Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 582: Trip day 3:

Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Apparently most of the area of this national park is off limits to humans; the outing we thought would be a hike was actually a boat ride. I’m not sure whether a hike would have been better or worse. Maybe both: better because the kids would have been active instead of sitting still for two hours, and worse because if they’d gotten tired of walking, the whining would’ve been really intense. As it was, R kept checking my phone for the time and E kept complaining that she was bored. As it happened, so was I. It really was that boring.

Before you start thinking that we’re exceptionally jaded and it should have been exciting to see the few animals we saw: we actually saw wildlife much closer-up at the pool than we did on our boat ride through the jungle. We had a juvenile iguana strut along the pool deck; a huge female iguana wandered around near our rooms; a howler monkey whooped at us from a nearby tree (he also broke off a branch); a heron stood by majestically while we ate our dinner last night.

Nevertheless, when offered the chance to take a kayak tour into the park to look at wildlife again this afternoon, I took it—and dragged all three of the girls along with me. We took two tandem kayaks so E and R wouldn’t have to paddle the whole time, and since we were the only four people in the tour, I told the kids we could cut it short if we really needed to.

We didn’t need to cut it short. The girls had an amazing time, mostly thanks to our fabulous guide. We spotted tons of animals: sloths, iguanas, anhingas, basilisks, caiman, several different types of heron, an osprey, Northern Jacana, and toucans. As we paddled, we chatted with our guide about his experiences growing up in Costa Rica, how life had been here over the last year and a half (it was “like a graveyard,” he said—everyone left the village,) and his dreams of building a floating house and of one day visiting Alaska (not in the floating house.) The girls were fully engaged and excited, and two hours of paddling flew by.

We also made time to swim in the pool twice (cooler and more refreshing than yesterday, thankfully) and to walk on the beach in an effort to find turtle hatchlings. After hearing that it’s actually very unhelpful to help baby turtles make it to the ocean, R declared that Paw Patrol had lied—apparently there’s an episode where Ryder and the pups help turtles get to the sea. She thinks we should write them an angry letter.

On the boring boat this morning I struck up a conversation with a French-speaking family. I don’t know why I assumed they were from Quebec, but I was wrong. They’re here from France on a two-week holiday. Their English was worse than my French, so I did my best to not get my French mixed up with the Spanish floating around in my head. I’ve already given up on not having Hebrew pop out anytime I’m attempting to speak something other than English. Anyhow, R declared her intention of learning more languages “so I can socialize with lots of different people when I travel.” I could have spent years nagging her to learn some new languages, but all it took was the experience of sitting next to a kid her age and being unable to communicate. Is this what worldschooling is all about—that the kids understand and truly feel the need to learn things?

I should go now. We have to pack up tonight; tomorrow will be a long day of traveling. Our next destination is a beach town where we’ll have a swanky villa with its own pool. We’ll also have a couple of days off to rest—and of course, the outing N’s looking forward to most: the Jaguar rescue centre.


Day 581: Trip day 2: Spotty Wifi

Ed. note: I tried to post last night but the WiFi kept failing. Don’t worry, I’ll write a post about today, too. You might even get it today.

Woke up super early today, picked up by bus and tour guide to head to Tortuguero.

2 ½ hours on a bus, punctuated by breakfast halfway through. E deigned to eat toast with jam. R tasted my Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) and liked it. 

Arrived at a pier, took a boat along the river—moved very slowly for the most part. Saw baby crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbank; herons; iguana; turtle. The boat ride to this eco-lodge took 90 minutes.

Guide speaks mostly in Spanish—definitely translates to English but not absolutely everything. 

My Spanish is marginally better. Today I said “soy Canadiense” and my accent must have been okay, because the guy responded in rapid-fire Spanish. 

Am getting the kids to speak some Spanish. Yesterday made them say “Un helado por favor” (one ice cream, please.”) Today I heard them saying “gracias” without being reminded. 

Swam in the pool after lunch. Water was too warm to be really refreshing. But when we swam after dinner the water was cool and perfect. 

Food here at Laguna Lodge is excellent. Wifi is not, as befits a remote eco-lodge. 

Met back at the dock at 3 to go to the nearby village. Kids forgot their masks and had to go back to the room. The whole group waited for them. So slow. 

Nice town, Tortuguero. The kids gravitated to the playground; E successfully did monkey bars by herself for the first time! 

Back here for dinner. Ordered a glass of wine and did kiddish and motzi for Shabbat. There was a pasta bar at dinner tonight so E got to have some pasta w tomato sauce and parmesan. She ate half a bowl of it. Wouldn’t try anything else.

Called the parents from the spot with the strongest wifi. 

Swam after dinner. Lovely, cool, refreshing. Group of German teenagers were also in the pool, having a dance party. Totally cool—it’s a pretty big pool. 

Tucked everyone in. T and K are getting up to go on a hike at 5:30 a.m., which is when the sloths are at their most active. Don’t laugh—when truly motivated, sloths can move up to four metres an hour! 

Sleepy. I will get up around 7:45, have breakfast, and get ready to go on a hike with everyone. In afternoon will go on a kayak tour with E as my co-pilot (they have tandem kayaks.) 

Gorgeous moon tonight, and beautiful stars. 

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 580: Trip Day 1

It’s late at night, so I’m just writing a few lines and some point form notes so I remember what happened today.

  • Flight was delayed for an hour—which we spent sitting in the plane. Mr. December and I had the worst seats on the entire plane—back row, couldn’t recline AND slightly less legroom than the rest of economy class.
  • Shuttle to hotel fine, hotel great, remind me to tell you the story of its founder.
  • Woke up early this morning and met guide for walking tour. Visited parks, markets, pedestrian malls; saw an iguana sunning himself next to the “temple of music” in one park; took pictures in front of bronze angel wings that were a gift from Mexico. Tried ice cream from a vendor that’s been making it for like 100 years—delicious. Vanilla with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg… I loved it. E and N, not so much.
  • E ate next to nothing all day. At breakfast she tasted the bread (plain white bread! with butter!), the pineapple pudding, the granola cereal. She didn’t like any of it, so she didn’t eat.
  • On the walking tour we stopped at a fruit stand, bought a bunch of different local fruits. Our guide cut them up and we sat down and tasted everything. Except N who tasted nothing. Mr. December took him to a bakery and they came back with a loaf of—wait for it—white bread, which N shared with a ravenous E (to her credit, she did taste the fruit.)
  • All very tired. Back to hotel. Mr. December to his company’s San Jose office. “I’ll be back at 5-6” he said.
  • I took a nap. Kids watched Shrek 2, then played computer games. Went out briefly to convenience store for snacks, since Mr. D was due back in a couple of hours and we’d go to dinner together then.
  • Mr. D did not come back at 5. Texted me at 5:30 that he’d gone to get something to eat with coworkers. I was pretty miffed.
  • Kids were hangry; we went to the hotel restaurant. Pleasant surprise—menu full of things they’d actually eat (except for E, who ate fries and that was it.) Ordered Panko crusted chicken, steak, beef stir fry, chicken soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese. Chicken soup came with tiny pot of plain rice. E ate nothing, kept whining about how hungry she was.
  • Restaurant staff probly thought I was upset with them or the food. I kept looking around for Mr. D and putting my face in my hands in despair b/c E wouldn’t eat.
  • Mr. D arrived at 7:15. We went out to get E something to eat. Almost everything CLOSED. One bakery open. E didn’t want any of the savory options. Ended up with a donut. If we hadn’t suggested a donut she’d have gone hungry.
  • Back to hotel; packing up for tomorrow’s 6:30 departure to the coast. Trying not to be quite so annoyed with Mr. D, with mixed results. No idea what to do about E and food.

TL:DR—beautiful country, friendly people, great tour guide. Food excellent, esp rice and beans for breakfast. Fabulous coffee. Picky children. Tired me.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 579: Ready as I’m Gonna Be

The suitcases are all packed.

After a last-minute water-bottle malfunction and a trip to Canadian Tire, everyone has collapsable water bottles again.

Our boarding passes and Costa Rica Health Check QR codes are printed and paperclipped to the covers of our passports; our passports are stacked open to the photo pages, ready to be quickly flipped through and scanned. They’re in one of my many pockets in my scott-e-vest sweatshirt.

The sukkah has been taken down. The kayaks will just have to stay spread out over the Bakfiets ’til I come back.

I’ve paid all the bills.

I’ve dropped my cellphone plan down to a very basic one so that my voicemail will still pick up while we’re away. I’d better change my voicemail message to say that people should WhatsApp me instead.

The kids have bathed and dressed; they’ve stashed snacks in every available pocket (and since three of them have those magic hoodies, there are a LOT of available pockets.)

The final count of bags is: 2 suitcases (checked luggage); 2 carry-on suitcases; 5 backpacks; 1 guitar.

We leave for the airport an hour from now. I need to eat lunch and take a shower before we go.

Shutting down my computer now. Wish us luck!

Keepin' it real · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 577: Well, I tried.

I had such high hopes of packing light for this trip. At one point I even did a trial pack to prove that we could probably go with carry-ons only—which was a neat idea until Mr. December (the killjoy) pointed out that it would mean keeping track of twelve pieces of luggage (one carry-on suitcase and one personal item each.) That’s just too many pieces of luggage. I agreed that it might be better to take one large suitcase with everyone’s clothes in it, and have each person take care of their own personal item.

That was the first nail in the coffin of my aspirations. Then Mr. December decided we all needed hiking boots. Do you know how much space those things take up? I managed to convince R and K to wear their boots on the plane, and I’ll wear mine—but that still leaves three pairs of clunky boots that need to be packed. When I realized that, I brought a second large suitcase upstairs.

Another blow to my plans: the CPAP machines. Mr. December and I both have sleep apnea, so we have two CPAP machines—each of which takes up an eighth of a suitcase—to pack. I know there are tiny little machines for travel, but they’re expensive and we figured it wasn’t a big deal. I’m pretty annoyed that the case for my machine is so much bigger than the actual device. Maybe I should just bury it somewhere in the middle of all the clothes and forget about the special case. Then again, I can see the CPAP cases as placeholders for any stuff we pick up on our travels; on the way back we can take our CPAP cases onto the plane in addition to our carry-on and personal items, because they’re medical equipment. I guess that’s the silver lining.

We’re also packing almost two litres of maple syrup as gifts for Mr. December’s co-workers in the company’s Costa Rica office, as well as for anyone else we feel we should give a gift to. Fortunately it’s all in small bottles which just happen to fit perfectly into E’s and N’s hiking boots. And Mum, when you read this: of course I lined the boots with plastic bags. This isn’t my first travelling-with-liquids rodeo—I’ve brought more bottles of vanilla essence back from Barbados than I care to admit.

Runners-up in the “taking up space” category are sunscreen and bug spray. I burn—badly—and K has (localized) allergic reactions to mosquito bites, so we need quantities over and above what the average family might take. Even with our sun shirts and sun hats, I’m taking no chances with the sun at the equator. When the bug spray and sunscreen went into the suitcase it displaced an entire packing cube full of clothes; I had to bring up a small carry-on suitcase to accommodate the overflow.

In case you’re not keeping track, here’s our current luggage list: two large suitcases, two carry-on suitcases, four backpacks, and a guitar. I guess it’s an improvement over the twelve items we would have had before, but it feels to me like we’re in a bit of a no-man’s land where we haven’t packed light, but we’re still working with limited space. My dream is dead.

Also dead is the idea of buying myself a new Kobo before we travel. I checked online, and it seems they’re just about to bring out some new models; so either I can get a new model with a better display and audiobook compatibility, or I can pay less for the old models they’re trying to sell off. Either way, now is not the time to buy a Kobo. I do sometimes read on my phone, so I guess I’ll just do that when E is monopolizing my e-reader. Besides, “I can’t ever use my Kobo because my six-year-old won’t stop reading on it” has to be one of the best humblebrags ever.

The packing is almost done. Tomorrow I have to pack up everyone’s medication, finish packing my clothing that’s currently hanging to dry, fill out the health declaration form for Costa Rica, and then double- and triple-check everything. No big deal. I might even have time for a bike ride.

Image description: three pairs of hiking boots, identical except for their size and the colour of their shoelaces.
family fun · Homeschool · Kids · whine and cheese

Day 576: E-Reader

I’ve never been happier to lose a Kobo to someone.

Today was a big day for E, reading-wise. She finished lesson 20 of All About Reading Level 2, and even wrote her own book.

See, lesson 20 involved cutting out and stapling together a mini-book about whales. E read it to her stuffies, and then said, “Can I keep this book? It’s the perfect size for these guys!”

“Sure,” I responded. “We could also make more books for them, if you like.”

That’s how we ended up at the kitchen table with E dictating and me scribing for her. She made sure to include a cover and a table of contents, and then wrote three pages about wooly mammoths, elephants, and penguins, respectively. I drew the outlines of the animals and she coloured them in, and then we stapled it all together. Then E brought all the stuffies to the table and read them her book. Mr December came upstairs, and she read it to him, too. And to K, and then again to R.

Image description: E standing next to the table, reading from a tiny booklet. There are several stuffed animals (mostly elephants) on the table, clearly listening to the book.

Finishing lesson 20 before our trip was a challenge I had set for E a couple of weeks ago. Since she succeeded, we had a party to celebrate. Nothing fancy: just lemonade, popcorn, chocolate and butterscotch chips, charades, and some karaoke.

When E came and perched by my shoulder this evening, I passed her my Kobo and said, “Can you just take a look at these books I downloaded and tell me if they’re the right level for you?”

“Ugh, reading AGAIN!” she whined. “I already did so much reading today!”

“I just need you to look at a few of the pages and tell me if the books are okay for you,” I reasoned.

“Okay, fine.” She took the Kobo out of my hands.

The next time I saw the Kobo, she was waving it in my face and telling me that she’d already finished one book. As soon as I helped her open another book, she ran off to her bedroom to continue reading. I didn’t see my Kobo again until she returned it to me at bedtime, saying, “We can share this Kobo but you might not get it very much because I like to read A LOT.”

Okay, then. Guess I’m in the market for a new Kobo. The only question is, before or after we travel?


Day 575: Testing…

Here’s something I haven’t tried yet that I should, before I head off on my trip: posting by email.

See, my WIFI might be a tad spotty in some locations, which might make posting from my WordPress dashboard slow and painful, but I’ll almost always be able to send an email.

So here I am, typing this into an email program and seeing what happens. If the formatting looks off or the title is missing, that would be why.

My next blog setting that I need to alter is auto-posting to Facebook. I might not get on FB at all while I’m gone, but I’d like for my friends on FB to still be able to read my posts. Of course, they could just subscribe to my blog and then it would come right to their inbox… but then maybe they don’t want inbox clutter. I sure don’t—over the past week and a half, I’ve unsubscribed from no fewer than fifty email lists. My inbox is beautifully, gloriously empty. At least, it would be empty if I could stop ordering things online, but what else is there to do when you need reef-safe sunscreen in a hurry?

Mr. December and I resolved to get everyone to pack today. Today’s over… is anybody packed? A few people have partially finished packing, but we all need to do some laundry before that happens, so nothing actually got finished. I did, however, organize our stationery and a mini-microscope kit, and prepare the nine lessons of our reading program that I’m taking for E. There is a small-but-growing pile of stuff that is packaged and ready to go.

Funny story about the stationery organization: my mum was here while I was fiddling with the pencil box, trying to organize it somehow. Eventually I made a few dividers out of Duck Tape, at which point Mum was like, “Don’t you have enough things to do without this new project?” She had a point, but I usually find myself some kind of hands-on creative project when I’m stressed, and this time it was pencil box dividers. That’s how I roll.

Speaking of hands-on preparation, remember how I said I’d order colour-coded shoelaces so we could tell all the kids’ hiking boots apart? They arrived today and then I realized who was going to end up removing the old laces and putting in the new ones (hint: it’s not Mr. December.) I think I need to outsource this one to my child labour force.

I’m going to end here because I really want to see whether this post goes up the way I want it to. Cross your fingers for me, I’m hitting “send”…

family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 574: Field Trip!

09:25 “Hey everyone, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes! Be ready!”

09:40 We tell everyone it’s time to get in the car. Some people need to go pee before we leave—because somehow that wasn’t part of “getting ready”—and that takes another ten minutes because they all line up for the main floor powder room instead of taking off their shoes and running upstairs.

09:50 We’re finally in the car… but wait! “Oh, do we need masks?” one child asks. We go get masks.

09:55 I turn on a Freakonomics Radio podcast. Traffic isn’t too bad.

10:10 R pipes up, “Were we supposed to bring masks?” Everyone groans. Mr. December launches into his “you need to be responsible for your own stuff and yes, you should always have a mask with you” spiel. We find R an extra mask.

10:13 We burst into MEC like a SWAT team. Or maybe we tumble into MEC like a landslide—I don’t know. “Footwear is upstairs,” I say, and we head in that direction like a six-headed, twelve-footed monster.

10:15 The shoe department is completely empty. When we announce that all six of us need hiking boots, the associate looks flustered. Mr. December suggests, “Maybe you could call another associate to help too, then we could do this in parallel.” “Oh, yeah. Good idea,” the guy says. A second associate arrives moments later and we begin the process of trying on boots.

10:35 Mr. December has chosen his boots. So have K and R. N, E, and I are not as lucky—so far I’ve tried about six different boots and found none of them comfortable. There isn’t much available in E’s size, so I reassure her that we can look for her boots somewhere else. N is covetously eyeing K’s and R’s boots.

10:55 I’m still trying to find a shoe that fits. Meanwhile, N and E have decided to get the same model of boots as K and R; looks like I’ll be buying colour-coded shoelaces to tell them apart (at least for the older three.) Mr. December takes the kids to choose some good Merino wool hiking socks.

11:05 Oh, for crying out loud… I’m still trying shoes. I’m down to two pairs now. Mr. December and the kids go off to find sunscreen and bug spray.

11:15 For better or for worse, I’ve chosen my hiking boots. Now it’s time for socks. Mr. December takes E to the bathroom.

11:20 Mr. December catches up to us on our way to the cash. “Where’s E?” I ask. Mr. December looks around and says, “I’ll be right back.”

11:35 All six of us are back in the car. The podcast comes on again. Good thing, because…

11:38 We’re in line to turn left onto Bayview Ave. It’s a long line, and the drivers are acting like they’ve never seen a left turn arrow before.

11:43 Still waiting to turn left. I hate Toronto traffic.

11:48 We finally get through the light. As I approach the on-ramp, I can see that traffic is moving nicely on the 401.

11:41 Traffic is not moving nicely on the 401. It was an illusion.

11:50 At least the podcast is interesting and educational… and long.

12:00 We arrive at home. The podcast is still not over. The kids take everything into the house without being asked.

12:02 Still sitting in the car, Mr. December and I look at each other. Wordlessly, we decide to call off school for the rest of the day.

Class dismissed.

blogging · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · lists · whine and cheese

Day 573: Brain Dump

I barely slept last night. I could blame Mr. December’s late-night meeting (it ended at 12:30,) but even after I was in bed with the lights turned off, I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, my eyes were closed, and I was lying fairly still, but I was still very much aware of ambient noises (thanks a lot, Metrolinx,) and I tossed and turned a whole lot. I woke up before 7, which in my world is pretty early, and I couldn’t fall back asleep.

The point is, I’m so tired that I can barely think. I have a vague feeling of panic—we leave in less than a week and I just know I’m forgetting something. But my thoughts are going around in circles (kind of like dogs, actually. Three circles and then they lie down and go to sleep.) Unfortunately for you, I need to use tonight’s post as a brain dump so when I wake up rested tomorrow, I’ll have a sense of what’s going on.

Today Mr. December decided that we all need hiking boots because we’ll be in some rainy parts of Costa Rica and the hikes will be muddy. After spending a lot of time on the Keen website (because we just bought shoes from them a few months ago so I’m sure of the fit and sizing) I decided that the most sensible course of action would be to just go to a store, all of us, and buy everyone shoes. Guess what, kids! We’re going on a field trip to MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op)! Feel free to place bets on how much unnecessary-but-really-nifty stuff we’ll come home with.

I’m working on picking out the elements of our Biology curriculum that I think will be most relevant on our trip. The evolution unit will probably be covered pretty thoroughly in the Galapagos; I think it could be neat to record observations of the different biomes we visit and compare them to our biome here in Toronto; I’ve got a few chapters of the history curriculum that discuss ancient Mesoamerican history; and I should probably choose a novel for us to read for literature. And I have no idea what I’m going to do with E for reading—I love the program we’re using but it has a lot of parts and we want to minimize stuff.

I definitely need to print off copies of all our reservations, as well as photocopies of our passports, and stash it away in one of the suitcases.

I now have two (count ’em, two!) bikinis that fit nicely and a third that needs to be tried on. I’d better try it tomorrow and then return it if it’s no good.

I managed to forget about E’s flute lesson today (not our usual day and time) and we missed N’s piano lesson. I’d better make sure I’ve told all our music teachers that we won’t have any more lessons until the end of December.

I need to take down the sukkah. Also, the kayaks need to be wiped down, folded, and packed away for the winter.

We need to start packing this week. I particularly want to see how many devices we have that will need chargers so that I can decide whether it makes sense to take our 6-port charging hub (readers, I’m pretty sure it makes sense. Mr. December seems to think that it makes more sense to have ten different adapters—hence the need to have a look in advance.) We also need to see whose carry-on has space in it, because R is taking her guitar as a carry-on and will need someone to take her other stuff in their bag.

K has asked me to head over to the optician tomorrow and get her glasses adjusted—apparently they’re feeling loose; it occurs to me now that if we’re ziplining and such, we should probably have some secure sport straps to keep our glasses on.

If my writing is still coherent, I’ll be amazed. My head is lolling back on my neck as I type. E is standing by, ready to tuck me in. I go shower now. ‘Night.