Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 473: I almost forgot!

I almost sent my kid to camp looking like cousin Itt.

There’s always one last thing (or in my case, about a dozen) that gets forgotten until the night before. This time I had forgotten all about N’s quarterly shearing—although I’ll be honest, sometimes we make it to four or five months between haircuts. I guess I sort of stop seeing how long his hair is, the same way we stop seeing how tall our kids are getting until one day it hits us.

Anyhow, I pulled out my clippers and got to work. I thought I’d cleverly just jump right to the #3 comb, the length he prefers. I got started. Hair fell. And then…


The clippers stopped clipping. My kid’s hair was so thick it disabled the clippers. I had to put on a longer comb and work my way back to no. 3. And that’s when I realized that when I fail to shear N’s head at the beginning of the summer, he gets tan lines where the hair is.

(Yes, his hair is thick enough to block all sunlight. Yes, I’m jealous.)

So now he’s got a decent haircut and some dorky-looking tan lines. I hope he remembers to put sunscreen on that part of his face.

Camping it up · family fun · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 472: I thought I was done.

This morning, the kids’ bags left for camp.

I’m done, I marvelled, and with two days left!

Please don’t laugh at me. I really thought I was done. And then some stuff came up:

  • I realized that R’s allergy medicine had the prescription label on the box, but not on the bottle inside it. Even worse, the allergy eyedrops had the same problem… except that I’d already thrown out the box.
  • Camp called to tell me that two of my kids were missing their Varicella vaccines (only fully vaccinated kids are allowed at camp.)
  • I remembered that we hadn’t packed the kids’ toiletries, books, stationery, flashlights…
  • It dawned on me that I hadn’t packed N’s rainboots… because they never arrived after I ordered them.

So instead of sitting around and relaxing with the kids, I found myself doing the following:

  • Calling the pharmacy to get refills of R’s medicines, this time with labels on the boxes and the bottles inside them. As it turned out, there were no more refills for the eye drops, but the pharmacist agreed to print an extra label for me to put on the eyedrops. (Have I mentioned that I love my pharmacy?)
  • Waiting patiently while the nurse at our doctor’s office combed through the scanned paper files from years ago, trying to find the kids’ varicella vaccine dates. It took upwards of twenty minutes. (Have I mentioned how bad the vaccination reporting system is here?)
  • Sitting on each kid’s bed and directing them to find such diverse things as hairbrushes, water bottles, toothpaste, and books; labeling the things as the kids brought them to me, and packing them so that they (barely) fit into one backpack and one toolbox per kid.
  • There wasn’t much I could do about N’s rainboots. Fortunately, I got a text at 8:00 tonight saying that the boots had just been delivered to my front porch. I wouldn’t call it perfect timing—that would have been this morning before the bags left for camp—but it’s good enough. I managed to jam the boots into N’s backpack.

Now I’m done. I think.

I did manage to get some relaxation time with the kids: tonight we all went up to the attic and watched The Simpsons while snuggling on our giant beanbags. It was sweet.

Know what else was sweet? The kids build one of their epic couch forts again. Sure, my living room is unusable for actually sitting, but they worked together for hours today; and right now all four of them are snuggled up in their own cozy fort rooms for the night.

Camping it up · crafty · The COVID files

Day 470: Green Plums and Gel Pens

We almost got rid of our plum tree this year; thanks to a landscaper who hasn’t returned any of our emails, it’s still standing and it’s full of plums for the first time in years.

Thanks to our time volunteering in the community orchard, I knew that having plums all clustered together like a bunch of grapes is likely to yield worse fruit than if we thinned them out; so yesterday Mr. December, R, E, and I picked off some of the overcrowded fruit.

We decided to save them and see if they’ll ripen on their own. Failing that, I’ll be looking for a good recipe featuring green plums—anybody ever make green plum jam or green plum chutney?

The past few days have been a blur of packing for camp—and making last-minute Amazon purchases. Yesterday my brain was so full of camp stuff (and my belly was so full of yummy Shabbat food) that I totally forgot to write my blog post. Sorry ’bout that.

Remembering the days when I wrote my friends long “bus letters”—full of jokes and word games—to read on the bus to camp, I decided to write letters for my kids before they even leave. They’re not taking a bus (thanks a lot, COVID,) and I’m not sure they’ll want to read it in the car with us, but I still had fun writing them.

I rediscovered our black lined paper while searching for stationery, and I found the gel pens to go with it. Sadly, partway into K’s letter the gel pens stopped working. I did what I always do: turned to the internet and googled my problem. Once again, the internet didn’t disappoint, and after alternately holding the pen nibs over a steaming kettle and scribbling with them, the ink started flowing again.

In the end, I wrote nine pages in total, three for each kid. I filled the letters with complete and utter nonsense for the most part; I could say I’m trying to model how you can write to someone even if you don’t have much to say, but the truth is that’s just how I roll. My letters are pretty stream-of-consciousness, like a Toni Morisson novel but with less sex and more punctuation.

And now, to hide the letters somewhere in their bags.

Camping it up · crafty · DIY

Day 468: Can I come too?

To see my house, you’d think one of two things:

  1. All these duffel bags contain evidence I’m about to throw into the lake; or
  2. I’m getting three kids ready for camp.

It’s #2, obviously. I know better than to bring any evidence home before I hide the bodies.

I spent the whole afternoon labeling, folding, rolling, counting, stuffing, and zipping. There are four duffel bags fully packed and ready to go; now I have to pack N’s stuff. I think I’m finished making all the last-minute purchases, like the tuxedo-printed t-shirts I just bought him to wear for shabbat at camp. After N’s duffel bags are fully packed tomorrow we’ll only have to take care of toiletries, stationery, and reading material.

Also swim goggles. Shoot, I forgot about the goggles.

I’m feeling a bit burned out from the packing. The real bummer is that—after all this packing—I don’t even get to go to camp. What a letdown.

I think I promised you photos of the dressed-up tool boxes—is that right? Well, whether you want to see them or not, here they are. It’s amazing what Duck Tape can do. Red Green would be proud of me.


Certified Tool Box, 21-in Product image
Image description: a plain black tool box with orange handle and orange latches.


Camping it up · fame and shame · Kids · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 465: Maybe it’s Time.

I’m thinking maybe it’s time to go back to the supermarket.

Since we came back from the cottage last October, we’ve been using Click and Collect and Instacart to get our groceries, meaning that I haven’t been inside a supermarket in a very, very long time. I’d be happy to continue that trend if it weren’t for how annoyed I get at the Instacart shoppers for not knowing the store like I do.

I ordered some kosher marshmallows (because regular marshmallows usually have gelatin which is either derived from pigs or horses.) Instead of the ones I ordered, I got these rainbow-coloured—non-kosher—jumbo marshmallows. I’m pretty sure the Instacart shopper didn’t even think to ask someone whether the kosher marshmallows might be somewhere else (hot tip—they’re in the kosher aisle.) Part of me is thinking How would they know? while the other part thinks that if they offer the product on the website, their shoppers need to know where to find it. Is it really that hard?

I don’t actually enjoy grocery shopping, though. Maybe if I lower my standards—and indicate “no substitutions”—I could still be happy with Instacart or Click and Collect. It saves me at least three hours a week.

I was feeling stressed today (no reason, really) so I did some pointless crafting with K. I bought the kids lockable toolboxes to keep their personal items in at camp, but they all looked the same—ugly. My first instinct was to spray paint them, but it’s so humid and hot out that I’m not convinced the paint would cure (and there is no way I can handle spray paint fumes inside the house.)

What’s better and campier than spray paint? Duck Tape! I spent far too much time getting it just right, but the results were gratifying. I’ll share the before-and-after pics once K has sent them from her phone.

N’s birthday is this Wednesday. Because the kids have to be in quarantine for the two weeks before camp starts (all the campers have been asked to do so,) we can’t have his friends over for a party. If I’ve gone overboard with the cake and ice cream and cones and sundae toppings, it’s no more overboard than I went for everyone else’s pandemic birthdays. I just want his birthday to not suck. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff

Day 462: Quality over Quantity

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know about my goal of using Amazon less (because of their unethical business practices) and local, fair-trade vendors more. Sure, the products are more expensive (often by a factor of 3 or more,) but that’s okay because Mr. December and I would rather have a small number of high-quality things than tons of cheap stuff.

But what happens when our values collide with necessity?

When I got the summer camp packing list, my first thought was, “My kids don’t have that much clothing!” We do laundry either once or twice a week, which means that in any given season we need maximum eight of anything—shirts, pants, socks, underwear, whatever. When we travel, we aim for just four days’ worth of clothes, and we do laundry every three or four days. We just don’t need that much stuff. Besides, as I once read somewhere, “Wearing different clothes everyday is an American obsession.” If the clothes aren’t stinky or visibly dirty, they can be worn again.

Mr. December would go farther with that and say that it doesn’t matter if they wear dirty clothes at camp. And they don’t need four sweaters, he’d argue, because the kid can wear all of their t-shirts at once to keep warm. Also, if their shoes get wet they can just wear wet shoes for a while. Problem solved.

I agree with him, to a degree. It’s camp. You’re in the woods. It doesn’t matter if there’s a stain on your sweatshirt from yesterday’s dinner. Just wear it.

(We used to wear the same clothes for a full week on our canoe trips, only changing our underwear and occasionally washing our t-shirts in the lake. Yes, we stank. No, none of us cared. And now my Mum is reading this and cringing. Sorry, Mum!)

I also tend to agree that kids don’t always need doubles of everything. It’s good for them to learn that no great misfortune will befall them if they have to wear sandals while their running shoes dry out. A little stoicism wouldn’t hurt these kids, I assure you.

Alas, the way laundry is done at camp my kids will only have about half their clothes with them at a time, so they do need at least twice as much as I would have thought reasonable. And since the kids just don’t own that much clothing, there’s lots of shopping to be done.

Ideally I would like to steer clear of fast fashion and things that were made in sweatshops, and instead invest in responsibly-made clothes. But first, things that go to camp might get ruined by the industrial laundry service or might not come back at all. That’s not the place for clothes that could be described as an “investment in a few good pieces.” Not to mention the fact that since I’m not willing to stand in line to get into a thrift shop, the cost of outfitting three kids with fifteen days’ worth of ethically-made clothes would be staggering.

I think you already know that reality steamrolled my lofty sartorial-ethical goals completely. It grates on me a bit every time I go back to my old, cheap standbys… but obviously not enough to make me want to spend ninety dollars on a single bathing suit that might not come back home. I’m trying not to sweat it; once all the camp purchases are finished I can go back to choosing quality over quantity.

Camping it up · hackin' it · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 461: Terrycloth Tetris

I’m having fun.

Having to inventory and then buy all the kids’ stuff for camp is a pain in the butt. But packing? That’s seriously fun. And hacking the packing… even better.

I’ve only sent my kids to overnight camp once before, but apparently I totally nailed the packing last year. The kids were especially fond of their bedrolls; to make it super simple to make up their beds, we laid out all the bedding on the floor as if it was a bed, then folded the sides in and rolled the whole thing. When they got to camp, they just unrolled it and tucked the corners of the fitted sheet under the mattress. Done.

They asked me to do it again this year; today I put together N’s bedroll for him. Then I had an inspired idea for the towels: I used some random zippered nylon cubes (from where? I don’t know) to pack the towels. When the kids get to camp they can keep their clean towels in the cube on their shelf or under their bed so they don’t end up all over the place.

Um, Sara? you’re saying, Why are you telling us this? This is the most mundane, boring blog post I’ve seen from you since that time back in 2012.

Moving on…

I think I might pack all the kids’ stuff in packing cubes. Or even better, those vinyl packages with zippers that bedding sometimes comes in. It’ll keep everything organized and let them see all their stuff.

What I’m really saying is that I love how compact and neat everything looks when it’s packed in cubes. I re-packed K’s towels a few times before I got them to fit perfectly into the space. The dopamine hit when I succeed at doing it just right is as good as when I finally find the most elusive puzzle piece or when I pack the dishwasher so that everything fits in perfectly.

Am I weird?

You know what? Don’t answer that. Just let me bask in the satisfaction of well-packed towels.

Image description: two zippered vinyl cubes containing rolled-up towels.
Camping it up · Kids · Sartorial stuff · waxing philosophical

Day 460: Heirlooms

After my post about needing twenty-four towels for three kids to take to camp, my parents and my in-laws offered me stacks of towels. Curiously, among the stack from my in-laws’ house was a towel with my younger brother’s name on it. I actually remember this towel as one of those my parents sent to camp with my older brother—the very same camp my kids are going to, as a matter of fact. It probably ended up at my in-laws’ house after one of the canoe trips Mr. December and I took with his friends in university. Whatever the reason, my kids will be taking their Uncle G’s towel to camp this summer. I’ve never heard of an heirloom towel, but there’s a first time for everything.

I could actually send someone to camp with a sleeping bag used two generations ago; forget about printed labels, this one has my aunt’s name embroidered into it (by hand, not machine.) I’ve opted not to because sleeping bag technology is way better and the bags pack up much smaller than the old ones, which matters when you’re taking it on a canoe trip.

K had her pick of three sleeping bags. The one she chose had my maiden name on it in Sharpie marker—it’s the one I took on canoe trips and to overnight camp as a counsellor. I didn’t try to cover over my name or black it out, I just wrote hers in under it. Very briefly, I had a vision of K in twenty-five years’ time, writing her child’s name under her own.

My kids view this stuff much less sentimentally than I do. K was in need of a fourth sweatshirt for camp and I offered her one that I stole from Mr. December’s closet in high school (because it smelled like him.) It’s a vintage Roots sweatshirt, the kind that was all the rage in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that Mr. December wore in his teens—it quite possibly went to camp with him. It definitely went to camp with me in my early twenties, because it has my name tag sewn into it. Kali admired it, tried it on… and pronounced it “kind of scratchy.” Any dreams the shirt had of making a camp comeback were crushed.

If nothing else, what I’ve learned from these reflections is that some things actually are made to last. Some people’s family heirlooms are things like an ugly vase that everyone wishes would fall and break, but nobody has the guts to just throw out; our heirlooms are sleeping bags, sweatshirts, and (apparently) towels. I can live with that—I value function over form, after all.

Camping it up · el cheapo · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · Sartorial stuff · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 453: I never learn.

I feel like I’ve spent my entire day shopping online. If I have to look at one more sizing chart, I’ll scream: every few minutes I called a different kid over to my desk to be measured for clothing sizes. I managed to find bathing suits for all three big kids—no mean feat when you realize that the fashion and retail sector is always one season ahead of us. I had a hard time finding bathing suits at all, because all the summer stuff seemed to be on clearance and the only sizes left were for four-year-olds.

I thought we had all the large duffel bags we needed; but when I went to bring them upstairs so the kids could start packing, I found that two of the bags were shedding little bits of their waterproof coating all over the place. They had to go.

(It’s not like those bags owed us anything—they accompanied Mr. December and his brother to summer camp 30 years ago—but I was just so happy to think that at least I had luggage squared away.)

I decided to focus on bedding for a bit, so I went to the IKEA website and started loading things like inexpensive comforters into my cart. On a whim, I searched for “laundry bag” (because I needed those, too) and found this:

Image description: screenshot of the IKEA website. The product is a blue rectangular bag with handles, called FRAKTA. It sells for $3.99 and holds 76 litres.

It’s a 76-litre bag made out of the same indestructible material as those huge blue IKEA shopping bags you can buy at their checkout. This huge bag has zippers, carry handles, and shoulder straps (backpack-style.) And it costs $3.99. Four dollars for a bag that will probably never die? I hit “Add to cart” a few times.

And then I was sorely disappointed—again. IKEA has the worst e-commerce site I’ve seen in a while. They don’t tell you if an item is in stock for delivery until you get to the very end. So there I was, happily about to check out, when I was informed that the bag was out of stock for delivery. And for pickup. There were exactly zero 76L FRAKTA bags in their entire system. I almost cried.

And do you know where I ended up buying about half of today’s purchases? That’s right, Amazon.

So to recap, here are the lessons I should learn from today… but probably won’t:

  1. Don’t wait until bathing-suit weather to buy bathing suits—they’ll be sold out. The time to find swimwear for the kids is April.
  2. IKEA stuff looks promising but you’ll be disappointed somehow. (Didn’t we just cover this with the window shades, like, less than a week ago?)
  3. Despite your best efforts to buy from small local vendors, when you’re up against a deadline of any kind, or when you’re price sensitive, you’ll end up on Amazon. Again.

Lesson 1 I really should have learned the first time I had to buy bathing suits for camp, seven years ago. Lesson 2… well, as I said above, we just had this conversation last Friday. And lesson three… I’m still resisting, but sometimes it just seems inevitable.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn from today’s adventures, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour—which leads me to believe that after all these learning experiences, I’ve still learned nothing.

Camping it up · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 452: Packing

K accosted me this evening as I sat at my computer, about to start writing tonight’s post.

“Eema, you said we could talk about what stuff I need for camp that I don’t have yet.”

Right. I did say that. So we started going through the list.

Camp packing lists are tricky. On one hand, you really do need fourteen t-shirts because the laundry truck only comes once a week, so you have to have two full weeks of clothing (because one week’s will be at the laundry at any given time.) On the other hand, if there are things on the list that you don’t normally use, you might not need them at camp.

K balked at the fourteen pairs of socks. “I don’t even wear socks in the summer!” she pointed out.

“Then you don’t need fourteen pairs, do you?” I said reasonably. “Six or seven pairs will do, and one should be cozy just in case you have a couple of chilly nights.” Problem solved.

She moved on, “Four pairs of sweatpants? I don’t think I have any sweatpants. I don’t wear sweatpants.”

“Then don’t take them,” I said patiently. “Take comfy leggings instead.”

And so on, ad nauseum.

Shopping for this stuff is extra annoying this year: “non-essential” stores just opened a few days ago and can only have 15% of their normal (i.e. non-covid) capacity limit. This leads me to think I can expect long lineups just to get into the stores. Better to shop online, I think. Of course, that thinking is why my front hall looks like a shoe store specializing in Keens: we ordered a bunch of different sizes and styles online with the intention of returning the ones we don’t want. It’s a fine idea, but with six of us—four of whom are still growing—we ended up ordering a lot of shoes. And we’re not done yet.

The most annoying part of all this is that I’m carrying this mental load constantly, and I get distracted by it all the time. I’ve been writing this post for the past hour, because I keep suddenly thinking of a store to check for swimsuits, and then I’m off searching for a while before I remember that I have a post to write. But seriously, there’s a lot of stuff to get, and three kids to buy for, and it’s dominating my thoughts these days.

It’s a good thing the kids have enthusiastically (and diligently!) taken on the yearbook project. That’s one thing off my plate. I should delegate more often… maybe I should tell them to plan our upcoming travels and call it geography class.