bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 380: Anti-Theft System

There have been a lot of car thefts in our area lately. It seems that every few days someone else posts on the neighbourhood Facebook group that their car was stolen, and the comments section is soon peppered with discussions of Faraday cages, The Club™, and other anti-theft measures. Despite all this, I have no fears of my car being stolen; you see, I have my own patented anti-theft system that I use for my car and my cellphone.

Here’s how it works: my stuff is functional but old-looking (and usually just plain old.)

Our car is a 2012 minivan with peeling paint and a dented side panel. It’s a workhorse that hauls lumber, bikes, and people. It’s pretty comfy to boot, with seat warmers in the front and a separate heat/ac system for the passengers in the back. It’s served us well for the past nine years and we plan to drive it for at least another six.

My phone is a 2016 iPhone SE. I bought it used in 2017 and immediately covered it with the most waterproof, shock-proof, me-proof cover I could find. It’s not new, pretty, or flashy, but it takes good photos and serves as my external brain; I don’t need or want anything fancier.

My anti-theft system works because, as Mr. December drily observed, even thieves have standards—and apparently, their standards are higher than my own. Just further proof that lower standards are the key to happiness.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 245: Minor Crises

Yes, I said crises, not crisis. Crises, plural.

Over the weekend our car had a bit of an issue and ended up getting a new alternator, tensioner, and belt. The mechanic thought our battery was fine and just needed charging.

This morning I drove out to the supermarket to pick up my Click & Collect order. I turned off the engine and opened the trunk. Then I waited. When I got chilly, I turned the car on again so I could run the heater—but the car didn’t turn on. I had to call roadside assistance and then wait for half an hour with my groceries in the back of my van. At least I didn’t have anything terribly perishable in there.

I got a boost from the roadside assistance guy, and was told to keep the engine running for forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the store is only fifteen minutes from home, I had to leave the car running in the driveway for a while after we got home. I set an alarm for thirty minutes and went about putting away the groceries. Two hours later, in the middle of doing something completely unrelated, I suddenly looked up and yelled, “Oh no! The car!”

The car was fine. Everything was fine.

Then the kitchen sink backed up. Both sinks, actually. The dishwasher was running, so I turned it off because it’s attached to the sink drain. Of course, when you turn a dishwasher off mid-cycle, it drains itself. The sinks began to fill up.

“WE INTERRUPT YOUR SCHOOLING FOR AN IMPORTANT LIFE SKILLS LESSON!” I called out. “EVERYBODY TO THE KITCHEN!”

The kids crowded around as I pulled out the drawer under the sink and explained what a P trap is and what it’s for.

“I think we should take the P trap off,” I said, “so we can get out whatever is blocking the drain. Somebody please get me some wrenches. Also some buckets. Big ones.” The kids ran off to do my bidding.

I was impressed—K got right in there with me and helped me unscrew all the connections. I tried to open it slowly, so that the water wouldn’t all come rushing out, but I loosened just a bit too much and suddenly we had a deluge.

“Quick! New Bucket!” I shouted as the greasy water approached the bucket’s rim. The kids passed me the bucket and I switched it out quickly, but not quickly enough; the water spilled into the cabinet and onto the floor.

“TOWELS!” I yelled. “And not the nice ones from your bathrooms! Get the old faded red ones!”

When we finally took off the P trap, it looked like the problem was actually further into the drain. And what was the problem, you ask? To me it looked like couscous. But who puts tons of couscous down the drain? In any event, we couldn’t clear it all out the way we wanted to—but I still used it as a learning moment:

“You guys. THIS is why we ask you to scrape off your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. If food goes down the drain, it will eventually clog.” N and R nodded, wide eyed.

In the end, we cleaned out the P trap, reinstalled it, and then used a bottle of Liquid Plumr to unclog the drain. I guess we could have just used the Liquid Plumr to begin with, but where’s the fun in that?

After cleanup and a shower (my pants were soaked with greasy, couscous-laden water) it was pretty much the end of the school day. I didn’t dissuade the kids from doing their work, but I didn’t push it, either.

At least we ended the day on a restful note, with scones and jam for poetry teatime. All’s well that ends well… right?

bikes planes and automobiles · education · Homeschool · Independence · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 210: So, How’d It Go?

Today was our first day of homeschool. After all the preparation I did, it felt very anticlimactic. N and R did their work pretty enthusiastically (although R was having trouble focusing), E did a very little bit, and K worked hard on her math but balked at the writing assignment.

“It’s easy!” I said for the millionth time. “You’re just hunting for words. Any words. Just find words in a bunch of different places and write them in the tiny notebook I gave you. Take words from this pile of catalogues. Borrow words from the spines of the books in our library. Snatch them from the lyrics of songs. I don’t care what the words are and I don’t care where you find them. Just do it.”

K went into anger mode: “It’s so pointless! Why are we even DOING this? It doesn’t make ANY SENSE!” And on she ranted. I walked away. I still don’t know whether she actually did the assignment or not.

My short Pirkei Avot lesson went pretty well, with a very animated discussion of what it means to “Make a fence around the Torah” and a demonstration of the unbroken chain of transmission of the Torah. The latter featured the six of us and a chocolate bar. It was my take on the Jewish custom of putting sweets in a child’s first school books so that they associate learning Torah with sweetness. Judging from my kids’ reactions, Pirkei Avot will be a popular lesson in future weeks as long as I always bring treats.

The copywork for it, though, was only done by R, and even then only partly. She insisted that she didn’t know how to write Hebrew letters; they “might have tried” to teach her at school but she never learned. I don’t see how that’s possible—I’ve seen her Hebrew homework over the years—although maybe she had a lot of help with her written work at school. However it happened, I’m a bit miffed. Six years in Hebrew Day Schools, the last three in a school with a “rigorous” Hebrew program, and my kid can’t write Hebrew in grade four? I want my tuition money back.

One of today’s highlights for me was biking with the kids to their dentist appointments. The fresh air and exercise in the middle of the day was good for all of us. When I went to retrieve N from his, E insisted on riding her bike alongside me. It’s only about a kilometre of mostly-flat road. Still, she biked hard and was exhausted at the end.

(Here I must interject to say how excited I am that at least two of my children can travel to and from their own dentist appointments independently. I accompanied them each one way because they wanted me to.)

All this is to say that really, today went about as well as I expected, if not as well as I’d hoped. It wasn’t a “normal” day for us, though, with dentist appointments (for two of the kids) in the morning and an optometrist appointment in the afternoon (speaking of which, N needs glasses.)

Tonight we’re having poetry teatime, for which E is going to help me make tea biscuits. And then I hope to go to bed nice and early so I can wake up tomorrow morning and do it again.

bikes planes and automobiles · community · Homeschool · waxing philosophical

Day 202: The Local Life

I’ve long complained that school was the primary reason I was stuck driving a lot. Our kids never went to the neighbourhood public school, so every morning I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in traffic for half an hour after making the 8:30 a.m. drop-off. Then two of my kids went to a public school that, while not our local school, was nearby, and I had the pleasure of sometimes walking home from dropping them off.

Now that we’re homeschooling, I can finally realize my dream of giving up daily driving. I’ll have no commute, which comes with its own problems: if there’s nowhere to go, will we have days when we never leave the house at all? That can’t be healthy—surely it’s a good idea to go outside and look at the sky every so often—but I can see it happening. There must be some sweet spot between too much commute and too little.

On the upside, we’ve begun to patronize more local businesses. I’m still getting used to paying more for the same things (economy of scale is a real advantage for major retailers), but I do like the experience of having a small radius of travel, not to mention the pleasure of getting to know the people in my neigbourhood (apparently my goal is to live on Sesame Street.) On a single one-kilometre stretch of main road near our house we have our family dentist, an optical store (where we bought K’s glasses), a bagel shop (several, actually, but I have my favourite), a health food store, my chiropractor and massage therapist, and the paint store I always use. Oh, and there’s the health-conscious-and-also-kosher cafĂ©, the laffa restaurant, and the ice-cream parlour.

(We used to walk to the pharmacy, too, but ironically at the same time as I was trying to do more locally, their service really deteriorated and I switched to an online pharmacy. I regret nothing.)

What am I missing, exactly? In my perfect world all our parents would live nearby, so that we really wouldn’t have to drive unless we desperately wanted to… but given how much we love my parents’ home with its ravine setting, that’s unlikely to happen. It’s probably too much to ask, anyway. We have neighbourhood friends, parks, shops, and (some) health care; I’m basically living my dream of a walkable lifestyle. Now it only remains to be seen whether I actually enjoy the lifestyle I’ve craved for so many years.

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.