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

Day 180: Ask the 8-Ball

“Am I going to have a fun time at the cottage?”

As I see it, yes.

I only realized after they found it here at the cottage that my kids have never seen a Magic 8-Ball before. They crowded around it, asking all kinds of mundane and fantastical questions.

“Will I be alive in the year 3000?”

Signs point to yes.

They’re adorably serious about it. N likes to close his eyes, put the 8-ball to his forehead, and focus on his question. Then he shakes it violently before checking the answer.

“Is ‘Scrambled Eggs’ a good name for a chicken who looks like scrambled eggs?”

Definitely yes.

I don’t quite understand its appeal. It’s a novelty, isn’t it? Doesn’t that mean that the appeal should wear off? It hasn’t. A week into our time here, they’re still asking the 8-ball every question that crosses their minds.

“Will I start to become my dream self on this trip?”

Definitely yes.

Mr. December and I aren’t exempt from its pronouncements:

“Will Abba ever grow up?”

Don’t count on it.

I got into the spirit tonight and decided to see if the 8-ball knew better than I did. Disappointingly, it totally dodged the question.

“Will K clean up after dinner?”

Better not tell you now.

If not now, when? I can already answer the question myself. We finished eating forty-five minutes ago; the food and dishes are still on the table. Will K clean up? Decidedly no.

(Note: It wasn’t K’s job to clean up after dinner. I was just hoping she’d think it was.)

I find myself thinking about what the 8-Ball might say if it was marketed towards an “ethnic” audience. Is there a Jewish 8-Ball that answers your questions with more questions?

“Hey 8-ball, am I going to have a good time here?”

I should know?

Every good writer should do their research, so I turn to Google. My search reveals that I’m obviously not the first person to think of this. There’s a “Jewish Wisdom Ball” that answers questions with answers like “Feh”, “You call that a question?” and “You should be so lucky!”

“Hey, Jewish Ball of Wisdom, is this a good blog post?”

Better you shouldn’t ask.

Sounds about right. I know what my kids are getting this Hannukah.

education · family fun · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 174: KP

After our frustration with our children’s unwillingness to be helpful here, Mr. December and I decided to implement a better system than the one we have at home. No arguing about which chore belongs to whom: one person is on KP (Kitchen Patrol) for an entire day, and is responsible for preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Halfway through day one of this new system, it’s working well in that I haven’t had to do much. N took his turn today because the menu consisted mostly of things he already knows how to make: oatmeal for breakfast, grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch, and chicken fajitas — which he doesn’t know how to make but is about to learn — for dinner.

Since it’s his first full day on KP, N has a few things to learn: you have to start cooking a meal for six people at least half an hour before you want to serve it; you have to unload the clean dishwasher before you can load the dirty dishes; and you have to set up and clean up while everyone else is out having fun. He tried griping about that last one, but I looked at him and deadpanned: “I have no idea what that must feel like.”

We brought a lot of food up with us. Mr. December has remarked several times that we have way too much and won’t finish it before the end of the month. He clearly doesn’t cook for the family very often; if he did, he’d know that it takes a whole loaf of sliced bread and two packages of cheese to make grilled cheese for the family. We brought six dozen eggs, which he thought was ridiculous. I broke it down like this: a dozen eggs is a single breakfast for the family (along with a whole loaf of bread for toast), or two batches of challah dough (we’re here for four shabbat dinners as well as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which means we could probably get by on three batches of dough.) I know there are people who buy those little half-dozen cartons of eggs, but we’re not them.

“Okay!” He says, with his hands up in a gesture of innocence, “But look how many different kinds of bread there are! There’s so much of it!” And then I tick them off on my hands: pita, one dinner (with falafel and salads); naan, two bags will take us through two dinners of tandoori chicken; those six bags of flour tortillas will go quickly when we use them for PB&B wraps, quesadillas, and fajitas. I give it two weeks before we’re down to our last bag of bread.

K has just come outside. “I’m hungry,” she announces to me.

I check the time. “Well, we can tell N that it’s time to start getting dinner ready.”

“But I’m hungry now!” she whines, “and I can’t go in the hot tub as a distraction because the water is a weird colour because you guys didn’t add chemicals to it last night. Can you do something about one of those problems?”

I sure can, I think. Tomorrow I’m instituting a new daily job: Hot Tub Attendant. And since K seems to know what’s needed, I’m nominating her.

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

Day 172: I DID IT!!!!

Well, I packed the car this morning, with everyone looking at the assortment of crates and bags and saying, “it’s not gonna fit.” Boy, were they ever wrong. Behold the photographic evidence:

Above: The trunk of our Honda Odyssey, stuffed to the gills. Yes, there was still room for the six of us. Mr. December even got the entire passenger footwell to himself.

I decided that seeing this is really not as impressive as seeing how it all was put together in the first place, so I’m posting photos as each new column of stuff was revealed.

So once we removed the guitar, sand toys, a milk crate full of canned goods, and a few bags of groceries, you see the next set of stuff: Our cooler (by “ours” I mean “stolen from my parents with their well wishes,) a stack of my magical black crates, another milk crate of nonperishables, and some assorted groceries. You might also notice the shoes and rainboots stuffed into every crevice and cavity.

Over on the left you can see a bag that says “The Green Scene”. It’s in the area above what would have been an armrest for the back row, and it fits nicely into the window space. The clear containers next to it are full of our activities and materials; the stack of black crates is all of our clothing. To the right of those is a plastic container holding a monitor (Mr. December will be working from the cottage half the time.)

With the piles of crates gone, you can see the things we stuffed into the area between the seat backs and our crates: life jackets, packing cubes full of my clothes, toiletry bags, and six-packs of applesauce.

I was pretty proud of myself — possibly even prouder than I was when I managed to fit three carseats across the back seat of my Yaris. I danced my way over to Mr. December and said, “Who’s the master of Tetris and packing up the car? THIS GAL!” He had to agree. Wouldn’t you?

family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 170: Two More Sleeps

I’m not sure, but I might be drowning in lists.

There’s the meal plan and grocery list, with which I sat down and ordered all the non-perishables and a week’s worth of the perishables we’ll need. I’m baffled by the fact that the website didn’t have baskets of Ontario peaches (only the most delectable in-season fruit that exists.) I may have to just dash into a Sobey’s to get some.

I’ve got separate lists of things we’ll need for the High Holidays; materials for experiments and activities; books of experiments and activities; books for reading; board games; and art supplies.

Then there’s the clothing list, which I printed out six times to be used as a checklist by each member of the family. N seems to think that instead of a checklist, it’s a “scratch it out with bold pencil strokes so you can’t see what it said in the first place” list.

I repacked our first aid kit and confirmed that we have everything on our first aid inventory list, as well as the list of medications we take along. I’m practically a walking pharmacy (and is it weird that in addition to a thermometer, I’m taking a pulse oximeter, a peak flow meter, and a stethescope? For those of you just joining us here, I’m not a physician or a nurse, just a mom with an MD from Google University.)

I’m constantly checking in on my lists on Trello to make sure that I haven’t missed any important to-do items. Still firmly in the “not even started yet” column are: respond to the plans the landscaper sent us, test the new alarm system, choose our day trips, and make sure everyone has the necessary clothes and shoes. (Maybe I should have taken care of that last one before our last day at home.)

And then there’s my favourite: the list of lists and boxes. This is the checklist we run through before we get into the car to leave. First we check that all the other checklists are complete. Then we check off each crate, bin, box, or case that we’ve packed into the car. I love the list of lists for a couple of reasons: first, it’s the end of lists for the trip, and second, it’s the list that makes me feel uber-organized, super-prepared, and very, very smug.

That smugness will last right up until I realize that there was no checklist of children who should be in the car. I’ll do a panicked head count and then a roll call, and double-check with Mr. December that we only have four children and there isn’t a fifth back at the house about to enact Home Alone.

And then… vacation. I can’t wait. Just two more sleeps.

bikes planes and automobiles · Homeschool · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 169: Chatterboxes

Sometimes my kids just won’t stop talking.

We’ll be reading a book aloud when N’s eyes suddenly light up. Then he’ll start explaining how what we just read reminds him of this other thing, and this other thing is so fascinating because… and he’s off and running wherever his hyperactive mind takes him.

One the one hand, it’s adorable. I can practically see the neurons firing and the connections being made. And I know it’s great that he’s truly listening to what I’m reading and digesting it. But if left unchecked, his rhapsodies will go on and on for ten minutes or more, which is not appreciated when I’m reading to him and any (or all) of his siblings. R and K are not generally kind about it, and although I’ve tried to eliminate the phrase “shut up” from all our vocabularies, it tends to pop out when N digresses.

It’s usually K’s voice we hear: “Ugh! N! Shut up! We want to hear what Eema’s reading!”

Fast forward to our car, tonight. Mr. December had just finished telling N that since tomorrow is our last day of homeschool before a month’s vacation, he has to get up early and work hard (he’s been slacking off the last few days.) Apparently this triggered something for K, because she launched into a rant:

“Don’t you hate how they always do that at school? They advance so slowly at the beginning of the year, and then they slow down halfway through, and right at the end of the year they pile on the work!”

“Um, no,” Mr. December said, “I’ve never noticed that.”

“They totally do!” She continued, barely drawing breath, “It’s like, the first day of school you’re just sitting there doing a stupid word search and meeting the other kids in the class, even though you already know them because it’s the same kids every year, and why can’t they just get down to the hard work right away? It’s so annoying! It’s like they forgot that they wanted to get all this work in and so they have to cram it into the last month of school and it’s so hard and then there’s too much work and it’s crazy because they should have spread out the work all through the year instead of saving it up to make us miserable in June and –”

“Hey, K?” I interrupted, “You know how sometimes you get annoyed at N for going on and on about the same thing without saying anything new?”

“Yeah…” She nodded emphatically.

I waited. In three, two, one…

“Oh.” She said.

And there was silence. Blessed, blessed silence.

DIY · fame and shame · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 154: We Broke the Bed.

This morning when I woke up, I rolled towards Mr. December. That’s not odd in and of itself, but I hadn’t intended to roll that way — there was a huge depression in our mattress. When we finally made it out of the mattress (gravity is not your friend when you’re in a valley, it seems) we took it off the bed and saw this:

Looks like we broke the bed.

(Cue raunchy jokes here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

It absolutely should not have broken. We bought it new less than two years ago and have only ever used it for its intended purposes. On closer examination, however, I noticed that IKEA saved money by using finger-jointed pine slats instead of solid wood. Sure enough, the boards were broken neatly right at the finger joints. Not smart, IKEA. Not smart.

I tried to leave a review on their website to alert IKEA to this problem, but one technical glitch after another meant that their website categorically refused to accept my review. I wonder if that’s a bug, or a feature?

Anyhow, we clearly had to fix it today… which was fun, actually, because fixing it meant buying new boards, which meant going to Lowe’s, which is my happy place. And I biked, which is my favourite form of transportation. I hopped on the bakfiets with E, who wanted to come along for the ride, and we headed out along the trail (there’s a trail that starts a few blocks away and goes straight to Lowe’s without crossing any major streets.)

I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the lumber and E sharing space in the bike. But I did snap this quick and blurry photo of her riding on the cart at Lowe’s, after we had the boards cut. She was very helpful, actually — if she wants an apprenticeship, she’s hired.

Back at home, it was a pretty quick fix. I removed the old slats (keeping two of them, one for each end) and laid the new, wide, solid wood ones on the rails. To keep them in place and distribute the force more evenly I created floating joists by screwing the boards to a 2×2 that ran up the length of the bed. I left the ends of the floating joist a bit long, so that they slipped under the bed frame, and added an extra floating joist around the middle of the bed (a.k.a. the “bouncy zone”) for extra strength.

Here are a few closeups of the newly repaired mattress support:

I think this repair is solid enough to withstand any and all “intended uses.” And now that my bed is ready for me, I’m going to get reacquainted with it. Good night!

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

Day 139: Tinfoil Hat

The other night Mr. December and I sat down to watch a John Oliver episode on conspiracy theories. K joined us.

Somewhere along the line he made reference to “tinfoil hats” and K turned to Mr. December in confusion.

“What is a tinfoil hat? Why would anybody want one? It would look kind of stupid,” she added.

Mr. December explained it to her.

“Does it actually work?” she asked.

Now, here is where my (non-foil) hat goes off to Mr. December. He takes every opportunity to let the kids try things themselves. When K was three years old and obsessed with Charlotte’s Web, he helped her build a web out of yarn and then told her to sit on it to see if it held her up (it did.) When a dispute arose about the crispness of our baked potato wedges and I argued that they’d burn if we left them in any longer, Mr. December said, “Well, let’s see,” and put them back in the oven. It’s a trait that is both admirable and sometimes frustrating, but I love that he’s teaching the kids to test hypotheses.

Mr. December asked me to bring them a large piece of aluminum foil from the kitchen. Also, by the way, could I please give him my phone? I handed it over with the air of a long-suffering spouse.

He and K wrapped my phone in foil and then texted me from his phone. My phone stood still — no vibration or ring. They tried again. Nothing. When I unwrapped my phone, the messages came through.

“See?” Mr. December said, “It does actually work. But let’s just make sure. Let’s wrap up my phone.”

Here’s the weird thing: his phone was still able to receive messages while wrapped in the foil. We’re not sure why, but maybe his phone has a stronger signal or some other feature of newer phones (he has an iPhone X; mine is an old iPhone SE that preceded the iPhone 6. Bit of a jump, that.)

He wrapped up the experiment by telling K about Faraday Cages and how they stop electromagnetic radiation.

So during our evening in front of YouTube, K learned some physics, the scientific method, and tinfoil origami. Is this what they call unschooling?

Early morning musings · education · family fun · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 137: Overheard

A few sound bites from our day today, in no particular order:

“Why is your underwear in the garbage?”

“Please keep your tongue inside your head.”

“Stop licking me. You’re not a cat.”

“No, you can’t have more grape juice. You already had two refills… Of course I know that, I’m the one who poured them!”

“Listen, I know you’re bored. That’s no excuse for swinging your hammock into my elbow.”

“I’d take the sheep if I were you. It’s almost harvest time and you have no food!”

“Would you get off my farm and take your turn already!?”

“Hey, look! There’s a tiger carrying a unicorn, running along the beach! And he’s being chased by a reindeer!”

We went to the beach at 6 a.m., where we swam and I introduced Mr. December to a sun salutation (his downward dog could use some work.) When we came home, Mr. December asked what the kids were supposed to do today.

“I think it can either be a day off or an unschooling day,” I answered.

I’m not sure which of the two it ended up being. The kids built an epic fort with a giant cardboard box, enlisting me to make a latch for the door (problem solved with two popsicle sticks, two wooden beads, and a very neat machine screw with its own sheath-type screw. I don’t know what it’s called, but IKEA uses it to hold multiple bookcases together.) N read a whole lot of Horrible Science books, popping in to share the gruesome details every so often. We made challah.

Then I played Agricola (a board game) with E and R, which was agonizing. In retrospect, I should have known that they’d be more interested in creating plot lines for their little people-shaped player tokens and the Fimo livestock they raise. It was adorable that whenever they took a “family growth” action (where you add an extra player token to your board) they needed to discuss names and genders of the new family member, but by the second hour I was getting antsy.

“Just give everybody five food and skip to the last round,” Mr. December advised. I took his advice and silently added some of my own: do not play this game with these girls while they’re still interested in playing with dolls.

Tonight, at my parents’ house for Shabbat dinner, I moved the TV remote and told the kids they couldn’t watch at all. They complained about boredom and “nothing to do,” and I ignored them. In the end they made up their own game which involved one person as the “judge” and the other players singing a song, in turn, that they thought the judge would like. It was cute.

On the way home I joined the game. I won three rounds in a row before we got home, and the kids learned an important lesson: when it comes to picking an appropriate song for an individual, never go up against a music therapist. We’ll always win.

blogging · education · Guest Posts · Keepin' it real · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 125: Guest Poster – Mr. December!

This is Mr. December – here to guest write a blog post on “deschooling”. I had not heard of deschooling — which is apparently a way to transition kids from a heavily-scheduled externally dictated learning style to a more self-motivated way of learning — until a few days ago, and it seems, at first glance, very different from my approach. However I now see a path to reconcile the two views. 

First, let me note my agreement that children are designed to be outside and playing. Traditional school with long periods of focused study are not easy for children, and it is not realistic to expect this. We need to focus on where they are as individuals as opposed to some pre-conceived notion of what ideal, obedient children are like. We need to accept our children for who they are, including what they can and cannot do — hence the need for daily stimulant medication that requires photo ID to pick up at the pharmacy (i.e. Ritalin.) 

My modest proposal for de-schooling:

8:30 a.m.
Encourage the children to wake up on their own, perhaps by gently splashing a cup of cold water on them if they feel that today they need more time.

9:15 a.m.
Encourage them to learn math for 2 hours, cheerleading them on with privileges when they do. This is fully self-directed – any way that they want to approach math is fine. Even de-schoolers recognize the need for some structure, therefore we have a very small number of straightforward guardrails: Must use the Kumon materials for their current ability level, and complete the arbitrarily assigned number of pages each day.

11:15 a.m.
“Strew” a math test in front of them, which is completely optional, just like the screen time they hope to have later. 

12:15 p.m.
Lunch. This too is self-directed; for our older child this means independently baking a huge mug brownie which she then consumes.

1:00 p.m.
Free time. They can play outside or engage in self-directed learning as they please. We do note, however, that if they don’t do their typing practice and “Winning With Writing” workbook they’ll have no privileges.

3:30 p.m.
Encourage them to practice piano or violin (they play different instruments), but underscore the choice and agency they have, which in some ways is similar to our agency as parents in deciding whether to serve dessert later that day.

5:30 p.m.
Cheerlead them through their chores – laundry, setting the table for dinner, cleaning up and so on.

8:30 p.m
Gently encourage them to go to bed or find the sleep cycle that works best for them.

9:00 p.m.
More gentle encouragement to go to sleep – each child knows their own body best, and we respect their choices and agency. 

9:30 p.m.
Continue to encourage bedtime, telling them that if they are not all lying in bed silently in the next 5 minutes, Mean Mommy will come out to yell at them and will take away all privileges for the next week, so help me God! 

10:00 p.m.
Set a good example by turning in early, reading only for a few minutes

10:15 p.m.
“R, please go back to your room and go to sleep. All of us need sleep.” 

10:20 p.m.
“N, stop reading – it is bedtime!”

10:21 p.m.
Is K talking on her phone to someone? Let’s turn this into a playful learning experience by hiding her phone somewhere in the house – hours of fun self-directed searching! 

10:45 p.m.
“Get the fork back into bed, all of you! We cannot help you sleep!”

11:30 p.m.
Read for just a few more minutes – we’re this close to the end of the chapter.

12:30 a.m.
Finally put down our phone or book and go to sleep.

About the guest author:

Mr. December is an engineer, published author (for real!), father, husband, part-time chicken, and all-around smartass. He rejects modern educational theory and has embraced the enduring methods of the past, when children’s self-esteem was derived from their ability to actually achieve something.

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.