Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff

Day 535: I am not ready for this.

Shana Tova! A Happy and Sweet New Year to everyone who is celebrating tonight (and tomorrow, and the day after that.)

This time last year I was up at a cottage, making sugar cookies shaped like shofars and preparing a pretty simple festive meal for the six of us. Tonight I’m hosting our parents and Mr. D’s brother (all fully vaccinated,) and I’ve just put the finishing touches on a lemon cake for dessert. It’s in keeping with my theme for the year: When life gives you lemons, make something sweet out of it, but not lemonade—you can do something more creative than just lemonade with lemons, you know.

Because the Jewish calendar is an oddly modified lunar calendar, the holidays always stay in their respective seasons but move around a fair bit within them. Rosh Hashana is always in the fall, but sometimes it’s as early as September second, or as late as the beginning of October. This year it’s “early” which is a little bit laughable because it’s right on time—the first of Tishrei—but it’s coming right on the heels of summer, and it feels like it’s too soon. I’m not ready.

Take clothes, for example. It’s been so long since it actually mattered what anyone wore, and my kids have been growing like weeds. This means that I haven’t even thought about what they’d wear for the holidays this year. E and R are covered, thanks to the gorgeous dresses that they’ve been handed down from K; K has her dress from her bat mitzvah, which is a wrap dress that fits many sizes, so she’s got something; this leaves N.

N has always been resistant to clothes that aren’t soft and comfy. He does kind of like wearing a tie, but he’s not keen on dress pants. As a result, I haven’t bought him any, instead allowing him to wear a pair of plain black sweatpants for shabbat and other holidays with the family. He used to have button-up shirts that fit him but right now his tuxedo-print t-shirts are probably the fanciest shirts in his closet. I have no idea what he’s going to wear to the small, distanced family service we’re attending tomorrow. I’m chalking this up to COVID: as with so many other things, I’m having to relearn things (like the fact that clothes shopping for the holidays needs to happen in August) from what my kids call “the before times.”

Relearning and unlearning have been front and centre for me this year: a year of change and growth for me personally and for us as a family. I feel honoured that you have chosen to read along with our failures and our triumphs. May we all have a sweet and good year and share many laughs and frustrations together. Shana Tova.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · parenting · Sartorial stuff

Day 490: Books! Pockets! Happiness!

There are a lot of jokes about how you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a [insert item here] and that’s pretty much the same thing. If that’s true, I didn’t buy myself happiness this month, but I bought kind of the same thing, because I got two boxes of books, and dresses with pockets.

First, the dresses: I took this photo the day after my first dress was delivered to my front porch. It has two pockets that don’t bulge or show at all even when full, and nice wide straps to hide a bra if one wants to wear such a thing. It’s also constructed so well that bras are optional when wearing it. I picked a pink and purple batik fabric because the world needs more colour, doesn’t it?

The books are an assortment of reference books and children’s books that relate to my curriculum plans for this year. I bought them from an online discount book seller, so it was nowhere near as expensive as if I had ordered from Indigo or any other retailer. Getting these books for $5-$10 each gives me permission to buy extras, right?

Yesterday, after I examined the nicest book of the bunch, I essentially became my dad.

“E, come here. Isn’t this beautiful? It’s our new atlas!”

Yes, I got super excited about an atlas. The Times Concise Atlas of the World, to be exact. There are satellite images and maps of all kinds of things like tectonic plate borders. It’s so cool! And yet, E politely came over to the table when I called her, peered at a couple of pages, feigned a modicum of interest, and then… walked away.

I don’t know why she’s not more excited about seeing our world depicted in all these different ways; I do know, however, that I wouldn’t have been excited at her age. I have many memories of my dad urging me to appreciate what a beautiful dictionary/atlas/nature guide he was holding, and me thinking, “When can I go play?” Sorry, dad. I get it now. Maybe we can look at my new atlas together.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff

Day 462: Quality over Quantity

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know about my goal of using Amazon less (because of their unethical business practices) and local, fair-trade vendors more. Sure, the products are more expensive (often by a factor of 3 or more,) but that’s okay because Mr. December and I would rather have a small number of high-quality things than tons of cheap stuff.

But what happens when our values collide with necessity?

When I got the summer camp packing list, my first thought was, “My kids don’t have that much clothing!” We do laundry either once or twice a week, which means that in any given season we need maximum eight of anything—shirts, pants, socks, underwear, whatever. When we travel, we aim for just four days’ worth of clothes, and we do laundry every three or four days. We just don’t need that much stuff. Besides, as I once read somewhere, “Wearing different clothes everyday is an American obsession.” If the clothes aren’t stinky or visibly dirty, they can be worn again.

Mr. December would go farther with that and say that it doesn’t matter if they wear dirty clothes at camp. And they don’t need four sweaters, he’d argue, because the kid can wear all of their t-shirts at once to keep warm. Also, if their shoes get wet they can just wear wet shoes for a while. Problem solved.

I agree with him, to a degree. It’s camp. You’re in the woods. It doesn’t matter if there’s a stain on your sweatshirt from yesterday’s dinner. Just wear it.

(We used to wear the same clothes for a full week on our canoe trips, only changing our underwear and occasionally washing our t-shirts in the lake. Yes, we stank. No, none of us cared. And now my Mum is reading this and cringing. Sorry, Mum!)

I also tend to agree that kids don’t always need doubles of everything. It’s good for them to learn that no great misfortune will befall them if they have to wear sandals while their running shoes dry out. A little stoicism wouldn’t hurt these kids, I assure you.

Alas, the way laundry is done at camp my kids will only have about half their clothes with them at a time, so they do need at least twice as much as I would have thought reasonable. And since the kids just don’t own that much clothing, there’s lots of shopping to be done.

Ideally I would like to steer clear of fast fashion and things that were made in sweatshops, and instead invest in responsibly-made clothes. But first, things that go to camp might get ruined by the industrial laundry service or might not come back at all. That’s not the place for clothes that could be described as an “investment in a few good pieces.” Not to mention the fact that since I’m not willing to stand in line to get into a thrift shop, the cost of outfitting three kids with fifteen days’ worth of ethically-made clothes would be staggering.

I think you already know that reality steamrolled my lofty sartorial-ethical goals completely. It grates on me a bit every time I go back to my old, cheap standbys… but obviously not enough to make me want to spend ninety dollars on a single bathing suit that might not come back home. I’m trying not to sweat it; once all the camp purchases are finished I can go back to choosing quality over quantity.

Camping it up · Kids · Sartorial stuff · waxing philosophical

Day 460: Heirlooms

After my post about needing twenty-four towels for three kids to take to camp, my parents and my in-laws offered me stacks of towels. Curiously, among the stack from my in-laws’ house was a towel with my younger brother’s name on it. I actually remember this towel as one of those my parents sent to camp with my older brother—the very same camp my kids are going to, as a matter of fact. It probably ended up at my in-laws’ house after one of the canoe trips Mr. December and I took with his friends in university. Whatever the reason, my kids will be taking their Uncle G’s towel to camp this summer. I’ve never heard of an heirloom towel, but there’s a first time for everything.


I could actually send someone to camp with a sleeping bag used two generations ago; forget about printed labels, this one has my aunt’s name embroidered into it (by hand, not machine.) I’ve opted not to because sleeping bag technology is way better and the bags pack up much smaller than the old ones, which matters when you’re taking it on a canoe trip.

K had her pick of three sleeping bags. The one she chose had my maiden name on it in Sharpie marker—it’s the one I took on canoe trips and to overnight camp as a counsellor. I didn’t try to cover over my name or black it out, I just wrote hers in under it. Very briefly, I had a vision of K in twenty-five years’ time, writing her child’s name under her own.


My kids view this stuff much less sentimentally than I do. K was in need of a fourth sweatshirt for camp and I offered her one that I stole from Mr. December’s closet in high school (because it smelled like him.) It’s a vintage Roots sweatshirt, the kind that was all the rage in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that Mr. December wore in his teens—it quite possibly went to camp with him. It definitely went to camp with me in my early twenties, because it has my name tag sewn into it. Kali admired it, tried it on… and pronounced it “kind of scratchy.” Any dreams the shirt had of making a camp comeback were crushed.


If nothing else, what I’ve learned from these reflections is that some things actually are made to last. Some people’s family heirlooms are things like an ugly vase that everyone wishes would fall and break, but nobody has the guts to just throw out; our heirlooms are sleeping bags, sweatshirts, and (apparently) towels. I can live with that—I value function over form, after all.

Camping it up · el cheapo · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · Sartorial stuff · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 453: I never learn.

I feel like I’ve spent my entire day shopping online. If I have to look at one more sizing chart, I’ll scream: every few minutes I called a different kid over to my desk to be measured for clothing sizes. I managed to find bathing suits for all three big kids—no mean feat when you realize that the fashion and retail sector is always one season ahead of us. I had a hard time finding bathing suits at all, because all the summer stuff seemed to be on clearance and the only sizes left were for four-year-olds.

I thought we had all the large duffel bags we needed; but when I went to bring them upstairs so the kids could start packing, I found that two of the bags were shedding little bits of their waterproof coating all over the place. They had to go.

(It’s not like those bags owed us anything—they accompanied Mr. December and his brother to summer camp 30 years ago—but I was just so happy to think that at least I had luggage squared away.)

I decided to focus on bedding for a bit, so I went to the IKEA website and started loading things like inexpensive comforters into my cart. On a whim, I searched for “laundry bag” (because I needed those, too) and found this:

Image description: screenshot of the IKEA website. The product is a blue rectangular bag with handles, called FRAKTA. It sells for $3.99 and holds 76 litres.

It’s a 76-litre bag made out of the same indestructible material as those huge blue IKEA shopping bags you can buy at their checkout. This huge bag has zippers, carry handles, and shoulder straps (backpack-style.) And it costs $3.99. Four dollars for a bag that will probably never die? I hit “Add to cart” a few times.

And then I was sorely disappointed—again. IKEA has the worst e-commerce site I’ve seen in a while. They don’t tell you if an item is in stock for delivery until you get to the very end. So there I was, happily about to check out, when I was informed that the bag was out of stock for delivery. And for pickup. There were exactly zero 76L FRAKTA bags in their entire system. I almost cried.

And do you know where I ended up buying about half of today’s purchases? That’s right, Amazon.

So to recap, here are the lessons I should learn from today… but probably won’t:

  1. Don’t wait until bathing-suit weather to buy bathing suits—they’ll be sold out. The time to find swimwear for the kids is April.
  2. IKEA stuff looks promising but you’ll be disappointed somehow. (Didn’t we just cover this with the window shades, like, less than a week ago?)
  3. Despite your best efforts to buy from small local vendors, when you’re up against a deadline of any kind, or when you’re price sensitive, you’ll end up on Amazon. Again.

Lesson 1 I really should have learned the first time I had to buy bathing suits for camp, seven years ago. Lesson 2… well, as I said above, we just had this conversation last Friday. And lesson three… I’m still resisting, but sometimes it just seems inevitable.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn from today’s adventures, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour—which leads me to believe that after all these learning experiences, I’ve still learned nothing.

community · Early morning musings · el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · Sartorial stuff

Day 450: Bagels, Bugs, and Buying Shoes

Our day started early. We were scheduled to be at the community orchard for volunteer duty at 8:30; the kids resisted the idea of an early (for a Sunday) wake-up. In the face of their complaints, Mr. December and I did what any good managers would do: we added an incentive.

“Here’s the deal: Abba will be walking to the bakery to get fresh bread, and then he’ll head to the park. If we get there by 8:10 we’ll have time to eat our fresh bread for breakfast before the volunteer shift starts.”

It was beautiful out this morning as we enjoyed our fresh (still warm!) bagels and cream cheese at the long harvest table in the park. The kids even got there early enough to play for a bit before our work began.

Our job is to monitor the insect traps: we have to empty them through a strainer, examine and identify the bugs we caught, then rinse and refill the traps with bait and return them to the trees.

All the kids were on board a few weeks ago when we built the traps and mixed our first batch of bait. But this morning, as they saw the bugs collecting in the sieve, three of them backed away and asked the Orchard-Person-in-Chief for a different assignment. R and N spent some time digging and weeding in the pollinator garden bed while E was assigned the task of inspecting all the fruit trees for gypsy moths and ladybugs (squish the former, save the latter.)

K was my partner in entomological fun. She took some remarkably good pictures of the bugs we found. We spent a significant amount of time googling moth identification images and trying to figure out why the colouring was off; geniuses that we are, it was twenty minutes before we realized that the colouring was off because the moths had been sitting in a molasses-and-cider-vinegar bath for a few days. Of course. We confirmed that they were gypsy moths and then identified the cherry fruit flies (did you know they have stripes on their abdomen?). We even found a huge spider and her breakfast leftovers—half of a fly.

By 9:30 Mr. December and the two older kids had headed home to start their school day; R kept on weeding the pollinator bed while E and I went hunting for ladybugs to relocate to the aphid-infested plum tree.

I’m sure you had no idea—I certainly didn’t—but getting immature ladybugs off of their leaves is worse than getting four kids to leave the house… and the ladybugs can’t be bribed with bagels.


After the fresh bagels, the volunteer time in the orchard, and learning formal logic with the kids, I discovered that my feet fit into youth size six shoes. Why does this matter, you ask? Because I want a pair of Keens, and the kids’ sizes are nearly half the price of the adult ones—and they come in way better colours, too. And, as I put it to Mr. December:

“If I can buy kids’ shoes at half the price of the adult ones, does that mean I can get two pairs?”

DIY · IKEA · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff · whine and cheese

Day 447: FFS

Today can be summed up in a single word:

ARRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!

Okay, fine. Not a word. But that’s not the point.

I had a day without kids today—a full day to catch up on all kinds of big and little tasks. I had plans.

I picked up the blackout roller shades I had ordered. The ones in the library looked pretty good (given that the library colour is hard to match) and they went up fairly easily once I understood the system. Too bad one of them seems to be defective—the rod isn’t working to raise and lower them. Strike one.

I then went upstairs to start installing the shades in my bedroom. I got two (out of four) of them up; then I realized that the curtains will catch on the roller shade mounting brackets, which doesn’t bode well for long-term use. Also, one of the two is malfunctioning the same way as the one in the library. Strike two.

“Just stop buying from IKEA!” Mr. December blurted in exasperation. “They have cool ideas but their window stuff doesn’t work!”

Oh, and while I was installing one of the bedroom shades, I bend down to swap out the screwdriver head (the alternate one was on the windowsill and I was on a stepstool.) I straightened up to finish the job and—THUD—hit my head on the top part of the window casing. Ouch. Strike three.

I prayed that this knock on the noggin would be nothing and I wouldn’t even have to mention it to anyone. My head had other plans, though. As I climbed off the stepstool I felt just a bit woozy—kind of dizzy, kind of “off”—and grudgingly admitted this might be a very mild concussion. I lay down to rest a while.

Tonight I’m shopping (seems like that’s all I do these days) for some clothes for Mr. December. He was jealous of my hiking pants last weekend, so I was ordering some for him. Also shorts. Then I saw that they had sundresses with pockets that I knew the girls would love, so I put those in the cart too. Swim shorts for N were $15. And so on, until I was ready to check out… at which point I realized that I was on the U.S. site, not Canadian, and that the fabulous sale prices were only available in the U.S.

Which strike is that? Four? I’m starting to lose count.

At least today is over, and four strikes in one day isn’t such a bad score; I’ve had much worse. I’m going to go make a cup of tea, enjoy some kid-free downtime with Mr. December, and then—

RING, RING

Just a minute—

“Hello? Oh, hi, Mum… they want to come home? Okay, sure… see you soon.”

Scrap that. Back into mommy mode. Kid cuddles, here I come.

DIY · Early morning musings · fame and shame · Keepin' it real · Sartorial stuff · whine and cheese

Day 446: In which I surrender to the sun.

Look, I’m not giving up, I’m…

Okay, fine. I’m giving up.

I no longer believe that the curtains in our bedroom are going to be able to keep it dark enough in the face of direct sunlight in the mornings. Right now it’s dark enough only because most of the windows are blocked off with cardboard (it looks really classy from outside, I tell you.) That’s not a long-term solution, not for me at least. Mr. December would just as soon paint all the window glass black and call it a day.

At the beginning of this whole saga, I could have just bought a few blackout roller shades and added some curtain panels on top to take care of those pesky lines of light around the edges. But no, I had to have something that looked good because our house was so cool. Roller shades were just so… blah. Not attractive at all.

That’s why I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but here goes:

I just bought blackout roller shades to install in our bedroom, behind the curtains, to help block out more of the light.

Yep, exactly the kind of shades I didn’t want to install in the first place.

See why I say I’m giving up?


In other sun-related news, summer is unofficially here—and with it, the first sunburn of the season. I hope my body at least managed to finally make some of its own Vitamin D. If I needed to draw a self-portrait in crayon or marker, I’d be able to use the one marked “berry red sunburn” instead of my usual (boring) “peaches and cream-would-do-wonders-for-that-redness-on-your-pale-face-you-know.”

Don’t worry, though, it only has to happen once for me to just wear a sunshirt if I’m going outside for the rest of the summer. Just like with returning library books, I’m too absent-minded to be trusted to put sunscreen on consistently.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be swimming in Aloe Vera gel.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Fibro Flares · Sartorial stuff · The COVID files

Day 443: A pain in the…

My legs hurt. I mean they really, really, really hurt. I’m thrilled, though, because it’s not fibromyalgia pain. No, my leg muscles are killing me in the way any muscle protests overexertion. If I rest and then stand up, my legs scream at me; if I keep moving them, they gradually downgrade the screaming to a pitiful whine. Once I had figured this out, I committed to a six kilometre bike ride with R. My legs felt better while biking. Now that I’m sitting down they’ve decided to scream again, but that’s okay. As the song says, it hurts so good.

I forgot to tell you that the real winner of yesterday’s debacle was…

(drumroll)

My new pants. They were everything they promised to be: stretchy, comfortable, lightweight, and—best of all—aside from the patch of dirt on the back, dirt-resistant: after I had brushed them off with my hands I could have worn them to a restaurant with a nice blouse. I mean, if a restaurant near me was actually open, which reportedly won’t happen until at least June 14. Anyhow, my pants were so great that Mr. December noticed and asked me to buy him a similar pair.

(He probably wouldn’t have noticed my pants at all except that the shorts he was wearing had inferior pockets that didn’t hold his phone securely enough. I ended up with the important stuff in my (roomy, zippered) pockets. It was quite the role reversal, I tell you.)

In the meantime, we got the Keens sandals I ordered for everyone on Friday. After carefully measuring each person’s feet and matching the measurements up on the sizing guide, the shoes were all one size too big for their respective owners. So back they go, and we’ll have to try ordering a size down.

(Look, I get that shoe stores weren’t essential during the first wave of COVID, but it’s been fifteen months and my running shoes have holes in them. If they don’t open shoe stores soon, I’ll just have to hire my own personal courier to take care of all the back-and-forth returns and exchanges. I may be adept at online shopping, but I need to actually try on several pairs of running shoes before making my choice.)

On the whole I have to say that it wasn’t a terrible weekend as long as you don’t count the hike. The weather was nice and warm, the sun was shining, I had a lovely bike ride today, and the pain in my legs isn’t a fibro flare. In the words of my late neighbour, Olga, I am thankful.

fame and shame · Sartorial stuff

Day 388: Close Encounters with Customer Service

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to wean myself off Amazon and instead support local businesses and ethically made products instead. The thing is, Amazon has really perfected the logistics—the correct stuff arrives the next day, and returns take a few small clicks and a walk to the mailbox. In contrast, the local businesses have taken a bit more time to deliver, and returns have required a bit more effort. One place even sent me two of a completely different item than the one I’d ordered. All of this, and they’re more expensive than Amazon by far. But can you really put a price on treating your workers fairly? Well, yeah. And this is it.

On the upside, any interactions I’ve had with customer service at these businesses have been very positive. Here are three of my favourites.


Dear Encircled,
I love the dressy leggings I bought from you, but I’ve washed them once (cold water, gentle wash) and the stitching is coming undone on the inner thigh. I’ve attached a picture. Is this a quality control issue?
Thanks,
Decemberbaby

Dear Decemberbaby,
That is certainly a quality control issue! I’m so sorry this happened. I’m sending you a shipping label so you can return the leggings to us—we’ll take a look at them to see what went wrong in production. I can either send you a replacement pair or refund your money. Which do you prefer?
Encircled Customer Care

Dear Encircled,
I’d love a replacement pair. These leggings are the best leggings I’ve ever worn!
Thanks,
Decemberbaby


Hi KnixTeen,
I bought a pair of underwear from you, ordering the correct size according to your sizing/measurement chart. They’re super soft and comfy, but they keep slipping down. Is this an issue of size? Or is there a different cut or style that might stay up better?
Thanks,
Decemberbaby

Hi Decemberbaby,
Sounds like those are definitely too big for you. Since this is your first purchase from us, I’d like to send you a new pair in the next size down. We can’t take back the original pair due to health regulations, but we ask you to please wash them and then either donate them or pass them on to someone who can use them.
Thanks for your business,
Knixteen Customer Service


“Reflections, how can I help you?”

“Hi, I just received an order from you today. The invoice is correct, but the items in the box do not match the invoice.”

“Can I have your invoice number, please?”

I recited the number.

“I see you ordered a stuffed animal. What did you receive instead?”

“Two tote bags filled with miniature stuffed animals and hardcover books.”

“Okay, I know which ones you’re talking about… I’m going to go ahead right now and ship you what you originally ordered, but my boss isn’t here right now, so I don’t know whether he’s going to want to have you ship it back to us. We’ll be in touch about the return label.”


I know, I know. The first and last examples are simply corrections of mistakes made by the vendors in the first place, but they were so nice about it. As for the middle one… who says, “Yeah, you bought the wrong size, so we’re just going to send you a free pair of the right size.”? Well, these guys do.