community · Costa Rica · DIY · education · el cheapo · family fun · gardening · Homeschool · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 590: Down on the Farm

Finca Blanco Y Negro, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Ed. note: this is a continuation of yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and do so now.

We pulled into the driveway of Finca Blanco Y Negro (Black and White Farm) and were greeted by two women and a very enthusiastic child. E seized the opportunity for a new friend immediately: within minutes, she and this little boy were chatting—she in English, he in Spanish, neither understanding the other—as they explored the farm. The rest of us introduced ourselves and met Maria and Paola, the sisters who own the farm (the little boy, E, is Maria’s son.) It was decided that we’d tour the farm and then eat lunch, rather than the other way around.

Over and over, I was struck by how much research and thought went into running this farm. Blanco Y Negro isn’t a high-budget operation; in fact, part of their vision is to make organic vegetables accessible to more people than just rich people and hippies, and to develop new techniques that other small farms can use to grow organic produce. So when they were planning their mushroom-growing operation and saw the cost of all the “required” equipment, they set out to learn the reasons behind all the expensive recommendations. Then they found cheaper solutions that work just as well. Instead of a completely dark grow room, they put thick black garbage bags over the mushroom containers; in place of an expensive sterilizer, they boil the hay for three hours in a huge boiler to eliminate all microorganisms before using it as a growth medium. They built the mushroom greenhouse on the slope of the hill so that they can easily hose down the floor to keep it clean.

The kids received their first challenge in the mushroom house: who could find and pick the largest mushroom? They all scampered off, looking at every row of hanging bags to find the winning fungus. In the end, I think R might have found the biggest one. Not that it really mattered: all the mushrooms, big and small, were taken to the kitchen to become part of our lunch.

Have you ever heard a flock of ninety chickens? Just hens, mind you, no roosters at all? They are loud. As we stepped into their yard, the chickens crowded around the gate, saying “bawk?” as if to ask what we wanted. The kids got to pet a chicken, and we saw where the chickens turn kitchen scraps into high-quality fertilizer. Then we proceeded with our mission: to collect eggs for lunch. Mr. December and the kids eagerly headed into the henhouse to swipe the eggs. The chickens appeared unperturbed.

In the next pasture over, some black-bellied sheep were eager to munch on the long grasses we held for them. Then we went to see the composting shed—far more interesting than you’d think. In addition to a classic compost pile, they also have various barrels full of fermenting liquids which they use to deter insects from around the vegetable beds and to add beneficial microorganisms to the soil. Paola cracked open one barrel for us to see the bubbles forming on top of the liquid. It smelled like olives.

We explored the vegetable garden and learned about pest control without any pesticides, synthetic or natural. The results spoke for themselves: I’ve never before seen a head of lettuce with absolutely no holes or ragged edges on its leaves. The kids had a chance to plant some celery, beetroot, and arugula, which they did with more enthusiasm than I expected; N even came up with a way to streamline the planting process, by having one person place the seedlings in the correct positions while two others did the actual planting. E and her new friend worked with N and planted several rows of veggies in short order. Meanwhile, K indignantly stated that similar plants should be put together instead of mixing them up; she went to the opposite end of the row and diligently planted some celery.

The adults stood around and chatted. When Maria learned that we were homeschoolers, she got really excited: she’s also homeschooling her son, but it’s a pretty new concept in Costa Rica and she gets lots of pushback from… well, pretty much everyone. So we talked about our homeschooling experience and the homeschool community in general.

Poor R—she was sitting inside the farmhouse by this time, because all kinds of things on the farm were triggering her allergies (it hadn’t even occurred to me to bring her allergy meds with us.) Not to worry, though—Maria offered to find some of the allergy meds she had for her son so I could give R a dose. Wonder of wonders—it was the exact same prescription medicine R takes. I gratefully took the bottle and spoon and went to offer R some relief.

Finally, it was lunchtime! My kids were obnoxiously picky (we might need to have another talk about trying foods that are offered when you’re a guest somewhere) but Mr. December and I thoroughly enjoyed the tomato soup with local cheese and mushrooms, hard boiled eggs (they don’t get any fresher than that,) spring mix salad with beets (which I’m not usually a fan of, but it was delicious,) homemade bread with roasted garlic, and grilled vegetables. The kids deserted the table pretty quickly because Maria’s son called them over to see his kittens; all four of my kids were smitten and spent the rest of the time cuddling the kittens—even R, who declared that any allergic reaction she had would be worth it. Even dessert, which was homemade ice cream with berries on top, only held them for a few minutes before they went back to kitten wrangling.

We loved our time at the farm. By the end, I felt like we were visiting with friends. I was pleased when Maria shyly asked for my contact information—we exchanged numbers and I extended an invitation for them to visit us in Toronto. I hope they take us up on it.

A long and winding road trip · community · family fun · Kids · water you paddling? · Worldschooling

Island Time, Part Two

Sunday morning saw us wandering around downtown looking for breakfast. There were a few restaurants whose menus the kids didn’t like and one they did. Too bad the one they liked didn’t have a table for us—or at least I thought it was too bad. We ended up going into the attached shop and choosing from their deli case: tomato-basil-feta salad for me, muesli for R, fruit and a danish for K, spicy mango salad for Mr. D, a croissant for E, and a baguette for N (what a surprise: the carbivore chose bread.) Everything was delicious; we ate it all sitting on rocks at the edge of the water.

Then we drove over to Fort Henry and explored everything from the General’s quarters to the jail cells. I fulfilled my sometimes-used threat of putting my kids behind bars (to be fair, they thought it was fun.)

N behind bars, K holding my coffee (she stole it from me) and laughing, E looking at N.

Just like at every other place of interest we’ve visited as a family, I probably learned more at Fort Henry than the kids did. I learned about historic innovations in rifle technology; why the best bayonet is a triangular fluted one; and why barrels containing gunpowder had copper rings instead of iron. I also finally put two and two together and understood the origins of the phrases “lock, stock, and barrel” and “flash in the pan.”

Mr. December and the four kids leaning against the fort wall, in front of a huge canon. You can see Wolfe Island with its windmills in the background.

We made it back to our hotel in time to grab our swimming gear and meet T at the dock downtown. We hadn’t had lunch yet; disappointingly, the pizza place on the island was closed when we walked over there, so we headed to the island’s lone grocery store instead, where the kids chose ramen, bread, and peanut butter. Back at J’s house we added some wild grape jam to our peanut butter sandwiches and polished off the ramen as well. J’s daughter, H, had baked cookies that morning, which we all ate; My ever-helpful kids heard H say that she thought the cookies too salty, and K in particular spent some time analyzing the problem (“I think it’s not really too salty throughout. It’s just that sometimes out of nowhere there’s a clump of salt.”)

After lunch we all squeezed into the boat and T drove us out to a shipwreck for some snorkeling (sans snorkels.) It was cold—the kind of cold that takes your breath away—and it was a bit of a task getting our kids to jump in. Eventually they did, though, although R was completely freaked out by the weeds that grew to five feet below the surface. I eventually coaxed her to hold my hand and swim with me, and then later to turn her head slightly to the left to see the ribs of a decaying ship. After that brief glance she hightailed it back to the boat as we all congratulated her on facing her fears.

All of us in the (bright blue) water.

After her nerve-wracking encounter with water plants, R wasted no time chilling out when we got back to J’s dock. She took a bag of tortilla chips in one hand, a huge Guatemalan floor cushion in the other, and tucked her Percy Jackson book under her arm. R set herself up on the end of the dock and stayed there for an hour while I paddled a couple of kilometres in the kayak and the others swam close to shore.

R in heaven: lying on the wooden dock with water in the background. She’s leaning on a colourful cushion, reading a book, with a tortilla chip in her mouth and her hand in the chip bag.

J hosted a potluck for dinner on Sunday night. Our contribution was some homemade challah, which was just about the only thing that three out of our four kids would eat. I did have the presence of mind to ask if we could set aside some plain black beans for the kids to snack on.

The potluck was well-attended by family, friends, neighbours, and relative strangers (a.k.a. us.) I honestly don’t remember most of the conversations I had with people, but I do remember how friendly everyone was. The other thing that struck me was how much of the food was grown in people’s gardens (to be fair, there were three different kinds of coleslaw. The cabbages must be ripening.)

The weekend was both relaxing and invigorating. I heard, “Can we move here?” dozens of times, or so it seemed. The confluence of gracious hosts, a warm community, and a beautiful location was almost irresistible to me, too (yes, we checked the Realtor.ca listings when we went back to our hotel.) I already know we’ll go back for a visit next summer, because we’ve been invited and the kids have already accepted on behalf of our family.

A long and winding road trip · community · education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids · water you paddling? · Worldschooling

Day 550: Island Time

(Just to let you know, this post is only going to cover the first day of our visit. It was supposed to be the whole weekend, but apparently I have a lot to say. I’ll post the rest tomorrow.)

Our weekend was outstanding. We went kayaking, tubing, and snorkeling over shipwrecks; we explored an old fort and learned about nineteenth-century weaponry; we discovered an island that we barely knew existed; and we met some incredible people.

We first connected with J on the recommendation of one of Mr. December’s former co-workers who retired at age 33 to travel the world with his wife. When Mr. December told this guy that we want to travel with the kids, he gave us J’s email address and suggested we call her. We ended up having a half-hour Zoom call with her, talking about homeschooling, worldschooling, and travel. She invited us to come visit her on the island anytime before the end of the month. She followed up our call with an email that essentially said, “That invitation was sincere and enthusiastic. Hope you can come.”

We left home early on Saturday and drove three hours until we arrived in Kingston, Ontario. We texted J to say we’d arrived; she arranged to meet us at the public docks to ferry us across to the island. When we finally found the spot, there she was with her husband, T, smiling and waving.

The ride across to the island took about ten minutes, with the kids sitting on the floor of the small motorboat and the grownups crowded towards the front. Our kids enthusiastically—and loudly—filled any and all gaps in the conversation. For the first time that weekend—but not the last—I was thankful that J and T have been there and done that, parenting four kids. The energy and volume that our kids bring everywhere might have triggered some nostalgia for them, but never impatience.

My four kids sitting on the floor of the boat.

After lunch at a waterfront patio on the island, we took a walk through the village to retrieve J’s Instant Pot from a friend. Said friend warmly welcomed us and invited the kids to come in and meet their many pets. On the way back to J’s house we stopped for a while so R could climb a tree that grows next to the public library. A dog had escaped from its home across the street and came towards us with a stick in her mouth; I think it was the first time my kids had ever played fetch with a dog. We were officially on island time, where life moves at a walking pace and there’s plenty of time to climb the trees, smell the roses, and pet the animals.

T generously offered to drag the kids around the bay on a giant tube; in the end they must have been out there for over an hour. Apparently once tubing got old, T let the kids take turns driving the boat. They came back wet, tired, and happy. In the meantime, I took out a kayak—a proper one with foot pegs and knee bracing—and spent some time out on the water.

Me in a kayak, on the water. I’m looking right at the camera.

We met three of J and T’s kids over the weekend. Amazing human beings all, and the kids particularly gravitated towards their oldest daughter. She went tubing with them, and by dinnertime on Saturday they were all snuggled up to her watching funny TikTok videos.

My four kids snuggled up around H, J and T’s oldest kid. She’s holding an iPad and they’re all looking at it and smiling.

Dinner at their home was a fix-your-own tacos affair with two of J’s kids as well as her parents, who were pretty interesting folks in their own right. As the sun started to set, we got into the boat and T ferried us back to Kingston, with the most beautiful dusky sky and almost-full moon in the background.

Water with the boat’s wake in the foreground and a strip of land visible in the background. The land is dotted with white windmills. The sky is a gradient of sunset colours and there’s an almost-full moon rising.

We checked into our hotel, then went out to walk around downtown Kingston for a while. We enjoyed watching a busker—who juggled fire while walking across broken glass—in the square, introduced the kids to BeaverTails, and enjoyed our dessert in the colourful Muskoka chairs outside before going back to our hotel to sleep.

community · Just the two of us · Kids · love and marriage · waxing philosophical

Day 540: A love letter.

This is my favourite time of year.

Not for the insanity of the Jewish holidays (5 in one month!) or for the end of the summer break; no, I love it for the weather. Cool (but not too cold) at night and warm (but not too hot) during the day. It’s shorts-and-a-sweatshirt weather. The sky is clear and blue, the trees still have their leaves. It’s just a pleasure to be outside these days.

Actually, there are a lot of pleasures these days; More and more I’m noticing my feelings of contentment at odd times of the day and night. I’ll be reading in the back-porch hammock, or turning off lights someone left on in the library, or even emptying the dishwasher, and suddenly I’ll stop and think, “I love our life.”

I love Mr. December, of course, and I love how great a team we are. I love the house we’ve built together—seriously, I love this house so much—and the family we have together. I adore the kids and what’s more, I love seeing them together and I love watching them grow up. Our parents are all alive and well and living in the same city, and they’re a tremendous help and support to us. We have very good friends and neighbours.

We live in a neighbourhood that’s beautiful and safe, with public parks and a subway and shops nearby. We have biking paths, a community orchard, and a local farmers’ market.

I am, in short, lucky. Insanely, improbably so. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that life is completely unfair and often random; and it’s generally been unfair in my favour, which I appreciate every day.

There’s really nothing like this sense of great contentment, especially at this time of year. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going outside in my shorts and sweatshirt to sit in a hammock and sip some tea, and contemplate how very much I love this life.

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

Day 450: Bagels, Bugs, and Buying Shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

community · crafty · Darn Tootin' · Fibro Flares · gardening · Homeschool

Day 396: Worth it.

Today was one of those full days that ends with a feeling of great satisfaction. Unfortunately, the fullness of the day has also left me with a feeling of significant pain; still, I feel like I made the right choices.

I can barely believe how much E has been practicing her flute. Anytime nobody else is in the library (which is also our music room,) she’s in there with her music on the stand and her flute at her lips. Her work really shows: she’s sounding better and better every day. Now I just have to teach her about eighth notes.

When I finally got my hands on the three older kids—which is getting to be later and later each day as Mr. December gets carried away with whatever he’s teaching them—I sat them down and assigned them some substantial writing, which they immediately started brainstorming for. Later we had art class, where we once again tried to make pottery in the style of Ancient Greece.

Last week I taught the kids the coil method for making a pot. This week I took a slab-building approach, using balloons as our moulds. It wasn’t particularly successful, and only N’s pot was still standing by the end of the hour. Mine looked beautiful, but I tried to smooth “just one more lump” and… POP. With the balloon gone, my whole pot collapsed in on itself.

Around 5:00 we all went to the park. I was there on a mission: the apricot trees in the community orchard are already in bloom, but tonight’s snow and freezing temperatures threatened to kill all the blossoms and any fruit they might bear this summer. An email went out this morning asking for volunteers to bring tarps, plastic bags, and tie-downs and help cover the trees. That’s why we found ourselves in the park, tying multiple tarps together and then raising them over the trees—like a giant chuppah—before tying them down. The best part was that, once again, my kids were doing useful work to benefit the community they live in. There’s no substitute for that experience.

After dinner we started watching Animal Farm (the 1954 animated film, not the 1999 live-action one.) The kids were riveted. Our next step will be a read-aloud of the book, as part of our literature studies.

And then it was bedtime. I could hardly believe that it was 8:30 already. Where did the day go? Oh, yeah… we did stuff today. Lots and lots of stuff.

I definitely overdid it today. And yet I did it knowingly; sometimes I need to feel normal and functional (especially if I’m not) more than I need to be pain-free. Besides, these past six (or seven?) weeks have taught me that resting won’t guarantee me a pain-free day anyhow, so I might as well do at least some of the things I enjoy.

Now… if anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bed with a heating pad and my banana popsicles for the next day or two.

Image description: three tarps are spread out on the ground, tied together with twist ties and zip ties. A child is squatting near the far corner of the tarp, tying it to a pole. Grass in background.
community · education · Jewy goodness · Kids · parenting

Day 266: Voting Time

I used to proudly proclaim that “My house is not a democracy! It’s a benevolent dictatorship!”

I’m not sure exactly how and when that changed, but these days we do involve the children in more decision-making than a dictator would. I think decision-making and consensus-building are skills that can be taught, like everything else, so we’re trying to teach them through experience.

Last week was our annual Tzedaka vote. I couldn’t resist throwing a little learning into the mix by explaining to the kids that the root of Tzedaka is Tzedek, or justice (sometimes also translated as righteousness.) We give Tzedaka not because we’re generous and charitable, but because it is just and right to share some of what we’ve been given.

Mr. December gave each child ten poker chips. I had prepared cards with the logos of our usual charities (and a couple of causes that were new this year) and I spread them out on the table. We explained briefly what each charity was about and why we originally decided to support them. And then… voting time.

It’s always interesting to watch the kids allocate their chips to different organizations. Some years I wonder what they’re thinking; this year Mr. December asked.

“I’m donating to Sick Kids because they have really good stuff that helps kids not be scared, like that special stand that holds the iPad so you can play while the doctors are working on you.”

“I like our old school and I want to see it continue, so I put my chips in for that.”

“I think we should support the community orchard because it’s cool to have in our neighbourhood.”

“We use Wikipedia a lot and it’s great that it doesn’t have ads.”

Do you see what I see? For the most part, the kids voted to support organizations that they had personal experience with. Or, as Mr. December cynically pointed out, “There’s a significant element of self-interest at play here.”

One of the new items on our table was really a borderline decision: allocating funds towards supporting local businesses. In other words, we’re setting aside a certain amount of money to make purchases at our local shops (many of which are on the expensive side) instead of at cheaper chains or big-box stores. Is that charity? Nope. But is it Tzedaka? I’m not sure—we are choosing to spend extra money in a way that supports our community, so… kind of?

If you think that the kids didn’t put the majority of their chips on “buy local”, then you’re probably not aware that our neighbourhood boasts a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlour, the kids’ favourite laffa restaurant, and an authentic French bakery that makes delectable baguettes and croissants. And those are just three of the many businesses whose products the kids like to eat. They definitely voted with their stomachs this time.

community · education · Jewy goodness · Kids · The COVID files

Day 222: I was wrong.

Remember back when our synagogue announced that they were starting in-person services with strict COVID protocols, and I said that I couldn’t see the point of attending if there was no singing, no socializing, and no snacks? I can now confidently report that I’ve been there for a Shabbat service, and I was wrong. Mostly.

We’re getting close to K’s Bat Mitzvah, and one of the requirements is that she attend a certain number of services this year. We were given the option of in-person services on Saturday morning, or Zoom services on Friday evening and Sunday mornings. You wouldn’t be wrong to ask why, in the midst of a surge in COVID cases, I would choose to go to services in person. I was wondering that myself. Then we went on Saturday morning, and I remembered very well.

It’s simple: if we attend services in person, K will try harder to control her complaints. She also can’t just get up and walk out. I feel like if we attended through Zoom, she would be complaining constantly. So we went in person.

We walked the four blocks to our shul’s temporary home (they’re renovating) and checked in at the door (you have to reserve a spot since seats are so limited, and so they know who was there in case someone later tests positive for COVID.) I won’t lie, the service was different. Also a bit surreal, because of the plexiglas panels that surrounded each table or lectern at the front; the single chairs that were placed ten (or more) feet apart (there were some groups of two or three chairs that said, “reserved for members of the same bubble”); and the fact that everyone was wearing masks. To me, the most bizarre change was that nobody but the leader was allowed to sing. Whenever a prayer involved responses from the congregation, they were spoken instead of sung. We had been informed that if we wished to sing, we could hum softly—so the majority of folks in the room were humming, sometimes in harmony. It was different, but still beautiful.

Even with the masks, I could identify everyone in the room instantly. Either their hair, their tallit, their kippah, or their general demeanor gave them away; I knew them and they all knew me. I felt that sense of belonging that I always seem to forget about until I actually step into our shul.

K was still restless. She must have asked me five or six times when the service would end. My answer was usually “soon,” but I was sorely tempted to say, “If you’d paid attention in Hebrew school and if you would pick up a siddur (prayer book), you’d be able to answer that question yourself!” It was a very short service by traditional Jewish standards: a three-and-a-half hour service had been condensed into ninety minutes. It was refreshingly short and snappy. I’d love to get back to singing out loud, parading around the room with the Torah, and having a kiddush lunch with everyone afterwards; but the shorter service is a COVID-related change that I wouldn’t mind keeping.

Was it worth going? Yes, I think so. Even without the singing. As for socializing and snacks, I did chat with a few friends outside (from a distance), and they handed out pre-wrapped snacks to everyone on our way out of the building. It wasn’t the usual experience, but it still felt good to be there.

bikes planes and automobiles · community · Homeschool · waxing philosophical

Day 202: The Local Life

I’ve long complained that school was the primary reason I was stuck driving a lot. Our kids never went to the neighbourhood public school, so every morning I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in traffic for half an hour after making the 8:30 a.m. drop-off. Then two of my kids went to a public school that, while not our local school, was nearby, and I had the pleasure of sometimes walking home from dropping them off.

Now that we’re homeschooling, I can finally realize my dream of giving up daily driving. I’ll have no commute, which comes with its own problems: if there’s nowhere to go, will we have days when we never leave the house at all? That can’t be healthy—surely it’s a good idea to go outside and look at the sky every so often—but I can see it happening. There must be some sweet spot between too much commute and too little.

On the upside, we’ve begun to patronize more local businesses. I’m still getting used to paying more for the same things (economy of scale is a real advantage for major retailers), but I do like the experience of having a small radius of travel, not to mention the pleasure of getting to know the people in my neigbourhood (apparently my goal is to live on Sesame Street.) On a single one-kilometre stretch of main road near our house we have our family dentist, an optical store (where we bought K’s glasses), a bagel shop (several, actually, but I have my favourite), a health food store, my chiropractor and massage therapist, and the paint store I always use. Oh, and there’s the health-conscious-and-also-kosher cafĂ©, the laffa restaurant, and the ice-cream parlour.

(We used to walk to the pharmacy, too, but ironically at the same time as I was trying to do more locally, their service really deteriorated and I switched to an online pharmacy. I regret nothing.)

What am I missing, exactly? In my perfect world all our parents would live nearby, so that we really wouldn’t have to drive unless we desperately wanted to… but given how much we love my parents’ home with its ravine setting, that’s unlikely to happen. It’s probably too much to ask, anyway. We have neighbourhood friends, parks, shops, and (some) health care; I’m basically living my dream of a walkable lifestyle. Now it only remains to be seen whether I actually enjoy the lifestyle I’ve craved for so many years.

community · DIY · el cheapo · family fun · Kids

Day 176: Putting the Crowd into Crowdsourcing

It’s been hard for K, being at the cottage. As much as she loves going off to her “secret” perch between the woods and the rocky shore, she hasn’t had any swings or her trampoline; and I think we all know that no swings and no trampoline make K go crazy.

We had resolved not to venture into the world outside the cottage until after the long weekend (who needs the crowds?) so today was the earliest we were willing to go out and find some swings for K. Last night saw me googling “playgrounds near me,” which led me to discover something really cool. In a handful of words: there’s an app for that.

The app is called “Playground Buddy,” and it’s free. When I opened it up it immediately found my location on a map, and then up popped the little green symbols — each one indicating a separate playground. As it turned out, there is a playground only six minutes’ drive from our cottage, and it was that one where K spent almost an hour swinging, the usual blissful expression on her face.

Playground Buddy - Helping Families Find Playgrounds

While the kids played I explored the app a bit more. It relies on crowdsourcing to fill in the details of each playground, so I took a bit of time to add a couple of photos and to check off the appropriate amenities for the park where we were. I did a little more scrolling around the map and found that most of the playgrounds lack even basic information, such as their names. Maybe the app is very new, or maybe most of its users are in a completely different part of the world. Either way, I felt good about my little contribution to the effort; so I looked for other playgrounds that I knew well enough to describe (actually, it asks for very little. Any detail you can add is great.)

Later on, I introduced the kids to the concept of crowdsourcing. “It’s really neat,” I said, “by sending in their own observations, people can create a treasure trove of helpful information for others.” I don’t think they needed the explanation as enticement — my phone is enticement enough — but my kids passed the phone around between them, trying to find parks they knew. R filled in details of the park near her former school, N updated the playground stats for the playground at the local public school, and E clicked “yes” or “no” for each amenity at our neighbourhood park as I read them aloud. All in all, we updated the information on seven playgrounds.

I wouldn’t have thought of updating this kind of app as “community service,” but maybe it is, in a way. We take a few minutes out of our day to share information with anyone who wants it. If I tried to list the number of things I learned about for free, on the internet, from material that was posted by ordinary people who just wanted to inform or share, I’d be here all night. Anytime I stop to think about it, I’m blown away by the generosity of spirit I’ve found on the internet; the many tutorials, patterns, instructions, and ideas that people share freely, even when there’s no compensation for their efforts.

Will the Playground Buddy app catch on? I don’t know — I have zero connection to it except as a user — but I hope so. It’s a great resource for tourists with kids and families that have just relocated. And if it really takes off, I may never have to google “playgrounds near me” again.