Archive for September, 2011

September 26, 2011

Lunches, lovely to lazy

by Decemberbaby

K’s been in school for three weeks now, and so I’ve got some bentos to show you. Some are works of art (if I do say so myself); others are appealing only because of colourful produce, and still others are downright lazy and visually boring. Take a look:

Clockwise from top left: Coronation grapes, rolled up roast turkey slices with flower-cut pita on toothpick stems; grape tomatoes; corn on the cob with flower-cut carrots and circle-cut kohlrabi; deli mustard for dipping.

Clockwise from top right: soy butter and banana "maki" rolled in pita; baby carrots; dried cranberries; "triangle cheese"; Italian plums; bear-cut kohlrabi

This one was for pizza day, so it just needed to be a good accompaniment to a slice of pizza. From left: celery, yellow peppers, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, coronation grapes.

Clockwise from top left: basmati rice, sliced carrot, lentils in wine sauce, yellow pepper (mustache), red pepper (mouth), apple (cheeks/face), fusili pasta for filler.

Turkey schnitzel mountain, coronation grape ocean/sky, apple-cut boat, broccoli trees, person-cut red pepper, basmati rice path.

Ah, the visually boring. I just got too lazy to figure out different colours. Clockwise from top: Soy butter on (tiny) Italian bread, white mushrooms, "triangle cheese", homemade applesauce, baby carrots.

And I just now realized that the boring bento isn’t even fully necessary for tomorrow – it’s pizza day again and she really just needs some sides. Excuse me while I go re-pack.

September 24, 2011

The kid can walk!

by Decemberbaby

This morning we headed over to the shul nearby (just a couple of blocks away) rather than schlep downtown to our shul. We got all ready to go, got outside, and realized that the stroller had been left out in the rain and was still very soggy. No stroller for us. Not one to be deterred, I insisted that we could all walk.

Yup, N is walking now. He spends hours every day toddling around the house while holding various objects, so why shouldn’t he be able to walk on the sidewalk? As it turns out, there’s no reason why not. I carried him where there was no sidewalk, or when we were crossing the street, but otherwise I let him walk on his own two feet as much as possible. Sometimes he held my hand, sometimes he didn’t, but he always stayed beside me – unless something in a shop window caught his eye. I did have to pick him up and haul him away from a few tempting displays, but for the most part he walked very nicely. I’d estimate he did about 200 metres on his own. Not bad for a kid who’s not yet fifteen months old.

This is a bit of a soapbox issue, I’ll admit. One of the things that drives me nuts is seeing kids who are five and six years old sitting in a stroller. Kids want and need to move. With the exception of special needs children, I don’t see any reason why a child of five can’t walk less than a kilometre to the local park.

(Please don’t misunderstand me. I definitely don’t think that all or even most fifteen-month-olds can walk that distance, or possibly at all. K couldn’t. Please don’t comment about how some kids can’t walk that distance until they’re 2 or older. I know that already. Just read the rest of the post.)

I totally get why we as parents like to put kids into the stroller. It contains them, keeps them from running and jumping off things, and allows us to move at an adult pace when we need to be somewhere on time. But surely there are lots of times when it becomes automatic, or when the child in question whines to be pushed in the stroller (I get it all the time from K; the answer is “no”) but could be encouraged to walk instead? At a time when fruit juice is being demonized because it contributes to child obesity, shouldn’t we be making all the kids walk (or run) as much as possible?

Lest you think I’m totally a sanctimonious ass, I want to point out that I’m sure there are some good reasons why excellent parents put their older kids in a stroller. Also, I can appreciate the fact that sometimes we all need to just get where we’re going with a minimum of tantrums and distractions. Lastly, as with so many of my soapbox issues, I see this as partly a cultural/systemic problem. We’re all in a rush to go somewhere. Our culture seems to demand that we work long hours, cram in errands on evenings and weekends, take our children to “enrichment” activities… all of this requires a certain amount of hurry. Who has time to let the toddler walk at his (glacial) pace and look at every shop window?

On Shabbat, at least, we do… until I get impatient and scoop the kid up again!

September 21, 2011

Work-in-progress Wednesday – September 21 edition

by Decemberbaby

Another week, another Wednesday.

Lisaleh, who has been very consistent with her postings, has hurt herself in the kitchen and can’t craft so well right now. Go visit her anyhow and give her some get-well wishes.

You’ve already seen my “big reveal” for the week, but let’s recap:

Completed: N’s upholstered toddler bed

Yup, I built it in about 3 hours. The final costs: $45 for lumber and screws, $25 for childcare (I did some of it on the weekend when my parents had the kids, otherwise the cost would be closer to $45), $16 for fabric and $20 for foam and batting (on sale). So that brings us to… $106. Oh, and I’m not counting the gazillion staples I used, since they’ve been in the house for a while.

And here it is:

In Progress: Cloud decals

You know, I could buy cloud decals for about $50. But I could also just go to Canadian Tire and buy white vinyl shelf paper (repositionable, of course) and then cut out my own clouds… for $5. Since I’m a cheapskate, that’s what I’m gonna do this week. You can see a prototype cloud in the picture of N’s bed. Soon the whole room will look like the sky, and the white clouds will reflect more light than the blue wall does, meaning that the whole room will look brighter… and that’s really the point.

In Progress: Baby quilt

I owe a couple of baby gifts. This week I’m tackling a quilt for a baby boy, and I’ll be creating a pattern so that I spend less time measuring and cutting for future quilts. It should only take a few hours to make, so unless I go into labour this week you can expect to see the finished product in next week’s post.

 

And that’s all, folks. Feel free to join WIP Wednesday. You can find all the information right here.

September 19, 2011

Cynical about full-day kindergarten

by Decemberbaby

I just couldn’t shut up about this one. Jennifer in Mamaland recently asked a government representative about the new full-day Junior kindergarten program in Ontario. She was directed to a government page about the issue, entitled “the research is in” that explains why full-day kindergarten is such a good idea.

I’m married to a cynical engineer, and I have a touch of cynic in me too, so I take all research citations with a grain of salt. But for some reason, this list (and the way it was worded) just really irked me. Here is the text of the page in italics, and my cynical responses.

Many studies have shown that full-day learning programs for four- and five-year-olds can have a positive impact on their academic, social and emotional development. These programs also give the children’s parents more opportunities to work towards a better future for their families. For example:

Notice the weasel phrasing “can have a positive impact”. Sure it can. But “can” is not the same as “consistently does”. Watch out for weasel words, people. As for the programs giving more opportunities for parents to earn more money, doesn’t that mean that we’re providing free daycare for 4-year-olds? Anyhow, let’s look at the research:

  • A Rutgers University study found that prolonged and regular full-day preschool attendance significantly increased children’s verbal and mathematics test scores in Grade 1 and beyond.

Which children? Where? What was the socioeconomic status of the children being followed? And once again, notice the weasel words “in Grade 1 and beyond”. Grade 2 is beyond Grade 1, but if the test scores are only elevated for those two years, that means that eventually everyone evens out regardless of kindergarten attendance. So let’s clarify: how far “beyond” were these test scores elevated? And on another note, could their test scores be higher because they’re being trained in test-taking behaviour at an earlier age?

  • A University of Ottawa study found that full-day preschool programs for four-year-old children had a positive effect on the children’s language and academic learning.

That’s great. How large was this effect? Was it sustained past the kindergarten year? And “positive” is pretty vague. Did the kids enjoy it more? Retain more information? Learn to actually use the information?

  • That same study noted that parents of the children enrolled in the full-day program observed higher levels of progress in their children, and that the teachers observed that children in the full-day program more easily adjusted to academic life than children who attended a half-day program.
Oh, I see. Thanks for clarifying that. Let’s point out that this couldn’t possibly have been a double-blind study, so parents’ observations of progress might be because they expected to see progress, or that they wanted to justify committing their kids to a full day in school for whatever reason. Also, “higher levels of progress” than whom? Than a different set of kids and parents? Than what they expected? Once again, there’s a serious lack of specificity here.
As for the teachers’ observation of easier adjustment, it’s fairly obvious that it takes kids a fair amount of time to get used to school at the beginning. So if your kid begins full-day schooling at age four, he or she will be pretty much adjusted to it by halfway through the following year. Kids who start at age five will, by comparison with the previous group, seem to adjust more slowly. They actually are adjusting at the same rate, it’s just a difference in when they started the process.
My nasty inner cynic also wants to ask: does “adjusted to academic life” mean “got used to sitting quietly, quelling their urge to play, learning to please the teacher, and following instructions”? Because if that’s the case, is that really what we think is appropriate for a four-year-old?
  • Early childhood programs that help compensate children for difficult home and community environments and that support parents to work or upgrade their job skills are highly effective at reducing the rate and depth of family poverty.

OK, I buy this. So we’re talking about a segment of the population who can benefit from this. It doesn’t mean that my child or yours will benefit. So why is it mandatory? Also, while full-day kindergarten does allow parents to work longer hours, how exactly does it support them to upgrade their job skills? That one seems like a red herring.

  • A recent study from Harvard University found that students who learned more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college and earn more over time.
Really? No kidding! You know, learning also happens at home, from the richness of the parents’ vocabulary to the availability of books, and those things (and others) probably impact how much the child is able to learn in kindergarten. Not to mention that the kids more likely to go to college and earn more are probably the children of parents who have college degrees and encourage their children to enter professions with the potential for higher earnings.
I’m sorry to have to disappoint the government of Ontario, but they’ve failed to convince me that there’s a long-term benefit to full-day kindergarten that can be absolutely attributed to the kindergarten program itself. Nice try, Ministry of Education, but don’t give up your day job.
Oh, wait, this is their day job. Crap.
September 18, 2011

Upholstered toddler bed tutorial

by Decemberbaby

N has a new big-boy bed!

No, he’s not sleeping in it. He still doesn’t understand the whole “you need to stay in your bed” thing, and frankly I think he’ll learn that lesson much more quickly when he’s a bit older. But for now he’s excited to have a bed just like K’s, that he can climb up and sit on to flip through his board books. Here’s a pic of the bed:

Jealous? Don’t be – the whole thing took me about 3 hours to build, and I’m going to take you through the process. Ready?

First, the stuff you need:

Tools

  • handheld cordless drill/screwdriver
  • countersink drill bits (optional)
  • carpenter’s square (or other way to check for a 90 degree angle)
  • staple gun and LOTS of staples
  • ruler or measuring tape
  • sewing machine (optional)

Lumber (take this list to Home Depot or Lowe’s and have them cut the boards for you)

  • 2 – 1 x 10″ boards, 8 feet long. Cut each one into a 52″ length and a 29 3/4″ length.
  • 2 – 2 x 2″ furring strips, 8 feet long. Cut 50″ lengths of each.
  • 3 – 1 x 4″ furring strips, 8 feet long. Cut them into 27″ lengths – you should end up with 9 of them.
  • 1 – small piece of plywood (24 x 48″). Cut a piece 29 3/4″ x 22″.

Other materials

  • 1″ upholstery foam. Scraps will do, as long as it’s at least 5″ wide and you have enough to stretch along 200 linear inches or so.
  • Quilt batting. I used one and a half packages of 70″ x 100″.
  • Fabric to cover the bed. You’ll need a strip of 16″ x 135″ (I sewed a few strips together to make a long one) and a 35″ x 38″ piece for the headboard.
  • Screws. I used #8 screws that were 2″ long.

Got all that? Good! Follow along, now:

Building the frame

Lay the two 52″ long boards on the floor. On each one, measure and mark a line 3″ from one edge (long edge). Position a 2 x 2 x 50″ furring strip so that its top runs along the line. Predrill 5 holes (evenly spaced) along the 2 x 2, then screw it into the long board. It will look like this:

Set those two long pieces aside.

Take one 29″ board and predrill three holes on each side, about 1/3 of an inch in from the end. Take one long board and stand it on edge so that the 2 x 2 rail is close to the top. Stand the 29″ board on edge, align it at a 90 degree angle with the other board, and screw the 29″ board into the end of the long board:

Repeat with the second long board.

Take the plywood piece (22 x 29 3/4) and predrill three holes on each side. The holes should be within the bottom 9 inches of the board – you’ll be using them to attach the headboard the same way you just attached the footboard. Square up the corner and screw the headboard to the open ends of the long boards. You’ll end up with a frame that looks like this:

Congratulations! The woodworking is done! That means it’s time for…

Padding the frame

Take the upholstery foam and staple it around the top edges of the frame, like this:

Open up the quilt batting so that you’ve got just a double layer of it. Cut into a strip about 18″ wide. Beginning at one side of the headboard, wrap the batting around the frame lengthwise, stapling it inside the top and bottom of the bed frame. Take another doubled piece of batting and use it to wrap the headboard. It will end up looking like this:

Adding the fabric

First prepare your long strip of fabric. You can either cut an 16″ wide strip out of a really long piece, or you can be cheap like me and sew a few strips together.

Staple the end of the fabric to the back of the headboard (so that it’s ready to wrap around the sides). Begin wrapping the fabric around the frame, being careful to stretch it a bit so that it doesn’t end up wrinkly. Staple the top edge, then turn the frame on its side to staple the bottom edges. Be sure to pull the fabric tight and place your staples very close together so that the upholstery doesn’t look bumpy.

Now, the headboard. You can either sew a bit of a slipcover for it, or just wrap it and staple. I chose to sew a cover – I draped a piece of fabric over the headboard, pinned it where I wanted the seams to be, sewed it, and then put it on. Staple the ends on the front below the level of the 2 x 2 furring strips, pull tight down the back, and staple to the inside bottom edge of the headboard.

The ends where the headboard meets the side rails are tricky. I still haven’t figured out how to do it perfectly, so I’m no help to you here. Do your best. When in doubt, staple everything at the back of the headboard.

This is how mine looked at this stage:

You’re almost done!

Take the 9 pieces of 1 x 4″ furring strips, and lay them across the bed so that the ends are resting on the 2 x 2 rails. Spread them out evenly.

Now you can place your crib mattress on top of the rails, add bedding, and voila:

Happy building!

September 17, 2011

It’s an odd thing…

by Decemberbaby

We had some visitors drop by this evening. Friends of ours who are more religious than we are (they’re Shomer Shabbat, we’re not… but that’s a post for another day) dropped by to visit – well, the mom and kids stayed, and the dad went off to shul for mincha (afternoon prayers).

You have to know that my house was a mess today. I spent most of yesterday evening and some of last night having painful, menstrual-type cramps that kind of felt like early labour, so I didn’t even clean up after shabbat dinner. There were toys all over the living room, food under N’s highchair in the dining room, and the kitchen counter was hiding under all the dirty dishes and pots. Charming.

And yet, I wasn’t self-conscious about the mess. It occurred to me after they left that I feel much less ashamed of our chaos in front of our religious friends. Why is that? Maybe it’s because they tend to have more kids (or be heading in that direction) and they already understand the reality of life with tiny mess-makers. Maybe it’s because I feel that they understand that receiving guests warmly is more important than having a spotless kitchen. Whatever the reason, I wonder whether I’m making an inappropriate generalization.

Observant Jews aren’t different from non-observant Jews in terms of human variation. Did that make sense? I mean to say that within the frum (religious) community there are certainly neat freaks, slobs, and everything in between. There are frum Jews who are judgmental and frum Jews who really aren’t, and some who are obsessed with appearances while others focus on substance over style. I know this.

So why do I generalize about frum Jews’ acceptance of my messy home? There are two very simple reasons:

1. Because the frum Jews who are my friends really do value substance over surface, and

2. Because I’ve been to their homes (insert evil cackle here), and it looks to me like we’re all in this mess together!

Shavua Tov!

September 14, 2011

Work-in-progress Wednesday – September 14 edition

by Decemberbaby

… And I’m back.

Sorry about last week. I was… tired? overwhelmed? busy? I honestly can’t remember. Anyhow, I’d like to tip my hat to Lisaleh for posting last week. Check out what she was working on. Maybe she’ll have an update for us later today.

Do you wanna see some pictures? Do you? Huh?

Here’s the wardrobe I did for the kids: there’s a before and an after… and a pic of the wardrobe being used as intended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, to anyone saying, “I liked it better before!” … well, nyah. But in all seriousness, it didn’t function the way I needed it to, and the wood finish added another colour to the room, and I needed it to blend in with the other furniture rather than stand out. With three kids and all their clothes in one room, I’m trying to keep it as visually restful as possible.

I don’t have any newly completed projects to report, but here are my current ones:

In Progress: birthy stuff

I’m 37 weeks pregnant today, which means if I went into labour right now I’d be able to have the homebirth we’ve planned and everything would likely be fine. I’m in serious denial, though. I need to pack a hospital bag (just in case) and get the homebirth supplies assembled in one place so everything is ready. Based on my track record, there won’t be time to be looking for stuff once labour starts… so that’s my priority right now.

In Progress: toddler bed

Well, it’s not in progress yet, but I do hope to get around to it this weekend. I’ll be posting a tutorial for those of you who want to make your own!
And that’s it. Happy Wednesday!

September 12, 2011

On weeds and wildflowers

by Decemberbaby

I love having cut flowers in the house. I know quite a few people who don’t, but I do. Especially for shabbat and holidays.

When we lived downtown I used to walk to the flower markets every Friday. It was like a dream come true – four (sometimes five) flower markets with dozens of varieties just hanging out in buckets, waiting to be chosen. I went home with something different every time.

Over time I’ve come to prefer wildflowers to the cultivated ones, though. The shift might have started when a friend blogged about the cultivated flower industry and how far those flowers have to be transported. I’m not sure. I do remember clearly that I started to really appreciate wildflowers the summer that our municipal workers went on strike. You see, they didn’t cut the grass in the parks for at least six weeks (was it longer?), and so all the “weeds” started to grow and flower. From dandelions (which are quite beautiful if you put aside your prejudices) to beautiful blue chicory, K and I picked them all and took them home to put in vases.

Thus began my tradition of picking our shabbat flowers with the kids instead of buying them. Sometimes we pick flowers growing out of the cracks in a nearby alleyway, sometimes they’re from our garden, but they’re almost never the cultivated varieties that I used to buy. Some of them, like the wild mustard, are commonly considered weeds even though they look beautiful in a vase paired with my shasta daisies.

There is something satisfying about picking our own flowers from what God has allowed to flourish without conscious watering or cultivation. It seems to suit the spirit of shabbat – what we have is beautiful, and on shabbat we can appreciate the world as God made it rather than as people use their power to change it. I just love it. And I love coming to the table and seeing something like this:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


September 12, 2011

Menu Plan Monday – September 12 edition

by Decemberbaby

I haven’t done it in a few weeks, but I think it’s time to jump back into menu planning. Actually, all of the planning-ahead type stuff I’ve been doing since school started has been really enjoyable. The family loved waking up to hot oatmeal, coming home to dinner and a non-stressed me… it was really nice. So this week I’ll put it all out there.

Monday: Pasta with “meat” sauce, possibly some homemade garlic breadsticks

Tuesday: Spinach and feta quiche, Israeli salad, edamame

Wednesday: Chicken roasted with apples, onions, and garlic cloves; vegetarian kishke (make extra for bentos), roast potatoes

Thursday: Lentils in wine sauce, basmati rice, sliced bell peppers

Friday: Challah, brisket, potatoes, broccoli

Saturday: Roast chicken sandwiches on homemade rosemary focaccia

Sunday: Probably something with my parents, who will have returned from a three-week trip to China and Europe. If not, we’ll have homemade pizza.

Wow. The decisions are made and now all I have to do is follow the plan! Awesome!

… and as always, if you’re still stuck for dinner ideas you should go ahead and check out Organizing Junkie for more ideas.

September 6, 2011

Does this tie make my napkin look fat?

by Decemberbaby

We’re organizing a retirement party for my father-in-law, and I’m working on the decorations.

The theme is “no more ties!” because, holy cow, this man hates wearing a tie. With a passion.

In that spirit, I present to you a terrible snapshot of my prototype napkin ring.

The colours in the photo are a bit off, but you get the idea. I have three different fabrics: this peacock-feather pattern, a blue argyle, and a green plaid (I think).

Next up: how to turn his ugly old ties into bouquets of flowers for the centerpiece. Or a runner for the buffet table. Or something decorative.