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

Day 488: Isn’t it Ironic?

My kids’ summer camp has a system where parents can send an email to their kids, and then the kids write a message back that gets scanned and emailed to the parents. I think snail mail and real letters are more fun, but then again I also understand the relationship between a cassette tape and a pencil—by which I mean, of course, that I might be just a bit old-fashioned.

Anyhow, I decided to try it. I sent emails to all three kids; by the next day I had two replies, each consisting of two sentences along the lines that I’ve come to expect. Nothing from K, though.

That was on Sunday. Today I finally received K’s reply. You can imagine my excitement when the preview on my screen showed an entire page of text written in K’s cursive (which is way better than her printing.) A real letter! Finally! I clicked “print.”

When it emerged from the printer, I could have cried. It wasn’t that the on-screen preview had poor resolution, it was that I could barely see what K had written. Clearly she wrote her message in mechanical pencil (which she favours) or with some other pen that doesn’t scan well. I feel like the guy in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.” Finally, I have a nice long letter to read! It’s in my hands! And… it’s unreadable.

I spent some time trying to guess at words and letters. I made a darker photocopy to see if it would help (it did and it didn’t.) At one point I was starting to feel like an archaeologist trying to piece together an ancient manuscript.

Image description: a page of nearly indecipherable writing on white paper with a dotted border line. Instructions at the top say “write your message inside the dotted lines.”

Sadly, just like piecing together an ancient manuscript, deciphering this letter won’t be the work of a few minutes. I’m going to hunker down with some bright lighting and several different copies and see what I come up with.

ADHD · Camping it up · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 487: He gets it from me.

Dear Eema,

Thanks for your letter. Please send me more letters.

Blah blah blah blah blabbity blah blah.

There. Now it’s long enough. I can go get tuck.

Love, N.

My response:

Dear N,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter you sent. I loved the story about how blah blah blah blabbity the blah in blah. You have such a way with words.

I can’t wait to see what you write next.

Love, Eema.

I think we can all agree that the kid is a creative genius, right?

I mean, first a giant “Hi!” and now the blah story. How can I possibly compete with that? (I welcome your suggestions.)

The girls have written similarly short letters. All they have to say is that camp is fine, and also can I please send:

  • More fidget toys
  • More Rainbow Loom
  • Candy
  • Candy
  • Their Ritalin
  • Candy
  • What about the Rainbow Loom?

As it so happens, I will be sending more fidget toys and Ritalin. I guess I can stuff some Rainbow Loom into the package as well.

There’s no need to wonder where N gets his sense of humour. I was reminded of that fact as I worked on our homeschool yearbook today. I needed something eye-catching and fun for the first page, and settled on “We heart BFHS because…”

I, in all my smartass glory, invented a few quotes to complete the sentence:

  • “I can go to class in my pyjamas. And there’s no homework.”
  • “I feel like they’ve known me all my life.”
  • “The teachers will do anything to help the students succeed.”
  • “I feel at home here.”
  • “I’ve learned more here than I did at any other school.”
  • “Because why not?” (N’s current favourite thing to say)

And then at the bottom, below a bunch of photos: “BFHS. Like one big, happy family.”

See? My kids come by their smartassery honestly. Actually, from both sides of the family. They never had a chance of escaping it.

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

Day 480: Monologuing

Today the kids’ overnight camp sent us an email with a link to view pictures of the last few days at camp. I clicked immediately, of course. Had you been inside my head at the time, you’d have heard the following.

Let’s start with July 9. Not my kid… not my kid… not my kid… oh, that’s my friend’s kid. He’s in N’s cabin. N must be somewhere in this set. Hmm… they’re playing basketball… his friend has the ball… where is N?

Oh, there he is. Of course. He’s standing on the bleachers—wearing fuzzy pajama pants and a fedora—chatting with another boy. Why am I not surprised?

Moving on…

That redheaded girl looks familiar. Oh! That’s R’s bestie. I bet R will be in a few pics from this batch.

I’d know that bathing suit anywhere. Nice to see that R is wearing her long-sleeved sun protection suit. Oh, and here’s one of her and her friend snuggled together in a beach towel… and here they are, learning how to play volleyball. Better them than me—I hate volleyball.

There’s K. The fuzzy purple sweater was a dead giveaway; it makes her look like she’s part Muppet, and the shaggy hair does nothing to combat that image. Oh, look—she’s making a boomerang in woodshop. They’d better not be teaching her how to use it.

Everyone’s dressed up and looking clean—must be Shabbat. Why is everyone but N sitting in their folding camp chair? Did his chair ever make it to his cabin after we dropped it off? Well, at least his tuxedo-printed t-shirt looks dressy.

While I was perusing the photos, I got a call from camp.

“Everything’s fine! I just wanted to tell you how K is doing.”

Apparently K has rated camp at a 7/10 because of COVID but was adamant that it could never score 10/10 because she’s not allowed to have her phone with her. Furthermore, she’s already identified the unequal treatment of campers based on gender (boys are allowed to walk around shirtless, while girls can’t wear crop tops.) Not that I was worried about her adjusting to camp, but it’s still reassuring to know that K is comfortable enough at camp to be herself… her injustice-detecting, opinionated, phone-loving self.

I wrote each of them a letter and packed it with their stationery, so K, N, and R will see my letter as soon as they open up their kit to write one to me. Still, I should probably write to them again soon.

Or I could just print and send all of my recent blog posts. They might like that better.

Mr. December and I got our second COVID shots today. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, don’t worry—I hear the fever and chills rarely last longer than a day.

Camping it up · hackin' it · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 461: Terrycloth Tetris

I’m having fun.

Having to inventory and then buy all the kids’ stuff for camp is a pain in the butt. But packing? That’s seriously fun. And hacking the packing… even better.

I’ve only sent my kids to overnight camp once before, but apparently I totally nailed the packing last year. The kids were especially fond of their bedrolls; to make it super simple to make up their beds, we laid out all the bedding on the floor as if it was a bed, then folded the sides in and rolled the whole thing. When they got to camp, they just unrolled it and tucked the corners of the fitted sheet under the mattress. Done.

They asked me to do it again this year; today I put together N’s bedroll for him. Then I had an inspired idea for the towels: I used some random zippered nylon cubes (from where? I don’t know) to pack the towels. When the kids get to camp they can keep their clean towels in the cube on their shelf or under their bed so they don’t end up all over the place.

Um, Sara? you’re saying, Why are you telling us this? This is the most mundane, boring blog post I’ve seen from you since that time back in 2012.

Moving on…

I think I might pack all the kids’ stuff in packing cubes. Or even better, those vinyl packages with zippers that bedding sometimes comes in. It’ll keep everything organized and let them see all their stuff.

What I’m really saying is that I love how compact and neat everything looks when it’s packed in cubes. I re-packed K’s towels a few times before I got them to fit perfectly into the space. The dopamine hit when I succeed at doing it just right is as good as when I finally find the most elusive puzzle piece or when I pack the dishwasher so that everything fits in perfectly.

Am I weird?

You know what? Don’t answer that. Just let me bask in the satisfaction of well-packed towels.

Image description: two zippered vinyl cubes containing rolled-up towels.
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.

family fun · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 451: Yearbook

This afternoon I sat the kids down to discuss their final writing assignment of the year: our homeschool yearbook. Like everything else we do, it started out as a tongue-in-cheek kind of lark, but will probably end up being a really great keepsake.

Image description: The kids sitting around the dining room table, with a laptop open to photobook editing software. There are bowls of popcorn on the table too, because meetings are better with snacks.

We started by listing all the things we wanted to include:

  • A message from the principal
  • Photos of the teachers, by subject
  • Student clubs (puzzle club, swing in the attic club, challah baking club, etc.)
  • Field trips and special events
  • A page for each subject with pictures of class activities and a short description
  • Feature: winners of the prestigious “student of the year” award (one per grade)
  • The “most likely to…” list
  • What happened in the world this year (“For context,” K said.)
  • Autograph pages (so students can sign each others’ yearbooks, and teachers can sign them too.)

I demonstrated how to use the photobook website, uploaded all the homeschool-related pictures from my camera, and then retreated to my desk to eavesdrop on them. Listening to them take charge of a project never gets old.

Mr. December is already chortling to himself about the banal messages he’s going to write in every kid’s yearbook: “Have a great summer” and so on. I was going to be just slightly more creative by signing every child’s book with “Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favourite student.” Too cheesy?

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · fame and shame · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 444: How we Roll

“Honey, I’m trying to write this blog post, but my writing is just flat.

“Is that your opening joke?” Mr. December asked.

“What? No—oh. I see. No, it wasn’t. But maybe I spoke too soon? It shouldn’t be too hard to change gears.”

He mimed a rimshot.

“Okay, fine,” I murmured. “I’ve made a start. Might as well roll with it.”

A few weeks ago the chain on E’s bike started coming off the gears. Then R complained that the hardest gear on her bike was feeling an awful lot like the easiest. I can manage small bike repairs, but I had neither the skills nor the time to take on the task, nor the tune-ups that all of our bikes desperately needed.

I went online and looked up a mobile bike repair guy whom we’d met a couple of years ago at the Wychwood Barns market. The website had a simple online service request form; I filled it out and waited.

I soon had a message saying that Matteo (of Matteo’s Bike Repair) was booked up for the next few months, but Percy had space on his schedule for us. I had met Matteo in person but had no idea who this Percy guy was. Was he any good? When I contacted Matteo I felt like I was dealing with a known quantity; Percy was a mystery.

As it turned out, Percy was exactly who we needed. A former homeschooled kid himself, he took the time to explain to the kids not just how the different parts of a bike work, but the science behind it all. He was endlessly patient and good-humoured—even in the face of N’s standard two-dozen-or-so interruptions. And he immediately said “Yes!” when I offered popsicles. I do like an adult who appreciates popsicles.

By any standard, this was a successful class and a fabulous homeschool day. All four kids learned how to lubricate their bike chains, adjust the brakes, and pump up the tires. R got some hands-on experience in tightening her gearshift cable and removing and reinstalling the pedals. And we now know an awesome bike repair guy, just in case any of our Toronto friends ever need one.

family fun · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 441: Early to Bed, Early to Rise

We have big plans for tomorrow.

We’re doing a hike from Felker’s Falls to Devil’s Punchbowl. If you’ve never heard of these places, well… neither had I.

It’s supposed to be quite hot tomorrow, and it’s the weekend, and nothing else is open yet, so we’re going very early to beat the heat and the crowds. The backpack is loaded with snacks, water, band-aids, toilet paper (just in case,) hats, sunscreen, and bug spray.

Am I forgetting something? Probably. I’ll let you know tomorrow afternoon.

I leave you with this picture of the packaging that Mr. December’s company deemed necessary to ship him his new security badge. Just so we’re clear, we’re talking about something the size of a credit card, which is relatively flexible and could probably be sent registered lettermail. Instead, they send a large box (the size of a smallish microwave) marked “FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE” and stuffed with plastic pouches full of packing peanuts. On the pouches was written some pithy slogan about sustainability. Is that irony? Or something else?

bikes planes and automobiles · crafty · family fun · Homeschool · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 438: Why, Shutterfly? WHY?

First, the good news: I had a wonderful bike ride to and from the imaging clinic today, and my legs feel fine (so far, knock wood.)

Now, the other news:

Last night I decided it was high time to get working on our family photobooks. I mean, I’m only seven years behind, so it’s not urgent yet; but we all know how “important but not urgent” tasks keep getting delayed by the multitude of urgent situations that arise every week.

I’ve used Shutterfly very happily in the past, so I went back to their site, selected the size and style of book I wanted, and uploaded my photos. A banner across the top of the page announced “Try our new, improved design software!”

That should have tipped me off. In my (admittedly limited) experience, new and improved software is rarely an improvement.

I was quite proficient with their old design software. Not professional-level design, to be sure, but my photobooks all look pretty good (if I do say so myself.) So when I couldn’t figure out how to do the simplest things on Shutterfly, and when their “help” function failed to be helpful, I decided to see if there was a way to use their old software—sometimes there is.

There wasn’t. I howled in frustration: the old software was JUST FINE, thankyouverymuch. Why did they change it? WHY?!?!?!?

So it is that I’ve given up on Shutterfly. They could’ve had my business for the next ten photobooks. Instead they fixed something that wasn’t broken, and they’ve lost me in the process. Their loss, Mixbooks’ gain.

I must say, though, I’m really enjoying designing these scrapbook pages. It’s replaced my Facebook doomscrolling and my online games of Wingspan, and for that I’m thankful. I just love it when what I have to do and what I like to do are one and the same.

For your enjoyment (and mine,) here’s one of the spreads I finished today:

Camping it up · family fun · Independence · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 430: Undirected

You know, you can hold your breath and turn blue, or nag them for hours, and my kids still won’t have cleared the table; they’ll just bicker forever about who swept up more Rice Krispies or who unloaded the dishwasher last time and nothing will get done.

So it’s reassuring to know that the kids can formulate a plan, take action, and work together to achieve their goal. I mean, of course they can, because that’s what’s involved in building a couch fort; but somehow I’m always surprised that they can get it together to do anything.

Right now they’re carrying a tent as if it’s a chuppah, each kid holding a tent pole where it attaches to the corner. They have no choice but to work together and listen to instructions, seeing as they have to all move in the same direction or risk damaging the tent.

R and K have been asking us to let them sleep outdoors.

“We’ll sleep on the low wooden deck near the tree swing,” they told me.

“You’ll have to move the big pile of sticks off it and rinse the platform first,” I told them.

They went out and followed my instructions to the letter. Soon they were back saying, “There are bugs out there and we need to put something over us to keep them out. Like a tarp. Or some kind of net.”

“Or maybe a tent?” I asked pointedly. “We do have one.”

While retrieving the tent, K and I noticed the air mattress in its bag. K instantly decided it was also necessary.

I’m very happy that my desk is next to a huge window that overlooks the whole backyard, because this was fun to watch. The kids put up the tent with some basic instruction from Mr. December. Then they inflated the queen-size air mattress. And then they tried to put the mattress inside the tent. Now that’s entertainment.

Image description: After many failed attempts (first three pics) at getting the mattress through the tent door, they carried the tent and mattress back to the house (fourth pic).

I’m too impatient for my own good. After watching them for only a few minutes, I cranked the window open and told them to inflate the mattress when it’s already inside the tent. I should have watched to see how long it would take them to figure it out. I guess it’s not their fault: their dad is an engineer, and their grandfather is an engineer, and I believe it’s an engineering maxim that says, “If brute force isn’t working, you’re not using enough,” so they come by it honestly.

I just love watching kids—especially mine, but others too—play and work without adult direction. It gives me faith that one day they’ll be fully functioning adults.