education · Kids · Montessori

Day 448: The Graduate

E had her “End of Casa Celebration” today. She’s finished a full cycle (and then some; she did four years) in the Montessori three-to-six-year-olds’ classroom (otherwise known as Casa) and is ready to move on.

This morning we joined her class on Zoom as the teachers spoke about (and to) each graduate. The grads were given flowers and a bouquet of cards with wishes from their classmates. E wasn’t there, since she’s an online-learning student, but we were able to pick up the flowers, the cards, and a box containing the Shabbat set E made as part of her graduation project.

A major part of the graduation project is the child’s timeline. E had to choose photographs (one from each year of her life) and write a short sentence about each picture. Then she had to mount the pictures and the captions on cardstock, punch holes, and bind it all together. The final result is neat to see, not least because of the very clear progression from messy writing in the first caption to much neater cursive in the last one; but the coolest part is seeing what pictures E deemed important to showcase: her first Purim, her at eighteen months watering the flowers with our yellow metal teapot, dressed as an elephant for Purim at age two, riding her balance bike, jumping on a trampoline with N, reading on the front porch with R, and using the glue gun to turn a yogurt cup into a unicorn cup.

Image descriptions, clockwise from left: E in her graduation outfit, sitting on the back porch couch; E looking over her shoulder at the camera with her class Zoom screen in the background; the last page of her timeline, with the caption “i was making mi frst unicorn cup” (sic); her timeline project—eight sheets of cardstock bound with yarn—spread out on our living room couch.

Tonight E had the honour, as the graduate, of leading us in the blessings over the candles, wine, and challah. She also got a special cupcake from Savta and Sabba, and got to use the coveted heart-shaped spoon for her dessert (seriously, the kids fight over the ‘heart spoon’.)

All day long I couldn’t—still can’t, really—believe that my baby, my youngest child, is headed into Grade One. This time last year she was learning to write numbers; now she’s multiplying them. She’s reading, her cursive writing is beautiful, and she’s a confident, articulate six-year-old, as sweet and cuddly as when she was a baby. I am so proud of her. And she’s proud of herself, just as she ought to be.

DIY · IKEA · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff · whine and cheese

Day 447: FFS

Today can be summed up in a single word:

ARRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!

Okay, fine. Not a word. But that’s not the point.

I had a day without kids today—a full day to catch up on all kinds of big and little tasks. I had plans.

I picked up the blackout roller shades I had ordered. The ones in the library looked pretty good (given that the library colour is hard to match) and they went up fairly easily once I understood the system. Too bad one of them seems to be defective—the rod isn’t working to raise and lower them. Strike one.

I then went upstairs to start installing the shades in my bedroom. I got two (out of four) of them up; then I realized that the curtains will catch on the roller shade mounting brackets, which doesn’t bode well for long-term use. Also, one of the two is malfunctioning the same way as the one in the library. Strike two.

“Just stop buying from IKEA!” Mr. December blurted in exasperation. “They have cool ideas but their window stuff doesn’t work!”

Oh, and while I was installing one of the bedroom shades, I bend down to swap out the screwdriver head (the alternate one was on the windowsill and I was on a stepstool.) I straightened up to finish the job and—THUD—hit my head on the top part of the window casing. Ouch. Strike three.

I prayed that this knock on the noggin would be nothing and I wouldn’t even have to mention it to anyone. My head had other plans, though. As I climbed off the stepstool I felt just a bit woozy—kind of dizzy, kind of “off”—and grudgingly admitted this might be a very mild concussion. I lay down to rest a while.

Tonight I’m shopping (seems like that’s all I do these days) for some clothes for Mr. December. He was jealous of my hiking pants last weekend, so I was ordering some for him. Also shorts. Then I saw that they had sundresses with pockets that I knew the girls would love, so I put those in the cart too. Swim shorts for N were $15. And so on, until I was ready to check out… at which point I realized that I was on the U.S. site, not Canadian, and that the fabulous sale prices were only available in the U.S.

Which strike is that? Four? I’m starting to lose count.

At least today is over, and four strikes in one day isn’t such a bad score; I’ve had much worse. I’m going to go make a cup of tea, enjoy some kid-free downtime with Mr. December, and then—

RING, RING

Just a minute—

“Hello? Oh, hi, Mum… they want to come home? Okay, sure… see you soon.”

Scrap that. Back into mommy mode. Kid cuddles, here I come.

DIY · Early morning musings · fame and shame · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff · whine and cheese

Day 446: In which I surrender to the sun.

Look, I’m not giving up, I’m…

Okay, fine. I’m giving up.

I no longer believe that the curtains in our bedroom are going to be able to keep it dark enough in the face of direct sunlight in the mornings. Right now it’s dark enough only because most of the windows are blocked off with cardboard (it looks really classy from outside, I tell you.) That’s not a long-term solution, not for me at least. Mr. December would just as soon paint all the window glass black and call it a day.

At the beginning of this whole saga, I could have just bought a few blackout roller shades and added some curtain panels on top to take care of those pesky lines of light around the edges. But no, I had to have something that looked good because our house was so cool. Roller shades were just so… blah. Not attractive at all.

That’s why I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but here goes:

I just bought blackout roller shades to install in our bedroom, behind the curtains, to help block out more of the light.

Yep, exactly the kind of shades I didn’t want to install in the first place.

See why I say I’m giving up?


In other sun-related news, summer is unofficially here—and with it, the first sunburn of the season. I hope my body at least managed to finally make some of its own Vitamin D. If I needed to draw a self-portrait in crayon or marker, I’d be able to use the one marked “berry red sunburn” instead of my usual (boring) “peaches and cream-would-do-wonders-for-that-redness-on-your-pale-face-you-know.”

Don’t worry, though, it only has to happen once for me to just wear a sunshirt if I’m going outside for the rest of the summer. Just like with returning library books, I’m too absent-minded to be trusted to put sunscreen on consistently.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be swimming in Aloe Vera gel.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 445: I wish I could quit you.

Dear Amazon,

I wish I could quit you.

By most accounts, you engage in unethical business practices and your employment practices aren’t anything to write home about either. You sell lots of stuff cheaply, most of it made in China, which makes me wonder whether it was made by Uyghurs in Chinese detention centres. And you’re not-so-slowly taking over the market, elbowing small local retailers out of the way because they can’t compete with you.

Granted, you have economy of scale on your side. And I’m sure you’ve invested gazillions of dollars in software development and logistics planning and implementation. You’re so big because you’re so good at what you do. I get that. But still, for ethical reasons I’ve been trying to reduce my purchases from you by, oh, ninety percent.

But I just can’t leave.

There are some things I can’t seem to find anywhere else; all of your collapsible silicone water bottles in multiple colours, for example. It may not seem very important to others, but in our house we colour-code everything so we know which of the four kids each item belongs to. I checked five local sports/outdoor stores before resigning myself to the fact that I’d have to buy from you. Again.

I needed a very long, continuous curtain track system. IKEA’s system failed me. I looked everywhere I could think of and found absolutely nothing. So I came crawling back again, credit-card CVV in hand, to buy a seven-metre track with rollers and everything. It works perfectly, by the way.

At least the curtain track story has a positive spin: it was sold by one of your “Marketplace” vendors, which I gather means they use Amazon as an e-commerce platform so they don’t have to develop their own. They benefit from your reach and your search algorithms and I presume they pay handsomely for the opportunity. Anyhow, this vendor was a small family-owned business based in Alberta that only sells through you. I had a minor customer service issue and they were perfectly lovely to deal with. I would absolutely buy from them again… on Amazon, of course, because they have no other platform.

And now… I have three kids to prepare for camp. Who knew they’d need so much stuff? Twenty-four towels (total, not each)? I mean, yeah, first I’ll canvass everyone I know for their old towels they don’t want anymore. But after that, you might be my best chance for towels on the cheap. Although I’m happy to pay smaller local stores a bit more for their products, I’m less happy to do it when I’m staring at a packing list that looks like it was put together by a stereotypical Jewish mother who doesn’t get that it’s okay to wear your sweatshirt a whole week running even if it’s got grass stains on the elbows and a smear of melted marshmallow from Wednesday night’s campfire. Point is, there’s so much stuff we need from camp that I do need to economize just a bit.

So, Amazon, even though I said goodbye dozens of times, even though I’ve resolved to stop crawling back to you, I can’t. You’re just that good at what you do. And apparently, I need you.

Shamefacedly yours,
Me

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · fame and shame · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 444: How we Roll

“Honey, I’m trying to write this blog post, but my writing is just flat.

“Is that your opening joke?” Mr. December asked.

“What? No—oh. I see. No, it wasn’t. But maybe I spoke too soon? It shouldn’t be too hard to change gears.”

He mimed a rimshot.

“Okay, fine,” I murmured. “I’ve made a start. Might as well roll with it.”


A few weeks ago the chain on E’s bike started coming off the gears. Then R complained that the hardest gear on her bike was feeling an awful lot like the easiest. I can manage small bike repairs, but I had neither the skills nor the time to take on the task, nor the tune-ups that all of our bikes desperately needed.

I went online and looked up a mobile bike repair guy whom we’d met a couple of years ago at the Wychwood Barns market. The website had a simple online service request form; I filled it out and waited.

I soon had a message saying that Matteo (of Matteo’s Bike Repair) was booked up for the next few months, but Percy had space on his schedule for us. I had met Matteo in person but had no idea who this Percy guy was. Was he any good? When I contacted Matteo I felt like I was dealing with a known quantity; Percy was a mystery.

As it turned out, Percy was exactly who we needed. A former homeschooled kid himself, he took the time to explain to the kids not just how the different parts of a bike work, but the science behind it all. He was endlessly patient and good-humoured—even in the face of N’s standard two-dozen-or-so interruptions. And he immediately said “Yes!” when I offered popsicles. I do like an adult who appreciates popsicles.

By any standard, this was a successful class and a fabulous homeschool day. All four kids learned how to lubricate their bike chains, adjust the brakes, and pump up the tires. R got some hands-on experience in tightening her gearshift cable and removing and reinstalling the pedals. And we now know an awesome bike repair guy, just in case any of our Toronto friends ever need one.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Fibro Flares · Sartorial stuff · The COVID files

Day 443: A pain in the…

My legs hurt. I mean they really, really, really hurt. I’m thrilled, though, because it’s not fibromyalgia pain. No, my leg muscles are killing me in the way any muscle protests overexertion. If I rest and then stand up, my legs scream at me; if I keep moving them, they gradually downgrade the screaming to a pitiful whine. Once I had figured this out, I committed to a six kilometre bike ride with R. My legs felt better while biking. Now that I’m sitting down they’ve decided to scream again, but that’s okay. As the song says, it hurts so good.

I forgot to tell you that the real winner of yesterday’s debacle was…

(drumroll)

My new pants. They were everything they promised to be: stretchy, comfortable, lightweight, and—best of all—aside from the patch of dirt on the back, dirt-resistant: after I had brushed them off with my hands I could have worn them to a restaurant with a nice blouse. I mean, if a restaurant near me was actually open, which reportedly won’t happen until at least June 14. Anyhow, my pants were so great that Mr. December noticed and asked me to buy him a similar pair.

(He probably wouldn’t have noticed my pants at all except that the shorts he was wearing had inferior pockets that didn’t hold his phone securely enough. I ended up with the important stuff in my (roomy, zippered) pockets. It was quite the role reversal, I tell you.)

In the meantime, we got the Keens sandals I ordered for everyone on Friday. After carefully measuring each person’s feet and matching the measurements up on the sizing guide, the shoes were all one size too big for their respective owners. So back they go, and we’ll have to try ordering a size down.

(Look, I get that shoe stores weren’t essential during the first wave of COVID, but it’s been fifteen months and my running shoes have holes in them. If they don’t open shoe stores soon, I’ll just have to hire my own personal courier to take care of all the back-and-forth returns and exchanges. I may be adept at online shopping, but I need to actually try on several pairs of running shoes before making my choice.)

On the whole I have to say that it wasn’t a terrible weekend as long as you don’t count the hike. The weather was nice and warm, the sun was shining, I had a lovely bike ride today, and the pain in my legs isn’t a fibro flare. In the words of my late neighbour, Olga, I am thankful.

family fun · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 442: Conflicted

I was conflicted.

On the one hand, I wanted to ask my husband to go on without me, finish the hike, and then come pick me up with the car.

On the other hand, I wanted to kill him.

I was crouched on a hillside, trying to scoot my way down the hill without sliding in the mud or twisting an ankle. The ground was covered in thin pieces of stone, most of which were very loose. To make matters worse, the leaves on the ground made it nigh on impossible to tell where the ground was stable and where there were big holes. And did I mention that there was broken glass on the ground, too?

Eight kilometres doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it wouldn’t be if the path were both even and relatively flat. It wasn’t. The elevation map warned us of all the uphill and downhill sections, but the worst part of it was that most of the trail was very rocky. My ankle stability has never been good and my balance has been a bit off ever since my concussion; so you can imagine why I was already a bit peeved by the time Mr. December led us down this steep hill that was almost certainly NOT part of the trail.

Granted, there were a few fun moments; when we took the wrong path and ended up across the road from a country market and bakery, where we bought a strawberry-rhubarb pie and ate it with our bare hands; when we crossed the river near the top of the falls and I took off my shirt, soaked it in the water, and put it back on (aaaahhh, that’s better); when R and I walked along singing our favourite round:

“Black socks, they never get dirty!
The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.
Sometimes I think I should launder them;
Something inside me says ‘don’t wash them yet.’
Not yet… Not yet… Not yet… Not yet.”

But there were far too many sections of trail where it was all I could do to focus on my footing. About halfway back to the car my legs were hurting and my balance was suffering. Of course, N was pretty miserable at this point, so I tried very hard to be positive and cheerful: “See, kiddo? We’re almost there. Soon we’ll be back at the car where there’s plenty of bottled water and air conditioning. Then we can kill Abba.”

As a parent, I want to model grit and mental toughness to my kids. I try not to wimp out of challenging activities. This hike may have broken me of that tendency.

“From now on,” I told him as I drove home, “I’ll walk in with you guys for about fifteen minutes. Then I’ll turn around and go back to the car, drive to the end point of the hike, and walk in about fifteen minutes to meet you.”

“That’s probably for the best,” he agreed, obviously trying to placate his wife who had only just stopped threatening murder.

“And now,” I intoned, “Let us never speak of this again.”

family fun · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 441: Early to Bed, Early to Rise

We have big plans for tomorrow.

We’re doing a hike from Felker’s Falls to Devil’s Punchbowl. If you’ve never heard of these places, well… neither had I.

It’s supposed to be quite hot tomorrow, and it’s the weekend, and nothing else is open yet, so we’re going very early to beat the heat and the crowds. The backpack is loaded with snacks, water, band-aids, toilet paper (just in case,) hats, sunscreen, and bug spray.

Am I forgetting something? Probably. I’ll let you know tomorrow afternoon.


I leave you with this picture of the packaging that Mr. December’s company deemed necessary to ship him his new security badge. Just so we’re clear, we’re talking about something the size of a credit card, which is relatively flexible and could probably be sent registered lettermail. Instead, they send a large box (the size of a smallish microwave) marked “FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE” and stuffed with plastic pouches full of packing peanuts. On the pouches was written some pithy slogan about sustainability. Is that irony? Or something else?

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 440: 440

Ah, 440.

More accurately, A440. It’s the pitch to which orchestral instruments are tuned—unless you’re one of those weird European orchestras that prefers A438. You’d think a difference of two Hertz wouldn’t make much of a difference, but apparently it causes some consternation for trans-atlantic orchestral collaboration.

Closer to home, we’re working on our latest musical collaboration—the arrangement of Ode to Joy that I was working on back in April. We’ve gotten to the point where fifty percent of us know our parts quite well, roughly 16 percent are just sight-reading their way through it, and the remaining thirty-one percent aren’t really comfortable with their parts yet.

I started working with everyone on their parts in late April. E took to it immediately and was playing all 32 bars of her part within the week. N took a bit longer, rhythmically-challenged as he sometimes is, but he gradually got up to speed. R is still working on her chord changes; to be fair, she is learning a new instrument, whereas N has been learning piano for four years.

And K… well, we had some…unpleasantness…early on. I had written the viola part to be a bit more interesting than just a string of quarter notes; she objected strenuously. The first roadblock was the dotted quarter note at the end of the fourth bar. She didn’t get it. I explained. Then she explained to me why it was a stupid way to notate a beat and a half. Volubly, and at length. Then she refused to practice it anymore.

(Yes, I pointed out to her that she was arguing about musical notation to someone who has a university degree in music. She was unmoved.)

Words were exchanged—many words—about the possibility of me just writing an easier part for her. To put it mildly, she was not in favour. I did it anyway. No “weird” rhythms, nothing too crazy.

Today she sight-read it fairly easily, and we practiced together for half an hour (which in and of itself is a minor miracle.) Then we called in the rest of the kids and tried the piece all together.

It was… not terrible. As you may know, amateur music groups can sound rather awful; we sounded unpracticed, very rough around the edges, but not bad—especially not for a first run-through.

At this time yesterday I was feeling less than positive about K’s progress in music this year. Tonight I’m feeling a lot more hopeful. As long as the part is mainly quarter and half notes—and let’s face it, many viola parts are—she can sight read it with little trouble. Maybe once she can sight read a little better she’ll be able to develop a solo repertoire. For now she’s happy playing music with other people… as long as she approves of her part. But that’s a fight for another day.

el cheapo

Day 439: Full price is for suckers

Back in March I bought a rug online. As with so many online retailers, I was able to use a “welcome” discount code that took 15% off the price of the rug. That would have been the end of this story, if it weren’t for the endless stream of emails I’m still receiving from this rug company:

“A discount just for you—15% off!”

“Mom deserves a rug! Take advantage of our 10% off Mothers’ Day sale!”

“Spring sale! 15% off select spring rugs!”

“Founder’s Favourites: 10% off our founder’s favourite rugs!”

“Special sale: Our dog’s favourite rugs are 15% off!”

I’m not kidding about the last one. I mean, it’s paraphrased because that email is already gone from my inbox, and they used their dog’s name instead of writing “our dog,” but they did advertise a sale that way.

There’s a new sale every week, it seems, which makes me wonder whether anyone ever pays full price for one of these rugs. Are there complete suckers out there who are unaware that you never have to wait more than ten days for a sale?

This isn’t unique to one rug company. I get similar emails from sportswear companies, online bookstores, and specialty underwear companies (“Celebrate Memorial Day with 10% off our red, white, and blue period underwear!”).

I don’t understand how retail pricing works: are regular prices artificially inflated so that the sale price provides the required profit margin? Are sale prices designed to get the products into the hands of reluctant buyers so that they can, in effect, advertise said products to their friends and family? I want to know!

The only thing I’m fairly certain of in all this is that paying full price is for suckers. Prove me wrong.