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Day 224: Thriving

It’s a beautiful morning. Sure, it’s cold and cloudy, but I stand by my statement.

I’m writing this at 9:45 and this morning I’ve already enjoyed a dance party with E, a walk with my sweetheart, two cups of coffee, some snuggles, and a hot breakfast. In fact, all of those things happened before we started homeschool at 9:00.

We called the kids together for our morning stand-up meeting. As we waited, Mr. December commented, “Every school day should start like this.”

Yes. Yes, it should.

Happiness is a clear desk.

After my highly successful IKEA hack for cable management, I was feeling inspired; I spent an hour and a half yesterday clearing my desk and getting all the cables neatly tucked away. I finished the job and even did the unthinkable (for me): I cleaned up every last tool and speck of sawdust before I allowed myself to start something new.

“Is this some kind of ketone-fuelled cleaning spree?” Mr. December wanted to know (we recently started intermittent fasting again.) Maybe he’s right: maybe my fabulous mood and my productivity are the results of what I’m eating (or not eating) these days. Or maybe they’re just a function of the fact that right now, I’m living my best life; and right now that means working at a clean desk.

There’s definitely a part of me that feels a bit guilty about thriving right now; I know that many, many people—some of whom are people near and dear to me—have been doing worse and worse as the pandemic stretches on. And yet, as I learned when I was dealing with infertility and everybody else’s pregnancy was a dagger in my heart, happiness is not a zero sum game.

Something interesting is happening here: every weekday I wake up and get ready for the day, take a walk with Mr. December, and homeschool the kids. Many days, yesterday included, I’m working all day long, either teaching the kids or preparing materials for them, or sometimes doing things around the house. Mr. December and I usually try to go to bed right after we tuck the kids in. There’s not a whole lot of leisure time, and not much fun as most people would define it. I don’t take a lot of breaks.

You’d think this would be a recipe for burnout, right? I’d have thought so too. But I don’t feel burned out or run down. I feel energized. Focused. Productive.

I feel happy.

better homes than yours · blogging · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 218: “More Me Mess”

There’s exciting stuff happening in homeschool all the time, but I’m not sure I want to devote my blog to documenting every single day. Today’s writing assignment, though, is worth sharing.

The kids were challenged to create a museum in their own bedrooms, with everyday objects as the artifacts. They were to label their “artifacts” using a minimum of two of their word cards for each object. When they were all done, we toured the “museums” together with their respective creators as our tour guides. Here were a few of my favourites:

I think the “dehydrated waterfall” faucet and the “fuzzy blossom” doll chair won for poetic descriptiveness, but “more me mess” has that great alliteration going for it, not to mention the truthfulness of the statement (it was stuck to N’s very cluttered desk.)

Hopefully all these games give the kids a different relationship with words (and by extension, writing.) Next week is a “mangled poem” assignment based on a picture of the kids’ choosing, and then in November we’re into a bit more conventional writing.

Mr. December and I have decided we need a professional development day this week, but we’re meaner than the schools. Over here a PD day means we do our own work while the kids visit grandparents and do more school. On Friday they can expect to do geography, leaf identification and classification, and art (creating a site-specific art installation using found objects.) At the same time, I expect to be able to drink my coffee while it’s hot, pay my bills, and finish my sentences when speaking to Mr. December. It’s a win-win.

One thing I haven’t had time to contemplate is my dining room table. We need a new one: ours is hopelessly rickety, not to mention warped and too wide for the space. A while back I came up with a design idea and started talking to a local furniture maker about bringing my idea to life. Then E got pneumonia (January and February), my Buby died (early March), COVID happened and my parents were stuck on board a cruise ship for an extra week (mid-to-late-March), and then I took on homeschooling all four of my kids (basically all the time since April.) You can see why a new dining table wasn’t my first priority.

But many moons ago, before my days were full of geography lessons and novel studies, I designed my own dining room table. I had intended to build it, but I’m going to have it built for me lest we end up toasting my grandchildren’s birthdays around a rickety IKEA table from 2002. Here’s a picture of my design concept:

So now I’m back in discussions with the furniture maker, but the ball is in my court right now: I’m not one hundred percent sure how long I want the table to be (at least 8 feet, but maybe longer?) and I think I’d like the corners to be a bit rounded or tapered, but I don’t know by how much. So this weekend, or maybe on my PD day, I’ll be making a cardboard mock-up (because you know how much I love those) of the tabletop and resting it on top of our existing table to see how I feel about the shape and size. I’m giving myself a deadline of next Thursday to decide on the table top.

And then the fun begins with the legs. Hot rolled steel? A different specie of wood? Tree-trunk shaped like my drawing? Or something else? Some days I think I could have been very happy as a furniture maker. Other days my carpal tunnel syndrome reminds me that I could work maybe an hour or two a day, tops.

And now my carpal tunnel syndrome is reminding me that I’ve been at the computer for too long. It’s rare that I can focus on a blog post for this long; usually other people’s noise distracts me. Tonight I’m using my new earbuds that have memory foam earpieces that act like earplugs. There could be a screaming match going on right now and I’d still be blissfully typing away and listening to Mandy Patinkin in The Secret Garden.

Ouch! What was—oh, yeah. Carpal tunnel syndrome is nagging me now. Okay, okay! I get it. No more for today!

blogging · DIY · Homeschool · whine and cheese

Day 215: On top of homeschool but under the weather

My head hurts, and it’s hard to think of what to write when it feels like there’s a unicorn goring your head from the inside. Apologies in advance if this post isn’t up to snuff.

I’m all by my lonesome—the kids are at Mum and Dad’s house and Mr. December is visiting his parents—and I really should be planning for the coming school week. It’s not that there’s a ton of planning, either: I mostly have to read the curricula I’m using to make sure that I know what we’re doing and I have all the materials we’ll need. I guess I should probably arrange the kids’ magnetic schedule boards, too, if only to show that I’m on top of it all.

I need to use some jump rings to connect bead bars so that E can start doing the Montessori short bead chains this week. If I want her to do the serial addition with the golden beads, I’ve also got to make some thousands cubes out of cardboard. I also have to print out the Pirkei Avot copywork. But what I really need right now is sleep, I think. Please excuse me—I’ll try to write more tomorrow.

blogging · crafty · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Kids · Uncategorized

Day 214: Is there any problem bribery can’t solve?

Did you know that good intentions do not work like caffeine?

It’s true! I was full of good intentions yesterday, but that didn’t keep me alert and awake long enough to carry them out. In other words, I fell asleep last night right after dinner and completely missed posting day 213. I regret nothing except not writing my post earlier in the day.

We’ve now wrapped up our first week of homeschool. It’s always hard to measure learning—I can tell you what I presented to the kids, but can’t say for sure that they learned it—so I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you what didn’t happen this week:

  • We didn’t start each morning raising our voices to get the kids out the door, racing the clock, or cursing the traffic.
  • I didn’t spend twenty minutes sitting on the Allen Expressway on the way home from dropping the kids off at school. In fact, I didn’t spend an entire hour of each day sitting in traffic.
  • Nobody had to clean out stinky lunch containers that had sat all week in somebody’s backpack.
  • I didn’t spend my evening fighting with the kids about homework.
  • I didn’t feel like all the time I spent with my kids was stressful or rushed.

For the sake of balance, here’s what did happen this week:

  • Some people woke up early. Some people slept in.
  • Mr. December and I made time to do a bit of stretching and go for a short walk every morning before homeschool started.
  • The kids took breaks when they needed to, usually outside, and worked until they were done.
  • All the assigned work got done.
  • K spent hours developing a new-to-her technique for jewellery making.
  • We had poetry night and movie night; it was no problem when they ran later than bedtime, because we don’t have to get up super-early anymore.
  • I spent yesterday afternoon in the park with R, drinking Starbucks drinks and talking about the weekly Torah portion (more on that in a minute.)
  • I connected with each child over their school work this week and used our relationship to help them get into subjects they otherwise disliked.

All in all, it was a very good week.

I was unsure of how I wanted to approach Torah study in our homeschool, but I knew that I would… somehow. As of last week I had decided to do a class on the weekly parsha, but then I had a better idea: every week, one child would learn the parsha with me and then tell everyone else about it over Shabbat dinner.

When I first announced it, this idea went over like a lead balloon.

I wasn’t willing to change the plan because of the kids’ objections—just think of the precedent it would set—but I’m not opposed to tweaking my ideas. I’m also not opposed to bribery, which I decided to apply in large amounts. I announced it on Thursday night at the dinner table:

“So here’s how parsha is going to work. One lucky kid is going to go somewhere with me for hot chocolate or some other special drink, and then we’ll sit down with our drinks and a treat and learn the parsha together. Then at Shabbat dinner, that kid will teach everyone else a bit of what we learned.”

The response was instant and overwhelming:

“I call being first!” “No, I call being first!” “Can I please be next?”

I had already assigned parsha to R for this week, so yesterday we walked to Starbucks, picked up our pre-ordered drinks (I do like that option,) and sat down in the park to discuss Torah.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a Torah scholar, but I did learn a lot of it in school, and I can read and understand Hebrew fluently. So R and I worked our way through creation, the Garden of Eden, and Cain and Abel. We touched on ideas of whether the stories in the Torah are true; where the text might be hinting at multiple gods; why God created plants and animals “of all kinds” but only a single human; and other ways the Cain and Abel narrative could have gone. She was excited to realize that she knew several verses by heart already, since we sing them every week as part of kiddush (the Shabbat blessing over the wine.) Far from the painful slog I had feared it would be, our discussion was animated and dominated by R’s questions and observations.

R didn’t display the same enthusiasm when it came to sharing her learning at the Shabbat table. I had to prompt her with questions and got relatively short answers in response. But her impression of doing parsha with me is a positive one. In the end, a love of engaging with our sacred texts is a goal that will lead the children to the more specific goals of knowing what the Torah says and what it means for us.

Next week it will be E’s turn to learn with me and present the parsha (which covers Noah and the flood and the tower of Babel) at dinner. I’m envisioning a demonstration with stuffed animals, but she might still surprise me. I’m just happy that she’s already excited about it.

blogging · crafty · DIY · education · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids · love and marriage

Day 212: Never Eat Soggy Waffles

At 9:10 this morning I dumped an armful of supplies on our kitchen table: plastic cups, sharpies, scissors, straight pins, and magnets.

“I thought we were doing geography.” R said flatly.

“We are.” I confirmed. “Sit down.”

We began with the sort of thing you might expect—cardinal directions and map reading skills—and pored over a map of Canada to show the kids how the “far north” places we’ve driven to don’t even touch northern Ontario. This is a big country.

So what about the aforementioned supplies?

At the last minute, just before we started this morning, I remembered a book that explains the science of compasses and shows you how to make your own compass. I tore through the books and supplies, leaving some chaos in my wake, but emerging from the basement with my armful of stuff.

The kids were surprisingly into the DIY compass project. Even K took care to make the compass rose look cool (even though that part was completely optional.) We learned a bit about the earth’s magnetic field and why stroking the pin with a magnet renders the pin magnetic. As it turns out, we knocked geography and science off our list with this one activity.

I’m amazed that I’ve been able to write blog posts that stay on one topic, because the thoughts in my brain are all over the place, all of the time. This afternoon I was ordering groceries online… wondering whatever happened to one of the doctors we were supposed to follow up with… thinking about how soon I could set up my new printer… remembering that I had to work with K on her Bat Mitzvah stuff tonight… realizing that R was shirking her work and thinking about how best to enforce it… with my head still stuck on our writing exercise this morning… confirming the orthodontist appointment for next Thursday… arranging to return something we ordered that just didn’t fit… anxiously wondering when I last paid the VISA bill (easy to verify, but it flits into my mind nevertheless)… all in the same ten-minute period. It’s exhausting.

Speaking of exhausting, Mr. December has had an awful lot of evening meetings (to accommodate several different time zones) that have kept us up past my intended 9:30 bedtime. Tonight he yawned and admitted that he’s really very tired… right before going back into his office for the 8:15 meeting. Poor guy. And poor me. We usually try to go to bed at the same time so we have a few minutes together at the end of the day, but another couple of weeks of this will put me in fibro-flare territory. I’ll just have to go to bed all by my lonesome. If I do it now, I’m on track to get my ten hours of sleep.

blogging · family fun · Fibro Flares · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 194: Higher Highs, Lower Lows

The children sat around the fire, faces glowing from the light of the flames, shouting out more and more absurd suggestions for the Corner Grocery Store song. When I switched to something slower, they put their hands on each other’s shoulders and swayed to the music. We sang the blessings for havdalah, using freshly plucked cedar leaves as the spices. The wind blew hard, and K tenderly helped E zip up her sweater and hugged E to her side.

It’s true, what someone once told me about parenting: the highs are higher, and the lows are lower.

Some days it feels like everything is on fire and we have to put it out using nothing but our wits and a seltzer bottle. We careen from one meltdown to another, coordinating the minutae of four young lives with all their appointments and therapies, all the while judging the soundness of our parenting decisions. Those are the days that make us reminisce about our brief stint as a child-free couple living downtown: “Wasn’t it great that if we wanted to go out for dinner we could, without coordinating child care? Remember just crossing the street and being at the movie theatre and the bistro?” The irony is that over half of that time, I was praying that we’d have children soon.

And then there are days like yesterday and today, when everyone’s singing and embracing, the children are helping each other, the sky is clear and the lake is beautiful. Yesterday we all swam together in the (slightly-warmer-than-last-week) lake, made challah, and enjoyed Shabbat dinner on the deck overlooking the water. Today was a bit more difficult for me—all those hikes have caught up with me in the form of a fibro flare, methinks—but the kids and Mr. December had a great time in the water while I slept for three hours. And then there was our havdalah and campfire tonight, and now I’m sitting by the fire with my laptop, listening to the waves and typing this post.

I won’t say the lows aren’t that bad: they really, truly are. But I’ll take them, partly there’s no return policy for kids, but mostly because I wouldn’t give up the highs for anything.

blogging · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 189: Quick Update

We’re at the halfway point of our time here at the cottage. Our carefully scheduled meal plan has devolved into two meals of “Eh, there’s food in the fridge. Just eat something,” plus one dinner that actually gets cooked. The KP assignments have likewise been hit-or-miss in terms of participation, and over Rosh Hashana I felt that there were enough different things being served that I’d rather just take it on. As of tomorrow, though, I’m going back to the regularly scheduled program.

R and E know that I’ll let them watch Teen Titans Go! on my phone while I’m braiding their hair; in the last week I’ve seen a serious uptick in requests for a fresh braid. Call me lazy, but I don’t really want to do a new French braid every four hours just because the Teen Titans are funny (and they are.)

R has begun a campaign to get my in-laws to drive up for a visit and take her home with them. A couple of times a day she asks me to please let her go home because she’s bored. I’d take her much more seriously if she didn’t spend the rest of the time running around and laughing with E, hanging out with K, and reading side-by-side with N on the two Kobos. Really, if it weren’t for her complaints, you wouldn’t know she was having a miserable time here.

I’m starting to settle in here, and I wonder what it will be like to get back into life in the city. I like going out to the dock and sitting in the sun. I like being able to head out on a kayak anytime I want with minimal preparation. I really like the hot tub on chilly nights. A week ago I was mentally drafting a blog post called “There’s no Place Like Home” about how our house really surpasses almost any vacation I could think of right now; this week that seems ridiculous. The hikes and conservation areas are reason enough to stay a bit longer, and in addition to those we have a lake and a beautiful view.

If it turns cold and rainy I might pack up and come home early. Otherwise, I’m happy here.

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?”


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.