bottle. The play-doh was heartily enjoyed yesterday and today, and may live to see another rolling pin if K remembered to put the lid back on the box. The balloon is still bouncing around here somewhere and still amuses K for ten minutes at a time.

All in all, the party was fabulous from my point of view. The people who did give the birthday girl a gift gave something they knew she really needed or would use. The guests and host had a blast, and nobody came home with clutter. The parents deserve an award for throwing a birthday party that was fun, philanthropic, and not at all excessive.

And now, I’ll throw it over to the readers: what do you give as birthday gifts for kids? What price range do you stick to for birthday presents? And what would you like to see as a take-home for small guests?

(If you’re going to comment, please do it on this blog rather than on Facebook – that way all of my readers can see and enjoy the comments.)

August 28, 2011

The end of an era… until next time

by Decemberbaby

Well, this is it: Mr. December goes back to work tomorrow.

It’s been lovely having him at home. He biked K to school, gardened with me, volunteered a lot, cooked a bit, slept a little… if this is retirement, it’s pretty appealing.

Then again, there’s something to be said for being at home without your spouse all day, and only seeing them at night. Maybe that something has to do with your spouse being unable to make fun of you for taking a four-hour nap… yeah, that could be it. (Note to spouse: I’m growing a whole new person in there. I’m bound to be tired!)

You know what was really neat? Even though he started off by stating that this leave was a government-sanctioned way to take five months off without penalty (and with some pay) and that he had no intention of stepping up his parenting, Mr. December has really blossomed as a dad. He unflinchingly (and uncomplainingly) changed poopy diapers. He hung out with the kids in our tree house. He took K to the CNE (N is really too little). He stayed calm and patient through 5 daily readings of that horrible book about the Ziz (don’t ask). In short, he was a really great stay-at-home dad.

We’ll miss him during the day… I’ll especially miss his help at dinnertime. The kids are tired so early these days that he’s not likely to get home until their bedtime (6:30 -7:00). I’ll miss the extra set of hands. I’ll miss being able to steal a few private moments with my honey.

But here we go, back to “normal”. In a week K will be in school again, we’ll have a routine again, and maybe that won’t be so bad.

August 25, 2011

Renovation deliberation

by Decemberbaby

This is our house.

(Well, this was our house before the city cut down the ailing tree, before I planted a rock garden and a vegetable patch and three fruit trees, and before our front yard started looking raggedy around the edges… but you get the idea.)

It’s a three-bedroom bungalow circa 1946 (or possibly earlier – it was built with a coal chute from the garage to the furnace room). We think it’s probably 1100 square feet. We love it.

But one day, possibly soon, we’re going to wake up and realize that life with two adults, three kids, and one bathroom is just a little too crazy for us. Or maybe we’ll start feeling cramped when our kids no longer fit into their toddler beds.

And so we’re faced with a tough decision: renovate or move?

Renovating would mean keeping our proximity to the subway and major highways, our awesome backyard, and our very walkable neighbourhood full of small, privately owned shops and restaurants and bakeries. It would also mean moving out of the house for at least 6 months and spending about $200 per square foot to build a second storey complete with five bedrooms and three baths (look, if I’m going through this renovation, I will have an ensuite bathroom at the end of it) and $150 a square foot to rearrange the main floor just a bit. Renovating would mean making decisions about finishes, the locations of light switches, and where to put the walls (YAY!) and staying on top of the architect, builder, engineer, etc (BOO!). It would mean going from 1100 square feet to somewhere around 2500 square feet (palatial, if you ask me). Renovating would mean having the exact house I want.

Or we could move. To stay within our price range we’d basically have to move to an area that is farther from the subway, thus necessitating the purchase of a second car (before you ask, no, Zipcar doesn’t have any cars in that neighbourhood). It would mean being very close to K’s school. It would mean a much longer commute for Mr. December. It would probably mean more of our life lived in the car and less lived on bikes and walking. It would mean having to get our home ready to show (i.e. make the front yard less ugly, for starters) and then moving out for a couple of weeks so the agent could show it without us having to be on our kids all the time to “keep your things where they belong, dammit!”. It would mean changing our address with all of the people who like to send us bills, and with the Ministries of Transportation and Health. It would mean being within walking distance of my parents’ home. It would mean having a house adequate for our needs, maybe even too big, but not necessarily quite to my taste.

We’re not sure which to do. I’m feeling very attached to our location despite the 10-minute drive to K’s school. I also love the thrill of designing spaces (I did our kitchen and bathroom, after all) and choosing finishes. I even love the problem solving that comes with, “There’s supposed to be a light fixture here, but there’s a stud here instead. What do we do now?” I think I would opt to renovate.

Mr. December, however, is more risk averse. He’s worried about us wasting money or getting taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors. He’s concerned that I’m not consistently organized enough to oversee a project of this magnitude. He ruminates on the issue and comes back to, “How do we know that 2500 square feet will be enough for us ten years down the road?” (my answer: “Because that’s not counting the basement with its awesome rec room. And because we’ve never coveted large amounts of space. And because we don’t want the lifestyle where family members can’t hear or see each other 90% of the time. And because we understand that a large house is a choice, not a need, even with a large family.”)

We figure we have another 2 years or so in which this house would serve our needs well. After that, it’s… renovate or get off the pot, I suppose. And we’re still so undecided.

So I’m asking… what would you do, and why?

August 24, 2011

WIP Wednesday – August 24 edition

by Decemberbaby

Welcome back to WIP Wednesday!

First of all, I want to congratulate Hanna on tackling one of those not-so-much-fun but very necessary projects. Check out her beautiful new kitchen and the well-organized appliance manuals here. Her site isn’t set up for comments, but feel free to comment on this post and I’ll make sure she reads them.

Lisaleh has been sewing like a madwoman, and this week she’s showing off the progress she’s made on a romper for her baby. When she’s done, her next job is to teach me how to read a pattern… I love overalls and rompers for toddlers, and I’m itching to make N one out of an old sweatshirt that Mr. December never wears.

I also learned from Lisaleh’s post that I apparently didn’t invent the idea of WIP Wednesday… there seems to be a similar thing by the same name among sewing bloggers. Ah, well. Originality isn’t everything… right?

If you want to join these fine productive people for WIP Wednesday, check out this introductory post for all the details.

And now, my contribution:

Completed: Kids’ closet organizer

I’m so sorry, but I don’t have an “after” photo for you. I thought I’d taken one but apparently I hadn’t, and it seems wrong somehow to wake the kids up with my camera’s flash just for the sake of my blog.

But it’s done, it looks good, it’s functional, and I’m happy with it. I will try to add photos to this post tomorrow.

In progress: Placemats and patterns

I’ve finished one lunchtime placemat for K’s return to school. She requested purple and chose the fabric herself. In retrospect, it looks a bit too long and narrow, but testing confirmed that it’s just big enough for a large bento container with some room left over for a drink and a napkin. Have a look:

It rolls up and stays closed with a nifty little belt.

See? It fits her large (also purple) bento perfectly!

Creating a pattern first on grid paper helped me get the mitred corners perfect without a lot of fiddling. The panel in the middle is the same fabric as the belt.










So that’s done. I’m also planning to do a red placemat with dinosaur ribbon trim (we’re going through a dinosaur phase right now) and probably a light blue one with flowered ribbon.

Shelved: baby blanket pattern

I know that I owe a baby gift right now, but I think it’s going to be something other than a blanket. I’ll make the pattern next time I make a blanket, and that’s that.

In Progress: wardrobe makeover

We have a piece of furniture from IKEA that I’m making over into a wardrobe for K and N’s day-to-day outfits. The idea is to have a drawer at the bottom for socks and underwear, then a hanging rod where they can reach, and a shelf on top for sweaters or accessories. Stay tuned for pics…


So… what are you working on this week?

August 21, 2011

This post was brought to you by the number 10

by Decemberbaby

When I first unveiled the felt numbers I made for K, I asked everyone why they thought I’d only made numbers 1-9. A few people guessed, but nobody got it right. It has to do with the way Montessori teaches numeracy.

At first, the kids seem to learn how to count objects. Then they begin learning the numerals, which is when they break out the sandpaper numbers (or in our case, the felt numbers). This activity teaches children to recognize the numerals and prepares them for writing numbers as well. The sandpaper numbers only include the numerals 1 to 9.

The next math activity teaches the student that the numerals represent a number of objects. It is called the spindle box, and looks like this:

As you can see, the spindle box introduces the concept of zero. Zero is not part of the set of “natural numbers” (a term which, if I recall correctly, translates roughly as “the way people counted sheep thousands of years ago”) and no child would reply “zero” if you asked them to count something that wasn’t there. They would say, “There aren’t any”. So in this activity the children learn, both visually and kinesthetically, that zero is a placeholder that means “this slot is empty”.

Okay, so now we know why zero isn’t represented in our sandpaper (or felt) numbers. What about 10?

It seems odd to us not to end a child’s number activity with ten. Isn’t that the first big milestone in counting? The truth is, though, that by detaching “10” from everything before it, Montessori sets the kids up well for future math concepts.

You see, the thing I (and possibly most people) overlook is that 10 isn’t just another number. 10 means “we can’t count anymore digits until we move them all over to another column”. 10 means that our cup of ones runneth over. It’s not the end of the first set of numbers – it’s the beginning of the second. 10 opens the door to 2-digit operations. 10 teaches the kids the basics of “making change”. 10 enables us to use an abacus to make quick calculations (well, it does once you really understand what 10 means).

If this isn’t a bit of a revelation to you, it’s either because I’m not expressing it well, or more likely, you’re not as math-impaired as I am. I’m probably the farthest thing from a “mathlete” – I freeze up when math is involved. I panic. I don’t understand, and I feel this impairment keenly. If I can spot connections between words (both in English and between languages) and play with them to make them do magical things, there must be people who have such an understanding of numbers.

I am not one of those people. But seeing K learn math the Montessori way has taken me back to the beginning. If I can uncover the simple but amazing things that “10” means, maybe there’s hope that one day I’ll be half as numerate as I am literate. A girl can hope, can’t she?

August 18, 2011

It’s almost lunchtime…

by Decemberbaby

School lunchtime, that is. One of K’s big sources of excitement is that this year she’ll be staying at school for lunch and recess with her class (it’s called the extended half-day option). This means two things:

  1. I need to make her some of her own placemats.
  2. I need to brush up on my packed lunches.

Placemat-making will commence tomorrow, once K has chosen the fabric and trim that she wants. Lunch-packing has been taking place intermittently over the summer – whenever we go on an full-day outing, I pack a bento. Here are some neat ones:

Peanut-butter and banana wraps, green grapes (with a flower-cut apple), red pepper strips.

Cream cheese sandwich with flower and butterfly decoration (cut apple and honeydew), watermelon, blueberries in a house-shaped cup, cherry tomatoes, marshmallows as space filler.

Juice box, yogurt in a tube, mini bagel with soy nut butter (decorated with a Pooh Bear candle pick), edamame, watermelon balls. The tiny fork is a cocktail fork from the party supply store.

Sugar snap pea "grass", turkey sandwiches on mini sandwich thins, raspberries, blueberries on a Pooh Bear candle pick, pretzel rings.

Juice box, baby carrots, half a kiwi, mommy-and-baby-cut sandwiches, mixed berries.

So now off I go, to make a list of all the cute/miniature/colourful foods that I need to have on hand this year for lunch packing.

What do you pack for lunch?

August 17, 2011

Work-in-Progress Wednesday – August 17 edition

by Decemberbaby

Posting late, as usual…

It’s Wednesday again! No posts yet from Lisaleh or Bookishima, but maybe they’ll update us in the comments. Also, a friendly shout-out to Hanna, who has declared that she will join WIP Wednesday starting this week… can’t wait to hear what she’s got on the go!

For those of you who want to stop procrastinating and would love to brag about your productivity, check out this post for all the information about WIP Wednesday and how you can join us.

And now on with the show…

Completed: Baby gift

I decided to make a double-sided flannelette blanket for baby Duncan. One side is a sweet pea print in green and yellow, and the other is a green and yellow stripe. Each side has a border made of the contrasting material. I added ribbon loops so that the blanket can easily be attached to toys or to the stroller.

Have a look:

Of course, I do still have another baby gift to make. It dawned on me as I was making this one that I really should just make a pattern first. It would save me all the measuring time and plenty of time when I trim the edges over and over again until it looks straight and square.

(Still) in Progress: Closet organizer

I kind of slacked off on this one because I felt intimidated by the prospect of doing rip cuts on my dad’s radial saw. I kept imagining all manner of horrible things that could happen if I changed the blade incorrectly or didn’t lock the machine in the “rip” position. I finally braved the saw and made my first unassisted (by dad) rip cuts. Success! I was even clever enough this time to set up a jig so that the dadoes (i.e. grooves) and the hardboard dividers would all match up perfectly.

I suppose I could have come home and just installed the shelves, but they’re made of reclaimed plywood and they definitely looked grungy. They’re drying as I type, after a coat or two of paint left over from our kitchen and bathroom renovation (four years ago). Take a look at how evenly spaced the grooves are, and gaze in awe at the uniformity of the dividers:

My goal for this week (tomorrow, even) is to get these shelves and dividers installed and start on organizing the closet.

In progress: lunchtime placemats

It’s almost back-to-school time. This year K will be having lunch at school a few days a week, and so she’ll need some fabric placemats (I explained about placemats at her school here). Not only will I make her a few placemats in her choice of fabrics, I’ll even create a pattern – on pattern paper! – so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time I make one.

In progress: baby blanket pattern

And speaking of pattern-making, I’m going to go ahead and make a pattern for the double-sided baby blanket so that I can whip those up a little more quickly, too.


I think that’s enough commitment from me. It’s your turn – what are you working on this week?


August 16, 2011

Work-in-Progress Wednesday – how it works

by Decemberbaby

I’ve had some interest in WIP Wednesday, and someone recently asked for a post explaining how it’s supposed to work. Here it is!

The purpose of WIP Wednesday is to help us get things done by forcing us to set goals and report back to the group when we’ve achieved them.

The scope of WIP Wednesday projects is extremely wide. It goes from the creative (sewing, building, decorating, gardening) to the organizational (de-cluttering, organizing closets) to the day-to-day mundane (filing the bills, cleaning out the car, etc). It could probably include other things I haven’t thought of yet.

Participants in WIP Wednesday can be anyone. There’s no age limit, no gender requirements, and you don’t even have to have your own blog… I’ll help put your post on mine!

So… here’s the how-to for aspiring WIP Wednesday’ers:

  1. If you participated last week, update us on last week’s goal. Tell us what you’ve accomplished, and please add pictures if possible!
  2. Describe your current “project” and set a goal. Your goal should be a discrete chunk of work that you feel you can complete by next Wednesday. You don’t have to finish the entire project in one week, but you do need to decide how much of it you’re going to do this week and make that your goal.
  3. Add pictures if you can. We LOVE before-and-after shots. Include a “before” picture (or “during” if you’re working on a long multiweek project).
  4. Post it on your blog. As I’ve said before, if you don’t have a blog we’ll figure out a way to get your post up on mine (or maybe if there’s enough demand we can start a WIP Wednesday blog with guest posting privileges?). Contact me if you’d like to do it that way.
  5. On your blog, link back to my current WIP Wednesday post.
  6. Let us know where you are. On my WIP Wednesday blog post, comment to let us know that you’re participating. If you have your own blog, leave the link in the comment so that other readers can come and see your work.

That’s it – simple, right?