Camping it up · family fun · Kids · lists · The COVID files

Day 474: A little *too* quiet

I don’t remember this kind of silence in our house, like, ever. Which is silly, because there have been times when the kids have all gone to the grandparents, and there have been times when Mr. December has taken all four kids out for upwards of seven hours, but for some reason this silence feels different. It lacks the tension of “How long til they burst through that door?” because I know that the three big kids won’t be back until July is over.

We drove them up to camp (no bus this year because of COVID,) which was about two hours of driving. Not far from camp, we detoured to a playground for the girls to enjoy some swinging for the last time til camp is over (I think.)

“I don’t think we’ll have time for hugs when we get to camp,” I told the kids. “They’ll be trying to move cars along as quickly as possible. So I want my hugs now, please.”

It’s a good thing I got those hugs before we arrived at camp, because they were set up for maximum efficiency: three cars at a time came to a stop in front of one building to offload anything the campers couldn’t carry to their cabins, then advanced to another spot for said campers to get out of the car. Counsellors were milling around with signs proclaiming their cabin number, coming over to greet their campers and spirit them away to the cabins.

My kids were so eager to get out that I had to remind them to stop pushing and give N a minute to gather all his stuff (he was seated right next to the door.) They hopped out of the van like paratroopers jumping out of a plane—one after another, all wearing backpacks—and walked away with their counsellors. None of them turned to look back. None of them said goodbye. I guess that’s a very good thing.

A friend asked me what I plan to do for the next three weeks. My answer was a long list of home maintenance, homeschool planning, and other tasks; also I do still have a six-year-old here for the month (she spent the day out with my parents today.) I’ve often felt that E misses out on activities that she would enjoy because they’re too easy or boring for the big kids, so this is an opportunity to go places and do things that E wants.

She has a list:

  • Treetop trekking
  • Swimming
  • Bike rides
  • Kayaking at the beach
  • Backyard playdates with friends
  • Sleepovers at grandparents’ homes

In case you couldn’t tell, she’s pretty excited about being the only child, with both parents and all four grandparents available to dote on her. Just when I thought she couldn’t be any more spoiled with attention…

Tomorrow I’m going to figure out a schedule that balances work I need to do with fun I need to have. Tonight I’m giving myself the night off.

blogging · education · fame and shame · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · waxing philosophical

Day 455: Not as bad as you think.

I hear a lot of bad things about social media—probably you do, too. And there are a lot of downsides: comparing your imperfect life to someone’s touched-up selfie, getting angry because “someone is wrong on the internet!”, seeing humanity turn ugly behind the anonymity the internet affords. There are definitely days when I think I’d be better off without Facebook.

Duty Calls
You can find an image description here.

On the other hand, Facebook has some very good points:

  1. It’s my proverbial front porch. I sit there in the evening and catch up with the people I know. I get to hear about all the mundane things, all the frustrations, all the celebrations—just like I would if we lived in a close-knit neighbourhood and sat on the front porch every evening, chatting with each other.
  2. It can be a great resource. Both Mr. December and I are members of a few homeschooling groups on Facebook. Through those groups we’ve discovered some of our favourite curricula and courses. We’ve also been able to get a sense of what homeschooling looks like for many different families. I’m also a member of a neighbourhood group, from which I learn about traffic issues, why our city councillor sucks, and who’s giving away free stuff.
  3. It reminds me about birthdays. If I wished you happy birthday this year (or any year, really,) you can thank Facebook for that. Every day it pops up and tells me whose birthday it is. It even lets me post a birthday message directly from the notification. I do realize that some people do this with their own calendar—digital or paper—but Facebook makes it so easy for me.
  4. Some people do use it for the betterment of us all.

Point number four is the one that gives me hope for our society. I’ve recently joined a group dedicated to being a space where people can ask good-faith questions about all kinds of social issues and receive honest, thoughtful answers rather than scorn and derision.

(If you don’t get why a question would be met with scorn or derision, think of someone asking about transgender issues and being labelled a TERF because of that honest question. It happens all the time, and it’s ugly.)

I have learned so much from this group. People have taken the time to post complex answers to questions about racism, gender issues, disabilities, etiquette… it’s an excellent read and very eye-opening, as the group members come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’m enjoying it immensely. Even more incredible than what I’ve learned from that group is the simple fact that so many people want to ask questions, learn, and improve the way they relate to people who are unlike them.

I have similar feelings about the group where non-Jews can ask questions about Judaism and Jews answer them. I’m fascinated by the things non-Jewish people don’t know about us; from the big stuff, like the fact that we don’t revere Mary, mother of Jesus, to the minutiae of why inviting a Shabbat-observant friend to a wedding on Saturday is more complicated than just making sure they have accommodations within walking distance of the venue. I also enjoy being able to answer people’s questions and see their responses when they’ve read all of the answers.

People are learning, reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in ways that would never have been possible without the internet (and social media in particular.) To me, that almost makes up for how social media also makes it easy for people to foment hatred, recruit people to radical organizations, and spread misinformation. Almost. Maybe if enough of us participate in groups like the ones I’ve been part of, education and enlightenment will replace the ignorance and hate.

I hope so.

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.

crafty · DIY · Fibro Flares · lists

Day 414: Don’t overdo it.

I haven’t said anything, because I didn’t want to jinx it, but my fibro flare seems to have ended last Monday or so. I’m trying not to overdo things lest I throw myself into a relapse. As you might imagine, it’s not easy. There are things I want to do… and worse, things I have to do.

It’s almost summer, which means it’s the right time to be thinking about the landscaping improvements we wanted to make. Unfortunately the landscaper we had hired seems to have dropped off the face of the earth (I really hope he’s ok; we are in the middle of a pandemic, after all.) I still want to put up a shed so I can move my big saws in there and have them set up to use at a moment’s notice. We also need a sturdier swingset: ours is twelve years old and everytime K swings on it (for several hours every day) it looks like it’s going to tip right over.

Summer also means that the sun comes up really early and shines straight at my bedroom window. The full-length blackout curtains I made don’t manage to block out all the light, so something needs to be done. I think I’ll try a simple valence to see if it works well. This needs to be my top priority, because it’s waking both Mr. December and me every morning and we need more sleep.

Speaking of windows, I need to put some kind of window treatment on the library windows. They face full west, as Jane Austen might have said, making the library very hot in the afternoons. I’m hoping I can find something ready-made that works in the space.

And then there are all the little things: figuring out how to replace our HEPA filter; installing the shelves that I bought for N’s and E’s rooms; painting the porch wall; getting the kids ready for camp (that’s not actually a little thing, there’s a lot of packing to be done); and the small matter of, you know, staying on top of their homeschool progress.

Just writing this list has me all tired out. I think I’ll take tomorrow off—it’s Mothers’ Day anyhow—and let the kids do everything, including my blog post. I can’t wait to see what they think of.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · lists

Day 361: Don’t tell them, OK?

This is how we’ve spent our last couple of evenings:

  • Puzzles and brain teasers. I ordered an escape-room-type game from Finders Seekers. We cracked it open to find ten different puzzles, from algebra to ciphers to logic. The kids loved it. So did I, but Mr. December kept urging me to step back and let the kids solve the puzzles.
  • Reading about biology. Last night I sat down on the couch to look through It’s Not the Stork before reading it to the kids. The cartoon characters got E’s attention, and soon I had three eager children leaning over me, hanging on every word I read about anatomy and reproduction. Afterward N peppered me with questions all the way up to bed.
  • Watching documentaries. This was the only thing that required some… firmness… to get the kids to join. We’re watching What Darwin Never Knew. Once we started watching the kids were really into it.
  • Playing games. Tonight we tried a new game called Idiom Addict. You have to guess the English idiom from a phrase made up of its synonyms. Like, “You are howling vertically beneath the incorrect evergreen” would be “You’re barking up the wrong tree.” Word games are totally my thing; tonight I was gratified to learn that they appeal to N and K as well. The amount of new vocabulary they heard tonight was huge.

So despite my kids’ infuriating habit of watching the clock every afternoon waiting for “school time” to end, they’ve just spent two evenings learning math and logic, health, science, and English. And that was in addition to the work they did during “school.” I love that the line between “school” and “home life” keeps getting blurrier; the more muddled the distinction, the more time the kids actually spend learning (and the less time they spend eyeing us suspiciously and asking, “Wait a minute, does this count as school?”). Just… please, don’t tell them they’ve been learning outside of school hours. OK?

education · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists

Day 341: How is it Wednesday Already?

(Although R, standing behind me and reading over my shoulder, wants to know how it’s not Thursday yet. Obviously we experience time very differently.)

I feel like the week totally got away from me. I was chatting with Mum tonight about how I wanted to send my brother a package for Purim tomorrow “…so even if it takes two days it’ll get there by Friday… wait, what? Tomorrow is Thursday?”

Yesterday and today my lesson plans went mostly unappreciated, although the let’s-find-countries-on-the-world-map exercise was sorely needed. I’d say something like, “Korea. Anybody know where it is? … I guess not. It’s a little peninsula off the south-east corner of China.”

“Where’s China?” said one kid who shall remain nameless.

“Really? Where’s China?” I blinked a few times and schooled my features. “Does anybody know what continent China is on?”

Silence.

I know that my kids weren’t the most attentive at school, but shouldn’t they know where China is by the time fifth grade rolls around? Do schools not teach geography anymore?

No matter, we’ll cover it eventually.


Purim starts tomorrow night, so I’m working on mishloach manot (although we don’t deliver them until Friday.) I’m also trying to figure out how to make Friday feel fun and festive for the kids. Here are all my brainstorms so far:

  • Gameschooling day
  • Watch funny history videos
  • Mad Libs (they’re fun, and they get to practice parts of speech!)
  • Torah Mad Libs. (Although I don’t see how it could get much weirder than some of the stuff from the middle of Vayikra (Leviticus.)
  • Giant bowling: the kids have to hurl an exercise ball down the length of the attic and knock over life-size silhouettes of the six of us.
  • Dance party
  • More charades. They did beg for more at last week’s party, didn’t they?
  • Karaoke again. It never gets old.
  • Drive around delivering mishloach manot while blasting music with funny lyrics.
  • “Just Like Mom,” Purim edition: each kid has to make a few hamentaschen with stuff we have in the house, then Mr. December and I taste them and guess who made what.

(As an aside, I don’t even really like hamentaschen that much. But E says we must make at least a few, so I guess we will.)

That’s all I’ve got so far. Maybe I’ll give the list to K and let her run with it. She loves making things happen (although planning is another story.)


Oh yes, and an update on my dress: I’ve decided to keep it. I’ll take it in only slightly, after which I’ll put it on and strut around the house with my hands in the pockets for the next several weeks.

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?

better homes than yours · DIY · family fun · Kids · lists · love and marriage · whine and cheese

Day 282: At least the drapes got done.

I had three priority items on my list for today:

  • Finish hemming the master bedroom curtains
  • Respond to the landscape designer about her proposal
  • Declutter and organize the front hall junk drawer

The three younger kids were enjoying a day at my parents’ house, so I assumed I’d have time to do all three things. I assumed wrong.

I started at 9:30 this morning. At 5:30 I was still ironing the side hems of one panel with fusible tape. I was ironing with a straightening iron (the kind for hair,) which had the advantage of not needing to take the curtains down. The drapes are huge and lined with heavy blackout fabric, so they’re a beast to wrestle. The less often I have to take them down, the better.

Image Description: image 1 shows the hem of a curtain being ironed with a Conair “shiny straight” iron.
Image 2 has two walls with floor-length striped drapes (in soft blues and greens), a hammock in the corner, and a bed in the foreground.

But the fact remains that I worked all day long and only achieved one goal (and only partially, at that, because two of the panels still need their sides hemmed.) Then K and I joined the other three kids (and my parents) for shabbat dinner. Some of us were not on our best behaviour tonight—I’ll leave it at that—and I left feeling frustrated. Discovering that the sliding doors on our van were frozen shut was just the icing on the cake.

And now I’m sitting here, fuming, because Mr. December is roughhousing with the kids instead of tucking them into their beds. They’re shrieking—howling with laughter—yelling—and all I want to do is scream at them to go the cluck to sleep. What part of “please put these kids to bed” was at all ambiguous?

“Soon enough they won’t want to play these games with me,” Mr. December explains, “already the game involves spending ten minutes coming up with names, then developing rules, then yelling at each other because the rules don’t work. And they wouldn’t let me use the name I wanted to use—Moonlight Starfire. We compromised on Starfire, but I had to be the bad guy, which meant being bitten a lot. Then back to being a chicken hatching from an egg, questions about the multiverse and then tucking in a cannibal who thought I was a banana. So I said I’m going to make like a banana…and split. They had never heard that line before so it was actually funny. “

He’s hard to argue with when he’s that hilarious. Not that I laughed, but it was too good a story to earn any sort of rebuke from me.

You know the adrenaline rush you get when you’re angry or upset? I’ve got that right now. My brain has decided to stop being angry, but my body hasn’t yet followed suit. I’m going to go curl up with the furry blanket Mr. December got me and read something trashy. And if that doesn’t help and I can’t sleep, I can go organize the junk drawer.

(And Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate. Enjoy this card that my kids and I made for a friend.)

Image description: a side-folding card, red, with a Christmas tree made out of sequins glued to it. Small adhesive jewels decorate the tree and there’s a glittery star on top. Snowflake cutouts adorn the edges. The card says “Merry Christmas!!!” in a child’s cursive writing.
family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · The COVID files

Day 270: Homeschool “light”

“Are you going to give your kids a break over the holidays?”

I’ve been getting that question a lot since December started. The answer is, “I’m not sure.”

I’m leaning towards giving them a week’s vacation, but no more than that, for a few reasons:

  1. They’re doing maybe five hours of school most days. They’re not overworked or exhausted by any means.
  2. If they did have a vacation, they’d still be hanging around at home because COVID. They might as well work straight through so that when COVID restrictions lift, we can go out and actually do stuff.
  3. Our days work so much better with the structure we’ve created for our homeschool days.

On the other hand, I’m sure they’d appreciate a more relaxed couple of weeks. That’s why I’ve decided we’ll be doing “homeschool light”, in honour of Chanukah. Here’s the lesson plan:

Language Arts
The kids haven’t finished their writing project yet, so they’ll be working on the layout and final editing for that. The rest of our Language Arts time will be spent playing Scrabble, Bananagrams, and Dixit.

Literature
I’ll be introducing the kids to some of the great classics this week… in movie form. We’ll start with A Muppet Christmas Carol (it’s faithful to the storyline and it’s got Muppets!) and then follow with Gulliver’s Travels.

Social Studies
We’ll cover geography by playing Ticket to Ride, the board game where you’re in a race to build train tracks all over Europe. Maybe if the kids like it I’ll try to print off the fan-generated Canada version. For current events we’ll play Pandemic, working as a team to discover vaccines before the viruses take over. Then, for history, we’ll play Agricola to learn more about how peasant farmers in sixteenth-century Europe lived (hint: you really have to plan ahead if you want to be able to feed your family come harvest time!)

Science
Somewhere on my hard drive there’s a document called “Donut Science.” Given that doughnuts are the official food of Chanukah, it’s probably time to print that one out and read it with the kids.

Health Class
This one’s easy. Early bedtime for everyone!

This is a pretty low-prep kind of school week, but I feel like I should do a dry run for health class. G’night!

(and Happy Chanukah!)

family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 170: Two More Sleeps

I’m not sure, but I might be drowning in lists.

There’s the meal plan and grocery list, with which I sat down and ordered all the non-perishables and a week’s worth of the perishables we’ll need. I’m baffled by the fact that the website didn’t have baskets of Ontario peaches (only the most delectable in-season fruit that exists.) I may have to just dash into a Sobey’s to get some.

I’ve got separate lists of things we’ll need for the High Holidays; materials for experiments and activities; books of experiments and activities; books for reading; board games; and art supplies.

Then there’s the clothing list, which I printed out six times to be used as a checklist by each member of the family. N seems to think that instead of a checklist, it’s a “scratch it out with bold pencil strokes so you can’t see what it said in the first place” list.

I repacked our first aid kit and confirmed that we have everything on our first aid inventory list, as well as the list of medications we take along. I’m practically a walking pharmacy (and is it weird that in addition to a thermometer, I’m taking a pulse oximeter, a peak flow meter, and a stethescope? For those of you just joining us here, I’m not a physician or a nurse, just a mom with an MD from Google University.)

I’m constantly checking in on my lists on Trello to make sure that I haven’t missed any important to-do items. Still firmly in the “not even started yet” column are: respond to the plans the landscaper sent us, test the new alarm system, choose our day trips, and make sure everyone has the necessary clothes and shoes. (Maybe I should have taken care of that last one before our last day at home.)

And then there’s my favourite: the list of lists and boxes. This is the checklist we run through before we get into the car to leave. First we check that all the other checklists are complete. Then we check off each crate, bin, box, or case that we’ve packed into the car. I love the list of lists for a couple of reasons: first, it’s the end of lists for the trip, and second, it’s the list that makes me feel uber-organized, super-prepared, and very, very smug.

That smugness will last right up until I realize that there was no checklist of children who should be in the car. I’ll do a panicked head count and then a roll call, and double-check with Mr. December that we only have four children and there isn’t a fifth back at the house about to enact Home Alone.

And then… vacation. I can’t wait. Just two more sleeps.