Keepin' it real · what's cookin' · whine and cheese

Day 878: On the Edge

I finished making a small trial batch of jam this morning—it was delicious. So I sent Mr. December and the kids out to harvest more plums so I could make more jam. The kids all had excuses for not doing it, but Mr. December persevered and brought in a bin full of plums.

I knew it would take a long time to pit and chop the plums, so I settled at the table with a giant pile of fruit on my left, a measuring cup and empty bowl on my right, and in front of me, Outlander playing on my laptop. Two and a half episodes later, I had five liters of sliced plums in front of me, sticky elbows, and tears in my eyes (season 2 episode 7 is a tearjerker. Ye’ve been warned.)

I poured the plums and sugar into the biggest pot I have; they came almost to the top. Meh, I thought to myself, they probably won’t boil over. I’ll live on the edge.

They boiled over, of course. And they probably will again tomorrow, since I’m supposed to boil and cool this jam four times before canning it.

A large soup pot with a foamy, lumpy yellow substance in it right up to the rim. It has boiled over and there are plums and syrup on the stovetop and the counter.

In happy news, my brother-in-law walked in today and asked, “Does anybody want my old phone? It’s an iPhone 8.”

“I LOVE YOU!” I shouted and limped down the stairs.

You may be as appalled as my kids are to learn that I’m using an iPhone SE… first generation. As in the one that came in between the 5 and 6 (I hear there’s now an iPhone 13.) I can never quite justify to myself getting a new phone. Mine works. But a better camera is a draw, and you can’t beat free.

I probably should have asked him if the phone is unlocked, but I guess we’ll find out when I insert the SIM card.

Update: my head feels fine, so no after-effects of yesterday’s frisbee to the head. My knee is not so lucky, having been pulled in some way when I launched myself into bed last night. Ow.

Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 877: Go ahead, laugh.

Just to give you a little timeline recap here:

October 2018: Really nasty ear infection keeps me in bed for nearly a month.

December 2018: Terrible back pain sidelines me for a couple of weeks; during this time a medicinal marijuana gummy causes me to lock myself in the bedroom until I come down, because I don’t want the kids to be alarmed at how I’m acting. (Crazy. I’m laughing at absolutely nothing. It’s not pretty.)

January 2019: As my back is slowly improving, I get back into dance. At one rehearsal I take a blow to the head; the resulting concussion has me sidelined for months.

February 2019: I’m putting on my shoes when a violin case, slung over someone’s shoulder, hits me in the head—in the same spot as the original concussive blow.

May 2020: A tree branch falls on my head in my own backyard. Ouch.

June 2022: I hyperextend my knee while playing on the trampoline with E and am consequently sidelined from most of my summer activities.

So that’s the history we’re looking at when I tell you to go ahead and laugh when you hear the latest:

I got hit in the head with a frisbee at Mr. December’s company picnic today. I wasn’t playing frisbee, I didn’t walk into the middle of a frisbee game… I was just standing there, talking with some of my husband’s coworkers, when I felt a dull thud at the back of my head and saw the frisbee fall to the ground.

After a moment of mild alarm, and a sigh shared between us, Mr. December and I could only laugh.

“What are the chances?” was his comment.

Pretty much 100%. If someone was going to get hit by the frisbee, it would be me. Obviously.

Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I’m fine. A bit of a headache (not where I got hit today, but where I got hit in 2019,) but otherwise no hint of a concussion or anything serious or sinister.

Keepin' it real · Kids · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 873: I Got A Trophy?

No, there’s no trophy. I’ve won no prize. In fact, I’ve lost… muscle mass.

Cartoon drawing of a gold trophy. The plaque on its base reads "Biggest Loser... of muscle."

That’s right, I’ve got atrophy. Not a trophy. (Kids, take note: proper spacing between words is important. So is proofreading.)

Today at physiotherapy I learned that traumatic knee injuries cause the brain to send fewer electrical signals to the quadriceps muscle (I kind of want to know why, but I need to go to sleep early tonight—so no rabbit holes for me,) and as a result, there’s muscle loss. It’s visible enough that I was slightly alarmed when my physio pointed it out.

A cursory Googling tells me that this kind of atrophy won’t be reversed by simply exercising the muscle. I’m guessing that’s why I spend half of my physio session with electrodes stuck to my leg, doing squat presses in time with intermittent electric shocks that make my quads contract.

And I thought my knee brace was loose because it had stretched somehow. Nope, my leg really is smaller.

In other news, the kids are big enough to do actual housework now—E took out the garbage, recycling, and compost; N vacuumed the floors (badly, though); R took care of the dishwasher. Of course, they also make 90% of the mess around here. I miss the clean and quiet of my house when I had just one child (while the others were at camp.) I missed the kids more, though, so I guess I’ll keep ’em.

diet recovery · Keepin' it real · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 872: Your body isn’t wrong. Your clothes are.

Between the period dramas I’ve watched, all the historical fiction I’ve read, and the videos I’ve viewed with R about getting dressed in centuries past, I’ve stumbled on an astonishing realization: for much of history, women’s clothes were highly adjustable.

It makes sense, when one considers that most women probably only had a few dresses, and they weren’t buying new styles every year, either. If women were to wear the same few dresses for years on end, they’d better accommodate pregnancy, nursing, menopause, and everything else that causes women’s bodies to shift and change through the years. Suddenly all those lace-up bodices and full skirts with ties make so much sense, don’t they?

To some degree, I think we’ve gone backward in clothing design. Most of the clothes available to us are made to fit one size and one shape. Those pants may fit beautifully when you buy them, but next week when you’ve got PMS bloat going on? Not so much. And after pregnancy, your body doesn’t necessarily revert to its previous shape even if you’ve somehow lost all the “baby weight”. Things settle differently, and the clothes don’t look the same.

I thought about this a lot last week as I was getting dressed in my favourite Roots sweatpants ($15 at Value Village, did I mention?) and a stretchy t-shirt. These clothes have been with me for four years now, and they’ve never been uncomfortable, though my body has certainly shrunk and grown in that time. I could try to squeeze myself into my jeans—and spend the whole day feeling uncomfortable—but why? Just to perpetuate our society’s denial that it’s normal for bodies to change for a myriad of reasons? No, thank you.

Think about how much time I see and hear people devoting to the idea of “getting back your body” after a baby or dieting to fit into a particular dress; doesn’t it all seem a bit ridiculous? Our bodies do these marvellous things like protecting us from famine, building muscle mass, creating life, nourishing our babies… and we reciprocate by punishing ourselves mentally or physically until we can wear the same clothes we did five years ago.

Our bodies were made by millions of years of evolution… or a divine creator… or both. The clothes we feel like we have to fit into? Those were made by people—people who make money when you need a whole new wardrobe in a different size. Which is more likely to be wrong, d’you think: God (or nature)? Or the fashion industry?

gardening · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 871: It’s Joey o’clock!

There’s a guy on our street who does lawn care; he used to do ours. Joey is meticulous and takes pride in his work, which is basically why we fired him ten years ago—we felt he was too expensive, and asked him just to run the lawn mower over our grass and not worry about any of the trimming, blowing, or sweeping; he refused on grounds that he has standards.

I lose track of the days sometimes: homeschooling (and travel) means that we have very few externally-imposed routines of weekdays and weekends (aside from Shabbat.) Still, there’s one event from the outside world that anchors the week for me. It also aggravates the heck out of me, coming as it does around dinnertime every Sunday. I’ll be sitting peacefully in the hammock when I hear an engine rev and smell gasoline fumes. “Oh,” I’ll say, looking up, “is it Joey o’clock already?”

a cartoon clock face with the small hand on 5 and the big hand on 12. Instead of the numbers 4, 5, and 6, there's a cartoon guy with a loud leaf blower.

Joey o’clock stinks—I don’t mean that metaphorically. His lawnmower, trimmer, and blower are all gas-powered; they produce smelly fumes and about 85 decibels of noise. And given that Sunday afternoons and evenings are prime sitting-in-the-backyard and having-a-barbecue time, I have plenty of reasons to hate it.

Sadly, gas-powered mower bans and no-mow lawns haven’t yet caught on in this corner of the city; a pristine, weedless, clipping-free yard is still de rigeur, so there’s nothing I can do about Joey o-clock… for now. Like the chapel bells at the Lutheran seminary that woke me up every morning in fourth year university, it’s just another (annoying) reminder of the passage of time.

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 869: Small Shabbat

When I was a child, Shabbat dinner was synonymous with having guests. In university, Shabbat dinners were loud, crowded affairs run by the Jewish Students’ Association. And when I was newly married, I prided myself on being able to fit fifteen people around the table in our small(ish) apartment.

How times have changed.

We’ve barely had any guests since COVID. And now that two kids are away at camp and one is visiting his grandparents, there are just three of us in the house. Three for Shabbat dinner; piece of cake.

Shabbat dinner is often a three- or four-course meal. Tonight I served one (being generous, you could maybe count whatever dessert we have before bed as a second course, I guess.) I made challah this morning, heated up some pre-cooked, packaged roast beef with gravy, put out salad that I made yesterday, and warmed up some leftover baby potatoes. That’s all.

We sat outside—it’s hot and humid, but we did it anyway—around the small table on our back porch. Did the blessings (weird blessing the children when there’s only one there to bless,) ate the food, and then we sat back and sang. Our usual crowd (that is to say, all four kids together) doesn’t stick around for the singing when we do it, but tonight it was just E, and she was happy to sing and cuddle.

The dishwasher was empty, thanks to E (she did it earlier,) and there were so few dishes that it took maybe ten minutes to clear the table and clean up the kitchen, leaving plenty of time for the three of us to play a board game. When we have Shabbat guests, there are generally enough dishes to fill the dishwasher twice; and while I do take that time to reflect on a job well done (or a meal well-presented,) I don’t need as much time for reflection as I do for cleaning up.

Big Shabbat dinners have their advantages—more friends, more voices singing, the party atmosphere—but tonight is proof that a small Shabbat can be easy, enjoyable, and very entertaining.

Shabbat Shalom.

bird's eye view of a table set for three people, with two challahs, grape juice, wine, candles, and a simple
Keepin' it real · water you paddling?

Day 867: Distancing

No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

Yesterday my mum, E, and I went to visit someone who is confined to bed for the time being (from non-contagious causes.) I brought my guitar and we alternately talked and sang. I talked with E later about how bikur cholim (visiting the sick) is an important mitzvah and I’m so happy that we did it together.

This morning I got the call saying that our friend just tested positive for COVID (asymptomatic.) So now we’re keeping to ourselves; for E this means no playdates with friends. I feel bad for her.

But wait… kayaking is still okay: we’re in our own boat, at least an oar’s length from anyone else, outdoors. It’s the perfect physically distanced activity. So I called mum, and we went down to the Humber River with E and paddled for an hour. We did about 5 kilometers of paddling, and were all really happy about it.

I actually got a second workout while trying to dismantle the kayak: you’re supposed to lift a latch, push a button, and pull up on the kayak, all at the same time. News flash: I’m not tall enough to pull the kayak directly up while I straddle it. This system was obviously designed by tall Scandinavian men (it’s a Swedish company.) It took forty-five minutes to separate two sections of the boat, during which time E played games on Mum’s phone and listened to me bark orders, grunt, and curse.

Eventually I managed it, and then lifting the boat into the car was very easy. I’ve decided I need to practice taking the boat apart before the next time we go for a paddle. Another activity to do while I’m busy distancing myself from others.

Close-up of a person's hands while they take apart a modular kayak.
The instructional videos always make it look so easy…
Keepin' it real

Day 865: Once a Dancer…

Once upon a time, in a time before COVID, I was a dancer.

I danced in an Israeli folk dance group that performed at community events and at festivals abroad (I did New York and Boston.) We rehearsed once a week, unless we had a performance coming up; then we might try to squeeze in a few extra practices.

In January 2019, I got hit on the head (accidentally, of course) during a rehearsal. The nasty headache that ensued turned out to be a very nasty concussion that had me feeling the aftereffects for more than six months. In fact, the dizziness was still plaguing me at the end of 2019, which made it pretty much impossible to dance.

Then COVID hit, so no rehearsals. And then we were planning to travel for a year, so I declined to commit to dancing again.

Tonight I joined the group for a small gathering, to say goodbye to one of our own before she moves away. Several people asked if I was coming back to dance this year. My answer (as I pointed to my knee brace) was, “Let me see what my physio thinks.”

I miss dancing. I miss the group, I miss the movement and the music, I miss performing. But I can’t decide if I should let all that be a fond memory of the past, or if I should start to dance again. I don’t even know why I can’t decide.

K and I standing together in our dance costumes, posing for the camera.
Photographic evidence that I was a dancer once.
Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 851: It’s Never Simple

I’m sitting at a table in the Brampton Public Library, Springdale branch—which is a beautiful building, I must say. Sadly, there are a lot of reflective surfaces and the main floor echoes a lot. Why is it so hard for architects to understand that acoustics matter as much as aesthetics (maybe more)?

I’m here because K and E are at horseback-riding camp nearby. It’s a 40-minute drive from home, so I was clearly not going to make the trip twice; I brought work along with me, figuring that I’d be able to focus without any of the distractions from home.

It was a logical thought, and I was right about being able to focus. On the other hand, the work is proving more difficult to complete than it has any right to be.

I start by submitting claims to my health insurance for my physiotherapy sessions and my exoskeleton (a.k.a. knee brace.) I fill out the online form and press “submit”, at which point I get this error message: “We are working hard behind the scenes to improve your experience. Thank you for your patience as we restore all services.” So much for that task.

So I turn to a different insurance issue—medical claims from our travels in Costa Rica. The doctors there billed our insurance directly, so I have no receipts or invoices, and we dealt with two different medical practices. Our insurance is trying to claim back some money from OHIP, so they want me to fill out a couple of forms and mail them back. This is all fine and good except that I have no idea which visit they’re asking me about in this form, nor do I know the name of the doctor we saw or even the name of their medical practice. Can I just fill in our OHIP numbers and send it back without any of the other information? I’d contact them to ask, but they only have a phone number (no chat option,) so it’ll have to wait until I’m not sitting inside the library.

I’d also love to be able to submit a claim for R’s orthodontic work, but apparently I have to mail them a paper form first (I don’t understand why. Anybody in the insurance field want to explain to me?). Which is all fine and good, but my orthodontist already filled out a “universal” form, which is very similar (but not identical) to the form the insurance company wants me to fill out.

Can I just send in the form that the orthodontist gave me? I’d rather get confirmation that I can before I mail it in. So I go to the chat portal and open up a chat window. I wait in queue for 25 minutes (it’s ok, I’m doing something else) to chat with an agent, who asks my name. Then she informs me that she can’t talk to me about this account because I’m not the policyholder. Nevermind that I’m named on the policy and that the claim is for yet another named dependent. Nope, can’t talk to me unless I’m Mr. December.

UPDATE: Success! I’ve finally put through my knee-related medical claims!

Final score: Perverse insurance gods-2, Sara-1.

Why is no task ever just simple?

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Worldschooling

Day 850: Here’s the Proof

I’ve been feeling kind of disappointed with our homeschooling this past year; even more so when I look at our last yearbook. Last year we did literature units, grammar, volunteer work, writing projects… and it seemed to me that this year we have very little to show for our school year.

But then I wrote the report cards, and now I feel far better.

Having to fill in comments about each subject area forced me to categorize everything the kids have done since January. All kinds of things floated back to me: history journals, cultural learning through travel, all the books the kids read of their own volition, discussions of comparative mythology, and an entire month of learning about Jewish history, culture, and religion. The incredible amount of nature and science learned in the desert, the museums we went to, the art they did for fun.

It’s amazing how simply writing it down makes you aware of things you’d forgotten, isn’t it?

What will our next school year bring? Yesterday I would have said a return to greater structure and more assignments from me; now I’m not so sure. It seems that the kids learned plenty without being forced—and I’ll bet they retained it, too.