family fun · Homeschool · Kids

Day 669: Snow Day II

We’re snowed in over here. Even after digging our car out of snowdrifts up to the windows, there’s a giant pile of snow at the bottom of our driveway that the snowplows kindly left for us. Much of our school day today was spent in “gym class”—in other words, shoveling. K worked for an especially long time; she was quick to point out that she expected to be excused from our family workouts for the rest of the week.

We gathered by the fireplace, hot chocolate in hand, to read Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast from 1756. The kids acknowledged that the original story is far closer to the myth of Psyche and Eros than any of the other versions they’re familiar with.

I sat down with R for her first fashion design class on Outschool. Today’s lesson was about necklines and how to sketch them on a croquis form. R was completely absorbed in it and in the follow-up assignment, which was to search our closets for examples of as many different necklines as possible. She found nine and photographed them to post to her class chat board.

I also dragged myself away from my computer and opened up an escape-room-in-a-box that’s been on our shelf for a year. The kids have never been keen to do these with me, so I decided to stop making it a family activity and just do the puzzles by myself. N came over while I was doing the first puzzle—a number puzzle requiring algebra—and insisted on working it out by himself… so I got some kid participation. Maybe next time I should work on the puzzles with a bowl of Skittles next to me, and when the kids ask if they can have some I’ll just say, “These are my thinking Skittles. If you want to work on the puzzles, you can have some while you think.”

I’m sleepy. Last night around 10:30, Mr. December looked over at me (we were both reading in bed) and asked, “Ready to go to sleep now? Or would you rather read for another two hours?” He knows me so well. I turned out the light at midnight, which is two hours later than I should have. My goal for tonight is to only read until eleven.

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

Day 653: What do you meme?

I don’t usually take pictures without people in them. I mean, I do take photos of my crafts and sometimes food for the blog, but I don’t go on trips and take pictures of the wildlife or scenery. First off, I’d rather be in the moment instead of seeing everything through my camera; and besides, photographers much more talented than I have taken way better pictures of these same animals and vistas. If I need to see a picture of a giant tortoise, I can find dozens of really excellent ones; why clutter my photo stream with mediocre versions?

That said, for some reason I was snapping pictures at the tortoise breeding centre in the Santa Cruz highlands, and I got one of this giant tortoise looking off to the left with his mouth wide open. He looks like he’s shouting to someone just outside the frame. A photo like this is just begging for a caption, don’t you think? It’s got “meme material” written all over it. Thing is, I’m not always that funny. And all of us are funnier than one of us, so I’m putting it out there.

Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to come up with some funny captions for this tortoise. Comment below or on Facebook, and I’ll share all the submissions (and announce my favourite, of course) in a future post.

family fun · Kids

Day 652: I made it after all.

As it turns out, I stayed awake just past midnight. The kids wanted to watch something in the attic, and I went up there assuming I’d fall asleep on the comfy beanbag. An hour and a half later, sometime around 11:40, we paused our movie and turned on the broadcast of the Times Square ball drop.

What happened next was inane. One commercial after another, and then the two hosts doing nothing but hyping up the party. I don’t care how excited they act, repeating “We’re all having such a fabulous time! What a great party!” does not a great party make. That was twenty minutes of my life I’m never getting back. At least I got the comfiest beanbag.

We had a lovely visit around midday; my bestie S came over with her dog (I mean, he’s so tiny he seems more like a stuffed animal with a soul, but he’s technically a dog) and some belated Chanuka gifts for the children. You know how some people are just tremendously gifted at gifting? S is one of those people. Although I’m pretty sure half of her aptitude involves just listening when people tell her things, the bottom line is that her gifts always elicit delight.

She brought the kids fuzzy one-piece pyjamas, which they adored. Yes, she also bought them onesies last year—they adored those, too, and then mostly grew out of them. They loved their gifts so much that they immediately ran to try them on, and then proceeded to wear their new jammies for the rest of the day.

Pictures of the kids in their new PJs. K’s has a hood with ears; N’s has a tail, which he seems to have just discovered in the first photo and which the girls are all inspecting in the second.

DIY · family fun · Just the two of us · Resorting to Violins

Day 647: Honey-do…

Mr. December might never admit boredom again. At least, not in my range of hearing.

We started the day with “puzzle time” at the table, at E’s insistence; she wanted to work on some Sudoku. I did a few brain teasers, K worked through a few Sudokus, and Mr. December furiously scribbled out his thoughts on some very hard math puzzles.

Puzzle time came to an end, though, and Mr. December and I found ourselves as we were yesterday: sitting together, talking about how we felt at loose ends. I don’t do idleness well, though, so pretty soon I was reciting a list of projects that I need to finish. It went something like this:

“I know, I have to finish the curtains for our bedroom—but I am so sick of those things. I’ve been “almost done” several times already! And we need to do the labels for the library shelves, but I was reshelving the books before we left and now I don’t remember where I wanted to reshelve them to. And I’ve been thinking, maybe I could fix that roller blind in the library if I slide the hardware a bit closer…” And with that I was out of the hammock, heading for my screwdriver and then the library.

“Hey,” I called over my shoulder to Mr. December, “since you’re not doing anything, how ’bout you go load the dishwasher?”

I succeeded at fixing the roller blind and Mr. December got the dishwasher started. He joined me in the library, where I was trying to reconstruct my brilliant reshelving plan.

“Since you’re right here,” I said, “maybe you could help me by disassembling this bench. It needs to be packed up—we’re returning it.”

He gamely sat down on the floor and began to take apart the bench; I continued working on reshelving the books until he needed my help to pack the bench back into its box.

We finished with the bench. Mr. December stood up; then, before I could say anything, he said, “So… let’s maybe do something together later, okay?” and escaped my clutches before I could assign him a new task.

I still had no clue what to do about organizing the books in the library, but at least the dishes were clean and the bench was ready to be shipped back. I gave up on the books and took out my viola; so now the roller blind is fixed, the dishes are clean, the bench is packed up, and my Telemann concerto is coming along nicely. Not bad for a boring day.

family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids

Day 645: Do you know where your children are?

Two of my kids are in Florida with my in-laws; one is upstairs in the attic. The fourth is with my parents, or at least she was when I left her there eight hours ago. Aside from a phone call around 2 p.m. asking me how to thread E’s sewing machine, I’ve heard nothing from that quarter.

It’s always a fraught decision: do I call them now and ask whether E is coming home or sleeping over, and risk alerting E to my existence in the process? Or do I not call—in the hope that E has forgotten about me and decided to sleep over—and end up with a very tired girl coming home late and being cranky in the morning?

(For the record, I’m on team “don’t call.” It’s winter vacation, my parents endured two months without this particular brand of sweetness, and we’ve got no plans for tomorrow, or the next day… or fourteen days after that—but that’s another story.)

Mr. December took K out for the traditional December 25 Chinese Food. In the meantime, I read a bit, did some crosswords, and finally—after two years—learned how to use the milk frother on my coffee machine (spoiler: it’s overrated.) I would have watched a movie if there was anyone who wanted to watch something with me, but as I said before, E is with my parents.

E is very eager to finish watching An American Tail with me. We started watching it on the plane from Guayaquil to the-airport-that-shall-not-be-named, although it’s more accurate to say that E watched the movie and I watched her. Her eyes lit up at the first “Happy Hannukah, Papa!” and she was riveted to the screen for the next forty minutes, when she took a quick break from the movie to tap me on the arm and inform me that “I think this is a Jewish story, Eema!”

It’s true what people say: representation really matters—especially to kids.

Since writing that last bit, E has come home. By all accounts, everyone had a good time—despite the fact that the sewing machine was getting stuck so E couldn’t work on her quilt. And I had a roughly-eight-hour break from being climbed on. Visits with the grandparents are a win for everyone.

family fun · Travelogue · water you paddling?

Day 535: My Asterisk Birthday

My Asterisk Birthday

Well, here we are—I’m * years old (if you’re not sure what that means, google “ASCII Table *”.) It was a really wonderful birthday: hugs, a day at the beach, kayaking, the works.

Today’s tour was to Playa Garrapatero, a stunning and secluded beach with white sand, calm waters, and plenty of wildlife.

I immediately went out in a kayak. Three dark shadows in the water turned out to be sea lions that played peek-a-boo with me for a bit before I paddled away from them to race with a marine iguana. The sky was a cloudless blue and with the sun glinting off the water, it felt like the whole beach was a sparkly birthday gift to me.

Swimming with the kids, we saw some rays gliding around us. Then a frigate bird started hovering over our group, his head swivelling back and forth as if he were watching a ping-pong match. It wasn’t until the enormous bird dove straight into the water between two of the kids that we realized: he thought the ball they were throwing was a fish!

(Which leads me to my hypothesis that frigate birds are stupider than pelicans; there were a couple of pelicans hanging around us as well, but none of them thought we were tossing a fish back and forth between us.)

The kids ran off and played with their friends. E and her new bestie created a shop on the beach, selling elaborate pieces of seaweed (they helpfully took me to the “bank” so I could load up on the black rocks they were using as currency.) Towards the end of our time there, E led me over a small rise and into a beautiful little spot with a tiny stream, mangroves, and a deep, warm tidal pool.

Back at our apartment I received another unexpected birthday gift: hot water in the shower. Usually only the first couple of showers of the day (for the whole building) get hot water; a hot shower at 4:30 p.m. was unheard of until this afternoon. I felt very special.

We had dinner at an Italian place that makes fresh pasta in-house, visited a science museum that I’ll tell you about another time, and finished with dessert at our favourite ice cream shop.

I couldn’t ask for a better day… come to think of it, I’d be hard-pressed to ask for a better life. I feel so blessed.

fame and shame · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · Travelogue · what's cookin' · whine and cheese

Day 633: The Krazy Krusty Katastrophe

Mr. December chose the restaurant for dinner tonight (the apartment we’re in is not well-equipped enough to cook anything in, so we’re eating out at least twice a day): Krusty Burger. Yes, just like in The Simpsons. 

Just like in The Simpsons, we were shocked—shocked!—to discover that Krusty’s name had been attached to an inferior product. 

(Okay, there wasn’t anything wrong with the food per se, but it was definitely wrong for us.) 

“Hamburguesas sin queso, sin jamón, salsas apartes,” I instructed in my most competent Spanish. The waiter wrote it down and repeated the order back to me twice, correctly. But of course, our hamburgers arrived smothered in cheese and sporting a nice thick slice of ham. At least the sauces were on the side. 

We sent the burgers back and they brought us new ones, just like we’d ordered. What we didn’t know (because it wasn’t on the menu) was that they sprinkle cheese on the French fries. I don’t know why. But K, who has a very strong aversion to cheese, was extremely upset. 

“Who puts cheese on a burger?” She ranted. 

“A lot of people,” I deadpanned. “They even have a name for it: it’s called a cheeseburger.” 

“And why do they put cheese on the fries? WHY???” She wailed, almost in tears. By this point she was in full-on meltdown mode, so I asked her to go for a short walk with me. 

We walked. We hugged. I commiserated with her. Then I told her a joke that had come to mind:

A Rabbi who’s been leading a congregation for many years is upset by the fact that he’s never been able to eat pork. So he flies to a remote tropical island to experience pork for the first time. He checks into his hotel, gets himself a table at the finest restaurant, and orders the most expensive pork dish on the menu.

As he’s eagerly waiting for it to be served, he hears his name called from across the restaurant. He looks up to see 10 of his loyal congregants approaching. What luck – they’d chosen the same time to visit the same island!

Just at that moment, the waiter comes out with a huge silver tray carrying a whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth.

The Rabbi sheepishly looks up at his congregants and says, “What kind of place is this? You order an apple and look how it’s served!”

Walking back to the restaurant with a much calmer K, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my foot. I looked down: a round wooden skewer was sticking out of my shoe. And my foot. Ouch. Or as Homer Simpson once said, “Fiddle-dee-dee, that will require a tetanus shot!” Good thing I’m up-to-date with my boosters.

The roadside skewer wasn’t Krusty Burger’s fault, but they messed up our order, brought us one glass of water instead of six, ruined French fries (that’s quite a feat,) and gave Mr. December a stomachache. 

“Ay ay ay, mi estomago!” He moaned as we walked home. But hey—he said it in Spanish!

family fun · Keepin' it real · snarky · Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny... · Worldschooling

Day 632: Isabella

There are things you can say in Galapagos—in polite company, with complete honesty, with a straight face—that you can’t anywhere else: 

“I want to see more boobies.”

“So they can touch us, but we can’t touch them?”

“Wow, these boobies are way bigger than the last ones we saw.”

And then there’s this one: 


R rolled her eyes when I said it the first time.

“Well, it is!” I pointed out. 

She was unimpressed, so I tried with N. 

“N, did you hear? THE FLOOR IS LAVA!”

“Very funny, Eema,” he said, in a voice that told me it was anything but. 

But honestly—if you can’t say “THE FLOOR IS LAVA!” when you’re walking through a lava field, when can you?

The landscape at Tintoreras was surreal. Not only was the floor lava, but the whole area was covered in what looked a bit like porous black stalagmites, topped with white lichens. The iguanas took camouflage to a whole new level with their spiky black bodies and a bit of white on their heads. I’d be walking along when I’d detect movement from the corner of my eye, and then suddenly what I thought was a rock turned into a live iguana, just inches away. 

You’d think I’d be used to spontaneous wildlife appearances by now; but in Galapagos the animals almost go out of their way to put themselves in ours. There are sea lions just lying around on the sidewalks, like dozens of drunks passed out in the street. 

(We were confused about how they were getting from the water to the sidewalk until we watched one climb the stairs with his fins and feet. They are adorable when they crawl.)

We had hoped to encounter baby sea lions during our snorkelling excursions. Alas, the only ones we saw were ten metres away in a tidal pool, surrounded by rocks that made the whole thing look like a baby jail playpen. They were jumping and cavorting together while their fathers stood watch on a nearby rock, barking at anyone who got too close. 

We also swam through a cloud of tiny jellyfish and over dozens of white-tipped sharks, and through narrow canals lined with green sea urchins (“Don’t touch,” our guide cautioned.) 

On land, we walked to a beach where the iguanas basked in the sun. A baby sea lion was waiting on the sand for its mother to return with some food; only a few metres away we noticed a small skull, and the kids found some tiny rib bones and a spine a few feet past that. Apparently some sea lion moms don’t come back. 

(“Maybe because the kids are annoying and won’t go to bed on time,” Mr. December suggested.)

Our hotel that night was exactly what we needed: one room with a king bed for the grownups, and another with four single beds for the kids. Mr. December and I went into our child-free room and lay down to relax; three minutes later, we heard a knock on the door.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I locked it. I just need the silence.” Mr. December nodded.

Moments later, as if in a horror movie, the kids emerged through the window (I didn’t know the screens slid open like that.) The first time they did it, I was exasperated. The second time, I was indignant. By the third time, it was just funny, like the signature entrance of a weird neighbour on a nineties sitcom; I could practically hear the laugh track and applause as N stepped through the window frame. 

It was less amusing when he came in at three in the morning, complaining of thirst. I sent him off with a water bottle and tried to go back to sleep despite the loud music coming from a party many blocks away. Eventually I searched for my swimming earplugs and put them in: silence. I got three more hours of sleep after that.

bikes planes and automobiles · Costa Rica · family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 629: Galapagos

Well, our flight from Guayaquil to Galapagos was uneventful (and had the most legroom of any plane I’ve been on in the last twenty years.) We were greeted at the airport and arrived at our apartment by 3 p.m. 

We didn’t really meet anyone from the group until Tuesday morning at breakfast. I saw a table with three teenage girls seated at it; I told K to go sit there. I suggested to some other adults that we should have a parents’ table, and I pushed my other three kids towards a large table with some other children. E met another six-year-old girl who was shy but eventually warmed up (they’re best friends now,) N started talking with a few boys, and R watched quietly (which surprised me.) 

On Tuesday we visited the Charles Darwin Centre and learned about what their scientists are doing in order to preserve the ecosystem here. Afterwards, we walked out to the beach and scrambled across the rocks to find crabs, iguanas, and even some fish in the tidal pools. 

Tuesday afternoon was our first Spanish lesson. I’m in the beginner class with Mr. December and two other parents. It’s not difficult for me, thanks to Mango Languages and ten years of learning French, but I’m glad that I have the opportunity to solidify the basics. Me gusto parlar Español. 

Wednesday morning saw us boarding a boat for a Bahia boat tour. We landed and took a hike out to see blue-footed boobies and iguanas. Then we got back on the boat and sailed over to another park where we hiked past a salt marsh and tons of cacti, and down into a canyon where we swam in the brackish water between the canyon walls. After that we took the boat to another part of the bay where we snorkelled over dozens of non-pointy sea urchins (we actually held one in our hands) and got pretty close to a huge manta ray and dozens of different kinds of fish. 

In the afternoon all the kids went to play soccer with local children. I walked out to get my SIM card topped up with data (cellular data is far more reliable than any wifi on the island, though it’s still slow.) I’d always heard that cellular service is cheaper everywhere that isn’t Canada, but I was still astonished to have paid ten dollars U.S. and received 12 gigs of data, plus unlimited gigs for WhatsApp and Messenger. Just… wow. 

(Even more wow was the fact that I went into the store and was able to do the whole transaction in Spanish!)

This morning (Thursday) we had another Spanish class. This time we went out to the main road with our teacher and practiced asking vendors how much things cost, to see if we correctly understood the prices in Spanish. 

The kids had a lesson on renewable energy that K said was “pretty basic,” and then they were free for lunch. When they went back to the classroom at 2:00 for a cooking lesson, we walked down to the pier to ask about weekend tours to other islands. We want to see penguins, so we’re probably heading off to Floreana and Isabella. You’ll likely not hear from me until Monday, when I’ll update you on how the weekend tours went.