DIY · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 498: The Window Seat

I did it. It took way too many hours, but I did it.

Of course, the library is still a disaster zone, littered with bits of foam and batting; the floor is a safety hazard (as I learned when I stepped backwards to take a photo and impaled my heel on the pointy ends of plastic snap covers.) But it’s just me and Mr. December here tonight and tomorrow morning, so no innocent bystanders will be harmed before I clean it up tomorrow.

The three big kids come home from camp tomorrow. I’ve gotten used to the quiet; I hope I haven’t lost my ability to tune out the noise of four kids plus their friends.

Mr. December and I got in a date tonight. We walked out to an Italian restaurant nearby and, over Caprese salad and gnocchi, talked about our travels this fall. We also strategized about how to handle my inevitable seasonal depression in January and February: we could travel to someplace warm and sunny, Mr. December could take over more of the teaching time (I don’t see how, with a full-time job on top of homeschool, but it was gallant of him to offer,) or I could pre-plan a whole bunch of field trips that force me to get out of the house and allow the kids to learn from someone else for a change. In the end it doesn’t really matter which solution we choose—what really makes a difference is having a partner who’s also a teammate, ready to outwit and outplan my seasonal depression alongside me. I am so lucky.

DIY · el cheapo · Keepin' it real

Day 497: Oops.

The photo I posted yesterday of me with the wrecking bar was, as commenter Rose suggested, related to the window seat. Before I could upholster the back and sides of the seat, I had to remove part of the windowsill so that it wouldn’t dig into our shoulders when we leaned back. It was really hard to pry the moulding off, until I could see into the crack between the moulding and the rest of the windowsill: then it was obvious that the tiny nails holding the moulding to the wall were quite long. No way could I pull them out all the way without damaging the surrounding wood in the process—hence the wire cutters. I’d pry from the top with the pry bar until I could fit the wire cutters in, then clip the nail. Once that was done it all came out easily.

I ended up doing four hours of manual labour yesterday, between the prying and the templating and cutting a new (slightly slanted) back out of plywood. I actually felt pretty badass—I love building things.

This morning I bought the fabric and foam for the window seat. I’ve decided on an upholstered back instead of adding back cushions like we had before, on the theory that it will be less messy this way. I can always add extra throw cushions later.

By this point you may be wondering what the “Oops” title was about. Right? Of course right.

After creating templates and double-checking dimensions, I was dismayed to discover that the fabric I had cut for the seat back was just a little too short.

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” I howled like a comic book villain who’s been thwarted once again.

It would have been insanely complicated to take the whole thing off and reattach it, and might not even look good given what the tacking strips do to the fabric. I only had enough fabric left to finish the seat cushion and upholster the second side, so I couldn’t redo the whole thing. I decided to work on something different and come back to it.

I’m proud to say that I came up with a solution that looks pretty good. I’m not even telling you what the solution was; if you can’t see it, then I don’t need to point it out. I’m just telling you because I’m proud of myself. Also because I’m the queen of keeping it real, as they say, and I think it’s important that you know that most of my projects have at least one major oops moment in the process.

I’m not sure how I like the fabric; I eventually chose it because nobody hated it, and E and Mr. December liked it the best of the bunch. It’s an outdoor fabric—helpful when it’s sitting in a west-facing bay window and getting lots of lovely sunlight that will fade almost anything it touches. It happened to be on clearance, so I ended up paying $35 for just under six metres. If I decide in two years that I hate it, I can redo the whole thing.

I’ve pretty much finished the back and sides, and have only to cut and cover the seat cushion. At one point I wanted to make sure I chose the perfect fabric and had the whole thing done perfectly; now I just want to get it done, period.

DIY · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 493: On second thought…

Remember when I was all excited and said I was going to make up my own curriculum? This week I’m thinking that’s a bad idea.

As creative and awesome as I am (modest, too,) it would take a lot of work to put together a curriculum that I’d be satisfied with. I just don’t have that kind of time. I’d rather let someone else do the work and leave myself time and mental energy to actually be with the kids in mind as well as in body.

So I spent today looking at curricula again, and I think I’ve got it sorted out. I’m loving that All About Reading has a “try it for a year” policy where you can return the program (used, in any condition) if it doesn’t work for you.

I think this will be a year of learning things systematically—like writing. The whole “write what you know” and “write to express yourself” approach has not worked for N, whose motto is, “How short can I make this and still get my screen time?” I think he needs a structured approach that more closely resembles math. K would benefit from that too—a formula would help her get past writer’s block when she’s got a deadline.

We’ll still learn about Mesoamerica and South America, of course, but we’re not going to spend our entire 14-week term on it. I think a few well-placed documentaries and a couple of classes ought to do it for us. Beyond that, I want to be able to open up a book and teach what’s in it without having to prep too much. Such things definitely exist for English, Social Studies, Art, and Music; but when it comes to Jewish History it’s a lot harder to find. I might still have to design my own curriculum for that.

I suspect having open-and-go curricula for each subject will be a relief in January and February, when seasonal depression hits and I can’t put in an ounce of effort. And the rest of the time, I can take all the time I save on planning and do something fun for a change… like starting that quilt I owe N… or planning our travels.

family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 491: It started out so well.

This morning I discovered a new beach online and decided to try it with E, who is turning out to be an excellent partner in beachy crime. I made the required reservations (because COVID) and even rented a tandem kayak for an extremely reasonable fee ($10 including tax for 30 minutes.) We drove out to Professor’s Lake, singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack the entire way.

It was unlike any of the beaches I’ve been to before: we entered through a building that housed bathrooms, a snack bar, and a boat rental desk, and came out to a tiny beach with three lifeguard stands and a roped-off swim area. It’s not a big lake (although probably similar in size to Kelso,) which meant calm, warmer-than-your-average-lake waters. The bottom was sandy all the way out and the water was chest-deep at the far limit of the “shallow end.”

E and I frolicked in the water for a while until it was time for our kayak rental; then I paddled us around the lake, sticking close to shore so I could see the backyards of the houses that back onto it. I had no idea that Brampton had subdivision houses with a lake in their backyards; most of them had some kind of watercraft and some even had small docks at the water’s edge.

(Note to self: I want a lake at the bottom of my backyard.)

On our way back to the boathouse we saw the lifeguards’ pontoon boat speeding towards us.

“I need you guys to go back to the boathouse right away, because it’s going to rain soon and also something else.” The lifeguard shouted to us.

Also something else? I thought as I paddled hard back to shore. This can’t be good.

It wasn’t until we got close to the dock that I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. We were directed to exit to the parking lot, unless we had things on the beach—which we did—in which case we were to pack up and then leave.

You might not know this about me, but I have strong feelings about what people should and shouldn’t be doing when there’s an emergency situation. As we were packing up and leaving I was telling E that when there are first responders coming towards you, you hop aside as quickly as possible because an extra couple of seconds might save a life; that you should follow their instructions first and ask questions much later, if at all; that we’re so lucky to live in a place where we have police and medics and firefighters who come to help as soon as they’re called.

In the parking lot I saw two women walking away from their car.

“Do you know,” I asked, “if they’re letting cars out of the parking lot? Or are we blocked?”

“They have to let us through,” one woman said in an exasperated tone. “They can’t keep us here.”

“Actually,” I whispered to Ellie as we walked away, “I’m pretty sure they can. And I’m certainly not going to interrupt them in the middle of a rescue so I can get out of the parking lot a few minutes sooner. We’ll just take our snacks and sit on that bench.”

Honestly, what are people thinking when they get upset about this kind of thing? They were planning to be at the beach longer anyhow, so they don’t have any other pressing engagements. What could possibly be more important than saving a life?

Which reminded me: I shared this thought with E and taught her the Hebrew term Pikuach Nefesh, which is the Jewish principle that you can (or must) transgress any law in the Torah if it is a matter of saving a life. She repeated the words Pikuach Nefesh a few more times, rolling it around her mouth.

After twenty minutes of sitting on the bench (I couldn’t stand how people were gawking through the fence at the scene unfolding on the beach) we took a walk down the path that circles the lake. E squealed in delight as we found a playground, and she started climbing while I added this park to the Playground Buddy app.

Our car was no longer blocked in when we finally returned to the parking lot; the firetrucks had all left and the ambulances were packing up their stuff and leaving. Only a dozen police cars remained, the officers all gathered in a tight circle on the beach—to debrief, I assumed.

Later I read that a man had drowned in the lake. In the face of that, more mundane issues seem so unimportant, don’t they? And yet life goes on at breakneck speed, I reflected upon seeing that my beach access fee had already been credited back to my VISA card.

On any given day there are tragedies great and small, personal triumphs, births, and mundane everyday transactions, all happening at the exact same time. I’ve tried to wrap my mind around that before; I’m still trying to.

Tonight I’m thinking of the lifeguards who handled today’s emergency with such professionalism, the first responders who were unable to save that life, and the family of the man who drowned.

Folks, please… learn to swim. Teach your children to swim.

And for heaven’s sake, do not complain about minor inconveniences when there’s a life on the line.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · parenting · Sartorial stuff

Day 490: Books! Pockets! Happiness!

There are a lot of jokes about how you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a [insert item here] and that’s pretty much the same thing. If that’s true, I didn’t buy myself happiness this month, but I bought kind of the same thing, because I got two boxes of books, and dresses with pockets.

First, the dresses: I took this photo the day after my first dress was delivered to my front porch. It has two pockets that don’t bulge or show at all even when full, and nice wide straps to hide a bra if one wants to wear such a thing. It’s also constructed so well that bras are optional when wearing it. I picked a pink and purple batik fabric because the world needs more colour, doesn’t it?

The books are an assortment of reference books and children’s books that relate to my curriculum plans for this year. I bought them from an online discount book seller, so it was nowhere near as expensive as if I had ordered from Indigo or any other retailer. Getting these books for $5-$10 each gives me permission to buy extras, right?

Yesterday, after I examined the nicest book of the bunch, I essentially became my dad.

“E, come here. Isn’t this beautiful? It’s our new atlas!”

Yes, I got super excited about an atlas. The Times Concise Atlas of the World, to be exact. There are satellite images and maps of all kinds of things like tectonic plate borders. It’s so cool! And yet, E politely came over to the table when I called her, peered at a couple of pages, feigned a modicum of interest, and then… walked away.

I don’t know why she’s not more excited about seeing our world depicted in all these different ways; I do know, however, that I wouldn’t have been excited at her age. I have many memories of my dad urging me to appreciate what a beautiful dictionary/atlas/nature guide he was holding, and me thinking, “When can I go play?” Sorry, dad. I get it now. Maybe we can look at my new atlas together.

Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids · The COVID files

Day 489: Like Normal

My kids’ camp has passed the fourteen-day mark, and everyone at camp tested negative for COVID; now they can all put away their masks, sing together, hug their friends. For the first time in 489 days, everything feels normal (the old normal, not the “new” one everyone’s always talking about.) Lucky them.

Here at home things feel pretty normal too. My to-do list is long and getting longer by the day, it seems. I’ve not accomplished what I had hoped to in the past two weeks. It might be time to throw half my “to-do” list into a “to-don’t” list instead.

(Do you like that one? I misread my friend’s post on facebook as being about her “to-don’t” list and we’ve now decided to start using it as a phrase.)

Over the past six years, I’ve had friends look at my kids and say something like, “I don’t know how you do it with four!” My stock response is that actually, four kids are easier than one. And now that I’ve had an only child for two weeks straight, I can confirm it. Unless E has a playdate, she’s clamoring for my attention even when she knows that I’m trying to work. And really, I’d rather be giving her my attention than working on trip planning and curriculum planning and the five dozen little odd jobs around the house. Sadly, sometimes I do have to buckle down and work.

I’m thankful that E has her friend who lives on our block, whose parents are as cool with spontaneity as I am, and who is free all day, every day. They’ve had epic playdates lasting four, five, even six hours of continuous play and absolutely zero conflict. It’s beautiful watching them play (eavesdropping on their play, really); it may not be an entire mask-free summer camp, but it’s E’s small taste of life being a bit more normal.

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

Day 488: Isn’t it Ironic?

My kids’ summer camp has a system where parents can send an email to their kids, and then the kids write a message back that gets scanned and emailed to the parents. I think snail mail and real letters are more fun, but then again I also understand the relationship between a cassette tape and a pencil—by which I mean, of course, that I might be just a bit old-fashioned.

Anyhow, I decided to try it. I sent emails to all three kids; by the next day I had two replies, each consisting of two sentences along the lines that I’ve come to expect. Nothing from K, though.

That was on Sunday. Today I finally received K’s reply. You can imagine my excitement when the preview on my screen showed an entire page of text written in K’s cursive (which is way better than her printing.) A real letter! Finally! I clicked “print.”

When it emerged from the printer, I could have cried. It wasn’t that the on-screen preview had poor resolution, it was that I could barely see what K had written. Clearly she wrote her message in mechanical pencil (which she favours) or with some other pen that doesn’t scan well. I feel like the guy in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.” Finally, I have a nice long letter to read! It’s in my hands! And… it’s unreadable.

I spent some time trying to guess at words and letters. I made a darker photocopy to see if it would help (it did and it didn’t.) At one point I was starting to feel like an archaeologist trying to piece together an ancient manuscript.

Image description: a page of nearly indecipherable writing on white paper with a dotted border line. Instructions at the top say “write your message inside the dotted lines.”

Sadly, just like piecing together an ancient manuscript, deciphering this letter won’t be the work of a few minutes. I’m going to hunker down with some bright lighting and several different copies and see what I come up with.

ADHD · Camping it up · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 487: He gets it from me.

Dear Eema,

Thanks for your letter. Please send me more letters.

Blah blah blah blah blabbity blah blah.

There. Now it’s long enough. I can go get tuck.

Love, N.

My response:

Dear N,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter you sent. I loved the story about how blah blah blah blabbity the blah in blah. You have such a way with words.

I can’t wait to see what you write next.

Love, Eema.

I think we can all agree that the kid is a creative genius, right?

I mean, first a giant “Hi!” and now the blah story. How can I possibly compete with that? (I welcome your suggestions.)

The girls have written similarly short letters. All they have to say is that camp is fine, and also can I please send:

  • More fidget toys
  • More Rainbow Loom
  • Candy
  • Candy
  • Their Ritalin
  • Candy
  • What about the Rainbow Loom?

As it so happens, I will be sending more fidget toys and Ritalin. I guess I can stuff some Rainbow Loom into the package as well.

There’s no need to wonder where N gets his sense of humour. I was reminded of that fact as I worked on our homeschool yearbook today. I needed something eye-catching and fun for the first page, and settled on “We heart BFHS because…”

I, in all my smartass glory, invented a few quotes to complete the sentence:

  • “I can go to class in my pyjamas. And there’s no homework.”
  • “I feel like they’ve known me all my life.”
  • “The teachers will do anything to help the students succeed.”
  • “I feel at home here.”
  • “I’ve learned more here than I did at any other school.”
  • “Because why not?” (N’s current favourite thing to say)

And then at the bottom, below a bunch of photos: “BFHS. Like one big, happy family.”

See? My kids come by their smartassery honestly. Actually, from both sides of the family. They never had a chance of escaping it.

family fun · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 482: I don’t trust them.

I’ve been avidly watching the weather forecast, looking for a clear day to take E kayaking at the beach or maybe even to a waterpark. And for the last week and a half, my phone has showed me the same sort of thing:

Image description: screenshot from the Weather app on an iPhone. The forecast shows rain or thunderstorms almost every day next week.

This screenshot is from tonight, but it’s pretty representative of the forecast I saw last week at this time, too. Rain. Rain, rain, storms, no sun, rain.

(And yes, it’s a mirror image of how you probably see your phone, because Hebrew is read from right to left. I set Hebrew as the main language on my phone so that I could keep up my reading skills and expand my vocabulary. In a happy coincidence, it also makes it hard for the kids to use my phone. But if they really, really want to use it, they can learn some more Hebrew.)

My problem isn’t the rain. I mean, sure, it’s not what I would have wanted, but it’s not The Weather Network’s fault that it’s rainy. What I am mad at them for is that their forecast is just plain wrong, or at least misleading.

Every day this week was supposed to be rainy—no sun in the forecast. What actually happened was that we had a few very nice, warm, moderately sunny days; several of those days had about an hour of rain, but that was it. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I think when I look at a forecast like the one in the above picture.

Because of the forecast, I didn’t plan any outings. Worse yet, I decided to go get my second COVID shot this week because I figured we’d be stuck in the house anyway, and I could cuddle up to E and watch Spongebob just as easily when I’m feeling ill as when I’m well. No sense wasting a beautiful summer day letting my immune system do its thing when I could do it on a rainy one instead, right?

As it happened, the weather was reasonably nice the day after I got my shot. E asked me to go for a bike ride that I was pretty sure I couldn’t manage; that’s when I called my parents and asked them to rescue E from boredom and me from having to parent. Thank God for my parents (although they’re setting the bar pretty high for me to meet when I’m a grandparent one day!)

So now I’m looking at next week’s forecast—cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms—and wondering whether I can trust it. Should I just go ahead and plan the outings anyway? Do everything last-minute? I don’t know what I should do. What I do know is that I just can’t trust The Weather Network any more.

Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 480: Monologuing

Today the kids’ overnight camp sent us an email with a link to view pictures of the last few days at camp. I clicked immediately, of course. Had you been inside my head at the time, you’d have heard the following.

Let’s start with July 9. Not my kid… not my kid… not my kid… oh, that’s my friend’s kid. He’s in N’s cabin. N must be somewhere in this set. Hmm… they’re playing basketball… his friend has the ball… where is N?

Oh, there he is. Of course. He’s standing on the bleachers—wearing fuzzy pajama pants and a fedora—chatting with another boy. Why am I not surprised?

Moving on…

That redheaded girl looks familiar. Oh! That’s R’s bestie. I bet R will be in a few pics from this batch.

I’d know that bathing suit anywhere. Nice to see that R is wearing her long-sleeved sun protection suit. Oh, and here’s one of her and her friend snuggled together in a beach towel… and here they are, learning how to play volleyball. Better them than me—I hate volleyball.

There’s K. The fuzzy purple sweater was a dead giveaway; it makes her look like she’s part Muppet, and the shaggy hair does nothing to combat that image. Oh, look—she’s making a boomerang in woodshop. They’d better not be teaching her how to use it.

Everyone’s dressed up and looking clean—must be Shabbat. Why is everyone but N sitting in their folding camp chair? Did his chair ever make it to his cabin after we dropped it off? Well, at least his tuxedo-printed t-shirt looks dressy.

While I was perusing the photos, I got a call from camp.

“Everything’s fine! I just wanted to tell you how K is doing.”

Apparently K has rated camp at a 7/10 because of COVID but was adamant that it could never score 10/10 because she’s not allowed to have her phone with her. Furthermore, she’s already identified the unequal treatment of campers based on gender (boys are allowed to walk around shirtless, while girls can’t wear crop tops.) Not that I was worried about her adjusting to camp, but it’s still reassuring to know that K is comfortable enough at camp to be herself… her injustice-detecting, opinionated, phone-loving self.

I wrote each of them a letter and packed it with their stationery, so K, N, and R will see my letter as soon as they open up their kit to write one to me. Still, I should probably write to them again soon.

Or I could just print and send all of my recent blog posts. They might like that better.

Mr. December and I got our second COVID shots today. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, don’t worry—I hear the fever and chills rarely last longer than a day.