Cambodia · crafty · DIY · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1064: Lotus

We were greeted at the Lotus Farm by Awen, the founder of Samatoa Lotus Textiles—a social enterprise that employs rural Cambodian women in making silk from the stalks of the lotus flower (the stalks are usually a waste product, as the flowers are harvested for religious use in Buddhist temples.) He sent us straight to the boat: a long, flat-bottomed thing with a motor whose propellor was at the end of a very long metal rudder (or so it seemed to me.) We took off across the water, through water-lilies and water hyacinth, but we quickly found our boat stuck in the mud.

At this point R began to panic. “Are we stuck? What if we’re stuck here forever?” she wrung her hands while the boat driver grabbed a long bamboo pole and started pushing our boat off the sandbar. Two things soon became clear: first, the water was only a foot or two deep, so we could have walked back if necessary; and second, that getting stuck was a frequent occurrence and our driver knew how to get us unstuck.

We were in a 20-acre… field? paddy? lake? marsh?… that was full of aquatic plants (also some water buffalo.) The boat driver and our guide helped us to pick the flowers, then showed us how to fold the lotus flower to display it in a bouquet—which they then proceeded to make for us. The girls were enchanted and we spent a lot of time on our floral designs. It was cooler than usual, there was a breeze, and it was so peaceful that I would have been happy to stay on that boat for another hour or two. Alas, we had other things to do; so we headed back to the main building to try our hand at some textile production.

We all learned how to pull apart the lotus stalks and lay the stringy fibres along a wooden plank, and then twist the fibres into a string. From there we expanded into making wicks (thicker than the string, and twisted when dry rather than wet.) Then we took the remaining stalks (i.e. the waste) and made paper.

While our paper dried, we were ushered upstairs to make bracelets from the dried lotus seeds (and to snack on the fresh ones, which have a very mild, sweet flavour and a crisp texture.) We were served lotus tea (the girls asked for seconds and we ended up buying a bag) and were then taught how to roll incense sticks.

Even R, who had been reluctant to go, had a fabulous time. Of course, the bubble tea we got on the way home might have had something to do with it.

DIY · family fun · Thailand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1055: Girl Meets Blowtorch

Since sharp knives went over so well at our fruit carving class, we decided to up the danger quotient and go for small blowtorches today.

An eight-year-old girl using a blowtorch to heat up a square of metal.

Yes, that’s my eight-year-old operating a blowtorch. All six of us took an all-day course in silversmithing; we used the blowtorches to heat up the silver before working with it as well as to solder jump rings to our pieces to turn them into jewellery. E had no difficulty with the blowtorch, nor with the hacksaw, files, and bench grinder. She made herself a cute pendant shaped like… can you guess?

Yes, she made an elephant.

Close-up of a silver elephant pendant.

Everyone loved the course. Even Mr. December, who doesn’t usually like hands-on crafty stuff, really got into it. Predictably, he made a rooster and embossed the back with B U K B U K. I made a pair of earrings, R made a pendant that looks like Saturn (the planet, not the Roman god,) N made a piano keyboard, and K made herself some cool ear cuffs. Definitely a day well spent.

In other news, we have a new favourite mode of transportation: the Tuktuk. Smaller than a car, it can zip in between other vehicles and get ahead of the traffic—and thanks to the lack of doors, all that zipping around makes for a very breezy, cool ride. Bargaining with the drivers is pretty fun, too, especially now that we’ve been here a week and I have a better sense of what a ride should cost. We took a tuktuk home from the mall today. The driver asked for 150 Baht, I balked and offered 100, and we settled on 120. I still feel like it should have been 100.

DIY · el cheapo · family fun · Keepin' it real

Day 975: It Does a Body Good

Here’s a riddle:

What strengthens muscles, exercises strategic thinking, and promotes camaraderie among siblings?

If you guessed “manual labour,” you’re right!

I did a stupid thing, but you’re going to need the backstory first, so here goes:

We had our driveway completely re-paved in the fall (it’s winter now, according to what I see out the window.) When the contractor was done, we were left with a ditch on either side (where they had dug out in order to finish the edges.) On top of that, the new driveway was higher in parts than the adjacent ground level. Basically, we’d just created a fall hazard. It’s ironic—making the driveway smooth and level was supposed to make it safer to walk on.

Anyhow, we had to do something about it. I want to pour a concrete walkway beside the driveway, but it’s pretty cold for concrete at this point so we might have to wait ’til spring. In the meantime, the best idea I could come up with was getting some dirt and building up the ground level where it was too low.

With Mr. December asking, “Exactly how are you planning to get this dirt?” in the background, I hopped on Kijiji and found myself some free clean fill. Using an online calculator, I figured that we’d need about 6 cubic yards of dirt for what we wanted to do.

I figured wrong. Mr. December looked at me and said, “Next time, please run your calculations by me first!”

Anyhow, we now had a giant pile of dirt on our driveway (thanks to the guy who delivered it for us) that needed to be moved and tamped down. We did what anyone else would have done: called on our Child Labour Force.™

It took them a while to understand that we were serious, but eventually the kids came outside and started shoveling, raking, and stamping on the dirt as we directed them to. We did maybe half the pile, which was enough for our purposes, and then called it a night.

Glowering, Mr. December asked, “How are we going to get rid of the rest of it?” (At least he said “we” and not “you”: even when he’s annoyed with me, we’re a team.)

Today we spent two hours out there. K figured out the best technique for loosening the dirt; N and Mr. December manned the shovels; R raked the dirt; and I ran the wheelbarrow (stolen from my parents’ house) back and forth to dump the remaining dirt in a semicircle near the street end of our property. (“We’ll make a berm and next spring we’ll plant wildflowers on it,” I told the kids confidently.)

It was probably the most exercise any of them has had since we came back from our vacation. It was hard work, but the kids all pulled together and made excellent progress. Another hour this weekend should be enough to clear the whole pile—that would bring us to 4 hours of extra manual labour because I can’t math.

There are a few lessons you could take from this story:

  1. This is why math education is so important.
  2. Always run your work by somebody else.
  3. Child labour is good for family cohesion.
  4. If your garage is missing a wheelbarrow, I’ve got it (thanks, Mum and Dad!)
  5. Mistakes happen: they’re easier to fix when everyone helps.

Tonight I hope to answer the question, “Will the kids fall asleep more quickly having done so much manual labour today?”

I’ll keep you posted.

DIY · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 961: Meringues

R wanted meringues today. It was prompted by her dentist appointment—the dental office is right next to a very good French bakery—and I hoped the urge would pass, but it didn’t. She monologued all the way home, saying “meringue” every other word.

“If you really want meringues,” I finally said, “make yourself some.”

Four egg whites, a cup of sugar, some drops of extract (lemon or almond,) and a drop of food colouring later, R proudly arranged her meringues in rainbow order and plunked the platter down on the table in triumph. They were gone in under five minutes.

At least there’s photographic evidence…

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY

Day 950: Good News/Bad News

Good: I was fully functional today, with some lingering muscle soreness that was more fatigue than fibro.

Bad: I didn’t sleep well—I woke up at 3:30 a.m. when my allergy symptoms started up, and after taking some meds I stayed up for another hour until I could breathe again.

Good: Our minivan is once again protected by my patented anti-theft system…

Bad: …because it now has dents and scratches along the passenger side.

Good: Mr. December once dented our car even worse than this, so there are no recriminations here.

Bad: We just spent $3000 to repaint the car last March, and now I have to repair the darned thing.

Good: I get to learn how to repair dents and scratches in the comfort of my own driveway.

Good: My driveway *is* nice and comfortable now that it’s been freshly paved.

Good: Scratching up the car made for an easy blog post.

Good: This list contains more good than bad…

Good: …and so does my life.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · water you paddling?

Day 949: Weekend Warrior

It was sunny and warm again today, with not a single cloud in the sky. Perfect for working outdoors, I though, and I’d planned to install kayak storage hooks in the garage and then take down the sukkah.

I got about halfway on the storage hooks (after making a stupid mistake that ruined several plastic plugs and screws before I corrected it) before Mr. December reminded me that we were supposed to go pick up some lost and found items that the camp staff had brought back into the city. (They actually checked for labels and emailed us that they had our stuff! The system works!)

The pickup location wasn’t too far from home, and given the beautiful weather and the fact that a major road nearby was closed (thus diverting all the traffic to small local roads in our neighbourhood) I decided that it made sense to bike there. Six kilometres later, I was back home with a small bag of R’s clothing and some seriously aching muscles.

And then I seized the day: I went kayaking with Mum. I took it easy (relatively speaking) and did a shorter, easier route than yesterday. It was absolutely glorious. It was also exhausting.

Now here I am, aching all over, my fingers stiff from the drilling this morning and the paddling this afternoon. I’ll take some Advil before I go to bed, and I certainly hope I wake up feeling okay tomorrow; but if I don’t, if this weekend’s activity throws me into a flare, I still can’t regret it.

DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 940: Our Sukkah Through the Years

I love sukkot. We bought our first sukkah the year we moved into our house, and for a few years it changed location annually. I think our current location—off the back stair landing, beside the fence, is a keeper. Still, the decorations change from year to year. Here’s a look back at our sukkah, from today all the way back to 2012.


After the kids slacked off on decorations, I went out and decorated the sukkah a bit myself. I made a hanging decoration out of a tree branch, some decorative wire, and leaf-shaped foil confetti from the dollar store. I also fixed our fabric bunting and hung it up.


The kids decorated last year with painted CDs and lots of fairy lights, along with our customary homemade batik banners. Very pretty, especially at night with the lights sparkling off the CDs.


This is the only picture I have from our 2020 sukkah: movie night, with the movie projected on the sukkah walls. The sukkah was in a new location that year, attached to both the house and the fence—much safer from the wind.


Our first sukkah after the renovation! I hacked the frame together from the storage tent we used for salvaged items while we were renovating. I like those dangling curly decorations. Also of note: this sukkah was right outside our living room, which meant that we could cover the roof with greenery from the living room window instead of having to go up on a ladder.


This was pre-renovation, and the first year I built our sukkah on the front porch. We had some pretty decorations and a bamboo mat for the roof. It was small, but we could fit the five of us and three or four guests inside for a meal. It was nice having to walk through the sukkah to get into the house. I miss this one.

better homes than yours · DIY · Renovation

Day 915: Layers

“Know what else has layers? Parfaits! You ever meet someone, you say, “Let’s go get some parfaits,” they say, ‘No, I don’t like no parfaits’?” -Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Shrek

Donkey wasn’t wrong about parfaits, but you know what else had layers that nobody even knew were there?

Our driveway.

The paving contractors came today to dig up our driveway and lay down the gravel base for the new pavement. It took eight men (at least), two dump trucks, and three pieces of heavy equipment (diggers and a roller) six hours to get the job done. Why so long?

Well, there were two different layers of asphalt and an entire concrete driveway under there (“Guess that’s why the driveway wasn’t in really awful shape,” Mr. December mused.) Also hidden among the layers of pavement were two municipal water shut-off valves—both of which are obsolete (the current shutoff valve is in the middle of the front lawn.)

“We didn’t wanna pave over these without asking you first,” the foreman said. “I dunno, maybe this one is for your neighbours’ house or something?”

“Well, obviously nobody has needed it for the last thirty years, since it was under the asphalt. I’d say it’s safe to pave over again,” I reasoned.

I regret to tell you that I didn’t take any photos of how deep they had to dig to get down to bare earth. I should have—it was pretty impressive. The kids were impressed when they saw the giant hole, though.

Now we’ve got three weeks of parking on gravel before they come back and lay the asphalt. And then it’s time for a family DIY project… stay tuned!

ADHD · DIY · Getting Organized · goodbye clutter! · Keepin' it real

Day 896: Minor Improvements

I’m feeling a bit better today—better enough to have started decluttering a few of our homeschool materials cupboards, but not better enough to finish the job. So, as with most of my decluttering efforts these days, the room looks worse now than it did when I started. Hopefully I’ll have the energy for that last ten percent of the job tomorrow.

But I’ve recently (last week or the week before) managed a couple of very small projects that have been significant upgrades to our space. I was looking specifically for things that would take less than twenty minutes to do (so that I couldn’t get half-done and leave a mess) and found myself two problem areas in the kitchen.

Problem area #1: Meds in the drinkware cupboard

Three of the six of us in this house take prescription medications regularly. Two of those three have multiple daily meds. I started keeping mine in the cupboard above the little sink, and soon all the medications had converged on that one square foot of shelf space. There were two problems with this: first, that there wasn’t quite enough space for all the glasses and mugs we had; and second—and much more importantly—our meds were just sitting there for anyone to see (and take) when they opened the cabinet to get a glass.

Now, I know my kids, and I know they can be trusted not to take any medications without talking to me first; but my kids have friends, and I don’t know those kids quite so well. As they get older—and taller, thus able to reach this cupboard—I start to worry about teens who want to use drugs for off-label purposes (ADHD drugs are particularly likely to be abused.) It’s just not appropriate to have all those pill bottles in plain sight.

I found my solution with a minimal amount of searching, and when the package arrived, it took me under five minutes to install. Now we have two of these lovely pull-and-tilt organizers, and the shelf space belongs to my cups again.

Problem #2: Water bottles everywhere

We’re drowning in water bottles over here. We’ve each got a collapsible silicone water bottle; we have a couple of promotional bottles the kids won’t let go of; and there are a few tall insulated travel mugs as well. They’ve never had a proper home, so they usually congregate on the drying rack at the kids’ sink, like this:

A bunch of water bottles and travel mugs cluttering up the countertop.

I thought about it for a while and decided to use a wine rack to hold this random mess of bottles. I ordered two wall-mounted wine holders and screwed them into one of the dividers in the kitchen hutch, right next to our coffee machine (it took about twenty seconds to do.) I like this solution so much that I’ll probably buy one or two more and mount them on the underside of the counter, just to the left of the ones you see here:

close-up of wine racks mounted in a kitchen cabinet, used to hold water bottles.

I’m pretty pleased with these two improvements, and far happier than I am with the outcome of this afternoon’s declutter. But I’ll take my victories where I can get them—with minor improvements like these—and keep on fighting the good fight on all those larger, multi-day projects I know I have to do.

DIY · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 881: Oh, hot damn! This is my jam!

You’ll forgive me the corny title today—I’ve had that line stuck in my head for hours, and the kids certainly don’t want to hear me sing it. (Thanks for being here for me when I have an earworm, dear readers.)

E filling a jar with jam.

I’m not sure there’s much to say: in the end, I’ve made six and a half litres of plum jam. I’m still processing them (there are four in the canning bath right now,) but it’s all been decanted into jars. There’s a half-jar, which I suspect won’t process properly (from what I read, you have to leave the specified amount of headroom at the top of the jar, and no more,) so it’s pancakes with plum jam for breakfast tomorrow.

E asked if she could help me; her hands were too small to use the jar lifter effectively, so I had her fill the jars for me. It was 3000% messier than it would have been had I done the filling, but she was so excited that I bit my tongue and watched her work. I can clean it up later.

(Come to think of it, she probably spilled the equivalent of half a jar of jam, which would account for the leftover half a jar. Ah, well. She’s gotta learn sometime, and learning is messy.)