family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health

Day 694: Puzzling out lesson plans

I broke out a new jigsaw puzzle today: a 500-piece world map. Nobody wanted to do it with me, but—as with so many other things—once I started working on it, they got interested too. I’m thinking of using it as an emergency lesson plan for geography, for fibroflare days or other times when I can’t muster up anything else.

The past three weeks have been pretty lame in every way, including school-wise. I’m definitely deep in the February doldrums right now; this is the exact reason why I bought open-and-go curricula at the beginning of the year. Too bad the kids hated those.

I started watching “Crash Course World History” with E and have decided to make that the spine of our history program from now on. Watch a video, watch it again, make notes about what we learned, add diagrams and maps. At least with this plan, they’ll have something to look back at by the end of the year.

(Fun fact: apparently the Indus Valley civilization had sewers. Could they have been the only ancient civilization that didn’t literally stink?)

In music, I bought an arrangement of “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin. It’s written to work for pretty much any combination of instruments. First, of course, we’ll cover some of the basics of ragtime music—history and rhythm primarily. The kids weren’t happy with the music when they first glanced at it; syncopated rhythms look intimidating. Fortunately the kids are already very familiar with the song, thanks to the Beethoven’s Wig rendition, “A piano stuck in the door.”

Fibro Flares · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · mental health · whine and cheese

Day 674: The sun is a liar.

There’s a phrase in Hebrew: Shemesh shakranit, which means “a lying sun.” Back when we had an Israeli nanny part-time, she said it all through the winter. The notion that it can be sunny and way below freezing was a novel one to our nanny.

So was the idea that it can—and does—rain in the summer. In Israel rain is strictly a winter thing, so much so that they actually have special words for the first and last rains of the season. This baffled me as a Canadian child: how do you know which rain is the first? The answer is that in Israel, it’s obvious—as is the idea that sun means warm temperatures (or if not warm, at least not cold.)

The sun is shining brightly today and I vaguely remembered seeing that the temperature was -4C, which isn’t that cold; so when Mr. December invited me to go for a walk with him, I said yes.

It did not feel like minus four. It was bitingly, bitterly cold. I could feel my thighs freezing through my jeans; my warm winter jacket wasn’t keeping me so warm. The only parts of me that felt nice and cozy were my feet, and I have my alpaca-wool socks to thank for that.

“Thawed thighs” sounds like part of a recipe, as in “take the thawed thighs and season with salt and pepper before browning.” Sadly, my thawed thighs are nowhere near that appealing. I had forgotten how my muscles contract and tense up in the cold, and leave me sore and achy for the rest of the day. Ouch.

Only nine more days until I can escape the walk-in freezer that is this city. I think I’ll go pack.

mental health

Day 665: Look Who’s Back

Close-up of me sitting in a hammock chair. My eyes are closed and the

It’s the sun! It came back! I thought it would be gone forever… and it’s back. I felt about a hundred times better today.

While I was holed up in my bedroom hammock corner I noticed that it gets full sun right around noon (in the winter, anyway. I think the sun is too high in the summer.) Huzzah! It doesn’t matter that it’s minus-Bill-Gates’s-salary outside: I’ve got sunshine, a hammock, and a view of the Douglas fir tree outside. I feel all better now.

crafty · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health · The COVID files

Day 660: I like my stuff.

It was dark this morning when we woke up—which would have been fine if it was 6:00 a.m., but it was already 10:00. It was truly dark, not just cloudy. Even Mr. December noticed.

I think I’ve seen the sun a total of three days out of the last three weeks. That is clearly not enough. Since my SAD was a major reason for us wanting to travel this winter, it seems obvious that we should go somewhere to get some sun. There’s just one problem, though: stuff.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to things like clothes (I own one pair of jeans, one leggings, and a pair of sweatpants,) shoes (we only took two pairs on our trip and that might have been one too many,) and makeup (none.) But when it comes to things, Mr. December and I tend to be maximalists (if that’s even a word. Is it? Who knows?). In our opinion, you can’t have too many books or musical instruments. It’s just not possible.

I’ve just finished rereading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home, in which she suggests “making a shrine” to things you enjoy. If I understand her correctly, we’ve already done so: our library is a shrine to books and musical instruments, the makery is a shrine to arts and crafts of all sorts, and our attic is a shrine to swings and gymnastic apparatus.

(N was reading this over my shoulder and reminded me of the parchment paper shrine that is a running joke between K and Mr. December. No, I will not elaborate.)

These are things we use and enjoy every single day. Some people say things don’t make you happier; I think they’re wrong. I’m definitely happier when I can wander into the library and pick up an instrument without having to haul it out of the case; Mr. December gets happier just sitting in the library and looking at all the books; K, R, and the entire family are all happier because of the swings in the attic.

That’s why I’m having difficulty deciding to travel again. I loved our trip. Really. We packed minimal stuff, and it was fine for a while; but now that I’m here enjoying my home again, I’m loath to leave it.

Could I travel again but pack more stuff? Sure. I’ve done it before, when I took a sewing machine and a suitcase full of fabric to Barbados for a month-long stay. But do I want to? I don’t even know which stuff I’d choose. My viola, probably, and then some craft stuff—maybe the new markers, my drawing pencils, sketchbooks and paper… and then all the homeschooling stuff, which right now involves a lot of books that I can’t get on a Kobo. Oh, and a guitar.

My prediction: I’ll dither about this for long enough that it’s too late to go, either because of new COVID restrictions or because it’s started getting sunny again.

What do you predict?

Apathy · Keepin' it real · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 646: Blah.

We’re all feeling it. Sluggish, tired, and—dare I say—bored.

I know I’ve talked about it a lot, but I’m still surprised by what passes for “daylight” around here. I miss the sun already.

I think I’m doing everything right: eating well (i.e. protein, fruits, and veggies rather than just the sweet stuff my body thinks it’s craving,) going outside a couple of times a day for fresh air and exercise, having a current creative project to work on. Throw in some snuggling and laughs and more hugs, and I think I’ve got the right recipe for feeling good despite the dark.

And yet, I don’t. Feel good, that is. I feel totally blah. What’s more, so do Mr. December and K.

We did E’s day eight COVID test this morning, online: using the kit we were given at the airport last Sunday, with supervision via video conference, I swabbed her nose and put the whole kit together to send. Ten minutes later an Uber was at my door to collect the test sample and deliver it to the lab. I’ll say this much for our government: they actually managed to make testing pretty easy.

It’s nice to see them doing something intelligently, because that’s certainly not been my perception of other COVID- and testing-related decisions our government has made. Sometimes it seems that they haven’t bothered to rub two brain cells together.

Take the “random” testing on arrival at the airport, for example. Three of us were selected for testing, despite the fact that we had all tested negative twenty-six hours ago. I’m not saying we couldn’t have contracted COVID while in transit—of course we could have—but if we had, what is the likelihood it would show up less than fifteen hours after exposure to the virus? Those three tests were a waste of everyone’s time, taxpayers’ money, and my inclination to cheerfully cooperate with the government’s COVID-related demands.

K’s birthday is this Thursday; E’s is the following Tuesday. We’ve already given K her gift—a weighted blanket—but haven’t decided what to give E yet. I’m leaning towards getting her a Kobo of her own, because everytime I sit down to read on my Kobo, she comes along and begs for it so she can read her books.

I wonder if I can load a birthday card onto the Kobo for her? That would be cool…

DIY · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · mental health · quilty pleasures

Day 644: Doing Stuff

I love the feeling of getting stuff done.

Yesterday I bought a giant chair for our library, rented a van, and drove it home myself.

Today I divided and repotted my snake plant into self-watering pots that fit along the ledge in my office (aka the stair landing.)

I’ve also made progress on N’s quilt, which I’ve been wanting to make for the last four years and haven’t made time for yet. No pics ’til it’s done, though.

My self-worth isn’t wrapped up in my productivity (okay, fine, I’m working on making that a true statement,) but the dopamine hit I get when I look at something I’ve made is a great defense against seasonal depression.

(Speaking of which, what did Canada do with the sun? I haven’t seen it since I got back from Ecuador. Where are you guys hiding it?)

It’s a bit chicken-and-egg: I feel depressed, so I can’t motivate myself to do anything… and then I feel useless and pathetic because I’m not doing anything… but I can’t motivate myself to do anything, so…

I’m wondering if maybe the key to staving off the worst of SAD (great acronym, isn’t it?) is having enough projects that can be tackled in small, easy steps—and can be finished in a single afternoon.

All that being said, I was definitely feeling achy and exhausted this afternoon when I finished with the plants. Fibro flare is definitely not over yet. Maybe I’ll sit in my new comfy chair with a book and tell myself that reading is productivity too.

Costa Rica · education · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 593: “They Have no Idea.”

I really wanted the kids to write about today’s visit to a large coffee farm, but I also wanted you to hear about it today, not next week (you might still read their summary of the coffee-making process next week.)

To sum it up: we learned all about coffee, all the way from seeds and gene manipulation, through harvesting, to different processes for drying the beans (this company generally exports green coffee beans.) Once again, I learned a ton.

One thing I learned had nothing at all to do with coffee production: I learned that it’s time my kids had a bit more Holocaust education.

How did I figure that one out? Well… we were going through the factory looking at different processes, as I said before. Finally, we got to the huge drying ovens. I’ll admit that I felt a little unpleasant jolt when our guide said, “Now we’ll head over to the ovens,” but I told myself to chill out and remember where we were—on a coffee tour in Costa Rica.

So we got to the huge ovens and all I could think was, These look a lot like the ones we saw at Auschwitz. Lovely thought, no?

It got worse before it got better.

K and R took one look at the oven and R said, “Wow! You could fit all six of us in there!” and then K said, “Sure, R… should I toss you in first?” My blood ran cold.

Mr. December reacted faster than I did, but said what I was thinking: “NO. Absolutely not. That is NOT a good joke. EVER.”

My anxiety was through the roof; which was a shame because I should have been enjoying how much my kids were loving this part of the tour: they were competing with each other to see who could carry the most logs to load into the oven. While that was happening, I went over to Mr. December and muttered, “My cultural trauma is showing.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” he murmured back. “I don’t think the kids understand why that wasn’t funny.”

I nodded. “Think it’s time for a bit more Holocaust education?”


Later on, Mr. December and I were mulling over this.

“They have no idea at all,” he said after a quick chat with K. “I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing. Is the idea of Holocaust education to make sure they have the same trauma response as we do?”

Good question.

The rest of our afternoon was enjoyable—if you don’t count E’s tantrum about putting her hiking boots back on (“They’re too hot!”) We walked over to the coffee company’s huge farmhouse on a hill, where the covered back patio beckoned us with an elegantly set table. We were greeted with freezing cold towels—a relief after the tour out in the sunny fields and then inside a hot factory—and cold drinks. Predictably, N didn’t touch the food, but I quickly taught him to say, “Quiero pan, por favor” (“I want bread, please”) and he was happy enough with the results.

The children were getting silly at the table, so I told them to run around the garden. R ran off and came back, breathless, to tell K that she found a swingset (big news for two girls who swing for hours a day at home.) I jokingly pointed to a yellow shed and said to E, “Look! a little yellow house. It must be waiting for you!” Our tour organizer, Massiel, took E by the hand and suggested they go explore it together. As it turned out, I was kind of right: it was a playhouse complete with a front porch, play kitchen, and even play food. Through the window I could see E serving Massiel a plastic hamburger with the graciousness of an experienced hostess.

When we got back to our place, E begged me to play school with her and her stuffies; I obliged and did a couple of grammar lessons “for the stuffies.” You know, I really miss doing school. Even though there’s plenty of learning happening on this trip, I’m looking forward to some quieter weeks when we can just homeschool and swim.

Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · mental health · waxing philosophical

Day 532: S*** happens…

I’m sure you’ve heard it from me quite a few times: it’s always something. I get injured and then I can’t bike for a while. I get a concussion and have to step away from absolutely everything for a few months. One of the kids gets sick, and I have to pause whatever I’m doing to get them to a doctor. A new virus becomes a global pandemic and my dance troupe has to stop rehearsing. Seriously, it’s always something.

I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday: if it’s always something, and I know it will always be something, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Like, if I know something will happen to derail my life in some tiny or huge way, then shouldn’t I be able plan for such an eventuality?

It’s like when we were chronically late getting the kids to school every day. It was never for quite the same reason: K wouldn’t take her medicine; N forgot his backpack and we had to drive back around the block to get it; R couldn’t find her socks. It really didn’t matter what the holdup was; we didn’t have to solve each and every problem in our way. We were always ten minutes late, ergo, leaving the house ten minutes earlier would solve the problem.

This injury to my hand is pretty darn annoying. The weather is perfect for kayaking and biking: not too hot, not too cold, just beautiful. It doesn’t matter, because I can’t do either of those two things while this wound is healing. I don’t need to enumerate all the other things I can’t do because of this injury: I listed them in my post a few nights ago. The salient point here is that, once again, something is preventing me from doing most of the activities that make me happy. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last; it’s about time I developed a contingency plan.

What would that plan look like? I have no idea. I need to come up with activities I can enjoy when I’m incapacitated, instead of just moping around thinking of everything I can’t do. I am—as Jane Austen’s Lady Catherine DeBurgh would say—an active, useful sort, which makes it challenging to think of less-active, less useful pastimes. I have to, though. My sanity might one day depend on it.

So far my very short list includes Sudoku, walking (a very pale shadow of biking and kayaking, but what are you gonna do,) reading romance novels (don’t knock it ’til you’ve really tried it,) sketching (if my right hand is unaffected,) and hanging out with friends. That’s all. So… I turn to my readers (all seven of you.) Any suggestions?

family fun · mental health · The COVID files

Day 517: Planning

One of the joys of homeschooling is that we don’t have to be constrained by the usual school vacation dates. Why, then, are we trying to book over the December break?

We weren’t going to. We were planning to travel in October-November, hit a worldschooling retreat in early December, and then head home. But from a mental health perspective, I’m most in need of sunshine when my Seasonal Affective Disorder is at its worst: in January and February. October and November are absolutely fine for me, and the weather isn’t even all that cold yet.

I’d forgotten how many different details have to be juggled when planning a long trip. Now that I think of it, I realize that when I planned the UK trip that COVID killed, I had all four kids attending school (read: I had all day, every day to work on it without interruption.) Trying to do this work in fits and starts is hard—I have to spend ten minutes each time just recalling where I had left off and what I was going to research next.

So here I’ve sat for much of the day, looking at AirBnb’s and so many different flight options that my head is spinning. I should probably quit for the night.

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.