DIY · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 493: On second thought…

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY · education · Homeschool · mental health

Day 476: Too Many Choices

I spent most of today reviewing some possible curricula for the coming school year. For months I’ve been making a list of curricula that sound good (based on online discussions between homeschooling parents,) and today I started to check them out. It’s a good thing that most of the publishing companies provide substantial “Try Before You Buy” samples to download and print; it’s so frustrating and disappointing when you see a really good sample, buy the whole curriculum, and realize that the sample was really not representative of the program as a whole.

In case you didn’t know, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of published homeschool curricula out there. Rigorous, relaxed, creative, technical… of course, my simplest criterion for whittling down the options is religion: if it mentions Jesus or has copywork of verses from Christian scriptures, it’s game over.

(An actual math problem I came across: Jesus had 12 disciples. One of them betrayed him. How many does he have left? What’s that you say? Eleven? WRONG. Zero. They all died two thousand years ago.)

As overwhelming as the options for E are, at least she’s starting in grade one, so she’s coming in basically at the ground level in every curriculum. For R, N, and K (grades five, six, and eight respectively,) it’s another story. I need to find something that’s accessible even if a student hasn’t done the previous levels in a series.

I’ve been tempted (as I often am) to forget about published curricula and just do my own thing. I certainly have the research skills and creative wherewithal to do it, but if I’ve learned anything from this past year, it’s that come January and February I need something I can open to the correct page and just follow instructions. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me too hard for me to be able to direct my own program, even if it’s pre-planned. I really just need something to tell me what to do.

So I’m left trying to figure out, if I can’t find a complete program I like, what elements we really need and how much is too much. Greek and Latin roots are an absolute yes; there’s a series that introduces vocabulary as used by famous writers which looks awesome; there’s a great spelling program that explicitly teaches why English is spelled the way it is; and there’s a method of teaching writing that starts at the level of sentences, even with older students, and doesn’t move on to paragraphs or essays for quite some time. And I haven’t even started listing the possibilities for literature!

I started working on this at 9:00 this morning. By 2:00 p.m. my eyes were crossing and all the curricula were starting to look alike, so I had to stop. At least I’ve chosen biology for the big kids and history for everyone; next I have to figure out what the heck to do with the big kids for Language Arts.

Is it too late to switch to unschooling?

blogging · DIY · Keepin' it real · mental health · Renovation

Day 428: Unpublished

I wrote a very long post today. It was full of my anger and pain and frustration (see yesterday’s post if you must.) Then I deleted it, but not before asking a good friend’s opinion. In case you’re wondering, it was a clear, “This is NOT a good idea.” I love and respect this friend, so I took his advice and deleted the draft. Some things should remain unpublished.

Now that I’ve purged all those feelings and consigned them to the dustbin of my computer, all I’m left with is tremendous gratitude for a friend who can read the pain behind the words, acknowledge it, and then keep me from doing something stupid like publishing my brain dump. My friends are such a blessing. I’m lucky and I know it.


On the subject of things that remained unpublished: Last time I told you about our curtain problem, I neglected to mention that this was a deal I made with Mr. December when we designed our house. I wanted all these windows; he pointed out that it would make it very difficult to keep the room dark. I promised that I’d make sure we had a complete blackout solution for the window coverings. He conceded. So far I’ve got my windows, but haven’t managed to block out the light.

That’s why when I wasn’t venting my spleen through my keyboard, I was making a cardboard mock-up (longtime readers know about my passion for mockups) of a valence (or maybe it’s a cornice?) for our bedroom curtains. My hope is that it will eliminate the light leaking around the tops of the curtains. It had better, because it’s my last good idea. Next I’m just going to paint our bedroom windows black; I’ll scrape the paint off after the Autumn Equinox, when mornings are dark again.

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · mental health · Uncategorized · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 427: Fear

I broke my own rule, and now I’m sorry.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed a post about Israel, by one of my FB friends. He said something about how nice it is to see the Jewish community starting to come around to the pro-Palestinian movement. A lot of other things were said, too, to which I responded with a few pointed questions about why the rest of the world is not engaged in this level of protest or demonization with regards to, say, China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, or the Syrian civil war. Could it be because Israel is the Jewish state? Could Antisemitism be a factor? I don’t even remember what was said in response; I do remember that one person’s comment ended with “shame on you!”

She also accused me of being too snarky and aggressive in my post. If I was Black and posting about racism, that would be called tone policing. If I was LGBTQ, I could say that any support for people whose goal is to kill all the Jews is a complete non-starter, because my right to exist is not up for discussion. If I was a university student I could claim that this kind of talk makes me feel ‘unsafe’, and I would receive emotional support for it. But I’m Jewish, which means that none of those things applies to me.

There is a degree of cultural and generational trauma for the Jewish community that often informs our view of the current (and ongoing) conflict. There is a lot of fear of what would happen if Israel backed off (because, you know, Hamas wants to drive us all into the sea.) The recent rise in Antisemitic attacks in North America doesn’t help. If the supporters of the Palestinians insist that their position has nothing to do with Antisemitism, how do they square that with the fact that Jews outside of Israel are being attacked because they are Jews? Is there an explanation that doesn’t point to Antisemitism? If there is, I’d desperately like to hear it and be able to believe it.

The whole situation in Israel/Palestine confuses and disturbs me. The situation of the Palestinian people, living under the thumb of a terrorist organization, is deeply saddening. And I hate that my Israeli cousins and friends have to wake their children in the middle of the night to run down to the bomb shelter. Beyond that, I’m hesitant to make any analysis, partly because I feel like I can never do the situation justice and partly because it won’t help anyway. There’s precious little, if anything, I can do to influence the situation.

I should probably just snooze posts from this friend and anyone else who posts things that upset me. It’s probably na├»ve of me to believe that if we can speak openly with each other, maybe we can find common ground and move closer to peace for everyone. But if I shut out the voices that make me uncomfortable, isn’t that also part of the problem? I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I do, however, want to live without the anxiety that these encounters cause me. I want to live without fear. And right now, I don’t think I can.

blogging · Keepin' it real · mental health · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 424: Public Service Announcement

At times it feels to me like the world has gone just a bit insane. Everybody is outraged about something, it seems. And before you dismiss that as a “privileged” statement, remember: this is my blog, I do have some privilege (but not all, what with being Jewish, female, and not totally able-bodied and all,) and if you don’t want to hear about it nobody’s forcing you to read it in the first place.

Now, with that disclaimer in place, I’ll continue: everybody is outraged about something, everybody thinks the world is going to hell, and if you listen to them long enough, you might start to believe it, too.

So please, take a breath. It’s okay to not “do the work” all the time. There’s plenty of beauty in the world.

There are bunnies living in our garden who hop around in the evenings.

The weather is getting warmer and the days are longer. Flowers are blooming and the bees and butterflies are out.

There are children running around in the park, playing as children have always done.

There is music to be heard, played, and sung—and not just by professionals. Humans are hardwired to participate in music. Try it sometime, if you haven’t lately.

There are “leave a book, take a book” little libraries popping up all over the place. How nice is it that people take the time to build those, and others take the time to drop off books instead of just throwing them in the recycling bin?

People are resilient, and as tired as we all are of this COVID thing, we’ve seen lots of innovative ways to remain part of our extended family and our community. I can attend a Purim party without leaving my comfy chair. What a time to be alive.

It’s okay to stop reading the news, stop “doomscrolling” on social media, stop immersing yourself in other people’s outrage and pain. It really is. The news will still be there tomorrow (and there’s never really anything new) and you can pick it all up again anytime. I promise.

It’s okay to put it down and feel peaceful and happy. Your impotent rage probably won’t change the world (unless you’re actually taking some kind of action) but your happiness, kindness, peacefulness? Those are contagious, and they can change everything.

family fun · mental health · parenting · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 399: Picture Me

I’m very picky about what pictures of myself I allow to be seen. They should be taken from slightly above me, so I don’t have a double chin, and never in profile, because then my belly looks huge. These are the things I look at first every time I see a picture of myself.

I’ve learned to get creative when posing for family pictures. Having small children helps, because they’re so willing to stand in front of me and be hugged. I’ve hidden behind my kids, my husband, my guitar, and my bike. Even then, I demand veto power before any photos are shared. At least, I try to.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want my great-grandchildren to look at me and say, “Why do we only see her from the shoulders up?” and then learn that I was ashamed to let my body show because I was fatter than the current fashion. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might resemble me, right down to body type. Am I being ridiculous to think that if they see me effectively hiding my body in every picture, they might infer that there’s something wrong with our shared shape?

Maybe the opposite is true, too: maybe they’ll see me, with a double chin and a belly, and say, “That was my great-grandmother. She did so many cool things—music, and building stuff, and quilting, and homeschooling my grandma—and look, she’s got the same chin as me. And she had a belly, too, like I do. And she’s so pretty. That must mean I’m pretty too.”

Of course, I’d be even happier if it didn’t occur to my great-grandkids to judge themselves based on where they carry their extra weight. But in order for that to happen, I first have to raise kids who know better, too, which means that I have to step up and model how I think we should relate to our bodies.

That means no more asking, “Do I look fat in this dress?”; not obsessing over or cataloguing every morsel of food I ingest; not calling myself “bad” for eating an extra slice of cheesecake; and not acting like my body shape and size is so unacceptable that I have to hide it. Not that I plan to wear skintight, revealing clothing from now on—that’s never been my thing, even when I’ve been slim—but I don’t have to choose clothes solely based on how well they hide my fat. My body isn’t wrong, it’s not broken, and I’m not less deserving of being seen because I wear a size fourteen or sixteen instead of a six or eight.

Which brings us back to pictures of me. This evening after dinner we took R and E to the park. I was wearing the dress I bought from eShakti, which might well be my favourite piece of clothing. It’s super comfortable, it has a huge pocket, and the skirt is flowy. I was sitting on the bench with Mr. December, the breeze playing with my hair, and all at once I just felt… pretty.

“I’ve got a dilemma,” I told Mr. December. “I feel so pretty right now, and I think I want you to take a picture of me. Then again, what if you take the picture and I see that I don’t look nearly as pretty as I feel?”

Which is ridiculous, because that would be conflating beauty with size, which are not mutually exclusive. I have quite a few friends and relatives who aren’t thin, and many of them are just gorgeous, full stop. I love and admire them. They don’t need to change their bodies. Their beauty isn’t conditional on their weight. Why, then, have I always felt like mine is?

In the end, the joy of the moment won out over my fat phobia, and I posed for a few pictures. I’m sharing them with you here, deliberately including the ones that I would normally edit out, because I need to learn to see my own beauty with the extra chin and the fat, instead of seeing my beauty despite it.

blogging · family fun · mental health · waxing philosophical

Day 379: I didn’t expect this… but here we are.

We finished watching The Sound of Music tonight, all snuggled together on the giant beanbags in the attic. I love, love, love this movie—I sing along to the songs and sigh in all the romantic places—which is why I’m upset about how it made me feel tonight.

(Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie yet, what rock are you living under? It was made in 1965, for heaven’s sake!)

In one of the final scenes when the family is hiding in the abbey, the brown-shirted men come running in with their flashlights as the family cowers behind a tombstone. That’s about when I got a sudden jolt of adrenaline. I felt it in my chest and hugged the kids a little tighter to help myself feel better. It helped, but not by enough. When the movie ended I dragged Mr. December out for a walk, hopeful that the exertion would use up all the extra adrenaline. It didn’t. Even now, writing a blog post two hours later, my body is still on high alert.

I had a similar reaction the last time I saw The Sound of Music, but it was a live production and there was an actor dressed as a Nazi soldier, standing not three feet away from me, that gave me the sudden urge to duck beneath my seat and hold my breath. I assumed that my reaction in that case was because I was part of the scene and it felt so real. I still don’t really understand how just seeing the action projected on a wall in front of me, as I snuggled down safe in my house with my kids, could provoke this feeling of panic and dread.

As we watched that scene (where one of the Nazi soldiers hid behind another gravestone to wait and see if the family would appear), I pointed out to my kids, “If you’re ever hiding from someone, stay hidden a lot longer than you think, even after you’re sure they’re gone.” It’s a bit disturbing that part of me fears they might actually need to know that one day (God forbid.)

A quick web search suggests that this is what’s called collective trauma, or maybe historical or cultural trauma.

“It kind of makes you understand a bit more about how and why people can get so upset about microagressions, doesn’t it?” Mr. December philosophised as I speed-walked along the sidewalk.

He’s right. It does. And it’s also a potent reminder that we don’t know what other people’s baggage is. Sometimes even they might not really know or expect it. I certainly didn’t expect it tonight, but here we are.

I don’t really know how to end this. Not the blog post—that, I can just press “publish” and send it off into the ether, with or without a solid conclusion—but the panicky feeling I still have. Mr. December (well-read on a wide variety of subjects) says it can take hours to come down from this kind of state. I certainly hope not.

And just for the record, The Sound of Music is still one of my favourite movies, hands down. I guess I’ll just stop watching before the end from now on.

Homeschool · Kids · mental health

Day 362: Turning a Corner

Right now N and R are sitting at the table, reading two books that just came in: The Iliad and The Odyssey, both in graphic novel format. I just rested the books there for two minutes; N spotted them and cooed in delight (I swear I’m not making this up.) Then R begged me to let them read the books.

“No!” I said. “They were supposed to be for our Ancient Greece unit study next term!”

“That’s okay,” she reasoned. “We can read ahead.”

I grumbled back, “Okay, fine.” Then I caught Mr. December’s eye and we exchanged an across-the-room air high-five.


That pretty much captures my mood right now. Everything seems to be working out. The kids are learning and playing together like friends. I’m feeling useful and appreciated. My clothes look good, fit well, and are equipped with pockets. The sun is shining. I’m contented and hopeful, in sharp contrast to how I was feeling just a month ago.

It must be spring.

el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 332: The Impossible Dream

I’ve developed a new internet addiction: Air BnB.

Ever since we started homeschooling, Mr. December and I have been enthralled by the possibility of worldschooling—travelling the world for months at a time and homeschooling along the way. Inspired by the bloggers of Millenial Revolution, one of whom used to be Mr. December’s coworker, we’ve been turned on to the idea that there are parts of the world that are safe and way cheaper to live in than Toronto, while letting the kids experience a totally new culture.

The current “stay at home” order has definitely exacerbated my wanderlust. As I type this, it’s minus ten degrees celsius and snowing. It’s probably normal to want to get away from this weather even without a pandemic. Of course, it’s basically impossible right now. Except…

“Honey, look at this!” I call to Mr. December. “Looks like Croatia is still open to tourists! Look at those gorgeous beaches! And we could rent this four-bedroom villa by the beach for $2100 a month! How crazy is that?”

Four bedroom home near the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. What’s not to like?

Thailand and Bali aren’t open to tourists right now, but I took a look at rentals for those places, too. In Bali I found this insanely cool house with four bedrooms. These people must be kindred spirits: their kids have a jungle-themed bedroom with a gorgeous wall mural and cargo nets for climbing and relaxing; there’s a pool outside with a waterslide; there’s even a trampoline. I think we’ve found our people… for less than $3500 a month. I wonder if they’d be open to a house swap? I bet their kids would love our attic.

Pics of a home in Bali; Gorgeously landscaped pool with a concrete waterslide that looks like it’s part of the stone wall, jungle themed kids’ room… looks like we’ve found a family as crazy as we are.

In Thailand I focused my search on Chiang Mai, a city in the north with a large population of worldschoolers and other expats. Even when I narrowed the search to “4+ bedrooms, wifi, swimming pool, under $3000 a month” there were still eighteen places to choose from. The one that caught my eye just happens to have the same house number as ours, which is just kinda neat.

A single-family home in Chiang Mai, Thailand; private swimming pool; a garden.

We’ve done the math and the research: we could probably rent out our house (perhaps to a doctor from overseas who’s doing a residency at one of the downtown Toronto hospitals) for $6000 to $8000 per month for six months. Any of the places I discussed in this post are at most half that expensive, which means that we could even come out ahead, financially speaking—not that finances are the most compelling reason to worldschool. Not by a long shot.

Look, I know this isn’t going to happen for a long time. They just extended the “stay at home” order here and the government has announced dire projections for a third wave of COVID if we open up too early. Even if I was completely immune to the open scorn we’d surely endure by travelling when the government has asked us not to (Mr. December is immune, but I don’t think I am,) I’d still be a bit leery of travelling right now. And if we were going to travel with the kids, my first choice would be Israel, which is leading the world in immunizations. But Israel is still closed to tourists, and I fear that when they open it will be to tourists who’ve been immunized. If that ends up being the case, we as Canadians will be screwed: our government has been ridiculously slow in procuring vaccines and getting them to the populace.

In the meantime, I can fantasize. It might be one of the only things keeping me even a little bit sane. If not for the tantalizing hope of future travel, I’d spend my days ruminating on the fact that we’re doomed to spend the next year or so in our little box, separated from friends and family, going nowhere and doing nothing. In the face of that probably reality, who wouldn’t fantasize?

Keepin' it real · mental health · whine and cheese

Day 326: Pockets, Proportions, and the Patriarchy

“Oh geez, where the heck is my phone?”

“That’s the third time you’ve lost it today. Why don’t you just keep it in your pocket?” Mr. December asks.

“Because my pants don’t have real pockets!” I shot back.

“Then why did you buy them?”

“Because women’s pants NEVER have good pockets!!!”

“That’s stupid,” Mr. December said, “I’d never buy a pair of pants without pockets.”

I huffed, “That’s like saying you’d never buy clothes that didn’t fit your body properly. You can only buy it if it exists.”

“Eema,” K put in, “Why don’t women’s clothes have proper pockets?”

“One word, kiddo,” I answer. “The patriarchy.”


I’m hardly the first person to complain about a lack of pockets in women’s clothing. Heck, I’m probably not even among the first thousand complainers. But us women don’t need our own pockets because it’s the man’s job to carry the money, right? Not to mention the fact that if we put our stuff in our pants pockets, it would ruin the beautiful line of our bodies that is so important to the male gaze. As I said above, it’s the patriarchy’s fault I don’t have pockets.

I don’t remember the exact search term I used, but I found my way to a site called—get this—Pocketocracy. They have a list of retailers and designers that make women’s clothing with real pockets (defined as pockets that can hold stuff like a phone or a wallet.) This was exactly what I wanted! The unexpected pleasant surprise was that a good number of these sites also offer their products in a wide variety of sizes (I think they might max out at a 7XL) or even custom-make the clothing for your measurements.

Wait! You might be thinking. Clothes that actually fit your body no matter its size? Such a thing has never been done! It has, actually, since mass-produced clothing is a relatively new concept; a hundred and fifty years ago most people’s clothes were custom-made to each person’s proportions. Sadly, though, these days we’re generally limited to what designers and retailers want to sell us. Too bad what they want to sell us extends beyond clothing to the idea that if our bodies don’t look good in their clothes, we are somehow lacking.

I’ve decided I’m not buying it anymore. Not buying the clothing, and not buying the implicit body-shaming that comes with it. That’s my justification for spending two hours this afternoon on eShakti.com ogling dresses with pockets.

It was seriously fun because aside from the pockets and the custom-sized aspect, the design of the dresses can be altered. I spent some time changing a scoop neck to a boat neck, making sleeves longer and shorter, and raising and lowering the hem. Their customization tool shows you exactly what that dress would look like with, say, inset cap sleeves, a split jewel neckline, and a just-below-the-knee skirt. It was so much fun that even E stopped complaining about boredom and started redesigning dresses.

It seems a bit too good to be true; a dress that fits me properly, with my favourite neckline and hemline, and pockets, all for less than eighty dollars! Mr. December thinks I should go ahead and order one to see if it’s as good as I think it will be. So, readers, which one should I get?