Camping it up · crafty · Kids · The COVID files

Day 500: Wait, what?

It has apparently been five hundred days since the first COVID shutdown began in Toronto. Whoa. That’s a long time.

I remember last June, chatting on the phone with a friend and commenting that since we figured that school would be a bit of a write-off this year, we were going to homeschool our kids. Her response was incredulous:

“You really think we’re still going to be dealing with this in September?”

Yup. We were. And we still are. Crazy, huh?


I packed a camp bag for E: she starts full-day camp tomorrow. It made me realize how much stuff we’re missing because we’re homeschooling. Things like a lunch bag, a backpack big enough for a two towels and said lunch bag, and a… mask lanyard? What the heck is a mask lanyard? I wondered.

A Google search later, I realized I had this lanyard thing under control. I went downstairs to the Makery and found a length of yellow grosgrain ribbon in one bin, then grabbed a few plastic snaps and set to work with the snap pliers. Three minutes later, I had a lanyard. Ah, the magic of the Makery.

Image description: A yellow and green striped ribbon with yellow snaps on each end.

My brother and his two kids are in town right now, so we’ve had a few sleepovers for the kids and their cousins. Today there were six kids running around my house and I have to say that my niece and nephew fit right in: she attached herself to one of the hammock chairs and announced, “I’m a chyrsalis!” in her adorable five-year-old voice, and he went down to the Makery and came back upstairs with a piece of upholstery foam and a plan to make his own squishy toy shaped like a Minecraft sword.

Smart, cute, and they know what the Makery is for. We must be related.

ADHD · crafty · family fun · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 485: Hyperfocus Hurts

Yesterday I had a block of time all to myself, all alone in the house. I took advantage of it to work on a personal music project of mine. ADHD hyperfocus kicked in and before I had realized it, I’d been playing and singing for over three hours.

I learned a few important things. First, the new laptop we got for the kids has an excellent built-in microphone, so I can just do all my recordings on that computer—no need to buy a mic. Second, I learned that a music degree isn’t a “get out of practicing free” card for the rest of your life. Five minutes at the piano made it very clear to me that I can’t just improvise a piano part and then record it in the same afternoon. And third, I learned that playing for three hours straight is not a great idea for my body, although it is for my soul.

Now, I’m not new at this; I know that playing the same instrument for three hours will cause soreness. That’s why I switched instruments a bunch of times. Different instruments, different muscles—right?

Apparently not. I mean, I guess three hours of playing the same instrument might cause more pain than I’m feeling right now, but switching instruments doesn’t seem to have eliminated the problem.

In a perfect world—okay, maybe just a non-hurting body—I’d channel my hyperfocus into my music for several days straight. In this imperfect world I have to give it a rest for a few days before I get back to it. It’s a good think I’m a dabbler with lots of different interests; I’ll just rotate through them while I wait for my hands to calm down.

Speaking of other interests, I’ve been thinking about quilting again—it’s been years since I made a quilt, probably since my niece was born almost six years ago. But each of my kids was promised a quilt when they moved into big-kid beds. I’m obviously several years behind on this commitment.

In the past I’ve gone so far as to have N pick his favourite fabrics and approve a design. I don’t remember which design it was, but thanks to my avoidance of putting things away properly I know exactly which pile of fabrics is his “yes” pile.

I want to start his quilt, but I can’t. I’m trying to impose some self-discipline here: I have a long list of things to do while the kids are at camp, and making N a quilt is definitely not on that list. It will have to wait.

So what am I planning to do this week? Well, I promised E a fun outing tomorrow afternoon. In the morning I have to return all those fabric samples (I’m really no further ahead and I’m heading over to a different store to find some more options,) buy some more gray spray paint (ran out mid-spray today,) and pick up a prepaid parcel box from Canada Post (R has run out of Rainbow Loom, hardly surprising since she’s probably supplying her entire cabin with it.) After that, fun! At least, I hope it is. One way or another, you’ll hear all about it tomorrow night.

crafty · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Jewy goodness

Day 479: Shelving the Reshelving

I tried to reshelve the library books this afternoon. I really tried. It was okay at first: I took books off the floor and put them on the correct shelves. Then I ran out of space on the correct shelves and had to improvise temporary homes for them, cursing under my breath all the while. Finally, the floor was clear and I stepped back to examine my progress… and realized that there are an awful lot of shelves that contained a hodgepodge of books from all over the house. Damn. I thought I was done.

I shelved the project, if you’ll forgive the pun. It looks like I’m going to have to do a lot more rearranging than I thought, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it today. Instead, E and I went outside and painted some rocks.

There’s something very soothing about a nicely shaped rock; and for those of us so inclined, painting said rock is pretty soothing as well. It could be the smoothness of the craft paint, or the purity of the colours themselves, or the repetitive motion of stroking the brush against the stone. Whatever the reason, I find painting rocks to be a relaxing pastime. After almost an hour of painting, I was ready to get to work on report cards, which I’ve yet to finish.


I think I’ve chosen a curriculum for E for the coming year. The literature section focuses on fairy tales and folk tales, which I think could be a fascinating area of study for the older kids as well—PhD theses have been written on the topic, so surely there’s something of value to be learned there. Maybe I’ll have them research the historical roots of fairy tales, read the originals (Perrault, Grimm, Andersen,) and write about what they’ve learned.

I’m a bit stuck on how to teach Jewish History. Right now my only inclination is to not teach it the way I was taught (a combination of very dry textbooks and horrifyingly vivid Holocaust stories.) My kids don’t generally respond well to books designed for schools, what with the banal and “obvious” discussion questions, which means I’ll probably need to find original sources to read with them, which means… back to the library.

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY

Day 475: Playing Librarian

When a book is being read in our house, it travels a lot. It will turn up at the breakfast table and then get moved to the sideboard before we begin school; it gets left in one of the hammocks after lunch break; it is taken out to the back porch and forgotten out there when its reader goes inside; it goes up to a bedroom and loiters next to the kleenex on the bedside table all night. At some point during its travels, the reader will finish the book… and leave it wherever they were reading it last. Books accumulate on every flat surface—chairs, stairs, floors, and ledges—until someone does a purge or a sweep and dumps them all back in the library.

I am, it seems, the only member of this household able to shelve the books. If I don’t do it it doesn’t get done, which is how we’ve ended up with a veritable mountain of books on the library floor.

The library is my major focus this month. There are numerous little details we (read: I) never finished; now is the time. Not only will I be reshelving all the wayward books, I’ll also be labeling the shelves, putting up pictures, upholstering the window seat, fixing the glass door on the musical instrument cabinet, fixing the drawers that never worked quite right, and adding cabinet doors below the desk. Oh, and possibly getting new furniture.

I started today by clearing all the paper and books off the (very wide, very long) windowsill, top of the piano, and desk. Then I left my house (oh, the novelty!) and went to look for fabric samples so I could get started on the window seat. I brought home seven samples and laid them on the window seat. The one Mr. December likes is the one E hates. It’s looking like I’ll have to go with a monochromatic sort of look for the window seat, because for the life of me I can’t find a bright, complementary or contrasting fabric that I like enough to look at for the next ten years.

Here, I’ll just post a photo and ask your opinion:

Image description: 7 large squares of different fabrics arranged on what looks like a couch, with a dark purple-blue ledge in the background.

So we’re speaking the same language, I’ll give each sample a name. Clockwise from top left: monochrome velvet, colourful space invaders, monochrome marbled, crazy bright leaves, purple geometric, colourful ikat, and stripes. So… which one? Or none of the above?

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.

Before:

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

After:

crafty · family fun · Keepin' it real

Day 456: Is it just me?

Can I please see a show of hands from the parents in the crowd?

Have you ever torn up the hole-riddled pants your kid refuses to part with (but finally took off tonight) into rags right away so the kid can’t find them and put them on again?

Have you ever had a kid say, “I’m sorry you had to sit here by yourself while we finished the hike,” and then had to bite your tongue so you wouldn’t say, “I’m not”?

So… it’s just me, then?


We went for a family hike this morning. Last week’s hike was classified as “moderate.” This one was “hard.” On the upside, it was only half the length.

It started off as an even dirt road, so I walked with Mr. December and the kids for a while. My ankle was already unhappy but I find forests deeply relaxing and energizing at the same time, so I chose to suck it up and limp along anyway. N was insistent that he would turn around when I did—he really did not want to be there at all—but Mr. December announced that he would be awarding XP (experience points, like in the computer games the kids like) for things like exploring off-trail. As soon as he heard “XP,” N (and the other kids) ran to do whatever challenges Mr. D cooked up for them.

At the end of the dirt path I had to turn back, to my great regret. The path had just turned into a narrow trail that climbed up into the woods over picturesque boulders and rocks—boulders and rocks that would make my ankle scream at me. I turned back.

I took my time heading back to the car. At one point I nearly stepped on a well-camouflaged frog that was just sitting in the middle of the road. I crouched down and watched him for a while, then continued on my way.

Back at the car I popped open the tailgate, folded down one of the back seats to give myself somewhere to sit, and put my foot up on a cold water bottle (another great reason to use these silicone water bottles: they make lovely squishy cold packs for injuries.) Then I pulled out my sketchbook and pencils and spent the next hour trying to capture the scene in front of me. I couldn’t get the shadows right, but otherwise I managed a credible likeness. When I could add no more detail I put away the sketchbook and read a book until the kids came running back.

Mr. December thanked me a few times for coming along for the drive even though I couldn’t do the whole hike with them. I told him—truthfully, of course—that I had enjoyed my solitude in the forest. I wouldn’t have spent my time nearly as productively if I had stayed home by myself. It was a lovely morning, and my only regret was that I didn’t get to take that beautiful rocky trail all the way around the water.

crafty · education · Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 454: Teacher Gifts

There are plenty of things I don’t miss about sending the kids to school—the drop-offs and pickups, the one-size-fits-all rules, the homework—but the one that always manages to surprise me is teacher gifts. Yes, I know the school year is ending. Yes, I want to show my appreciation and yes, I—wait, it’s now? I need to do the teacher gifts today? AAAAA!

It happens every year.

I’ve done some creative things in the past: handmade cards; a summer-themed gift of sunscreen, sunglasses, a movie gift card, and some packets of Starbucks instant iced coffee mix all packaged in a reusable cup with a straw; a custom t-shirt for the teacher who had all four of my kids with zero breaks in between; and there was the year I just wrote them lovely thank-you cards and delivered them with a fresh homemade challah for each teacher.

Other years I went in together on the group gift being organized by other parents. But the best gift (I thought), the most inspired, were the Montessori bead bar earrings. I made them for every school staff member who had direct contact with my kids. Everyone loved them—but that was years ago, and only a few of those teachers remain (and they’re not E’s teachers), so I decided to reprise that idea for E’s online teachers from Montessori.

Last time I did all the work after my kids went to bed. This time, E had a hand in the whole thing: she strung the beads onto the eye pins, poked the earrings through the backing card, carefully threaded the necklace chain into the slots I’d made, and helped me cut and fold the gift boxes.

And now all that remains is to write the thank-you cards to the teachers, and of course to deliver them to school. And then I’m guaranteed at least one year without teacher gifts sneaking up on me, because all four kids are being fully homeschooled next year.

Wait, if I’m their teacher, shouldn’t the kids be giving me a gift at the end of the year? Good thing some of them read this blog—they’ll get the hint.

bikes planes and automobiles · crafty · family fun · Homeschool · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 438: Why, Shutterfly? WHY?

First, the good news: I had a wonderful bike ride to and from the imaging clinic today, and my legs feel fine (so far, knock wood.)

Now, the other news:

Last night I decided it was high time to get working on our family photobooks. I mean, I’m only seven years behind, so it’s not urgent yet; but we all know how “important but not urgent” tasks keep getting delayed by the multitude of urgent situations that arise every week.

I’ve used Shutterfly very happily in the past, so I went back to their site, selected the size and style of book I wanted, and uploaded my photos. A banner across the top of the page announced “Try our new, improved design software!”

That should have tipped me off. In my (admittedly limited) experience, new and improved software is rarely an improvement.

I was quite proficient with their old design software. Not professional-level design, to be sure, but my photobooks all look pretty good (if I do say so myself.) So when I couldn’t figure out how to do the simplest things on Shutterfly, and when their “help” function failed to be helpful, I decided to see if there was a way to use their old software—sometimes there is.

There wasn’t. I howled in frustration: the old software was JUST FINE, thankyouverymuch. Why did they change it? WHY?!?!?!?

So it is that I’ve given up on Shutterfly. They could’ve had my business for the next ten photobooks. Instead they fixed something that wasn’t broken, and they’ve lost me in the process. Their loss, Mixbooks’ gain.

I must say, though, I’m really enjoying designing these scrapbook pages. It’s replaced my Facebook doomscrolling and my online games of Wingspan, and for that I’m thankful. I just love it when what I have to do and what I like to do are one and the same.

For your enjoyment (and mine,) here’s one of the spreads I finished today:

crafty · DIY · Fibro Flares · lists

Day 414: Don’t overdo it.

I haven’t said anything, because I didn’t want to jinx it, but my fibro flare seems to have ended last Monday or so. I’m trying not to overdo things lest I throw myself into a relapse. As you might imagine, it’s not easy. There are things I want to do… and worse, things I have to do.

It’s almost summer, which means it’s the right time to be thinking about the landscaping improvements we wanted to make. Unfortunately the landscaper we had hired seems to have dropped off the face of the earth (I really hope he’s ok; we are in the middle of a pandemic, after all.) I still want to put up a shed so I can move my big saws in there and have them set up to use at a moment’s notice. We also need a sturdier swingset: ours is twelve years old and everytime K swings on it (for several hours every day) it looks like it’s going to tip right over.

Summer also means that the sun comes up really early and shines straight at my bedroom window. The full-length blackout curtains I made don’t manage to block out all the light, so something needs to be done. I think I’ll try a simple valence to see if it works well. This needs to be my top priority, because it’s waking both Mr. December and me every morning and we need more sleep.

Speaking of windows, I need to put some kind of window treatment on the library windows. They face full west, as Jane Austen might have said, making the library very hot in the afternoons. I’m hoping I can find something ready-made that works in the space.

And then there are all the little things: figuring out how to replace our HEPA filter; installing the shelves that I bought for N’s and E’s rooms; painting the porch wall; getting the kids ready for camp (that’s not actually a little thing, there’s a lot of packing to be done); and the small matter of, you know, staying on top of their homeschool progress.

Just writing this list has me all tired out. I think I’ll take tomorrow off—it’s Mothers’ Day anyhow—and let the kids do everything, including my blog post. I can’t wait to see what they think of.