Costa Rica · DIY · family fun · hackin' it · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 620: Hannukah Hacks

It’s no secret that I really miss our Chanuka box. That little baby has everything in it: story books, candles, dreidels, menorahs, extra chocolate gelt, and a candy thermometer for perfect deep-frying. Here in Costa Rica we have… none of that. Put it all on the list of stuff I didn’t bring.

So how exactly are we celebrating Chanuka this year? Read on…

Candles and Menorah

Back home, I decided that we’d be able to do an oil menorah by boring some holes in a potato, filling them with oil, and using pieces of string as wicks. Then I got to the supermarket here and saw a pack of birthday candles with a bonus: those little plastic candleholders you stick into the birthday cake. My plan shifted, and we decided to stick the holders into a plantain to make our chanukiyah. It worked beautifully except for one minor detail: the plastic candleholders melted. From now on we’re just sticking the candles directly into the plantain.

A plantain (looks like a large bruised yellow banana) lying on its side on a dark granite countertop. There are nine plastic candleholders stuck into it in a line; the holder farthest to the right has a birthday candle in it.

A Dreidel

If you want to try this one, you will need:
A roll of blue painters’ tape
A pole-dancing pole
Children who enjoy the sensation of spinning
Something small to use as gambling currency (we used mini cookies)

It’s simple, really: using the blue painters’ tape I made the four Hebrew letters on the floor tiles surrounding the pole. We divided up the cookies equally, then took turns spinning R or E on the pole. The kid on the pole stuck out one leg, and whatever letter that leg pointed to when the spinning stopped was the result.

Chanuka Food

This one was easy. Potatoes and onions are cheap and easy to come by (which is probably why potato pancakes became the chanuka food of Ashkenazim in the first place.) I substituted panko crumbs for matzoh meal, and voilá! Tastes just like home.

We made sufganiyot too, which was easy given that the recipe uses basic baking ingredients. It was even easier than at home, actually: I found jam in a squeeze pouch with a nozzle, eliminating the messy work of getting jelly into my giant syringe for injection into the donuts. We need jam packaging like that at home!

Matches or a Lighter

If you don’t have matches or a lighter, you can roll up a piece of paper and stick it into the flames of a gas stove or barbecue. No gas appliances? Well, then you’re out of luck. That was us tonight: we had our candles all lined up and then realized we had no way to light them (this is the first place we’ve stayed that didn’t have matches in a drawer somewhere.) Sadly, we couldn’t light our candles tonight—but we still sang the blessings, omitting the one specific to the actual lighting.

After all that, my kids have still asked that we not travel over any more Jewish holidays… unless it’s to Israel. I can’t say I blame them.

Costa Rica · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 611: Laundry on a Shoestring

Image description: our clothes hanging out to dry on clotheslines: there are three lines zigzagging between trees.

Know what really cuts down on laundry? Wearing bathing suits all day, every day.

Today I did laundry for the first time in eight days. Between the six of us we had a load and a half of dirty clothes… and I use the word “dirty” liberally, because some of those clothes were pretty borderline “I think this might smell funny” decisions. Then there were N’s dirty clothes, which included three pairs of underwear that were still clean—and folded the way I fold them, which means they’ve been that way since we left home. Ten-year-old girls are right: boys are gross.

This house has a washer and dryer, but the dryer doesn’t work very well—it needs to be run three times to dry a single load—so I decided to hang our clothes instead. I was a little short on space, though, and I was running out of places to dry things where they wouldn’t get napped on by the neighbourhood cat. I started racking my brain (and searching the house) for some kind of rope or something to improvise a clothesline out of; I ended up in my closet, pulling out two pairs of extra boot-laces that I had brought “just in case.” I tied them all together and then tied the ends to two trees, which is how I ended up drying my laundry on a shoestring—literally.

Image description: closeup of a knot, clearly a shoelace because of the plastic aglets on both ends. The knot is situated between two pieces of clothing hanging on the line.

This evening I asked N to go outside and bring in all the dry clothes from the line. It seems I wasn’t clear enough on what that meant: he brought in all the clothes, dry or not. I’m never sure with him whether this sort of thing is a skills gap where he needs explicit instruction or if he’s just doing a half-assed job so I won’t ask him to do it again. Anyway, I asked him to come outside with me and do it again. He did—badly. He just kind of threw the clothes onto the line and didn’t bother straightening them out or anything. Is it really not obvious that bunched-up clothes can’t dry as easily as clothes that are spread out? No matter, I got him to come back and hang the clothes properly—far more work than just doing it myself the first time, but at least my efforts will pay off in the end.


(Hey, friends with adult children, I can hear you laughing. Care to share the joke with the class?)

bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 563: I don’t get it.

The air travel industry drives me nuts.

If I search for flights from Ecuador to Toronto (one way,) I can get a flight that goes through Miami for $3100 (for the whole family, not per person.)

Now, if I search for the same flights as above, but separately (Ecuador to Miami, and another search for Miami to Toronto,) the total price is $2100.

What gives?

Interestingly, when I clicked on “book through the airline,” the American Airlines page opened up for me… in Spanish. It seemed to think I was searching from Ecuador. I tried to search for that flight with my country set to “Canada—English,” but the page crashed every time I did that. In the end I decided that there’s nothing wrong with a flight ticket purchased in Spanish; Google translated the page for me, I filled in our details, and we got our cheap(er) flight.

I still don’t get it, though. Don’t get me wrong—I’m thrilled that an extra hour of searching saved me $1000 in after-tax money (easiest $1K I ever made,) but it seems just a little bit absurd, doesn’t it?

Even weirder: I just went and did the same searches again so I could get a screenshot for this blog post… and got completely different (higher) prices on the two separate flights this time around. HOW????? and WHY????

I think my head just exploded.

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real

Day 514: I learned some things tonight.

Remember that time I told Mr. December that I was going to involve K in an epic DIY project that could maybe involve wrecking a table? Well, K and I decided tonight was the night for a trial run.

Now, here’s where I’ve grown as a person: ten years ago, I would have just started the project and let the chips fall where they may. These days I do a practice run first. I grabbed one of the extra leaves from our old table (the one that’s on its way out) and, using a hair dryer and a scraper, carefully peeled off some of the veneer. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. I need to wear work gloves next time. My knuckles got kind of shredded anytime the scraper slipped (which was often.)
  2. IKEA’s wood veneer is extremely thin, but is definitely wood—which means that it splinters and doesn’t scrape off all in one piece.
  3. Stripping the veneer off this table leaf wasn’t teaching me anything, since the table I was hoping to work on is topped with Formica, not real wood veneer.

By the time I accepted lesson number three, I had already pretty much wrecked the table leaf. There was nothing left to lose… so I invited K to help me cover the bare particle board with poured paints. I mean, why not? It could look cool, or it could be a flop. Either way it was going to the dump.

K had already mixed some epoxy, so after playing with the paint for a while, we said, “What the heck,” and went ahead and poured some epoxy on top of the paint. And now we wait; I wonder how the paint and epoxy will interact as the epoxy cures (and puts out a ton of heat)?

Final lesson learned: just leave well enough alone and accept the table as it is.

3 Images: 1. a birch-coloured table leaf with a section of veneer missing, with the particleboard substrate visible. 2. Close-up of the poured paint covered with epoxy. 3. The same table leaf with two large patches of poured paint and epoxy.

better homes than yours · DIY · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 495: Cheap Imitations?

“I have big plans,” I informed Mr. December. “I’m going to rope K into my crazy, harebrained scheme and we’re going to do it when you’re out of the house.”

You might be wondering why I told him at all; I was wondering the same thing two seconds after I finished speaking. That’s me, though: when I’m excited about something, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Except for that time we threw my parents a big surprise party for their anniversary… but that was really, really hard.

Back to Mr. December. “Does it involve wrecking a perfectly good table?” he asked.

How did he know? “Maybe a little…” I admitted.

I don’t know if I ever told you that we have a new-to-us dining room table. It’s not the fancy epoxy table, and it’s not the custom wood table with the tree-shaped legs either. I’ve known this table for most of my life, as it’s been sitting in the boardroom of my Dad’s office for the last twenty-five (or so) years. It’s the exact size and shape that I wanted, and it was free, which means I can throw my table fund into twelve beautiful (and matching) dining chairs.

Besides, you know I’m happier when I’m hacking furniture, right? This table is—like most office furniture—really nice wood-look formica over particle board. But I have big plans here: remove some of the laminate (probably a meandering river down the middle, but who knows) and pour a very thin layer of blue epoxy into the resultant gap. I think it would look extremely cool.

Speaking of cool, my mum brought these beautiful chairs to my attention:

Image description: a chair with chrome legs and a transparent blue plastic molded seat. There are ripples emanating from the centre of the seat. It looks like water.

When I saw them—and when Mum told me how comfy they are—I started looking for them online. I found what I thought was the right chair on Overstock and Wayfair; but when I read the reviews, many of them said the chairs weren’t very durable. I found this strange since my Aunty (in whose kitchen the above photo was taken) told me that the chairs still look untouched even with all the abuse her dogs and birds dish out.

So I ran a Google search on the photo of the chair. Sure enough, there appeared to be two different companies making a nearly-identical product. Of course, I couldn’t tell which was which except by the dimensions; in typical Wayfair manner, they’ve given the chairs a name that is completely different from the model name on the manufacturers’ website. Sure enough, though, one of them is slightly bigger and presumably more durable. It definitely gets better reviews than its doppelganger.

This kind of thing makes me crazy. It’s obviously designed to make it impossible for customers to comparison-shop, and in that it succeeds; but if I ordered a set of chairs and they turned out to be the cheap imitations, I’d be pissed.

So how am I supposed to know? According to the online retailers, I’m not. I guess this means I have to email actual bricks-and-mortar furniture stores around here and ask if they still carry these. And if not… do I take my chances and order 12 online? Or do I order just two online and risk them selling out before I can buy more?

Camping it up · hackin' it · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 461: Terrycloth Tetris

I’m having fun.

Having to inventory and then buy all the kids’ stuff for camp is a pain in the butt. But packing? That’s seriously fun. And hacking the packing… even better.

I’ve only sent my kids to overnight camp once before, but apparently I totally nailed the packing last year. The kids were especially fond of their bedrolls; to make it super simple to make up their beds, we laid out all the bedding on the floor as if it was a bed, then folded the sides in and rolled the whole thing. When they got to camp, they just unrolled it and tucked the corners of the fitted sheet under the mattress. Done.

They asked me to do it again this year; today I put together N’s bedroll for him. Then I had an inspired idea for the towels: I used some random zippered nylon cubes (from where? I don’t know) to pack the towels. When the kids get to camp they can keep their clean towels in the cube on their shelf or under their bed so they don’t end up all over the place.

Um, Sara? you’re saying, Why are you telling us this? This is the most mundane, boring blog post I’ve seen from you since that time back in 2012.

Moving on…

I think I might pack all the kids’ stuff in packing cubes. Or even better, those vinyl packages with zippers that bedding sometimes comes in. It’ll keep everything organized and let them see all their stuff.

What I’m really saying is that I love how compact and neat everything looks when it’s packed in cubes. I re-packed K’s towels a few times before I got them to fit perfectly into the space. The dopamine hit when I succeed at doing it just right is as good as when I finally find the most elusive puzzle piece or when I pack the dishwasher so that everything fits in perfectly.

Am I weird?

You know what? Don’t answer that. Just let me bask in the satisfaction of well-packed towels.

Image description: two zippered vinyl cubes containing rolled-up towels.
bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · Fibro Flares · hackin' it

Day 432: Comebacks

Our trampoline mat ripped in April. I called the company immediately to order a replacement part, which was backordered until June. Happily, it didn’t take that long; it arrived at our house a few days ago.

Be proud of me: I recognized that if Mr. December and I tried to replace the mat ourselves, it would take several hours of sweating and swearing, and there was a very real possibility that someone would get whacked in the head with one of the tension rods. We decided to hire a professional. He did the job this morning in twenty minutes.

So now the trampoline is back after a month and a half.

I’m back, too, I think. I jumped on the trampoline a very little bit today, something I was previously unable to do without bringing on post-concussion symptoms (the concussion was two years ago, but some effects still linger.) It was exhilarating. Tomorrow I’ll jump just a bit longer and before you know it, trampolining will be my daily workout.

I’ve also been biking more this past week, and I’ve been able to go on short rides without triggering another fibro flare. The rides are far shorter than what I used to do at my peak, but my body is just happy to be moving again, and I can’t expect to go from a six-week flare and a year of lockdowns into fourteen kilometres with a loaded 100-pound cargo bike overnight, can I?

As reluctant as I am to admit it, Mr. December was kind of right about the light situation in our bedroom. After a blowout “fix this now!” argument, I stomped upstairs and blocked the windows completely with cardboard. It looks pretty awful from outside, but it definitely creates blackout conditions. Last night I slept a lot later than I have the past couple of weeks. We’ve also been going to sleep a bit earlier, and I know that the increased sleep is likely keeping me from flaring again.

I’m not okay with having cardboard in my windows all the time, though. The extra hardware for our new curtain rod has come in, and so has the black adhesive-backed felt I ordered (to stick to the ceiling between the wall and the curtains, because otherwise the light just reflects off the ceiling and straight into our eyes.) Mr. December will help me install everything this weekend. It had better work. If it doesn’t, I’m sure you’ll be able to hear my scream of frustration no matter where in the world you are.

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Kids

Day 352: Baby’s First Build

Okay, fine. She’s not a baby. She’s six. But she’s my baby, and this was her first IKEA build.

We’ve taken a very relaxed approach to furnishing our house. The library still has the old cushion from our old window seat (it doesn’t fit the new seat,) a super-comfy-from-the-curb rocking chair, and a beanbag. Our dining table is sagging—I’m convinced the only thing holding it up is the metal slides on the underside—and the chairs are beyond awful. My headboard is as yet unfinished, as is my built-in desk. And E’s room… where I had planned to have neat built-ins on either side of her bed, she has two mismatched (in size and colour) cube shelves that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house.

I finally decided to design the built-ins using modular IKEA furniture. The components arrived here on Tuesday, and today E declared that she was ready to “build my first IKEA thing!”

I’ve been assembling IKEA furniture for so long that I’ve forgotten that their instructions are a language unto themselves. I taught E all about what the letter “i” in a circle means, why there’s a hand pointing to a particular component, and how to tell all the different kinds of screws apart. By the end she was assembling like a pro.

Part of my plan for E’s room is a unit on wheels that can roll behind her headboard when she’s not using it, and then be pulled out and used as a dollhouse when she wants it. Not that she wouldn’t have room for a dollhouse that just sits out all the time, but I’m apparently not happy until my build has something that pulls out, rolls out, tucks in, or slides away. I’m quirky like that: I love my rolling kitchen island (that tucks under the counter,) the pull-out desk in the library, and my camouflaged command centre cabinet in the dining room.

The IKEA series I’m using for E’s room is called EKET. For the roll-out dollhouse/bookshelf I decided to have two cubes facing the room so she can access them when the unit is rolled away. That made joining the cubes a bit tricky to figure out, but maybe that’s just my tendency to overthink things; I ended up just using screws to attach the units to each other. I was a bit worried about the whole thing sagging at the joint between the units, so I flipped it upside down and screwed a metal plate into the bottom, straddling the join point. While the unit was upside down I added fixed casters (because swivel casters would be a disaster of scraping and banging into stuff. Fixed casters basically act like a drawer slide.)

I’m sure it’ll be a few more weekends before I’m really done with E’s room, so that’s all you’re getting tonight. In fact, after N sees this he’ll want to know why I started on E’s room without finishing his; right now he’s got several stacks of these IKEA cubes on his floor and the mounting templates taped to the wall. What can I say? ADHD means never wanting to finish one thing before starting another. Story of my life.

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 346: Made with love… and some dental floss.

Building on yesterday’s success, today I finished N’s roller shade—sort of—and fixed E’s Roman shade. It’s fully operational again, now with a hint of minty freshness!

If you know how Roman shades are made, you’ll understand when I tell you that the clear plastic rings detached from the shade, rendering the string useless. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a picture:

It’s ugly, I know, but nobody sees that side. Anyhow, nine of these little plastic rings had come off the shade when the string holding them broke. I had to sew them back on stronger than before; I had absolutely no desire to fix this shade every six months. That’s why instead of thread, I used dental floss.

Confession time: I’m not a flosser. I mean, I know how, and occasionally I’ll do it if I feel the need, but that happens rarely if at all. Our dentist gives us free floss at every visit (along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and anything else we feel we need) which means that I’ve built up quite a stash of the stuff.

It’s pretty friction-tolerant (it would have to be if you’re dragging it past sharp biting edges of teeth) so I figure it should be able to survive the rigors of life as a bedroom window treatment. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime I get to feel productive—which my friends remind me shouldn’t be the yardstick by which my worth is measured, but it makes me feel good nonetheless.

DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 315: Fix-it Fail

There’s a drawer in the library that has not worked properly since it was built. A few months ago I took a close look and determined that the drawer was an eighth of an inch too wide, which was causing the drawer glides to bind. I was convinced that I’d have to build an entirely new drawer box.

Tonight I decided to take a closer look. It occurred to me that there was enough space between the side of the drawer and the side of the cabinet to just reposition the drawer glide further from the edge of the drawer. This was exciting news: if true, it would be a pretty easy fix.

I did all my measuring. I cut out an extra notch at the back of the drawer so the glide could fit in. I drilled new holes for the little pins that connect the glide to the drawer. Then it was time to put the drawer glides back into the cabinet, which was not a comfortable operation. The cabinet opening is about three inches by six inches, and I had to get both of my hands in there. I couldn’t use my power drill since it was too big; instead I used our little ratcheting screwdriver. It took forever and got grease all over my hands from the glides.

It took way too long to screw in four measly screws. By the time I finished I was ready to put in the drawer and be done with it all. I pulled out the glides and positioned the drawer on them.

It didn’t fit.

[Insert swear words here.]

I took the drawer out and ripped out the spacer I had put in to keep the right glide in position. “One more time,” I muttered to myself. I slid the glides out, positioned the drawer, pushed it onto the prongs, and slid the drawer shut.

It closed this time, but it wasn’t pretty. See exhibit A, below. The photo on the right is of the other drawer, the front of which sits flush with the surrounding frame. The photo on the left is of the drawer that I attempted to fix: it’s fully closed, but it still juts out from the frame by a good quarter-inch. Blast!

Now it looks like I’ll have to unscrew the drawer glides from the cabinet sides (again with the cramped space and the tiny ratcheting screwdriver) and reinstall them just a smidge farther away from the cabinet front. Oh, goody. What fun.

I probably had time to finish fixing it tonight, but it’s usually better to stop before you feel like torching the whole *&%$ thing because it just won’t work. I might fix it tomorrow, but for tonight it’s a fix-it fail.