crafty · family fun · Keepin' it real · water you paddling? · whine and cheese

Day 533: Mope? Nope. (Well, not much.)

Mr. December took all four kids out today, first for some rock climbing, and then to explore the city a bit. Meanwhile, I stayed at home. It was another perfect, clear, just-warm-enough-but-not-too-warm day and under better circumstances I’d have gone off to the beach by myself for a nice long paddle in the kayak. But, of course, the wound on my hand is still not sufficiently healed, so kayaking is still out.

It was the perfect opportunity to try out some other activities I could include in my contingency plan for the inevitable times that I’m unable to do my usual happy things.

So I went down to the Makery with the intention of trying some watercolour techniques, only to discover that someone (I’m not naming names, but there are only four suspects) used the good Taclon™ brushes and didn’t wash them; the bristles were all caked with dried acrylic paint. Back upstairs I went to google “how to get dried acrylic paint out of my good paintbrushes that I’ll never allow my kids to use again.” Fortunately the top recommendation—acetone nail polish remover—was right where I expected it to be, not far from the hair dryer (for drying paint in a hurry,) the contact lens solution (for making slime,) and the iron (for melting Perler beads and for ironing seams when quilting.) I’ve heard vague rumours that some people keep these items in their bathrooms and use them for personal grooming, but that sounds suspect to me. They’re so obviously crafting supplies, aren’t they?

Anyhow, I put the brushes to soak in acetone and managed to find a couple of clean brushes to use with the watercolours. I spent an hour or so watching tutorials on YouTube and practicing some new techniques, and I can now say that my watercolour skills are… still not very good at all. I had fun, though.

So painting and drawing can go on my contingency plan—assuming that my right hand is fully functional. Next on my list was relaxing in the hammock with my Kobo and finishing an entire novel in one sitting. I hadn’t done that since before I had kids, but apparently it’s still enjoyable, so that makes the cut too.

Chatting on the phone with friends—yup. Playing computer games—also yes, although only for short periods. I sat at our table outside and did some Sudoku and a couple of crosswords. I suppose I could have watched some Netflix or something, but I didn’t feel like being on a screen so much when it was so nice out.

Mr. December and the kids left the house at 9:00 and didn’t return until 6:30 in the evening. I had the entire day to myself and I managed to find things to do that didn’t involve my hand instead of just moping about how I wished I could go kayaking. Don’t get me wrong—I still moped, but only in between doing other interesting stuff.

crafty · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 531: Mapwork or Make-work?

K and N started their History work today. It consisted of some reading, a few summary sentences, some timeline additions, and mapwork. In case you’re unfamiliar with what “mapwork” entails, it involves a blank map and a list of things to label and/or colour in.

Upon reading the mapwork assignment, K was not impressed. She went on a long rant:

“This is such a stupid assignment! The map they want us to refer to doesn’t even show the exact same area! And how the heck am I supposed to know whether the fertile crescent is the area inside that line or outside it? And shading it would make the labels look stupid! And how am I supposed to know where anything is, anyway? Besides, it’s impossible to do it exactly correctly…”

Then, in true Giftie-with-ADHD fashion, K made her counter-proposal:

“Can’t I just get a giant piece of watercolour paper and make a world map from scratch? I’d make sure I had all the lines right and I could colour it nicely and label everything and it would be like a work of art! Can I do that instead of doing all these dumb map assignments that are pointless and confusing?”

You read that right: she objected to having to label five bodies of water and outlining one geographical area on a blank map—work that would take her about five minutes to do if she’d let herself—and instead wanted to spend weeks or even months working on a large-scale world map. She’d rather do more work as long as it’s self-directed and creative, if it means getting out of following instructions that she doesn’t care about.

N, on the other hand, did the very same mapwork assignment in about three minutes. It turned into seven minutes after I refused to accept messy, sub-par work and taught him how to use a ruler to help keep his labels neat and readable. I wonder… how many years of “Go back and do it properly this time” will it take for him to just do it well the first time?

crafty · DIY · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real

Day 529: A bit better

Image description: a clear plastic shoe organizer on the back of a white door; the pockets are filled with craft supplies.

I am not made for idleness. Today’s enforced rest—no building, no assembly, no practicing my instruments—really got on my nerves. Proving that I’m constitutionally incapable of not doing something, I went digging around in the storage room and found a plastic back-of-door shoe organizer and said, “Ha! This is perfect for organizing the craft room!”

I couldn’t install the screws or hooks to hang it on; but Mr. December was amenable to helping me do this completely random and not-strictly-necessary task (he’s been admonishing me to rest for a few days, but he’s smart enough to know that sometimes it’s just a good idea to humour me.) All I needed from him was to install four screws into the back of the craft room door, and as soon as he’d done it, I started filling the pockets of the shoe organizer with all kinds of non-shoe things: pipe cleaners, rolls of contact paper, bingo dabbers, pom poms, popsicle sticks, fake autumn leaves. They’d all been stuffed together in a single bin I called “craft supplies overflow”; now I can see everything at once.

(Don’t worry, I managed to do it all one-handed. I may be impatient, but I’m not completely reckless.)

It’s better. Not by a lot, but by enough… kind of like my hand, which isn’t bleeding profusely, but is still sore. Improvement is improvement, no matter how small. Right?

Our homeschool year starts tomorrow. I’m as ready as I’m gonna be… wish me luck.

crafty · family fun

Day 519: At My Leisure

For the first time in a long time, I used my free time to do some art. I don’t usually do art for myself—I’m generally trying to teach the kids—but I enjoy drawing, and I decided to sit down and do some. My drawing didn’t do the sunflowers on my table any justice, but at least you can tell they’re flowers.

Image description: a drawing of five sunflowers in a tall vase sitting on a table. Pencil on paper.

What struck me as I was drawing them was that I know what a sunflower looks like, but I don’t really know what all its parts look like. I was trying to break them down into basic shapes, but it took me a while to realize that the green bits are more triangular and the petals are more oval.

R has been drawing, too—on her phone. She likes it because it doesn’t hurt her hand the way holding a pencil does. She’s also been using the software to trace a photo and then colour in the outlines instead of drawing it freehand. Today I made an offhand suggestion that maybe if she could trace a photo of E’s favourite stuffy, Bubbles, I could transfer it onto watercolour paper and paint it with watercolours. She did, I did, and now E has a lovely portrait of Bubbles to hang in her room.

Image description: watercolour painting of a gray plush elephant.
crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real

Day 514: I learned some things tonight.

Remember that time I told Mr. December that I was going to involve K in an epic DIY project that could maybe involve wrecking a table? Well, K and I decided tonight was the night for a trial run.

Now, here’s where I’ve grown as a person: ten years ago, I would have just started the project and let the chips fall where they may. These days I do a practice run first. I grabbed one of the extra leaves from our old table (the one that’s on its way out) and, using a hair dryer and a scraper, carefully peeled off some of the veneer. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. I need to wear work gloves next time. My knuckles got kind of shredded anytime the scraper slipped (which was often.)
  2. IKEA’s wood veneer is extremely thin, but is definitely wood—which means that it splinters and doesn’t scrape off all in one piece.
  3. Stripping the veneer off this table leaf wasn’t teaching me anything, since the table I was hoping to work on is topped with Formica, not real wood veneer.

By the time I accepted lesson number three, I had already pretty much wrecked the table leaf. There was nothing left to lose… so I invited K to help me cover the bare particle board with poured paints. I mean, why not? It could look cool, or it could be a flop. Either way it was going to the dump.

K had already mixed some epoxy, so after playing with the paint for a while, we said, “What the heck,” and went ahead and poured some epoxy on top of the paint. And now we wait; I wonder how the paint and epoxy will interact as the epoxy cures (and puts out a ton of heat)?

Final lesson learned: just leave well enough alone and accept the table as it is.

3 Images: 1. a birch-coloured table leaf with a section of veneer missing, with the particleboard substrate visible. 2. Close-up of the poured paint covered with epoxy. 3. The same table leaf with two large patches of poured paint and epoxy.

crafty · family fun · Independence · Kids · The COVID files

Day 503: While I was Sleeping

Good news, everyone! COVID test came back negative… which is neither surprising nor news, I admit, but it’s still good.

I vaguely remember, in the before times, that getting a cold used to mean walking around with a box of tissues but otherwise going about one’s day. Perhaps it’s because my immune system has been allowed to atrophy during this period of relative isolation, but this cold has knocked me flat. I spent most of the day dozing on and off in the back porch hammock, but at four in the afternoon I finally got tired of being woken up by construction noises and retreated to my bed. Next time I opened my eyes, four hours had passed.

Happily, life went on in my absence. The chicken breasts got grilled, dinner got served, and the table was even (mostly) cleared by the time I came downstairs. R quickly agreed to put E to bed so I wouldn’t expose her to my germs unnecessarily.

Now that they’re back from camp, I’m starting to realize how much I missed my kids last month. I missed R’s excited energy and generous spirit; I missed N’s need for hugs; I definitely missed K’s ability to disappear into the basement and come up later with some extraordinary craft project.

Tonight, R asked me how much I paid for the T-shirts I bought her from the craft store.

“Five dollars,” I responded. “Why?”

“Because K is downstairs painting one of them,” she explained.

As it happens, K made a very plain t-shirt much prettier. I commissioned her to paint a white baseball cap for E to take to camp; I also let her in on the location of my secret stash of white t-shirts (normally reserved for tie-dye.)

The house is buzzing with activity again, even while I’m sleeping. I love it.

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?