crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Jewy goodness · The COVID files

Day 301: Mikdash Me’at (a little temple)

Jewish tradition says that ever since the Beit Hamikdash (main temple in Jerusalem) was destroyed, each Jewish home is a Mikdash Me’at (little temple.) I usually take that to mean that all the small Jewish rituals we do in our homes—Chanukah candles, Kiddush for Shabbat, Havdallah, even thanking God after meals—make our homes a place for spiritual connection with the divine. But today I got a bit more literal with the whole “little temple” thing: I turned my living room into a chapel of sorts for K’s bat mitzvah.

I feel like this should be a tutorial. I could show you how to make a Torah-reading table out of an IKEA desk, some leftover moulding scraps, a spare drawer box, and some Masonite. You have all of those things at home, don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?


Does that mean you also don’t have seven metres of sheer drapery fabric sitting around? Because that would be really useful to hide the computers and messy cubbies from the webcam.

Nevermind, then.

Image description: white plastic envelopes, each sealed with a duck-shaped sticker.

K and I prepared little packages for some of our more local friends and family, containing the siddur (prayer book) I’ve compiled for the event as well as some soft candies to throw at the bat mitzvah girl. We sealed them with the logo stickers I designed (rubber ducky silhouette wearing a blue kippah and a blue mask,) and spent two hours driving around to deliver them in person, before the stay-at-home order comes into effect at midnight tonight. We didn’t get to a few people, but they’re the ones who live close enough that we can go for a walk and just drop the package into their mailbox, so we can do it tomorrow or Friday (I’m pretty sure a stay-at-home order still allows us to go for a walk.)

Below are some pics of our reading table uncovered, N playing on the computer behind the drapes we put up (using a tension rod) to hide all the clutter, and K reading during our Zoom rehearsal (note the computer sitting on a stack of game boxes.) There’s plenty I could tell you about our rehearsal, but I’ll just say that it was much needed. And now I’m off to relax a bit before my bed beckons any louder.

birthing babies · crafty · DIY · Kids

Day 292: Six!

Six years ago today, my kids went out for Chinese food with my parents. One of them cracked open a fortune cookie and read the fortune: “A new friend shall soon be made.” They didn’t know it then, but around the same time and a few kilometres away, E was born.

And we’ve all doted on her ever since. All of my babies were cute, but E was breathtakingly so—and still is, much of the time. Today she’s vivacious, friendly, clever, and stubborn. She is the self-appointed “shnuggle monster” of the family and makes sure that I get my “shnuggle” as soon as I wake up every morning.

She’s my last baby, and she is undeniably no longer a baby. A couple of weeks ago I asked her to go through her stuff and get rid of things she doesn’t use or play with anymore. An hour later she proudly announced that she was done; when I went up to survey the results, I saw all the Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig toys in the “give away” pile. She adored them, played with them every day, took them in the bath with her… and now she’s done with them. The Paw Patrol stuff has already gone to an appreciative friend, and Peppa Pig is still looking for a new home.

These days, she’s into playing dolls with R, who now has a whole family of MapleLea and American Girl dolls. R decided to give E one of her dolls as a birthday gift, which I thought was very sweet of her. E decided that her new doll will live in the big dollhouse with all the others.

I should have thought about a gift for E weeks ago, but my usual knee-jerk reaction kicked in (“I gave her life! Do I have to give her a present, too?”) and I did nothing until this morning, when I kicked into high gear, doing what I do best: I went down to the makery and made E some food for her dolls. All I can say is thank God for the internet, because I googled “DIY American Girl Doll Food” and found a website that had a ton of printable food packaging scaled for dolls. I ended up making her two boxes of cereal, a box of mac & cheese, a can of Pringles, a box of individually-wrapped granola bars, and a pack of Oreos with some cookies inside. E was thrilled.

So here’s to my six-year-old E, who loves elephants, chickens, dolls, and her family. Life with her is always interesting, usually joyful, and full of unspeakable cuteness. Happy Birthday!

crafty · quilty pleasures

Day 279: In Progress

A downside to being a creative type with ADHD is that I always have dozens of unfinished projects sitting around. As of today I have two unfinished quilts, five woodworking projects that I started but never finished, a song parody I was supposed to plan a video for, two sewing projects, and assorted things to fix and mend.

Yesterday I started thinking seriously about a quilt for N. I made one for K when she got her first big-kid bed; I promised myself that I would make a quilt for each of my children as they hit that milestone. Seven years later, K is still the only one with an Eema-made quilt. So I began planning a quilt for N and quickly ran into a problem: my design wall was full.

The design wall sounds fancier than it is: it’s a large piece of white quilt batting that hangs on the wall. Quilting cotton sticks right to it without the need for pins, which makes it the perfect place to store finished quilt blocks and to arrange them before I sew them all together.

As I was saying, the design wall was covered with a quilt top I began before our renovation. You’ve seen it in the photo tour of the Makery. I suppose I could have folded it and put it away again, but I really wanted to finish something. I figured I could complete the quilt in a few hours, tops.

So that’s what I’ve been working on when I’m not homeschooling. K helped me spray-baste the layers together, and then I spent an hour last night laying out the quilting lines with masking tape. It took me about an hour this afternoon to sew all those lines—if you don’t include the half-hour when I was unthreading and rethreading the machine and frantically googling “bobbin thread keeps jamming.” Worry not, I changed the needle and reversed the bobbin direction, and it didn’t jam again.

I know I put away fabric for the quilt binding, so tomorrow I’ll go hunting for it and start the binding process. I’m very excited to actually finish a quilt. It’s been a long time since the last time that happened: I finished the last quilt when my niece was born. She turned five last month.

Here’s a sneak peek at the quilt, sans binding:

Image description: a quilt, with fabric strips arranged in a rainbow gradient. The bottom left corner of the quilt is folded to show the backing, which is bright pink minky fabric. The diamond quilting is visible on both front and back.

You know the saying, “A change is as good as a rest”? Quilting is very focus-intensive work, but it’s totally different from everything else I’ve been doing lately. Going back to an old hobby, and still enjoying it, is a really great feeling. Especially when it helps me clear my design wall.

crafty · DIY · Jewy goodness

Day 267: Renewed Menorah

For our wedding, Mr. December and I received five menorahs among our gifts. At the time we joked we’d just have to have one child per menorah, and then each kid could inherit one. We didn’t count on breakage and loss.

Our colourful glass menorah got knocked off the mantle somehow and shattered. Our large menorah that came apart and went together like a puzzle went missing in action (maybe during our renovation?) and hasn’t been seen since.

Our metal menorah from our Israeli cousins had an accident years ago: the window was wide open, and a gust of wind blew in, caught a picture frame that was angled just right and blew it forward, which knocked the menorah down. Part of it snapped off and couldn’t easily be glued back on. I couldn’t throw it out, though, so I relegated it to a corner of my workshop for broken things that might one day be mended.

There it sat for years. I packed, stored, and unpacked it when we renovated. I had no idea how I was going to fix it (solder, maybe?) but I never gave up on the idea that I would. In the meantime, we still had a menorah that I got as a bat mitzvah gift. It’s beautiful, shaped like a dove with the candles sitting along the wings. It’s also a gift from family friends who are close enough to us that I grew up knowing them as Auntie and Uncle (and they read this blog. I’m just not sure if they want to be named here. But… hi Auntie and Uncle! Love you!)

This morning I was setting out our menorahs and candles, and generally trying to make our front windowsill look festive, when I remembered the menorah from my cousins. I went downstairs and contemplated it. I tried fixing it with hot glue, then krazy glue, then carpenter’s glue, all to no avail. The top of the tree had snapped off and nothing could keep it on. I left it on my workbench and started to tidy the kids’ art desk. And then…

I picked up a spool of gold craft wire and suddenly remembered the beautiful serving pieces we once had that were wrapped with wire and adorned with beautiful beads. Could I use the gold wire to wrap the menorah? Would that keep the treetop in place? Would it look good?

I could, I did, it did, and yes, it looked good. For the sake of symmetry—and to make it look intentional—I wrapped the trunks of both trees with gold wire. It looks very pretty, like it was meant to be that way, and it solved the problem.

Tonight we were able to light that menorah for the first time in eight years. I never thought I was this sentimental, but using it made me feel a bit closer to my Israeli cousins (who I haven’t seen in person since 2008.)

Look, I didn’t exactly restore an entire desecrated temple like the Maccabees did two millennia ago, but there was still something very special about taking something that was broken and useless, keeping it despite its brokenness, and finally being able to renew it and use it again. Especially on Chanukah.

Chag Sameach! Happy Chanukah!

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

Day 265: Art Class

I gave up on school around 1:30 today. The kids had already done math, physics, and writing, and they were fed up. I was fed up. The sun was shining. Clearly, it was time to end school and chase everyone out of the house.

But half of our lessons didn’t get done, and I’d be damned if the kids got out of school stuff because they were acting all whiny at lunchtime. That’s how I ended up announcing that school hours were starting again after dinner so we could do art and social studies.

Art class is a rather recent addition to our homeschool; I found a curriculum that’s very well organized and comes complete with supply lists and recommended videos for each lesson. We began with Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance, did Michelangelo’s ceilings of the Sistine Chapel, and this week learned all about Bernini and Baroque sculpture. Even if the kids are learning nothing in homeschool, I’m getting a heck of an education.

After learning about Baroque sculpture, I broke out a 10-pack of Ivory soap bars and some carving tools. We all set to work on creating our own sculptures. In the process we learned some Very Important Things about carving soap:

  1. It breaks. A lot.
  2. The size of Ivory bars really limits what you can create.
  3. There will be soap shavings EVERYWHERE.
  4. It gets soap all over everybody’s hands—which is a boon when certain kids just “forget” to wash all the time.
  5. It’s very easy to clean up.

It was pretty quiet while we worked. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine art class with music appreciation: we listened to Holst’s The Planets (chosen because of N’s current interest in Greek and Roman mythology) and, to my surprise, the kids loved it and wanted to hear more.

Bedtime snack followed art; R made herself and E a smoothie, N ate cereal, and I read aloud to them from a novel about the Acadian expulsion (for our Nova Scotia history unit.) K stayed downstairs for an extra hour and continued working on her sculpture—it’s a fairly complex design that involved hollowing out the soap and then carving an intricate tangle of tree branches on the outside. I think she’s still not quite done.

Hey, notice how K is wearing a toque inside? It was supposed to be mine, but it somehow ended up on her head. She wears it all the time, even inside, and with her earbuds in, her toque on, and her hands in the pockets of her hoodie, she looks like a stereotypical teenager. Acts like one, too, with or without the toque and earbuds. And in less than a month, she’ll actually be a teenager—how on earth did that happen?

crafty · DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us

Day 259: Always with the Dreidels

If I asked my non-Jewish friends to name one Chanukah song, they’d probably start singing “I have a little dreidel,” which makes me crazy because there are many beautiful Chanukah songs—and the dreidel song is NOT one of them. Alas, the dreidel song remains popular.

If you google Chanukah decorations, you’ll get a few menorahs and a whole lotta dreidels.

Given my knowledge and appreciation of the holiday, I would’ve predicted that my homemade Chanukah decorations would feature some lesser-used Chanukah motifs, like oil jugs or doughnuts, and yet dreidels are my go-to. I wasn’t even paying attention to it until I sat up here at my desk and noticed the view of my new garland:

Sigh. All dreidels. At least I didn’t restrict myself to blues and silvers. Today I made the mistake of telling Mr. December that I had a few small Chanukah surprises for the kids, including Jelly Belly jellybeans in Chanukah colours. He jumped on that one right away.

“Chanukah colours? Did I miss some rabbinic declaration? Or is that laid out in the Torah somewhere?”

I mean, of course it’s not in the Torah. Chanukah itself isn’t in the Torah. But somewhere along the line, blue and silver became the unofficial colours of Chanukah as surely as Christmas is all about the red, green, and gold.

This could turn into a much longer post in which I agonize over the same old “December Dilemma”: where is the line between Chanukah decorations that are festive and appropriate, and those that are just aping Christmas (which is kind of ironic when you’re talking about a holiday that celebrates us resisting assimilation?) But there’s nothing new about this discussion, even as it rages over my own dinner table.

You see, I couldn’t resist the idea of things that are pretty and shiny, so now I have one hundred silver and metallic blue dreidels to use. I also happen to have a jar of craft jewels in shades of blue and turquoise. The result of a little crafting in the basement was a bejeweled (be-dreideled?) placard on which I plan to write Happy Chanukah or maybe חג שמח. Mr. December took one look at it and declared it too “non-Jewish” looking (fine, he used the G word, which is considered offensive these days.) Of course he followed that with, “It’s very pretty. You did a great job. It’s just kind of Christmassy.”

But back to the dreidels. Why are they so popular as decorations? I’m not an authority of any kind, but from my perspective it’s this simple: they’re easy to make. All straight lines, a combination of a simple square, an equilateral triangle, and a tiny rectangle. When you need to churn out decorations in a jiffy, the dreidel is as easy—and as lazy—as it gets.

So I pushed myself to get un-lazy. I found a few different shapes I liked, traced them, and turned the page into a jpeg to post here. Think of it as my Chanukah gift to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with 91 dreidels and a glue gun.

crafty · education · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Montessori

Day 257: All Astonishment

I’ve changed my approach to scheduling our week: instead of doing a little bit of everything each day, I’m doing lessons in large blocks of time. Today’s major block was literature and language arts. Our start was delayed by Mr. December’s very drawn-out physics lesson (but really, how can I complain about that?) so we didn’t really get started until after lunch.

Instead of K going off on her own to do her work on a computer, I kept her in the living room with the rest of us and insisted that she handwrite her work today. She did a pretty good job, and I heard not a single complaint about people talking (one of her pet peeves, and often a precursor to a meltdown.) While R and N worked on their passage I invited E to fill in the blanks in the first sentence; after some mild resistance she checked the spelling on the page and then gave me the appropriate movable alphabet letters to add the missing words. In the end it looked like this:

The opening line of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.

We all reconvened to discuss the linguistic and literary element of the book’s introduction. The kids found the non-English words in the first paragraph and were highly amused to hear James D. Nicoll’s assertion that “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.” They pulled out all the adjectives, and then had to brainstorm adjectives for each letter of the alphabet (I gave them “xenophobic” for X and they came up with the rest.)

Through all of this, E played with her Lego and listened with one ear; K alternately participated in N and R’s lesson and worked on her own literature passage. Nobody screamed. Everyone was fine. It was so refreshing.

After a short break, I brought out our Hannuka Chanukah חנוכה box and asked them to tell me what they know about the story of the holiday. K volunteered a fairly complete, if simplified, version. I asked them what they knew about what was happening in the world at the time: they responded with blank stares. So I read them a chapter about the historical context of Chanukah, pausing to reword or explain as needed. By the end they were, as Jane Austen might have said, all astonishment.

“How come they never taught us that stuff in school?” K demanded indignantly. “That’s way more interesting than the usual story!”

Wide eyed, R asked, “You mean there were Jews who wanted the Jewish laws abolished too? That’s crazy! I thought the Maccabees were only fighting the Syrian Greeks!”

N had many things to say on the subject, but (as so often happens) he rambled so much that I lost his point.

To end the lesson I asked the kids to help me put Chanuka on our history timeline. E decorated it with a shiny Menorah sticker and I wrote the caption—although I probably should have had the kids do it. Sometimes I get a bit too excited about this stuff and just do it myself.

After that the kids ransacked the Hannukah box for decorations and went to put up all the window clings they could find. Of course, there are never enough decorations, so we wound up in the Makery creating more. I put on our favourite album of Chanuka music and everyone did their own thing. I made a dreidel garland, K and N made window clings out of hot glue, and R folded teeny-tiny origami dreidels. E worked in mixed media and finished this sign:

That was the end of our school day, although I did read them another chapter and a half of The Birchbark House for literature. I went back to the Makery after dinner and started painting my drawing from last week’s art class (I’ll show you when it’s done.)

It was a good day, a full day, and a lot of learning happened. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, when I’ll introduce them to this month’s writing project and teach them about Michelangelo before we attempt to paint on plaster.

crafty · DIY · education · Homeschool · Independence · Montessori · parenting

Day 244: Obvious

Even experienced parents sometimes forget the basics.

Last Thursday I had a meeting with E’s Montessori teachers. “It’s really hard to get her to do anything,” I griped. “I find myself threatening loss of screen time, but I know that’s not the Montessori approach.”

The teacher nodded sagely and suggested a visual schedule so that E could choose the order of activities and keep track of them herself. You know, kind of like the magnet boards I made the other kids.

You might have heard me slap my head and groan. Of course. This is, like, parenting 101. How did I forget?

So this morning I made her some schedule cards based on the assignments her teachers suggested for the week. I don’t have an extra magnet board, so I put elastics through a hole in the top of each card and wrapped them, luggage-tag-style, around the bannister railing on the main floor.

Did it work?

Sort of. She did the first three things eagerly enough, even snack prep. I found that amazing, given that she’s always been able to make her own snack, but almost never did it before the schedule board told her to. It’s almost like magic!

She very happily brushed glue along the lines of cursive letters and then sprinkled them with sand, making her own sandpaper letters. She dove into the stencilling work I’d prepared for her, holding her pencil and the stencil carefully. And she made her own strawberries and toast with cream cheese for snack, all by herself.

To think, she could have been doing far more these past five weeks if only I’d remembered the power of this kind of list. D’oh. At least I finally got my act together.

crafty · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 238: Illuminating

I’m highly amused. Right now, N is jumping on the trampoline while reading on the Kobo. I should probably stop him for safety reasons (or at least for the safety of the trampoline) but instead I’m watching from my desk and reflecting on how perfectly it sums him up.

Today was yet another day of shorts weather in November. We did the bulk of homeschool outside today. Around eleven I packed everyone up and went to the park for a change of scenery, and then delivered an awesome lesson (if I do say so myself.)

In honour of Remembrance Day (which is tomorrow) tonight’s Poetry Teatime will feature poems about war, mostly WWI. I decided to introduce the kids to the reason we wear poppies on Remembrance Day: John McCrae’s iconic poem In Flanders Fields.

I don’t have a copy of the poem in any of my books, so I turned to the internet. Appallingly, there are actual published posters and prints for sale that are simply not what McCrae wrote—the punctuation is wrong! I won’t rant too much about it here, but you cannot just replace a semicolon with a colon: they impart two entirely different meanings.

So the first lesson, as we sat at a picnic table in the park, was about punctuation. We reviewed why the poet chose to use semicolons and colons (he does use both) where he did, and how the meaning might change if the punctuation was altered. We also talked about how the lines of each stanza rhyme, and yet if you read it so that you pause after each rhyming word, you’ll have cut off the end of the thought (another reason why the punctuation matters so much.)

Then, a very little bit of botany: we learned that poppies are very hardy plants that thrive on neglect. Apparently their seeds can lie dormant in the ground for a long time, and they grew in the battlefields because all the heavy shelling churned up the earth, giving the poppy seeds the soil conditions they needed.

(Brief digression: is that why Kalaniyot, red anemones, grow in such great numbers in the minefields of the Golan Heights?)

Next I introduced the kids to Illuminated manuscripts. We divided up In Flanders Fields so that each child would illuminate one stanza of the poem, thus doing both art and handwriting practice, and giving the kids a chance to spend enough time with the poem to commit it to memory.

We stayed in the park for two hours; most of that time was spent working, although the kids were allowed to take breaks to play in the playground whenever they wanted. When I announced that it was time to leave, there were groans and complaints all around.

The artwork we did today will make a beautiful decoration for tonight’s Poetry Teatime. Here are our manuscripts, in order of artist’s age, from left to right.

crafty · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · whine and cheese

Day 237: Night School

Remember when I told you that we were gradually blurring the lines between school hours and the rest of life? I’m about to do something that might be very foolhardy: schoolwork in the evening.

Three weeks ago I would have insisted on finishing our schoolwork by 3 p.m. But today, which was sunny and almost warm enough to wear shorts, I couldn’t bear to bring them back inside. It may be warmer than the usual November, but the sun still sets around 5 p.m.—daylight hours are precious. Why waste them on schoolwork?

So now that it’s dark and we’ve finished dinner, I have an agenda to get through.

The kids know about the first thing: it’s a party to celebrate finishing our first novel study (Charlotte’s Web.) Actually, “party” might be a generous term here. I bought Cracker Jack (one of Fern’s favourite treats at the county fair) and we’ll be having a web-making contest. I plan to give each kid a ball of yarn and let them make their own webs with words in them.

Then I plan to cover some history in anticipation of Remembrance Day. I’m thinking the Oversimplified video on WWI would go over well.

Finally, I’ll get everyone ready for bed and then corral them in E’s room, where we’ll read more of our current novel—The One and Only Ivan—together before bedtime.

Post-Bedtime Update:

I didn’t expect the kids to get as into the web building as they did. I thought it would be a fifteen-minute activity, a tiny bit of fun before moving on to our history videos.

Boy, was I wrong. K and R created this epic web on the staircase and insisted that we time each kid climbing through it like an obstacle course. N’s rather elaborate web used the two hammock chairs as well as some dining room furniture. E and I worked as a team. We were the only ones who actually followed instructions; our web had a word in it. It was E’s idea to write “stuck” in our web, as in, “If you fly into our web, you’ll be stuck!”

A good time was had by all, right up until I saw K freeze on the landing, like she was looking at something in horror. She was holding one of my houseplants by the stem, its roots dangling helplessly. Apparently the girls’ web had disturbed the large container of water holding that plant, and the water had spilled everywhere.

“Why are you just looking at it?” I asked, exasperated. “Go get some towels and soak it up!” K ran to get towels and passed them to R, who did the cleanup.

Of course, when I went upstairs to tuck everyone in, I noticed a huge puddle under my desk chair. And the chair was hard to move—were the foam pads under it wet?

I’m ashamed to say, I kind of lost it.

“WHAT THE HECK, YOU GUYS?!?!?” I hollered, “You can’t just mop up what you see and pretend that water doesn’t flow along the entire floor!!! And you got my papers wet! URGH! And my plant now has no water! You know what? We’re never doing ANYTHING fun again, EVER! Now GO TO BED!”

They scattered like cockroaches when the lights go on. K must have taken my rant to heart, because she came back, sidled up to me, and silently gave me a big hug.

After a minute she spoke. “I’m really sorry, Eema,” she said. “We should have cleaned it up better. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I sighed, “I was just exasperated. These things happen, and no permanent damage was done. You can keep hugging me, though.”

She did.

Then I picked up the towels and went upstairs. I read the kids a few chapters of The One and Only Ivan and then tucked them in.

In the end, we got two out of three school things done tonight, and the third will keep. I’m pretty sure World War I will still be the same tomorrow.