crafty · DIY · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 838: Unthinkable

Yesterday the unthinkable happened:

E got bored of screen time.

Go ahead, pick your jaw up off the floor. Then call the media. My kid got sick of watching videos!

Can you tell I’m excited?

She left the computer, came up to me, and said, “I’m bored.”

“Wonderful!” I cried. “Boredom is so good for you!”

“It is not… wait. Are you serious?”

“Of course! All the greatest thinkers get bored right before they make an amazing discovery! Your brain can’t come up with new ideas when you’re making it do stuff all the time!”

“Oh,” she said, and wandered off.

The next time I looked up, she was working on a Tinker Crate. With only a tiny bit of help from me, she built a spirograph machine, then started experimenting with the effects of changing the gear sizes and the position of the drawing arm.

E turning the wooden gear of her spirograph machine to create a drawing.

I honestly never thought the day would come when E would voluntarily turn off the screen and go find something else to do; now that day has come, and I have hope that someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, N and R might get bored of screen time too.

DIY · Getting Organized · Kids

Day 833: Go on, Guess…

How many things do you think R forgot to take with her to camp?

Four: her water bottle, her pillow, her favourite stuffie, and her rain jacket.

It’s a good thing someone close to us (emotionally and geographically) was driving one of their kids up to camp today. Mr. December made a last-minute run with R’s favourite stuffed alpaca last night, wedging it into their mailbox for safekeeping.

“Do you think R even appreciates how we’ve gone out of our way to get her the stuff she forgot?” Mr. December grumbled as he got into bed last night.

“Not yet,” I answered sleepily. “But she will… when she’s got forgetful kids of her own.”

Time for a progress report, I think.

First, the knee: It still hurts (which it didn’t, you might recall, until the reinjury) but I’m able to put a little more weight on it when I’m using my crutches. Tonight I absentmindedly got up from the table my usual way (left leg first) and it felt WRONG. At least the knee didn’t buckle… but it’s definitely not ready to be self-supporting anytime soon.

Pic of my newly-organized command centre, with the supply drawer open to reveal the organized stuff within.

Next, the seated honey-do report: I have now decluttered the command centre, including the charging drawer (at least half of the cords in there weren’t plugged in—no wonder half of our chargers “didn’t work”,) my supply drawer, and the book return drawer. I wasn’t going to attack the upper part of the command centre, but I kept seeing “just one more” thing I could get rid of, and now the whole thing is organized.

I’ve also caught up on all the papers I’ve been shoving in a box since 2019. Did you know that the longer you go without filing your papers, the fewer you need to keep? It’s like magic!

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

Day 832: Honeydew in a Chair

I re-injured my knee last night. As I wailed to Mr. December later, I didn’t even do anything. I was standing there (with my crutches,) stepped back onto something small and hard (a toy, no doubt,) lost my balance, and automatically put down my left foot to catch myself. Ouch. The knee wasn’t especially painful before, but it sure is now. Mr. December has admonished me to rest.

Problem is, I don’t rest well. I sleep fine. I’m just not good at resting, putting aside expectations of productivity and just being. No matter my intentions, I always end up doing something.

I usually gravitate towards the more creative jobs, like building things, rather than administrative tasks and ongoing maintenance. But with my knee situation being what it is right now, I think I’d best not try to do anything too physical. That eliminates my plans for the front porch, garden shed, and kayak storage. So what’s an immobile woman to do?

Well, I started by making a list. Without one, I’ll just fritter away the days because it’s too hard to decide what to do in the moment. I jotted this one down last night, off the top of my head. It’s not everything I could do, but my “Honey-do (in a chair)” list is coming along nicely.

So far I’ve got:

  • work on homeschool yearbook
  • photo book catch-up (I’m a few years behind)
  • declutter command center **DONE**
  • catch up on filing (again, a few years behind…)
  • call people I haven’t spoken to in a long time
  • write some “back-pocket” blog posts
  • work on a quilt
  • curriculum planning
  • bar mitzvah planning for N
  • sketching
  • practice instruments
  • sew hook strip onto blackout liners for master bedroom (get someone else to hang them)
  • post on freecycle about free slides and wooden posts
  • spend a day in the basement, directing other people (kids, nanny) on organizing the makery
  • declutter school supply drawers
  • declutter and organize homeschool materials
  • submit healthcare receipts to insurance
  • make checkup appointments for everyone: dentist, optometrist, doctor, etc.
  • test all the charging cables and throw out the ones that don’t work
  • play board games with K and E

It’s not a short list; if I assume each one will only take me one day (not a full day, just a few hours on a given day,) this list should take me right through until R and N come back from camp. Hopefully by then I’ll be back to my more mobile self and ready to tackle the big stuff, like building a shed and taking my kayak out on the water again.

Cartoon of a honeydew melon sitting in a chair.
Camping it up · DIY · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 831: Mad Libs from Camp

The thing about getting mail from camp is that the letters are so predictable… and short.

“Dear Eema, I had to write this so I could get tuck. Bye. N.”

“Dear Eema and Abba, Camp is good. The food sucks. I’m getting eaten alive by mosquitos. Love, K.”

“Dear Eema, Please send more Rainbow Loom. Love, R. P.S. my allergies are bad.”

I’d like to enjoy the letters I get just a bit more this year. And I already know that N will not be writing me anything more than a single sentence, so I decided that I’d write letters for him to send. You know what they say, if you want something done “right”, do it yourself.

I didn’t totally let him off the hook: I wrote two letters in the form of Mad Libs: text with certain key words removed and replaced with a blank line and a label indicating the part of speech. The results are usually pretty funny, and my kids like doing Mad Libs, so my hope is that N will use these letters to engage with his cabin mates (he’ll call out the part of speech and they’ll give him a random word.) It should be fun to do, and I’m looking forward to having something amusing to read when I open the mail.

Just in case you’re in the same boat as me this summer, I’ve decided to share the letters here. Feel free to download them, print them, and give them to your kids. If you do, please consider eventually sharing the results in the comments.

DIY · Travelogue

Day 817: Out of Steam

I expected the jet lag to play out differently coming back from Israel. In the past I’ve always had a week or two of waking up at 4 or 5 a.m., which meant a burst of productivity. Not this time, though. I’ve woken up at 7:30 or 8:00 the past few days.

This morning I was feeling productive and energetic. I mounted a pulley system in the garage ceiling to get the toboggans out of the way in the off-season. I also tidied up the garage a bit (though I’m nowhere near done yet.) At 10:30 I took a break—and that’s where things went a bit downhill.

I’ve been drowsy and battling sleep since then. I actually napped a bit already this afternoon, and then went for a short bike ride to the supermarket with E to get food for dinner. Now I’m just longing to lie down again.

I was going to get back to tidying the garage—I really was!—and then start figuring out what we’re going to do about our front porch (it needs maintenance and new railings.) But you know what? I’m calling it a day, at least as far as productivity goes. E extracted a promise from me to go for a bike ride this evening and I suppose I’d best honour that promise… but that’s it. Hopefully I’ll be adjusted to the time zone in another day or two.

crafty · DIY · family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 787: Long School Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

The artist and her masterpiece.
DIY · Kids · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Day 754: The Big Takedown

Twelve years ago, we built a swingset. It was far too big for K, who was 17 months old and had just started walking, but it was an expression of optimism that—despite our challenges getting pregnant—we’d have a backyard full of kids one day.

Our four kids and all their friends have put the swingset through the wringer. The slide detached from the platform; the metal plate supporting the swing beam actually broke; the protective fabric around the posts got shredded (okay, that was the squirrels’ doing, not the kids.) I reattached the slide, replaced the metal plate with a humongous through bolt, and accepted that the wood would get somewhat weathered.

Last summer we noticed that the play tower was rocking every time someone used the swing. It was also creaking loudly enough for our new neighbour (two doors down!) to comment, “Wow, your kids really like to swing all day, don’t they?” It became apparent that the swingset had to come down, but we decided to put it off one more year.

Yesterday was the day. Mr. December and I took out the bolt, moved the swing beam, and attached ropes to the posts (to control the fall.) Then, with N filming, Mr. December and K pushed the tower over while I manned the ropes. Just like that, we toppled the tower.

Now we’re slowly taking it apart—and by “we” I mean the kids, who have been assigned this task. K and N have been working on it; so far they’ve really just removed a bunch of screws, but not really taken apart the structure. Mr. December made it clear to them that they need to do the work quickly to make room for our new trampoline (arriving next Wednesday) and a new (larger, sturdier) swingset; they’re not “helping” us, they own this task.

It’s the end of one era, the beginning of the next. Mr. December insisted on taking pictures of us next to the swingset before we started taking it down—as if we don’t have dozens of photos of the kids playing on it year after year. I’m just glad we took the darn thing down before it took any of us down, if you catch my drift.

crafty · DIY

Day 748: Material Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 740: The Right Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 738: Mo(u)ld?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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