Camping it up · crafty · Kids · The COVID files

Day 500: Wait, what?

It has apparently been five hundred days since the first COVID shutdown began in Toronto. Whoa. That’s a long time.

I remember last June, chatting on the phone with a friend and commenting that since we figured that school would be a bit of a write-off this year, we were going to homeschool our kids. Her response was incredulous:

“You really think we’re still going to be dealing with this in September?”

Yup. We were. And we still are. Crazy, huh?


I packed a camp bag for E: she starts full-day camp tomorrow. It made me realize how much stuff we’re missing because we’re homeschooling. Things like a lunch bag, a backpack big enough for a two towels and said lunch bag, and a… mask lanyard? What the heck is a mask lanyard? I wondered.

A Google search later, I realized I had this lanyard thing under control. I went downstairs to the Makery and found a length of yellow grosgrain ribbon in one bin, then grabbed a few plastic snaps and set to work with the snap pliers. Three minutes later, I had a lanyard. Ah, the magic of the Makery.

Image description: A yellow and green striped ribbon with yellow snaps on each end.

My brother and his two kids are in town right now, so we’ve had a few sleepovers for the kids and their cousins. Today there were six kids running around my house and I have to say that my niece and nephew fit right in: she attached herself to one of the hammock chairs and announced, “I’m a chyrsalis!” in her adorable five-year-old voice, and he went down to the Makery and came back upstairs with a piece of upholstery foam and a plan to make his own squishy toy shaped like a Minecraft sword.

Smart, cute, and they know what the Makery is for. We must be related.

Camping it up · Kids

Day 499: They’re Baaack…

Three hours later than expected, the buses finally pulled into the parking lot.

The kids talked over each other all the way home, telling one story after another. It’s 10:25 and R and K don’t feel tired at all, so they’re sitting down here still talking about camp.

I’m ending here because I want to listen to more camp stories. I’ll be back tomorrow night.

DIY · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 498: The Window Seat

I did it. It took way too many hours, but I did it.

Of course, the library is still a disaster zone, littered with bits of foam and batting; the floor is a safety hazard (as I learned when I stepped backwards to take a photo and impaled my heel on the pointy ends of plastic snap covers.) But it’s just me and Mr. December here tonight and tomorrow morning, so no innocent bystanders will be harmed before I clean it up tomorrow.


The three big kids come home from camp tomorrow. I’ve gotten used to the quiet; I hope I haven’t lost my ability to tune out the noise of four kids plus their friends.

Mr. December and I got in a date tonight. We walked out to an Italian restaurant nearby and, over Caprese salad and gnocchi, talked about our travels this fall. We also strategized about how to handle my inevitable seasonal depression in January and February: we could travel to someplace warm and sunny, Mr. December could take over more of the teaching time (I don’t see how, with a full-time job on top of homeschool, but it was gallant of him to offer,) or I could pre-plan a whole bunch of field trips that force me to get out of the house and allow the kids to learn from someone else for a change. In the end it doesn’t really matter which solution we choose—what really makes a difference is having a partner who’s also a teammate, ready to outwit and outplan my seasonal depression alongside me. I am so lucky.

DIY · el cheapo · Keepin' it real

Day 497: Oops.

The photo I posted yesterday of me with the wrecking bar was, as commenter Rose suggested, related to the window seat. Before I could upholster the back and sides of the seat, I had to remove part of the windowsill so that it wouldn’t dig into our shoulders when we leaned back. It was really hard to pry the moulding off, until I could see into the crack between the moulding and the rest of the windowsill: then it was obvious that the tiny nails holding the moulding to the wall were quite long. No way could I pull them out all the way without damaging the surrounding wood in the process—hence the wire cutters. I’d pry from the top with the pry bar until I could fit the wire cutters in, then clip the nail. Once that was done it all came out easily.

I ended up doing four hours of manual labour yesterday, between the prying and the templating and cutting a new (slightly slanted) back out of plywood. I actually felt pretty badass—I love building things.

This morning I bought the fabric and foam for the window seat. I’ve decided on an upholstered back instead of adding back cushions like we had before, on the theory that it will be less messy this way. I can always add extra throw cushions later.

By this point you may be wondering what the “Oops” title was about. Right? Of course right.

After creating templates and double-checking dimensions, I was dismayed to discover that the fabric I had cut for the seat back was just a little too short.

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” I howled like a comic book villain who’s been thwarted once again.

It would have been insanely complicated to take the whole thing off and reattach it, and might not even look good given what the tacking strips do to the fabric. I only had enough fabric left to finish the seat cushion and upholster the second side, so I couldn’t redo the whole thing. I decided to work on something different and come back to it.

I’m proud to say that I came up with a solution that looks pretty good. I’m not even telling you what the solution was; if you can’t see it, then I don’t need to point it out. I’m just telling you because I’m proud of myself. Also because I’m the queen of keeping it real, as they say, and I think it’s important that you know that most of my projects have at least one major oops moment in the process.

I’m not sure how I like the fabric; I eventually chose it because nobody hated it, and E and Mr. December liked it the best of the bunch. It’s an outdoor fabric—helpful when it’s sitting in a west-facing bay window and getting lots of lovely sunlight that will fade almost anything it touches. It happened to be on clearance, so I ended up paying $35 for just under six metres. If I decide in two years that I hate it, I can redo the whole thing.

I’ve pretty much finished the back and sides, and have only to cut and cover the seat cushion. At one point I wanted to make sure I chose the perfect fabric and had the whole thing done perfectly; now I just want to get it done, period.

diet recovery · DIY · family fun · Kids

Day 496: How she sees me.

E and I stopped by my parents’ place to take care of the pool in their absence. By “take care of the pool” I mean “dip the test strip, look at the reference chart, try to figure out which bottle of stuff I should be using to fix whatever’s wrong, and then dump in a few kilograms of whatever it is I think the pool needs.” It feels like I should be a bit more scientific about it, but my way is working so far.

(Although yesterday and three days ago I dumped in, like, twelve kilos of salt and today when we swam I was floating more easily than usual and a scrape on my arm was burning, so that might have been a bit much. Oops. It’s still not as salty as the ocean.)

We decided that before adding the Alkalinity Increaser that the pool apparently needed, we’d take a short swim. At first I figured only E would swim while I watched her, so I said, “Oh, don’t bother with your bathing suit. Just jump in naked. It’s only the two of us here.”

(Don’t worry, the pool is not in any way exposed such that anybody can see us.)

A few minutes later, though, I decided to dip my toes. The water was deliciously cool; I decided to join E for a while.

“You can skinny-dip too, you know,” E said.

“If someone’s kind of chunky, can they call it chunky dunking instead?” I mused aloud.

E huffed, “No, it’s still skinny dipping.”

“But I wanna go chunky dunking!” I protested.

“Eema,” she said with all the patience usually reserved for reasoning with a two-year-old, “You’re not that fat… for a grown-up.”

“Fine, call it whatever you want,” I said with my dress halfway over my head, “I’m coming in!”

It was fabulous.

I will pause here and say that yes, the fact that “you’re not that fat” made me feel good is problematic in itself. Fat is an adjective, like tall or short. That it affects my self-worth is unfortunate. I’m working on it. And for those of you reading this, don’t say “you’re not fat” to someone, unless you’re trying to reinforce the fact that fat is a terrible thing to be.

Anyhow, it was what I needed to hear after last night’s musings. If only I could always see myself the way my kids see me.


Before I go, I’ll leave you with this picture of me, a wrecking bar, and a pair of wire cutters. Anybody want to guess what I was doing today?

Image description: Me (woman with a ponytail and glasses) facing away from the camera, holding a pair of wire cutters in one hand and a wrecking bar that is wedged in between two pieces of trim in the other.
better homes than yours · DIY · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 495: Cheap Imitations?

“I have big plans,” I informed Mr. December. “I’m going to rope K into my crazy, harebrained scheme and we’re going to do it when you’re out of the house.”

You might be wondering why I told him at all; I was wondering the same thing two seconds after I finished speaking. That’s me, though: when I’m excited about something, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Except for that time we threw my parents a big surprise party for their anniversary… but that was really, really hard.

Back to Mr. December. “Does it involve wrecking a perfectly good table?” he asked.

How did he know? “Maybe a little…” I admitted.

I don’t know if I ever told you that we have a new-to-us dining room table. It’s not the fancy epoxy table, and it’s not the custom wood table with the tree-shaped legs either. I’ve known this table for most of my life, as it’s been sitting in the boardroom of my Dad’s office for the last twenty-five (or so) years. It’s the exact size and shape that I wanted, and it was free, which means I can throw my table fund into twelve beautiful (and matching) dining chairs.

Besides, you know I’m happier when I’m hacking furniture, right? This table is—like most office furniture—really nice wood-look formica over particle board. But I have big plans here: remove some of the laminate (probably a meandering river down the middle, but who knows) and pour a very thin layer of blue epoxy into the resultant gap. I think it would look extremely cool.

Speaking of cool, my mum brought these beautiful chairs to my attention:

Image description: a chair with chrome legs and a transparent blue plastic molded seat. There are ripples emanating from the centre of the seat. It looks like water.

When I saw them—and when Mum told me how comfy they are—I started looking for them online. I found what I thought was the right chair on Overstock and Wayfair; but when I read the reviews, many of them said the chairs weren’t very durable. I found this strange since my Aunty (in whose kitchen the above photo was taken) told me that the chairs still look untouched even with all the abuse her dogs and birds dish out.

So I ran a Google search on the photo of the chair. Sure enough, there appeared to be two different companies making a nearly-identical product. Of course, I couldn’t tell which was which except by the dimensions; in typical Wayfair manner, they’ve given the chairs a name that is completely different from the model name on the manufacturers’ website. Sure enough, though, one of them is slightly bigger and presumably more durable. It definitely gets better reviews than its doppelganger.

This kind of thing makes me crazy. It’s obviously designed to make it impossible for customers to comparison-shop, and in that it succeeds; but if I ordered a set of chairs and they turned out to be the cheap imitations, I’d be pissed.

So how am I supposed to know? According to the online retailers, I’m not. I guess this means I have to email actual bricks-and-mortar furniture stores around here and ask if they still carry these. And if not… do I take my chances and order 12 online? Or do I order just two online and risk them selling out before I can buy more?

diet recovery · family fun · Good Grief · waxing philosophical · weight loss · whine and cheese

Day 494: It Was “Only for Now”

I cried when I got this text message:

“Good news/bad news. It looks like I have a neighbor who can host our trampoline! She’s just measuring and checking on moving cost before she commits. Could you remind me of your address?”

Maybe it was PMS, or maybe I was bound to cry because I had a coaching session earlier during which I was holding back tears. But cry I did, over a trampoline.

“When the kids come home,” I blubbered into Mr. December’s shirt, “the trampoline just won’t be there. It’ll be, like, a giant gaping hole in our backyard.”

“It was never ours to begin with,” he reminded me, rubbing my back.

He’s right, of course. We’ve always said that we were “fostering” this trampoline until its family had space for it again. We were incredibly lucky to get it in the first place: it essentially fell into our laps at the beginning of the COVID lockdowns, when it was impossible to buy one because they were all backordered. I’m trying to remind myself to be grateful for the time we had with it, and not bemoan the loss. But it’s hard.

And re-reading the last paragraph, I’m feeling like there’s a bigger life lesson here. Is anything ever really ours for ever and ever? Or is it all, as Avenue Q said, “Only for now”?

Remember that coaching session I mentioned? “Only for now” would be an apt summary of what we talked about. I’m working on what some people call “diet recovery”—essentially I’ve been on so many different weight-loss programs, all of which worked temporarily, and binged so much in between, that I don’t even know what and how to eat anymore. Hunger cues? What are those? After overriding my body’s instincts for so long, I’m not sure what’s left. What I do know is that I could try to lose weight again, but in two years I’d likely be right back where I am now. Yo-yo dieting is very bad for your health, as it turns out; I have no desire to wreck my body any more than I already have.

Anyhow, my coach and I talked about “grieving the thin ideal”: accepting that my body doesn’t want to stay thin and won’t unless I punish it. I need to make peace with that. Being slim was definitely better than being fat, whether because of our society’s fatphobia or because of actual physical limitations, but it’s not really something I can maintain in the long run. I need to say goodbye to that dream of one day finding the perfect “lifestyle change” (because “diet” is a dirty word, you see) and getting and remaining slim forever more.

“Listen,” my coach pointed out, “our bodies are only for now. We age, we gain or lose weight, we slow down. We have to get comfortable with constant changes, because otherwise we’ll just be miserable. And we have to accept what our bodies are right now, instead of always dreaming of what they could be, if only there was a magic wand to wave.”

She’s right. It’s just really damn hard. And losing our trampoline on the same day didn’t help matters. But as the song goes, everything in life is only for now.

DIY · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 493: On second thought…

Remember when I was all excited and said I was going to make up my own curriculum? This week I’m thinking that’s a bad idea.

As creative and awesome as I am (modest, too,) it would take a lot of work to put together a curriculum that I’d be satisfied with. I just don’t have that kind of time. I’d rather let someone else do the work and leave myself time and mental energy to actually be with the kids in mind as well as in body.

So I spent today looking at curricula again, and I think I’ve got it sorted out. I’m loving that All About Reading has a “try it for a year” policy where you can return the program (used, in any condition) if it doesn’t work for you.

I think this will be a year of learning things systematically—like writing. The whole “write what you know” and “write to express yourself” approach has not worked for N, whose motto is, “How short can I make this and still get my screen time?” I think he needs a structured approach that more closely resembles math. K would benefit from that too—a formula would help her get past writer’s block when she’s got a deadline.

We’ll still learn about Mesoamerica and South America, of course, but we’re not going to spend our entire 14-week term on it. I think a few well-placed documentaries and a couple of classes ought to do it for us. Beyond that, I want to be able to open up a book and teach what’s in it without having to prep too much. Such things definitely exist for English, Social Studies, Art, and Music; but when it comes to Jewish History it’s a lot harder to find. I might still have to design my own curriculum for that.

I suspect having open-and-go curricula for each subject will be a relief in January and February, when seasonal depression hits and I can’t put in an ounce of effort. And the rest of the time, I can take all the time I save on planning and do something fun for a change… like starting that quilt I owe N… or planning our travels.

el cheapo · whine and cheese

Day 492: I don’t subscribe to this model.

Warning: I’m about to date myself. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re a young’un and you should just sit down and listen. Okay?

Remember how in the good old days, you could go out and buy music and then it was yours? You held it in your hand, you could take it home, and then thirty years later you could pull it out and play it. (Why yes, I do still have my copy of Madonna: The Immaculate Collection from when I was twelve.)

Now everything is by subscription: we pay every month and in the end we actually don’t own anything. If the world went post-apocalyptic tomorrow, I could still listen to all our CDs. But if the internet and everything in it went down, and I had no CDs, there’d be nothing to listen to. I don’t own my music, even the stuff I paid for.

It actually bothers me less with music than with computer programs. Apparently you can still buy (and own) Microsoft Office 2019, but there will be no more updates. If you want a more updated version, you have to pay to maintain a subscription. Thank goodness for Google Docs and Sheets.

There are a lot of niche-type programs I use. I subscribed to PicMonkey so that I could do some more advanced image editing to make K’s bat mitzvah logo; I kept it because I do find my way onto it every now and then for other small projects. Is it useful? Yes. Is it ten-dollars-per-month-if-I-want-to-keep-access-to-my-original-files useful? No, probably not. I should really look into just buying a copy of PhotoShop… assuming one can actually be bought, and not just subscribed-to.

I use music notation software to arrange our ensemble pieces for homeschool. I’m making do with the free version, because I can’t stand the thought of another subscription. I did actually subscribe to a music education program, but at least we’re using their resources all the time. I have a Kobo Plus subscription because, with four Kobos, it’s a lot cheaper than buying those books for our whole family; it’s even cheaper than the late fees we’d incur if we borrowed hard copies from the library. To be fair, we also borrow e-books from our library through overdrive, and that’s great, but the Kobo Plus subscription is worth it for us.

But you see the problem: almost any niche interest or hobby that I have can be improved by using software, but I have to subscribe to it forever and ever, or I lose my stuff. These companies have got to be making a mint off this.

So no, I do not subscribe to this subscription model. Bring back actual ownership, I say (shaking my fist wildly.)

See? I’m dating myself.

family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 491: It started out so well.

This morning I discovered a new beach online and decided to try it with E, who is turning out to be an excellent partner in beachy crime. I made the required reservations (because COVID) and even rented a tandem kayak for an extremely reasonable fee ($10 including tax for 30 minutes.) We drove out to Professor’s Lake, singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack the entire way.

It was unlike any of the beaches I’ve been to before: we entered through a building that housed bathrooms, a snack bar, and a boat rental desk, and came out to a tiny beach with three lifeguard stands and a roped-off swim area. It’s not a big lake (although probably similar in size to Kelso,) which meant calm, warmer-than-your-average-lake waters. The bottom was sandy all the way out and the water was chest-deep at the far limit of the “shallow end.”

E and I frolicked in the water for a while until it was time for our kayak rental; then I paddled us around the lake, sticking close to shore so I could see the backyards of the houses that back onto it. I had no idea that Brampton had subdivision houses with a lake in their backyards; most of them had some kind of watercraft and some even had small docks at the water’s edge.

(Note to self: I want a lake at the bottom of my backyard.)

On our way back to the boathouse we saw the lifeguards’ pontoon boat speeding towards us.

“I need you guys to go back to the boathouse right away, because it’s going to rain soon and also something else.” The lifeguard shouted to us.

Also something else? I thought as I paddled hard back to shore. This can’t be good.

It wasn’t until we got close to the dock that I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. We were directed to exit to the parking lot, unless we had things on the beach—which we did—in which case we were to pack up and then leave.

You might not know this about me, but I have strong feelings about what people should and shouldn’t be doing when there’s an emergency situation. As we were packing up and leaving I was telling E that when there are first responders coming towards you, you hop aside as quickly as possible because an extra couple of seconds might save a life; that you should follow their instructions first and ask questions much later, if at all; that we’re so lucky to live in a place where we have police and medics and firefighters who come to help as soon as they’re called.

In the parking lot I saw two women walking away from their car.

“Do you know,” I asked, “if they’re letting cars out of the parking lot? Or are we blocked?”

“They have to let us through,” one woman said in an exasperated tone. “They can’t keep us here.”

“Actually,” I whispered to Ellie as we walked away, “I’m pretty sure they can. And I’m certainly not going to interrupt them in the middle of a rescue so I can get out of the parking lot a few minutes sooner. We’ll just take our snacks and sit on that bench.”

Honestly, what are people thinking when they get upset about this kind of thing? They were planning to be at the beach longer anyhow, so they don’t have any other pressing engagements. What could possibly be more important than saving a life?

Which reminded me: I shared this thought with E and taught her the Hebrew term Pikuach Nefesh, which is the Jewish principle that you can (or must) transgress any law in the Torah if it is a matter of saving a life. She repeated the words Pikuach Nefesh a few more times, rolling it around her mouth.

After twenty minutes of sitting on the bench (I couldn’t stand how people were gawking through the fence at the scene unfolding on the beach) we took a walk down the path that circles the lake. E squealed in delight as we found a playground, and she started climbing while I added this park to the Playground Buddy app.

Our car was no longer blocked in when we finally returned to the parking lot; the firetrucks had all left and the ambulances were packing up their stuff and leaving. Only a dozen police cars remained, the officers all gathered in a tight circle on the beach—to debrief, I assumed.

Later I read that a man had drowned in the lake. In the face of that, more mundane issues seem so unimportant, don’t they? And yet life goes on at breakneck speed, I reflected upon seeing that my beach access fee had already been credited back to my VISA card.

On any given day there are tragedies great and small, personal triumphs, births, and mundane everyday transactions, all happening at the exact same time. I’ve tried to wrap my mind around that before; I’m still trying to.

Tonight I’m thinking of the lifeguards who handled today’s emergency with such professionalism, the first responders who were unable to save that life, and the family of the man who drowned.

Folks, please… learn to swim. Teach your children to swim.

And for heaven’s sake, do not complain about minor inconveniences when there’s a life on the line.