community · DIY · el cheapo · family fun · Kids

Day 176: Putting the Crowd into Crowdsourcing

It’s been hard for K, being at the cottage. As much as she loves going off to her “secret” perch between the woods and the rocky shore, she hasn’t had any swings or her trampoline; and I think we all know that no swings and no trampoline make K go crazy.

We had resolved not to venture into the world outside the cottage until after the long weekend (who needs the crowds?) so today was the earliest we were willing to go out and find some swings for K. Last night saw me googling “playgrounds near me,” which led me to discover something really cool. In a handful of words: there’s an app for that.

The app is called “Playground Buddy,” and it’s free. When I opened it up it immediately found my location on a map, and then up popped the little green symbols — each one indicating a separate playground. As it turned out, there is a playground only six minutes’ drive from our cottage, and it was that one where K spent almost an hour swinging, the usual blissful expression on her face.

Playground Buddy - Helping Families Find Playgrounds

While the kids played I explored the app a bit more. It relies on crowdsourcing to fill in the details of each playground, so I took a bit of time to add a couple of photos and to check off the appropriate amenities for the park where we were. I did a little more scrolling around the map and found that most of the playgrounds lack even basic information, such as their names. Maybe the app is very new, or maybe most of its users are in a completely different part of the world. Either way, I felt good about my little contribution to the effort; so I looked for other playgrounds that I knew well enough to describe (actually, it asks for very little. Any detail you can add is great.)

Later on, I introduced the kids to the concept of crowdsourcing. “It’s really neat,” I said, “by sending in their own observations, people can create a treasure trove of helpful information for others.” I don’t think they needed the explanation as enticement — my phone is enticement enough — but my kids passed the phone around between them, trying to find parks they knew. R filled in details of the park near her former school, N updated the playground stats for the playground at the local public school, and E clicked “yes” or “no” for each amenity at our neighbourhood park as I read them aloud. All in all, we updated the information on seven playgrounds.

I wouldn’t have thought of updating this kind of app as “community service,” but maybe it is, in a way. We take a few minutes out of our day to share information with anyone who wants it. If I tried to list the number of things I learned about for free, on the internet, from material that was posted by ordinary people who just wanted to inform or share, I’d be here all night. Anytime I stop to think about it, I’m blown away by the generosity of spirit I’ve found on the internet; the many tutorials, patterns, instructions, and ideas that people share freely, even when there’s no compensation for their efforts.

Will the Playground Buddy app catch on? I don’t know — I have zero connection to it except as a user — but I hope so. It’s a great resource for tourists with kids and families that have just relocated. And if it really takes off, I may never have to google “playgrounds near me” again.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · el cheapo · family fun

Day 171: Be Careful What You Say

Okay, so my post about how I’m the one who’s really good at stacking and packing? I shouldn’t have written it. Or published it. Whatever. All I know is that today it seems like I’m the only person who knows how to pack.

“Eema! I laid out all my clothes, will you pack them?”

“Eema! I put my clothes in the crate but they don’t all fit! And they’re all on the packing list, so I neeeeed them!”

And Mr. December:

“Honey, I know you love packing stuff up really efficiently, so I left my stuff on our bed for you to pack. ThanksIloveyoubye.”

I actually started my day with one of my favourite outings, a bike ride to Lowe’s through the beltline path. I had to buy a concrete deck block to anchor the corner post of the sukkah and some more bolts to finish securing its ceiling beams. I can now proudly say that the sukkah frame is complete and ready for walls and decorations as soon as we get back.

Then off to the supermarket, where I phoned a friend and talked to her while waiting for my Click and Collect order to be brought out to my car.

R informed me last night that she has no running shoes that fit. Seriously? Now she tells me? I can’t be too annoyed because the truth is that she hasn’t needed to wear running shoes since school closed in March. Given that R has grown a lot over the spring and summer I guess it’s only right that she’d need shoes now. I feel like I scored big, though: there was one pair of sparkly sneakers in her size on the clearance rack (always the first place I look) and they fit well. When we got to the cash my jaw almost hit the floor when the cashier announced, “That will be $14.51, please.” Looks like I had a coupon on my account there. Who knew?

Then I got even luckier.

I’ve been scouring Value Village for the last couple of weeks in search of the perfect pair of cottage sweatpants: men’s vintage Roots sweatpants with a drawstring at the waist and elastic at the ankles. Today they were just waiting for me, and I let out a whoop of elation when I found them. I don’t usually believe that stuff about how you have to ask the universe for what you want, but it seems to have worked this time! (Hey, universe? How about some cheesecake?)

The rest of the day is a blur of folding, rolling, and smushing everyone’s clothes into my magic crates. I don’t even remember packing my own, but just now when I trudged up the stairs to pack my clothes I was met by a crate neatly packed with everything I needed. It was like a gift from my past self. (Thank you, past self!)

There are crates, boxes, and bins all over the front hall and the upstairs landing. My typical can-do attitude is telling me that everything will fit just perfectly; a more rational part of my brain doesn’t know what we’ll do when we discover that it doesn’t all fit. (Is it illegal to strap a kid to the roof of the car? Yes? Okay, how about my husband?)

I do know one thing: when we get to the cottage, I’m going to go sit on the dock and let Mr. December and the kids unload the car. I’ve done more than my share; as of 3 p.m. tomorrow, I’m on strike vacation.

DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 164: Sukkah Building

I put up our sukkah frame today.

(Don’t check your calendars; Sukkot isn’t ’til October 2. I’m trying to build the whole frame so that when we come back from the cottage that day we’ll just have to put up the canvas walls and toss some branches on top, and we’ll be ready in time for the holiday.)

It seems like every year I announce that the current year’s sukkah is so easy and next year it’ll only take two hours to assemble. And every year, we get some kind of storm that causes the sukkah to collapse. So every year I move the sukkah to a slightly different location in the hope that this time it will be sheltered enough to withstand the inevitable autumn wind. I think you can see where I’m going with this: so far it has never taken me just a couple of hours to put up the sukkah.

This year I’ve used the same metal poles as last year, but I’ve moved the frame to be adjacent to the fence and the back of the house so that we can affix the sukkah to something immovable. This required clearing out a patch of hydrangeas that I never really liked anyway, so it’s a sacrifice I was willing to make. I could have taken far less time than the four hours of work I did today if only I’d not been too lazy to go and find my hammer drill. Instead I wasted almost an hour figuring out how to drill holes in the brick wall with my cordless drill and regular old drill bits, and what kind of anchors would work best for repeated installation and removal.

In a similar vein, I knew exactly how I could do the assembly pretty easily without a ladder. Alas, I had already attached one post to the house and another to the fence, and I was too lazy to take those two posts down to assemble everything on the ground. I know that it would have taken less time to do it that way. Why couldn’t I just listen to my better judgment?

crafty · DIY · el cheapo · goodbye clutter!

Day 163: Closets Big and Small

Apparently my kids are interested in cleaning up their closets; all it took was a few bags of new clothes, and suddenly I had both R and N asking me to help them sort out their closets. If I had known that was all it would take I’d have dragged them to Value Village years ago.

They filled up a total of four laundry baskets full of stuff they can’t or won’t wear anymore. N’s closet went from being an avalanche every time we opened the doors to a neat and orderly wardrobe. He asked for hooks for his ties and hoodies, so I made him some s-hooks out of a nice blue coat hanger I had, and attached them to his pull-down closet rod.

I used up a couple more wire hangers in R’s room, but not for her closet. It seems that her dolls were jealous of R’s tidy wardrobe and wanted a place to store their clothes neatly — or so R told me. It just so happened that the ends of the wire hangers fit perfectly into the pre-drilled holes in the bookcase that we’ve been slowly turning into a doll house. Two hangers and a bit of duck tape later, I had fashioned some little shelves and installed them in the dolls’ bedroom. Have a look:

This dollhouse has been one of my proudest IKEA-hacking moments. R desperately wanted bunk beds for her dolls, but the ones for sale in the stores were upwards of $120 each. On top of that, they would have taken up the entire room in her dollhouse — the proportions would have been all wrong. I mulled over it for a couple of days and then, after looking very closely, I realized that there’s an extra row of holes in the sides of the bookcase about six inches from the back. I realized that IKEA had very shallow shelves for these units too, and that two such shelves could be dressed up to look like bunk beds.

I bought some doll bedding on sale and then cut it in half, creating two sets of bedding that fit the narrow shelves perfectly. Then, Because my motto is (according to my best friend since childhood) “Go big or go home,” I went a step further: I cut and glued some very small pieces of trim to make a bunk bed façade that attached to the front of the shelves.

There are six dolls and three bedrooms, so I still need to build two more of these façades — not to mention some more of those neat little shelves. I look forward to seeing whose rooms stay neat longer: R’s or the dolls’?

better homes than yours · DIY · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Day 156: Out of the Woodwork

I’m posting a bit late today, and very little I might add, because I spent most of my afternoon and evening working on my desk. I’m building myself a new one to replace the “temporary” desk I’ve been using for at least a year.

I was going to do a built-in cabinet with a fold-out secretary desk, so that I could close it up when not in use, but in the end I decided to keep it simple: a desk with a slide-out keyboard tray/work surface, and two floating shelves above it.

I’m proud to say that after several mistakes and miscalculations, I’ve finally installed the floating shelves and part of my desk. Have a look:

That’s the desktop. I plan to add some colour with the keyboard tray (the same blue as my former desk) and to add a face frame to the front of the unit so it looks a bit more substantial. I also want to install LED lighting on the underside of the shelf so that I have desk lighting without a lamp taking up space.

On one hand, it feels good to be building again. On the other hand — both hands, actually — this kind of thing aggravates my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, so I need to space out my work days. It makes for slow progress. I probably won’t even try to finish my desk until next week, or maybe even after I come back from the cottage.

Stick around. For my next trick I’ll be building a sukkah frame in yet another new location this year. Will it blow over? Watch and see…

DIY · education · el cheapo · Homeschool · Kids

Day 155: Teaching E to Read

Now that E is well and truly riding her bike independently (including starting, stopping, and turning), I’m turning my focus back to her reading skills.

When we started with the Bob Books she was zooming right through them. At this point, though, starting set four, she is — how should I say this? — extremely opposed to reading. It seems that she has the same perfectionist streak as her siblings: if she can’t do it perfectly the first time, she gets very upset and refuses to do it at all. Maybe I need to break out the chocolate chips again and reward her every time she’s stumped by a word but works through it?

I’ve taken the advice of some of my readers (thanks, guys!) and tried some of the books from Progressive Phonics. They’re a lot of fun, with silly stories that are designed for the adult and child to take turns reading (adult reads all the words in black, child reads all the words in red.) They’re very basic and easy for her, but I’ve been using them intermittently to keep E enjoying the experience of reading.

In the meantime I’ve discovered a plethora of online resources, many of them free, including this amazing blog called This Reading Mama where, for the low, low price of signing up for her free email newsletter, you can access and download hundreds of materials. I was particularly excited because she has entire packages of games, activities, and puzzles that correspond to each of the Bob Books. I downloaded two to see how E would like them.

She loved them. She was particularly drawn to “I Spy Sight Words” where sight words from the books are printed in teeny-tiny fonts (maybe 4 point?) and hidden in a picture. E was delighted when I handed her the magnifying glass to aid in her search, and she kept me updated by shrieking out the sight words as she found them. I don’t think she even realized she was reading.

We played the “Blend-a-Word” game, in which you draw cards from two piles (beginning and ending), throw them into the “blender” (a printed picture of one, really) and read the result. The beautiful thing about this game is that you’re supposed to write down all the words, including nonsense words that aren’t words at all. The idea of nonsense words tickled E and she was keen to be the first to read the two cards together to see if she could spot a fake word before I could.

Her favourite by far (she loved it enough to play repeatedly with anyone and everyone) is “Oh, Snap!” This one wasn’t from the Bob Books activity packs — I think I found it on Pinterest. The players take turns pulling popsicle sticks out of a cup. If they can read the word written on the end of their stick, they get to keep it; first one to ten sticks wins. Pretty simple, but there are three or four sicks that say “oh snap!” on them. If you get one of those, all of your sticks go back and you have to start from zero. Despite some tears the first couple of times she picked up an “oh snap!”, E keeps coming back to this game.

That’s how we spent an hour this morning: playing games and doing puzzles, reading and playing with the words from the next few Bob books in the series. I’m curious to find out whether E reads the books more easily now that she’s seen the words so many times in a different context. I’ll keep you posted.

DIY · fame and shame · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 154: We Broke the Bed.

This morning when I woke up, I rolled towards Mr. December. That’s not odd in and of itself, but I hadn’t intended to roll that way — there was a huge depression in our mattress. When we finally made it out of the mattress (gravity is not your friend when you’re in a valley, it seems) we took it off the bed and saw this:

Looks like we broke the bed.

(Cue raunchy jokes here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

It absolutely should not have broken. We bought it new less than two years ago and have only ever used it for its intended purposes. On closer examination, however, I noticed that IKEA saved money by using finger-jointed pine slats instead of solid wood. Sure enough, the boards were broken neatly right at the finger joints. Not smart, IKEA. Not smart.

I tried to leave a review on their website to alert IKEA to this problem, but one technical glitch after another meant that their website categorically refused to accept my review. I wonder if that’s a bug, or a feature?

Anyhow, we clearly had to fix it today… which was fun, actually, because fixing it meant buying new boards, which meant going to Lowe’s, which is my happy place. And I biked, which is my favourite form of transportation. I hopped on the bakfiets with E, who wanted to come along for the ride, and we headed out along the trail (there’s a trail that starts a few blocks away and goes straight to Lowe’s without crossing any major streets.)

I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the lumber and E sharing space in the bike. But I did snap this quick and blurry photo of her riding on the cart at Lowe’s, after we had the boards cut. She was very helpful, actually — if she wants an apprenticeship, she’s hired.

Back at home, it was a pretty quick fix. I removed the old slats (keeping two of them, one for each end) and laid the new, wide, solid wood ones on the rails. To keep them in place and distribute the force more evenly I created floating joists by screwing the boards to a 2×2 that ran up the length of the bed. I left the ends of the floating joist a bit long, so that they slipped under the bed frame, and added an extra floating joist around the middle of the bed (a.k.a. the “bouncy zone”) for extra strength.

Here are a few closeups of the newly repaired mattress support:

I think this repair is solid enough to withstand any and all “intended uses.” And now that my bed is ready for me, I’m going to get reacquainted with it. Good night!

better homes than yours · DIY · Kids · Renovation

Day 153: Cheery blues (house tour continued)

Welcome to K’s room!

Naturally, we started with the paint colour (which every decorator and designer will tell you is exactly the wrong thing to start with.) K chose Bahaman Sea Blue. I talked her into trying something very different with the paint: we painted the ceiling and trim in her colour of choice and kept the walls white.

The door (almost all the doors of the house, in fact) is painted in an unusual way. I had the idea of painting the splines (the door’s edges) and the recessed panel in colour, and the rails and stiles in white. It’s one of the details that I absolutely love about this house: the colour of each door hints at the room beyond.

We decided to split up K’s wardrobes and use two of them to flank her bed, with the remaining one tucked beside her desk. I found the turquoise crystal knobs on Amazon, much to her delight. The wardrobes are set up with lights that turn on whenever the doors are open.

K’s bed is the one I built for her just before E was born. I never got around to painting it, and now K doesn’t really want me to. It’s solid, simple, and has enough room underneath to house an extra single mattress. My mom found the duvet cover and pillow sham and decided it was perfect for K’s room. She was right.

K also sleeps with the quilt I made her when she moved into her first big-girl bed. I still get a little thrill every time I see her wrapped up in it.

Her bedside table arrangement is another thing that is turning out to be more permanent than I hoped. On one side she has a shoe cabinet from IKEA, and the other side is a wire cart I’ve had pretty much forever. Not pretty, but they get the job done.

K’s desk… oy, her desk. Even after I organized the wall with some pegboard to hold stationery, school supplies, and mementoes, it’s still covered with stuff all the time. The under-shelf lighting I installed as a space-saving alternative to a desk lamp never gets used. Underneath the desk live all sorts of stuffies and special pillows. It’s not really a work space and K isn’t keen on making it one.

Here’s my favourite feature in this room: K’s display and storage wall. I hacked it using TRONES shoe cabinets and some shelves from IKEA, with picture ledges above. The cabinets, which I customized with some quilting fabric and mod podge, tilt open to store K’s dance costumes, craft kits, and other random stuff. Her rubber duck collection has taken up residence on the display ledges along with various certificates and pictures. Beside the shelves, a giant stuffed giraffe named “Giraffy Taffy” stands guard against duck theft.

I still want to add some kind of statement-making display of books and art to the blank wall; maybe one day I’ll have time for projects again. In the meantime, this room is K’s haven. Sometimes I even wish it was mine.

crafty · DIY · Jewy goodness · Kids

Day 152: Good thing I kept those DVDs

I finally found a use for that stack of blank DVD-Rs that’s been hanging around our storage room.

When we decluttered our basement playroom five years ago, I said, “You know what, these might come in handy. I’ll hang onto them for now.”

When we packed everything up to put into a storage pod when we renovated I said, “I know it sounds silly, but I really think we’ll use these for a craft someday. I’m keeping them.”

When we unpacked and organized our storage room, I said, “Those would probably make great sukkah decorations. Better keep them. I’ll get around to using them one of these years.”

Today I finally got around to it.

N’s most recent Tinker Crate (like a Kiwi Crate, but for older kids) was a “spin art” box. He built the circuit with a motor and a switch, finished assembling the flat plate to put the paper on, and situated it all in the box. Then the fun began; we were all just a little fixated on the beautiful patterns we made just by switching the motor on and dropping bits of paint onto a piece of paper as it spun.

Today I was looking for sukkah decoration ideas that are waterproof and could be reused year after year. You know, the same search I do every August when I decide to prepare way ahead of time. Pinterest kept showing me repurposed CD crafts, and suddenly my brain switched on and I realized that I should do spin art on the DVDs I’d saved for so many years.

The paint that came with the spin art kit was washable, though, and I had visions of our sukkah as a Salvador Dali painting, with the paint dripping sadly off of the DVDs as it rained. No, washable paint was out — I needed something waterproof. Enter nail polish. It’s not something I usually keep on hand, but I’d just bought a variety of colours for a science experiment. Armed with the spin art Tinker Crate, nail polish, and a stack of DVDs, I went outside with E and R to experiment.

The results are pretty cool. See for yourselves:

Thirteen down, thirty-three to go… and then we’ll do the other side as well, so we can hang these as a mobile in the sukkah.

Of course I need to build the sukkah first. I have to do the bulk of the build before we leave for the cottage, because we’re returning on Erev Sukkot. So I’ll put up the frame before we go, have all the roofing, furnishings, and decoration ready to install, and just put it all together as soon as we get back. It’ll be a challenge, but I think I’m up for it.

Next on my list: Figuring out what to do for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the cottage. Any ideas?

blogging · DIY · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real

Day 151: Thanks, Fibro Fairies!

I woke up very late this morning. Mr. December and R took one look at me and said, “You look really tired. You don’t have to get up yet.”

Good, because I wasn’t going to. Because I couldn’t. The Fibro Fairies had showed up in the night and dressed me in a lead suit. Again.

That’s how it feels, anyway. Every physical action is an extreme effort. When I sit, my arms flop uselessly at my sides. My fingers feel too clumsy to braid the girls’ hair. I’ve stayed on one floor of the house all day long because going up one flight of stairs made my quads burn like I’d been doing hundreds of lunges. My coffee cup seems to have been swapped out for a weighted one (thanks, Fibro Fairies.) You know it’s bad when I can’t justify the effort it would take to get food to my mouth.

Inside my brain, everything feels fogged up or bogged down. My cerebrospinal fluid is competing with Jell-o for the viscosity award. I open my mouth to speak and the words come out at half their normal speed. I’m speaking so slowly that the words don’t seem to have hung onto each other, and so halfway through a sentence I just… kind of… forget what I was… um…


I’ve been wondering how successfully I could homeschool through a fibro flare. Thanks to Mr. December’s insistence on what he calls “scalability” and what I call “learn it your own damn self”, the kids went through their math and writing books with minimal resistance (I told N to go through the rest of his book, find one unit he felt he could do, and do that one.) Then I set up the Kobo on my lap (it has a neat cover that turns into a great little stand) and read to them from Ragtime, which I think counts as learning history.

(By the way, many parts of Ragtime are highly inappropriate for kids. I edit on the fly, skipping all the explicit sex stuff.)

True, they played more computer games today than I would have liked, but they completed their work in the core subjects and did a bit of extra learning in history. Then a Kiwi Crate arrived (just in time!) and E built a little wooden disc launcher. While it’s true that she asked me to help, I mostly just pointed to the diagrams alongside the instructions and she built it herself.

If I really wanted to keep them doing something educational, I could have put on some history videos or an episode of Cosmos or something. Wasn’t that what our teachers did at school when they needed a break? I don’t know about you, but I watched a bunch of movies in elementary school, plus multiple episodes of Degrassi Junior High.

All of that to say that I’m not at my best today. I’m not even going back through to edit this post. I’m just going to leave this here and stagger back to my hammock (did I mention that I love the hammock? I can just tuck my phone, kobo, and water bottle in right next to me and it stays within reach.) Shabbat Shalom, and to all a good night.