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.
DIY · hackin' it · Keepin' it real · love and marriage · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 255: I’m Not a Tootah

Did you read the title in Arnold Schwartzenegger’s voice? Just wondering, because that’s how I wrote it.

After building my first FIFO can rack, I realized I’d need another, and decided it was high time for me to post a tutorial. I thought about the modifications it needed and designed the whole thing in SketchUp. Then, one morning last week, I gathered my materials and set up Buttercup, my beloved table saw. I even asked Mr. December to take a good photo of me cutting the material.

I was going to explain to you how I upcycled my IKEA PAX drawer dividers from my old closet to serve as the dividers between rows of cans, and how I cut dadoes (grooves) in the shelves to hold the dividers.

Even when one of the boards slid sideways during cutting (note to self: ALWAYS double-check to make sure the guide fence is locked!) and I ended up with some dadoes that looked more like the mark of Zorro than a straight line, I was still committed to the tutorial.

But then I aligned, glued, clamped, and screwed everything, and my mistake became glaringly obvious: the top shelf was too narrow. Where it should have let just one can drop through, it had space for at least two.

Mr. December heard my frustrated moan and my cry of “OH, COME ON!” and laughed. Then he came out of his office to see what the fuss was about and he laughed some more. And that’s when I gave up on making this thing a tutorial.

I fixed it, in the end, by adding a small strip of wood to the back of the top shelf. You can see it in this photo:

Instead of being a relatively quick project with nothing but simple assembly once the pieces were cut, the can rack became a labour-intensive piece of work. I didn’t have the wherewithal to drag Buttercup back out to make dadoes on that tiny piece of wood, so I used my acrylic cutter blade to carve into the plywood. Then I used a flat-headed screwdriver to pry out the top few layers of wood, so the dividers could fit into the slots.

Finally finished, I carefully slid the whole thing into the shelf it was destined for… and discovered that I’d made it about three inches too short. $#!%!!!! I could have fit a whole ‘nother row of cans in there! At this point my confidence in both the ease and quality of this build was shattered.

The rack works, and it makes Mr. December inordinately happy to look at (I picture him walking in there after a tough work meeting and taking a deep, cleansing breath at the sight of his stockpile,) so in that sense it’s a success. My plan for a tutorial, on the other hand, was not. The whole process was a lot less Instructables and a lot more Fail Blog than I thought.

But if you’re a crazy survivalist prepper with a large family, or if you’re married to one, you could make one of these with only some IKEA drawer dividers, plywood, trim, a table saw, lots of glue, some clamps, and a Perspex cutter. And if you manage it in under 8 hours, send me a picture, will you?

family fun · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · love and marriage

Day 246: Team

“Do you have a curved one-zero-zero-zero?” Mr. December asks.

“What?” I furrow my brow in confusion.

“A one-zero-zero-zero.” He explains, then holds up a puzzle piece that looks like this:

“Oh!” I exclaim. “You mean an Inukshuk-looking dude with spade-shaped feet!”

And that, my friends, is the difference between an engineer and an artist. Mr. December is sorting the puzzle pieces by encoding their ins and outs in binary. I, on the other hand, have sorted them into the following categories:

Clockwise from top: Cartoon mouth, Inukshuk dude with spade-shaped feet, Stingray, Four-way arrow.

  • Inukshuk dude with spade-shaped feet
  • Inukshuk dude with flat feet
  • Four-way arrow
  • Comic-book burst
  • Stingray
  • Cartoon mouth

Not that it makes a difference to our ability to do the puzzle, I just find the whole thing rather amusing.

Way back in March, Mr. December decided we should stock up on non-perishables “just in case.” He went to No Frills and came back with rice, canned beans, dried beans, rolled oats, and two bars of dark chocolate.

“What is this?” I asked as I unpacked.

“Emergency provisions,” he said.

“Honey, we’re not preparing for a zombie apocalypse where the kids will just be thankful they have something to eat. We’re preparing for a possible quarantine, where everything’s fine, everyone’s bored, and the kids are still picky.”

The next day I went out and bought dried fruits, shelf-stable milk, nuts, chocolate chips, canned fruit, vegetable broth in a box, and canned corn. You know, the stuff that makes staples like oatmeal and rice taste good.

We’re good that way, Mr. December and I. There’s very little overlap in our skill sets, which means we function better together than apart; and because we’re aware that our skills differ, we can avoid the whole “Whose job is this?” question and just stick to our respective strengths. He figures out how many cans of beans we need and emphasizes the need for a FIFO system, and then I go and build it. He makes sure things are efficient and scalable; I make the actual things that enable us to be efficient and scalable, and I add some beauty, because that’s important too.

We’re lucky to have each other. Even when Especially when he talks in binary and I speak in images.

blogging · DIY · education · family fun · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Infertility · love and marriage · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 224: Thriving

It’s a beautiful morning. Sure, it’s cold and cloudy, but I stand by my statement.

I’m writing this at 9:45 and this morning I’ve already enjoyed a dance party with E, a walk with my sweetheart, two cups of coffee, some snuggles, and a hot breakfast. In fact, all of those things happened before we started homeschool at 9:00.

We called the kids together for our morning stand-up meeting. As we waited, Mr. December commented, “Every school day should start like this.”

Yes. Yes, it should.

Happiness is a clear desk.

After my highly successful IKEA hack for cable management, I was feeling inspired; I spent an hour and a half yesterday clearing my desk and getting all the cables neatly tucked away. I finished the job and even did the unthinkable (for me): I cleaned up every last tool and speck of sawdust before I allowed myself to start something new.

“Is this some kind of ketone-fuelled cleaning spree?” Mr. December wanted to know (we recently started intermittent fasting again.) Maybe he’s right: maybe my fabulous mood and my productivity are the results of what I’m eating (or not eating) these days. Or maybe they’re just a function of the fact that right now, I’m living my best life; and right now that means working at a clean desk.

There’s definitely a part of me that feels a bit guilty about thriving right now; I know that many, many people—some of whom are people near and dear to me—have been doing worse and worse as the pandemic stretches on. And yet, as I learned when I was dealing with infertility and everybody else’s pregnancy was a dagger in my heart, happiness is not a zero sum game.

Something interesting is happening here: every weekday I wake up and get ready for the day, take a walk with Mr. December, and homeschool the kids. Many days, yesterday included, I’m working all day long, either teaching the kids or preparing materials for them, or sometimes doing things around the house. Mr. December and I usually try to go to bed right after we tuck the kids in. There’s not a whole lot of leisure time, and not much fun as most people would define it. I don’t take a lot of breaks.

You’d think this would be a recipe for burnout, right? I’d have thought so too. But I don’t feel burned out or run down. I feel energized. Focused. Productive.

I feel happy.

blogging · crafty · DIY · education · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids · love and marriage

Day 212: Never Eat Soggy Waffles

At 9:10 this morning I dumped an armful of supplies on our kitchen table: plastic cups, sharpies, scissors, straight pins, and magnets.

“I thought we were doing geography.” R said flatly.

“We are.” I confirmed. “Sit down.”

We began with the sort of thing you might expect—cardinal directions and map reading skills—and pored over a map of Canada to show the kids how the “far north” places we’ve driven to don’t even touch northern Ontario. This is a big country.

So what about the aforementioned supplies?

At the last minute, just before we started this morning, I remembered a book that explains the science of compasses and shows you how to make your own compass. I tore through the books and supplies, leaving some chaos in my wake, but emerging from the basement with my armful of stuff.

The kids were surprisingly into the DIY compass project. Even K took care to make the compass rose look cool (even though that part was completely optional.) We learned a bit about the earth’s magnetic field and why stroking the pin with a magnet renders the pin magnetic. As it turns out, we knocked geography and science off our list with this one activity.

I’m amazed that I’ve been able to write blog posts that stay on one topic, because the thoughts in my brain are all over the place, all of the time. This afternoon I was ordering groceries online… wondering whatever happened to one of the doctors we were supposed to follow up with… thinking about how soon I could set up my new printer… remembering that I had to work with K on her Bat Mitzvah stuff tonight… realizing that R was shirking her work and thinking about how best to enforce it… with my head still stuck on our writing exercise this morning… confirming the orthodontist appointment for next Thursday… arranging to return something we ordered that just didn’t fit… anxiously wondering when I last paid the VISA bill (easy to verify, but it flits into my mind nevertheless)… all in the same ten-minute period. It’s exhausting.

Speaking of exhausting, Mr. December has had an awful lot of evening meetings (to accommodate several different time zones) that have kept us up past my intended 9:30 bedtime. Tonight he yawned and admitted that he’s really very tired… right before going back into his office for the 8:15 meeting. Poor guy. And poor me. We usually try to go to bed at the same time so we have a few minutes together at the end of the day, but another couple of weeks of this will put me in fibro-flare territory. I’ll just have to go to bed all by my lonesome. If I do it now, I’m on track to get my ten hours of sleep.

DIY · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage

Day 207: It’s so quiet in here!

My parents and my in-laws joined us for Shabbat dinner in the sukkah tonight. A good time was had by all (BY ALL!), and then I pulled an Oprah.

“Thanks so much for coming. Tonight I’m sending you home with a special loot bag… everyone gets a kid! YOU get a kid! And YOU get a kid! And YOU get a kid!”

Yes, I farmed my kids out to their grandparents tonight. Mr. December and I are alone in the house, just the two of us.

“You two behave yourselves while you’re alone together in this house!” My mom joked as she buckled E into dad’s car.

“I’ll try,” I shot back jovially, “but I’m not sure I can resist a man who’s up to his ears in math curriculum.”

This is adulthood, isn’t it? There’s nobody here but me and my husband, and we’ve got big plans for the weekend, all of which involve homeschool planning. There’s a notable absence of romance in our itinerary. We’re going to be getting stuff done this weekend—and we’re happy about that. Welcome to middle age. Population: me and my Mr.

Speaking of getting things done, today I snatched my week from the jaws of procrastination. I made challah, printed and cut all the magnets for the kids’ schedule boards, ordered groceries online (they were delivered two hours later), and organized my command centre shelf that’s been a dumping ground for a long time now. Mr. December mentioned a few times this week that the mess was annoying and he couldn’t find anything.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “whose command centre is it?”

“Everyone’s.” He seemed sure of his answer, but I set him straight.

Anyhow, I’m wishing I had taken a “before” picture, but I didn’t even think of blogging about it until much later. The “after” is pretty cool, though. Check it out:

This is a fabulous example of why I don’t throw out leftovers from my projects. The pegboard is made up of two offcuts from when I organized my sewing space; it just so happened that they fit this cabinet perfectly. The various cups, hooks, and rods were leftovers and rejects from my pantry, but I never bothered returning them to IKEA. It’s so nice to be able to decide spontaneously to organize a space right now, and just go downstairs to get everything I need.

All in all, the project took an hour and a half, which included carefully going through all of the kids’ weekly charts for the last six months before unceremoniously dumping them in the recycling (who am I kidding? I’m never going to read those.) I found five pairs of scissors (big apologies to my kids, whom I accused of taking all the scissors and losing them), three calculators, and four boxes of staples in the clutter. I felt so productive.

I still haven’t called the window company about replacing the broken attic window, though. I guess I can’t do that until Tuesday (Monday is a holiday here, for those of you outside of Canada). In the meantime, I’m going to turn the lights down low, pour some Bailey’s into my vanilla tea, sit down next to Mr. December… and start working out our plans for the next three weeks.

DIY · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Kids · love and marriage

Day 200: A suckah for a sukkah.

Sometimes we’re so aligned, Mr. December and I, it feels almost too perfect. We don’t disagree on big things very often, we fight fair, and we use data and logic to resolve our differences. Once a year, though, there’s a difference of opinion that is guaranteed to crop up. It comes every single year, and we’ve never resolved it.

It’s our sukkah.

I build one pretty much every year. And every time I do, Mr. December tries to convince me not to bother. I think his objection has to do with the amount of time and effort it takes to build something that we’ll use for less than a week (because there are always a couple of days of Sukkot that are too cold or rainy to eat out there.) In any case, he used to just refuse to have anything to do with building it. Then one year I pointed out that the kids look forward to the sukkah every year (“won’t you please think of the children?”) and since then he has grudgingly offered to help me with any part of the construction that I can’t handle by myself (but only after it’s abundantly clear that I won’t be talked out of it.)

The worst was the year I was pregnant with R, and already a week past my due date. Since Mr. December didn’t want to help build it, I called on a friend to help me (he subsequently left the country. Coincidence?). The morning of Erev Sukkot (Sukkot Eve) I woke up in labour and gave birth two and a half hours later. We didn’t use the sukkah at all that year, and it didn’t get taken down until springtime. As much as it pains me to say it, Mr. December was right that time.

Even in years when I’m not pregnant, he has a point. I probably spent eight hours total putting together the sukkah this year. That is a lot of time for something we’ll probably sit in for a total of twelve hours if we’re lucky (note to self: have coffee and breakfast in the sukkah.) But it’s the only Jewish festival where the main mandate is to be happy (Sukkot is also referred to as Zman Simchateinu–the time of our happiness,) and when the preparation is so concrete and child-friendly. And I love building and decorating, and the kids seem to like having the sukkah too. So I keep building it. And now that we’re homeschooling, I have an airtight reason why we should definitely, absolutely, always have a sukkah: it’s an integral part of my Judaic studies curriculum!

Tonight we had my parents and my in-laws over to eat in the sukkah. We had a lovely time thanks to the infrared heater I hung directly above the table. There was a fair amount of cajoling needed to get the kids to help me decorate it this year, and it shows; I have sukkah envy after seeing everyone else’s beautiful decorations on Facebook. But the sukkah was comfortable, the company was much beloved, and the twinkle lights lent just a bit of enchantment. So what if our sukkah isn’t magazine-worthy this year (or any year)?

blogging · Just the two of us · love and marriage

Day 166: Happy Birthday, Honey!

It’s Mr. December’s birthday today. He’s 43, which is 101011 in binary — Dad and I figured that out when it came time to put candles on the birthday cake (43 candles seemed excessive.) I used green candles to represent 0 and pink candles to represent 1; Mr. December understood it pretty much immediately. It’s possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done with a birthday cake, right up there with making a cake that looked like a stack of poker chips that added up to 31.

I’d love to write a heartfelt tribute to him, but I don’t think I want to feed the ego; it’s plenty healthy. One of the most spot-on gifts he ever received was a t-shirt that said “Mr. Perfect” on it. He actually wore it in public many, many, many times.

I’ve got three gifts for him today. The first is a luxurious, plush terrycloth bathrobe to replace the one he’s been wearing every day for the past 11 years. The second is that I won’t cause him to wait up by writing this post late at night. And the third is that I’m going to get off the computer right now and spend time with my sweetheart while it’s just the two of us.

See you tomorrow. Same time, same place.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Just the two of us · love and marriage

Day 157: Trampoline Math (and other homeschool fun)

Today felt like a highlights reel of all the great things about homeschooling.

My morning started with K. At 9:15 the two of us snuggled on the couch while I worked with her on learning her torah reading and haftarah for her Bat Mitzvah. Then she went into the library to do her math, and Mr. December and I took a walk around the neighbourhood. Predictably, we talked about our plans for the kids, but the weather was perfect — not too hot — and it was nice to be together, just the two of us.

Back at home I suggested to E that we do some math together. I’m not going to repeat the conversation, but there was wailing and gnashing of teeth until I finally said, “Actually, we’re doing trampoline math today. Go get your shoes.” She was off like a shot.

What’s trampoline math, you ask? Or course you don’t know. I made it up this morning. First we did some mental addition and subtraction where I asked the question, and she figured out the answer and jumped that many times. Then I got her to practice writing her numbers by tracing a number of her choice and then getting up and jumping that number of times. E started making up her own addition questions and writing them out, and after half an hour of trampoline math she didn’t want to stop.

Meanwhile, K was doing math online with Khan Academy (which is an excellent resource and free, by the way). She hit a wall in her geometry book this week and we’d made very little progress since Monday, so yesterday we sat down and googled other ways for her to learn the concepts. We ended up at Khan Academy and K seemed to be able to focus and learn, so we decided to shelve the Kumon workbooks for now and have her do math online. When I came inside after trampoline math I went into the library to check on her. Lo and behold, she was still doing math two hours after she started (which is not unusual) and she had made good progress (which is extremely unusual.) What’s more, there were no tears and no yelling the entire time she was working. This might sound very banal to some of you, but seeing K working diligently without any issues is so unusual that I wanted to put it in sky writing.

The wonders didn’t cease there. After some lunch K turned her attention to writing. She didn’t get much down on paper but she was able to choose her topic and research the facts she needed; all of this was self-directed. I’m still floored.

There were more joyful moments: E read me Hop on Pop, but only after Mr. December started clowning around and reading it wrong. Later, we played a board game and I enjoyed watching E add up the numbers on the dice. Mr. December took a break around 3:00 and we biked out to drop off some food and a gift for my cousins who just had a baby. That was my workout and could have been K’s phys ed for the day if we had remembered to invite her along (oops.)

(Pro tip: if you’re bringing food to someone with a new baby, bring something that’s easy to eat one-handed. And err on the side of more food rather than less — nursing moms get hungry.)

I found the weirdest thing on Youtube today: a South African program for kids about different religions that was teaching kids about Pirkei Avot. The craft was making their own Torah scrolls out of paper and chopsticks. E was eager to do the craft, and ran around getting all the supplies before settling down to learn the art of Torah-making from a Black South African lady sitting in front of a huge cross. It was a bit odd to me, but the show was reasonably well done.

Instead of dinner, I doubled up my order of afternoon-tea-to-go so that half went to my cousins and half came home with us. We set it all up on the back porch; I brought out a basket of poetry books; and we had our inaugural “Poetry Teatime” (we got the idea from Julie Bogart’s book The Brave Learner.) In between the tiny sandwiches and scones with jam, we discovered a few new poets today and learned that (sadly) we’re not fans of Leonard Cohen’s poetry (anybody want a Leonard Cohen poetry book? Free to a good home!)

See what I mean about today being a highlight reel? We had snuggling-on-the-couch learning, jumping-on-the-trampoline learning, self-directed learning, tea-party learning. I had time to go for a walk and a bike ride and to deliver food to some new parents, and all of these things flowed into one another in their own time. It was so relaxing that I completely forgot about how I promised my friend that I’d do something for myself today, like bike to a cafĂ© with a patio and have a meal without people needing anything from me. With days like these, who needs a break?

DIY · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Kids · love and marriage

Day 147: The Evolution of our Homeschool

Hey, wanna know what I admire most about Mr. December? It’s his willingness to change based on data and experimentation. I don’t know anyone else who can so quickly change his mind when presented with incontrovertible evidence. Well, he’s pretty immovable on rowdy horseplay at bedtime no matter how many experts I throw at him, but otherwise he’s open to changing things up when the need arises.

I’ve changed a few things about how we homeschool starting today. First off, we actually have a daily schedule/routine posted. I’m not sure how the kids feel about it, but it certainly helped me stay on task today. I’m sure we’ll be a bit flexible with the times, but I think the structure could be a winner. As Mr. December always says, we’ll try it and see.

Remember our checklists? I’ve revamped them. They now have separate sections for daily and weekly tasks, a space for appointments and special events, and a space to record the kids’ own personal or academic goals for the week. On the weekly task section there’s space for me and Mr. December to write each day’s assignment or lesson next to the check box. Alternately, if we do something that we hadn’t planned on, we can write it in so that we know what we did. Ontario’s Ministry of Education doesn’t require any documentation or reporting from homeschoolers, but I’d still like to keep some records. I plan to file these in a binder when each week is over.

Finally, I’ve organized K’s materials so that they won’t be all over the library. Since she’s very distractible and sensitive to sound, she has claimed the library (with its sound attenuation and two doors between it and the rest of the house) as her study space. Unfortunately, that means that the entire window seat, her retractible desk, and the small ledge in front of the instrument cabinet were littered with her papers, binders, and pens… until today.

I can understand why: although she has her own cubbies where her binders and books should live, those are in the living room. Who wants to have their materials so far from their workstation? So I liberated a wheeled cart from the Makery, brought it upstairs, and set it up so that there’s space for her binders, workbooks, clipboard with her checklist, pens and pencils, pencil box of supplies, and whatever book she’s currently reading. Oh, and her timer happens to have a magnet on the back, so it sticks right to the side of the cart.

She was pleased when I showed her the new cart this afternoon. “You don’t have to clean up or organize your stuff,” I told her, “I did that part for you. Just put things back at the end of every day and it’ll stay neat.” For the first time in months, our library is tidy this evening. I can even see the windowsill. I wonder: will the neater space help K focus and work more efficiently? I’ll keep you posted.