family fun · Fibro Flares · Independence · Kids

Day 389: Nothing humble about this brag.

Today the kids made 130 sandwiches for Ve’ahavta to distribute from their street outreach van. I tried to step back and let them take the lead, ostensibly because I want them to learn how to organize this kind of endeavour, but mostly because I’m still trying not to overdo things.

I was especially proud of R, who ran the multi-step vegetarian-taco-wrap assembly line. She was pitching in wherever it was needed, moving things along, and telling the others when they should take a five-minute break to give everyone else time to clear the backlogs.

On the way to drop off the sandwiches I told the kids that I’m proud of them for doing the sandwiches. They rejected my praise, pointing out, “Eema, you made us do it. You signed us up and told us we had to.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “That’s true. But Judaism is about action, not faith. Our sages said it was better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons. It’s results and outcomes that matter most, and you guys absolutely produced results. So I’m proud, and you should be too.”


Back at home, the kids continued to be useful (at our insistence, of course. This isn’t some parenting utopia.) Mr. December taught K how to use the reciprocating saw to cut up the branches that we pruned off the plum tree last weekend. She got a real kick out of it and made a decent-sized dent in the pile of branches.

I roped N into sanding our patio table, which is in desperate need of restaining. Armed with anti-vibration gloves, the Mouse sander, and an extension cord, he went to work at it. Five minutes later he was back inside. “I’m done,” he said.

“No you’re not,” I said, “You didn’t even sand half the table. And you’ve only worked for five minutes! That’s not what we call work! Get back out there. I’ll come out and keep you company.” He reluctantly returned to his job.

Three or four times he declared his intention to be done for the day; three or four times I pointed out that he was fully capable of finishing the job tonight. It ended up taking him maybe half an hour, tops.

In the meantime I assigned E the job of picking up garbage with one of those garbage grabbers. She found all sorts of lovely bits and pieces that must have blown into the backyard from our garbage cans on a windy night. Anyhow, she proudly presented me with a bag of trash when she was done.

Whatever concerns I may have about my kids, at least I can take pride in the fact that they’re capable of contributing real work to better our home and community. Now I just need them to heed me when I say it’s bedtime.

Fibro Flares · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 387: Unneeded

I folded laundry this morning. It only came out of the dryer six days ago; I’m pretty proud that I did it in under a week.

Then I took a nap.

It’s the small victories, right?

I also managed to put in an online grocery order. Unfortunately my brain is still pretty foggy, so we might end up with a completely random assortment of foods that don’t combine into anything this family eats. Oh, the excitement! The anticipation! It’s like opening the front door in the middle of the day to find a box there: I’m ordering so many things constantly that I never know what I’m going to get when I open a package.

I've ordered so much stuff online during quarantine, don't even know what's  coming anymore. If UPS shows up with a llama tomorrow, it is what it is. -  America's best pics and
Image description: Yellow background with red text that reads “I’ve ordered so much stuff online during quarantine, I don’t even know what’s coming anymore. If UPS shows up with a llama tomorrow, it is what it is.”

Finishing the grocery order just about did me in, cognitively speaking, and an online choir rehearsal took me the rest of the way to “time to lie down now.”

Good think I’ve raised the kids to be fairly independent: they came to me this afternoon and said, “We’re going to the park. ‘Bye!” And off they went, all four of them. They stayed out for a couple of hours, and I rested.

There’s a common sentiment that it feels good to be needed. That’s generally true. But after thirteen years and three months of being needed almost non-stop (there was that one cruise Mr. December and I took) it’s a bit of a relief when they don’t need me for a change. Especially during a flare.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · lists · mental health

Day 294: My day in Google searches

Lenovo usb-c monitor only works intermittently
It works beautifully, except when it doesn’t—which is every few days. Apparently it’s a common problem, although nobody mentioned it in the product reviews I read before I bought the darned thing.

“Morons of Peggy’s Cove”
We just learned about Peggy’s Cove, NS in geography. We were discussing the dangers of walking on the black rocks when I mentioned a Twitter account dedicated to shaming people who ignore the warnings. Naturally, the kids wanted to see it.

Unicorn Colouring Sheet
E regularly asks me to print colouring pages for her. The subject changes every so often: it used to be Paw Patrol, then Peppa Pig. Today it’s unicorns. E really is getting quite good at colouring inside the lines.

ADHD meds in non-pill form?
All I’m going to say here is, if ADHD meds are so commonly prescribed to kids, why has nobody come up with a liquid formulation that doesn’t taste absolutely awful? If Tylenol can do it, why can’t Concerta?

Teach beginning guitar
I’m cracking down this term and making sure that all of the kids are learning musical instruments. I gave R a free choice (of any instrument we own) and she opted for guitar. I can play guitar, but it doesn’t naturally follow that I know how best to teach it. Google to the rescue!

Good winter hikes near Toronto
I need to get all of us out of the house more often, and it seems the only way to ensure everyone’s participation is by taking them for a long(ish) drive to a hiking trail. If we try for a hike close to home (in the neighbourhood) the kids who don’t want to go will just turn around and walk home by themselves.

Seasonal affective disorder irritability
This would explain why I completely lost it and shouted at the kids several times today. It’s rough.

COVID numbers Ontario
We’re on week 3 of a “lockdown” and numbers are still rising. What gives?

COVID numbers Barbados
This was just wishful thinking. Mr. December thinks it would be fine to travel. I don’t. Did I mention the lockdown?

Is this a coup?
My cousin (who lives in Washington, DC) posted to reassure everyone that he and his family are safe, which led me to ask why they wouldn’t be, which led me to Google. Again. The USA is still a flaming dumpster fire. Maybe we should unplug them, wait ten seconds, and plug them back in?

education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids

Day 277: Break? What Break?

R is livid.

She said something about being on winter break this week and I said, “Break? What break?”

“You SAID we’d have a break! I NEED A BREAK!” she said as she stamped her foot.

I don’t know about the kids, but I need a break. I think this is the time when any teacher worth their salt pulls out the “edutainment”—movies, miniseries, that sort of thing. But I’m not willing to let us all descend into two weeks of the total anarchy that our weekends seem to bring.

Since some of you might be in a similar boat (we’re none of us going anywhere, am I right?) I give you my list of things I’ll be getting my kids to do for the next two weeks.

  1. Write a cookbook. The other kids can thank K for this one. The mission, should they choose to accept it, is to write five recipes, test-cook them, and add photographs. (I’m hoping to get some yummies out of this task.)
  2. Research potential travel destinations. Why should I have to do all the work? The kids are perfectly capable of googling information on any country we might visit.
  3. Map a travel route and include flight times. This is straight-up geography. If we want to see Thailand, New Zealand, Israel, and Iceland, what’s the most time-efficient way to do that?
  4. Create YouTube videos that teach kids how to do basic household tasks. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming that those tasks would be getting done as part of the filming process, right? Sounds like a win to me. I hope they start with “How to change the toilet paper roll.”
  5. Go skating. It counts as phys. ed. And since our swimming classes were shut down due to COVID, the kids have had precious little exercise. Maybe a gym class intensive week is a good idea.
  6. Clean their rooms. Decluttering and organizing is a life skill they could all use more of.
  7. Read the newspaper and discuss. So many fascinating topics, and so little lesson planning for me.
  8. Music class intensive! How cool would it be to just spend all day every day teaching them how to play new instruments? I bed they’d make some real progress in two weeks.
  9. Reshelve all the books in our library. There’s a huge mountain of books on the floor of our library that seems to be overflow from two crates of books waiting to be shelved. The kids will learn about classifying books by subject, and there’s a chance they’ll find their next great read.
  10. Play the silent game. A classic. Whoever can be absolutely silent the longest wins my most heartfelt appreciation. Oh, and a brownie.
Independence · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 263: Shopping for Six

Ever since COVID-19 hit Canada, I’ve felt a little weird when I buy groceries. I suspect it looks a lot like hoarding when my grocery list includes four loaves of bread, eight litres of milk, four dozen eggs, four or five packages of sliced cheese, and four pounds of strawberries, among all the other produce and random stuff we buy.

Here’s the thing, though: if you do the math, it quickly becomes clear why my cart usually resembles nothing more than those heaps of clothes in my childhood closet that threatened to spill out as soon as anyone opened the door. Let’s start with breakfast: If all six of us want eggs and toast, that’s a dozen eggs (two each) and pretty much a whole loaf of bread (which usually has fifteen slices, if I recall correctly.) If the kids want grilled cheese for lunch, we’ll need another loaf of bread and a package and a half of sliced cheese (11 slices in a pack, two slices per sandwich, some of the kids eat two sandwiches.)

This week we ran out of milk two days after buying a 4 litre bag (yep, all of you foreign folks, our milk comes in bags.) We’re not big milk drinkers, but the kids have milk with their cereal—and lately cereal has been a staple for breakfasts and bedtime snacks. It’s dumb, but I feel really annoyed that I have to shop again so soon. Seriously, guys? It’s almost as bad as when I buy strawberries: a 454 gram (one pound) box of strawberries means maybe five strawberries each (if they’re not huge), so they don’t last very long. And have I mentioned that strawberries and bananas are the only fruits N will eat?

Sometimes I stand in the dairy section and look at those little half-cartons of eggs (six to a pack) and wonder what good those are. Six eggs is the exact right number for my challah recipe, which I make every Friday. I suppose there will come a time when my children have left home and it’s just me and Mr. December, and we’ll buy six eggs and have them last a week.

(Who am I kidding? With real estate in Toronto being as pricey as it is, it’s likely that at least some of our children will be living with us well into the adult years.)

In the meantime, I think I’ll encourage independence in my kids by sending them to the grocery store for more milk. It’s like they say at camp, “You kill it, you fill it.”

crafty · DIY · education · Homeschool · Independence · Montessori · parenting

Day 244: Obvious

Even experienced parents sometimes forget the basics.

Last Thursday I had a meeting with E’s Montessori teachers. “It’s really hard to get her to do anything,” I griped. “I find myself threatening loss of screen time, but I know that’s not the Montessori approach.”

The teacher nodded sagely and suggested a visual schedule so that E could choose the order of activities and keep track of them herself. You know, kind of like the magnet boards I made the other kids.

You might have heard me slap my head and groan. Of course. This is, like, parenting 101. How did I forget?

So this morning I made her some schedule cards based on the assignments her teachers suggested for the week. I don’t have an extra magnet board, so I put elastics through a hole in the top of each card and wrapped them, luggage-tag-style, around the bannister railing on the main floor.

Did it work?

Sort of. She did the first three things eagerly enough, even snack prep. I found that amazing, given that she’s always been able to make her own snack, but almost never did it before the schedule board told her to. It’s almost like magic!

She very happily brushed glue along the lines of cursive letters and then sprinkled them with sand, making her own sandpaper letters. She dove into the stencilling work I’d prepared for her, holding her pencil and the stencil carefully. And she made her own strawberries and toast with cream cheese for snack, all by herself.

To think, she could have been doing far more these past five weeks if only I’d remembered the power of this kind of list. D’oh. At least I finally got my act together.

education · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 239: Helping

A story for you about yesterday’s illuminated manuscripts:

R dove into the assignment, to illuminate the first stanza of In Flanders Fields, with gusto. She started to draw and colour in the first initial, then decided to start over because she had a better idea. She iterated on that letter “I” several times, always cheerfully and of her own volition. The fourth design was the charm, and she began to faithfully copy the text in her best printing.

Suddenly she growled, tore the page out of her sketchbook, and ripped it up. Then she burst into tears.

Ah, perfectionism. Is there any endeavour it can’t ruin?

“Why are you ripping it up?” I asked, slightly alarmed. “You could probably fix it, whatever it is!”

“NO!” She screamed. “IT’S RUINED!!!”

After a moment… “Can you please make pencil lines for me so my words are straight?”

Of course I could. She got back to work.

Would you believe me if I told you that the exact same thing happened again not ten minutes later? It did.

So when we went home from our lesson in the park, R had no work to show for it. She began to cry because she wanted to have something to show Mr. December, and now she had nothing. I wisely refrained from saying, “Well, if you hadn’t torn it up, you could have shown him that last one you did.” It wouldn’t have helped.

Know what did help? Actually helping her.

I’m trying to shake the notion (that I think most of us have) that if the child didn’t do the work independently, it doesn’t count. As Julie Bogart (my favourite homeschooling author) often says, why doesn’t it count? Would we ever say that because a baby was holding someone’s hand, they weren’t learning to walk? We help our kids, and when they can do it alone, they do.

After pondering that for a while, I offered to help R redo her artwork. “How about I do the writing in pencil, and you go over it with the marker?” I offered. She was happy to accept, especially when she realized it meant she’d be writing in cursive (she doesn’t really know cursive yet.) And so we settled down to work together. And then…

“ARGH! AGAIN! I SUCK AT THIS!!!!” R screamed as she tore her page out and scrunched it up.

I couldn’t believe it. “Why are you ripping it up? I just did all that work for you! What went wrong?”

“It was supposed to be blue and it was turning brown,” R said tearfully.

I wrestled the remains of the paper away from her as gently as possible and flattened it out. Then I hugged her until she was calm enough to listen.

“I’m going to teach you possibly the most important lesson ever: how to take a mistake and use it to make things even better than you planned.”

I had R cut out the text, minus the torn remnants of the offending illuminated initial, and together we glued it onto a sheet of black cardstock. I drew the initial in pencil on a new piece of paper. This time, I encouraged R to try every colour combination and shape on a piece of scrap paper before adding it to her design. When she was done, we cut out the letter “I” with its decorated square and glued it onto the cardstock so that it was right next to the first line.

I have to say, the black cardstock made it look very good. R saw how her manuscript stood out and was pleased.

In the end, she had copied the text in cursive, inked all the lines in the illuminated letter, and done the colouring and design work. If I hadn’t let go of my old beliefs and offered to help, R would have done none of those things.

I’m not saying that parents should do their kids’ homework—mostly because then the teacher doesn’t have a good picture of the child’s abilities. But otherwise, helping shouldn’t be considered cheating—unless it’s also cheating when our babies learn to walk, talk, read, bike…

Camping it up · DIY · Independence · Kids

Day 236: Can we measure that?

Never mind those stores that are already hawking Xmas stuff as if the holiday is tomorrow (even though we haven’t even hit Remembrance Day yet.) Summer camps (as in, open July and August) are already filling up for summer 2021, which has put me into a frenzy of camp decision making and planning.

I remember back in the olden days when January was the time to get serious about camp registration. That was what, five years ago? Six? Can’t we go back to that?

I thought I had made this decision last year. Of course, camp was cancelled last summer and our money refunded, but I had no reason to change our choice of camp… until R got involved. She’s been begging to go to the same camp as one of her friends. As it happens, it was not our top choice of camp last year. Now the decision has been opened up again.

Have I mentioned that I hate making decisions?

I went back to all of the camp websites and read them over. I created a spreadsheet. But kids don’t really know what to do with a spreadsheet; I needed a simple way to compare the kids’ values with what was offered at camp. Behold the solution:

Obviously I only picked the things that I thought might be different enough at various camps to matter. I didn’t bother asking the kids about food preferences, because they’re all going to be pretty much the same. Likewise, I didn’t include things like sports facilities, because my kids just don’t care that much about sports.

Each child was asked to circle their answers on the likert scale, with the far left unhappy face meaning “I don’t want that at all,” the middle meaning “Doesn’t matter to me,” and the far right, “I really really want this.” While they were circling their answers, I took one form for each camp and filled in the likert scale with black marker.

Now, the magic part. Look what happens when you put the kid’s form on top of the camp form and hold them up to a light source:

See how the camp’s answers show through? I can see how closely a child’s expectations align with what the camp has to offer: if a face is both shaded and circled, that item is a perfect match. Now I just have to compare each kids’ form with each of the four camps’ forms and see which camp is the best fit.

This is what marriage to an engineer has done to me. Where decisions like this used to paralyze me, I now have a method to help me solve them: measure first, then use the data. I still don’t like making decisions, but at least now I know how!

education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids · Montessori

Day 232: Fun and Games

Look, I know I’m supposed to be in high dudgeon about climate change. I get it. But on days like today—a sunny, nineteen-degree November day—I find it hard to lament the unseasonably warm temperatures.

This morning Mr. December and I were talking to a friend about how homeschooled kids never get snow days and get far fewer sick days. “But you know,” I mused aloud, “It would make a lot of sense to give them ‘warm weather days’ when the weather is too nice to be stuck doing book work.”

We still made the kids do their school work, of course. But R chose to do her math work outside, and then we did our literature, language arts, and Pirkei Avot work on the back porch. We didn’t even need to use the infrared heater that’s been a fixture on the porch since sukkot ended.

This afternoon we went to the park for a weekly homeschool meetup. I love this group. The kids range in age from preschoolers to teens, and everyone plays with someone. I don’t know if it’s because they’re all homeschooled, but these kids are very good at taking the initiative to organize and invent games. Today was particularly idyllic: R climbed a large tree with two friends (at a distance from each other, of course,) K and some other tweens organized a huge game of hide-and-seek, and the parents all sat in an enormous circle on the grass, each of us on our own picnic blanket six feet away from the neighbouring blankets.

I don’t know if I can explain how full my heart feels when I see my children playing like this. I’ll just put these pictures here and hope that you can feel some of the energy from this afternoon.

This evening I tried to engage E in some reading and writing. I pulled out our newly-acquired movable alphabet and started playing with it. E was too busy swinging in the hammock to place any of the letters, but she did an excellent job of telling me which ones I needed to place.

Afterwards, I tried to get her to practice tracing the cursive letter “e” with me. She refused in no uncertain terms, so I ratcheted up the fun by turning it into a competition.

“Tell you what,” I said, “Here’s an orange dry-erase marker. You’re going to write a cursive “e” on any windows you like. Everytime I find one, I get a point. But if you see one of my blue “e”s, you get a point. Let’s see who has the most points by lunchtime tomorrow.”

Well, that got her fired up. At first E started to cry because she didn’t know how to write the letter. Then she pulled it together, grabbed an “e” from the movable alphabet, and asked me to hold it up for her so she could copy it. She drew the first one in the wrong direction. The second was messy. E got upset. But she couldn’t just let me win this contest, so she tried again. And again. By the fourth time, E’s “e” was pretty good. I’m not really allowed to say that, though, because I wasn’t supposed to be looking.

I’ve already hidden two of my “e”s on the front door and the mirrored library door. I can’t wait to watch E beat me at this game. One letter down, twenty-six to go.

And since I’m in such a good mood right now, I’ll leave you with my favourite silly joke. I set up the question and E did the answer.

What is brown and sticky? A stick!
DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 229: Reality Check

“Your kids play Little House on the Prairie? Wow! Look at them with the brooms and everything… this is how kids should play, you know?”

The kids had gotten tired of the trampoline, so R took charge and announced that they would play Little House on the Prairie. Moments later they were all doing their chores and waiting for ‘Pa’ to come back from hunting in the Big Woods. I happen to agree with my friend’s assessment: imaginary play like this is, in my opinion, the kind of play our kids need more of.

Shortly after that, the back door banged open and K emerged with several bowls and plates. “Who wants to taste-test my weird pasta flavours?” she hollered.

My friend turned to me with a questioning look, so I explained that lately K has started adding different flavours to the water when she boils pasta.

“Wow, that’s really cool. Your kids are amazing!”

“They have their moments,” I replied. “Oh, did I tell you that N is trying to teach himself whittling? I finally bought him a knife so he would leave my x-acto knives alone.”

That morning, sitting by the campfire in our backyard, we probably looked like a stereotypical homeschooling family: the younger children playing “wholesome” outdoor games based on the books they’d read, the independent teenager doing weird culinary experiments for the family to taste-test, and the boy with his own knife who is teaching himself to whittle.

That beautiful picture lasted all morning. Then I went into the kitchen for a glass of water and saw the formerly-tidy countertops strewn with bowls, colanders, and spoons. An empty cellophane pasta package was lying on the counter next to an identical bag that was half empty and wide open. K may have taken the initiative to experiment and share her pasta with others, but she did no cleanup whatsoever. In fact, I asked her to put away the bag of pasta five times throughout the afternoon before she finally did it.

That seems to be the norm these days. This morning I walked into the kitchen and immediately called Mr. December to come in and look. The microwave door was hanging open; there was an empty takeout container on the counter in front of it; a dirty plastic plate was next to that, and a plastic spoon lay beside it, dripping sauce onto the counter. “Who do you suppose finished the leftovers?” I asked sarcastically. Mr. December shook his head, sighed, and cleaned it up himself.

Meanwhile, R (the same one who came up with the Little House on the Prairie game in the backyard the other day) was on her third straight hour of playing Roblox on the computer. When I finally told her it was time to get off, she moaned about how there’s nothing else for her to do.

I’m not saying that my kids aren’t amazing—they are incredible, unique, and fascinating souls who will be wonderful adults one day. I’m saying that they’re kids. They do some wonderfully creative and independent things; they also do some thoughtless, lazy, and annoying things. It comes with the territory.

Every time a friend or stranger comments on something my kids do that is unusually responsible or mature, I feel the urge to show that person photos of the wet towels on the floor or the smoothie cups that went outside one summer day and have been on the ground near the trampoline ever since. You know, in the spirit of keeping it real. But the truth is that seeing my kids through someone else’s eyes is probably a more important reality check than the other way around. Every time I notice a wet towel or a tantrum, I see that my children are still children; when other people comment on my kids’ mature, creative, responsible behaviour, I get to see the adults they will become.