bikes planes and automobiles · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 419: Classroom of the year

We had the perfect confluence of events today: Mr. December wasn’t teaching today, and the weather was beautiful. I decided we’d spend the entire morning doing our schoolwork at the park.

Our morning was the kind of morning that makes me fall in love with homeschooling all over again. We biked out to the park with all our stuff and chose a picnic table to serve as our classroom. I gave the kids ten minutes to play in the playground and when I called them back, it was to join me on our picnic blanket for music class.

I’ve found a video-based curriculum that teaches theory, sight singing, and ear training. About a minute into the first video, the kids we complaining that the teacher talked too much and that the whole video was stupid. “Can’t you just teach us this stuff without watching the videos?” they pleaded.

So today, on our blanket, we reviewed the solfege hand signs and I taught them about major chords. We sang through a few simple songs with the hand signs. I even had them figure out the names and hand signs for the first bar of “O Canada.” By the end of class, even the most tone-deaf of my kids was singing “Sol, Mi, Doh” in tune.

We took a quick break while I tethered our laptop to my cellphone for the internet access; then I set E up with wireless headphones at a nearby table for her Zoom class. While she was learning about Shavuot in Hebrew, we were learning Latin roots and then previewing and discussing the kids’ literary essays. Next up was our read-aloud of Animal Farm. I hadn’t quite planned it this way, but we finished the book today.

“That was the best book ending ever!” K said, wide-eyed. I happen to agree with her.

Then it was free play for everyone as, one at a time, the kids joined me on the blanket to practice their Hebrew reading. R decided to bike a bit more (easily done, as this park is huge and flat with several little paths) while E tried some challenging new climbers.

Three hours after we started school, we all packed up and biked home. It had been a remarkably easy morning: no arguments, no resistance, and no complaints. Everyone participated. Everyone enjoyed it. We all got some exercise, fresh air, and Vitamin D. I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better school day. Maybe we should do it again tomorrow.

A picnic table in the park. Best classroom we’ve had all year!
bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Fibro Flares

Day 417: Where has he been all this time?

Mr. December is currently out with all four kids, biking to a bubble tea place to celebrate R’s finishing all the grade five Kumon workbooks. Grade six math, here she comes!

Everyone was running to and fro, looking for socks and masks and helmets, as I stood on the front porch and watched.

“You’re not coming?” Mr. December looked puzzled.

“I’m already feeling pain in my legs,” I said. “If I come with you I might not be functional tomorrow. I’m not sure that’s worth it. Just get me a bubble tea.”

He frowned, “Wow, you really can’t go anywhere! That sucks!” He said it as if this was the first time he’d ever noticed my limitations.

“No kidding,” I deadpanned, channeling my late Buby. I wanted to say something a bit more colourful, but there were children present.


It’s not that I’m in a flare—I’m not—and it’s not like I can’t do anything. After all, we started this morning with a workout that included holding a wall sit for 75 seconds, doing a bunch of squats, a full minute-long plank followed by another thirty seconds, and push-ups. I sweated, I felt the burn, it felt great.

OOH, LOOK! BUNNIES! I’m not kidding! I just looked out my window and noticed two adorable bunnies eating our lawn. I wonder if I can attract more of them—it might save us having to mow the lawn!

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Exercise, feeling the burn, not completely incapacitated. But it’s so hard to know what kind of effect the 4K bike ride will have on my legs if they’re already sore. I figured it’s safer to stay back, if a bit disappointing and a lot less fun. At least K promised to bring me my bubble tea.

bikes planes and automobiles · blogging · family fun · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 416: A Review Of Mother’s Day (Guest Post)

Today R decided to write a guest blog post: a behind-the-scenes look at how my Mother’s Day treat got picked up. I did correct the name of the bakery and I did a bit of capitalization clean-up, but all the words (and most of the punctuation, including the semicolon) are R’s. Enjoy.


Yesterday at 8:25 Abba woke me up saying “Were going to pick up scones for mothers day.” We biked to Baker and Scone and stood in a line for what felt like forever. We were only really standing there for fifteen to twenty minutes before we realized we were in the wrong line; apparently, for pick up, you just walked up to the door and they’ll bring you your order. We were standing in the line to order from the store/restaurant. While a worker went to get our order E decided to get off her bike, and tripped over over what I think was the wooden porch and hit her head right over one of the ears (can’t remember if it was the right side or the left.) Once we got our order and made sure it was secured on Abba’s and K’s bikes we headed off. N and Abba went a bit ahead, so me and K stayed with E to make sure she was okay. When we were only a block away from the store I checked on E to make sure she was okay. E said she had a headache, so once we crossed the street and joined Abba and N on the other side E told Abba about her headache and Abba called Ema to pick E up. Despite there being room for one more bike and a person, Abba made me, K and N bike home. When we got home and washed our hands, I went to swing in the attic, only to be called down five minutes later to eat our scones. We had to do school on Sunday because it worked better with Abba’s schedule. Sunday was an all-math day. And I’m almost done grade five in math! Around three we got out of school and I got online with my friends.


There you have it. They all went out to pick up treats and then I got called to drive over and rescue one of them; so not only did I get scones and jam, I also got the gift of feeling needed. Not to mention, of course, the gift of not having to think of what to blog about for two days in a row. Now, that’s really something.

family fun · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 405: I might be too chicken…

I’ve been googling some strange things lately. Like “chicken diapers.” Yup, that’s a thing.

It started with a bit of a “field trip” to play with some baby chickens that had just hatched. Needless to say, the chicks were adorable and the kids were enthralled. I was, too. When the kids asked whether we could hatch some chicks, too, I told them that if they did the research and presented a proposal to us, we’d seriously consider it.

We’ve talked about having backyard chickens before. It’s legal in our part of the city and there are farms that will rent you chickens for the summer and take them back when it gets too cold outside (if you don’t want to have to heat a coop and so on.) And we do like eggs for breakfast. Anyhow, this isn’t a sudden whim—just like with homeschooling, it’s been percolating for quite a few years and could become reality with the help of a small catalyst (like, say, some close encounters with cute chicks.)

My “sister from another mister” (you know who you are) put me in touch with a friend of hers who has backyard chickens and lives near me. She has invited us to come see the chickens and their coop (COVID restrictions permitting, of course.)

So nothing has been decided, but—like with homeschooling—small things are nudging us in the direction of having some feathered pets this summer. Would it be cruel to name them Curry, Schnitzel, and Drumstick?

DIY · family fun · Kids · The COVID files

Day 403: Is it haircut day already?

“Eema, will you cut my hair?” R asked. “I want it shorter.”

So I did what any parent does in these locked-down times: I sent her for my hair-cutting scissors, thinning shears, and a comb.

I chatted as I worked. It sounded a bit like this:

“Okay, you wanted it just past your shoulders? Here. That’s how long it’ll be.”

“Hmmm… I think the left side is shorter than the right. I’d better straighten it out.”

“Um, R? You’d better have a look in the mirror before I keep going.”

I held my breath as she ran inside (we cut hair on the front porch) to check my work. She emerged from the bathroom smiling. “It’s perfect!” she enthused as she posed for the obligatory post-cut pictures.

Then K approached me and said, “Actually, I was wondering if you could just cut the back of mine. It’s too long and it’s annoying me.”

“Just the back?” I confirmed. “Sure. Have a seat.”

I have to say, I’m pleased with the results. I’m also pleased with how we managed to fill an evening without screens.


Speaking of evenings without screens, I’m without my computer for the next day and a half. Mine kept dying on us while warning me that “battery requires service.” So I took it in to the geniuses at Apple. Is it just me, or does calling it the “genius bar” kind of dilute the meaning of “genius”? I’m sure there are bona-fide geniuses working for apple—I know a couple personally—but mostly as programmers rather than storefront employees.

Anyhow, they ran some tests and the only thing wrong with my laptop is the battery. Apparently they consider this a “quality” issue, so they’re replacing it for free… which takes up to 48 hours. Looks like I have some free time in my immediate future.

blogging · family fun · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 401: Noise Pollution

This is my fourth draft for tonight. I’ve been trying to write a heartfelt post about how glad I am that Friday’s post made so many people feel seen and understood. But Mr. December and the kids are watching some foolishness on our the new TV, and it’s way too loud for me to think.

I was afraid of this. We’ve watched far more TV than we would have if we had to watch upstairs in the attic or on one of the computers. It’s too much. Maybe it’s time for me to hide the remote and push everyone outside—although that also has the potential to fail the way it did today.

It’s springtime, which I know not because of the calendar or the weather, but because my neighbour’s lawn care guy is back at it, spending thirty minutes using a leaf blower to make sure there are no grass clippings anywhere on the lawn. It’s the same leaf blower as in years past: gas-powered, smelly, and obnoxiously loud. And it’s the same time slot as last year, too: between 4:30 and 5:30 on Sunday afternoon, A.K.A. right when you want to be outside with your family.

So of course today when I declared that there would be no more screen time until everyone had spent at least an hour outside, we opened the back door to the sound (and smell) of the leaf blower. Grrr.

Short of petitioning City Hall to ban leaf blowers (or at least the gas-powered kind) there’s not much I can do about that; but the TV noise is a problem of my own making. Can anyone remind me why we bought the TV? I can’t remember anymore. Or maybe I just can’t think of it over the sound of YouTube on the big screen.

family fun · mental health · parenting · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 399: Picture Me

I’m very picky about what pictures of myself I allow to be seen. They should be taken from slightly above me, so I don’t have a double chin, and never in profile, because then my belly looks huge. These are the things I look at first every time I see a picture of myself.

I’ve learned to get creative when posing for family pictures. Having small children helps, because they’re so willing to stand in front of me and be hugged. I’ve hidden behind my kids, my husband, my guitar, and my bike. Even then, I demand veto power before any photos are shared. At least, I try to.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want my great-grandchildren to look at me and say, “Why do we only see her from the shoulders up?” and then learn that I was ashamed to let my body show because I was fatter than the current fashion. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might resemble me, right down to body type. Am I being ridiculous to think that if they see me effectively hiding my body in every picture, they might infer that there’s something wrong with our shared shape?

Maybe the opposite is true, too: maybe they’ll see me, with a double chin and a belly, and say, “That was my great-grandmother. She did so many cool things—music, and building stuff, and quilting, and homeschooling my grandma—and look, she’s got the same chin as me. And she had a belly, too, like I do. And she’s so pretty. That must mean I’m pretty too.”

Of course, I’d be even happier if it didn’t occur to my great-grandkids to judge themselves based on where they carry their extra weight. But in order for that to happen, I first have to raise kids who know better, too, which means that I have to step up and model how I think we should relate to our bodies.

That means no more asking, “Do I look fat in this dress?”; not obsessing over or cataloguing every morsel of food I ingest; not calling myself “bad” for eating an extra slice of cheesecake; and not acting like my body shape and size is so unacceptable that I have to hide it. Not that I plan to wear skintight, revealing clothing from now on—that’s never been my thing, even when I’ve been slim—but I don’t have to choose clothes solely based on how well they hide my fat. My body isn’t wrong, it’s not broken, and I’m not less deserving of being seen because I wear a size fourteen or sixteen instead of a six or eight.

Which brings us back to pictures of me. This evening after dinner we took R and E to the park. I was wearing the dress I bought from eShakti, which might well be my favourite piece of clothing. It’s super comfortable, it has a huge pocket, and the skirt is flowy. I was sitting on the bench with Mr. December, the breeze playing with my hair, and all at once I just felt… pretty.

“I’ve got a dilemma,” I told Mr. December. “I feel so pretty right now, and I think I want you to take a picture of me. Then again, what if you take the picture and I see that I don’t look nearly as pretty as I feel?”

Which is ridiculous, because that would be conflating beauty with size, which are not mutually exclusive. I have quite a few friends and relatives who aren’t thin, and many of them are just gorgeous, full stop. I love and admire them. They don’t need to change their bodies. Their beauty isn’t conditional on their weight. Why, then, have I always felt like mine is?

In the end, the joy of the moment won out over my fat phobia, and I posed for a few pictures. I’m sharing them with you here, deliberately including the ones that I would normally edit out, because I need to learn to see my own beauty with the extra chin and the fat, instead of seeing my beauty despite it.

Darn Tootin' · DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Resorting to Violins

Day 395: Finally, the Payoff

Yesterday I used my Music Therapy degree for the first time in what feels like ages.

I painstakingly transcribed the main theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (aka Ode to Joy) using some musical notation software. Then I listened over and over again to the original orchestral piece, stopping every few bars, humming, transcribing the parts to solfege, and then notating them in C major, the only key in which E can play her flute.

It brought back memories of a fourth-year assignment we had in one of our Music Therapy classes: to take a piece of orchestral music and arrange it for a hypothetical group of clients, using common music therapy instruments. I chose Also Sprach Zarathustra (a.k.a. the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and arranged it for three reed horns, metallophone, bass drum, and piano.

This time I’m arranging a piece for my family to play; the kids all seem to enjoy playing music together and it teaches them how to listen and respond to each other, so I’ve made it my goal to do some ensemble work with them. Several hours spent on a musical arrangement seems excessive—but then again, how else will I be able to get an arrangement for flute, clarinet, guitar, viola, and piano? And if I could find such a thing, I highly doubt that the parts would be perfectly matched to the kids’ disparate levels.

No, this was definitely a job I had to do myself. Finally, all those years of musical dictation and transposition have paid off!

DIY · family fun · what's cookin'

Day 394: Sweet

Hey, look what we made! From scratch!

Image description: a small glass bowl being held in someone’s hand. The bowl has a small amount of brown liquid in it. Wooden countertop in background.

Yup, that’s maple syrup. Remember when we tapped a maple tree in my parents’ backyard? We ended up collecting about 500mL (roughly 2 cups) of sap. Yesterday we put it into our makeshift double-boiler (metal mixing bowl resting on top of a pot of boiling water) and let it evaporate for most of the afternoon. We could see by the residue on the sides of the bowl just how much water had already evaporated.

We ended up with maybe 20 mL of maple syrup… but it looks and tastes like real maple syrup. Even though we knew this was how it was made, it still feels a bit magical and unreal to have made it ourselves from start to finish.

Now the question remains: who gets the privilege of using this syrup on their pancakes?

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Kids · parenting

Day 392: A Teacher is Born…

E got a new bike yesterday. She was looking awfully cramped on the 14″ bike she had been riding, so I put out a call to my FaceBook friends for a used 20″ bike. This gorgeous pink one had been outgrown by a friend of K’s, and we snapped it up. I’m very excited because it’s got a basket and a chain guard and everything. E’s excited because her new helmet looks like a unicorn.

It’s always a bit awkward when a kid moves up to a bigger bike. They have to adjust their steering to account for the longer frame and suddenly they can’t put both feet flat on the ground unless they slide off the seat. For E, this move up has also introduced her to a brake lever—her last bike had a coaster brake that stops the bike if you pedal backwards.

E and I decided to head down the street to the cul-de-sac to give her some practice time before our next family ride. R volunteered to come with us. I na├»vely assumed that R just wanted to ride around (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and was surprised when we got to our destination: she spent the entire time teaching E how to brake, dismount, and turn safely on her new bike.

R seems to have a natural talent for teaching. She knew how to break down each skill into smaller components that she made E practice before trying the whole skill. Her words were gentle and encouraging: “That’s okay, let’s just try it again…” and “You’re doing it!” She hugged E after a fall and rode alongside her, giving pointers all the way.

At one point I beckoned for R to come over to where I was sitting. When she approached me, I hugged her fiercely and said, “I love watching you teach your sister.” She grinned and ran back over to E.

I don’t know whether this skill at teaching is inborn or whether R has picked some things up from the way Mr. December and I teach her. It’s probably a bit of both, although like most things I suspect it’s mostly part of R’s personality. In any case, this is quickly becoming my favourite part of parenting: seeing the kids use their natural talents for good.