community · family fun · Fibro Flares · gardening

Day 160: Beachy Keen

I used to say the only thing that would get me out of bed at 6 in the morning was a flight to Barbados. Now I’ll have to add that the prospect of kayaking and swimming at the beach is a pretty compelling incentive too. This morning we were up at 6:00, out at 6:30, and at the beach at 7:00. By the time the rest of the city started showing up, around 9:45, we were headed home.

E tried solo kayaking for the first time this morning. She did pretty well considering that she’s a 5-year-old paddling a boat made for adults, with an oar that is longer than she is tall. She was very proud of her new achievement, announcing to everyone she passed that “This is my first time paddling my own kayak!”

In the meantime, I got to head out by myself for 25 minutes while Mr. December played in the water and on the sand with the girls. Wait, did I say he played? Nope. He took a nap on the sand and the girls buried him in it. I’m not complaining, by the way — in my opinion, anytime you can rest while your kids think you’re actually playing their game, that’s a parenting win.

I didn’t check email until we got home from the beach, when I discovered an e-mail reminder that we’re supposed to be providing baked goods for the Homeless Outreach Van tomorrow. I had forgotten and for some reason it wasn’t in my Google Calendar. I checked the recipes, made a list, and then biked to the store with E on the tandem trailer behind me.

Incidentally, that tandem trailer is a fabulous invention. It’s great on hills — all I have to do is say, “E, I need you!” and she responds by pedalling and yelling, “E POWER!!!” (Does that make it an E-bike?)

R and N are coming home today after being with my in-laws all week. I’m starting to feel like they barely live here anymore, and that’s not a good feeling. I can’t wait to hug them. Mr. December went to pick them up and I busied myself with some manual labour: I cut down an entire patch of hydrangeas (I’ve cut them down before and they keep coming back) and then moved the wood pile that was behind them in order to clear a space for this year’s sukkah. I’m always looking to improve it, and so this year we’re building the sukkah using the wall of our house and the fence. I’m hoping this keeps the whole thing from falling over as it has in the past.

Now that I think about it, today involved a lot of exercise. Kayaking, biking to the store, and transferring an entire wood pile… pretty much my entire day has involved physical exertion. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much?

(I’m taking bets: will I have a fibro flare as a result of my early morning and all the exertion? It’s anybody’s guess — come back tomorrow to find out!)

community · gardening

Day 130: Socks are Contagious

Remember how my chairs are wearing socks? The sock-wearing still hasn’t spread to my children, but it looks like the plum tree got jealous. Folks, may I present to you… Plums in Socks (but no fox.)

I got the idea from our day at the orchard, where they put stockingettes on the fruit to protect them from insects and animals. I really should have done it a month ago but, as they say, the second best time is now. The plums are almost ripe and I’d hate to lose them — it’s a very small crop that’s made it this far.

I’m not sure exactly what happened to our plums. One year we had such a bumper crop that we took baskets of plums around to our neighbours and used leftover plums to make plum brandy; the next year there were no plums whatsoever. Actually, there were, but they disappeared overnight — literally. This was before we had a security camera, so I don’t know whether animals descended on our tree or if some person came along and picked the tree clean. All I know is that we were eagerly anticipating another bountiful harvest, and then we woke up to an empty tree. It was sad.

At the orchard we simply tied the stockingettes onto the fruit. Here at home I’ve tied them around the branch as well. I’m hoping that even if a plum gets knocked off its stem by an animal, it will stay attached to the tree and the animal will give up. Hey, a girl can hope, can’t she?

community · education · family fun · gardening · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 127: Orchard Schooling

It began with a Facebook post: “Does anybody have any leftover white latex paint?”

I did, of course. When we were building the house we tried what seemed like hundreds of different whites before settling on Chantilly Lace. For the last two years their sample-sized pots have been lined up like soldiers awaiting deployment. I couldn’t throw them out — surely they’d come in handy one day, I thought.

“One day” was today.

The Facebook post was from the woman who runs the stewardship group at our local community orchard. Throughout the year a group of volunteers takes care of the fruit trees — feeding, mulching, watering, and doing anything else they can to ensure a successful harvest. The white paint would be diluted and painted onto the trees’ trunks to protect them from insects, animals, and the sun. I immediately offered them my paint and then volunteered my children (and myself) to do the painting.

K has had a lot of difficult, unproductive days in the last week. It’s not that she’s unmotivated; on the contrary, the fact that she can’t get herself to sit down and do her work is very upsetting to her. I’m not sure what’s wrong or how to fix it in the short term. In the long term, I think some executive function coaching might be in order.

This morning, though, K was at her best. She mowed the lawn before breakfast. When we arrived at the orchard she sprang into action, first mixing the paint with water, then moving from one fruit tree to the next to coat their trunks with white paint. She worked without a break for an hour and a half. In that time I heard no complaints or yelling. She asked questions about what we were doing and why, and really listened to the answers. In short, she was a model volunteer.

R and E painted a tree each, and then a pet tortoise arrived at the park with its owner (a friend of the stewardship coordinator) in tow. I didn’t get much more work out of them after that, but they spent an hour learning about tortoises.

Our time in the orchard reinforced so many of my beliefs about homeschooling. The biggest one is that school focuses on such a narrow band of disciplines and skills that K doesn’t get to exercise her strengths very often. This morning she had to observe the trees closely (to see if there was any seeping sap or other indicators of disease); communicate problems and questions; listen attentively; and do a thorough job of the task she was assigned. Moreover, the work she was doing had a clear purpose and utility, and it was appreciated by other people.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Purposeful, real work with others in the community can turn a frustrated, sometimes combative kid into a cooperative and industrious one. School doesn’t allow enough time for that sort of thing (heck, they don’t even trust the kids to retrieve their own coats.) Homeschooling, on the other hand, is chock full of opportunities for children to discover their strengths and use them to become valued members of the community.

education · family fun · gardening · Independence · Kids

Day 71: Garden schooling

I’m getting accustomed to the possibility that my kids might not be going back to school in September, possibly because schools won’t be open, but more likely because schools will open with so many restrictions that they’ll be a waste of time at best and damaging to children at worst. And so we’ve started researching how we might accomplish homeschooling our four children (with four distinct learning profiles) without going mad.

Math is pretty much already solved: we’ve found that we like the Kumon workbooks. They’re clear, simple, and the kids can mostly work through them independently, which is essential for us. Of course we check in on them many times in a work period, and take time to explain things, but we can’t (and don’t) sit beside them and teach them one on one for an hour. They are making good progress so far, so we went and bought all of the grade 5 and 6 books (N’s self-stated goal is to finish grade 6 math by the end of August) as well as all the grade 4 books for R.

The other core subject we dare not ignore is Language Arts. If you couldn’t tell from Day 61: People of the Book Room (house tour!) (our library), we read a lot. Separately, together, quietly, out loud, over tea, in the garden, on the subway. We read. I’m more concerned with the writing aspect — I’m not impressed with the quality of my children’s writing — so I’m working on finding a curriculum that they can work their way through mostly independently, the way they do with math.

All of those issues really don’t apply to E yet. Besides, her school is doing a really great job of online schooling, which surprises me because Montessori is a particularly hands-on style of education. Today E took her one-on-one zoom math tutorial out on the back porch; she learned how to write the numerals 1 through 9.

The rest of our morning was what I always imagined homeschooling to be. Mr. December and I biked out early this morning to get some seedlings (note to self: don’t go to the garden centre after a weekend of beautiful summery weather. They’ll have almost none of what you want.) Then he went back to his work and I mobilized my child labour force again.

First, I had them measure and mark one-foot increments in the garden bed, which was great for reviewing the 12-times tables (“so we have to put the stakes in at 12, 24, 36, and 48…”). Then we used sticks to create a grid of one-foot squares, at which point I asked N to count the rows and the columns and calculate the area of our veggie garden. He answered; I had R and E verify it by counting all the squares. Voilà — measuring length, width, and area!

We then sat on the porch and planned where to put everything. This involved reading the little instruction cards from each plant to determine the correct spacing and positioning in terms of sunlight needs. Then they had to figure out how many plants they could put into a square foot and calculated how many squares we needed to allot to each type of vegetable.

N and R took turns reading the cards and writing the vegetable names down on our diagram, spelling words like kohlrabi, thyme, lavender, and canteloupe in the process.

Then they worked together as a team, checking the diagram and planting the correct type and number of seedlings. I didn’t participate, just answered questions and gently guided them.

So our homeschool morning was a great success, in my view. Everyone participated without coercion (by which I mean revoking privileges or bribing), everyone enjoyed themselves, and they connected what they’re learning at their desks to what we do in our everyday lives. Oh, and our family vegetable garden got planted. I love child labour!

family fun · gardening · Independence · Kids

Day 70: Family Time

Day 70? Really? It feels like we’ve been in lockdown forever, and like it’s been just a couple of weeks. Time is weird.

This weekend has been an exercise in family time. The weather was good, both Mr. December and I were free to be with the kids all day, and we had a great time.

Yesterday we went to my parents’ place for a swim and a picnic. They live on a ravine, so it was like being in the woods. The kids used the swing set and hammock while we lay on a picnic blanket under the trees and spoke to my parents, who were sitting ten feet away.

Today we mobilized our child labour force to help us prepare the soil for our vegetable garden. Many hands make light work, it’s true, but many of our hands drifted away and had to be brought back. There’s clearly room for improvement when it comes to work ethic, although to be fair R went back inside because her allergies were bad; she did her part for the family by cleaning up the kitchen. K, on the other hand, had to be called back several times to finish mowing the lawn, then again to put the lawnmower away.

After the gardening, we finally cracked open the package of hair chalk that I bought at Dollarama months ago. We all took turns colouring each other’s hair, and everyone ganged up on Mr. December — his beard was too tempting a canvas to pass up.

K and I both lamented the fact that the chalk really doesn’t show on our dark hair, which gave me an idea that I hope I’ll have the guts to do one day: when my hair is more grey then brown, I’m going to start dyeing it bright, fun hues instead of trying to recreate my natural colour. Who’s with me? Is the world ready for awesome old ladies with colourful hair?

The rest of the afternoon was pretty relaxed and fun. I made pita from scratch (incidentally, anybody who actually knows how to shape it properly and get it thin enough, please teach me.) We ate in the backyard and the kids played until bedtime — the kind of play where they’re barefoot and playing with nothing but sticks, logs, a single tree swing, and their imaginations. I love when they do that.

R has been asking me all day to play a game with her. Tonight was our chance, in the magical forty-five minutes between E’s bedtime and R’s own. I trounced her at Chinese Checkers and Hey! That’s My Fish before tucking R into bed. Two kids down, two to go… and then I can go to sleep, at which I am a champion.

community · gardening · waxing philosophical

Day 62: Bees, I’m so sorry.

It was a beautiful day today. The sun was shining, the temperature was warm(ish), and when I woke up and went outside I was greeted by my garden: Sweet purple flowers, blue forget-me-nots and beautiful yellow blooms everywhere. It was gorgeous.

And I’ve gone and killed it. Now it’s flat, boring, mostly lifeless.

Some people would say I’m being pretty melodramatic about mowing the lawn. To them I say: I hate lawns.

I know right now some of you are shaking your heads and declaring me a heathen. Hear me out: a perfect, green, velvety lawn is a sign of affluence — which is the whole reason lawns were invented. They were a statement that the homeowner (lord of the estate, whatever) owned so much land that he could afford to plant one with a purely ornamental crop that has no practical or economic value whatsoever.

Still, I’d have labelled lawns as pretty innocuous if it weren’t for the fact that we’re seeing declining bee populations; no wonder, since there’s less and less for bees to eat. Know what bees and other pollinators love and rely on in the spring? Dandelions. Suddenly, monoculture lawns (as in, a lawn made up of only one specie of plant) look a lot worse from an environmental perspective… and that’s before we’ve even considered the air pollution, noise, and excessive amounts of water that are involved in maintaining that perfect green carpet.

I know it’s better for the earth and for the pollinators to leave the dandelions alone. I know it, and I still mowed my lawn.

The fact is that I have neighbours whom I like, and I’d like for them to like me. They’re the sort of people who will actually go outside and pluck the dandelions from their lawns one at a time (which to my mind is a colossal waste of time, but whatever.) When they look at my lawn, all they see are millions of dandelion seeds waiting to take flight right onto their lawns. They see me making their life more difficult… and they hate looking at my “ugly” lawn, sprinkled here and there (and everywhere) with flowers. So in the interest of being a good neighbour, I mowed them down (the flowers, not the neighbours.)

I feel like I need to apologize to the earth and the bees. I’m sorry — I tried my best and then caved to peer pressure. Maybe when it all grows back I’ll try something else, like a lawn sign. Ah, lawn signs — instant credibility.

41rbli

family fun · gardening · Jewy goodness · Kids · parenting · The COVID files

Day 23: Planting seeds

IMG_3053I got fed up with my kids pretty early on today. It started out well, with two of them helping me to plant some seeds for an indoor start, but they wandered away, bored, after 10 minutes. I was able to lure E back and she helped me tidy up. N was not interested. And R…

R said “no” to every request I made for her to help. Clean out the car? Nope. Put away the seed starter? Nope. Tidy up last night’s blanket fort mess? Nope. Do some laundry? Get the crumbs out from under the stove? Re-shelve the board games? Nope, nope, and nope.

So I had a serious cuddle and talk with her (and invited N and E to join as well):

“You know the story of the old man who was planting an apple seed, and someone asked him why he’s bothering since he will never eat the apples himself? And he answers that even if he never eats the fruit, his children and grandchildren will?

“Well, everything you have and enjoy is here because someone did work that didn’t necessarily benefit them directly. The entire world works on that basis. People make countries and laws and roads and all kinds of things for future generations.

“You’re old enough now to start planting some seeds of your own. You need to start doing things that help other people, and not just yourself. Understand?”

They nodded solemnly. Only time will tell if they’ve internalized any of that, but I’ve said my piece.

 

 

IMG_3065.JPG

I went out and finished cleaning the car, which at this point meant emptying the basket we had used for last year’s road trip in place of the console (am I the only one who thinks those consoles waste a ton of space?) I won’t go into too much detail; suffice it to say that I found a few things that could be science projects or even the start of penicillin. In the end it was all removed, including the basket, and I cleaned up the console and put it back. And do you know what I found inside?

My old iPhone. The one with music on it that isn’t available on my new iPhone, even though I bought said music from the iTunes store with the same Apple ID. The kids plugged it into the charger and triumphantly told me that it was still working. They’re upstairs right now, happy as the proverbial clams, listening to Ragtime (the musical.) Amazing how much joy they’re getting out of an iPhone 4 with a smashed screen.

 

 

Passover begins in 48 hours and aside from buying three cases of matzo and a can of matzo ball mix, I’ve done nothing to prepare. It was my favourite holiday for a long time, but right now it feels like too much work. I asked Mr. December whether, in lieu of reading the maggid section of the haggadah, we could just watch Prince of Egypt with the kids. The point is to tell the story, right?

 

 

The evening was going well and I didn’t want to screw that up. Mr. December had an evening meeting for work, so he sequestered himself in his home office. I decided to do the only thing that guarantees the children’s participation and satisfaction. Yes, it was time for a Snacktivity™! We spent the last hour before bedtime making chocolate chip cookies and then eating them (and licking the bowl and spatula, of course.)

K quietly pulled me aside during her siblings’ bedtime routine and asked if we could play a game together. I think she’s regretting it now — I kicked her butt at Azul. Twice. At least she enjoyed her tea and the extra cookies I let her have.

It was a good day. Sunshine, productive work, some musical favourites, cookies, and a game. Maybe that needs to be my daily plan from now on.

 

crafty · DIY · gardening · Montessori · weight loss · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: “crying baby at midnight” edition

We were all tucked into bed, R sleeping happily. Then she woke up and swiped at my back. Ouch. I think I need to cut her nails.

So it’s past midnight, which makes it Thursday, but I haven’t slept yet so I’ll pretend it’s still Wednesday.

The insanely warm weather this week has drawn me outside to do much-needed things like cleaning the interior of the car and tidying and scrubbing the front porch. It’s amazing how a shift in weather shifts my priority list of tasks. It feels a bit absurd, but here’s the rundown of my last known task list:

Still in progress: Weight Watchin’

Despite a lack of effort on my part, today I weighed in at 16 pounds less than my starting weight. Some of that is what Mr. December calls “noise”: at least a pound can be attributed to the lightweight summer clothes I wore today. Still, 15 pounds feels kind of significant. Hopefully I’ll be able to put some concerted effort into it this week.

No progress: Photo Books

Really, why would I spend more time indoors on my computer when there’s outdoor work to be done? At this rate I need to schedule some time to put the thing together. Maybe next week when it’s cooler outside…

No progress: Library doors

See “Photo Books”

Still in progress: Kids’ table

We’ve used our kids’ table for a while now (in its unfinished glory) and I’ve identified a design flaw, so I have to figure out a different way to attach the legs. On the upside, I purchased a wood rasp (or as my friend Bill over at Lowes called it, “a cheese grater on steroids”) and was finally able to file down the plugs so that they’re even with the rest of the table apron. I’ve also begun filling the gaps and holes with wood putty, and sanding the whole thing in preparation for staining and painting. This is my go-to project right now, since I can do it outside in the sunshine. I’ll have more progress to report next week, for sure.

In progress: spring planting

Mr. December is quick to caution me that we may still have a freeze, but I’m not buying it. That’s why starting tomorrow I’ll be cleaning up the garden beds in the front and planting seeds. This year we’ll keep our vegetable planting small and manageable and devote the large front bed to flowers. I’ve also picked up some low-growing perennials to fill out our rock garden. By next week I want to have all the beds and containers prepared and sown with the appropriate seeds.

 

That’s it for now. Nothing major, just chugging along.

Oh, and for those interested in posts about teaching kids Jewish values, check out this post over at my Montessori blog. I wasn’t quite sure where to post it and Montessori won out, but I think a lot of this blog’s readers would enjoy it as well.

What did you do this week? And for those in Toronto, what is the sunshine-induced-insanity making you do?

DIY · family fun · gardening · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids · what's cookin'

“Mummy, where do latkes come from?”

Well, when a potato and an onion that we harvest from the garden love each other very much…

They want to be as close together as possible. So they jump through the food processor and into the bowl, where we mix them up up until they can’t be separated:

Then they usually like to take a bath together in some hot olive oil…

And then they’re together for always.

Now let’s eat!

Happy Chanuka from all of us at Sweet & Crunchy with a Jewy Centre!

DIY · gardening · Jewy goodness · Kids

On weeds and wildflowers

I love having cut flowers in the house. I know quite a few people who don’t, but I do. Especially for shabbat and holidays.

When we lived downtown I used to walk to the flower markets every Friday. It was like a dream come true – four (sometimes five) flower markets with dozens of varieties just hanging out in buckets, waiting to be chosen. I went home with something different every time.

Over time I’ve come to prefer wildflowers to the cultivated ones, though. The shift might have started when a friend blogged about the cultivated flower industry and how far those flowers have to be transported. I’m not sure. I do remember clearly that I started to really appreciate wildflowers the summer that our municipal workers went on strike. You see, they didn’t cut the grass in the parks for at least six weeks (was it longer?), and so all the “weeds” started to grow and flower. From dandelions (which are quite beautiful if you put aside your prejudices) to beautiful blue chicory, K and I picked them all and took them home to put in vases.

Thus began my tradition of picking our shabbat flowers with the kids instead of buying them. Sometimes we pick flowers growing out of the cracks in a nearby alleyway, sometimes they’re from our garden, but they’re almost never the cultivated varieties that I used to buy. Some of them, like the wild mustard, are commonly considered weeds even though they look beautiful in a vase paired with my shasta daisies.

There is something satisfying about picking our own flowers from what God has allowed to flourish without conscious watering or cultivation. It seems to suit the spirit of shabbat – what we have is beautiful, and on shabbat we can appreciate the world as God made it rather than as people use their power to change it. I just love it. And I love coming to the table and seeing something like this: