bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 172: I DID IT!!!!

Well, I packed the car this morning, with everyone looking at the assortment of crates and bags and saying, “it’s not gonna fit.” Boy, were they ever wrong. Behold the photographic evidence:

Above: The trunk of our Honda Odyssey, stuffed to the gills. Yes, there was still room for the six of us. Mr. December even got the entire passenger footwell to himself.

I decided that seeing this is really not as impressive as seeing how it all was put together in the first place, so I’m posting photos as each new column of stuff was revealed.

So once we removed the guitar, sand toys, a milk crate full of canned goods, and a few bags of groceries, you see the next set of stuff: Our cooler (by “ours” I mean “stolen from my parents with their well wishes,) a stack of my magical black crates, another milk crate of nonperishables, and some assorted groceries. You might also notice the shoes and rainboots stuffed into every crevice and cavity.

Over on the left you can see a bag that says “The Green Scene”. It’s in the area above what would have been an armrest for the back row, and it fits nicely into the window space. The clear containers next to it are full of our activities and materials; the stack of black crates is all of our clothing. To the right of those is a plastic container holding a monitor (Mr. December will be working from the cottage half the time.)

With the piles of crates gone, you can see the things we stuffed into the area between the seat backs and our crates: life jackets, packing cubes full of my clothes, toiletry bags, and six-packs of applesauce.

I was pretty proud of myself — possibly even prouder than I was when I managed to fit three carseats across the back seat of my Yaris. I danced my way over to Mr. December and said, “Who’s the master of Tetris and packing up the car? THIS GAL!” He had to agree. Wouldn’t you?

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · el cheapo · family fun

Day 171: Be Careful What You Say

Okay, so my post about how I’m the one who’s really good at stacking and packing? I shouldn’t have written it. Or published it. Whatever. All I know is that today it seems like I’m the only person who knows how to pack.

“Eema! I laid out all my clothes, will you pack them?”

“Eema! I put my clothes in the crate but they don’t all fit! And they’re all on the packing list, so I neeeeed them!”

And Mr. December:

“Honey, I know you love packing stuff up really efficiently, so I left my stuff on our bed for you to pack. ThanksIloveyoubye.”

I actually started my day with one of my favourite outings, a bike ride to Lowe’s through the beltline path. I had to buy a concrete deck block to anchor the corner post of the sukkah and some more bolts to finish securing its ceiling beams. I can now proudly say that the sukkah frame is complete and ready for walls and decorations as soon as we get back.

Then off to the supermarket, where I phoned a friend and talked to her while waiting for my Click and Collect order to be brought out to my car.

R informed me last night that she has no running shoes that fit. Seriously? Now she tells me? I can’t be too annoyed because the truth is that she hasn’t needed to wear running shoes since school closed in March. Given that R has grown a lot over the spring and summer I guess it’s only right that she’d need shoes now. I feel like I scored big, though: there was one pair of sparkly sneakers in her size on the clearance rack (always the first place I look) and they fit well. When we got to the cash my jaw almost hit the floor when the cashier announced, “That will be $14.51, please.” Looks like I had a coupon on my account there. Who knew?

Then I got even luckier.

I’ve been scouring Value Village for the last couple of weeks in search of the perfect pair of cottage sweatpants: men’s vintage Roots sweatpants with a drawstring at the waist and elastic at the ankles. Today they were just waiting for me, and I let out a whoop of elation when I found them. I don’t usually believe that stuff about how you have to ask the universe for what you want, but it seems to have worked this time! (Hey, universe? How about some cheesecake?)

The rest of the day is a blur of folding, rolling, and smushing everyone’s clothes into my magic crates. I don’t even remember packing my own, but just now when I trudged up the stairs to pack my clothes I was met by a crate neatly packed with everything I needed. It was like a gift from my past self. (Thank you, past self!)

There are crates, boxes, and bins all over the front hall and the upstairs landing. My typical can-do attitude is telling me that everything will fit just perfectly; a more rational part of my brain doesn’t know what we’ll do when we discover that it doesn’t all fit. (Is it illegal to strap a kid to the roof of the car? Yes? Okay, how about my husband?)

I do know one thing: when we get to the cottage, I’m going to go sit on the dock and let Mr. December and the kids unload the car. I’ve done more than my share; as of 3 p.m. tomorrow, I’m on strike vacation.

bikes planes and automobiles · Homeschool · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 169: Chatterboxes

Sometimes my kids just won’t stop talking.

We’ll be reading a book aloud when N’s eyes suddenly light up. Then he’ll start explaining how what we just read reminds him of this other thing, and this other thing is so fascinating because… and he’s off and running wherever his hyperactive mind takes him.

One the one hand, it’s adorable. I can practically see the neurons firing and the connections being made. And I know it’s great that he’s truly listening to what I’m reading and digesting it. But if left unchecked, his rhapsodies will go on and on for ten minutes or more, which is not appreciated when I’m reading to him and any (or all) of his siblings. R and K are not generally kind about it, and although I’ve tried to eliminate the phrase “shut up” from all our vocabularies, it tends to pop out when N digresses.

It’s usually K’s voice we hear: “Ugh! N! Shut up! We want to hear what Eema’s reading!”

Fast forward to our car, tonight. Mr. December had just finished telling N that since tomorrow is our last day of homeschool before a month’s vacation, he has to get up early and work hard (he’s been slacking off the last few days.) Apparently this triggered something for K, because she launched into a rant:

“Don’t you hate how they always do that at school? They advance so slowly at the beginning of the year, and then they slow down halfway through, and right at the end of the year they pile on the work!”

“Um, no,” Mr. December said, “I’ve never noticed that.”

“They totally do!” She continued, barely drawing breath, “It’s like, the first day of school you’re just sitting there doing a stupid word search and meeting the other kids in the class, even though you already know them because it’s the same kids every year, and why can’t they just get down to the hard work right away? It’s so annoying! It’s like they forgot that they wanted to get all this work in and so they have to cram it into the last month of school and it’s so hard and then there’s too much work and it’s crazy because they should have spread out the work all through the year instead of saving it up to make us miserable in June and –”

“Hey, K?” I interrupted, “You know how sometimes you get annoyed at N for going on and on about the same thing without saying anything new?”

“Yeah…” She nodded emphatically.

I waited. In three, two, one…

“Oh.” She said.

And there was silence. Blessed, blessed silence.

bikes planes and automobiles · birthing babies · Keepin' it real · parenting · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 161: Living (Extra) Large

I’m typing this while sitting at my new desk. In about thirty minutes of ignoring my kids I was able to cut, glue, and install the slide-out tabletop which will house my keyboard, mouse, and laptop. My large monitor sits on top. This is a very comfortable setup, not least of all because I’m sitting in a chair that lets my feet sit flat on the floor while my back is supported by the chair back, my keyboard is at an appropriate height, and my monitor is at eye level.

Translation: my new desk is low, but it’s exactly the right height for me. It’s been a long time since I was this comfortable at a workstation. I’m forty years old and I deserve to be comfortable, dangit! And I’m not just talking about my desk.

I have gained fifteen pounds since the COVID shutdown. In the year prior to that, I gained fifteen when I was sidelined for months by a concussion. Both of these gains felt like huge setbacks because two years before the concussion, I managed to lose 45 pounds that really needed to be lost. I was mostly keeping it off, too. But then concussion happened, and COVID came, and here I am spilling out of my clothes.

I’ll pause here to tell you that I really hate the value judgments that come with weight gain and loss. I’ve never had as much positive attention as when I’d dropped those 45 pounds. I’ve run a half-triathlon, written and recorded a solo CD, won scholarships and academic medals, and built an awesome house. In short, I’ve done a whole ton of fabulous things. Why do I get the most praise and interest for losing weight?

All my life I’ve been hearing that weight loss is good and weight gain is bad. That thin is good and fat is bad. When I was thirteen my ballet teacher told me I should lose ten pounds if I wanted to continue dancing. I wasn’t thin, but I sure as heck wasn’t fat. I never went back to ballet.

Our colloquialisms betray those values. Phrases like “fat slob” and “fat and lazy” are rarer now than when I was a kid, but still not rare enough. People come away from performances saying things like, “He’s fat, but boy, is he an amazing dancer.” Why “but?” I love to bike, dance, and paddle. I’ve done these things when I was fat, thin, in between, and nine months pregnant. My skill level has not fluctuated with my weight; indeed, I was able to bike a farther distance with a much heavier load back when I was wearing the largest sized clothes my closet has ever housed.

Ah, larger clothes. I wish I had some. Sadly, I mostly bought into the philosophy that if you get rid of all your “fat” clothes, you’ll maintain your lower weight because you’ll want to fit into the clothes you have. So now I’m relying on stretchy capris and roomy t-shirts (some of them pilfered from Mr. December, without his knowledge — sorry, honey!), and some empire-waist dresses. Last year my summer clothes were snug but wearable. This year if I do up the button on my jean shorts, I have a muffin top to rival all others and I can’t breathe deeply. So I spend many of my days slightly very uncomfortable in the clothes I’m wearing, because maybe by making myself feel terrible in them I’ll get motivated to lose some weight. It’s ridiculous.

For the record, I don’t hate my body. It’s carried me this far, dancing, biking, walking, running, building, and birthing babies. Right now it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, saving up energy just in case there’s a famine on the way. As Eric Cartman said on South Park, “I’m not fat, I’m famine resistant!” Yes, I’m less comfortable with the extra padding around my torso, and yes, I’d like to be slimmer, but the extra weight doesn’t make me less beautiful, just less svelte.

I’ve decided that this is where I’m drawing the line. I’m going to buy myself clothes that fit me right now, not “aspirational” sized clothes, even though I don’t plan to stay at this size for too much longer. I’m going to be able to sit, walk, eat, and move without discomfort. I need to start choosing and using things — furniture, clothes, tools and equipment — that fit my body, rather than trying (and failing) to make my body fit those things and hurting myself in the process.

I need to show my daughters that the value of our bodies lies in our strength, resilience, endurance, and agility — not in our body fat percentage. And if I want my daughters to believe that, I’d better start acting as if I do too. Right now I believe it intellectually, but emotionally I’m not quite there. So I’m starting with clothes that fit me.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be in my room…y new pants.

bikes planes and automobiles · Early morning musings · family fun · Homeschool · The COVID files

Day 158: That’s a Paddlin’

We went kayaking on Lake Ontario early this morning.

For a few years now I’ve been contemplating how great it would be if I had a canoe or kayak and could go paddling anytime, without having to find a rental. Until this year I assumed that would always be a pipe dream, because where exactly would I store a canoe or kayak? Of course, there wouldn’t be just one; we’re a family of six, and two is the minimum number I could get away with just from an “adult accompaniment” point of view.

When COVID had struck and springtime came, I was looking for outdoor activities to do with the kids. I mused that we could easily go and paddle in the lake or on a river somewhere (I hear the Humber River is nice) if only we had kayaks. Renting wasn’t even an option seeing as at that point everything was closed.

Then a good friend mentioned that her family had four inflatable kayaks. Wait, what? Inflatable kayaks? That’s a thing? Are they just chintzy inflatable rafts with paddles? She assured me that the kayaks were great, they really enjoyed using them, and (best of all) they were $150 each on Amazon. I went to Mr. December and said, “Hey, let’s get some kayaks.”

He was less than enthused, that’s for sure; just like he was the first time I mentioned a bakfiets or mounting swings in the playroom. I used the same strategies as I had those two times: I did my research, kept talking about it, and then essentially informed him that I was buying two kayaks.

They arrived in under a week. And this morning we finally took them out to Cherry Beach and went for a paddle.

It was amazing. I love kayaking and canoeing. I love the feeling of power in my shoulders making its way down and outward to the blades of my paddle. The fresh air, the sunshine, the view, and the exercise — it’s such a pure, heady feeling. A bit like biking, if I was biking somewhere with lovely scenery and zero traffic.

The only regret I have about these kayaks is not buying them in the spring. To think that I could have been paddling all this time! I feel the need to make up for lost time, so from now until it gets too cold our homeschool phys ed program will be focusing on kayak skills… if I take the kids with me, that is.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 150: Elation, Frustration, Experimentation.

E rode her two-wheeler by herself today! She’s been gliding along (sort of like one does on a balance bike) for the last week, and once or twice she got her feet onto the pedals, but this was the first time that she propelled herself and while steering and balancing. It lasted long enough for me to notice, cheer, get my phone out of my back pocket, and snap this photo.

She was elated. We both were. After she had parked her bike in the garage, I held her hands and sang the Shehecheyanu (Jewish blessing on doing something for the first time or reaching important milestones.) At bedtime tonight she was full of plans to ride her own bike all the way to the playground tomorrow.

Mr. December and I have learned by now that when we encounter defiance in schoolwork, it’s usually a sign of an underlying skill deficit. I’m often able to break down the problem to a point where the child can be coached through the lesson, but this time I’m stumped.

N is working his way through level 3 of Winning with Writing (great title, I know. It has companion programs called Growing with Grammar and Soaring with Spelling.) He’s now into the lessons about writing specific types of paragraphs. I was so excited to get to this point in the book because it breaks down the writing process to a few very simple, very concrete steps. K has had a much easier time of writing since she did these lessons. But N just won’t do it.

I’ve offered ideas for topics. For one lesson I actually created a rough outline for him (point form) and he wrote it from there. Today and yesterday he wouldn’t even do that. I’ve asked him what’s going on. I’ve levelled with him and told him how I know he’s frustrated and I am too, and that to my mind his refusal to work just looks like rudeness and laziness, but I know it’s not. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to yell, “JUST DO YOUR WORK!”

The book has already broken the assignment down into the smallest possible chunks, so I don’t think I can make it any easier. Do I drop it and find a different way to get him writing, maybe by having him strike up an email correspondence with his grandparents? Do I stop nagging but continue to apply the consequence of not finishing the assigned work? Do I keep on doing what I’m doing, sitting next to him and combining understanding and support with a reminder that he can do hard things and I expect him to keep trying?

At least he’s produced more written work since April than he did from September to March, so I feel just a bit more effective than school. But holy moly, I’m out of my depth here.


Mr. December decided to turn yesterday’s DIY sprinkler into today’s science lesson. He taught the kids about water pressure and discussed how the sprinkler spray should be weaker the higher up we place it, because it takes energy for the water to flow upward. To illustrate, he tied the hose and sprinkler to a rope that I lowered from the attic window; he turned on the tap and I hoisted the sprinkler 25 feet into the air. The spray remained strong the entire way up, denying Mr. December the opportunity to say, “See, kids? The pressure went down as the sprinkler went up!” Instead he exclaimed, “Wow! We’ve got some good water pressure.”

If memorable experiments lead to better understanding, it was a successful science lesson. And if the kids won’t remember or retain it, at least it was a fun way to pass the time. Sometimes that counts as a win.

bikes planes and automobiles · education · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 135: Learning

E is learning to ride a bike.

You’d think that since E is my fourth child, I might remember how to teach this skill. You’d be wrong. It appears that teaching bike skills is like potty training: so exhausting and frustrating that my brain has erased all memory of the last time I did it.

This time I was armed with a new gadget: a “Balance Buddy”, which is a real back-saver. Instead of holding onto the underside of the bike seat and one handlebar, I just hold a nice, tall handle and walk behind the bike as E pedals.

Her determination to master biking reminds me of how she learned to walk. Every time she falls, she says, “I’m gonna do this!” and tries again. I’d love to say that it’s a beautiful example of self-motivated learning, but I’d be lying. The truth is that she gets a chocolate chip every time she tries to lift her feet off the ground, every time she falls, and everytime she gets back up. She had her first epic wipeout about an hour ago, which got her a scraped knee and four chocolate chips.

When she hit the pavement I ran to her. “Hooray!” I said. “Your first wipeout! Awesome!” She stopped crying, stared at me, and brightened considerably when I told her that a scraped knee was worth an extra two chocolate chips. After that she was back up and bolder than before, yelling at me to let go.

It makes me wonder how schools might be different if we rewarded failing and trying again, instead of just lauding the successful attempts. How much more creativity would we see? What if failure was seen as learning, and the only negative outcome was if you stopped trying?

bikes planes and automobiles · blogging · education

Day 126: Traffic

That Mr. December. He’s a tough act to follow… and yet follow I must.

I’ve been thinking a lot about traffic these days: internet traffic as well as the usual kind.

I have a WordPress dashboard that shows me daily statistics for my blog. They’ve done away with my favourite section, the one that tells you what search terms brought people to your site (for your amusement, here’s one such list from 10 years ago.) The data set that amazes me regularly is the list of countries from which people are reading this blog.

Canada and the United States are no surprise. I know plenty of people there. I do have family and friends in New Zealand, so I guess its appearance on my list isn’t a mystery either. Then it gets a bit interesting: Denmark… Hungary… I don’t know anybody there. The list goes on: Singapore, Colombia, Ukraine, Algeria, South Africa. Nigeria. Bosnia. I’ll stop now because this isn’t about how widely read my blog is — it’s about how amazed I am that people choose to spend their time online reading my blog when there is so much content out there.

So to everyone reading this from somewhere else — okay, and all the folks at home too — Hi! I’m glad you’ve joined me here. If you ever want to pop into the comment section and tell me how you found this blog, I’d really enjoy reading that… because, as I said, WordPress has stopped telling me how many people found my site by googling things like “Penis Loofah.” (I kid you not.)

And in the other kind of traffic-related news: even with the Toronto area only at level two of reopening after shutdown, traffic here can once again be described as “aggravating”. I really miss those first few weeks of quarantine when I could drive anywhere without being beset on all sides by drivers who don’t signal, drivers on their phones, drivers who don’t understand the meaning of a green arrow… in other words, Toronto drivers. Of course there was the added bonus of the price of gas being closer to what I used to pay in university; that was kind of cool. It’s too bad there was nowhere I needed to go, because I discovered that driving is still fun for me — but only when the roads are empty.

Now that the traffic is back, I’m back to being irritable in the car. I’m driving our nanny here and back home (10 minutes in no traffic, 20 in bad traffic) every day, and I’ve noticed the increase in traffic volume, as well as the proliferation of bad drivers. It’s kind of disturbing to think that even though there are plenty of cars on the road, there are still lots of people who aren’t travelling to work. Have I forgotten how bad the traffic used to be here?

I probably have forgotten. And since we’re homeschooling this year, I won’t have to drive in rush hour every morning and afternoon. As Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

A long and winding road trip · bikes planes and automobiles · family fun

Day 115: Road trip winds down.

This is so typical of me. I start something with all the enthusiasm and with the best of intentions, and then I go on a tangent and never come back to the original goal. That changes today — either that, or “never” is now.

Huh. We really were in the middle of nowhere.

So… after we left Boston we drove through Vermont for a while. It was beautiful, but so isolated that there was absolutely no cell reception for several hours. We noticed it when my phone stopped displaying highways and arrows and started showing us someone’s geometry homework a blank Cartesian plane.

Lesson learned: Always take a paper map along on a road trip, even if you have GPS. And no, the printed map of our route that I laminated onto the kids’ clipboards was nowhere near detailed enough for us.

So on we drove, keeping our eyes peeled for road signs. The kids got hungry. Someone needed to pee. We decided to look for a friendly, local place to eat… and we found it.

The sign at the side of the road said “Good Food Here”, so we stopped to eat at The Old Hancock Hotel. We added Toronto to their blackboard of visitors’ hometowns and sat in a room that looked more like some Granny’s dining room than like a restaurant. The apple crumble was outstanding and the service was friendly.

The next day, after an overnight stay in a hotel with a pool (read: we stayed up late to swim), we drove to the Ausable Chasm for some spectacular views, hiking, and rafting. The kids moaned and complained about the long lineup; I tried to distract them by pointing out interesting lichens on the wall of the chasm. That worked for a bit. Thankfully the line started moving faster and we were soon on a raft.

The chasm was awe-inspiring, especially the part where you can clearly see where two huge sheets of rock met millions of years ago, resulting in one going up and over top of the other.

We left the chasm and drove to Montreal, where we checked into what would be our final hotel.

The next day started out at Pointe-a-Calliere, a museum and archaeological site that explains the history of Montreal. We saw some ruins and walked through an old sewer (now sewage-free and beautifully lit). The kids enjoyed an exhibit on pirates that included a model pirate ship to climb around and explore.

After a beef-and-chicken fondue for lunch — which, to our surprise, N ate and loved! — we went down to the Old Port and got lost at SOS Labyrinthe, a giant maze escape game. In the end K and T won, but a good time was had by all.

Once out of the labyrinth, we explored the rest of the Old Port. K and R chose to use their remaining pocket money to ride the zipline while the rest of us stayed on the ground. Dinner was frozen bananas dipped in chocolate.

On the last day of the trip, Mr. December pulled R away from packing to visit a Barbie Expo nearby. R was in heaven.

On our way out of Montreal we stopped for a picnic with Mr. December’s Aunt, Uncle, and cousins… and a surprise guest! One of Mr. December’s good friends who now lives in Montreal had arranged with our Aunt to surprise us at the picnic. We feasted, sat in the wading pool, and chatted; then we were on our way home with nothing between us and Toronto but an abnormally large apple and some excellent pie à la mode.

bikes planes and automobiles · community · DIY · education · Independence · Kids · parenting

Day 110: The Curriculum of Life

Today we set up another assembly line, for baking this time. Two people measured ingredients and passed them to the next two, who worked the mixer and then passed the batter to the last two, who spread the batter out to fill the pans. All together we made one hundred brownies and sixty-five strawberry oat bars; tomorrow we’ll deliver them to Ve’ahavta, who will distribute them from their street outreach van.

Mr. December and I are leaning more and more towards homeschooling this coming year. I know we need to do more than just math and English, so I’ve been reading books and researching curricula. I’m pretty sure that baking for the homeless qualifies as community service and Home Ec (do they call it domestic science now? I have no idea…) I think shop class will also be pretty easy for me to cover: last week I taught K how to change the windshield wiper blades on our van. She enjoyed that so much that I ended up showing her what’s under the hood of the car, where the car’s fuse boxes are, and how to open the gas tank.

So I don’t know yet how I’m going to teach them history. So what? At least my kids will be able to cook and bake, perform basic car maintenance, and contribute to their communities. Maybe real life is the best curriculum we could use.