DIY · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 498: The Window Seat

I did it. It took way too many hours, but I did it.

Of course, the library is still a disaster zone, littered with bits of foam and batting; the floor is a safety hazard (as I learned when I stepped backwards to take a photo and impaled my heel on the pointy ends of plastic snap covers.) But it’s just me and Mr. December here tonight and tomorrow morning, so no innocent bystanders will be harmed before I clean it up tomorrow.

The three big kids come home from camp tomorrow. I’ve gotten used to the quiet; I hope I haven’t lost my ability to tune out the noise of four kids plus their friends.

Mr. December and I got in a date tonight. We walked out to an Italian restaurant nearby and, over Caprese salad and gnocchi, talked about our travels this fall. We also strategized about how to handle my inevitable seasonal depression in January and February: we could travel to someplace warm and sunny, Mr. December could take over more of the teaching time (I don’t see how, with a full-time job on top of homeschool, but it was gallant of him to offer,) or I could pre-plan a whole bunch of field trips that force me to get out of the house and allow the kids to learn from someone else for a change. In the end it doesn’t really matter which solution we choose—what really makes a difference is having a partner who’s also a teammate, ready to outwit and outplan my seasonal depression alongside me. I am so lucky.

DIY · el cheapo · Keepin' it real

Day 497: Oops.

The photo I posted yesterday of me with the wrecking bar was, as commenter Rose suggested, related to the window seat. Before I could upholster the back and sides of the seat, I had to remove part of the windowsill so that it wouldn’t dig into our shoulders when we leaned back. It was really hard to pry the moulding off, until I could see into the crack between the moulding and the rest of the windowsill: then it was obvious that the tiny nails holding the moulding to the wall were quite long. No way could I pull them out all the way without damaging the surrounding wood in the process—hence the wire cutters. I’d pry from the top with the pry bar until I could fit the wire cutters in, then clip the nail. Once that was done it all came out easily.

I ended up doing four hours of manual labour yesterday, between the prying and the templating and cutting a new (slightly slanted) back out of plywood. I actually felt pretty badass—I love building things.

This morning I bought the fabric and foam for the window seat. I’ve decided on an upholstered back instead of adding back cushions like we had before, on the theory that it will be less messy this way. I can always add extra throw cushions later.

By this point you may be wondering what the “Oops” title was about. Right? Of course right.

After creating templates and double-checking dimensions, I was dismayed to discover that the fabric I had cut for the seat back was just a little too short.

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” I howled like a comic book villain who’s been thwarted once again.

It would have been insanely complicated to take the whole thing off and reattach it, and might not even look good given what the tacking strips do to the fabric. I only had enough fabric left to finish the seat cushion and upholster the second side, so I couldn’t redo the whole thing. I decided to work on something different and come back to it.

I’m proud to say that I came up with a solution that looks pretty good. I’m not even telling you what the solution was; if you can’t see it, then I don’t need to point it out. I’m just telling you because I’m proud of myself. Also because I’m the queen of keeping it real, as they say, and I think it’s important that you know that most of my projects have at least one major oops moment in the process.

I’m not sure how I like the fabric; I eventually chose it because nobody hated it, and E and Mr. December liked it the best of the bunch. It’s an outdoor fabric—helpful when it’s sitting in a west-facing bay window and getting lots of lovely sunlight that will fade almost anything it touches. It happened to be on clearance, so I ended up paying $35 for just under six metres. If I decide in two years that I hate it, I can redo the whole thing.

I’ve pretty much finished the back and sides, and have only to cut and cover the seat cushion. At one point I wanted to make sure I chose the perfect fabric and had the whole thing done perfectly; now I just want to get it done, period.

diet recovery · DIY · family fun · Kids

Day 496: How she sees me.

E and I stopped by my parents’ place to take care of the pool in their absence. By “take care of the pool” I mean “dip the test strip, look at the reference chart, try to figure out which bottle of stuff I should be using to fix whatever’s wrong, and then dump in a few kilograms of whatever it is I think the pool needs.” It feels like I should be a bit more scientific about it, but my way is working so far.

(Although yesterday and three days ago I dumped in, like, twelve kilos of salt and today when we swam I was floating more easily than usual and a scrape on my arm was burning, so that might have been a bit much. Oops. It’s still not as salty as the ocean.)

We decided that before adding the Alkalinity Increaser that the pool apparently needed, we’d take a short swim. At first I figured only E would swim while I watched her, so I said, “Oh, don’t bother with your bathing suit. Just jump in naked. It’s only the two of us here.”

(Don’t worry, the pool is not in any way exposed such that anybody can see us.)

A few minutes later, though, I decided to dip my toes. The water was deliciously cool; I decided to join E for a while.

“You can skinny-dip too, you know,” E said.

“If someone’s kind of chunky, can they call it chunky dunking instead?” I mused aloud.

E huffed, “No, it’s still skinny dipping.”

“But I wanna go chunky dunking!” I protested.

“Eema,” she said with all the patience usually reserved for reasoning with a two-year-old, “You’re not that fat… for a grown-up.”

“Fine, call it whatever you want,” I said with my dress halfway over my head, “I’m coming in!”

It was fabulous.

I will pause here and say that yes, the fact that “you’re not that fat” made me feel good is problematic in itself. Fat is an adjective, like tall or short. That it affects my self-worth is unfortunate. I’m working on it. And for those of you reading this, don’t say “you’re not fat” to someone, unless you’re trying to reinforce the fact that fat is a terrible thing to be.

Anyhow, it was what I needed to hear after last night’s musings. If only I could always see myself the way my kids see me.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with this picture of me, a wrecking bar, and a pair of wire cutters. Anybody want to guess what I was doing today?

Image description: Me (woman with a ponytail and glasses) facing away from the camera, holding a pair of wire cutters in one hand and a wrecking bar that is wedged in between two pieces of trim in the other.
better homes than yours · DIY · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 495: Cheap Imitations?

“I have big plans,” I informed Mr. December. “I’m going to rope K into my crazy, harebrained scheme and we’re going to do it when you’re out of the house.”

You might be wondering why I told him at all; I was wondering the same thing two seconds after I finished speaking. That’s me, though: when I’m excited about something, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Except for that time we threw my parents a big surprise party for their anniversary… but that was really, really hard.

Back to Mr. December. “Does it involve wrecking a perfectly good table?” he asked.

How did he know? “Maybe a little…” I admitted.

I don’t know if I ever told you that we have a new-to-us dining room table. It’s not the fancy epoxy table, and it’s not the custom wood table with the tree-shaped legs either. I’ve known this table for most of my life, as it’s been sitting in the boardroom of my Dad’s office for the last twenty-five (or so) years. It’s the exact size and shape that I wanted, and it was free, which means I can throw my table fund into twelve beautiful (and matching) dining chairs.

Besides, you know I’m happier when I’m hacking furniture, right? This table is—like most office furniture—really nice wood-look formica over particle board. But I have big plans here: remove some of the laminate (probably a meandering river down the middle, but who knows) and pour a very thin layer of blue epoxy into the resultant gap. I think it would look extremely cool.

Speaking of cool, my mum brought these beautiful chairs to my attention:

Image description: a chair with chrome legs and a transparent blue plastic molded seat. There are ripples emanating from the centre of the seat. It looks like water.

When I saw them—and when Mum told me how comfy they are—I started looking for them online. I found what I thought was the right chair on Overstock and Wayfair; but when I read the reviews, many of them said the chairs weren’t very durable. I found this strange since my Aunty (in whose kitchen the above photo was taken) told me that the chairs still look untouched even with all the abuse her dogs and birds dish out.

So I ran a Google search on the photo of the chair. Sure enough, there appeared to be two different companies making a nearly-identical product. Of course, I couldn’t tell which was which except by the dimensions; in typical Wayfair manner, they’ve given the chairs a name that is completely different from the model name on the manufacturers’ website. Sure enough, though, one of them is slightly bigger and presumably more durable. It definitely gets better reviews than its doppelganger.

This kind of thing makes me crazy. It’s obviously designed to make it impossible for customers to comparison-shop, and in that it succeeds; but if I ordered a set of chairs and they turned out to be the cheap imitations, I’d be pissed.

So how am I supposed to know? According to the online retailers, I’m not. I guess this means I have to email actual bricks-and-mortar furniture stores around here and ask if they still carry these. And if not… do I take my chances and order 12 online? Or do I order just two online and risk them selling out before I can buy more?

DIY · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 493: On second thought…

Remember when I was all excited and said I was going to make up my own curriculum? This week I’m thinking that’s a bad idea.

As creative and awesome as I am (modest, too,) it would take a lot of work to put together a curriculum that I’d be satisfied with. I just don’t have that kind of time. I’d rather let someone else do the work and leave myself time and mental energy to actually be with the kids in mind as well as in body.

So I spent today looking at curricula again, and I think I’ve got it sorted out. I’m loving that All About Reading has a “try it for a year” policy where you can return the program (used, in any condition) if it doesn’t work for you.

I think this will be a year of learning things systematically—like writing. The whole “write what you know” and “write to express yourself” approach has not worked for N, whose motto is, “How short can I make this and still get my screen time?” I think he needs a structured approach that more closely resembles math. K would benefit from that too—a formula would help her get past writer’s block when she’s got a deadline.

We’ll still learn about Mesoamerica and South America, of course, but we’re not going to spend our entire 14-week term on it. I think a few well-placed documentaries and a couple of classes ought to do it for us. Beyond that, I want to be able to open up a book and teach what’s in it without having to prep too much. Such things definitely exist for English, Social Studies, Art, and Music; but when it comes to Jewish History it’s a lot harder to find. I might still have to design my own curriculum for that.

I suspect having open-and-go curricula for each subject will be a relief in January and February, when seasonal depression hits and I can’t put in an ounce of effort. And the rest of the time, I can take all the time I save on planning and do something fun for a change… like starting that quilt I owe N… or planning our travels.

DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · The COVID files · Worldschooling

Day 484: Curriculum Decision

After lots of research into ready-made curricula, I’ve made my decision:

I’m going to create a curriculum myself.

It’s not that there aren’t lots of fabulous-looking curricula out there; there are, in as many different flavours as there are approaches to education. More, even.

But Mr. December and I have been working on our travel plans (for when we can realistically travel again,) and it looks like our most likely option would be Central and South America, since Costa Rica is open with no restrictions and Ecuador has no restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated (children too young to be vaccinated take on the status of their parents, so we’re good to go.) And as long as we’re there, might as well check out the Galapagos. You know, before climate change and tourism muck the whole thing up and there’s nothing to see.

With that decided, all of the homeschooling pieces have fallen into place. Of course we should learn about the geography and history of the places we’ll be travelling. Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas. And then when we get to the Conquistadors and start talking about the monarchy that financed them, we’ll naturally be talking about the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects it, but there it is) and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. From there, we can talk about the Sephardi Jews: customs, music, food, and language (let’s learn some Ladino!)

I’ve gotten really into the planning; I have the mind map to prove it. I divided it into curriculum areas—Language, Food, Geography, History, Music, Art, Math and Science—and jotted down everything I could think of to learn about them. There’s even a separate section for the Galapagos, highlighted in blue.

I’ve compiled a long playlist of Crash Course History videos and the like to introduce various topics. Our public library gives us free access to Mango Languages, which we’ll use for learning Spanish and maybe Ladino (if they have it.)

So that’s it: I’m dumping the premade curricula and going with Mesoamerican and South American studies. This is going to be so much fun!

DIY · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Keepin' it real

Day 478: Found ’em!

Five months ago:

“Where are all our pencils! Didn’t we just buy a whole bunch?”

“Yes, we did. Four dozen. There is no way we’ve run through four dozen pencils since September.”

“Well, I can only find four. Better order some more.”

So I did.

Three months ago:

“Sara, we’re out of erasers.”

“Impossible! I bought three dozen at the beginning of the year. What are the kids doing, eating them?”

“I don’t know, but I can never find one. Can you please order more?”

Of course I could. So I did.

Four weeks ago:

“Eema! I can’t find any of my mechanical pencils! I had ten of them and I’m the only one who uses them! Where are they?”

“I’m willing to bet that if we cleaned up around here, we’d find all of them,” I said drily.

And I did—today.

After more hours of mind-numbing curriculum research I decided to give my brain a break and tackle something physical instead: our messy, disorganized supply drawers. I had them nicely organized at the beginning of the school year, with containers for pencils, pens, markers, erasers, and rulers; but of course it got messier as time went on. I decided a few weeks ago that we needed a better system, because things kept falling between the containers instead of into them, and then we’d have to take the containers out to retrieve what had fallen, which we never did.

The supply drawers occupy the spaces where our kitchen could have had corner cabinets, but I decided to install cabinets accessible from the living room instead. It was a genius decision that I’m happy with every time I go to use them. Because they’re from IKEA’s kitchen cabinet line, it’s easy to swap out the drawers and organizers for different ones any time I want.

On Thursday I ordered two shallow drawers to take the place of a single deep one, along with cutlery trays that fit exactly (with no gaps for stuff to fall into.) I also bought a couple of magazine racks to use in our paper drawer. Today I got it all assembled, installed, and arranged. I cleaned out the old drawer and reorganized the supplies.

Do you know what I found? Piles of pencils. I mean, easily six or seven dozen. There were so many pencils I couldn’t even fit them all in the pencil section of the tray. I also found several of K’s mechanical pencils that she couldn’t find. The dry-erase markers with erasers in their lids, of which we were missing fourteen? I found ten. I also found dozens of erasers. I discovered no fewer than five protractors, three compasses, and four rulers. My kids (and, let’s face it, my husband also) couldn’t find any of these things. How could they? The stuff was under all the empty containers in the drawer.

Sometimes happiness is a newly-organized drawer; today I have four. Sure, I can’t decide on a fabric for my window seat or a writing curriculum for my kids, but at least I can find the pencils… all six dozen of them. And now everyone else can, too.

Image description: Pictures of the interiors of four drawers. Two have divided trays full of school supplies sorted by type, one has several slanted paper trays, and one has a combination of paper trays and a divided container.

DIY · education · Homeschool · mental health

Day 476: Too Many Choices

I spent most of today reviewing some possible curricula for the coming school year. For months I’ve been making a list of curricula that sound good (based on online discussions between homeschooling parents,) and today I started to check them out. It’s a good thing that most of the publishing companies provide substantial “Try Before You Buy” samples to download and print; it’s so frustrating and disappointing when you see a really good sample, buy the whole curriculum, and realize that the sample was really not representative of the program as a whole.

In case you didn’t know, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of published homeschool curricula out there. Rigorous, relaxed, creative, technical… of course, my simplest criterion for whittling down the options is religion: if it mentions Jesus or has copywork of verses from Christian scriptures, it’s game over.

(An actual math problem I came across: Jesus had 12 disciples. One of them betrayed him. How many does he have left? What’s that you say? Eleven? WRONG. Zero. They all died two thousand years ago.)

As overwhelming as the options for E are, at least she’s starting in grade one, so she’s coming in basically at the ground level in every curriculum. For R, N, and K (grades five, six, and eight respectively,) it’s another story. I need to find something that’s accessible even if a student hasn’t done the previous levels in a series.

I’ve been tempted (as I often am) to forget about published curricula and just do my own thing. I certainly have the research skills and creative wherewithal to do it, but if I’ve learned anything from this past year, it’s that come January and February I need something I can open to the correct page and just follow instructions. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me too hard for me to be able to direct my own program, even if it’s pre-planned. I really just need something to tell me what to do.

So I’m left trying to figure out, if I can’t find a complete program I like, what elements we really need and how much is too much. Greek and Latin roots are an absolute yes; there’s a series that introduces vocabulary as used by famous writers which looks awesome; there’s a great spelling program that explicitly teaches why English is spelled the way it is; and there’s a method of teaching writing that starts at the level of sentences, even with older students, and doesn’t move on to paragraphs or essays for quite some time. And I haven’t even started listing the possibilities for literature!

I started working on this at 9:00 this morning. By 2:00 p.m. my eyes were crossing and all the curricula were starting to look alike, so I had to stop. At least I’ve chosen biology for the big kids and history for everyone; next I have to figure out what the heck to do with the big kids for Language Arts.

Is it too late to switch to unschooling?

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY

Day 475: Playing Librarian

When a book is being read in our house, it travels a lot. It will turn up at the breakfast table and then get moved to the sideboard before we begin school; it gets left in one of the hammocks after lunch break; it is taken out to the back porch and forgotten out there when its reader goes inside; it goes up to a bedroom and loiters next to the kleenex on the bedside table all night. At some point during its travels, the reader will finish the book… and leave it wherever they were reading it last. Books accumulate on every flat surface—chairs, stairs, floors, and ledges—until someone does a purge or a sweep and dumps them all back in the library.

I am, it seems, the only member of this household able to shelve the books. If I don’t do it it doesn’t get done, which is how we’ve ended up with a veritable mountain of books on the library floor.

The library is my major focus this month. There are numerous little details we (read: I) never finished; now is the time. Not only will I be reshelving all the wayward books, I’ll also be labeling the shelves, putting up pictures, upholstering the window seat, fixing the glass door on the musical instrument cabinet, fixing the drawers that never worked quite right, and adding cabinet doors below the desk. Oh, and possibly getting new furniture.

I started today by clearing all the paper and books off the (very wide, very long) windowsill, top of the piano, and desk. Then I left my house (oh, the novelty!) and went to look for fabric samples so I could get started on the window seat. I brought home seven samples and laid them on the window seat. The one Mr. December likes is the one E hates. It’s looking like I’ll have to go with a monochromatic sort of look for the window seat, because for the life of me I can’t find a bright, complementary or contrasting fabric that I like enough to look at for the next ten years.

Here, I’ll just post a photo and ask your opinion:

Image description: 7 large squares of different fabrics arranged on what looks like a couch, with a dark purple-blue ledge in the background.

So we’re speaking the same language, I’ll give each sample a name. Clockwise from top left: monochrome velvet, colourful space invaders, monochrome marbled, crazy bright leaves, purple geometric, colourful ikat, and stripes. So… which one? Or none of the above?

Camping it up · crafty · DIY

Day 468: Can I come too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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