better homes than yours · crafty · IKEA · Kids

Day 746: Moving Day

There comes a day in every parent’s life when you see so much familiar stuff—furniture, clothes, musical instruments—leaving your child’s room in boxes. It’s yet another Sunrise, Sunset moment in the child’s journey to adulthood. It’s moving day… for the dolls.

Today R moved her dolls out of their house in her room. “I need more space for my stuff,” she said, “and E is the one who plays with them now anyway.” At the tender age of ten, R feels ready to give up the dollhouse that we (read: I) painstakingly created in her wall unit.

She wanted to get rid of the wall unit too, but I stood firm. The whole thing is screwed into the studs and takes up half of a wall in her bedroom. It is not moving. The whole point of putting the dollhouse into the wall unit was that one day we’d be able to take out the doll stuff and just have storage. R has gradually come around to the idea that the wall unit stays.

E’s room, however, has no such wall unit… yet. We do have a whole stack of IKEA boxes that contain her future furniture, and we’ve been sitting on those for almost a year. Today E insisted that it was time to assemble at least a couple of them so that the dolls could have a house.

Sadly, as with probably every moving day, there was some damage to furniture. The doll bunk bed I made two years ago fell apart when I removed it from R’s cupboard; it’s spending the night in the makery, where eight clamps are holding it all together while the glue dries.

The dolls’ new house is still a bit unsettled, but their neighbours (E’s stuffies) are excited to be sharing a condo building with them. And I’m excited to be getting rid of the stack of IKEA boxes under E’s desk.

Left: kitchen and bathroom are mostly set up. Right: these dolls have a lot of stuff to unpack.

better homes than yours · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 670: I Give Up

Once upon a time, my living room looked like a living room: couches, shelves for board games, hammocks, an ottoman. The only adornments on the wall were a few framed paintings done by the kids. The wall unit had open shelves where we displayed some beautiful Judaica pieces, vases, and other items that were both pretty and practical.

Then we started homeschooling, and Mr. December wanted to clear some of the open shelving to make room for the kids’ binders. I resisted, relenting only because the kids’ binders are all colour coded and their colours are all part of the colour scheme in our house.

The binders slowly encroached on more shelves. Mr. December asked for his own space to store his books and papers. Still, it was just one wall unit. The rest of my living room was still school-free (when we cleaned up.)

One day I decided it would be great to have a timeline on the wall that we could add to when learning about historical events and people. It had to go somewhere; I mounted it just below the window that separates the living room from the kitchen, rationalizing that at least I wouldn’t have to look at school stuff when relaxing on the couch, which faces the opposite direction.

A wipeable map of the world joined the timeline. Then a map of Canada. By this point that wall was full, so when I made the kids’ magnetic schedule boards, I had to hang them between the dining room table and the stairs. At least they weren’t in the dining room, I told myself.


I used to harbour dreams of moving all our homeschool stuff down to the basement, so that we could have our classroom next to the Makery and not have to look at all the school stuff all the time. But somehow we always end up at the dining room table or on the living room couches, and so our stuff has migrated there too.

I’ve given up. I’m letting go of how I thought my house should look. I’m trying to, anyway, because I think it’s healthier to accept and work with what is rather than “should-ing” all over myself and my family.


Last week I wanted wall space to hang some of my Hebrew materials: the days-of-the-week chart, the months of the year, and the weather poster. Heaving a sigh of surrender, I pinned them up on the wall at the head of the dining room table.

“It looks like a Grade One classroom in here,” K said.

“Maybe because it is a Grade One classroom?” I shot back defensively.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she soothed, “at least you chose nice colours.”

I put the final nail in the coffin today: remember that wall I said was completely full? Yeah, it was only full below the timeline. There was plenty of space above. It took less than ten minutes to put up some 3M hooks for the kids’ clipboards that hold their “to-do” lists and music practice charts. I also hung up the giant Post-It chart paper, because I couldn’t think of any other way to store it without it getting folded or bunched up.

“I love that you have school stuff all over your walls,” K’s bestie told me earlier this week. “My mom won’t even let us put up a wall calendar. She says it ruins the aesthetic.”

“She’s right, it does.” I responded. “But I’ve decided to stop fighting it and embrace that my house is a school.”

When my kids were babies, I only bought wooden toys and toys in solid colours—no plastic, no characters, no flashing lights. It wasn’t for health or environmental reasons, I just didn’t want my living room to look like Toys R Us had just thrown up in there. Nowadays it looks like Staples threw up in my house… and I’m trying to figure out whether that’s any better than Toys R Us.

ADHD · better homes than yours · DIY

Day 667: Small Improvements

I’m in a weird place today, mentally speaking. I can think of about six things I want to do to improve the house, but I can’t do any of them to completion. I started decluttering the extra table in our living room and then stopped because too much of it depended on other people’s participation. I decided my workbench could use some tidying, but that was too daunting so I left it for another day.

You know that ADHD song I posted a link to a while ago? The whole thing was pretty descriptive of me, but the best part was this:
Imagine the human brain as a gigantic mixing board
Most people can use these sliders to move in and out of chores
A little of this and that and like that all the chores are gone
My brain doesn’t work like that, man—my brain just goes OFF and ON.

And oh, man, is it ever true. People who say things like, “Your kid doesn’t have ADHD, he can pay attention just fine when it’s something he wants to do” are missing this crucial piece of information: for some of us, attention is all-or-nothing. So is motivation.

I consider it a victory if I can manage to finish a project within a week or two of having started it. Today’s victory is that I finally hung the wall-mounted self-watering plant pots with all the baby spider plants in them.

I can already see that maybe I should have picked a different kind of plant for at least some of the containers—something trailing would be nice here—but the spider plants were here and handy, and one plant separated into so many little ones, and I felt bad throwing out the extras. So I planted them all.

“I love it!” I enthused to Mr. December. “It’s so colourful! Should I buy more of those pots and put them all over the wall?”

(Because right now, as far as this project is concerned, my brain is ON.)

“Why don’t we wait and see how these hold up,” he suggested, “and then we can buy more.”

“Right.” I say (and try to convince my brain to turn OFF for this project.)

Hey, it’s small improvements. Maybe by next week I’ll have decluttered the table.

better homes than yours · Costa Rica · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 614: A Concrete Problem

As I’ve said before, the wifi here is awful. Unreliable, inconsistent, and generally slow. Today Mr. December was in a meeting and ended up having to tether his laptop to his iPhone for internet; even then, it took some moving around the house and patio until he found a spot with good reception.

It seems that this house is the problem. It’s built out of concrete (with steel beams and reinforcement, of course.) The walls seem to be at least 8 inches thick. This is great for climate control inside the house, since the concrete walls absorb heat from the sun all day and then slowly release it at night when it gets a little cool. The construction is terrible for wifi signals, though—we’re essentially living inside a Faraday cage.

Mr. December is, at this very moment, walking around the house checking the strength of the cellular signals (the wifi here is on cellular data, not fibre-optic or cable.) His hope is that by moving the wifi base station we’ll get more consistent signals.

Does the poor wifi quality mean that this house was the wrong choice for us? I’m honestly not sure—it would have to be pretty dire to outweigh the five bedrooms, the pool, the gorgeous outdoor space, and the zipline.

Wait, what? Zipline?

Yeah, there’s a zipline on the property. I’ll tell you about it another time when the internet is less slow.

better homes than yours · Costa Rica · Kids · Travelogue

Day 612: The Good, the Bad, and the Wacky.

The Good:

Our new place has five bedrooms, a pool, a hammock, and a clothesline. The kids picked their rooms and then discovered that E’s room has elephant-print bedsheets and N’s has cheetah-print. It’s like the sheets were chosen specifically for each kid. 

The kitchen is well-equipped—how many Air Bnb’s have a rice cooker?—and spacious, and as E pointed out, the microwave and toaster oven are below the countertop so that even she can reach them. 

The Bad:

The wifi here sucks. 

There. I said it. 

I couldn’t load a website when Mr. December and K were both on the internet at the same time. I don’t even remember dialup being that slow back in the 1990’s. I’m not trying to watch videos or scroll FaceBook; I just want to recharge my cellphone balance. Looks like I’ll have to wait for Mr. December to log off and then get this post up and recharge my phone while everyone else is distracted with bedtime. 

Oh, and I’m a bit frustrated because we asked our driver to take us to a supermarket, and it turned out to be one with a pretty awful produce section, and now we’re here in the middle of the jungle with no car and only five tomatoes. 

(And a whole bunch of other groceries, but we eat a lot of tomatoes.)

The Wacky:

When we first walked in, I took in the beautiful live-edge table, the curving concrete staircase, and the shiny dancing pole in the middle of the room. 

Wait, what? 

Yes, there is a pole dancing pole right in the middle of the room.

R and E have been enjoying it immensely. R has perfected a few graceful spins, while E mostly thinks it’s fun. Mr. December made sure to tell them that pole dancing is one of the highest-paying jobs you can get as a university student. I made sure to hit him upside the head for that piece of advice. 

Image description: my daughter (face obscured by her hair) spinning on a dancing pole in the middle of a living room.

And please note: From now until we return home on December 20 our internet will be slow or spotty, so expect posts to be heavy on text and very light on pictures. 

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?

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY

Day 475: Playing Librarian

When a book is being read in our house, it travels a lot. It will turn up at the breakfast table and then get moved to the sideboard before we begin school; it gets left in one of the hammocks after lunch break; it is taken out to the back porch and forgotten out there when its reader goes inside; it goes up to a bedroom and loiters next to the kleenex on the bedside table all night. At some point during its travels, the reader will finish the book… and leave it wherever they were reading it last. Books accumulate on every flat surface—chairs, stairs, floors, and ledges—until someone does a purge or a sweep and dumps them all back in the library.

I am, it seems, the only member of this household able to shelve the books. If I don’t do it it doesn’t get done, which is how we’ve ended up with a veritable mountain of books on the library floor.

The library is my major focus this month. There are numerous little details we (read: I) never finished; now is the time. Not only will I be reshelving all the wayward books, I’ll also be labeling the shelves, putting up pictures, upholstering the window seat, fixing the glass door on the musical instrument cabinet, fixing the drawers that never worked quite right, and adding cabinet doors below the desk. Oh, and possibly getting new furniture.

I started today by clearing all the paper and books off the (very wide, very long) windowsill, top of the piano, and desk. Then I left my house (oh, the novelty!) and went to look for fabric samples so I could get started on the window seat. I brought home seven samples and laid them on the window seat. The one Mr. December likes is the one E hates. It’s looking like I’ll have to go with a monochromatic sort of look for the window seat, because for the life of me I can’t find a bright, complementary or contrasting fabric that I like enough to look at for the next ten years.

Here, I’ll just post a photo and ask your opinion:

Image description: 7 large squares of different fabrics arranged on what looks like a couch, with a dark purple-blue ledge in the background.

So we’re speaking the same language, I’ll give each sample a name. Clockwise from top left: monochrome velvet, colourful space invaders, monochrome marbled, crazy bright leaves, purple geometric, colourful ikat, and stripes. So… which one? Or none of the above?

better homes than yours

Day 408: Rugs, rugs, rugs… which is good, which is bad?

I bought a rug before Pesach, the kind that separates from the pad and can go in the washing machine. I didn’t love it, but everyone else thought it was fine. Fast forward a month or so: I needed to buy a rug for the basement rec room (now that there’s a TV in there.) While I was looking for a basement rug, I came across another one I thought would look better in the living room; since it was from Home Depot and fully returnable I decided I’d order it and try it out.

The kids and I love the new rug; Mr. December hates it. I’m giving you some side-by-side photos but not telling you which rug is which. What I want you to tell me is… which one is better in the room? And why?


(Oh, and I’m feeling much better—thanks for asking!)

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Kids

Day 352: Baby’s First Build

Okay, fine. She’s not a baby. She’s six. But she’s my baby, and this was her first IKEA build.

We’ve taken a very relaxed approach to furnishing our house. The library still has the old cushion from our old window seat (it doesn’t fit the new seat,) a super-comfy-from-the-curb rocking chair, and a beanbag. Our dining table is sagging—I’m convinced the only thing holding it up is the metal slides on the underside—and the chairs are beyond awful. My headboard is as yet unfinished, as is my built-in desk. And E’s room… where I had planned to have neat built-ins on either side of her bed, she has two mismatched (in size and colour) cube shelves that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house.

I finally decided to design the built-ins using modular IKEA furniture. The components arrived here on Tuesday, and today E declared that she was ready to “build my first IKEA thing!”

I’ve been assembling IKEA furniture for so long that I’ve forgotten that their instructions are a language unto themselves. I taught E all about what the letter “i” in a circle means, why there’s a hand pointing to a particular component, and how to tell all the different kinds of screws apart. By the end she was assembling like a pro.


Part of my plan for E’s room is a unit on wheels that can roll behind her headboard when she’s not using it, and then be pulled out and used as a dollhouse when she wants it. Not that she wouldn’t have room for a dollhouse that just sits out all the time, but I’m apparently not happy until my build has something that pulls out, rolls out, tucks in, or slides away. I’m quirky like that: I love my rolling kitchen island (that tucks under the counter,) the pull-out desk in the library, and my camouflaged command centre cabinet in the dining room.

The IKEA series I’m using for E’s room is called EKET. For the roll-out dollhouse/bookshelf I decided to have two cubes facing the room so she can access them when the unit is rolled away. That made joining the cubes a bit tricky to figure out, but maybe that’s just my tendency to overthink things; I ended up just using screws to attach the units to each other. I was a bit worried about the whole thing sagging at the joint between the units, so I flipped it upside down and screwed a metal plate into the bottom, straddling the join point. While the unit was upside down I added fixed casters (because swivel casters would be a disaster of scraping and banging into stuff. Fixed casters basically act like a drawer slide.)

I’m sure it’ll be a few more weekends before I’m really done with E’s room, so that’s all you’re getting tonight. In fact, after N sees this he’ll want to know why I started on E’s room without finishing his; right now he’s got several stacks of these IKEA cubes on his floor and the mounting templates taped to the wall. What can I say? ADHD means never wanting to finish one thing before starting another. Story of my life.

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Renovation

Day 314: Vanity, thy name is HEMNES

When we were designing our house, way back in ’15, I already knew I wanted our powder room to have more than just a tiny handwashing sink. It needed to be able to store lots of extra toilet paper and hand towels, of course, but also things like hairbrushes and elastics for last-minute I’m-not-going-back-upstairs-for-this ponytails. It also needed to fit in a six-foot by four-foot bathroom along with a toilet and an inswing door.

“Why don’t you just do a nice wall-hung sink and store your stuff somewhere else?” the architect asked.

“What about just a tiny vanity?” the architect’s assistant wondered aloud.

“Nope and nope,” I said resolutely.

I hadn’t told them yet, but I also wanted a wide sink so that two kids could stand side-by-side to wash their hands. They didn’t disappoint: they told me that was unlikely to work in such a small bathroom.

To them I basically said, “Hold my coffee.” Then I hacked a vanity that ticked all the boxes.

Unsurprisingly (if you know me,) it started at IKEA. They had some nice big sinks that didn’t stick out too much. The one I chose—LILLANGEN—had a soap dish and a tray that fit inside the sink itself. As a bonus, I figured it could be installed so that it looked like an apron-front farmhouse sink.

But the vanity designed for that sink was one of IKEA’s cheaper ones, and it didn’t look very nice. I preferred the solid-wood HEMNES vanities with drawers. Some quick math told me that I could fit three of them along the six-foot wall in the bathroom, and as they only protruded about 12 inches into the room, there’d still be space for the toilet beside it.

(Unfortunately for those of you who’d like to reproduce this hack, IKEA doesn’t seem to sell the 12-inch-deep version of the HEMNES anymore.)

There were a couple of minor problems. The first was the colour: I could only get the vanity in black. No problem—that would be solved with some spray paint.

The next problem was that if I set the sink fully centered on one of the three vanities I was combining, it would be very weirdly off centre and half-obscured by the door when the door was open (which is a lot of the time, especially if you’re just ducking in to wash your hands.) It would look much better if I could offset the sink so that it was centred on two of the cabinets, but that would require some fancy work.

Here’s how I did it:

Step One: Purchasing
I bought three HEMNES vanities and the LILLANGEN sink. I was still a bit unsure of what I’d have to do to hack it, so I also bought a HEMNES étagère shelf as well: it was relatively inexpensive and would give me some extra (matching) materials to work with if I needed them.

Step Two: Planning for the sink
I needed the sink to straddle the post between two units. To do that, I measured and marked how low the sink would sit, and then cut one panel to the correct height.

Step Three: Modifying the frame
The vanities were only intended to have drawer glides attached to the insides of their side panels. For my vanity, though, I needed the two panels in the middle to have drawer hardware on both sides. Using the cut-down side panel from Step Two as well as an unmodified side panel, I drilled through all of the holes in the panel so that they were open on both sides. Then I assembled the vanity as I would normally.

Now I had one whole vanity frame with holes on its outside. Then I followed the original instructions to attach the outer frames to the inner one (by dropping a side panel each and using the central frame as the side panels.) Make sense?

Because the panels weren’t recessed equally on the inside and outside of the side pieces, I couldn’t just use the parts that came with the vanity to mount the drawer glides on the outsides: instead I used shims to install the drawer glides so that the drawers would fit properly. Then I followed the instructions to connect the side panels to each other so that they framed three columns of drawers.

Step Four: Accommodating the sink
I wanted the sink to look like a farmhouse sink, which meant that the front of it would have to go where the top drawers would normally be. I had already cut down the centre panel, but now I needed to fill the spaces on either side of the sink as well as add a crossbar to support the sink’s front edge. For this I used the extra side pieces as well as one long piece of wood from the HEMNES étagère that I bought. It would have been really cool to have tiny drawers there, but I was hesitant to complicate things any further.

At this point the sink fit, but two of my top drawers were now too tall.

Fortunately, the drawer boxes themselves mostly fit under the sink. I just had to cut out a bit of one side and the back of each to accommodate the sink and the plumbing. The drawer fronts were easily cut down to their new size, and I used my router on the new top edge to make it look like the original.

As for the drain, IKEA has a neat drain system where the drain almost immediately runs back to the wall and then goes down into the P-trap, so I only had to cut a bit out of the panel directly under the middle of the sink to accommodate the drain assembly.

Step Five: Colour
The vanity needed paint now. I found a colour of Rustoleum Painter’s Touch spray paint—Ink Blue—that was almost an exact match for the Benjamin Moore Starry Night Blue that covered the trim and the ceiling of our powder room. I used my spray tent to protect the driveway (although to this day my parents’ driveway still has flecks of this colour on it—sorry, Mum and Dad.)

Step Six: Installation
When I brought the vanity over to our house, there were a few tense moments trying to get it through the powder room door. Twisting and turning it eventually worked, and our contractors leveled the feet and screwed the vanity into the wall. I cut the countertops so that they were recessed from the front of the sink; the plumber installed the sink, faucet, and drain. My final finishing touch was to install ring pulls so that there wouldn’t be knobs sticking out into an already-too-small space.

Ta-da! That’s it! I’m so pleased with how this vanity turned out. If you do try it, please come back and brag in the comments!