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.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · el cheapo · family fun

Day 171: Be Careful What You Say

Okay, so my post about how I’m the one who’s really good at stacking and packing? I shouldn’t have written it. Or published it. Whatever. All I know is that today it seems like I’m the only person who knows how to pack.

“Eema! I laid out all my clothes, will you pack them?”

“Eema! I put my clothes in the crate but they don’t all fit! And they’re all on the packing list, so I neeeeed them!”

And Mr. December:

“Honey, I know you love packing stuff up really efficiently, so I left my stuff on our bed for you to pack. ThanksIloveyoubye.”

I actually started my day with one of my favourite outings, a bike ride to Lowe’s through the beltline path. I had to buy a concrete deck block to anchor the corner post of the sukkah and some more bolts to finish securing its ceiling beams. I can now proudly say that the sukkah frame is complete and ready for walls and decorations as soon as we get back.

Then off to the supermarket, where I phoned a friend and talked to her while waiting for my Click and Collect order to be brought out to my car.

R informed me last night that she has no running shoes that fit. Seriously? Now she tells me? I can’t be too annoyed because the truth is that she hasn’t needed to wear running shoes since school closed in March. Given that R has grown a lot over the spring and summer I guess it’s only right that she’d need shoes now. I feel like I scored big, though: there was one pair of sparkly sneakers in her size on the clearance rack (always the first place I look) and they fit well. When we got to the cash my jaw almost hit the floor when the cashier announced, “That will be $14.51, please.” Looks like I had a coupon on my account there. Who knew?

Then I got even luckier.

I’ve been scouring Value Village for the last couple of weeks in search of the perfect pair of cottage sweatpants: men’s vintage Roots sweatpants with a drawstring at the waist and elastic at the ankles. Today they were just waiting for me, and I let out a whoop of elation when I found them. I don’t usually believe that stuff about how you have to ask the universe for what you want, but it seems to have worked this time! (Hey, universe? How about some cheesecake?)

The rest of the day is a blur of folding, rolling, and smushing everyone’s clothes into my magic crates. I don’t even remember packing my own, but just now when I trudged up the stairs to pack my clothes I was met by a crate neatly packed with everything I needed. It was like a gift from my past self. (Thank you, past self!)

There are crates, boxes, and bins all over the front hall and the upstairs landing. My typical can-do attitude is telling me that everything will fit just perfectly; a more rational part of my brain doesn’t know what we’ll do when we discover that it doesn’t all fit. (Is it illegal to strap a kid to the roof of the car? Yes? Okay, how about my husband?)

I do know one thing: when we get to the cottage, I’m going to go sit on the dock and let Mr. December and the kids unload the car. I’ve done more than my share; as of 3 p.m. tomorrow, I’m on strike vacation.

el cheapo · family fun · lists

Day 168: Stacking & Packing

I have a thing for packing. I don’t know if it was all my Tetris playing as a child and teenager, but I’m one of those people who gets twitchy watching other people pack or load things. If someone else has loaded the dishwasher, I’ll reload it because my way just fits so many more dishes. When we go on road trips, I pack the car. I have this map in my head of what fits best where, and since it’s painful to watch Mr. December do it his way (which is to say, lots of dead space), I do it myself.

Funny story about that: Mum came over the morning we left for our road trip last summer. She watched me carrying, lifting, and stacking everything and asked, “Why isn’t Mr. December doing this? Or at least helping?” I’m sure she thought that he was being lazy and I was picking up the slack.

“Because he can’t do it as well as I can,” I explained. “I’m really good at this.”

We’re going to ignore the signs of the perfectionism that probably exacerbates my exhaustion, okay? The point is I like packing, and I take pride in using my (clearly superior) spatial skills to pack as efficiently as possible. And because I take pride in it, I’m going to share with you my secret packing weapon:

Plastic crates I got for free from No Frills. Oh, and some stackable containers that I actually had to buy.

I hate trying to get luggage to stack. It’s always just slightly too rounded, or the sizes are a little too irregular, for me to stack them any higher than two — and the top layer usually slides around a lot. And then there’s the lack of visibility: if you can’t see what’s in them, you might end up having to open every bag to find the one thing you’re looking for.

With crates and bins (but especially with crates), they’re designed to stack on each other; the crates from the grocery store are designed to stay locked together in a moving truck. When you’re packing food, clothing, and recreational stuff for six people, you really have to use all the vertical space you can get, which is where the beauty of my crates and bins really lies.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. A stack of bins with flip-lids (so they can’t get lost!): These bins are packed with things for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, art supplies, books, outdoor activity equipment, and board games. They’ll stack nicely in one column in the van and in the cottage, which will be a real space-saver.
  2. My blue grocery bins. I’m using these for canned goods, because they’re sturdy and they nest inside each other. I clearly can’t fill these bins to the top with cans if I want to be able to carry them, but I can pack a single row of cans in one bin, then put the next bin right on top of the cans, and so on. It’s a different type of stack, I guess. When we get to the cottage I’ll unpack and then be able to nest them until they’re needed.
  3. My black plastic crates. Many years ago I plucked these from the “free boxes” area at No Frills; I think they held bags of peas or something. On this trip they’re holding our life jackets, beach towels, board games, and probably some of our clothes — assigning each person one crate (and one crate only!) seems like a fair way to avoid overpacking.
  4. Milk crates. Yes, I know what they say on the sides: “Illegal use prohibited” (Thanks, I had no idea what “illegal” meant!) or “For use by authorized owner only.” It’s not like I pinched these from a pile in the supermarket; they both came with our house and they look to be maybe forty years old. Someone else stole them long before my time. It’s my gain, because they’re sturdy, they stack solidly, and they’re just about the right size to hold all our rain gear.

I have a spreadsheet for packing (of course I do: Mr. December has rubbed off on me) that I’m slowly working my way through. At this point I think it’s just clothes and food that still need to be done, and I’ll have the pleasure of walking past my perfectly packed provisions while I pack some more.

See? Aren’t they beautiful? And organized? Isn’t it soothing just looking at them?

*crickets*

I guess some people will never know this joy… sigh…

crafty · DIY · el cheapo · goodbye clutter!

Day 163: Closets Big and Small

Apparently my kids are interested in cleaning up their closets; all it took was a few bags of new clothes, and suddenly I had both R and N asking me to help them sort out their closets. If I had known that was all it would take I’d have dragged them to Value Village years ago.

They filled up a total of four laundry baskets full of stuff they can’t or won’t wear anymore. N’s closet went from being an avalanche every time we opened the doors to a neat and orderly wardrobe. He asked for hooks for his ties and hoodies, so I made him some s-hooks out of a nice blue coat hanger I had, and attached them to his pull-down closet rod.

I used up a couple more wire hangers in R’s room, but not for her closet. It seems that her dolls were jealous of R’s tidy wardrobe and wanted a place to store their clothes neatly — or so R told me. It just so happened that the ends of the wire hangers fit perfectly into the pre-drilled holes in the bookcase that we’ve been slowly turning into a doll house. Two hangers and a bit of duck tape later, I had fashioned some little shelves and installed them in the dolls’ bedroom. Have a look:

This dollhouse has been one of my proudest IKEA-hacking moments. R desperately wanted bunk beds for her dolls, but the ones for sale in the stores were upwards of $120 each. On top of that, they would have taken up the entire room in her dollhouse — the proportions would have been all wrong. I mulled over it for a couple of days and then, after looking very closely, I realized that there’s an extra row of holes in the sides of the bookcase about six inches from the back. I realized that IKEA had very shallow shelves for these units too, and that two such shelves could be dressed up to look like bunk beds.

I bought some doll bedding on sale and then cut it in half, creating two sets of bedding that fit the narrow shelves perfectly. Then, Because my motto is (according to my best friend since childhood) “Go big or go home,” I went a step further: I cut and glued some very small pieces of trim to make a bunk bed façade that attached to the front of the shelves.

There are six dolls and three bedrooms, so I still need to build two more of these façades — not to mention some more of those neat little shelves. I look forward to seeing whose rooms stay neat longer: R’s or the dolls’?

el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 162: Crowd Control

N and R came back from my in-laws’ house on Sunday evening. Within half an hour we were all bustling around the kitchen, baking goodies for the Ve’ahavta van again. There I stood in the middle of the room as kids passed measuring cups back and forth, flour flew out of the mixer, and everybody talked at once; and I was loving every minute of it.

Mr. December, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to run and hide. Later that night he moaned, “It was so much easier with just two of them!”

I laughed. “Aren’t you the guy who keeps saying he wouldn’t have minded having a fifth kid?”

“Well yeah, but we could still send a few to the grandparents sometimes.”


Yesterday afternoon I took the kids shopping for clothes, which they all professed to need. We headed to Value Village where we found such fabulous deals as leggings for $1.99 and some really comfortable shorts for $4.99. Being a thrift store, Value Village is my compromise between my cheapness (I do not want to drop $20 or more on a pair of jeans for my kid!) and my desire to boycott Chinese products (a near impossibility, I know, and hypocritical given my love of my new kayaks, which are made in China.) I’ve also sold the kids on the thrift store concept, since they get to buy books of their choice ($1.99 each) and occasionally find unique clothes that you can’t buy at the mall. It doesn’t hurt that I’m likely to allow them to get pretty much any clothes or books they like because it’s just so cheap.

There I was, with four kids, still absolutely loving having them all together again. R helped N find fuzzy pyjama pants, K scored some really nice Lululemon tops (I’m not brand conscious for fashion reasons, but Lululemon’s stuff lasts forever. I still can’t justify getting rid of my wide-legged yoga pants, because they look and feel so darn good!) and I found some comfy shorts. At one point N and R took E to the book section while K and I browsed. It was a bit busy, and a bit chaotic, and once again I revelled in it.

I’m starting to realize that crowd management is one of my parenting strengths. It’s a skill that served me well when I was a camp counsellor and then a trip leader for Birthright Israel. I do periodic head counts automatically, announce our plan clearly at the outset, and herd everyone in the right direction. I can also speak very loudly without shouting, a skill I’m sure my fellow singers share.

My camp counsellor persona serves me very well when we’re out and about, and usually less so at home. When we’re out, I can field questions from three different directions. At home I get overwhelmed just from two kids talking at the same time. I have no idea why. Maybe I’m just not in the same frame of mind when I’m at home, because I don’t have to be.

As I type this, the younger three kids are building a fort together out of foam puzzle mats. They’re not finished their school work, but I’m loathe to interrupt them. I can hear them negotiating, planning, problem solving, and creating. Even better, they’re working together and cooperating (not always a given around here.) That’s why I’m waiting for the game to reach its natural conclusion before dragging them back to their workbooks.


Just after I wrote the above, K walked in from hanging out at the park with two neighbourhood friends.

“WHO WANTS TO GO TO THE PARK AND PLAY ‘THE FLOOR IS LAVA’ WITH ME?” She bellowed (K has definitely inherited my natural facility with crowds.)

N, R, and E clamoured to join her. They filled their water bottles, put on their shoes, and ran off to the park; all four of my kids, together, with no adult. They walked and skipped, chattering amongst themselves like the group of squirrels near our back porch. The older kids watched out for E, asking her to walk ahead of them so they could see her. I love that I have four of them. I love the craziness, the chaos, the noise (most of the time; I’m neither a saint nor deaf), the fact that they’re a little tribe unto themselves. I am so profoundly thankful for my big family.

I’m also profoundly thankful that they’re out of the house for the next hour or so. Maybe now I can get some work done.

DIY · education · el cheapo · Homeschool · Kids

Day 155: Teaching E to Read

Now that E is well and truly riding her bike independently (including starting, stopping, and turning), I’m turning my focus back to her reading skills.

When we started with the Bob Books she was zooming right through them. At this point, though, starting set four, she is — how should I say this? — extremely opposed to reading. It seems that she has the same perfectionist streak as her siblings: if she can’t do it perfectly the first time, she gets very upset and refuses to do it at all. Maybe I need to break out the chocolate chips again and reward her every time she’s stumped by a word but works through it?

I’ve taken the advice of some of my readers (thanks, guys!) and tried some of the books from Progressive Phonics. They’re a lot of fun, with silly stories that are designed for the adult and child to take turns reading (adult reads all the words in black, child reads all the words in red.) They’re very basic and easy for her, but I’ve been using them intermittently to keep E enjoying the experience of reading.

In the meantime I’ve discovered a plethora of online resources, many of them free, including this amazing blog called This Reading Mama where, for the low, low price of signing up for her free email newsletter, you can access and download hundreds of materials. I was particularly excited because she has entire packages of games, activities, and puzzles that correspond to each of the Bob Books. I downloaded two to see how E would like them.

She loved them. She was particularly drawn to “I Spy Sight Words” where sight words from the books are printed in teeny-tiny fonts (maybe 4 point?) and hidden in a picture. E was delighted when I handed her the magnifying glass to aid in her search, and she kept me updated by shrieking out the sight words as she found them. I don’t think she even realized she was reading.

We played the “Blend-a-Word” game, in which you draw cards from two piles (beginning and ending), throw them into the “blender” (a printed picture of one, really) and read the result. The beautiful thing about this game is that you’re supposed to write down all the words, including nonsense words that aren’t words at all. The idea of nonsense words tickled E and she was keen to be the first to read the two cards together to see if she could spot a fake word before I could.

Her favourite by far (she loved it enough to play repeatedly with anyone and everyone) is “Oh, Snap!” This one wasn’t from the Bob Books activity packs — I think I found it on Pinterest. The players take turns pulling popsicle sticks out of a cup. If they can read the word written on the end of their stick, they get to keep it; first one to ten sticks wins. Pretty simple, but there are three or four sicks that say “oh snap!” on them. If you get one of those, all of your sticks go back and you have to start from zero. Despite some tears the first couple of times she picked up an “oh snap!”, E keeps coming back to this game.

That’s how we spent an hour this morning: playing games and doing puzzles, reading and playing with the words from the next few Bob books in the series. I’m curious to find out whether E reads the books more easily now that she’s seen the words so many times in a different context. I’ll keep you posted.

DIY · el cheapo · family fun · Kids

Day 149: Make your own fun! (sprinkler tutorial)

Running through the sprinkler on a hot day is one of the simple joys of summer. Even as an adult, if I’m out for a walk and someone’s sprinkler is watering the sidewalk, I’m absolutely running through it. But it’s not so simple when you don’t actually own a sprinkler — or is it?

(You heard me. We don’t own a sprinkler. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know how I feel about lawns. And why else would I own one? Oh yeah… that whole running-through-the-sprinkler thing. Right.)

E’s new friend down the block came over to play in the backyard today and I decided to make our own fun… by making our own sprinkler. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work (I found myself wishing I’d taken physics, but alas, I wasn’t allowed because my math grades weren’t high enough), so I managed expectations by telling girls that it was an experiment.

I got them to help me with the cordless drill and the tape, and with holding the hose in place. Then we set it up and — whooosh! — it worked! All it took was some tape, a plastic jar, a drill, and the willingness to be wrong. Want to make one yourself? You’re in luck: this post is a DIY tutorial. Grab your materials and let’s get started.

Materials:

  • 1 clean plastic jar with lid
  • 1 cordless drill with a small (1/16″) drill bit, OR
  • A hammer and a medium to large nail
  • Duck tape
  • Utility knife (or something else to cut a hole in the side of the jar)
  • Your garden hose (no hoses will be harmed in the making of this sprinkler)

I’d like to have taken pictures while I was making it so that I could share them with you, but I didn’t think of it at the time. So for your delight and edification I’ve applied my mediocre drawing skills to illustrate the steps. I hope you enjoy them.

Method:

  1. Use the cordless drill (or hammer and nail) to make holes in the bottom of the plastic jar. You decide how many, but it’s a good idea to start with a few, test it, and then add until you like the spray.
  1. With the utility knife, cut an “X” on one side of the jar, near the lid. Push the end of the hose through the X. If it won’t go through, you can start cutting away between the cut lines until there’s enough room. Try not to make this hole too big, though. You’ll see why in the next step.
  1. Keeping the hose in place somehow (I used child labour; do whatever you need to), seal the hole around the hose with duck tape. Then seal that duck tape with more duck tape (make Red Green proud, you guys.) Close the lid of the jar tightly and seal that with duck tape too.
  1. Place the jar upside down on the lawn. Turn on the hose.
  1. Suddenly realize that your DIY sprinkler works so well (and sprays so far) that it’s getting your cordless drill wet. Go move your stuff. Then take off your shoes (if you were wearing any) and start cavorting in the water like you did when you were a kid.

  1. Leave a comment below to tell me all about the cool sprinkler you made. Bonus points for bloopers!

A long and winding road trip · bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · family fun · Kids

Day 107: Boston (road trip report)

We left the dude ranch and drove to Boston. On the way through Brookline we met up for dinner with a friend from Mr. December’s university days. Checked into our hotel room — which was a two-room suite, a real treat after sharing one room for so many nights in a row. Before bed we watched an Oversimplified video about the American Revolution to prepare the kids (and ourselves) for what we’d be doing the next day.

We woke up to rain. We took an Uber to the Boston Tea Party Museum, where we participated in a re-enactment of the church meeting and the subsequent throwing of tea off the ship (one of the actual Tea Party ships, which is now part of the museum.) After viewing the indoor exhibits, we went upstairs to the tea room and enjoyed some scones and a few antique table games.

From the Tea Party Museum we could see the Boston Children’s Museum, which hadn’t been on our itinerary. Still, it was another indoor venue to explore while we waited out the rain. Right before we went to buy tickets, I remembered that with our Ontario Science Centre membership we had reciprocal benefits with a whole host of museums. Some googling later, and after a quick phone call to the OSC membership desk (“Um, could you please email me a copy of my membership card? I’m in Boston and my card is in Toronto…”) we got in for free.

This was where we lost N. He was with us one minute, and then he wasn’t. Fortunately we were wearing our matching family trip t-shirts, so he was easy to describe and was found very quickly.

Eventually we took another Uber to Boston Common and the Public Gardens. I had hoped the Frog Pond would be open for wading and water play, but apparently in Boston you can’t play with water if it’s raining… or something like that. Anyhow, we let the kids play in the playground for a while before we moved on to the Public Garden. In a heart-warming turn of events, R helped E get across the monkey bars by holding her legs up.

The Public Garden was where the magic happened. We sat on a bench and I read Make Way for Ducklings aloud to the kids, sitting in the exact place where the story was set — our view over the top of the book was identical to the book’s illustrations. When we had finished, we took pictures with the statues of the ducks from the book.

It was a two kilometre walk to Boston’s North End, where we were meeting a friend for dinner. Firm believers in developing grit and in “you can do hard things”, we walked it with the kids. To their credit, the complaining was minimal; their effort was rewarded with fresh cannolis.

We walked back to our hotel (maybe a twenty minute walk), stopping along the way at the famous Old North Church. The kids didn’t remember its significance from the Oversimplified video, so I whipped out my phone and read them Longfellow’s poem Paul Revere’s Ride.

The next morning we toured the USS Constitution museum and ship, which was conveniently located across the parking lot from our hotel. The museum was outstanding. Once again, I learned a lot about the causes of the War of 1812, about ship building, and about the life of a sailor (that was in the well-executed children’s area of the museum.) Then we climbed aboard the ship (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) and clambered below decks to see where the crew slept and ate, and to discover what the ship used for ballast (rocks. Large ones.)

That was the end of our time in Boston. We loaded up the car and headed out on the road with only our phones and Google Maps to guide us. Until, that is, our phones displayed… a blank cartesian plane.

Okaaay… now what?

Lesson learned: always, aways bring along a paper map as backup. You never know when you might drive off the highways and onto someone’s geometry homework.

el cheapo · family fun · Independence · Kids

Day 106: Double Digits

N turned 10 today. I can’t believe it — it feels simultaneously like just yesterday and like a million years ago that I gave birth to him right here, at home. He came out screaming, but over the years he became quieter and quieter; we worried about him. Then we told him he would be going to a new school, in a Gifted program, and he came out of his shell again. Watching him blossom is such a privilege.

(Smelling him, on the other hand, is the opposite. Is he too young for deodorant?)

We celebrated with a very small physical-distancing water gun party. N invited his four best friends and curated a playlist of his favourite songs. I bought water guns at Dollarama and arranged all the food. The girls decorated the patio area. When the guests arrived, I handed over the water guns and went back inside. Between the water guns and the trampoline they entertained themselves for over an hour — without adult intervention. I call that a win.

So now he’s ten. He does his own laundry and can make quesadillas and braid challah. He loves reading, math, puns, and games of all kinds. And lions, of course. And he’s still the very snuggly kid who asks me to sing him to sleep and then nuzzles my hand while I do.

Happy birthday, N. Welcome to your second decade!

A long and winding road trip · bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · family fun · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 97: What I did on my summer vacation, part 2

Before I get to the meat of this post, let me just say Happy Fathers’ Day to all those celebrating today, but in particular to my father, my husband, and his father — each of them, in his own way, a supreme example of a good father.


When we left off last week, we were reversing out of our driveway and heading towards adventure on a Sunday morning. Right before we left, Mr. December pulled me aside and asked, “Should we do some kind of announcement when we get on the road? Like on an airplane?” I thought it was a great idea, so we recorded something like this:

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome aboard the B-bus. Today we will be riding at an altitude of about four feet. The weather is clear and we’ll be in Niagara Falls in about ninety minutes. For your comfort and convenience you will find a fleece blanket, a full water bottle, and an in-flight entertainment clipboard in the seat pocket in front of you. On behalf of all of us, we wish you a pleasant journey.”

The kids giggled, but they hadn’t heard the best part yet: Mr. December then translated into “Buk Buk” language (I’ve mentioned his chicken alter-ego before, right?).

“Buk buk bukbuk buKAW, buk buk B-bus. Buk bukaw Niagara Falls bukbuk buk.” … and so on. You get the idea.

An hour and a half later we arrived in Niagara Falls and spent the day on the Maid of the Mist, the Niagara Skywheel, at Ripley’s Believe it… or Not!, and at the IMAX film about the falls. And, of course, we stopped in at the Hershey store. The kids were so busy deciding what candy they wanted to buy that they completely missed the free samples (so did Mr. December, but I shared mine with him. I’m nice like that.)

Our lunch that day was a packed lunch from home, so it wasn’t until dinner that we discovered that in Niagara Falls, even large chain restaurants are overpriced. We went to East Side Mario’s and I gaped in disbelief when I saw what they were charging. We still had to eat, though, so Mr. December wisely ordered a few dinners (huge dishes) and we all shared them.

Back at the hotel it was bedtime, but we all wanted a swim in the hotel’s pool. As it happened, so did all the other families at our hotel. We were still swimming when the pool closed at nine. Baths for all, and then bed. Right?

Wrong. The falls were lit up in colours and, according to the guest information in our room, the fireworks would begin at ten. As soon as they heard the first of the fireworks, the kids shot up out of their beds and dragged two armchairs to the window.

“Eema, why are you trying to sleep? Aren’t you coming to watch?” They asked.

“No. Somebody has to be alert enough to drive tomorrow, you know!” was my half-mumbled, half-whined response. And with that, I put in my earplugs, pulled on my eye mask, and went to sleep.

One day down, thirteen more to go.