ADHD · better homes than yours · DIY

Day 667: Small Improvements

I’m in a weird place today, mentally speaking. I can think of about six things I want to do to improve the house, but I can’t do any of them to completion. I started decluttering the extra table in our living room and then stopped because too much of it depended on other people’s participation. I decided my workbench could use some tidying, but that was too daunting so I left it for another day.

You know that ADHD song I posted a link to a while ago? The whole thing was pretty descriptive of me, but the best part was this:
Imagine the human brain as a gigantic mixing board
Most people can use these sliders to move in and out of chores
A little of this and that and like that all the chores are gone
My brain doesn’t work like that, man—my brain just goes OFF and ON.

And oh, man, is it ever true. People who say things like, “Your kid doesn’t have ADHD, he can pay attention just fine when it’s something he wants to do” are missing this crucial piece of information: for some of us, attention is all-or-nothing. So is motivation.

I consider it a victory if I can manage to finish a project within a week or two of having started it. Today’s victory is that I finally hung the wall-mounted self-watering plant pots with all the baby spider plants in them.

I can already see that maybe I should have picked a different kind of plant for at least some of the containers—something trailing would be nice here—but the spider plants were here and handy, and one plant separated into so many little ones, and I felt bad throwing out the extras. So I planted them all.

“I love it!” I enthused to Mr. December. “It’s so colourful! Should I buy more of those pots and put them all over the wall?”

(Because right now, as far as this project is concerned, my brain is ON.)

“Why don’t we wait and see how these hold up,” he suggested, “and then we can buy more.”

“Right.” I say (and try to convince my brain to turn OFF for this project.)

Hey, it’s small improvements. Maybe by next week I’ll have decluttered the table.

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.

DIY · have you bento my house for lunch? · Keepin' it real

Day 651: I’m not going to make it

…to midnight. There’s no way I can make it to midnight tonight. It’s 9:20 p.m. and I’m already longing for my pillow.

My kids, on the other hand, are gearing up to stay awake into 2022. They’re planning to make frozen lemonade, popcorn, mug blondies, and s’mores. Is that a good idea? Not necessarily, but I told them they can only do it if they clean the kitchen and load the dishwasher first; it was a means to an end.

So I can’t make it to midnight, but I can make my kids clean the kitchen.

Know what else I can make? Heart-shaped hard-boiled eggs, or “heart-boiled eggs” for short. I used a rice mould that came with my sushi-making set, put the egg in while it was still warm, and–voilĂ !–heart-shaped egg. Preliminary observations show that egg consumption went up 300% when I left some heart-boiled eggs out on a plate. Who doesn’t love cute food?

Image description: a clear plastic heart-shaped cup and its lid, along with two hard-boiled eggs that have been squished into a heart shape.

I also finished turning our scruffy storage ottoman into a puzzle table. I haven’t gotten around to reupholstering it yet, so it looks really cool on the inside and beat up on the outside.

In the above images, from left to right, you can see the ottoman when it’s closed; the puzzle board inside that’s revealed when the top of the ottoman is removed; and the games and puzzles that are stored below the puzzle board.

I was on the fence about what fabric to upholster it with until Mr. December handed me a torn pair of jeans to dispose of. Now the plan is to cover the ottoman in upcycled denim.

But first, the plan is to go to bed. See you in 2022.

ADHD · crafty · DIY · lists · Resorting to Violins · The COVID files

Day 648: Hyperfocus Hurts

I just went and practiced viola for maybe fifteen minutes. As practice goes, that’s extremely short—but I had to stop because of the pain in my left arm.

I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep practicing. It’s a classic case of ADHD hyperfocus: once I start something that I love, it’s very hard to stop. Yesterday I finally tore myself away from the instrument after forty-five minutes. Better quit while I’m not in pain, I thought to myself, but I caught myself inching towards the instrument cabinet several times again last night.

I guess yesterday’s practice session set me up for pain today, because ten minutes into today’s practice, my arm was starting to ache. It took me five full minutes to accept that maybe today wasn’t the day for another long practice session, however much I wanted it to be.


Know what’s as much fun as online shopping? Online browsing the library catalogue.

Seriously. Clicking “place hold” is even better than clicking “buy,” because it’s not costing me anything and I can click to my heart’s content. There might be a limit to the number of books I can put on hold at one time, but so far I’m up to thirty-one. Libraries are awesome—especially now that they’ve stopped charging fines for late returns. It’s supposed to be a temporary measure until COVID calms down, but I’m hoping Toronto follows the examples of Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Diego and just ditches fines permanently.


I’ve had ideas popping into my head all day about small projects I want to tackle. I should be listing them on my Trello page, but I’m too lazy to click over there, so I’m sharing it with you here instead:

  • Reupholster the storage ottoman in the living room (the faux leather is peeling.)
  • While we’re on the ottoman, install a puzzle shelf a few inches inside it, just a few inches below the top, so we have a place to leave puzzles that are in progress.
  • Organize a puzzle swap among my friends so that we can all have some new puzzles to work on.
  • Order the labels for the library.
  • Make the giant letters spelling out “Makery” for the makery wall. Right now the wall says, “welcome to the…” and whenever I see it I start humming “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away.
  • Work on N’s quilt.
  • Buy myself some new pajama pants. Also basic t-shirts. And socks.
  • Repot our spider plants in the new self-watering wall planters.

R and N are coming back from Florida tomorrow; they haven’t been home since October 20. This house is about to get a lot noisier. We’ll see whether I can get any work done when all four of the kids are in the house.

DIY · family fun · Just the two of us · Resorting to Violins

Day 647: Honey-do…

Mr. December might never admit boredom again. At least, not in my range of hearing.

We started the day with “puzzle time” at the table, at E’s insistence; she wanted to work on some Sudoku. I did a few brain teasers, K worked through a few Sudokus, and Mr. December furiously scribbled out his thoughts on some very hard math puzzles.

Puzzle time came to an end, though, and Mr. December and I found ourselves as we were yesterday: sitting together, talking about how we felt at loose ends. I don’t do idleness well, though, so pretty soon I was reciting a list of projects that I need to finish. It went something like this:

“I know, I have to finish the curtains for our bedroom—but I am so sick of those things. I’ve been “almost done” several times already! And we need to do the labels for the library shelves, but I was reshelving the books before we left and now I don’t remember where I wanted to reshelve them to. And I’ve been thinking, maybe I could fix that roller blind in the library if I slide the hardware a bit closer…” And with that I was out of the hammock, heading for my screwdriver and then the library.

“Hey,” I called over my shoulder to Mr. December, “since you’re not doing anything, how ’bout you go load the dishwasher?”

I succeeded at fixing the roller blind and Mr. December got the dishwasher started. He joined me in the library, where I was trying to reconstruct my brilliant reshelving plan.

“Since you’re right here,” I said, “maybe you could help me by disassembling this bench. It needs to be packed up—we’re returning it.”

He gamely sat down on the floor and began to take apart the bench; I continued working on reshelving the books until he needed my help to pack the bench back into its box.

We finished with the bench. Mr. December stood up; then, before I could say anything, he said, “So… let’s maybe do something together later, okay?” and escaped my clutches before I could assign him a new task.

I still had no clue what to do about organizing the books in the library, but at least the dishes were clean and the bench was ready to be shipped back. I gave up on the books and took out my viola; so now the roller blind is fixed, the dishes are clean, the bench is packed up, and my Telemann concerto is coming along nicely. Not bad for a boring day.

DIY · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · mental health · quilty pleasures

Day 644: Doing Stuff

I love the feeling of getting stuff done.

Yesterday I bought a giant chair for our library, rented a van, and drove it home myself.

Today I divided and repotted my snake plant into self-watering pots that fit along the ledge in my office (aka the stair landing.)

I’ve also made progress on N’s quilt, which I’ve been wanting to make for the last four years and haven’t made time for yet. No pics ’til it’s done, though.

My self-worth isn’t wrapped up in my productivity (okay, fine, I’m working on making that a true statement,) but the dopamine hit I get when I look at something I’ve made is a great defense against seasonal depression.

(Speaking of which, what did Canada do with the sun? I haven’t seen it since I got back from Ecuador. Where are you guys hiding it?)

It’s a bit chicken-and-egg: I feel depressed, so I can’t motivate myself to do anything… and then I feel useless and pathetic because I’m not doing anything… but I can’t motivate myself to do anything, so…

I’m wondering if maybe the key to staving off the worst of SAD (great acronym, isn’t it?) is having enough projects that can be tackled in small, easy steps—and can be finished in a single afternoon.

All that being said, I was definitely feeling achy and exhausted this afternoon when I finished with the plants. Fibro flare is definitely not over yet. Maybe I’ll sit in my new comfy chair with a book and tell myself that reading is productivity too.

Costa Rica · DIY · family fun · hackin' it · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 620: Hannukah Hacks

It’s no secret that I really miss our Chanuka box. That little baby has everything in it: story books, candles, dreidels, menorahs, extra chocolate gelt, and a candy thermometer for perfect deep-frying. Here in Costa Rica we have… none of that. Put it all on the list of stuff I didn’t bring.

So how exactly are we celebrating Chanuka this year? Read on…

Candles and Menorah

Back home, I decided that we’d be able to do an oil menorah by boring some holes in a potato, filling them with oil, and using pieces of string as wicks. Then I got to the supermarket here and saw a pack of birthday candles with a bonus: those little plastic candleholders you stick into the birthday cake. My plan shifted, and we decided to stick the holders into a plantain to make our chanukiyah. It worked beautifully except for one minor detail: the plastic candleholders melted. From now on we’re just sticking the candles directly into the plantain.

A plantain (looks like a large bruised yellow banana) lying on its side on a dark granite countertop. There are nine plastic candleholders stuck into it in a line; the holder farthest to the right has a birthday candle in it.

A Dreidel

If you want to try this one, you will need:
A roll of blue painters’ tape
A pole-dancing pole
Children who enjoy the sensation of spinning
Something small to use as gambling currency (we used mini cookies)

It’s simple, really: using the blue painters’ tape I made the four Hebrew letters on the floor tiles surrounding the pole. We divided up the cookies equally, then took turns spinning R or E on the pole. The kid on the pole stuck out one leg, and whatever letter that leg pointed to when the spinning stopped was the result.

Chanuka Food

This one was easy. Potatoes and onions are cheap and easy to come by (which is probably why potato pancakes became the chanuka food of Ashkenazim in the first place.) I substituted panko crumbs for matzoh meal, and voilá! Tastes just like home.

We made sufganiyot too, which was easy given that the recipe uses basic baking ingredients. It was even easier than at home, actually: I found jam in a squeeze pouch with a nozzle, eliminating the messy work of getting jelly into my giant syringe for injection into the donuts. We need jam packaging like that at home!

Matches or a Lighter

If you don’t have matches or a lighter, you can roll up a piece of paper and stick it into the flames of a gas stove or barbecue. No gas appliances? Well, then you’re out of luck. That was us tonight: we had our candles all lined up and then realized we had no way to light them (this is the first place we’ve stayed that didn’t have matches in a drawer somewhere.) Sadly, we couldn’t light our candles tonight—but we still sang the blessings, omitting the one specific to the actual lighting.


After all that, my kids have still asked that we not travel over any more Jewish holidays… unless it’s to Israel. I can’t say I blame them.

community · Costa Rica · DIY · education · el cheapo · family fun · gardening · Homeschool · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 590: Down on the Farm

Finca Blanco Y Negro, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Ed. note: this is a continuation of yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and do so now.

We pulled into the driveway of Finca Blanco Y Negro (Black and White Farm) and were greeted by two women and a very enthusiastic child. E seized the opportunity for a new friend immediately: within minutes, she and this little boy were chatting—she in English, he in Spanish, neither understanding the other—as they explored the farm. The rest of us introduced ourselves and met Maria and Paola, the sisters who own the farm (the little boy, E, is Maria’s son.) It was decided that we’d tour the farm and then eat lunch, rather than the other way around.

Over and over, I was struck by how much research and thought went into running this farm. Blanco Y Negro isn’t a high-budget operation; in fact, part of their vision is to make organic vegetables accessible to more people than just rich people and hippies, and to develop new techniques that other small farms can use to grow organic produce. So when they were planning their mushroom-growing operation and saw the cost of all the “required” equipment, they set out to learn the reasons behind all the expensive recommendations. Then they found cheaper solutions that work just as well. Instead of a completely dark grow room, they put thick black garbage bags over the mushroom containers; in place of an expensive sterilizer, they boil the hay for three hours in a huge boiler to eliminate all microorganisms before using it as a growth medium. They built the mushroom greenhouse on the slope of the hill so that they can easily hose down the floor to keep it clean.

The kids received their first challenge in the mushroom house: who could find and pick the largest mushroom? They all scampered off, looking at every row of hanging bags to find the winning fungus. In the end, I think R might have found the biggest one. Not that it really mattered: all the mushrooms, big and small, were taken to the kitchen to become part of our lunch.

Have you ever heard a flock of ninety chickens? Just hens, mind you, no roosters at all? They are loud. As we stepped into their yard, the chickens crowded around the gate, saying “bawk?” as if to ask what we wanted. The kids got to pet a chicken, and we saw where the chickens turn kitchen scraps into high-quality fertilizer. Then we proceeded with our mission: to collect eggs for lunch. Mr. December and the kids eagerly headed into the henhouse to swipe the eggs. The chickens appeared unperturbed.

In the next pasture over, some black-bellied sheep were eager to munch on the long grasses we held for them. Then we went to see the composting shed—far more interesting than you’d think. In addition to a classic compost pile, they also have various barrels full of fermenting liquids which they use to deter insects from around the vegetable beds and to add beneficial microorganisms to the soil. Paola cracked open one barrel for us to see the bubbles forming on top of the liquid. It smelled like olives.

We explored the vegetable garden and learned about pest control without any pesticides, synthetic or natural. The results spoke for themselves: I’ve never before seen a head of lettuce with absolutely no holes or ragged edges on its leaves. The kids had a chance to plant some celery, beetroot, and arugula, which they did with more enthusiasm than I expected; N even came up with a way to streamline the planting process, by having one person place the seedlings in the correct positions while two others did the actual planting. E and her new friend worked with N and planted several rows of veggies in short order. Meanwhile, K indignantly stated that similar plants should be put together instead of mixing them up; she went to the opposite end of the row and diligently planted some celery.

The adults stood around and chatted. When Maria learned that we were homeschoolers, she got really excited: she’s also homeschooling her son, but it’s a pretty new concept in Costa Rica and she gets lots of pushback from… well, pretty much everyone. So we talked about our homeschooling experience and the homeschool community in general.

Poor R—she was sitting inside the farmhouse by this time, because all kinds of things on the farm were triggering her allergies (it hadn’t even occurred to me to bring her allergy meds with us.) Not to worry, though—Maria offered to find some of the allergy meds she had for her son so I could give R a dose. Wonder of wonders—it was the exact same prescription medicine R takes. I gratefully took the bottle and spoon and went to offer R some relief.

Finally, it was lunchtime! My kids were obnoxiously picky (we might need to have another talk about trying foods that are offered when you’re a guest somewhere) but Mr. December and I thoroughly enjoyed the tomato soup with local cheese and mushrooms, hard boiled eggs (they don’t get any fresher than that,) spring mix salad with beets (which I’m not usually a fan of, but it was delicious,) homemade bread with roasted garlic, and grilled vegetables. The kids deserted the table pretty quickly because Maria’s son called them over to see his kittens; all four of my kids were smitten and spent the rest of the time cuddling the kittens—even R, who declared that any allergic reaction she had would be worth it. Even dessert, which was homemade ice cream with berries on top, only held them for a few minutes before they went back to kitten wrangling.

We loved our time at the farm. By the end, I felt like we were visiting with friends. I was pleased when Maria shyly asked for my contact information—we exchanged numbers and I extended an invitation for them to visit us in Toronto. I hope they take us up on it.

DIY · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 560: Photo I.D.

A new rule came into effect in Ontario recently: to go to a movie, eat inside at a restaurant, go to the gym, and probably a handful of other situations, one must show proof of vaccination and photo I.D. This is all fine and good, until you consider that this applies to everyone who is eligible for vaccination: that is, ages twelve and up. What twelve-year-old has photo I.D.? I wondered.

I knew that Ontario had some kind of photo I.D. for people who don’t have a driver’s license, so I googled that to see if I could get one for K. Nope—it’s only for people ages sixteen and up. Our provincial health cards don’t have photos on them for anyone under sixteen, either. What’s a young teen (who wants to see a movie) to do?

It occurred to me that a non-homeschooled twelve-year-old might have a student card with their photo on it; too bad homeschooled kids don’t get photo student cards… or do they?

Since we’re talking about how I solved a problem, the solution should be obvious to those who know me: as with everything else, when I couldn’t find what we needed, I made it myself… sort of.

I started with a search for “inkjet compatible plastic I.D. cards blank” and came up with a bunch of options for a thermal printer. Not helpful. But the internet algorithms came through for me and suggested that Zazzle might have what I needed. Boy, did they ever.

That’s how I ended up designing BFHS student and staff I.D. cards and having them printed and shipped to us. They weren’t even particularly expensive, which is why I also made one for our mascot, BukBuk. I invented student numbers for each kid (using gematriya, the art of assigning numbers to the letters of the Hebrew alef-bet) and gave them all an expiry date of 2027—it would be annoying to have to print them every single year, right?

Anyhow, our cards arrived and everyone was pleased with them. Then, on the news, they announced that people under the age of sixteen could use their health card as I.D. even though there’s no photo… so my project was basically useless.

Oh, well. At least they look cool.

Image description: Two nearly-identical cards with our school logo in the top left, “Student” or “Staff” in the top right, a photo, and the cardholder’s name. The one on the left is K’s, and the one on the right is Bukbuk’s.

DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 549: At the Last Minute

Not sure who planned the timing on our (amazing, fabulous) weekend away (oh, wait, it might have been me,) but we got back home today at noon, which was about 7 hours before sundown marked the beginning of Sukkot.

No big deal, I thought to myself. I labelled everything so carefully when I took the sukkah apart last year—it should go up in an hour or two.

An hour or two? Ha! It took me around 6, start to finish. I haven’t figured out how it happened, but half of my carefully written-in-Sharpie labels were wiped clean, forcing me to guess which parts belonged where. I guess I’ll have to find something more permanent than Sharpie… maybe engraving with a Dremel?

Around 3:00 I realized that I was not going to have time to make dinner; I informed Mr. December, who went and told K and R that tonight’s dinner was their responsibility.

“Can’t we just order pizza?” They whined.

“Sure, if you’re paying with your own money,” Mr. December countered.

We didn’t order pizza.

K made Alfredo sauce from scratch and boiled an entire (big) package of fettuccine; N braided the challah dough that I’d had the presence of mind to take out of the freezer earlier; R made rice; then K made a “salad” of Multigrain Cheerios, dried cranberries, and almonds… with chocolate “salad dressing.” It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to eat, but rules is rules, as they say, so I ate what I was given. The Alfredo sauce was very good—just the right amount of pepper and enough garlic to fell a 250-pound vampire.

So… a slightly under-decorated sukkah and a last-minute dinner by two child chefs. Not bad for the first night of Sukkot.

Stick around for a few days—I have so much to tell you. Right now, though, I need sleep desperately. I’m going to sneak upstairs before Mr. December and the kids notice I’m gone.