blogging · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 185: Guest Post by E!*

*This post was transcribed exactly as dictated to me by E.S

I’m starting writing a book. It’s about Chickaletta’s and Bubbles’ inventures! Chickaletta is a chicken stuffy and Bubbles is an elephant stuffy. I treat them like they’re real.

I used my Hannukah money from Aunty Leah and Uncle Benny to buy Bubbles. And I was reading, so I got a prize, and Eema got me Chickaletta at the farmer’s market for my prize.

I even drawed pictures of both of them. There are pictures together, and there’s pictures where I just tried drawing Bubbles. ‘Cause if you’re drawing Chickaletta, she’s easy to draw for me.

Now I’m gonna read you about my book so far:

“Chickaletta, do you know where we are?”

“No.”

Bubbles said, “We’re going inside a portal!”

“Where are we now?” asked Chickaletta.

“We’re on top of the giant underbelly!”

“BRAAAAAWWWK!” said Buk-Buk.

I’ll tell you when my book’s done. But Eema has to tell you when I’m done in her blog post.


About our Guest Author:

E is five years old. She loves to snuggle, play with her Paw Patrol toys, and have stories read to her. She is currently working on her first book, The Adventures of Chickaletta and Bubbles. This is her first blog post.

blogging · family fun · Kids · water you paddling? · what's cookin'

Day 183: Waves

I’ve come to understand that temperature is really only one element of a “nice day.” It was probably about 19 degrees today, but the wind was strong and the lake was rough, so it wasn’t the idyllic day on the dock that I had hoped for.

In some ways it was better, though. K, my sensory-seeking kid who loves swings, spinning around, and trampolining, decided to try taking a kayak out on the waves. We went together, paddling ferociously towards the waves and cheering when our kayaks went over the crest of a wave and crashed, bow first, into the next one. We felt so alive… and so very, very wet.

So now I have a partner in crime who will sneak away with me anytime to go kayaking on a rough lake. That’s a good thing.

My in-laws visited us today, which was a lovely break from our usual routine. I dropped them and the kids off at the park so I could drive to the supermarket two towns over. The twenty minutes of alone time in the car was a much-needed reprieve from being with people all the time.

Driving is a treat up here. I love driving, but not sitting in traffic, so I try to avoid driving in Toronto. But here when I turn onto the road, there’s this long stretch of road ahead of me. If there are other cars they’re moving along at the speed limit (or just above it.) Navigating a grid of straight highways isn’t as much fun as driving on the winding roads in rural Pennsylvania, but it’s very pleasant — especially when the soundtrack is by Great Big Sea instead of Great Big Complainypants Kids.

We had a late barbecue lunch (including brownies my MIL baked for us) which left most of us with no desire for dinner; but by 7:30, I heard discontented rumblings about hunger and bedtime snacks. Half an hour later I was pulling homemade tea biscuits out of the oven. With Skyr (instead of clotted cream) and blueberry jam, they hit the spot. The children sat around the table munching and listening to me as I read aloud from The Weighty Word Book. I’ve since sent them to bed (with the requisite arguments about who’s sleeping where with whom) and am finishing my own tea while I write this post.

And now a teaser for tomorrow: E will be my guest author (she’ll dictate to me and I’ll faithfully type everything she says.) She’s writing a book about the adventures of her favourite stuffed animals, Chickaletta and Bubbles, and would like to share a few pages of it with my readers. You really don’t want to miss this. It’s adorable.

While we’re up here vacillating between ennui and excitement, some of my readers are affected by the fires in the western United States. According to my brother, the air quality in Vancouver is awful now, and friends in Toronto have said that the hazy sky there has been attributed to the fires. Wherever you are, dear readers, I hope you are safe and healthy.

blogging · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 177: Well, *I* had fun…

It was cold here today — 15 degrees celsius cold — so of course we stayed inside for much of the day. By eleven a.m., I was itching to do something other than sitting around in the cottage reading. I proposed a paddling excursion, which K and N both initially declined and R and E enthusiastically accepted. I decided not to let N beg off, so I offered him a deal: paddle now or paddle later. He chose now.

We bundled up on top: sweatshirts and rain jackets under our live vests. On the bottom half we wore shorts. I have to say, I was quite comfortable. R and N complained of the cold, and that was only the beginning of their complaints.

About 30 metres from the dock, R said her hands were hurting. I corrected her grip on the paddle, gave her some pointers, and encouraged her to keep going. We had a destination in mind: what I call the “tree graveyard,” a small inlet where there are tree trunks and stumps under the water. It’s beautiful and R wanted to see it, but she was stopping every couple of minutes to massage her hands. N complained that we were moving too slowly, and when I finally got us going more quickly, he turned his kayak to face away from us and stopped paddling. He did that repeatedly over the hour that we were on the water.

A photo taken on a slightly less grey day.

It wasn’t all complaints. R, N, and E all like to sing, which is a great way to keep paddling in rhythm, so we sang some rounds: the obvious “My Paddle Keen and Bright” first, and then a couple of songs we learned in choir at violin camp in summers past. For about fifteen minutes we were singing:

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…

Mr. December and K caught up with us in the canoe. By this point R couldn’t paddle at all anymore, so we tied a rope to the front of her kayak and the back of mine. I towed her the rest of the way. Heading back from the tree graveyard N was mulishly stopping, covering his face with his hood, and refusing to respond when I spoke to him; I ended up towing him, too. It was a great workout.

Back at the shore, R did her best (which wasn’t very good) to pull her kayak up onto the sand. N didn’t even bother. He threw down his paddle, left his kayak floating between the rocks, and ran up to the cottage. I was not impressed. Later I learned that he was cold, tired, and frustrated; he hated the entire expedition. Not that it excused his behaviour, but at least I understand… sort of.

In a bid to do something special in the afternoon I baked banana bread (nobody was going to eat those spotted bananas anyway) and made some blueberry tea, then invited everyone to the table for poetry teatime. I expected some resistance but shouldn’t have; there was fresh banana bread on the line. Everyone else ate and drank while I read one Shel Silverstein poem after another, chosen by each child in turn.

Apparently I’m good at reading aloud, because I was then persuaded to read a few entries from The Weighty Word Book before I got up to prepare dinner (E and I are on K.P. today.) And then I made my escape, finally, out to the deck where I’m looking at the mist over the lake and typing this blog post to the sounds of raindrops and honking geese. The spitting rain doesn’t bother me, but my computer might not agree; I suppose it’s time to go inside and be a parent again.

blogging · family fun · Keepin' it real · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 173: Moonrise

I’ve never watched the moon rise before, but here I am: sitting on the deck with the moon, big and orange, in the distance and reflected in the lake. A mere few feet away K is soaking in the hot tub with the coloured light feature on. If you don’t count the music wafting over from a few cottages down or the rumble of the hot tub jets, it’s very peaceful.

Finally.

Mr. December and I were a bit frustrated by the time evening rolled around. The kids had been pretty unhelpful yesterday and today, and we were both tired of whining and complaining. Mr. December gave the kids the responsibility of building the campfire, hoping that the promise of s’mores would encourage them to do it quickly and well.

It didn’t.

Mr. December and I sat there, biting our tongues and (mostly) sitting on our hands, while the kids tried lighting the same pile of sticks over and over again.

“Maybe you should rebuild it,” I offered.

“You need more dry stuff that will catch right away,” Mr. December pointed out. “Everybody go look for some.” Ellie walked around and found plenty of twigs. The other three did nothing. Eventually Mr. December rummaged around in the cottage and came up with a bottle of gel fuel for fondue pots. It worked like a charm, and our fire burned big and bright.

We saw fireworks, and then realized how many stars we could see, so we went down to the dock to watch. By this point it was well past bedtime, and the kids were feeling silly. Unfortunately, silly also means loud.

“Everybody, try to be quiet and look for a constellation you know,” I instructed.

“I don’t know any constellations!” R shouted.

“Then make them up!” I snapped. “Look, there’s Billy the cowboy, and there’s Paco, the… other cowboy. And there’s one-dimensional Pete.”

Still, they were hung up on the “real” constellations.

“Eema, where is the Big Dipper?”

“Where’s the North Star?”

“Where’s Cassiopea?”

“Where’s Orion?”

“WHERE’S THE MUTE BUTTON?!?!!?” I snapped. I’m not at my best with kids who are out-of-control silly.

We only lasted a few minutes longer, and then I ushered them all inside. K pulled me aside and begged me to let her sit in the hot tub. Since I still had to write this post, I agreed. Now she’s getting out, the moon has risen, and the post is as written as it’s going to get. Good night, everyone.

blogging · Just the two of us · love and marriage

Day 166: Happy Birthday, Honey!

It’s Mr. December’s birthday today. He’s 43, which is 101011 in binary — Dad and I figured that out when it came time to put candles on the birthday cake (43 candles seemed excessive.) I used green candles to represent 0 and pink candles to represent 1; Mr. December understood it pretty much immediately. It’s possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done with a birthday cake, right up there with making a cake that looked like a stack of poker chips that added up to 31.

I’d love to write a heartfelt tribute to him, but I don’t think I want to feed the ego; it’s plenty healthy. One of the most spot-on gifts he ever received was a t-shirt that said “Mr. Perfect” on it. He actually wore it in public many, many, many times.

I’ve got three gifts for him today. The first is a luxurious, plush terrycloth bathrobe to replace the one he’s been wearing every day for the past 11 years. The second is that I won’t cause him to wait up by writing this post late at night. And the third is that I’m going to get off the computer right now and spend time with my sweetheart while it’s just the two of us.

See you tomorrow. Same time, same place.

blogging · DIY · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real

Day 151: Thanks, Fibro Fairies!

I woke up very late this morning. Mr. December and R took one look at me and said, “You look really tired. You don’t have to get up yet.”

Good, because I wasn’t going to. Because I couldn’t. The Fibro Fairies had showed up in the night and dressed me in a lead suit. Again.

That’s how it feels, anyway. Every physical action is an extreme effort. When I sit, my arms flop uselessly at my sides. My fingers feel too clumsy to braid the girls’ hair. I’ve stayed on one floor of the house all day long because going up one flight of stairs made my quads burn like I’d been doing hundreds of lunges. My coffee cup seems to have been swapped out for a weighted one (thanks, Fibro Fairies.) You know it’s bad when I can’t justify the effort it would take to get food to my mouth.

Inside my brain, everything feels fogged up or bogged down. My cerebrospinal fluid is competing with Jell-o for the viscosity award. I open my mouth to speak and the words come out at half their normal speed. I’m speaking so slowly that the words don’t seem to have hung onto each other, and so halfway through a sentence I just… kind of… forget what I was… um…

Ummm.

I’ve been wondering how successfully I could homeschool through a fibro flare. Thanks to Mr. December’s insistence on what he calls “scalability” and what I call “learn it your own damn self”, the kids went through their math and writing books with minimal resistance (I told N to go through the rest of his book, find one unit he felt he could do, and do that one.) Then I set up the Kobo on my lap (it has a neat cover that turns into a great little stand) and read to them from Ragtime, which I think counts as learning history.

(By the way, many parts of Ragtime are highly inappropriate for kids. I edit on the fly, skipping all the explicit sex stuff.)

True, they played more computer games today than I would have liked, but they completed their work in the core subjects and did a bit of extra learning in history. Then a Kiwi Crate arrived (just in time!) and E built a little wooden disc launcher. While it’s true that she asked me to help, I mostly just pointed to the diagrams alongside the instructions and she built it herself.

If I really wanted to keep them doing something educational, I could have put on some history videos or an episode of Cosmos or something. Wasn’t that what our teachers did at school when they needed a break? I don’t know about you, but I watched a bunch of movies in elementary school, plus multiple episodes of Degrassi Junior High.

All of that to say that I’m not at my best today. I’m not even going back through to edit this post. I’m just going to leave this here and stagger back to my hammock (did I mention that I love the hammock? I can just tuck my phone, kobo, and water bottle in right next to me and it stays within reach.) Shabbat Shalom, and to all a good night.

better homes than yours · blogging · crafty · DIY · Kids · Montessori · Renovation

Day 142: A sunny room for a sunny girl (house tour)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on our house tour. I have to admit that as much as I want to “keep it real” and show you our house the way we live in it, I kind of wanted to do a bit of cleanup first, maybe fix the window coverings that kept coming apart, that sort of thing. I think you know as well as I do where the time for that has gone. (*cough**homeschool**cough*)

Let’s do E’s room today. She picked the colour herself, which some might say is unnecessary in the case of a three-year-old, but it was very important to Mr. December especially that the kids make those choices. She chose “Mellow Yellow” for the walls, which is sunny without leaning too far towards green. I love that E’s room is at the end of the hall. It faces due west, so in the afternoon the room seems to glow. Many times I’ve walked in to turn off the light, only to realize that the light wasn’t on. The combination of Mellow Yellow and sunshine just makes it look that way.

Her door, like all the other doors in the house, isn’t painted all one colour. Instead we painted the centre panel and the splines (the edges of the door) in the colour chosen by the room’s inhabitant, and the stiles and rails are white.

As in other parts of the house, Montessori philosophy heavily influenced our decor choices in E’s room. Here’s her desk area. We used an adjustable-height desk and a children’s desk chair, set low enough that when she’s seated her elbows are at or above desk height and her knees are at a right angle. It the right height for her to be able to work at the desk with her feet touching the floor. I attached one of IKEA’s SKADIS pegboards to her desk and added a few shelves, cups, and clips. E herself decided to populate it with pictures of her younger self, birthday cards, and a few school supplies.

It’s important to note that this desk picture, as well as a few others in this post, was taken from E’s eye level. I think that’s essential to appreciating how she sees her room. There’s not a whole lot going on above the four foot mark. To give you a better sense of the scale on the whole, I’ve also taken some pictures from the adult’s perspective, like the very first photo at the top of this post.

E’s reading nook is really the result of a trip I made to HomeSense. I found this little armchair with elephants all over it and felt that it would be perfect for E. Then, as we were starting to unwrap and hang our artwork, the microcalligraphy painting called to me. I hung it at E’s eye level, not ours.

(An aside about the painting: it’s the first piece of art Mr. December and I ever bought together. We were in Israel while we were dating and happened upon this gallery in Tzfat. The artist specializes in microcalligraphy, meaning that by writing the words of a biblical story in tiny, tiny letters, he crates pictures of the story itself. When I saw the Noah’s Ark print, I leaned over to Mr. December and said, “That would be perfect for a kid’s room, wouldn’t it?” To which he replied, “Let’s buy it for our children, then.” Note that we weren’t even engaged at the time, although I suppose we had already agreed that’s where we were headed.)

The reading nook also happens to be conveniently located right next door to Peppa Pig’s house:

At E’s level, too, against most of our decor instincts, is where I installed the cute yellow doorknobs for her wardrobes. On opening the doors you can see that I arranged the drawers and hanging rods so that E could reach her everyday clothes by herself. The wardrobes are PAX from IKEA, which means that as she grows and her storage needs change, I can swap out the interior fittings and rearrange them to suit her needs. Have I mentioned that “retaining flexibility” was a high priority for both Mr. December and me?

As you can see in the photos, the height of the doorknobs and hanging rod make sense when viewed from E’s eye level:

E’s bed was my choice: since we don’t have a guest bedroom but would like to be able to have guests, three of the four kids’ rooms are able to sleep at least two people. That way we can get the kids to double up and give one child’s room to our guests. This bed pulls out to form a king-size bed (just add another single mattress,) which has been very handy when the three younger kids want to sleep together. Even in its enlarged mode, there are two large drawers underneath for bed sheets and pyjamas.

The yellow bedding is a result of serendipity at work. This duvet cover and pillow sham were mine when I was a teenager. After E had chosen her wall colour, my mom pointed out that it was almost a perfect match for my old bedding, dug up said bedding, and presented it to E for her new room.

I made the Roman shade for E’s window myself, which you can probably tell by the imperfect way it’s hanging. For some reason the cord keeps fraying and breaking even though I’m using the nice kind of hardware (with a pulley wheel and everything.) I need to fix it one day. I found the fabric, which matches the upholstered armchair, in an online store with free U.S. shipping and had it shipped to Mr. December’s company in California in advance of one of his business trips.

The bookcase serving as a headboard is really a placeholder, although I’m not sure if and when I’ll get around to building what I really wanted there. Nevertheless, it gives E’s elephant herd a place to live and still has space for some bedtime books.

What else is missing from my grand plan? I’d like to flank the bed with a bookcase/storage unit on each end, and add some wall-mounted reading lights on either side of the window (what can I say? I like symmetry.) If E so chooses, we can add some more decorations on the walls, although I like how clean and simple it is right now.

That’s it for E’s room. Stay tuned for the rest of the kids’ bedrooms, each of which is as unique as the child who lives in it.

blogging · education · family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids · parenting · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 136: The Destroyer

When K was born and I announced her name to our parents and brothers, Mr. December’s brother piped up: “Oh, you mean like the Hindu goddess of destruction?”

“What? No!” I said, and shrugged it off. He says a lot of weird things.

A month later, I couldn’t shrug it off anymore. Apparently Mr. December’s friends were all familiar enough with the Hindu pantheon that they recognized K’s name. Then again, maybe they’d just seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a few too many times.

K has lived up to her (unintentional) namesake at various points in her life. There was the time she dumped the canister of flour on the kitchen floor and then crawled through it; the time she clawed her natural latex mattress to shreds while its cover was in the wash; and her treatment of pretty much every duotang she’s ever put in her school bag.

But this summer’s destruction has really taken the cake. K has killed our swingset — twice. And just yesterday, after I’d fixed the swingset for the second time, she broke the attached slide by (can you guess?) swinging too hard.

This shouldn’t surprise me. The swingset is almost as old as K and is probably at the end of its life. K is what folks call a “sensory-seeking kid” — she needs really intense sensory input to calm and organize her system. Things that would make me dizzy — spinning super fast in an office chair, doing 100 back drops in a row on the trampoline — help her to calm down.

A Hindu friend pointed out that K is not just a goddess of destruction; rather, she destroys things in order to make space for something new. If that’s the case, our K is doing a great job — we need a new slide and probably a new swingset. Maybe if it’s broken beyond repair we’ll finally get around to building a new one.


Today was Tisha B’av, a fast day on the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of collective mourning, in memory of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (temple) where Jews from all over came on holy days to pray and make sacrifices. When the temple was destroyed, Jewish life as it was known ceased to exist. Without a temple, there were no sacrifices. The Jewish people were exiled. The priests could no longer perform their duties. Everything was ruined.

In the wake of that destruction the Jews had to forge new ways to worship and to remain connected to each other and to their ancestral home. They initiated weekly Torah readings so that the populace would hear the entire Torah read each year; clarified, discussed, and codified Jewish Law; and developed a new form of prayer to stand in for the sacrifices that could no longer be offered.

Most years on Tisha B’av I wonder whether I really am mourning the destruction of the temple. Would I prefer that we were still sacrificing bulls on the temple mount in Jerusalem and relying on a dynastic family of priests to facilitate our relationship with God?

No. I love this Judaism, the one that was built after the destruction of the temple. I love the way we grapple with our holy texts and the way the home is a mikdash me’at (a small temple), the true centre of Jewish life. I love that what distinguishes our leaders is learning, not lineage. I can see so clearly that the Jews of temple times would never have voluntarily destroyed the Beit Hamikdash, but without the destruction, would we ever have dared to eliminate animal sacrifice and adopt a more democratic model of religious leadership?

I doubt it. I couldn’t even pull the trigger on a lifestyle that we lived only because it was the way everyone was living; the children spent all day at school and returned home tired and cranky; Mr. December was at the office all day and got maybe an hour and a half of time with the kids before bedtime; the children had different extracurricular activities at different times in different places, and I was their chauffeur (last year I made six trips every Tuesday evening.)

It’s true that I flirted with the idea of homeschooling, of doing less, of biking more and living a more local lifestyle. But I don’t think I would ever have been able to make that move if COVID hadn’t come along and demolished the existing structure of our lives. Suddenly, Mr. December is working from home and gets to see the kids frequently throughout the day. Extracurriculars might as well not exist for my kids, who don’t like doing things like dance class online. We have all day to be together. Just yesterday I realized that I’m getting to spend some alone time with each child every day. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that on weekdays before.

Our swingset is ruined — we’ll likely build a new one that can withstand K’s vigorous swinging, and maybe even includes monkey bars or a ninja line. The temple was destroyed — but we have a beautiful religion and culture based on learning, faith, and the pursuit of justice, with the Jewish home at its centre. Our pre-COVID life has been disrupted — and now we have the incredible opportunity to build a better one.

blogging · crafty · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage · whine and cheese

Day 134: Just for me.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about taking time for myself. Homeschooling during COVID (i.e. can’t really go anywhere or do anything) is a recipe for burnout if I don’t take a break. The thing is, I’m not sure what that break would look like. I mentioned it to Mr. December and he informed me that a break looks just like what I’m doing now.

“Your blog is time just for you,” He pointed out. “Why else are you doing it? Who else is it for?”

Hmmm. It’s true that I blog because I want to, but it still doesn’t feel like rest and relaxation to me. I suppose that it’s time just for me in the same way that quilting was, once upon a time. But it’s not the kind of “me time” I’m thinking of. So what is?

The reality right now is that I just want some quiet. I need everyone to stop talking at me for just a few minutes… ok, fine. A few hours. My ADHD is not the reason why I can’t finish sentences or remember what I was doing. Those problems are caused by moments like this:

I’m talking to Mr. December: “So the home insurance quote came in and it looks wrong to me. I’m wondering if they know –“

“HUG ATTACK!” N launches himself at my midsection and squeezes me like he’s a python.

“Right,” I plow on ahead, patting N on the back as I talk. “As I was saying, they have the alarm on there but they’re ignoring the –“

“UNDERBELLY ALERT!” E sashays into the kitchen holding her shirt up, inviting Mr. December to nibble her belly.

“Not now, E,” he says. “Go ahead, honey.”

“EEMAAAAA!!! I thought you said you’d get me some oatmeal!”

“IN A SECOND!” I call back. Then to Mr. December, “What was I saying?”

“Somebody’s ignoring something,” he supplies.

“You mean our children are ignoring everything we ever taught them about interr–“

“You guys, there’s food stuck in my expander and it’s driving me crazy! Have you seen the syringe?”

I grit my teeth. “Sweetheart, can I see you in my office for a minute?” Without waiting for an answer I pull him into our tiny pantry and slide the door shut. The kids are giggling on the other side. We look at each other, giggle, and kiss. The kids, hearing silence, try to peek into the pantry. I hear R say, “Ew. Gross. They’re kissing. Let’s go play.”

Now, what was I saying? Who knows? This is exactly the reason why I long for the time, space, and silence to think my thoughts from start to finish. The only reason I’ve got this post done tonight is that the kids are playing a computer game with Mr. December and I’m alone on the back porch. Sweet, sweet solitude.

And now I can hear the door opening. A tiny voice wafts out, “Eeema! I’m baack! And I’m hungry!”

Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted.

blogging · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 133: Can somebody please pass the sleep?

I think I might be tired.

The early morning on Saturday messed up my internal clock a bit, and R’s difficulty falling asleep ensured that I couldn’t go to bed early to recover from lost sleep. I’m vaguely aware that I’m awake, but I feel like a zombie.

It doesn’t help that K has been in a fighting mood these last few days. She had an expander put in her mouth and it’s apparently very difficult to eat without getting things stuck in it. I get it — she’s cranky.

Guess what? So am I.

I feel like I need to get out of here and go… somewhere. I miss sitting in Starbucks with the other moms. I miss being able to think my own thoughts and use the bathroom without an audience (it doesn’t matter how old they are — they still barge in and start jabbering at me.)

I’ve rewritten this post about ten times and it’s not getting any better. I’m starting to think that I don’t miss anything, really, except for sleep. If I crawl into my bed right now, how long do you think it’ll take them to notice I’m gone? Will they put themselves to bed?

Let’s find out.