Archive for ‘family fun’

November 11, 2017

Romanticizing the morning commute

by Decemberbaby

We’re living at my parents’ house this year, while our house undergoes extensive (and expensive – I always wonder how often those two get misheard as each other) renovations. Yes, after so much deliberation we’re finally gutting our little bungalow, adding a second storey and an attic, and completely rearranging the main floor and basement. It’s exciting and I want to tell you all about it, but not today.

Anyhow, as I was saying, we’re living at my parents’ house this year. Normally we’d drive to school – at 8 km, the distance is too great to be able to bike there. Living with my parents, though, puts us a mere 2 km from school – and so we bike as often as we can.

If you’re one of my two loyal readers, you know how I feel about biking. Imagine how exciting it is that three of my children can finally ride their own bikes. I have to say, the bike commute is something I’m really going to miss when we move back to our own house.

Despite their initial complaints (“I’m tired!” “This is hard!” “It’s too far!”), the children can now do the 2 km ride with no complaints and without stopping… on a good day. On a bad day, the ride is 25 minutes of whining, stopping, crying, kicking, screaming, complaining… On our most recent (frustrating) ride to school, Mr. December looked at me and said, “Remember this when we’re back in our own house and can’t bike anymore. Don’t romanticize this biking to school thing. This is terrible!”

I actually don’t mind that the ride is sometimes more an exercise in frustration than just exercise. One of our parenting goals is to help our children develop some serious grit. As often as I can, I like to tell them, “It’s okay that it’s hard. You can do hard things!” I like to remind them, as they pedal right up the incline at the end of our street, that they used to have to get off their bikes and walk up that “hill.” I’m hoping that this contributes to a growth mindset, where the kids see that with repeated practice the morning ride becomes easier, and more good than bad.

But every day, easy or hard, good or bad, we start the day with physical activity, fresh air, and a tour of the neighbourhood where we greet the same faces day after day. It’s awesome even when it’s not, if you know what I mean.

And I have to say, it makes my heart feel very full every time I see this:IMG_3062

Or this:


And yes, those photos were actually taken en route to school. Aren’t we lucky to have such a picturesque route? I’m going to miss this – and I’m not romanticizing!



April 12, 2015

It’s good to have a goal.

by Decemberbaby

Instant gratification is nice. Working hard towards a goal feels good in its own way, but there’s something fun and exciting about being able to start and finish a project in the same hour.

After installing the baby seat in our Bakfiets today, I took a look around the garage and noticed that I still had a bucket of PVC pipes and parts left over from a different project. I had intended to use it to build a bike rack for the kids, but I didn’t have enough of the right connectors for that, so I built this instead:

DIY soccer or hockey net no instructions

N has been really into street hockey lately, and R likes kicking a ball around, so I’m hoping this net will inspire some pickup games.

Want to make one yourself? It’s very, very simple. You need:

  • PVC pipe – 2 of each of the following lengths: 40 inches, 32 inches, 15 inches
  • PVC connectors – 6 elbow joints, sized to fit the above pipe
  • Netting – I used plastic netting that is sold in the garden centre, but use whatever you like. You’ll need a piece that’s at least 48″ wide and 48″ long.
  • Zip ties – these are sometimes called cable ties. Anyhow, pick up a bag of light-duty ties (should be about 50 in a bag.)
  • A pipe cutter for PVC (not expensive at all, or you can have the pipe cut for you at the store.)
  • Scissors

That’s really all you need. I feel like it’s a simple enough project that you don’t need a step-by-step tutorial, but for those spatially challenged folks among us, here’s a diagram of where everything goes:

DIY soccer or hockey netHappy building! I’m going out to play.

September 18, 2014

Evenings chez nous

by Decemberbaby

I was all poised to write something profound, but my brain is in “irritated” mode and I just can’t be thoughtful. So instead, a glimpse into my life at dinnertime and beyond:

6:15 – everybody sits down at the dinner table

6:16 – somebody comments that they need a spoon for their peas. I get up and get them a spoon.

6:17 – I start a nice conversation with Mr. December about his day.

6:18 – somebody spills an entire jug of water. I jump up and get the kid a towel so they can clean up the spill.

6:19 – I have to remind said child that the spill isn’t cleaned up until there’s absolutely no more water on the table, floor, or chairs.

6:20 – “Yes, the floor under your sister’s chair counts.”

6:22 – everyone is eating nicely together…

6:28 – … until they’re not. The spoons are not drumsticks and the table is not a drum.

6:30 – the children claim to be done and run away from the table. I get up, hunt them down, and bring them back to the table. In this house, you’re not done dinner until you’ve taken your plate to the kitchen sink – and I’ll return you to your seat at the table as many times as necessary until you actually show me that you’re done.

6:35 – I sit down at the now-empty table and eat the rest of my meal. If I’m lucky, the children are playing with Mr. December. If not, they’re whining while he gets ready to leave for a volunteer meeting.

6:40 – I finish eating and ask the children to get their pajamas on so we can read together.

6:42 – I ask the children to get their pajamas on so we can read together.

6:47 – I remind the children that if they waste all their time goofing off, they won’t get any reading time. I disappear into the kitchen to clean up from dinner.

7:00 – “Are you guys wearing pajamas?” No, of course not. In fact, they’re not human anymore. Staring at me from inside a cardboard box are a lion, a cheetah, and a bunny. Not one of them has brushed their teeth.

7:10 – “Eema, will you read us a book?” Three expectant, smiling faces peer over the back of the couch. A small hand proffers a paperback copy of Flat Stanley.

7:11 – They emerge from behind the couch. The costumes have been discarded. I suppose this is progress, although “naked” is not a synonym for “pajama-clad.”

7:14 – “Put on pajamas, or NO READING TIME.”

7:15 – They would, but they have to poop. All three of them. At the same time.

7:30 – I am finally done wiping bums. I send the children to put on their pajamas.

7:35 – Three children emerge in underwear, assuring me that this is all they want to wear to bed. We settle on the couch and read four chapters of Flat Stanley.

7:50 – They want more chapters. I know the feeling, but no.

8:00 – Everyone is tucked into bed.

8:05 – Everyone is back out of bed, either to pee or to drink, or possibly to drink and then pee (or maybe the other way around.)

8:08 – N asks me to tuck him in. “I’ll tell you when I’m ready, Eema. I just have to get my guys organized.”

8:11 – Sartre was wrong; hell isn’t other people. Hell is being forbidden to move from your child’s side while he arranges and re-arranges his stuffed animals according to size, genus, species, softness, and (I suspect) astrological sign.

8:15 – I finally tuck in the boy, followed by the girls. A gentle kiss followed by, “if anybody gets out of their bed for a non-emergency, there will be CONSEQUENCES. Do you understand? Good. I love you!”

8:18 – I can hear them talking, which I guess isn’t that bad.

8:21 – I hear them arguing, which is pretty normal, if not ideal.

8:34 – I hear crying. I evaluate it for pitch, intensity, and duration, and decide that it’s not serious. I ignore it.

8:43 – “Eema, my lemur is wet.” Whatever, kid. Just go to sleep.

8:45 – It hits me that if a lemur is wet, who knows what else has been drenched?

8:46 – There is a puddle on the floor of the bedroom with a water cup lying on its side nearby. No sleuthing required – I throw a towel at the floor and bark, “mop it up.”

8:47 – “Eema, I got hurt.”

8:48 – I lose it. “I don’t care. You wouldn’t get hurt if you’d all just stay in your OWN beds and go to SLEEP.”

8:50 – They’re talking again. And arguing… something about a lemur.

8:52 – I give up on thinking of a profound topic for this week’s blog post. Seriously, this post writes itself!

8:59 – I hear crying. Again. The three-year-old emerges, clutching her stuffed lemur and whining, “I need you.”

9:00 – The boy comes to the living room with an alphabet puzzle and says, “Eema, can you tell me what all these letters are?”

9:01 – “NO!”

9:02 – “Eema?” “GO TO SLEEP!”

9:03 – “But eema?” “GO TO SLEEP!

9:04 – “Eema?” “GO. TO. SLEEP.”

9:05 – Maybe I should just lead by example. I’ll hit “publish” on this blog post and then go to sleep.

9:06 – …right after I finish the next chapter in my book. And get a drink. And go pee…

This post has been brought to you by three plush lemurs, and by the letters N and O.

January 17, 2013

“I want to hear one off your heart.”

by Decemberbaby

When I was a little girl, we had a nighttime ritual: after teeth were brushed and pyjamas donned, my brothers and I would pile into my parents’ bed and listen as they read us poetry. Not children’s poetry like Alligator Pie or A Child’s Garden of Verses, but classic poems: Byron’s Destruction of Senaccherib, Rudyard Kipling’s If, Ogden Nash’s Custard the Dragon (okay, that one was probably for children.) The poems all came from a book called The Golden Treasury of Poetry, which is now out of print, and which my brothers and I have all (at some point) tried to take home with us. None of us succeeded. Mum guards her poetry book zealously, by which I mean that it’s up there in the top three Things Nobody Else but Mum is Allowed to Touch EVER! along with her sewing scissors and her stapler.Untermeyer poetry

Fast forward to last year. At the school book sale there was a representative from a smallish publishing company, selling beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully curated anthologies of stories, legends, and poems. I took one look at the Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and knew that I had to have it. Boy, were the children disappointed when they learned that the book was mine – and that it was, in fact, The Book Nobody Else but Eema (mum) is Allowed to Touch EVER!

Owl and the PussycatI love reading poetry. It’s the rhymes, the rhythm, the economy of words, and the breadth of language that excite me. I read The Highwayman for the first time a few months ago and was clutching the book, knuckles white, until the girl sacrificed herself for her love. Something told the Wild Geese evokes in me that strange hollow feeling that comes at the end of summer when you just know that winter is on its way.  I just love poetry.

Do other people love poems as much as I do? Do any of you expose your children to good, classic poetry? I took it for granted that poetry would be part of a family’s reading repertoire, but then I read a comment thread on some forum in which parents had been asked for good things to read a kindergartener, and people mentioned all manner of serialized, licensed books that use the exact same vocabulary as we do in our day-to-day lives. For heaven’s sake, people, where’s the magic? How will our children’s minds and vocabularies and imaginations stretch if we keep limiting them to the same basic stories in the same basic words?

Despite my childhood exposure, my children came to poetry in a bit of an organic, roundabout way. We were waiting  somewhere – don’t ask me where – without books or toys, and I offered to tell my children a “rhyming story.” I recited Custard the Dragon and Jabberwocky to their rapt attention and when begged for an encore, I had to wind down with In Flanders Fields and Invictus. Eventually I had to stop reciting. I had reached the limits of my memorized repertoire. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I told a disappointed K, “those are all the poems I know off by heart.”

We’ve been reading poetry together on a daily basis for a few weeks now. K and I have been working together on memorizing Tartary and Tyger Tyger. She can recite the first verse of each of those ones, and we’ve taken to using them to practice her speech therapy sounds. N can complete every line of The Owl and the Pussycat if I give him the first word or two. I can’t express how full my heart feels when I hear them reciting poetry. I love the sounds of the words as they trip off a toddler’s tongue. I hope that years down the road they will, at oddly appropriate times, be struck with the memory of a few lines of verse that we read long ago, and that the lines will bring them comfort, inspiration, and wonder.

In the meantime, poetry time in our home is synonymous with quiet, snuggly, family time. We don’t always use the book. After all, there’s something undeniably sweet about K saying, “Mummy, I want to hear a poem off your heart.” Absolutely, little girl. For you and your siblings, I always speak – and sing, and recite – off my heart.

November 5, 2012

Hallowe’en vs. Purim

by Decemberbaby

I don’t do Hallowe’en. Never have, and, I hope, never will.

Most of the time I tend to forget that we’re in a religious and cultural minority. But then K brings home notices from extracurricular activities inviting the children to wear their costumes to class and asking parents to send treats for the group. The first such notice I got threw me into a minor snit – I hate Hallowe’en! – until, eventually, I remembered that I’m in the minority here, and largely by my own choice.

I suppose you could also call it a religious decision, but looking around at the Jewish families who do celebrate Hallowe’en I’ve begun to realize that it’s not so clear cut for everyone. Nevertheless, I feel that Hallowe’en expresses values that are the opposite of what Judaism teaches us, and what I’d like to teach my kids. If you contrast Hallowe’en with Purim, the Jewish dressing-up-and-eating-treats holiday, you’ll see what I mean.

Treats. On Hallowe’en, children go from door to door in their neighbourhood requesting treats (or, as is often the case, demanding treats.) The goal seems to be to amass as much candy as possible from as many people as possible, including complete strangers (I don’t have anything against complete strangers, but I get a bit miffed at being expected to provide candy for a bunch of kids who would otherwise never even say “hello” if I saw them out and about.) On Purim we deliver gifts of food – baked goods, candy, fruit, drinks – to family members and friends, as well as neighbours we know or would like to meet. We also receive goodies, of course, but the focus is on the giving.

Dressing up. In this department the two holidays seem about equal. On Purim, as on Hallowe’en, anything goes. Even cross-dressing, which is prohibited by the Torah, is permitted on Purim.

Decorations and general theme. The theme of Hallowe’en is death, gore, and horror. I’ve got nothing against the pumpkins and witches that grace some front lawns, but I’m truly creeped out by faux corpses hanging from trees, front lawns turned cemeteries, and severed limbs dotting the landscape. It just seems so macabre, and so unnecessary. Purim, on the other hand, is a giant festival. Decorations are often colourful, glittery, and just outrageous – more like Mardi Gras that Murder She Wrote.

Demographic. While there are some adult Hallowe’en celebrations, the holiday is mainly aimed at kids. Purim, on the other hand, is a religious holiday with certain religious obligations that apply only to adults. Children have fun on Purim, but it’s the adults who really have to celebrate. That being said, non-religious Jews frequently relate to Purim as a children’s holiday. Pity.

Broader Message. Last time I checked, Hallowe’en didn’t have a broader message (I know that those who celebrate it as a holy day would disagree, and they’d be right, but I’m talking about the Hallowe’en celebrated by the majority of Canadians and Americans.) The story of Purim does: from it we learn to recognize and defeat evil, to remain connected to our heritage, and – most importantly – that many things in our world are hidden and disguised, including God’s intervention.

This year was the first year that K has asked us about Hallowe’en and Trick-or-Treating. “We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en,” I told her. “It’s not a Jewish Holiday. We have Purim, where we get to dress up and take people treats and have a big party.” K’s eyes lit up and she began reminiscing about last year’s Purim feast with the dinner in disguise.  The day after this conversation I overheard her at one of the extracurricular groups’ parties saying, “I don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, I have Purim. But I dressed up anyway because I wanted to come to the party…”

Hey, if we can tackle Hallowe’en so easily, the predictable Christmas envy should be a breeze.

Tell me about your Hallowe’en. Eventful? Non-existent? Do you love it or hate it?

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October 14, 2012

Turn around and she’s one…

by Decemberbaby

My baby turned one on Friday.

She has four teeth and hair long enough for two tiny pigtails. She has at least five words that we can tell – Mama, Baba (abba – “daddy” in Hebrew,) “Zeh” (Hebrew for “that”,) “Den” (Ken – Hebrew for yes,) and our nanny’s name. She has recently become attached to one of our baby dolls and can spend upwards of twenty minutes sitting in a chair, cuddling her baby.

In my usual fashion, I invited the grandparents over for cake and pizza. Honestly, she has no clue what a birthday is and it seems silly to go all out on a party for her first birthday. My policy is to throw a small cake party with lots of cool decorations, so that I have photographic evidence that we cared enough to have a first birthday party for each kid. So this morning I contemplated what kind of theme I could whip up in a few hours, and came up with dots. Polka dots. Have a look:

The garlands were a lot of fun to make: Cardstock circles (I used my 3 1/2 inch circle punch and some 5-inch precut circles) sewn into a chain. They’re fast, too.

I started to set the table and realized that my white tablecloth is terribly stained. Don’t worry, I totally fixed it:

No, there isn’t a stain under every polka-dot on the table… just some of them. The polka dots on the glasses, by the way, are wall decals that used to be on the wall in K’s room. I put a different colour and size on each glass so that people wouldn’t get confused about whose caffeine-free diet coke was whose. Oh, and see the tiny little bucket on the table? Mr. December thought it was just more junk when I brought it home from Shoppers one day – 99 cents after Easter – but I knew that we’d find a use for it sometime. It really rounded out the theme (pun intended.)

I tried to keep the food thematic. We had brownie cookies with “polka dots” (m&m’s,) cupcakes in polka-dot wrappers with round sprinkles on top, and veggies cut into rounds. There was also pizza and bourekas. Yum.

Sure, the icing is a bit sloppy, but nobody complained. And aren’t the polka dots all over the table cool?

Even R’s outfit – a polka-dot dress – fit in with the theme. And as you can see, she was mesmerized by the candle on her cupcake… and very pleased when we finally gave her one to eat. It was only a couple of minutes before all that remained of her cupcake was a (very large) smear of icing on her face.

After dinner and dessert I pulled out the guitar and sang her favourite songs. Then I changed gears and got everybody singing the Shehecheyanu, the Jewish prayer thanking God for sustaining us and keeping us alive to reach this milestone. Mr. December and I got a bit misty-eyed, especially during the next song – Al Kol Eleh – which is all about being thankful for all of life, both the bitter and the sweet. The bitter was so very bitter… but the sweet is indescribably sweet.

So that’s it… we survived her first year. Sure, we were in “survival mode” more often than not, and we’ve been awfully exhausted, but we made it. And – as my best friend pointed out – I made it to her first birthday without getting knocked up (I was six months pregnant at N’s first birthday.) And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a Good Thing.

Happy Birthday, little R. It’s been a real trip.

October 4, 2012

Little Sukkah in the Big City

by Decemberbaby

For those of you not keeping track of the Jewish calendar, we’re now halfway through the festival of Sukkot, the next-to-last in our month-long marathon of holidays (trust me, the Christmas season has nothing on the Jewish holiday season. We’ve pretty much got at least two festive meals a week for four weeks.) I love Sukkot. Building and decorating the sukkah takes care of any residual Christmas-decorating envy I may have, and it’s a mitzvah to invite guests into the sukkah, which I love to do.

We built our first sukkah several years ago, on the driveway. It was lovely (if poorly lit) until the wind started up one night. The canvas walls acted like an enormous sail, and the next morning we found our entire sukkah lying on its side on our next-door neighbour’s lawn. The next year we tried the backyard, which meant that bringing food and drinks to the sukkah involved walking through the back hallway and through the third bedroom, then down the porch steps, sometimes in the dark. Also, there was no urgency involved in taking it down; I joke that we’re the Jewish equivalent of people who haven’t taken down their Christmas tree by June, because last year’s sukkah was still up as of this past May.

Anyhow, after last year’s debacle in which I pressured Mr. December to set up the sukkah, which we then failed to use (it wasn’t my fault! I gave birth on Erev Sukkot!) he declared that I was on my own. I recruited a friend’s husband to help me build (bartered, actually, for some groceries and a place to bury their placenta – true story.) And build we did! I even used a circular saw to cut the lumber. And the reason I had to cut the lumber? This year we have a new location, the best yet! This year our sukkah is on the front porch.

The banner says “welcome” in Hebrew. The gate keeps the babies inside. The roof, as per Jewish law, is made of a natural material (bamboo) and lets in the rain and the sun. Come inside…

It’s a mitzvah to decorate the sukkah. Some people use strings of lights and tinsel (especially in Israel, where they don’t really associate that stuff with Xmas,) others decorate with fruits, vegetables, and other harvest-themed decor, and still others hang posters of Israel, of great Rabbis, and of quotes from the Torah. I’ve decided that since Sukkot is also called “the season of our happiness” we should decorate the sukkah as we would for a big, joyful party.

All of our decorations are handmade by us, and they dance beautifully when the wind blows through. You might recognize my reusable fabric streamers from last Purim.

A paper chain is an easy craft even for a preschooler. For this one I cut strips from gift bags that were too shabby to be re-gifted. I handed them over to K along with a roll of tape and she spend the next hour engrossed in making the chain.

This banner, and the “welcome” banner, were made using a batik technique involving blue school glue and craft paint. This one depicts a lulav and etrog, or as Wikipedia calls them, the Four Species.

We even have a light in our sukkah. The front porch light is plenty bright in the evenings, and it doesn’t require us to run extension cords at all.

Oh, and those paper balls are from a tutorial by Creative Jewish Mom. Aren’t they cool? I love them so much that I might just bring them inside and hang them in the playroom when Sukkot is over.

So that’s our sukkah. Thanks for visiting, and Chag Sukkot Sameach – Happy Sukkot!

September 20, 2012

What I did on my summer “vacation”: hats

by Decemberbaby

As we’ve previously discussed, stay-at-home moms don’t get summer vacation. Summer is my busy season, and now that the kids are back at school (N is in a toddler program this year – more on that later, on my other blog.) I have more time for sewing, blogging, etc. That being said, I did manage a bit of sewing over the past few months, and I’m pleased to share my projects with you through this weekend.

So much of my sewing begins with a problem to be solved. This time, my kids had outgrown their baby hats and needed something cute to put on their heads. Armed with a free pattern (will link to it soon) and some adorable fabric from Sew Sisters, I whipped up a few hats one day. Then we went to the park.

The hats are reversible, as you can see in the last two (not fabulous) photos. What’s truly awesome, though, is that I figured out how to make the strap reversible as well. Okay, maybe “reversible” isn’t the right word, but I figured out a way for the strap to be usable on either side of the hat without it pulling the brim flat against the child’s ears (a pet peeve of mine.) Maybe one day I’ll post a tutorial for that.

In the meantime, one child is screaming and the other is waiting very patiently to watch Mickey Mouse on my computer, so I must go. Come back again soon – I’ll be deciding on (and announcing) specific days that I’ll post every week.

… and how was your summer?

July 16, 2012

Deciding factors

by Decemberbaby

Forgive my absence – I’ve been immersed in all things automotive for the last week.

After our adjustor confirmed that our Yaris is a total loss, we started investigating minivans and minivan alternatives. We compared features, costs, financing, and purchase strategies (buy the minivan now, or buy something smaller and trade up if and when kid #4 comes along? We’re undecided.) Ever the engineer, Mr. December created a spreadsheet to model all of our options, taking into account things like convenience, fuel consumption, and (of course) cost. We have a list of further research we need to do. We may be overthinking our next car, but it’s not every day that we spend more than thirty thousand dollars in one fell swoop.

Taking a break from our obsessive analysis, we drive to Mississauga (in my dad’s Camry) for a birthday party. So there we are in the Camry, on the way back at 7 p.m. R is desperately tired and trying to sleep. K is tickling R and making squeaky noises that are probably intended to amuse R, but that mostly just irritate me. N is being a complete angel – if you overlook the fact that he keeps sticking his foot into R’s face (the perils of having a rear-facing infant next to a forward-facing toddler) and making her scream.  I reach back from the front passenger seat (Mr. D was driving, for a change) and grab N’s foot, announcing, “If you can’t use your foot responsibly, then I’m going to have to hold onto it for you.” He screams. R screams. K squeaks and chirps. R screams.

In that instant, I’m decided. I look over at Mr. December, he looks at me, and we say in unison, “It’s time for a minivan.”


April 20, 2012

Wrapping up the week (and a half) in sixty seconds

by Decemberbaby

Alas, another week has gone by without the time to post.

I rebuilt my table for greater stability (and prettier legs,) then painted the base.

I took my kids outside to play a few times.

I finally cleared all the clutter and passover boxes off the dining room table.

I ordered some specialty fabrics I was supposed to get.

I figured out what to give my little brother (29!) for his birthday. Haven’t bought it yet, though.

Took R for her six month checkup, and got K started with a speech therapist.

And every evening I sat down and said, “I just want to catch up on blogs and facebook, then I’ll write,” and subsequently realized that my brain was too fried to blog.

And here we are. The challah is almost done and we’re off to Shabbat dinner at my parents’. I’m going offline again for Shabbat, so I suppose we’ll catch up either tomorrow night or on Sunday… I have so much to tell you!

Shabbat Shalom.