better homes than yours · blogging · crafty · DIY · Kids · Montessori · Renovation

Day 142: A sunny room for a sunny girl (house tour)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on our house tour. I have to admit that as much as I want to “keep it real” and show you our house the way we live in it, I kind of wanted to do a bit of cleanup first, maybe fix the window coverings that kept coming apart, that sort of thing. I think you know as well as I do where the time for that has gone. (*cough**homeschool**cough*)

Let’s do E’s room today. She picked the colour herself, which some might say is unnecessary in the case of a three-year-old, but it was very important to Mr. December especially that the kids make those choices. She chose “Mellow Yellow” for the walls, which is sunny without leaning too far towards green. I love that E’s room is at the end of the hall. It faces due west, so in the afternoon the room seems to glow. Many times I’ve walked in to turn off the light, only to realize that the light wasn’t on. The combination of Mellow Yellow and sunshine just makes it look that way.

Her door, like all the other doors in the house, isn’t painted all one colour. Instead we painted the centre panel and the splines (the edges of the door) in the colour chosen by the room’s inhabitant, and the stiles and rails are white.

As in other parts of the house, Montessori philosophy heavily influenced our decor choices in E’s room. Here’s her desk area. We used an adjustable-height desk and a children’s desk chair, set low enough that when she’s seated her elbows are at or above desk height and her knees are at a right angle. It the right height for her to be able to work at the desk with her feet touching the floor. I attached one of IKEA’s SKADIS pegboards to her desk and added a few shelves, cups, and clips. E herself decided to populate it with pictures of her younger self, birthday cards, and a few school supplies.

It’s important to note that this desk picture, as well as a few others in this post, was taken from E’s eye level. I think that’s essential to appreciating how she sees her room. There’s not a whole lot going on above the four foot mark. To give you a better sense of the scale on the whole, I’ve also taken some pictures from the adult’s perspective, like the very first photo at the top of this post.

E’s reading nook is really the result of a trip I made to HomeSense. I found this little armchair with elephants all over it and felt that it would be perfect for E. Then, as we were starting to unwrap and hang our artwork, the microcalligraphy painting called to me. I hung it at E’s eye level, not ours.

(An aside about the painting: it’s the first piece of art Mr. December and I ever bought together. We were in Israel while we were dating and happened upon this gallery in Tzfat. The artist specializes in microcalligraphy, meaning that by writing the words of a biblical story in tiny, tiny letters, he crates pictures of the story itself. When I saw the Noah’s Ark print, I leaned over to Mr. December and said, “That would be perfect for a kid’s room, wouldn’t it?” To which he replied, “Let’s buy it for our children, then.” Note that we weren’t even engaged at the time, although I suppose we had already agreed that’s where we were headed.)

The reading nook also happens to be conveniently located right next door to Peppa Pig’s house:

At E’s level, too, against most of our decor instincts, is where I installed the cute yellow doorknobs for her wardrobes. On opening the doors you can see that I arranged the drawers and hanging rods so that E could reach her everyday clothes by herself. The wardrobes are PAX from IKEA, which means that as she grows and her storage needs change, I can swap out the interior fittings and rearrange them to suit her needs. Have I mentioned that “retaining flexibility” was a high priority for both Mr. December and me?

As you can see in the photos, the height of the doorknobs and hanging rod make sense when viewed from E’s eye level:

E’s bed was my choice: since we don’t have a guest bedroom but would like to be able to have guests, three of the four kids’ rooms are able to sleep at least two people. That way we can get the kids to double up and give one child’s room to our guests. This bed pulls out to form a king-size bed (just add another single mattress,) which has been very handy when the three younger kids want to sleep together. Even in its enlarged mode, there are two large drawers underneath for bed sheets and pyjamas.

The yellow bedding is a result of serendipity at work. This duvet cover and pillow sham were mine when I was a teenager. After E had chosen her wall colour, my mom pointed out that it was almost a perfect match for my old bedding, dug up said bedding, and presented it to E for her new room.

I made the Roman shade for E’s window myself, which you can probably tell by the imperfect way it’s hanging. For some reason the cord keeps fraying and breaking even though I’m using the nice kind of hardware (with a pulley wheel and everything.) I need to fix it one day. I found the fabric, which matches the upholstered armchair, in an online store with free U.S. shipping and had it shipped to Mr. December’s company in California in advance of one of his business trips.

The bookcase serving as a headboard is really a placeholder, although I’m not sure if and when I’ll get around to building what I really wanted there. Nevertheless, it gives E’s elephant herd a place to live and still has space for some bedtime books.

What else is missing from my grand plan? I’d like to flank the bed with a bookcase/storage unit on each end, and add some wall-mounted reading lights on either side of the window (what can I say? I like symmetry.) If E so chooses, we can add some more decorations on the walls, although I like how clean and simple it is right now.

That’s it for E’s room. Stay tuned for the rest of the kids’ bedrooms, each of which is as unique as the child who lives in it.

crafty · DIY · education · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 112: Leading Horses to Water

Mr. December and I decided it was time to get a bit more serious about E learning to read. She knows all her letter sounds and understands the concept of decoding, but she sets up an inordinate amount of resistance every time we suggest that she read something with us.

Before we get too far into this, I’d like to acknowledge that nothing bad will happen if she doesn’t learn to read this summer, or even next summer. I’m aware that kids in Finland aren’t taught to read until age seven, and they’re not suffering academically for it, so it’s probably fine. K learned to read at the end of grade two (albeit with a very expensive remediation program for which we pulled her out of school every morning for six weeks); N began reading books to himself around the end of grade one, and R learned in grade one as well. These days they all have to have the books pried out of their hands at bedtime, so clearly there’s no problem with not learning to read at age three. Or four, five, or even six.

But this summer, with so little else to do, and with E home all day with us, it seems like a good time to get her reading. So I did what I do when it’s really important that my kids do something: the two-pronged approach of consequences and bribery (for more on my attitude towards bribing kids, read this post from my Montessori blog.) “Reading with Eema” is an item on her daily checklist; if the checklist isn’t completed, there are no screen privileges the next day. As far as bribery goes, we’ve created a star chart; Every time she reads a whole new Bob book she gets a sticker. When she’s read all the books in a set (usually about twelve books) she gets to pick a prize.

That piqued her interest. “I need to complete Peppa Pig’s neighbourhood,” she said, eyes wide with excitement.

“You know,” I said, “The first book only has a few words in it. I bet you could finish a whole book right now, before bedtime!”

“Let’s try!” She shouted, and we took out the first Bob book: Mat. She read it haltingly, but correctly. Then she slyly suggested that even though it was bedtime I should let her stay up to read book two. I knew better than to say no to a kid who was on a roll, so we got Book 2: Sam and she made her way through that one as well. Two star stickers went up on her chart.

E turned to me earnestly and said, “I never knew it would be this much fun!”

And with that, the bribery felt justified.

We’ve ordered a couple of Kiwi Crates (curated, themed activity boxes) for the kids. Today E opened up the “My Body and Me” box and was immediately engrossed in it. With very little help from anyone she followed the illustrated instructions to build her own stethoscope. After sitting for a while and listening to her own heart, E moved on to the next craft: sewing a stuffed felt heart, stomach, and brain. She probably spent three to four hours using the contents of the Kiwi Crate, culminating in her running a doctor’s office where her entire herd of stuffed elephants came to get checked out. She carefully made “notes” on the laminated form that came with the box and then provided recommendations. Recommendation #1? Hugs, followed closely by sleep.

Montessori talks about the “prepared environment”; The Parenting Junkie advocates “Strewing”. They seem to be two different ways of doing the same thing: setting the stage for learning and play. The Kiwi crate was successful in that way, and I’m sure that E learned a lot. But when it came to reading, displaying the books attractively next to a beanbag chair in a cozy corner just didn’t cut it — I still had to bribe E to even look at them.

Whoever came up with the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” seems to have been missing a few tools of persuasion; I suspect those horses could have been bribed or tricked into taking that first sip. They’d have no use for Peppa Pig’s camper van, of course, but a good farmer or cowboy could surely come up with something.

education · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 98: This is how I hoped it would look

When E came down the stairs today, there were three cardboard boxes on the table.

“Hey, E! These are for you!” I called.

She opened them herself (I had to sit on my hands and remind myself that it’s good for her fine motor skills to work to peel off the shrink wrap) and found three Montessori math materials: the bead bars, a set of golden beads, and wooden number tablets.

“These are just like we have at school!” She cried, but then added, “I am NOT doing any school work! Ever!”

“That’s okay,” I said. “They’re so pretty, aren’t they? Let’s find a place in the living room to display them when they’re not being used.” So she did.

An hour or so later I was working with R on basic division. She was having a tough time with it (“how many fours does it take to make 36?”) so I brought out the bead bars, which she remembered fondly from her Montessori days. As we worked, E happened past and did a double-take.

“Hey, R’s using my beads for her math!”

“Yes, she is.” I said.

E stood and watched R work for a while, then asked, “What’s a remainder?”

We explained to her that division is figuring out how many cookies each child gets for it to be equal, and then the remainder is what’s left over that the parents get to eat. Well, that got E’s attention.

“Can I try dividing?” she asked.

It’s not next on her curriculum, but who am I to say no when a child shows some interest (especially when that child has just declared her intention to never do schoolwork)? I got some plastic bowls and some single unit beads and showed her how to distribute the “cookies” (beads) among the “children” (bowls). After that she was off and running.

“What if there are ten cookies and two children?” She wanted to know. And then, “How about seventeen cookies and five children? Twenty cookies and eight children?”

Ten cookies and four children: Eema gets two. Hooray for remainders!

Mr. December always says, “You have to leave while the crowd is still cheering,” so after about twenty minutes I suggested to E that we pack it up. She was eager to know when we could do division again.

This is kind of how I thought homeschooling could look. Child asks question, parent has materials at hand and responds, a lesson ensues, and the child is hooked. It’s so much fun to watch their eyes light up when they’ve just figured something out, and to hear their excitement as one question begets another. This is the best of homeschooling.

Later, E was putting the number tablets in order from smallest to biggest (not as a lesson, just to organize them.)

“Eema? How come it only goes up to nine, and then from ten to ninety, and then a hundred to nine hundred? Why does it always stop at the nine?”

“Ah,” I smiled. “Get me those golden beads and I’ll tell you about the decimal system…”

crafty · DIY · gardening · Montessori · weight loss · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: “crying baby at midnight” edition

We were all tucked into bed, R sleeping happily. Then she woke up and swiped at my back. Ouch. I think I need to cut her nails.

So it’s past midnight, which makes it Thursday, but I haven’t slept yet so I’ll pretend it’s still Wednesday.

The insanely warm weather this week has drawn me outside to do much-needed things like cleaning the interior of the car and tidying and scrubbing the front porch. It’s amazing how a shift in weather shifts my priority list of tasks. It feels a bit absurd, but here’s the rundown of my last known task list:

Still in progress: Weight Watchin’

Despite a lack of effort on my part, today I weighed in at 16 pounds less than my starting weight. Some of that is what Mr. December calls “noise”: at least a pound can be attributed to the lightweight summer clothes I wore today. Still, 15 pounds feels kind of significant. Hopefully I’ll be able to put some concerted effort into it this week.

No progress: Photo Books

Really, why would I spend more time indoors on my computer when there’s outdoor work to be done? At this rate I need to schedule some time to put the thing together. Maybe next week when it’s cooler outside…

No progress: Library doors

See “Photo Books”

Still in progress: Kids’ table

We’ve used our kids’ table for a while now (in its unfinished glory) and I’ve identified a design flaw, so I have to figure out a different way to attach the legs. On the upside, I purchased a wood rasp (or as my friend Bill over at Lowes called it, “a cheese grater on steroids”) and was finally able to file down the plugs so that they’re even with the rest of the table apron. I’ve also begun filling the gaps and holes with wood putty, and sanding the whole thing in preparation for staining and painting. This is my go-to project right now, since I can do it outside in the sunshine. I’ll have more progress to report next week, for sure.

In progress: spring planting

Mr. December is quick to caution me that we may still have a freeze, but I’m not buying it. That’s why starting tomorrow I’ll be cleaning up the garden beds in the front and planting seeds. This year we’ll keep our vegetable planting small and manageable and devote the large front bed to flowers. I’ve also picked up some low-growing perennials to fill out our rock garden. By next week I want to have all the beds and containers prepared and sown with the appropriate seeds.


That’s it for now. Nothing major, just chugging along.

Oh, and for those interested in posts about teaching kids Jewish values, check out this post over at my Montessori blog. I wasn’t quite sure where to post it and Montessori won out, but I think a lot of this blog’s readers would enjoy it as well.

What did you do this week? And for those in Toronto, what is the sunshine-induced-insanity making you do?

bikes planes and automobiles · crafty · Montessori · weight loss · whine and cheese · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Bloggy edition

Well, this week has been… interesting… we had a cold, stomach flu, high fevers, and now I think I have pinkeye. I think that my next “in progress” project should be a sign that reads “____ days without an illness”. Don’t you?

Also, our nanny hasn’t been here since last Friday. I’m doing my best to keep up with the laundry and keeping the place from turning into a total sty, and that leaves precious little time for anything else. On the upside, I haven’t had to make dinner – we’re eating our way through the freezer this week. I tell you, everyone should stock up and then have a “freezer week”. It’s low-stress and delicious!

If it sounds like I’m stalling, I am. Here’s why:

STILL not complete: K’s kippah

I don’t think I need to reiterate the reasons why I’ve been tired and busy and unable to get down to the sewing room, but I will say that I’m very unimpressed with my lack of progress. Seriously, I could probably carve out ten minutes. Right? I will try to do better this week.

In progress: weight watchin’

Today ends my second week of Weight Watchers. I lost 1.2 pounds this week, bringing my total to 4.2 pounds. I have to say, doing this program while breastfeeding is really awesome – they insist that nursing mothers add about 50% more points every day, which means that I don’t feel like I’m restricting my eating much. I’m just replacing m&m’s with grapes.

This week I plan to get in some good cardio exercise 4 days out of 7, and some more relaxed walking the other days.

In progress: Photo books

I finally got the license key for the software, so my scrapbook pages no longer say “trial version” on them. I also got to download a whole bunch of free scrapbook elements (images, papers, embellishments, etc) that come with the software. Yippee!

I spent most of last Sunday doing the sample book, and I finished K’s section. Here are two of my favourite spreads:


This week I plan to get all of the photos I’m missing – result of last year’s laptop crash – and finish N’s section of the book. That is, if R stops screaming long enough for me to put her down. It’s just taken me 20 minutes to type this sentence.

In progress: A New Blog!

Big news, y’all: I’ve started a new blog. It’s exclusively focused on the Montessori stuff. I decided to create it after being approached by a few people in the Montessori community about reading more of my writing. I figure they don’t all need to know about my weight loss, our menu plan, or how we found a raccoon sleeping in the bakfiets.

So here’s a question to my readers: do you want me to cross-post everything I write on my Montessori blog so that you don’t have to click over there to read it, or can I just post over there and casually mention it on this blog (maybe with a link)? Please comment and let me know.

Okay, that’s it. What are you planning to accomplish this week?

DIY · Montessori

The one about the kitchen sink

Over winter break, K started preparing her own snacks independently. There was one hitch, though – we found that she can’t reach the faucet handle, so she needed someone to turn the sink on and off for her when she was rinsing her fruit. Such a simple thing, but it’s an impediment to being completely independent at snacktime.

I posted about this problem on facebook and several people recommended a high stepstool or a learning tower so that K would be able to reach the existing handle. The thing is, our sink is very large (read: deep) and she’d still have to reach about 20 inches back just to get the handle. A step stool isn’t going to cut it for a kid who’s only about three feet tall.

Today I was in Canadian Tire. It just happens to be where I bought our faucet, so I figured I could comb the aisles for possible solutions and then check in the faucet aisle to make sure they fit. I arrived in the plumbing department and I saw it. The perfect solution to my problem:

Clear vinyl tubing.

I bought a small roll of it ($7 plus tax), came home, and pushed the end of the tubing onto the faucet handle. I cut it about 12 inches long. Perfect! It’s a tight fit, so the tubing won’t get pulled off, and the extra-long lever has the added advantage of requiring even less force than usual to turn the water on.

But that wasn’t all. No, that was not all. I grabbed some decorative pebbles that just happened to match the accent tiles in the backsplash (matching is easy when you have a favourite colour) and pushed them down the tube. Now it’s functional and pretty not entirely ugly. Win!

bikes planes and automobiles · crafty · DIY · family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids · Montessori


Hi everyone!

What a week that was… first the stomach bug followed by two days of fever, then our part-time nanny was sick and it was just me and the kids, yup, one-on-three, all day for Thursday and Friday. Oh, and lots of other blog-worthy stuff happened. In no particular order:

  • I joined Weight Watchers. I know I’m already back at my prepregnancy weight, but now I need to lose the IVF weight, the Femara weight, the weight from my first pregnancy that ended in miscarriage, and the post-wedding weight. I am very, very excited about getting started, which I think is a good sign that I’m motivated enough to see this through.
  • The kids got their hair cut. Perhaps not interesting, but boy, were we overdue. N’s head looks about 50% smaller now.
  • R discovered her hands. It’s really adorable watching her watch her own hands as they grab each other. She’s also starting to touch her hanging toys.
  • By watching N, I’ve discovered some impromptu Montessori-type activities. Putting clothes on a hanger and taking them off, for example.
  • K wants to be responsible for the dishwasher. I’m not sure exactly how that will work given her height disadvantage, but I’m happy to find a way if she’s really interested.

On top of all that, I just spent two happy hours at the craft store and the fabric store. I have big plans for toys, a mobile, and – most excitingly – two additional seats with seatbelts for the bakfiets, including one that is very baby-friendly.

It’s also a gorgeous day, and I think I must go for a bike ride before it gets dark. So you’ll all understand, I’m sure, why I’m unlikely to blog anything of substance today.

Now go outside and enjoy this weather!

crafty · DIY · Kids · Montessori

Quick ‘n’ dirty sewing project: Sox box!

It all started while I was culling R’s clothes and organizing her drawers. The socks were all mixed up, hers and N’s, and I needed some kind of boxes or dividers, so of course I zipped down to my craft room and stitched up a couple of very simple fabric boxes. This project was so “quick and dirty” that I didn’t even bother changing the thread on the machine. I just grabbed some white denim, plugged in my iron, and started working. I turned out two boxes (no pattern, just making it up) in about 40 minutes.

Later on, while planning some montessori-type activities for N, I decided I needed some solid-coloured trays for a sorting task. Once again I went downstairs. This time I made a two-tone box. Here it is next to one of the originals:

Don’t you want one? Don’t let the name fool you; they’re not just for socks. I can picture them on a front-hall table holding keys and a cellphone; as a nice tray for a child’s hairbrush and accessories; you could make these long and thin and sew a few together to make a cutlery tray, or make a larger one to use as a bread basket.

The beauty of these is that they take almost no time to make, and very little fabric. You have a little fabric and 25 minutes, don’t you? Let’s get started:

Cut your fabric. I recommend using at least one heavy fabric (denim, canvas, or rigid felt) to help give your box structure.

The size of square (or rectangle) you need can be determined by this formula:

desired length + (desired height x 2) = length

desired width + (desired height x 2) = width

So for my 5×5″ box, I cut a 9 inch by 9 inch square. Two of them, actually.


Fold the sides over. If you want a 3-inch height, fold three inches of fabric over on each side. When folded, iron it so that the creases are visible. Open the folds.



Taking one corner, fold it so that the two creases are together and are folded the same way.




Sew a straight seam along the crease. Trim off the excess fabric. If your fabric is prone to fraying you may want to serge or sew a zigzag stitch along the edge.

Repeat until all four corners are sewn. It should look like this, but without the corner loops:



To add structure to your box (and also to make it look cool) fold over each side and sew a straight seam about 1/16 of an inch from the fold.




Fold over the top edges of the fabric and sew a zigzag stitch all around. Since I plan to fold the edge over again to make a tray with a very small lip, I didn’t bother making the edge look nice.

Fold the top edge over once more, and enjoy your cute new box!




education · Jewy goodness · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Hannukah “play”, Montessori-style

I have always been in favour of what I call “child labour” (letting children do actual household tasks) and have often viewed most toys as superfluous, unnecessary, and even insulting to children’s abilities and intelligence. Recently, though, I’ve come to see how having one child in a Montessori school has affected my parenting decisions for the other children at home. Here’s the most recent example:

It’s Hannukah (as we all know by now), and while perusing our local Jewish newspaper I saw an ad for a sale on a wooden hannukah playset. It looks like this:

I considered buying one. I thought that N would definitely love putting the candles into the menorah over and over again, and he might actually like to spin the dreidel. I went so far as to put “buy wooden hannukah set” on my to-do list. Then I laughed at myself, because the Montessori parent in me knows that this is a ridiculously unnecessary toy.

N wants to put candles into a menorah? Good. Let him practice with real candles and a real (metal, unbreakable) menorah. Does he want to hold and look at a dreidel? Great. I happen to have a large wooden dreidel (too big to be a choking hazard to anyone) that he can hold and play with. And what use is wooden hannukah gelt? It’s not shiny like the real thing, and you can’t eat it. No, better to give him one or two pieces of real gelt to look at, and later show him how to unwrap it and let him taste the chocolate. As for the wooden latkes and frying pan, why would he need those when he’s allowed to help me wash potatoes, mix the batter, and eat actual latkes?

This is a very real, concrete example of the Montessori attitude towards pretend play. In Montessori, children don’t have to pretend to work in a kitchen, or to plant a garden, or put candles in the menorah. They don’t have to pretend, because they can really do it. They might want to repeat the task (put candles in, take them out, examine them, put them in, take them out…). They might not do it with great skill. But they will do the task over and over again until they have mastered it. No toys, just real objects and tools that are appropriately sized for children’s hands.

As for N, this morning he pointed at the menorah and put his hands over his face, imitating the way we cover our eyes when lighting shabbat candles (we don’t cover our eyes for hannukah candles, but I suppose candles are candles, at this age).

“Do you want to practice lighting hannukah candles?” I asked, and in response he put his hands over his face again and then peeked out, smiling.

I gave him a box of candles and set him up on the window seat so that he could reach the menorah on the windowsill. He picked up one piece of the menorah (it comes apart) and tried to walk away with it. “N,” I said, “the hannukiah stays here so that everyone can see it when we light the candles.” He put the piece back. Then he reached for the candles and began to place one in each holder. When all of the holders were full, he covered his face and giggled.

N repeated the task over and over again for about half an hour. Some candles got broken, but gradually he learned to be more gentle with them. The focus and pride on his face was an excellent reminder that, given the tools and the opportunity, our children will master the tasks that make up our lives, no toys required.