community · Early morning musings · el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · Sartorial stuff

Day 450: Bagels, Bugs, and Buying Shoes

Our day started early. We were scheduled to be at the community orchard for volunteer duty at 8:30; the kids resisted the idea of an early (for a Sunday) wake-up. In the face of their complaints, Mr. December and I did what any good managers would do: we added an incentive.

“Here’s the deal: Abba will be walking to the bakery to get fresh bread, and then he’ll head to the park. If we get there by 8:10 we’ll have time to eat our fresh bread for breakfast before the volunteer shift starts.”

It was beautiful out this morning as we enjoyed our fresh (still warm!) bagels and cream cheese at the long harvest table in the park. The kids even got there early enough to play for a bit before our work began.

Our job is to monitor the insect traps: we have to empty them through a strainer, examine and identify the bugs we caught, then rinse and refill the traps with bait and return them to the trees.

All the kids were on board a few weeks ago when we built the traps and mixed our first batch of bait. But this morning, as they saw the bugs collecting in the sieve, three of them backed away and asked the Orchard-Person-in-Chief for a different assignment. R and N spent some time digging and weeding in the pollinator garden bed while E was assigned the task of inspecting all the fruit trees for gypsy moths and ladybugs (squish the former, save the latter.)

K was my partner in entomological fun. She took some remarkably good pictures of the bugs we found. We spent a significant amount of time googling moth identification images and trying to figure out why the colouring was off; geniuses that we are, it was twenty minutes before we realized that the colouring was off because the moths had been sitting in a molasses-and-cider-vinegar bath for a few days. Of course. We confirmed that they were gypsy moths and then identified the cherry fruit flies (did you know they have stripes on their abdomen?). We even found a huge spider and her breakfast leftovers—half of a fly.

By 9:30 Mr. December and the two older kids had headed home to start their school day; R kept on weeding the pollinator bed while E and I went hunting for ladybugs to relocate to the aphid-infested plum tree.

I’m sure you had no idea—I certainly didn’t—but getting immature ladybugs off of their leaves is worse than getting four kids to leave the house… and the ladybugs can’t be bribed with bagels.

After the fresh bagels, the volunteer time in the orchard, and learning formal logic with the kids, I discovered that my feet fit into youth size six shoes. Why does this matter, you ask? Because I want a pair of Keens, and the kids’ sizes are nearly half the price of the adult ones—and they come in way better colours, too. And, as I put it to Mr. December:

“If I can buy kids’ shoes at half the price of the adult ones, does that mean I can get two pairs?”

DIY · Early morning musings · fame and shame · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff · whine and cheese

Day 446: In which I surrender to the sun.

Look, I’m not giving up, I’m…

Okay, fine. I’m giving up.

I no longer believe that the curtains in our bedroom are going to be able to keep it dark enough in the face of direct sunlight in the mornings. Right now it’s dark enough only because most of the windows are blocked off with cardboard (it looks really classy from outside, I tell you.) That’s not a long-term solution, not for me at least. Mr. December would just as soon paint all the window glass black and call it a day.

At the beginning of this whole saga, I could have just bought a few blackout roller shades and added some curtain panels on top to take care of those pesky lines of light around the edges. But no, I had to have something that looked good because our house was so cool. Roller shades were just so… blah. Not attractive at all.

That’s why I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but here goes:

I just bought blackout roller shades to install in our bedroom, behind the curtains, to help block out more of the light.

Yep, exactly the kind of shades I didn’t want to install in the first place.

See why I say I’m giving up?

In other sun-related news, summer is unofficially here—and with it, the first sunburn of the season. I hope my body at least managed to finally make some of its own Vitamin D. If I needed to draw a self-portrait in crayon or marker, I’d be able to use the one marked “berry red sunburn” instead of my usual (boring) “peaches and cream-would-do-wonders-for-that-redness-on-your-pale-face-you-know.”

Don’t worry, though, it only has to happen once for me to just wear a sunshirt if I’m going outside for the rest of the summer. Just like with returning library books, I’m too absent-minded to be trusted to put sunscreen on consistently.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be swimming in Aloe Vera gel.

Early morning musings · Keepin' it real · love and marriage

Day 425: Curtain Call

Every marriage has its bone of contention. Ours is curtains: specifically those in our bedroom.

Mr. December needs complete darkness to sleep; if light filters in around the edges of our full-length blackout curtains in the morning, he’s up. And once he’s awake, he’s up for the day. Not everyone has been gifted the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat (an ability that has earned me a nickname around here: “Sleep-a-pillar”.)

During the winter it doesn’t matter so much. The sun comes up late enough that if it wakes us up, it was probably time to get up anyway. But from May to August, the sun shines straight at our many windows (I stand by that design decision despite the apparent downsides) and brightens up the room at five or six in the morning. Way too early.

It’s that time of year again and Mr. December has been terribly tired for the last few days. It’s not like we’re going to sleep particularly late, it’s just that he’s waking up extremely early. So tonight we’ve declared an ETB (Early To Bed) just like they do at summer camp when it’s five days to visiting day and the kids all have dark circles under their eyes (what, didn’t they do that at every camp?). The kids are already in their beds. I’m waiting for Mr. December’s evening meeting to end, and then we’ll head on upstairs too.

Tomorrow morning you can expect me to be trying to figure out how to trap those last little rays of sunshine so that we don’t have to keep having this discussion every year for the next fifty or sixty years. I’d rather have a recurring argument that’s a little more interesting. So if you see me trying to fashion a mock-up of a cornice moulding or a valence out of the cardboard box from our new TV, you’ll understand that I’m doing it in the name of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home.

Because there’s nothing more peaceful than sleep. Right?

Early morning musings · Fibro Flares · Kids · love and marriage · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 384: Is *that* why I’m so happy?

Yesterday when I hauled my achy body downstairs in the morning, a full, fresh pot of hazelnut coffee was a very welcome sight. Mr. December had gotten downstairs before me.

“Kids,” I said after I’d had my first sip, “Your father is a prince among men.”

“Why?” They asked.

“Because he makes me coffee in the mornings; When I come downstairs I can have a nice warm drink right away.” I said.

“And that makes him a prince?” K inquired.

I nodded.

“Because he made you coffee, which he was making for himself anyway?” She prodded further.

“Because he makes enough coffee for us both to have refills. And he does it every time without my having to even ask. Besides, it’s not the grand romantic gestures that make love last. It’s all the little things you do to make each other’s day even just a bit better.” I’ll admit I was pretty proud of squeezing in an important life lesson before we’d even had breakfast. I looked over the rim of my coffee cup at the kids, watching to see how they digested what I’d said. K spoke up first.

“Eema…” she paused as if looking for the right words, “I think maybe your standards are too low.”

bikes planes and automobiles · Early morning musings · family fun · Homeschool · The COVID files

Day 158: That’s a Paddlin’

We went kayaking on Lake Ontario early this morning.

For a few years now I’ve been contemplating how great it would be if I had a canoe or kayak and could go paddling anytime, without having to find a rental. Until this year I assumed that would always be a pipe dream, because where exactly would I store a canoe or kayak? Of course, there wouldn’t be just one; we’re a family of six, and two is the minimum number I could get away with just from an “adult accompaniment” point of view.

When COVID had struck and springtime came, I was looking for outdoor activities to do with the kids. I mused that we could easily go and paddle in the lake or on a river somewhere (I hear the Humber River is nice) if only we had kayaks. Renting wasn’t even an option seeing as at that point everything was closed.

Then a good friend mentioned that her family had four inflatable kayaks. Wait, what? Inflatable kayaks? That’s a thing? Are they just chintzy inflatable rafts with paddles? She assured me that the kayaks were great, they really enjoyed using them, and (best of all) they were $150 each on Amazon. I went to Mr. December and said, “Hey, let’s get some kayaks.”

He was less than enthused, that’s for sure; just like he was the first time I mentioned a bakfiets or mounting swings in the playroom. I used the same strategies as I had those two times: I did my research, kept talking about it, and then essentially informed him that I was buying two kayaks.

They arrived in under a week. And this morning we finally took them out to Cherry Beach and went for a paddle.

It was amazing. I love kayaking and canoeing. I love the feeling of power in my shoulders making its way down and outward to the blades of my paddle. The fresh air, the sunshine, the view, and the exercise — it’s such a pure, heady feeling. A bit like biking, if I was biking somewhere with lovely scenery and zero traffic.

The only regret I have about these kayaks is not buying them in the spring. To think that I could have been paddling all this time! I feel the need to make up for lost time, so from now until it gets too cold our homeschool phys ed program will be focusing on kayak skills… if I take the kids with me, that is.

Early morning musings · education · family fun · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 137: Overheard

A few sound bites from our day today, in no particular order:

“Why is your underwear in the garbage?”

“Please keep your tongue inside your head.”

“Stop licking me. You’re not a cat.”

“No, you can’t have more grape juice. You already had two refills… Of course I know that, I’m the one who poured them!”

“Listen, I know you’re bored. That’s no excuse for swinging your hammock into my elbow.”

“I’d take the sheep if I were you. It’s almost harvest time and you have no food!”

“Would you get off my farm and take your turn already!?”

“Hey, look! There’s a tiger carrying a unicorn, running along the beach! And he’s being chased by a reindeer!”

We went to the beach at 6 a.m., where we swam and I introduced Mr. December to a sun salutation (his downward dog could use some work.) When we came home, Mr. December asked what the kids were supposed to do today.

“I think it can either be a day off or an unschooling day,” I answered.

I’m not sure which of the two it ended up being. The kids built an epic fort with a giant cardboard box, enlisting me to make a latch for the door (problem solved with two popsicle sticks, two wooden beads, and a very neat machine screw with its own sheath-type screw. I don’t know what it’s called, but IKEA uses it to hold multiple bookcases together.) N read a whole lot of Horrible Science books, popping in to share the gruesome details every so often. We made challah.

Then I played Agricola (a board game) with E and R, which was agonizing. In retrospect, I should have known that they’d be more interested in creating plot lines for their little people-shaped player tokens and the Fimo livestock they raise. It was adorable that whenever they took a “family growth” action (where you add an extra player token to your board) they needed to discuss names and genders of the new family member, but by the second hour I was getting antsy.

“Just give everybody five food and skip to the last round,” Mr. December advised. I took his advice and silently added some of my own: do not play this game with these girls while they’re still interested in playing with dolls.

Tonight, at my parents’ house for Shabbat dinner, I moved the TV remote and told the kids they couldn’t watch at all. They complained about boredom and “nothing to do,” and I ignored them. In the end they made up their own game which involved one person as the “judge” and the other players singing a song, in turn, that they thought the judge would like. It was cute.

On the way home I joined the game. I won three rounds in a row before we got home, and the kids learned an important lesson: when it comes to picking an appropriate song for an individual, never go up against a music therapist. We’ll always win.

Early morning musings · education · family fun

Day 131: There’s a 5:00 in the MORNING?

Yes, there’s a 5:00 in the morning. Who knew? I mean, I’d heard these rumors that early mornings were a thing, but I don’t think I really believed them until today.

My alarm went off at five this morning. Fortunately I had set the coffee maker correctly, so my coffee was ready for me as soon as I staggered downstairs. Our goal was to leave the house by 5:20 so we could get to the beach in time to watch the sunrise.

We made it – sort of. Sunrise was at 5:59. Unfortunately, the gate to the beach parking lot opens at 6:00, and when we arrived there was a lineup of cars waiting to get in. So much for my idea of us watching the sunrise on a deserted beach, eating the pancakes that we prepared yesterday for today’s breakfast.

It was a bit of a fail on both counts, actually. Not only did we miss the sunrise itself, we also forgot the pancakes because someone (okay, it was me) thought it would be nice to warm them up a bit before packing them in the bag. The pancakes spent the next three hours cooling right where I’d left them, in the microwave.

Mr. December admitted that there were a few things we hadn’t taken into account. For his part, he had this image in his head of it still being pretty dark just before sunrise; I guess he forgot that the dawn comes before the sunrise rather than after. I guess that’s what happens when a night owl plans to be an early bird for the day; he’s never seen the dawn, so how would he know?

All of that aside, the sky was gorgeous this morning. The beach was sandy and soft, with none of the rocks that we’ve had at other beaches along Lake Ontario. R and E immediately started playing in the sand and dipping their toes in the frigid water. Mr. December and K joined them and they all waded out a bit until they found a sand bar. E put on her life jacket and body surfed on the tiny waves made by boats out on the water.

It was a bit chilly when we arrived, but by 7:45 my back and shoulders felt hot in the sun (under my sun shirt, of course). By 8:15 the beach was starting to fill up with people and the girls were hungry (no pancakes, remember?), so we decided to pack up. When we got back to the car there were people lined up in the parking lot, just waiting for someone to leave.

Now it’s almost 10 p.m. and I feel like it’s past midnight. When I went to tuck R in at 8:30 she insisted that she wasn’t tired. Couldn’t she have more time? I relented with this caveat: “I know you’re not tired, but I am. I’ve been up and doing the mom thing since 5 this morning, and I’m done. I’m kissing you goodnight now, because Nice Mommy is going off shift very soon.”

I’m too tired to end this post elegantly, so I’ll just end it with my favourite picture from this morning.

Early morning musings · Kids · parenting · Resorting to Violins

Night owl seeks 6 a.m.

I thought this day would never come.

Oh sure, I’ve aspired to be a morning person my whole life. The early morning is so peaceful and calm, not to mention the beautiful sunrises. But I’ve never managed to keep it up. A week here, a couple of days there, and the exhaustion would hit me hard enough that I gave it up.

Until now.

The only difference that I can see is my mindset. Waking up later is not an option anymore; the same way that 8:00 used to be my cutoff wake-up time because otherwise the kids would be late to school, 6:00 is now my cutoff wake-up time because otherwise I’m just not as nice a parent or as effective a person as I’d like to be.

So how did I do it?

Mostly once I made up my mind that I have to wake up before everyone else I was able to force myself to follow through. But a few tricks have helped me:

My alarm doesn’t yell at me or blare music. Instead, I hear the sound of chirping birds, soft at first, then getting louder. It’s like slowly waking up in the woods – I can lie there and laze for a few minutes, but it’s hard to resist getting up. (Note: this doesn’t work for everybody. My mum tried it and said she woke up in a good mood for the first week, and then she started waking up thinking, “Shut up, birds!”)

I never thought my penchant for reading fanfic on my phone would help me become a morning person, but here we are. I usually read for about 20 minutes before I even get out of bed. I find that the light from the screen wakes up my brain. A few articles or some chapters of a story, and I’m awake enough to get up without hurting myself.

I get dressed right away. I arrange all my morning clothes – including socks and underwear – one one hanger that hangs on the door handle of my wardrobe. I can (and usually do) get dressed in the dark. It’s quick – no decisions, no searching for the perfect socks – and once I’m dressed I can’t get back into bed.

When I leave the bedroom, I close all the doors to the bedroom hallway and then turn on every light in the kitchen, living room, and dining room. It helps me pretend that it’s not still nighttime.

And then… then my time is my own for at least half an hour. I blog. I stretch. Sometimes I clear my desk and pay and file the bills. Some mornings I start a pot of oatmeal on the stove. I get important things out of the way before my day really begins.

(Hot tip: If you have to call a customer service line of some kind, do it around 7 a.m. Nobody else is calling at that hour and you’ll spend exactly zero minutes on hold. It’s magical.)

Is all this worth it? You could ask my kids, who’d probably tell you that now I wake them up with a song and a snuggle instead of by shouting, “Get UP! We have to GO!”; you could ask our violin teacher, who would tell you that the kids’ progress has accelerated since we started practicing daily before school (after school practice was a fight); Or you could ask me.

I like myself better when I wake up early. By 9:00 a.m. I’ve already accomplished something beyond getting the kids to school. I’m so much more productive when nobody else is awake that my morning half-hour of work can easily cover an hour or more of daytime effort.

And that’s a really good thing, because holy cow, am I exhausted. I’m going to need a nap.


Are you an early riser? An aspiring one? An unapologetic night owl? Share your tips, if you’ve got any, in the comments below. If mine stop working I’m going to need more in my arsenal.