crafty · education · Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 454: Teacher Gifts

There are plenty of things I don’t miss about sending the kids to school—the drop-offs and pickups, the one-size-fits-all rules, the homework—but the one that always manages to surprise me is teacher gifts. Yes, I know the school year is ending. Yes, I want to show my appreciation and yes, I—wait, it’s now? I need to do the teacher gifts today? AAAAA!

It happens every year.

I’ve done some creative things in the past: handmade cards; a summer-themed gift of sunscreen, sunglasses, a movie gift card, and some packets of Starbucks instant iced coffee mix all packaged in a reusable cup with a straw; a custom t-shirt for the teacher who had all four of my kids with zero breaks in between; and there was the year I just wrote them lovely thank-you cards and delivered them with a fresh homemade challah for each teacher.

Other years I went in together on the group gift being organized by other parents. But the best gift (I thought), the most inspired, were the Montessori bead bar earrings. I made them for every school staff member who had direct contact with my kids. Everyone loved them—but that was years ago, and only a few of those teachers remain (and they’re not E’s teachers), so I decided to reprise that idea for E’s online teachers from Montessori.

Last time I did all the work after my kids went to bed. This time, E had a hand in the whole thing: she strung the beads onto the eye pins, poked the earrings through the backing card, carefully threaded the necklace chain into the slots I’d made, and helped me cut and fold the gift boxes.

And now all that remains is to write the thank-you cards to the teachers, and of course to deliver them to school. And then I’m guaranteed at least one year without teacher gifts sneaking up on me, because all four kids are being fully homeschooled next year.

Wait, if I’m their teacher, shouldn’t the kids be giving me a gift at the end of the year? Good thing some of them read this blog—they’ll get the hint.

Camping it up · el cheapo · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · Sartorial stuff · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 453: I never learn.

I feel like I’ve spent my entire day shopping online. If I have to look at one more sizing chart, I’ll scream: every few minutes I called a different kid over to my desk to be measured for clothing sizes. I managed to find bathing suits for all three big kids—no mean feat when you realize that the fashion and retail sector is always one season ahead of us. I had a hard time finding bathing suits at all, because all the summer stuff seemed to be on clearance and the only sizes left were for four-year-olds.

I thought we had all the large duffel bags we needed; but when I went to bring them upstairs so the kids could start packing, I found that two of the bags were shedding little bits of their waterproof coating all over the place. They had to go.

(It’s not like those bags owed us anything—they accompanied Mr. December and his brother to summer camp 30 years ago—but I was just so happy to think that at least I had luggage squared away.)

I decided to focus on bedding for a bit, so I went to the IKEA website and started loading things like inexpensive comforters into my cart. On a whim, I searched for “laundry bag” (because I needed those, too) and found this:

Image description: screenshot of the IKEA website. The product is a blue rectangular bag with handles, called FRAKTA. It sells for $3.99 and holds 76 litres.

It’s a 76-litre bag made out of the same indestructible material as those huge blue IKEA shopping bags you can buy at their checkout. This huge bag has zippers, carry handles, and shoulder straps (backpack-style.) And it costs $3.99. Four dollars for a bag that will probably never die? I hit “Add to cart” a few times.

And then I was sorely disappointed—again. IKEA has the worst e-commerce site I’ve seen in a while. They don’t tell you if an item is in stock for delivery until you get to the very end. So there I was, happily about to check out, when I was informed that the bag was out of stock for delivery. And for pickup. There were exactly zero 76L FRAKTA bags in their entire system. I almost cried.

And do you know where I ended up buying about half of today’s purchases? That’s right, Amazon.

So to recap, here are the lessons I should learn from today… but probably won’t:

  1. Don’t wait until bathing-suit weather to buy bathing suits—they’ll be sold out. The time to find swimwear for the kids is April.
  2. IKEA stuff looks promising but you’ll be disappointed somehow. (Didn’t we just cover this with the window shades, like, less than a week ago?)
  3. Despite your best efforts to buy from small local vendors, when you’re up against a deadline of any kind, or when you’re price sensitive, you’ll end up on Amazon. Again.

Lesson 1 I really should have learned the first time I had to buy bathing suits for camp, seven years ago. Lesson 2… well, as I said above, we just had this conversation last Friday. And lesson three… I’m still resisting, but sometimes it just seems inevitable.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn from today’s adventures, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour—which leads me to believe that after all these learning experiences, I’ve still learned nothing.

Camping it up · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 452: Packing

K accosted me this evening as I sat at my computer, about to start writing tonight’s post.

“Eema, you said we could talk about what stuff I need for camp that I don’t have yet.”

Right. I did say that. So we started going through the list.

Camp packing lists are tricky. On one hand, you really do need fourteen t-shirts because the laundry truck only comes once a week, so you have to have two full weeks of clothing (because one week’s will be at the laundry at any given time.) On the other hand, if there are things on the list that you don’t normally use, you might not need them at camp.

K balked at the fourteen pairs of socks. “I don’t even wear socks in the summer!” she pointed out.

“Then you don’t need fourteen pairs, do you?” I said reasonably. “Six or seven pairs will do, and one should be cozy just in case you have a couple of chilly nights.” Problem solved.

She moved on, “Four pairs of sweatpants? I don’t think I have any sweatpants. I don’t wear sweatpants.”

“Then don’t take them,” I said patiently. “Take comfy leggings instead.”

And so on, ad nauseum.

Shopping for this stuff is extra annoying this year: “non-essential” stores just opened a few days ago and can only have 15% of their normal (i.e. non-covid) capacity limit. This leads me to think I can expect long lineups just to get into the stores. Better to shop online, I think. Of course, that thinking is why my front hall looks like a shoe store specializing in Keens: we ordered a bunch of different sizes and styles online with the intention of returning the ones we don’t want. It’s a fine idea, but with six of us—four of whom are still growing—we ended up ordering a lot of shoes. And we’re not done yet.

The most annoying part of all this is that I’m carrying this mental load constantly, and I get distracted by it all the time. I’ve been writing this post for the past hour, because I keep suddenly thinking of a store to check for swimsuits, and then I’m off searching for a while before I remember that I have a post to write. But seriously, there’s a lot of stuff to get, and three kids to buy for, and it’s dominating my thoughts these days.

It’s a good thing the kids have enthusiastically (and diligently!) taken on the yearbook project. That’s one thing off my plate. I should delegate more often… maybe I should tell them to plan our upcoming travels and call it geography class.

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

Day 451: Yearbook

This afternoon I sat the kids down to discuss their final writing assignment of the year: our homeschool yearbook. Like everything else we do, it started out as a tongue-in-cheek kind of lark, but will probably end up being a really great keepsake.

Image description: The kids sitting around the dining room table, with a laptop open to photobook editing software. There are bowls of popcorn on the table too, because meetings are better with snacks.

We started by listing all the things we wanted to include:

  • A message from the principal
  • Photos of the teachers, by subject
  • Student clubs (puzzle club, swing in the attic club, challah baking club, etc.)
  • Field trips and special events
  • A page for each subject with pictures of class activities and a short description
  • Feature: winners of the prestigious “student of the year” award (one per grade)
  • The “most likely to…” list
  • What happened in the world this year (“For context,” K said.)
  • Autograph pages (so students can sign each others’ yearbooks, and teachers can sign them too.)

I demonstrated how to use the photobook website, uploaded all the homeschool-related pictures from my camera, and then retreated to my desk to eavesdrop on them. Listening to them take charge of a project never gets old.

Mr. December is already chortling to himself about the banal messages he’s going to write in every kid’s yearbook: “Have a great summer” and so on. I was going to be just slightly more creative by signing every child’s book with “Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favourite student.” Too cheesy?

education · Kids · Montessori

Day 448: The Graduate

E had her “End of Casa Celebration” today. She’s finished a full cycle (and then some; she did four years) in the Montessori three-to-six-year-olds’ classroom (otherwise known as Casa) and is ready to move on.

This morning we joined her class on Zoom as the teachers spoke about (and to) each graduate. The grads were given flowers and a bouquet of cards with wishes from their classmates. E wasn’t there, since she’s an online-learning student, but we were able to pick up the flowers, the cards, and a box containing the Shabbat set E made as part of her graduation project.

A major part of the graduation project is the child’s timeline. E had to choose photographs (one from each year of her life) and write a short sentence about each picture. Then she had to mount the pictures and the captions on cardstock, punch holes, and bind it all together. The final result is neat to see, not least because of the very clear progression from messy writing in the first caption to much neater cursive in the last one; but the coolest part is seeing what pictures E deemed important to showcase: her first Purim, her at eighteen months watering the flowers with our yellow metal teapot, dressed as an elephant for Purim at age two, riding her balance bike, jumping on a trampoline with N, reading on the front porch with R, and using the glue gun to turn a yogurt cup into a unicorn cup.

Image descriptions, clockwise from left: E in her graduation outfit, sitting on the back porch couch; E looking over her shoulder at the camera with her class Zoom screen in the background; the last page of her timeline, with the caption “i was making mi frst unicorn cup” (sic); her timeline project—eight sheets of cardstock bound with yarn—spread out on our living room couch.

Tonight E had the honour, as the graduate, of leading us in the blessings over the candles, wine, and challah. She also got a special cupcake from Savta and Sabba, and got to use the coveted heart-shaped spoon for her dessert (seriously, the kids fight over the ‘heart spoon’.)

All day long I couldn’t—still can’t, really—believe that my baby, my youngest child, is headed into Grade One. This time last year she was learning to write numbers; now she’s multiplying them. She’s reading, her cursive writing is beautiful, and she’s a confident, articulate six-year-old, as sweet and cuddly as when she was a baby. I am so proud of her. And she’s proud of herself, just as she ought to be.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 445: I wish I could quit you.

Dear Amazon,

I wish I could quit you.

By most accounts, you engage in unethical business practices and your employment practices aren’t anything to write home about either. You sell lots of stuff cheaply, most of it made in China, which makes me wonder whether it was made by Uyghurs in Chinese detention centres. And you’re not-so-slowly taking over the market, elbowing small local retailers out of the way because they can’t compete with you.

Granted, you have economy of scale on your side. And I’m sure you’ve invested gazillions of dollars in software development and logistics planning and implementation. You’re so big because you’re so good at what you do. I get that. But still, for ethical reasons I’ve been trying to reduce my purchases from you by, oh, ninety percent.

But I just can’t leave.

There are some things I can’t seem to find anywhere else; all of your collapsible silicone water bottles in multiple colours, for example. It may not seem very important to others, but in our house we colour-code everything so we know which of the four kids each item belongs to. I checked five local sports/outdoor stores before resigning myself to the fact that I’d have to buy from you. Again.

I needed a very long, continuous curtain track system. IKEA’s system failed me. I looked everywhere I could think of and found absolutely nothing. So I came crawling back again, credit-card CVV in hand, to buy a seven-metre track with rollers and everything. It works perfectly, by the way.

At least the curtain track story has a positive spin: it was sold by one of your “Marketplace” vendors, which I gather means they use Amazon as an e-commerce platform so they don’t have to develop their own. They benefit from your reach and your search algorithms and I presume they pay handsomely for the opportunity. Anyhow, this vendor was a small family-owned business based in Alberta that only sells through you. I had a minor customer service issue and they were perfectly lovely to deal with. I would absolutely buy from them again… on Amazon, of course, because they have no other platform.

And now… I have three kids to prepare for camp. Who knew they’d need so much stuff? Twenty-four towels (total, not each)? I mean, yeah, first I’ll canvass everyone I know for their old towels they don’t want anymore. But after that, you might be my best chance for towels on the cheap. Although I’m happy to pay smaller local stores a bit more for their products, I’m less happy to do it when I’m staring at a packing list that looks like it was put together by a stereotypical Jewish mother who doesn’t get that it’s okay to wear your sweatshirt a whole week running even if it’s got grass stains on the elbows and a smear of melted marshmallow from Wednesday night’s campfire. Point is, there’s so much stuff we need from camp that I do need to economize just a bit.

So, Amazon, even though I said goodbye dozens of times, even though I’ve resolved to stop crawling back to you, I can’t. You’re just that good at what you do. And apparently, I need you.

Shamefacedly yours,
Me

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · fame and shame · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 444: How we Roll

“Honey, I’m trying to write this blog post, but my writing is just flat.

“Is that your opening joke?” Mr. December asked.

“What? No—oh. I see. No, it wasn’t. But maybe I spoke too soon? It shouldn’t be too hard to change gears.”

He mimed a rimshot.

“Okay, fine,” I murmured. “I’ve made a start. Might as well roll with it.”


A few weeks ago the chain on E’s bike started coming off the gears. Then R complained that the hardest gear on her bike was feeling an awful lot like the easiest. I can manage small bike repairs, but I had neither the skills nor the time to take on the task, nor the tune-ups that all of our bikes desperately needed.

I went online and looked up a mobile bike repair guy whom we’d met a couple of years ago at the Wychwood Barns market. The website had a simple online service request form; I filled it out and waited.

I soon had a message saying that Matteo (of Matteo’s Bike Repair) was booked up for the next few months, but Percy had space on his schedule for us. I had met Matteo in person but had no idea who this Percy guy was. Was he any good? When I contacted Matteo I felt like I was dealing with a known quantity; Percy was a mystery.

As it turned out, Percy was exactly who we needed. A former homeschooled kid himself, he took the time to explain to the kids not just how the different parts of a bike work, but the science behind it all. He was endlessly patient and good-humoured—even in the face of N’s standard two-dozen-or-so interruptions. And he immediately said “Yes!” when I offered popsicles. I do like an adult who appreciates popsicles.

By any standard, this was a successful class and a fabulous homeschool day. All four kids learned how to lubricate their bike chains, adjust the brakes, and pump up the tires. R got some hands-on experience in tightening her gearshift cable and removing and reinstalling the pedals. And we now know an awesome bike repair guy, just in case any of our Toronto friends ever need one.

family fun · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 442: Conflicted

I was conflicted.

On the one hand, I wanted to ask my husband to go on without me, finish the hike, and then come pick me up with the car.

On the other hand, I wanted to kill him.

I was crouched on a hillside, trying to scoot my way down the hill without sliding in the mud or twisting an ankle. The ground was covered in thin pieces of stone, most of which were very loose. To make matters worse, the leaves on the ground made it nigh on impossible to tell where the ground was stable and where there were big holes. And did I mention that there was broken glass on the ground, too?

Eight kilometres doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it wouldn’t be if the path were both even and relatively flat. It wasn’t. The elevation map warned us of all the uphill and downhill sections, but the worst part of it was that most of the trail was very rocky. My ankle stability has never been good and my balance has been a bit off ever since my concussion; so you can imagine why I was already a bit peeved by the time Mr. December led us down this steep hill that was almost certainly NOT part of the trail.

Granted, there were a few fun moments; when we took the wrong path and ended up across the road from a country market and bakery, where we bought a strawberry-rhubarb pie and ate it with our bare hands; when we crossed the river near the top of the falls and I took off my shirt, soaked it in the water, and put it back on (aaaahhh, that’s better); when R and I walked along singing our favourite round:

“Black socks, they never get dirty!
The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.
Sometimes I think I should launder them;
Something inside me says ‘don’t wash them yet.’
Not yet… Not yet… Not yet… Not yet.”

But there were far too many sections of trail where it was all I could do to focus on my footing. About halfway back to the car my legs were hurting and my balance was suffering. Of course, N was pretty miserable at this point, so I tried very hard to be positive and cheerful: “See, kiddo? We’re almost there. Soon we’ll be back at the car where there’s plenty of bottled water and air conditioning. Then we can kill Abba.”

As a parent, I want to model grit and mental toughness to my kids. I try not to wimp out of challenging activities. This hike may have broken me of that tendency.

“From now on,” I told him as I drove home, “I’ll walk in with you guys for about fifteen minutes. Then I’ll turn around and go back to the car, drive to the end point of the hike, and walk in about fifteen minutes to meet you.”

“That’s probably for the best,” he agreed, obviously trying to placate his wife who had only just stopped threatening murder.

“And now,” I intoned, “Let us never speak of this again.”

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 440: 440

Ah, 440.

More accurately, A440. It’s the pitch to which orchestral instruments are tuned—unless you’re one of those weird European orchestras that prefers A438. You’d think a difference of two Hertz wouldn’t make much of a difference, but apparently it causes some consternation for trans-atlantic orchestral collaboration.

Closer to home, we’re working on our latest musical collaboration—the arrangement of Ode to Joy that I was working on back in April. We’ve gotten to the point where fifty percent of us know our parts quite well, roughly 16 percent are just sight-reading their way through it, and the remaining thirty-one percent aren’t really comfortable with their parts yet.

I started working with everyone on their parts in late April. E took to it immediately and was playing all 32 bars of her part within the week. N took a bit longer, rhythmically-challenged as he sometimes is, but he gradually got up to speed. R is still working on her chord changes; to be fair, she is learning a new instrument, whereas N has been learning piano for four years.

And K… well, we had some…unpleasantness…early on. I had written the viola part to be a bit more interesting than just a string of quarter notes; she objected strenuously. The first roadblock was the dotted quarter note at the end of the fourth bar. She didn’t get it. I explained. Then she explained to me why it was a stupid way to notate a beat and a half. Volubly, and at length. Then she refused to practice it anymore.

(Yes, I pointed out to her that she was arguing about musical notation to someone who has a university degree in music. She was unmoved.)

Words were exchanged—many words—about the possibility of me just writing an easier part for her. To put it mildly, she was not in favour. I did it anyway. No “weird” rhythms, nothing too crazy.

Today she sight-read it fairly easily, and we practiced together for half an hour (which in and of itself is a minor miracle.) Then we called in the rest of the kids and tried the piece all together.

It was… not terrible. As you may know, amateur music groups can sound rather awful; we sounded unpracticed, very rough around the edges, but not bad—especially not for a first run-through.

At this time yesterday I was feeling less than positive about K’s progress in music this year. Tonight I’m feeling a lot more hopeful. As long as the part is mainly quarter and half notes—and let’s face it, many viola parts are—she can sight read it with little trouble. Maybe once she can sight read a little better she’ll be able to develop a solo repertoire. For now she’s happy playing music with other people… as long as she approves of her part. But that’s a fight for another day.

Homeschool · Kids

Day 434: Angry letters, part deux

We had a very successful writing lesson yesterday.

In their Winning With Writing books, the kids were on the lesson about writing a formal business letter; so I reviewed the format with them, explaining things like cc and bcc (“did you know that carbon copies originally involved real carbon?”) and why you put both addresses on the letter and the envelope.

Then I gave the kids their assignment:

“You’re going to write a complaint letter. It can be about something real or fictional—doesn’t matter. But it has to be formatted correctly and you need to include the facts, why it’s a problem, and what action you want the person to take to make it right.”

They scattered to various computers without a complaint. For the next hour everyone focused on their letters. When our time was up for the day’s lesson I took a look at what they’d done.

It was absolutely true to their personalities. That still amuses me no matter how much I see it.

R wrote a very good letter to Mr. December (principal of our homeschool) complaining that he spends more time on complex subjects with the older two kids than he does with her. She proposed that he make time for her twice a week to do the subjects that only she was interested in. She ended the letter with “Thank you for your time.” Sometimes I think that kid is older than her years.

N wrote a very short, very sloppy letter. Bit by bit, I prodded him to include more facts and less descriptive writing. His letter was also to Mr. December, proposing that the kids be allowed to have screen time early on days when our lessons don’t go all the way to 3:30. When he was done he printed and signed it and left it on Mr. December’s desk.

And K wrote a long letter (she’s still not done, as a matter of fact) to the authors of Winning With Writing, detailing the numerous errors and inconsistencies in their curriculum. She used her extensive vocabulary and wrote very convincingly, but it was an endless rant more than a business letter. She has promised to remove all but the most salient details. I hope she keeps a copy of her manifesto, too. It’s too entertaining to just delete.