el cheapo · Keepin' it real · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 295: Murderers.

My children are murderers, I tell you. Murderers!

The broken bodies of their victims are strewn across the living room, their cords severed and frayed, their headbands snapped. Poor things. They never stood a chance.

And what’s my role in all of this? I have to bring in new victims when the current crop are all dead. Today’s shiny new headsets are tomorrow’s junk. It’s a sad cycle.

Image description: close-up of several pairs of headphones, each broken somehow: a severed cord, one has exposed copper wire, broken headband, disconnected earpiece.

It’s not that my kids are maliciously trying to ruin every set of headphones I buy. It’s just that things happen. E leaves the computer quickly to go to the bathroom, forgetting that she’s wearing headphones, and the cord stretches to the breaking point. N, ever fidgeting with whatever he can get his hands on, plays with the cords until he’s peeled off the outer coating, exposed the wires themselves, and frayed the wires beyond repair. Or someone sits on a pair of headphones that were left on a chair, and the headband snaps. The kids are clearly not setting out to ruin their headphones, but somehow that’s always the end result.

I’ve bought cheap headsets so that I wouldn’t be upset about having to replace them. I’ve bought expensive headsets, hopeful that their higher-quality construction would protect them. They’re all useless now.

I’ve never bought cordless headsets: I avoided them because I assumed that the kids would wander away from the computer, take off the headsets somewhere else in the house, and promptly forget where. I still think that’s a valid assumption, but I can’t just go on luring unsuspecting headphones to their deaths: I need to try something different.

So today I ordered our first ever cordless headset (for the kids; I have my own), and it arrived this afternoon (curbside pickup.) It’s set up and functional. I hope it’s longer-lived than its wired predecessors; I guess time will tell.

family fun · Keepin' it real · parenting · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 258: There once was a family of six…

There once was a family of six
Whose kids did not like limericks
Blake’s The Tyger they knew,
and The Highwayman too,
But each lim’rick Mom read, they would nix.

An ambitious young homeschooling father
Asked one day, “Must it be such a bother
to get the kids working?
Why are they still shirking?
Is there something to do they would rather?”

For us it is tougher to feed
Our kids greens, than to get them to read.
With their noses in books,
They ignore pointed looks
And peruse a long, zombified screed.

One tweenager often will rant
To the nearest onlooking house plant
That her work is unfair.
Then, she pulls at her hair
And shouts, “I cannot do it! I can’t!”

One day was so terribly rough
That I sat up and bellowed, “Enough!
Stop your moaning and crying
As if someone’s dying.
No-one cares if you think life is tough!”


And this one, courtesy of Mr. December:

There once was a kid with a temper
Whose anger we just couldn’t temper
She said “you’re a jerk”
And the chicken went “Berk!”
Having kids is a caveat emptor.


I think that I’ve written enough
And my tone is becoming too gruff
So this post I’ll retire
Lest a coup I inspire.
Back tomorrow, with some sort of fluff.

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

Day 255: I’m Not a Tootah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 251: Registration

You can learn a lot about a school or a summer camp by the questions they ask on their registration form.

Is your child eager to attend camp? Or are they being “urged”?

Translation: We know some of you folks don’t give your kids any choice; please give us a heads up if that’s the case, so that when the kid refuses to participate or acts like a total jerk, we’ll at least have an inkling of why that might be.

Is your child aware of the educational and religious aspects of camp?

Translation: Please, please, please don’t make us to be the ones to tell your kids that they’re expected to pray after each meal and attend a class or two a week. It’s really best to start getting them used to the idea sooner rather than later.

Tell us about your child. What strategies work best for you?

Translation: We’ll only have your kid for eight weeks at the most, probably more like four. We don’t have time to waste on trial and error—and we want everyone to have a good time. Just tell us what to do with your kid so we can get on with having fun this summer.

Please describe any dietary issues or restrictions.

Translation: We want to know about allergies, obviously. We also want to know whether your kid is going to be one of the picky ones eating jam on bread for every meal. Does your kid eat vegetables at all? Are they super picky? On an all-carb diet? The more you tell us now, the more accurately we can order food to prevent waste. Otherwise we’ll be dumping chicken fingers down the gully every Wednesday night, and that never ends well. Just ask our custodian, Armless Joe.

Does your child take any medications to assist them with focus or attention?

Translation: We know that at least a third of the campers probably take ADHD meds during the year. You could answer “no”, but we’ll figure it out as soon as we meet the kids, so you might as well come clean now.

Are there any medications your child takes during the school year that they will not be taking at camp?

Translation: We know how tempting it is to take your child off their meds at camp. Please think carefully about whether that’s a good idea. For heaven’s sake, do you have any idea what it’s like to have four out of twelve campers in a cabin who are off their meds for the summer? You have seen your kid off their meds, haven’t you? Do you really wish that, times four, on a couple of eighteen-year-old counsellors?


Yes, I’ve sent in applications for three of my kids to go to summer camp. And yes, I was once a camp counsellor with a cabin of twelve 12-year-old girls, four of whom were off their meds for the summer, and one of whom was seeing a psychiatrist regularly but hadn’t indicated that on their medical form. That was a fun month.

No custodians named Joe were rendered armless in the making of this blog post.

education · snarky · The COVID files · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 118: “No News” is too Succinct

Everything feels like it’s up in the air about school in September. A few weeks ago our provincial government very helpfully laid out what they thought would happen. They declared that schools should plan for three possibilities:

  1. Full-time, in-person school
  2. Part-time in-person and part-time online
  3. Full-time online learning

At which point I rolled my eyes and intoned, “Thank you, Captain Obvious! Once again, you have saved my village!”

One might think that I’d have gotten used to “news” that contains nothing new; and yet I was annoyed by an email that came from one of our schools. I read it to Mr. December, interjecting my own comments:

Dear School Families, 

We hope you are having a wonderful summer, soaking up the sunshine and staying cool!

We wanted to keep you informed that we are working thoughtfully and intentionally

“Well, I should hope so!” I grumbled. “You wouldn’t want to tell us that you’re working thoughtlessly and unintentionally, would you?”

 in consultation with our school COVID committee —

“Do you suppose our school COVID committee knows something that our Province’s chief medical officer doesn’t?”

on a plan for the 2020-21 school year that will deliver a rich education, maximize in-person learning, and ensure the health and safety of our community. 

“In other words,” I translated, “They’re really hoping that this whole COVID thing goes away, because otherwise they have to come up with a magical plan that has eluded every other school in the world.”

Mr. December grinned. “They can’t exactly say, ‘The program this school year is going to be pretty lame, but we hope to see your kids in person once or twice a week; We’ll spend morning prayer time praying that nobody gets sick from our in-person meetings.”

— We appreciate your patience as we work out the final details of the plan.  We intend to share the plan with you by the end of next week.

“Is it just me, or does that sound like they have nothing yet?”

“Yeah, someone’s gonna be pulling one heck of an all-nighter next week,” Mr. December nodded sagely.

Shabbat Shalom, 

The School Team

Mr. December said, “This sounds like something Abraham Lincoln said; the writers managed to compress the most words into the smallest ideas possible.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “The TL:DR* should say something like, So far we’ve got nothing. Sit tight. We’ll get back to you.

“They probably spent several hours wordsmithing this email,” He pointed out.

“Still,” I sighed, “I suppose it was nice of them to write.”


*TL:DR = Too Long: Didn’t Read. In other words, a summary.

education · Kids · snarky

Day 85: How we homeschool

When I tell people that we’ve essentially eschewed e-learning from our schools in order to homeschool, they generally respond by saying something like, “I wish I knew how to do that” or “Wow, that’s so much work. Good for you.”

I have news for them, though. In my mind, it’s less work than e-learning with the schools. With e-learning I had to be constantly available to take care of technical issues (“Eema! Zoom disappeared!”). I also had to help explain work that I was unfamiliar with (like how a mandala relates to multiplication), which required me to first learn the work material and then teach it. Believe me, I do not have time for that with four kids.

Even leaving E aside for now (because she’s 5, and because out of all the schools I think hers has managed this the best,) providing that level of support for three kids was exhausting. There was another, larger problem, though: my kids have serious gaps in their knowledge.

How a child at the end of grade three can get excellent marks in math and yet be unable to add multiple digits with carrying, or subtract multiple digits with borrowing, is beyond me. Likewise for how any child can get past grade two and not know that sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a period… or even know how to form a capital letter. Admittedly the latter could as easily be my kids’ fault rather than the schools’. It’s entirely possible that they were particularly inattentive the week that was taught.

Nevertheless, we find ourselves needing to plug the gaps. Ever the engineer, Mr. December immediately recognized the need for what he called a “scalable” program, by which he means that doing it with four kids is not quadruple the effort of doing it with one. To that end, we decided to choose existing curricula.

As our resident math guy, Mr. December picked the Kumon math workbooks as our curriculum. He likes that they teach new things very incrementally, and that the kids can, by and large, work completely independently. Obviously, we’re still available for explanations and support (and marking), but the content delivery is primarily done by the book itself. The kids have all made excellent progress in math.

I mentioned previously that I had ordered a writing curriculum and was going to start the kids at the very beginning. That has been going well — most of my corrections are for neatness and punctuation. This series seems to move about as incrementally as Kumon math, and gives very clear explanations for each lesson, so it’s looking like a winner so far.

We’re not tackling any other subjects in any serious way as yet. Our primary goal is to fill the gaps in their skills. Later we’ll add some history, geography, science, Hebrew, and so on. We currently have an item on their list that says “watch a history video”, and Mr. December has curated a playlist on YouTube for that purpose, but there’s no work yet beyond watching and hopefully absorbing some information. When I see the opportunity to integrate schoolwork into our everyday life (like gardening,) I do, but again — there’s no program, no plan, and no long-term goal.

And how do we get them to do their work? Very simple: you’ve see our responsibility charts before. Their math, writing, and any other school work is part of those charts. If everything isn’t done by the end of the day, no privileges the next day. We don’t have to nag and they don’t have to be nagged. It works… and I am all about what works here. I used to be all about “intrinsic motivation” and self-directed learning, but that got us right where we are (which is to say several grade levels behind in a few areas,) so now we’re all about the checklists and workbooks — at least until we have some basic skills covered. After that, we’ll see.

And on a related note, we think we need a Latin motto for our homeschool. I proposed “semper oubi suboubi,” but got shot down. Any ideas?

blogging · education · snarky

Day 68: Clinging to the old ways

Earlier today we were speaking with my in-laws, and my father-in-law told us that he was at the post office because he needed to mail his taxes in.

“You mailed your taxes in?” Mr. December guffawed. “Why not just send them by autogyro? Or maybe a nice carrier pigeon?”

He probably should have ditched the mocking tone of voice. After all, we’ll be old one day too, and then we’ll cling to the way we’ve always done things. I’m starting tonight, in fact. WordPress just changed its publishing interface, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with it. Apparently there are blocks and containers that you can automatically fit text to? Where do I get a container? And what the heck is a block? I just want my old-fashioned WordPress back.

_______________

Speaking of clinging to the old ways, I discovered today that Mr. December is pretty old-school when it comes to homeschooling. While I think part of the beauty of homeschooling is the flexibility to make each day work for you, he feels that we need a rigid structure, including an early start. My argument, “Why would we not let our kids get however much sleep their bodies need whenever they need it?” was neatly parried with: “The kids are usually up and milling around for at least an hour before you wake up. This isn’t about them.” Mostly true, and a fair point.

We have, however, decided to set some academic goals for our kids over the summer. We’ve gone ahead and ordered several grades’ worth of Kumon workbooks, and I’m curating a summer reading list. Anybody have any suggestions? The only kids’ books I’m familiar with are the ones I read as a kid. I’m sure there’s some great new stuff out there among all the junk reading I’ve seen my kids devour.

Junk reading or great literature? You decide.

(Not that I have anything against junk reading; I’m a prime offender in that department. I’ve never met an R-rated Pride and Prejudice fanfic I didn’t like — Except for the ones that were just badly written, with terrible punctuation and the misuse of words. I don’t know how many times I have to yell at my phone screen about these egregious errors before the writers agree to read a grammar manual or two. I’m amazed at how many writers seem to think that Darcy could possibly decompose Elizabeth (I suspect they meant discompose), or how Lydia flaunting society’s rules does not mean the same thing as her flouting them. Yeesh.)

Right. So, non-junk reading — Suggestions are welcome. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some serious junk reading to attend to.

Shabbat Shalom!

blogging · family fun · love and marriage · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 50: Angry letters

“Write an angry letter,” Mr. December says every time someone complains about something petty; it’s a nicer way of saying, “Tell someone who cares.”

A lot of petty things seem to be bothering me today. It’s probably because R couldn’t fall asleep last night unless I was right next to her, and every time I tried leaving her bed for my own she started to wail. It was 1:30 a.m. before I made it back to my bed; and as wonderful as my husband and children are about letting me sleep in, I still wake up when I hear their voices.

Complaining without problem solving is not particularly constructive, so I’ve decided to write a few angry letters instead of just griping. I hope you enjoy them.

Dear Children,

Today’s dinner is hamburgers. Unfortunately, due to the fact that you couldn’t just eat bagels or sliced bread instead, there are now only three buns left. Your father and I will be eating two of the buns since we haven’t had ours yet. If you complain about having to eat open-faced or bunless burgers, I will gladly feed yours to the squirrels.

Love,
Eema

ps: Next time you see something in the pantry that we don’t usually buy, please ask us if it was bought for a specific purpose before you eat all of it. Thx.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been many years now since I’ve considered gas-powered mowers to be both air pollution and noise pollution. Sadly, most gardeners and lawn services don’t use electric or cordless electric tools. Some of them do have the decency to work while other people are (or used to be) out of the house at work or school; others, however, do not.

Dear Lawn-care Guy,

I’ve noticed that your regular maintenance of my neighbours’ lawn takes place on Sunday afternoons from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. I’m unsure if you’re aware, but Sundays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. are prime barbecue hours. In addition, while I admire your work ethic and high standards, I still cannot imagine why it takes you two hours to mow and trim a 35 by 80 foot patch of grass.

Your lawnmower, trimmer, and blower are the loudest yard tools I have ever heard — and I’ve vacationed next to a golf course that was mowed three times a week. The fumes from your tools are so noxious that we can’t use our backyard while you are working next door. Did you know that there are some excellent cordless yard tools available now that are both powerful AND quiet? Perhaps you could buy some. I’m sure you can make up the cost somewhere between the savings on gas and the exorbitant prices that drove me away from your service in the first place.

Sincerely,
The person giving you a death stare from my porch every Sunday at 4:35 p.m.

And the last angry letter of the day:

Dear Husband,

I am writing about how you ruined my blog post for today. I was writing angry letters and had only written two when you called me outside for a burger. Then you started the campfire… and brought out marshmallows and chocolate and graham crackers… and handed me my guitar.

By the time I got back to my computer to finish my post, I wasn’t angry anymore. My snarky attitude is gone and I just feel mellow. Why must you sabotage me at every turn?

In future, please consider my blog’s readers before you attempt to change my mood. Believe me when I tell you that anger and snark is way funnier than happiness.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation.
Love,
Your Wife

IMG_3509
Okay, fine. The sight of the kids having so much fun together might have had something to do with my attitude adjustment.

education · parenting · snarky · The COVID files · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 36: Fixed it!

Tomorrow my two youngest kids go back to virtual school. One school sent us a schedule that included Zoom classes as well as suggested activities for other parts of the day. The other school sent us a manifesto. It’s a shame that they didn’t take the time to edit it, though — a lot of it didn’t make sense. I’ve taken the liberty of fixing it up for them:

IMG_3327

  • Students’ on-line learning schedules have been revised to provide an age-appropriate balance of learning modalities satisfy the ever-changing whims of our demanding parent community.  An effort has been made to stagger live-stream classes in different divisions to minimize device-use conflicts for families with multiple children ensure that you will never get to use your own computer.  Helpful Tip:  the calendar function in the top left corner of Google Classroom provides a clear visual overview of a student’s weekly assignments and due dates is completely overwhelming for parents and students alike. Sorry – not sorry. 
  • Teachers are looking forward to seeing your children on-line, and students are expected to participate in live-stream classes.  If your child will be absent please email the school it had better be a life or death situation, because under what circumstances can you not attend a virtual class when you’re supposed to be staying home? 
  • Students should try to find a location conducive to effective learning (e.g. in a quiet location, at a designated desk rather than on the couch, etc…) such as a specially designed, soundproof, and fully-stocked homework station that will never be accessed by chocolate-smeared siblings belting out the lyrics to “Into the Unknown”.   We recommend that gym classes (and other classes, where possible) be done outside in the spacious backyards we’re sure you all have.
  • Parents are asked to encourage their children to be as independent as possible solve their own damn problems during their learning.  Once your child is set up, we ask that parents refrain from participating in the live-stream classes pour themselves a drink and take the opportunity to bone up on our uniquely convoluted methods of teaching math.
  • Teachers will continue to be flexible around deadlines where possible pretend that deadlines matter; nevertheless, we encourage students to complete the work assigned in a timely manner to avoid over-load.  If your child is struggling to complete assignments, please let your child’s teachers know you should probably just give up. I mean, it’s grade 3. If you have significant concerns around completion of work, please contact the Child Study Specialist of your Division a drink or two will help you chill out. 
  • As on-line learning moves into its 4th week, it is important that students receive feedback on their learning teachers look like they’re paying attention. Students should expect to see an increase in the feedback and assessment provided grading rubrics that provide no actual grades – as appropriate in different age groups.  End-of-year report cards will be distributed mildly fictitious, at best. If you believe your child you may require modifications due to significant difficulties with on-line learning getting your kids to do anything at all, please contact the learning specialist of your Division the parents of your child’s classmates to vent and compare notes.
  • Students are expected to abide by the general provisions of the school’s Code of Conduct to ensure a calm, respectful learning environment. that our teachers don’t quit in frustration and disgust.
  • Students should be dressed appropriately for school, which means wearing pants, and not pajama pants, either. following the school’s dress-code guidelines.
  • Students should not eat during live-streamed classes. Sweet merciful G-d, why do we even have to mention this one? For heaven’s sake, half of your children still chew with their mouths open!  
  • Breaches of the code of conduct may result in the removal of a student from an on-line class.  Persistent breaches may result in the loss of on-line learning privileges, which is probably what you’re gunning for, isn’t it? 

See? Fixed it for ’em! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post, in which I share the school’s indignant response to my impertinent butchery of their carefully-crafted communiqué.

Apathy · blogging · DIY · education · Kids · mental health · parenting · snarky · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 32: Please stop talking to me.

Disclaimer: This is a complaint-filled post. If you are “triggered” by privileged people complaining about their lives even though they have it better than 99% of the population, then you misunderstand the nature of my blog. Please go somewhere else. 

Y’all, I’m tired. Like, soul-weary tired. I can’t even. What’s the point? What is there to look forward to? Our well-planned family trip to the UK is probably not going to happen. K’s bat mitzvah is in January, but we don’t really know what the world will look like this January. Will a bat mitzvah with all our friends and family even be possible?

And there are people around me. All. The. Time. Even when I go to the bathroom, I’ve got people pounding down my door and insisting that it’s an emergency.

“What’s the emergency?” I bark at the kid who managed to pick the lock.

“I think my finger looks bruised.” Says the kid, oblivious to the fact that my pants are around my ankles and I’m holding a wad of toilet paper.

“Get. Out.” I growl.

“Can I have a hug?” The kid asks, coming towards me with outstretched arms.

This is not a one time occurrence. This conversation or one very much like it happens at least five times a week. Maybe I should post a flow chart on my bathroom door:

I need eema flow chart

You know, I just spent half an hour making that flow chart. This is what I do under stress. Flow charts, Bingo cards, top ten lists. Obviously a way better use of my time than identifying and solving my problems.

This afternoon I spent an hour ignoring my kids so I could get some work done. I set up my table saw and cut everything I needed to cut for as many projects as I could think of: a pullout desk in the library, shelves for inside my vanity cabinet, a new drawer for our violin bows. I just love running things through that saw. No matter how crazy everything else in my life gets, that saw always cuts straight and square. Perfection.

I was graced with a few moments of sunshine while I was working on the back patio, so I took the opportunity to take a couple of “look at me in my coveralls and work boots using big power tools” selfies.

I could tell you more about my day, but I won’t because I’m just out of clucks to give. So you won’t hear me rambling about how in the absence of matzah my kids made themselves black beans and salsa for breakfast, or about how truly confusing and crappy K’s school assignments are, or about the fact that today’s “counting the omer” good thing was “Choosing names for our future pet chickens.” (There are no pet chickens in our future, I can assure you.)

As I type this I’m praying that nobody calls for me or asks me anything, because right now the only words I can summon in response to “Eema?” are “PLEASE STOP TALKING TO ME!”

If I went to bed now, would my husband or kids notice? Let’s find out.