education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 505: I <3 Back-to-School

I felt well enough today to be mostly up and about, with a break in the afternoon when Mr. December took all four kids out for a few hours. I still wasn’t equal to anything requiring original thought, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to print out all the new curriculum materials I just bought.

I’m still in love with our new (last year) printer; All I do is hit “print” and it does, double-sided, every time. It’s one of my “best purchase ever” items, alongside other workhorses like my bakfiets (cargo bike,) my power tools, and my giant Omnigrid rulers. You know, stuff that does what it’s supposed to do, reliably and without a fuss. And that, friends, is why my bakfiets is better than people.

But I digress.

The printer has been running pretty much nonstop since 3 p.m. So far I’ve printed and hole-punched History Odyssey for both K and N (one copy each,) History Quest for myself (I still need to make copies of the notebooking pages for R and E,) and Real Science Odyssey: Life for E.

I must admit, I’m getting pretty excited about school this year. Between my super-organized school supply drawers and now my beautifully printed curricula, I’m like that dad in the back-to-school commercial (“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”). Except, of course, that I’m not celebrating getting the kids out of the house everyday, but learning amazing new things and using all these beautiful supplies. Back-to-school never gets old.

Unless, N pointed out, you’re not in homeschool, in which case back-to-school is a drag (for him.) He’s heard from outside sources that back-to-school also necessitates clothes shopping, which he hates. Good thing he’s not going to school. As our homeschool motto goes, “Excellence begins with wearing pants”… but really, any pants will do.

education · Independence · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 504: Well, SOMEONE has to be quiet…

The thing about colds is that they have this progression: sore throat right at the back of the nose, then headache and nasal congestion, then chest congestion, and then today… the “I-can’t-say-more-than-three-words-at-once-or-I’ll-start-coughing” stage. It’s an awkward stage, if you’re a talker like me.

I was hoping that my quiet presence, all gracious nods and regal waving of hands, would inspire the kids to enjoy the quiet too. It didn’t. Instead they were inspired to fill the silence—that’s one of their superpowers, it seems, but they have others as well.

I once spent a few days reading a website by Tom Hodgkinson, author of The Idle Parent. The phrase that stuck out for me was: “The less you do for your kids, the more they do for you.”

Now, before anybody jumps on this as an endorsement of parental neglect, please remember whose blog this is: I’m the one who calls out, “Child labour force to the front door!” whenever there’s a delivery of groceries, so that the kids come and do all the lifting, carrying, and putting away. I believe in raising contributing members of society, and it has to start young.

My particular child labour force is quite adept at filling in the gaps when I’m unwell. Today R and K made the challah completely on their own; denser than mine, but everyone develops their own challah style with time. R also made peach crumble for dessert. And tonight, since I’m trying really hard not to give E the camp cold, N and R tucked her in with hugs and kisses in my stead.

And all of this was done with an absolute minimum of verbal direction from me. No, I wasn’t clapping my hands and cocking my head in the direction I wanted them to look; I just quietly stated what I couldn’t do, and they sorted out who would do it. Remind me of this when they start clawing at each other over screen time, yes?

crafty · family fun · Independence · Kids · The COVID files

Day 503: While I was Sleeping

Good news, everyone! COVID test came back negative… which is neither surprising nor news, I admit, but it’s still good.

I vaguely remember, in the before times, that getting a cold used to mean walking around with a box of tissues but otherwise going about one’s day. Perhaps it’s because my immune system has been allowed to atrophy during this period of relative isolation, but this cold has knocked me flat. I spent most of the day dozing on and off in the back porch hammock, but at four in the afternoon I finally got tired of being woken up by construction noises and retreated to my bed. Next time I opened my eyes, four hours had passed.

Happily, life went on in my absence. The chicken breasts got grilled, dinner got served, and the table was even (mostly) cleared by the time I came downstairs. R quickly agreed to put E to bed so I wouldn’t expose her to my germs unnecessarily.


Now that they’re back from camp, I’m starting to realize how much I missed my kids last month. I missed R’s excited energy and generous spirit; I missed N’s need for hugs; I definitely missed K’s ability to disappear into the basement and come up later with some extraordinary craft project.

Tonight, R asked me how much I paid for the T-shirts I bought her from the craft store.

“Five dollars,” I responded. “Why?”

“Because K is downstairs painting one of them,” she explained.

As it happens, K made a very plain t-shirt much prettier. I commissioned her to paint a white baseball cap for E to take to camp; I also let her in on the location of my secret stash of white t-shirts (normally reserved for tie-dye.)

The house is buzzing with activity again, even while I’m sleeping. I love it.

Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 502: Is there an epidemiologist in the house?

Or a microbiologist, maybe?

Remember when I happily reported that the big kids’ overnight camp was officially COVID-free? It still is, but all three of my kids (and a few other kids I know of) came home with a cold. It went around camp and the entire time everyone tested negative for COVID.

What I want to know from the science-y types out there: how is it that a common cold virus was able to outlast or circumvent all the strict anti-COVID protocols, including 2 weeks of reduced contact and then isolation before camp, and two weeks of masking and distancing at camp? By the time the masks came off in week three (after repeated negative COVID tests), how was there a cold virus to go around?


Alas, our almost-five-hundred-day streak of no sickness in the house has come to an end. I’ve caught the camp cold; Mr. December and E are both fine.

Even though I’m certain it’s not COVID, I went for a test anyway because I wasn’t sure about some of the wording on the health screening for E’s day camp. The entire way there (I had to drive to Brampton because no test centres in Toronto were open late enough) I was thinking, “This is a dumb idea. I should just stay home in bed and get better.”

It reminded me of the time that we took ten-week-old R to the hospital because she had a fever (any fever in a baby younger than three months needs to be assessed, usually with a spinal tap to rule out meningitis.) Now, our entire family had some kind of virus and it was pretty obvious to me that R’s fever was a result of her big brother and sister kissing her and then coughing at her. But still, the doctor’s office insisted, so we went to the hospital.

Suffice it to say that the hospital visit was awful—R didn’t stop crying the whole time—and in the end they decided based on the history they took that no spinal tap would be necessary (thank God.) In short, after several hours the doctors came to the same conclusion that I did: the baby was sick because her siblings and parents were sick. I promise you, I bit my tongue and didn’t say the first thing that came to my mind, something along the lines of “For this, you needed to go to medical school?”

(To be fair, when you’ve been sick and injured a fair bit yourself, and you have four kids with all the usual childhood illnesses and injuries, you really do develop the ability to assess this kind of thing pretty accurately.

Every time something like this happens—my armchair diagnosis is confirmed by doctors—I mutter to myself that I really should’ve gone to medical school. At least then I’d feel justified in skipping the unnecessary testing.

Camping it up · crafty · Kids · The COVID files

Day 500: Wait, what?

It has apparently been five hundred days since the first COVID shutdown began in Toronto. Whoa. That’s a long time.

I remember last June, chatting on the phone with a friend and commenting that since we figured that school would be a bit of a write-off this year, we were going to homeschool our kids. Her response was incredulous:

“You really think we’re still going to be dealing with this in September?”

Yup. We were. And we still are. Crazy, huh?


I packed a camp bag for E: she starts full-day camp tomorrow. It made me realize how much stuff we’re missing because we’re homeschooling. Things like a lunch bag, a backpack big enough for a two towels and said lunch bag, and a… mask lanyard? What the heck is a mask lanyard? I wondered.

A Google search later, I realized I had this lanyard thing under control. I went downstairs to the Makery and found a length of yellow grosgrain ribbon in one bin, then grabbed a few plastic snaps and set to work with the snap pliers. Three minutes later, I had a lanyard. Ah, the magic of the Makery.

Image description: A yellow and green striped ribbon with yellow snaps on each end.

My brother and his two kids are in town right now, so we’ve had a few sleepovers for the kids and their cousins. Today there were six kids running around my house and I have to say that my niece and nephew fit right in: she attached herself to one of the hammock chairs and announced, “I’m a chyrsalis!” in her adorable five-year-old voice, and he went down to the Makery and came back upstairs with a piece of upholstery foam and a plan to make his own squishy toy shaped like a Minecraft sword.

Smart, cute, and they know what the Makery is for. We must be related.

Camping it up · Kids

Day 499: They’re Baaack…

Three hours later than expected, the buses finally pulled into the parking lot.

The kids talked over each other all the way home, telling one story after another. It’s 10:25 and R and K don’t feel tired at all, so they’re sitting down here still talking about camp.

I’m ending here because I want to listen to more camp stories. I’ll be back tomorrow night.

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.

diet recovery · DIY · family fun · Kids

Day 496: How she sees me.

E and I stopped by my parents’ place to take care of the pool in their absence. By “take care of the pool” I mean “dip the test strip, look at the reference chart, try to figure out which bottle of stuff I should be using to fix whatever’s wrong, and then dump in a few kilograms of whatever it is I think the pool needs.” It feels like I should be a bit more scientific about it, but my way is working so far.

(Although yesterday and three days ago I dumped in, like, twelve kilos of salt and today when we swam I was floating more easily than usual and a scrape on my arm was burning, so that might have been a bit much. Oops. It’s still not as salty as the ocean.)

We decided that before adding the Alkalinity Increaser that the pool apparently needed, we’d take a short swim. At first I figured only E would swim while I watched her, so I said, “Oh, don’t bother with your bathing suit. Just jump in naked. It’s only the two of us here.”

(Don’t worry, the pool is not in any way exposed such that anybody can see us.)

A few minutes later, though, I decided to dip my toes. The water was deliciously cool; I decided to join E for a while.

“You can skinny-dip too, you know,” E said.

“If someone’s kind of chunky, can they call it chunky dunking instead?” I mused aloud.

E huffed, “No, it’s still skinny dipping.”

“But I wanna go chunky dunking!” I protested.

“Eema,” she said with all the patience usually reserved for reasoning with a two-year-old, “You’re not that fat… for a grown-up.”

“Fine, call it whatever you want,” I said with my dress halfway over my head, “I’m coming in!”

It was fabulous.

I will pause here and say that yes, the fact that “you’re not that fat” made me feel good is problematic in itself. Fat is an adjective, like tall or short. That it affects my self-worth is unfortunate. I’m working on it. And for those of you reading this, don’t say “you’re not fat” to someone, unless you’re trying to reinforce the fact that fat is a terrible thing to be.

Anyhow, it was what I needed to hear after last night’s musings. If only I could always see myself the way my kids see me.


Before I go, I’ll leave you with this picture of me, a wrecking bar, and a pair of wire cutters. Anybody want to guess what I was doing today?

Image description: Me (woman with a ponytail and glasses) facing away from the camera, holding a pair of wire cutters in one hand and a wrecking bar that is wedged in between two pieces of trim in the other.
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.

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.