Apparently my kids are interested in cleaning up their closets; all it took was a few bags of new clothes, and suddenly I had both R and N asking me to help them sort out their closets. If I had known that was all it would take I’d have dragged them to Value Village years ago.
They filled up a total of four laundry baskets full of stuff they can’t or won’t wear anymore. N’s closet went from being an avalanche every time we opened the doors to a neat and orderly wardrobe. He asked for hooks for his ties and hoodies, so I made him some s-hooks out of a nice blue coat hanger I had, and attached them to his pull-down closet rod.
I used up a couple more wire hangers in R’s room, but not for her closet. It seems that her dolls were jealous of R’s tidy wardrobe and wanted a place to store their clothes neatly — or so R told me. It just so happened that the ends of the wire hangers fit perfectly into the pre-drilled holes in the bookcase that we’ve been slowly turning into a doll house. Two hangers and a bit of duck tape later, I had fashioned some little shelves and installed them in the dolls’ bedroom. Have a look:
This dollhouse has been one of my proudest IKEA-hacking moments. R desperately wanted bunk beds for her dolls, but the ones for sale in the stores were upwards of $120 each. On top of that, they would have taken up the entire room in her dollhouse — the proportions would have been all wrong. I mulled over it for a couple of days and then, after looking very closely, I realized that there’s an extra row of holes in the sides of the bookcase about six inches from the back. I realized that IKEA had very shallow shelves for these units too, and that two such shelves could be dressed up to look like bunk beds.
I bought some doll bedding on sale and then cut it in half, creating two sets of bedding that fit the narrow shelves perfectly. Then, Because my motto is (according to my best friend since childhood) “Go big or go home,” I went a step further: I cut and glued some very small pieces of trim to make a bunk bed façade that attached to the front of the shelves.
There are six dolls and three bedrooms, so I still need to build two more of these façades — not to mention some more of those neat little shelves. I look forward to seeing whose rooms stay neat longer: R’s or the dolls’?
I finally found a use for that stack of blank DVD-Rs that’s been hanging around our storage room.
When we decluttered our basement playroom five years ago, I said, “You know what, these might come in handy. I’ll hang onto them for now.”
When we packed everything up to put into a storage pod when we renovated I said, “I know it sounds silly, but I really think we’ll use these for a craft someday. I’m keeping them.”
When we unpacked and organized our storage room, I said, “Those would probably make great sukkah decorations. Better keep them. I’ll get around to using them one of these years.”
Today I finally got around to it.
N’s most recent Tinker Crate (like a Kiwi Crate, but for older kids) was a “spin art” box. He built the circuit with a motor and a switch, finished assembling the flat plate to put the paper on, and situated it all in the box. Then the fun began; we were all just a little fixated on the beautiful patterns we made just by switching the motor on and dropping bits of paint onto a piece of paper as it spun.
Today I was looking for sukkah decoration ideas that are waterproof and could be reused year after year. You know, the same search I do every August when I decide to prepare way ahead of time. Pinterest kept showing me repurposed CD crafts, and suddenly my brain switched on and I realized that I should do spin art on the DVDs I’d saved for so many years.
The paint that came with the spin art kit was washable, though, and I had visions of our sukkah as a Salvador Dali painting, with the paint dripping sadly off of the DVDs as it rained. No, washable paint was out — I needed something waterproof. Enter nail polish. It’s not something I usually keep on hand, but I’d just bought a variety of colours for a science experiment. Armed with the spin art Tinker Crate, nail polish, and a stack of DVDs, I went outside with E and R to experiment.
The results are pretty cool. See for yourselves:
Thirteen down, thirty-three to go… and then we’ll do the other side as well, so we can hang these as a mobile in the sukkah.
Of course I need to build the sukkah first. I have to do the bulk of the build before we leave for the cottage, because we’re returning on Erev Sukkot. So I’ll put up the frame before we go, have all the roofing, furnishings, and decoration ready to install, and just put it all together as soon as we get back. It’ll be a challenge, but I think I’m up for it.
Next on my list: Figuring out what to do for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the cottage. Any ideas?
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.
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!”
A couple of months ago Mr. December and I decided to teach the kids history by showing them entertaining (but accurate) history videos. I decided to create a timeline on our wall so that after watching, the kids could pin the name and date of the video’s event to the timeline. Great idea, right?
I wanted to use my cute little push pins that have tiny clothespins attached, so I glued some cork to a backing of foam mats (leftovers from our previous playroom) and nailed all twelve feet of it to the wall. Soon the kids began to attach names, events, and dates. Joan of Arc. American Revolution. Henry VIII. French Revolution. Harry Houdini.
Getting real for a second here, it didn’t look fabulous; the edges of the cork were crumbly and I hadn’t disguised the foam backing, so the whole thing looked a bit shabby. I’m trying to tame my perfectionistic tendencies, though, so I let it be… until the day the cork started peeling off of the backing.
Back to the drawing board, then. The cork had come from a roll and it just didn’t adapt well to being held flat. Fabric should do a much better job. And so I found a nice piece of blue fleece and stuck it to the foam mats with extra-heavy-duty double-sided carpet tape. It looked a bit better for a few days.
Then the fabric fell off. Great. I decided to take down everything — foam and all — and try something new, which brings us to today.
Using my utility knife, some duck tape, and a vise grip, I cut a roll of drawing paper (from IKEA’s children’s department) to the height I needed. Then I unrolled it on the floor and cut it to length. With a roll of galaxy-print Duck Tape, I created a border so that the paper wouldn’t start to tear around the edges.
It didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped. I used a single long piece of tape for each side of the 12’6″ paper and at some point it started to pucker and crease. So much for my flat and smooth paper timeline. I finished framing the paper with the duck tape and mounted it on the wall with thumbtacks.
It looks okay. Not spectacular, but not terrible. I wish it had turned out a bit better, but I don’t have the patience to make a whole new one right now. The important thing is that the kids use it, right?
“Hey K, hey R, see my new timeline?” I prodded, “Isn’t it neat?”
“Meh.” They both shrugged and went back to their own work.
Thank God for E. Her immediate excitement restored my good cheer after her sisters’ callous indifference. “Where is ancient Egypt?” She asked. “When were the Pharaohs?”
I double-checked the answer with Google. Then E helped me stick the yellow masking tape in a straight-ish line from 3100 B.C.E. to 331 B.C.E. She stood back and marvelled at how much of the timeline Ancient Egypt actually covered.
“Should we put you on the timeline?” I asked her. “I’ll use yellow since it’s your favourite.” I ripped off a tiny piece of tape and stuck it to the timeline from 2015 to 2020.
“There you are,” I said. “Ancient Egypt runs aaaall the way along here, and this tiny speck here is your life.”
Wide-eyed, she took it all in for a moment. Then came what I thought was a non sequitur: “I guess some of the people in Egypt died while they were there.”
Huh? “What do you mean?” I asked. “Where else would they have died?”
“You know,” She insisted, “The ones who built the pyramids and left Egypt!”
“You mean the Hebrew Slaves who left Egypt on Passover?”
So I told her that according to the Torah, the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years — more than a few lifetimes — so she was correct. Many Hebrew slaves died in Egypt.
Then, in the lightning-fast manner of five-year-olds everywhere, she moved on:
“They mummified cats, you know.”
“Do you want to put a picture of a mummified cat on the yellow tape?” I offered.
“Yes. And pyramids. And King Tut.” She added.
And just like that, the hours I’ve spent on making a timeline have paid off.
Wouldn’t you know it, two days after we’ve made the momentous decision to homeschool this year, one of our schools comes out and says that they will be offering full-day in-person schooling, five days a week. This is the school that I think is good for my kid in person, but doesn’t translate well to e-learning. I wonder whether I’d have made a different choice if I had to decide about homeschooling tonight?
I don’t have that anxious feeling anymore. Now I’m mostly excited, and thinking that we need a vision. Mr. December and I have some very different ideas about learning and education. I’d love to see the kids doing two hours a day of pure academics, with the rest of the day to enjoy life as a family and pursue all sorts of interests. He thinks five or six hours of work sounds good.
K has been working with wax craft sticks a lot in the past week (ever since I tidied up the makery and displayed the craft supplies so the kids could actually see what’s available!). She’s making some beautiful and delicate flowers that she wants to attach to hair clips. I think she needs to be using a different medium if she doesn’t want her flowers to melt in the summer, but I know next to nothing about this stuff. Then I remembered that my friend C used to do jewellery design — maybe she could advise?
In short, she probably can. This is the kind of learning I’m most excited about for my kids: finding mentors and learning how to ask for and accept help when your learning stagnates. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when K and C start flexing some creative muscles together.
Mr. December and I decided it was time to get a bit more serious about E learning to read. She knows all her letter sounds and understands the concept of decoding, but she sets up an inordinate amount of resistance every time we suggest that she read something with us.
Before we get too far into this, I’d like to acknowledge that nothing bad will happen if she doesn’t learn to read this summer, or even next summer. I’m aware that kids in Finland aren’t taught to read until age seven, and they’re not suffering academically for it, so it’s probably fine. K learned to read at the end of grade two (albeit with a very expensive remediation program for which we pulled her out of school every morning for six weeks); N began reading books to himself around the end of grade one, and R learned in grade one as well. These days they all have to have the books pried out of their hands at bedtime, so clearly there’s no problem with not learning to read at age three. Or four, five, or even six.
But this summer, with so little else to do, and with E home all day with us, it seems like a good time to get her reading. So I did what I do when it’s really important that my kids do something: the two-pronged approach of consequences and bribery (for more on my attitude towards bribing kids, read this post from my Montessori blog.) “Reading with Eema” is an item on her daily checklist; if the checklist isn’t completed, there are no screen privileges the next day. As far as bribery goes, we’ve created a star chart; Every time she reads a whole new Bob book she gets a sticker. When she’s read all the books in a set (usually about twelve books) she gets to pick a prize.
That piqued her interest. “I need to complete Peppa Pig’s neighbourhood,” she said, eyes wide with excitement.
“You know,” I said, “The first book only has a few words in it. I bet you could finish a whole book right now, before bedtime!”
“Let’s try!” She shouted, and we took out the first Bob book: Mat. She read it haltingly, but correctly. Then she slyly suggested that even though it was bedtime I should let her stay up to read book two. I knew better than to say no to a kid who was on a roll, so we got Book 2: Sam and she made her way through that one as well. Two star stickers went up on her chart.
E turned to me earnestly and said, “I never knew it would be this much fun!”
And with that, the bribery felt justified.
We’ve ordered a couple of Kiwi Crates (curated, themed activity boxes) for the kids. Today E opened up the “My Body and Me” box and was immediately engrossed in it. With very little help from anyone she followed the illustrated instructions to build her own stethoscope. After sitting for a while and listening to her own heart, E moved on to the next craft: sewing a stuffed felt heart, stomach, and brain. She probably spent three to four hours using the contents of the Kiwi Crate, culminating in her running a doctor’s office where her entire herd of stuffed elephants came to get checked out. She carefully made “notes” on the laminated form that came with the box and then provided recommendations. Recommendation #1? Hugs, followed closely by sleep.
Montessori talks about the “prepared environment”; The Parenting Junkie advocates “Strewing”. They seem to be two different ways of doing the same thing: setting the stage for learning and play. The Kiwi crate was successful in that way, and I’m sure that E learned a lot. But when it came to reading, displaying the books attractively next to a beanbag chair in a cozy corner just didn’t cut it — I still had to bribe E to even look at them.
Whoever came up with the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” seems to have been missing a few tools of persuasion; I suspect those horses could have been bribed or tricked into taking that first sip. They’d have no use for Peppa Pig’s camper van, of course, but a good farmer or cowboy could surely come up with something.
I’m not going to give you a day-by-day account of our two week road trip, as tempting as that is to me (hey, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a new blog post every day.) But let’s pick up in Niagara Falls, where we left off.
We crossed the U.S. border at Lewiston and headed for the Niagara Power Project Visitors’ Center (yes, I spelled “center” wrong. American spelling, people!) — I can’t say enough good things about this place. I can’t speak for the kids, but I learned a lot about how electricity is produced and transported. We took part in a simulation of a day at the power plant — each of us at our own station focusing on different aspects of the job. And my favourite, the very cool table where you try to create an electrical grid by placing homes, businesses, generators, transformers, and towers in the appropriate places. We were there for three hours and the kids didn’t want to leave. And did I mention that it was free? Seriously, it’s worth the drive to Lewiston (when the borders open back up, of course.)
Later, at the Corning Museum of Glass, K and I made our own glass pendant necklaces while Mr. December and the others tried their hands at sandblasting ice cream goblets.
We finally rolled into Scranton, PA late that night after going to the wrong Courtyard by Mariott Scranton (couldn’t they have come up with two different names?), where E showed us the sore toe she’d been whining about since Niagara Falls. I was shocked to see that her entire toe was swollen. I felt like the world’s worst mom for spending two days telling her, “I hear that your foot hurts, but that’s because we’re just walking more than usual. You’ll be fine tomorrow.”
She wasn’t; by the next morning, E’s toe was enormously swollen, shiny, and very painful. Mr. December took her to a doctor while we cooled our heels in the hotel lobby. Eventually they returned with a diagnosis of cellulitis, a bottle of antibiotics, and instructions to keep tabs on whether the redness was spreading or receding.
We rushed straight over to the Lackawanna Coal Mine (listening to my themed playlist that included Coal Miner’s Daughter and Workin’ in a Coal Mine), hoping to catch the last tour before it was too late. Thankfully, we were on time and they had a wheelchair down inside the mine, so we wouldn’t have to carry E on our backs. I spent most of the mine tour (and the rest of the day) saying, “OK, kids. Remember this next time you want to complain about having to load the dishwasher. You could have been born in another time and be that kid sitting in the dark all day long!” To this day, when they complain, I say, “At least you’re not working in a coal mine.”
I wish we’d had more time at the mine. Right next to the mine shaft was a Museum of Anthracite that we didn’t get to see, and the chance of us returning there at any point is almost zero.
We got to our destination later than we wanted to that evening, since our medically necessary late start meant that we hit New York City rush hour on the way into town. It was okay, though — we listened to a few episodes of the Tell me Something I Don’t Know podcast (which is highly entertaining.) As we inched through the tunnel into Manhattan, we turned on a playlist I had compiled of songs about New York. Know who noticed and/or enjoyed it? Nobody.
Since we would be parking our car for the duration of our stay in the city, we had to take out everything we might want. So the big bins with our shoes and sweatshirts got loaded onto the luggage cart, along with the two suitcases, the schoolwork box, and everyone’s backpacks. And the stuffies. Also pillows. Passers-by on the sidewalk seemed entertained by our attempts to keep everything from falling while children exited the vehicle one after another; it was a bit like a road trip clown car.
I dropped the car off at one of those parking garage towers where they take your car at the entrance and put it on an elevator to some other level, then enjoyed the relative peace of a two-block stroll without any whining, arguing, or begging for snacks. I rode the elevator up to the top floor, where we had booked what Manhattan hotels call a “suite” and hotels everywhere else call a closet. It actually was large enough for all of us, but just barely. At bedtime it was basically wall-to-wall mattresses and beds.
It was too late to do anything or go anywhere. That night was an ETB (Early To Bed) for all of us — the next day we’d be exploring the m&ms store Manhattan!
We had a family meeting the other night where we broke the news to our kids that we’ll be homeschooling them through the summer. They were unimpressed, even after I pointed out that since nothing is open around here, there’d be nothing to do. It’s all but impossible to find a private cottage to rent for July or August. What’s the point, I asked, of sitting around the house doing nothing all summer? This way we can homeschool through July and August and then, when the “vacation” is over and things are more normal, we can rent a cottage or travel or something.
I don’t blame them for feeling disappointed; last summer was epic — and I never blogged about it, did I? Let’s rectify that.
You know that I’ve always had a homeschooling fantasy, long before COVID made me a homeschooler. Mr. December and I had been tossing around the idea of taking a big family trip and homeschooling along the way. If you have a sense of Mr. December’s personality, you won’t be surprised that he insisted we do a trial trip first. So it was that I found myself planning a two-week road trip.
The kids wanted to see New York City (because there’s an m&ms store there, that’s why,) so we ended up doing a circuit from Toronto through Corning to NYC, detouring inland through Kerhonkson, NY, and then hitting Boston and Montreal before heading back home. Here’s our route map:
Planning is something I do very well, and I thoroughly enjoyed prepping for this trip. The itinerary had to be planned, of course, but there was also a lot of logistical planning to be done.
We decided early on that we would all stay together in one hotel room whenever possible. The super-helpful lady at Mariott reservations assured me that since we’re a family with four fairly young kids, nobody would bat an eyelash if we brought sleeping bags for a couple of kids to sleep on the floor. I spent over an hour on the phone with this young woman as she checked the square footage of every room before we booked.
We bought a “toddler cot” for E and a self-inflating camp mattress for K; both of those items, as well as all the bedding, could fit inside a single medium-sized suitcase.
Next, our packing strategy. Since the trip necessitated spending no more than three nights in any one place, we didn’t want to be burdened with too much luggage. We decided to pack only about four days’ worth of clothes and do laundry as we went (most of the places we stayed had coin laundry machines.) Clothing for all six of us fit into a second medium-sized suitcase.
Of course, when you’re planning to go hiking, horseback riding, swimming in lakes, and exploring cities all in the same trip, no one pair of shoes is right for all activities. Since our car would be with us for the whole trip, I reasoned that we could store bulkier things like shoes, beach towels, and rain gear in the car. We stowed them in three huge plastic bins that, when piled neatly, created a nice little side table for whoever would be sitting in the back row.
If we wanted the kids to do some academic work (and we did) we’d have to bring some school supplies with us. I used an old plastic file box that had a snap-on lid with a handle. Each child had their own hanging file folder that held their workbooks. The file box also had enough room for a well-stocked pencil box and our charging station.
The kids had a strict limit of “whatever you can fit in a small (read: tiny) backpack, plus one stuffie and maybe a pillow.” They were responsible for their own personal items, and I’m proud to say that the only thing left behind was a single water bottle.
We determined the setup for our minivan: the two adults up front, three younger kids across the middle, and K in the back. She wasn’t keen on that arrangement until we said, “You’ll have your very own kingdom with nobody bothering you!” That got her on board.
You know I’ll work a DIY crafty project into anything if I can, right? This time I managed two:
I bought four plastic clipboards with room for stuff inside. On the front side I put a blank piece of paper and laminated it to the clipboard with clear adhesive book cover. Voilà: a dry-erase marker board for doodling. To the back I laminated a copy of the route map I posted above, so the kids could follow our progress. Everyone got a pencil case with pencils, dry-erase markers, and washable markers; I stocked the inside of each clipboard with blank paper.
Family trip t-shirts
I’ve always felt that matching t-shirts would be helpful when we’re out and about as a family; this was my chance to make it happen. I designed two different shirts and used printer-compatible iron-on transfers to apply them to the shirts. To the kids’ chagrin, we made them wear these shirts anytime we were going to be somewhere with crowds. When we lost N at the Boston Children’s Museum and they asked us, “What is he wearing?” we simply pointed to our shirts and said, “This, but smaller.” He was found very quickly.
And so, with our belongings packed and our car fully stocked with water and snacks, we pulled out of our driveway and started our adventure.
I think you can tell a lot about a person by their photo roll. Take my dad, for instance: his photo roll is mostly plants and wildlife, with occasional spurts of family snapshots. You can tell he’s a green-thumbed family man who lives near the ravine.
My photo roll says a lot about me, too. Here are some of the most common types of photos I take with my phone:
Rashes and injured limbs
I’d say about 20% of my photos these days are of medical problems. Skin rash? Let’s take a picture (maybe even next to a ruler or measuring tape so we know if it’s getting bigger.) You foot hurts? Let’s photograph both feet to see if one looks swollen.
You may think this is a direct result of the shift to online doctor’s appointments; it’s not. I have rash pictures dating back to 2014. I’ll admit it can be jarring when one scrolls through my photo roll, but these pictures have proven themselves useful over and over again.
One hundred consecutive kid selfies
These happen when my children get a hold of my phone. Before I set it down, the last picture on my photo roll is something normal (okay, given the first item maybe not normal normal, but normal for me.) When I pick it up again, there are a hundred pics in a row that look something like this:
Perfect parenting moments
These are photos of times that everything went right. Scratch that: these are times when something went right, and I had to document it for posterity. Things like beautiful birthday parties, the bigger kids helping the little ones, or idyllic photos of my carefree children playing out in nature, barefoot. These are the photographic evidence I’ll need to remind myself that I actually did a pretty good job of this parenting thing.
I really just can’t get enough of pictures of my kids doing real, valuable work in the house. Cooking, cleaning, laundry… I have dozens of those.
Endless renovation shots
While we were building our house, Mr. December used my camera to document the process. We have hundreds of photos of everything from the fully-gutted shell of our house to the exact position and placement of the wires, before the drywall was installed. It’s a lot to scroll through, but those photos have come in handy on many occasions.
Remember the days before digital photography, when you had to wait for the film to be developed and then you had to go knock on everyone’s door to show them what you made for dinner? Yeah, me neither. But I’ve often fallen into the trap of photographing food I’ve made — especially adorable things like the bento lunches I made for K when I was younger and less jaded.
Stuff I make
I try to photograph everything I make with my own hands, from quilts to bookcases. Most of these photos don’t really go anywhere except this blog, but there was a period many years ago when I was selling stuff I had sewn. My photo roll from that time is full of pics taken for my now-defunct Etsy store.
And a bunch of other stuff…
I have photos of my little blue Yaris after it got rear-ended on the 401; stuff I was selling on Craigslist; “before” pics of me in workout gear (note to self: I looked better in the “before”. Maybe just be happy with where we are right now, hmm?); and, of course, normal everyday snapshots.