crafty · DIY · family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 787: Long School Day

I didn’t think we’d do school for as long as we did. To be fair, one could argue that I didn’t think at all: the sunburn on my face and chest is evidence of that. We did plan ahead, but poorly. I forgot the sunscreen at home, and I neglected to bring a sweater for when the sun went down and it got chilly. Of course, we weren’t planning to still be out at sundown, which brings us round to my original point: today was much longer than expected.

We went back to Park Ra’anana this morning—some of us walked while others took the bus. I’ll digress here just to say that there’s an app that makes taking public transportation as simple as it could possibly be. Moovit takes your destination and gives you all the possible ways to get there. When you get on the bus, you scan the QR code and put in the number of riders, and it goes on your tab (which is charged to your credit card at the end of the month.) The app even chimes when you’re two stops away from your destination and then again when you get to your stop. That’s it. Easy. I mean, I had to invent a valid-looking-but-fake Israeli Identification Number for the app to take my payment information, but it worked and my public-transit adventures went seamlessly today.

Where was I? Right, the park. We put down our travel towels in the shade and unpacked our school stuff. Mr. December did math with three of the four kids while I worked on getting E to do some kind of work. In the end she did. After a few hours of school, we took a break and the kids ran off to the playground for a bit. Afterwards we walked through the Seven Species garden and the herb garden, taking time to pick some kumquats along the way (all the low-hanging fruit was gone, but that was no problem when E sat on Mr. December’s shoulders.) Then we headed for the bus.

During our visit with our cousins yesterday, I learned that one of them creates beautiful tile mosaics. I asked if K could come and make a mosaic with her; she responded with an invitation for us all to come, for all the kids to make mosaics, and also (by the way) she’d order some pizza for lunch. Of course we said yes.

We arrived at their house at 2:20 (exactly when the Moovit app said we would.) K and I didn’t leave until 7:30. Why? Because K is an artist, as you know. And good art takes time.

(It’s a good thing these cousins really like us!)

The artist and her masterpiece.
crafty · DIY

Day 748: Material Differences

Photo of a lineup of coloured pencils with black barrels and multicoloured ends

R has been using our fancy (alcohol-based, higher quality) markers very happily for a couple of months now. She wants to expand her skills, though, so she recently asked me for a set of coloured pencils.

Shockingly, my mother’s voice seemed to burst from my lips in response: “Do you have any idea how many coloured pencils we have? Have you seen all the coloured pencils in the basement?”

“But they’re not the good kind,” R pointed out. “I want to use the ones that real artists use. You can do so much more with them!”

I have to admit that she had a point. Good quality materials, tools, and equipment can be the difference between loving an activity and being frustrated by it. So I bought a set of professional (semi-professional? Is that a thing?) coloured pencils. They arrived last night.

Did you know that I’m too impatient for my own good? I opened the package right away, without stopping to realize that the excitement over new art supplies would probably interfere with an early and orderly bedtime. R sat at the table colouring and marvelling at how amazing these pencils are. Of course I joined her—how could I not?—and happily discovered that she was right: these coloured pencils seem to be worlds apart from my memories of pencil crayons back in elementary school.

(Yes, pencil crayons. In case you didn’t know, that’s what Canadians call them. I’ve been saying “coloured pencils” so as not to confuse my international readers—both of them.)


Earlier today R and I made the pattern pieces for the sleeves of her dress. There was a surprising amount of arithmetic involved in drafting the pattern—if R wasn’t confident at adding and dividing fractions before, she is now.

N walked by as we were cutting the fabric for the muslin (the mock-up, not the actual fabric) and asked why we weren’t using the fabric that R had bought specially for this dress. We explained that it’s customary to make a mock-up (which is called a “muslin”) in order to test and fine-tune the fit before cutting into the good fabric. Accordingly, the muslin for R’s dress will be a mix of different-coloured knits that were left over from other projects (don’t worry, we did our best to match the weight and stretch so that it was as close as possible to the final fabrics.)

So the pieces are all cut out, waiting to be sewn (tomorrow, we hope.) R’s first design is slowly coming to life. I can’t wait to see it made with the actual material.

better homes than yours · crafty · IKEA · Kids

Day 746: Moving Day

There comes a day in every parent’s life when you see so much familiar stuff—furniture, clothes, musical instruments—leaving your child’s room in boxes. It’s yet another Sunrise, Sunset moment in the child’s journey to adulthood. It’s moving day… for the dolls.

Today R moved her dolls out of their house in her room. “I need more space for my stuff,” she said, “and E is the one who plays with them now anyway.” At the tender age of ten, R feels ready to give up the dollhouse that we (read: I) painstakingly created in her wall unit.

She wanted to get rid of the wall unit too, but I stood firm. The whole thing is screwed into the studs and takes up half of a wall in her bedroom. It is not moving. The whole point of putting the dollhouse into the wall unit was that one day we’d be able to take out the doll stuff and just have storage. R has gradually come around to the idea that the wall unit stays.

E’s room, however, has no such wall unit… yet. We do have a whole stack of IKEA boxes that contain her future furniture, and we’ve been sitting on those for almost a year. Today E insisted that it was time to assemble at least a couple of them so that the dolls could have a house.

Sadly, as with probably every moving day, there was some damage to furniture. The doll bunk bed I made two years ago fell apart when I removed it from R’s cupboard; it’s spending the night in the makery, where eight clamps are holding it all together while the glue dries.

The dolls’ new house is still a bit unsettled, but their neighbours (E’s stuffies) are excited to be sharing a condo building with them. And I’m excited to be getting rid of the stack of IKEA boxes under E’s desk.

Left: kitchen and bathroom are mostly set up. Right: these dolls have a lot of stuff to unpack.

crafty · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · Unschooling

Day 740: The Right Stuff

Monday’s silicone mold-making experiment was a fail. After curing overnight (the tube promised one hour) the silicone was still sticky to the touch. Back to the drawing board.

Since she’s very interested in the process, I assigned K the task of googling to figure out why it didn’t work. She came back after about half an hour to explain that we used the wrong kind of silicone: ours smelled like ammonia while curing, and we needed the one that smells like vinegar instead (base vs. acid: chemistry class!)

Photo of R's open design notebook, including her sketch and some math. Also in the picture: a giant set of markers and a colour swatch card.

Meanwhile, R was busy working on fashion design. I found her a notebook with thin pages (the better to see her croquis with when sketching) and she set about customizing the cover with a collage of her previous designs. Then she opened up the book and started to draw the dress she wants to sew herself.

R begged me to take her to the fabric store, but I pointed out that she needed to know how much fabric she’d be using before we went and bought anything. She did the math (reviewing radius and circumference in the process) and figured out the lengths she’d need of each fabric.

A photo of me and K at our art table. I'm passing her my clump of glycerine-bathed silicone and she's poking it to test the consistency. Fun fact: on the wall is a decal that reads "don't just stand there... make something"

We swung by Lowe’s (and said hi to all my friends at the Pro Desk) to pick up a different silicone than last time. Back at home, K and I bathed the silicone in a glycerine-and-water catalyst bath and massaged it until it was the right consistency. We embedded objects in the silicone and left them to cure.

Two hours later the verdict was clear: our second attempt had worked! We pulled the hardened silicone away from the objects we’d embedded, and the silicone held its shape (including all the small details.) We still have to make sure that there’s no unexpected adverse reaction when we fill the molds with epoxy, but as scientists say, the early results are promising. So promising, in fact, that we went back to Lowe’s and bought a whole carton of silicone caulking tubes.

That was our school day. Well, that and E’s sewing project (a quilt for a new baby.) N worked on memorizing the Greek alphabet. There were no formal lessons today, just kids engaged in their pet projects with me facilitating where necessary. I don’t know if this is unschooling, but it’s definitely better than dragging my kids through another painful writing exercise.

(For the record, though, K asked if for writing she could just write her own blog detailing her art projects and experiments. Of course the answer was an enthusiastic yes.)

Our two silicone test molds. The one on the left looks dry, smooth, and translucent white. The one on the right looks gelatinous, opaque white, and is falling apart.
Left side: silicone mold made with the right stuff. Right: wrong!
crafty · DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 738: Mo(u)ld?

Now that we’re home, my thoughts have turned to passover prep. Remember how I made a seder plate with the kids before our first COVID passover? Well, it broke last year, so we’re back to square one.

I went to K and suggested that she could work on a seder plate as an art project. She loved the idea of an epoxy seder plate but she rejected my existing mold out of hand because a) it’s plastic, not silicone, and b) it’s not deep enough.

So we searched online to see if there was a silicone seder plate mold. There was… for $150. Call me cheap, but I’m not paying that kind of money for a mould. I’m just not.

So I did what I do best: I started brainstorming and googling. I landed on a page that explained how to make your own silicone moulds for epoxy, using 100% silicone from the hardware store and dish soap (to use as a catalytic bath.) After another half-hour of googling for ready-made moulds, K finally conceded that we’d have to make our own; so off we went to my happy place (Lowe’s.)

We tried it out as soon as we got home. The kids were pretty into kneading the silicone in the catalytic bath, and they each chose a small toy (or three) to cast their moulds around. I attempted a section of the seder plate mould. We left everything to cure, which the tutorial told us would take an hour.

It is now five hours later, and the silicone is still a bit sticky. I (carefully) separated it from the plastic mould to see how it was doing: the silicone had definitely set, and all the little carved embellishments were there, but the side that had been in contact with the mould was still pretty wet. It also smelled like ammonia.

I have no idea whether the silicone will dry or cure any further, but I’ve got nothing to lose by leaving it overnight and seeing what tomorrow brings. If we’re lucky, the silicone moulds will pass muster and we can start casting a beautiful seder plate.

crafty · Travelogue

Day 735: Two birds with one stone.

First things first: after reading my blog post, N invited me to draw him snuggling in bed with his stuffed lion. Not only did I have a stationary model, but he fell asleep in record time (probably because he was trying to lie still and not talk or move.) I might start drawing him every night.

Pencil sketch of a sleeping child and his stuffed lion.

Today was our last day at the resort: tomorrow morning we leave for the airport, say goodbye to warm weather and sunshine, and return to chilly, slushy Toronto. Please remind me next winter to just leave after Hannukah and not come back until April or even May.

We’ll begin formally homeschooling again on Monday; of course, Mr. December and I heard a lot of food for thought at the summit, and it might take a while to figure out what (if anything) we want to do differently. In the meantime, I’ll be working more intensely on Hebrew reading and Passover prep with the kids, because there are only three weeks left until the first seder night.

crafty · family fun · Travelogue

Day 734: Art of Doing Nothing

One of the best things about this vacation is getting to spend time with my niece and nephew and seeing what they’re passionate about. My nephew, L, is into drawing and carries his sketchbook everywhere we go, even over to the pool and into the restaurant. His subject of choice these days is dragons, which was apparently also the subject of choice last week, last month, and last year—not that it’s a problem in any way: Degas painted a heck of a lot of ballet dancers over the years.

I’ve been hoping that he (my nephew, not Degas) would like to sit down with me and spend some time drawing together, but so far Artistic Auntie can’t compete with the giant swimming pool, balloon animals, and an unending supply of Shirley Temples. Two days ago I settled for the next best thing: I drew something for L in his sketchbook.

It was supposed to be a sketch of L, K, and N sitting side-by-side on a lounge chair while eating their lunch, but halfway through the drawing I remembered why I don’t usually draw people: they move around way too much and it’s hard to get the details right. I erased the sketch, started over with a new subject, and ended up with this:

A drawing in black fine-tipped marker, of a table that wraps around a post, with three drinks, a pair of glasses, and a cloth tote bag on it.

I spent most of yesterday in the swimming pool, and by 4:00 I was pretty waterlogged and ready to get out. Inspired by L, I had brought my sketchbook and pencils to the pool; so I sat on my lounge chair for an hour trying to draw thatched umbrellas that didn’t look like the mushrooms from Super Mario Bros. I finished it up this afternoon.

A drawing in black fine-tipped marker: the backs of two lounge chairs with a hat and a margarita visible above one, and an open book partially visible above another. Beyond that there are three thatch-topped umbrellas on posts, and two coconut palm trees.

Now that I can draw inanimate objects reasonably well, it’s probably time to develop my skills at drawing people—but how to keep the kids from moving around so much while I spend thirty minutes getting their ears just right? I suspect the only way to do it is to draw the while they’re sleeping. Creepy? Maybe, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take for my art.

crafty · family fun · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Kids · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 695: Scribbles and Schadenfreude

“I’m fatigued,” Mr. December admitted. “Everything is just so… relentless.”

He wasn’t talking about COVID fatigue. He’s talking about that deep-soul weariness where we’re sick of everything and desperately need a break. And I’m feeling it too, in addition to the post-COVID fatigue. I’m simultaneously loathing the computers for the amount of time the kids spend on them, and thankful to Roblox for keeping the kids occupied when I can’t bring myself to interact with other human beings. Because—let’s face it—I’ve been interacting closely with the same five human beings every single day for the last six hundred and ninety-five days. That’s a lot of days.

I feel so mentally fried that board games feel too complicated. I don’t want to do any more puzzles. And sitting at the computer often makes my fatigue worse, not better, no matter whether I’m working or playing or writing on it. It was minus 11 degrees celsius out today, and my legs are hurting (fibro pain, not COVID aches) and the cold makes the pain worse, so no outdoor fun is happening for us.

I had no idea what to do this afternoon. To avoid the decision, I napped for an hour, but—wouldn’t you know it—there are several hours in an afternoon.

A book in the living room caught my eye. It’s called “1, 2, 3, Draw!” and consists of drawing prompts in the form of photographs and illustrations. Like, it has a page of identical snail shells, and you can turn them into… anything, really. I got to work, and soon the kids were sitting around me, shouting suggestions.

“Turn the duck into a pirate!”

“No, a cowboy! Riding a horse!”

“You should do a giant horse eating that box of matches!”

“Turn the hacksaw into a horse!”

I don’t know why horses have become so popular over here. Maybe it’s because they’re an animal that I truly cannot draw well, and the kids find that hilarious. A little bit of schadenfreude now and then isn’t going to hurt anyone, I guess.

Except for those poor ear-less, one-eyed horses, which I didn’t include in the photos below, because I really am terrible at drawing them.

crafty · DIY · Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins · waxing philosophical · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 661: It feels good to be bad.

“You’re old,” K tells me with a grin, every time I announce the death of some celebrity she’s never heard of.

And I reply, “Yup. And it’s so awesome!”

I’ve realized lately that there’s a significant amount of freedom in getting older. Not only do I care less what other people think: in some areas I even care less what I think. To wit: I have multiple hobbies that I’m bad at.

It feels like there’s a bell curve for hobbies. When you’re a little kid, nobody expects you to be particularly good at things because you just haven’t had time to develop skills yet. You’re adorably cute, so it’s okay if your violin playing is a bit squeaky. But then, as you get a bit older, the assumption is that you should be striving for excellence with your hobby: if you want to continue, grownups tell you, you have to practice more, take more classes, get this coach. This attitude intensifies through high school as the all-important university applications loom.

One day adulthood creeps up on you like the clown in a horror movie. Or maybe it just smacks you in the face like that swinging paint can in Home Alone. Either way, expectations of being good at your hobbies seem to plummet. It’s totally fine to try a new hobby and be bad at it… and keep doing it just because it’s fun. By the time you hit your eighties you get a medal just for showing up: “Wow, she’s eighty-nine and she plays in a community orchestra! So inspirational!”

I made a little chart for you:

A graph with an x- and y- axis; there is a line following a bell curve across the chart. The bottom is labelled "Age in years" and the side axis is labelled "expectations of excellence." The levels in the expectations axis are: none (age zero and sixty), "You're obviously still developing your skills" (ages 12 and 35), "Pretty good, but you're no [insert name of famous professional here]" (ages 16 and 28), and "If you don't perform like a pro, you're wasting everyone's time. Especially your own." (age 20.)
If you’re preparing to tell me that this isn’t correct for a bell curve because the x-axis isn’t on a linear scale, don’t bother. I’m bad at statistics, I don’t care, and I still enjoy making up funny graphs.

Now in my forties, I feel good about mediocre work for the first time ever. When I play my viola, I’m not focused on polishing a piece; I practice until I can play all the notes at the correct speed, maybe throw in a few dynamics or some vibrato, and then move on to the next piece I fancy. I’m not going in order of difficulty: I just play what I like. It’s very liberating. I’m a mediocre violist (which means I’m good enough to be last chair in a professional orchestra. Ha ha, little viola joke there) and everyone just thinks it’s cool that I play. Most importantly, I love it.

Ditto carpentry. I don’t usually spend time “honing my craft” or striving to produce professional-quality work. I just like the power tools, the smell of fresh wood, and the ridiculous amount of innuendo that woodworking injects into my conversations. I’m totally screwing around, doing a half-assed job, and most of what I make is good from far, but far from good—and I don’t care.

Take it from a former perfectionist: it feels good to be bad. I highly recommend it.

crafty · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health · The COVID files

Day 660: I like my stuff.

It was dark this morning when we woke up—which would have been fine if it was 6:00 a.m., but it was already 10:00. It was truly dark, not just cloudy. Even Mr. December noticed.

I think I’ve seen the sun a total of three days out of the last three weeks. That is clearly not enough. Since my SAD was a major reason for us wanting to travel this winter, it seems obvious that we should go somewhere to get some sun. There’s just one problem, though: stuff.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to things like clothes (I own one pair of jeans, one leggings, and a pair of sweatpants,) shoes (we only took two pairs on our trip and that might have been one too many,) and makeup (none.) But when it comes to things, Mr. December and I tend to be maximalists (if that’s even a word. Is it? Who knows?). In our opinion, you can’t have too many books or musical instruments. It’s just not possible.

I’ve just finished rereading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home, in which she suggests “making a shrine” to things you enjoy. If I understand her correctly, we’ve already done so: our library is a shrine to books and musical instruments, the makery is a shrine to arts and crafts of all sorts, and our attic is a shrine to swings and gymnastic apparatus.

(N was reading this over my shoulder and reminded me of the parchment paper shrine that is a running joke between K and Mr. December. No, I will not elaborate.)

These are things we use and enjoy every single day. Some people say things don’t make you happier; I think they’re wrong. I’m definitely happier when I can wander into the library and pick up an instrument without having to haul it out of the case; Mr. December gets happier just sitting in the library and looking at all the books; K, R, and the entire family are all happier because of the swings in the attic.

That’s why I’m having difficulty deciding to travel again. I loved our trip. Really. We packed minimal stuff, and it was fine for a while; but now that I’m here enjoying my home again, I’m loath to leave it.

Could I travel again but pack more stuff? Sure. I’ve done it before, when I took a sewing machine and a suitcase full of fabric to Barbados for a month-long stay. But do I want to? I don’t even know which stuff I’d choose. My viola, probably, and then some craft stuff—maybe the new markers, my drawing pencils, sketchbooks and paper… and then all the homeschooling stuff, which right now involves a lot of books that I can’t get on a Kobo. Oh, and a guitar.

My prediction: I’ll dither about this for long enough that it’s too late to go, either because of new COVID restrictions or because it’s started getting sunny again.

What do you predict?