Camping it up · crafty · The COVID files

Day 470: Green Plums and Gel Pens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping it up · crafty · DIY

Day 468: Can I come too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.

crafty · Homeschool · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 410: Life Imitates Art Class

Having given up on making a proper pot or urn, I tried to extend our study of Ancient Greece in a different artistic direction: mosaic.

First off, a warning: a certain big-box craft store sells large jars of mosaic tiles. At least, they look large on the website… but they’re not. It’s a good thing I’ve hoarded so many craft supplies over the years.

Just like every art class, we had the dubious pleasure of watching R descend into perfectionistic madness, cry, storm off, and then come back and get to work. K worked seriously and enthused about this new art medium. E and I worked together (it’s the one with the elephants, in case you couldn’t guess.) N worked quickly and precisely to place all of his tiles; then he groaned and quit when I pointed out he had to actually stick them to the board, not just rest them there. I suggested that he use a sheet of adhesive plastic to keep the tiles in their arrangement, making it easy to move the tiles so that he could apply mastic to the board.

It’s interesting to see how their personalities are evident in their art (and in how they make it.) I suppose that’s why art (like music) is such a good therapeutic medium. I keep hoping I can use R’s art class experiences to teach her about working with what you have instead of crying about what you don’t. The message hasn’t gotten through yet, but surely after she experiences the same thing another dozen times there will be sufficient evidence to convince her, don’t you think? As for N, he always does what he’s asked to do, as efficiently as possible, and nothing more. I pray that one day he’ll see how much better his work is when he does more than just the bare minimum.

Maybe the kids will appreciate the parallel between mosaics and life. Some of them are made of uniform materials (all tile; all conventional milestones) while others are a hodgepodge of materials and found objects. Each could easily have just been a pile of junk, broken tiles, or stones, but they’re beautiful because someone took the time to arrange everything just so. Life doesn’t have to be just a bunch of stuff that happens; if we take a bit of time to really look at what we have (rather than what we don’t,) we can craft our lives into something truly beautiful.

crafty · DIY · Homeschool · Keepin' it real

Day 409: Success or Failure?

I’d like to thank you all for your input on yesterday’s rug dilemma. I’d like to thank you, but in reality Mr. December is thanking you… because the overwhelming majority chose the navy blue rug, which he likes. I prefer the bright colours of the other rug, and I feel like the busyness of the pattern would fade into the background after a while. The navy rug has a lot of this dusty rose colour and burnt orange, neither of which I’m fond of.

Oh, well. Back goes the pretty rug, and my green couch will remain completely unrelated to anything else in the room. I tried.

And for those of you who recognized the title of yesterday’s post, this nostalgic little video is for you. But it’s one heck of an earworm—don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Since the term began, we’ve been working on pottery in art class. My brilliant idea was for us to make replicas of Greek pottery including the meandros ornamentation and the images from Greek myths.

So far it’s been a flop. Literally. I’ve tried a few different things now, and every piece I’ve made has cracked or collapsed. So has N’s amphora, which for a while looked like a success.

But as N pointed out, maybe our pottery pieces are a success… as in, we’ve successfully recreated broken pieces of ancient pottery. Maybe we should just decorate them anyway, display them in a museum-style shadow box with numbered labels, and call it a win.

It used to be centred. Really. Then it flopped over, and now it’s just a flop.

community · crafty · Darn Tootin' · Fibro Flares · gardening · Homeschool

Day 396: Worth it.

Today was one of those full days that ends with a feeling of great satisfaction. Unfortunately, the fullness of the day has also left me with a feeling of significant pain; still, I feel like I made the right choices.

I can barely believe how much E has been practicing her flute. Anytime nobody else is in the library (which is also our music room,) she’s in there with her music on the stand and her flute at her lips. Her work really shows: she’s sounding better and better every day. Now I just have to teach her about eighth notes.

When I finally got my hands on the three older kids—which is getting to be later and later each day as Mr. December gets carried away with whatever he’s teaching them—I sat them down and assigned them some substantial writing, which they immediately started brainstorming for. Later we had art class, where we once again tried to make pottery in the style of Ancient Greece.

Last week I taught the kids the coil method for making a pot. This week I took a slab-building approach, using balloons as our moulds. It wasn’t particularly successful, and only N’s pot was still standing by the end of the hour. Mine looked beautiful, but I tried to smooth “just one more lump” and… POP. With the balloon gone, my whole pot collapsed in on itself.

Around 5:00 we all went to the park. I was there on a mission: the apricot trees in the community orchard are already in bloom, but tonight’s snow and freezing temperatures threatened to kill all the blossoms and any fruit they might bear this summer. An email went out this morning asking for volunteers to bring tarps, plastic bags, and tie-downs and help cover the trees. That’s why we found ourselves in the park, tying multiple tarps together and then raising them over the trees—like a giant chuppah—before tying them down. The best part was that, once again, my kids were doing useful work to benefit the community they live in. There’s no substitute for that experience.

After dinner we started watching Animal Farm (the 1954 animated film, not the 1999 live-action one.) The kids were riveted. Our next step will be a read-aloud of the book, as part of our literature studies.

And then it was bedtime. I could hardly believe that it was 8:30 already. Where did the day go? Oh, yeah… we did stuff today. Lots and lots of stuff.

I definitely overdid it today. And yet I did it knowingly; sometimes I need to feel normal and functional (especially if I’m not) more than I need to be pain-free. Besides, these past six (or seven?) weeks have taught me that resting won’t guarantee me a pain-free day anyhow, so I might as well do at least some of the things I enjoy.

Now… if anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bed with a heating pad and my banana popsicles for the next day or two.

Image description: three tarps are spread out on the ground, tied together with twist ties and zip ties. A child is squatting near the far corner of the tarp, tying it to a pole. Grass in background.
crafty · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 378: Intermission

I have been to many live performances—most of them when I was in high school and university—and only once did I take intermission as my opportunity to escape the theatre. In my defense, it was a Handel opera: those things were written to be performed at a party where people can move around and chat with each other, not in a theatre where everyone is watching the stage the entire time. There was only so much D.C. al Fine this vocal major could take.

My kids have never before seen a movie that has an intermission. I’d kind of forgotten those existed. But tonight we continued watching The Sound of Music and paused it when the scene faded to black and Intermission was scrawled across the screen in script.

This week has felt like an intermission of sorts, and not just because it’s a break between the last school term and the next. Just like at a real intermission at a theatre or opera house there’s not really much to do; everyone is just milling around, eating, drinking, and waiting to get back to the main attraction.

Anyhow, I’m gearing up for the next term of homeschooling by doing such practical things as daydreaming about owning a pottery wheel. I’d be happy to take the kids to the art studio down the street and pay to do our pottery there, but an hour and a half from now Ontario will have entered a new “lockdown” and studios and gyms will have no hope of opening anytime in the next month. If we want to do anything cool we’ll have to do it ourselves, right here at home, just like we have for over a year now. There’s truly nothing new under the sun.