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!

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?

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.

family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 572: She’s so High

We went to our homeschool meetup in the park this afternoon (K, who still feels ill, stayed home.) R was so reluctant to go that she extracted a promise from me to bring along a board game and play it with her; N took along his Pokémon cards; E was very excited to see her friends again.

I was actually kind of looking forward to playing a game with R, but as soon as we got to the park she ran off to see what the other kids were doing (hunting for crickets or grasshoppers, apparently.) She abandoned me! I had to actually sit down and talk to other adults.

(Kidding. My mantra, which you’ve probably heard before, is “You’re the kid, and your job is to play with other kids; I’m the mom, and my job is to talk with other parents.”)

As I conversed with a new member of the group, another parent came to me. “The girls really want you to see how far they’ve climbed,” she said, and led me over to a tall pine tree.

“Hi Eema!” I heard, and looked up into the branches. R was sitting in the tree, but where was E?

“I’m up here, Eema! And I want to climb higher!” E called down.

She clambered up to the top of the tree—effortlessly, it seemed—while I tried to figure out when I could politely excuse myself. Not because I wasn’t proud of her, or because I really needed to get back to my conversation, but because every fibre of my being wanted to yell, “Great! Now please come down!”

It’s a reaction that’s at odds with everything I believe in: I want my kids’ childhood to involve hanging out in the trees. Truly, very few things make me happier than seeing kids get muddy, dirty, and scratched up while enjoying nature and playing with dangerous things like pointy sticks; but when it comes to things that have the potential for real danger, like hiking near deep crevasses and climbing a cliff with no harness, I can’t watch. What I really want is for the kids to do the thing and then tell me all about it and show me pictures… after I know they’re okay.

I don’t need the anxiety, and they don’t need my fears to cloud their own judgment of their abilities. So I generally tell them how awesome what they’re doing is, and then politely remove myself from the immediate area… except when I stay and watch because “I might need to describe this to the ER doctors later.”

family fun · Homeschool · Kids

Day 556: Out of her Shell

Anybody who has met R in real life has a hard time believing that she’s afraid to talk to people. I don’t mean “people” as in “friends, family, and neighbours she’s known her whole life,” more like strangers in transactional situations—at a snack bar, in stores, at the bank. Sometimes we’ll be someplace and she’ll have a question and I’ll say, “Go ask that person with the name tag,” and she’ll shake her head violently, grasp my hand, and beg me to come with her.

This evening we volunteered at the orchard, running the pickup table for a fundraiser. I would greet people, ask their name, and check them off while R and E found the corresponding bag of apples; then I’d prompt the girls to give the person an information sheet while I explained a bit more about it.

It took six or seven pickups for R to warm up to the task; gradually she started explaining the info sheet before I could do it. Then she began to greet our customers. By the time our shift was over, she was running the whole pickup table and making conversation with everyone.

She refused to leave her post, even after the next shift had arrived and it was time for us to go home for dinner. I agreed that R could stay at the park with the other volunteers; E and I walked home for dinner.

We returned just as the volunteers were packing up. Apparently R handled the whole thing herself; the other volunteers (both of them adults) were impressed at how competent and confident she was, and sat back to let her run the show. As I approached the table I could hear R chattering away to someone about the problems with how Percy Jackson had been translated from book to screen.

All I could think—and what Mr. December commented on—was that volunteering has been an incredible opportunity for R to expand her social skills from dealing with her peers to interacting with people of various ages. When people tell me that my homeschooled kids need school because they need socialization, this is the counter-example I’ll be sharing with them.

family fun · Keepin' it real · water you paddling? · whine and cheese

Day 555: My Blog ate my Homework.

I just spent close to an hour typing a very descriptive post about my day. It was rife with drama, frustration, and ultimately, triumph over the City of Toronto’s evil plot to keep me from kayaking on Lake Ontario.

And then, as I tried to upload a couple of photos, the whole thing crashed.

In short:

  • Traffic was awful
  • Access to Cherry Beach was blocked…
  • …so was access to eastbound Lakeshore Blvd., which would have taken me to other beaches in the area.
  • I almost collided with a cyclist.
  • We ended up in Etobicoke at the mouth of the Humber River.
  • We finally kayaked.
  • My car almost ran out of gas.

But hey, I had some good conversations in the car with Mum, and I got to go kayaking, so the day wasn’t a total loss. And then, just because…

  • The restaurant we ordered from was short on drivers and didn’t bother calling to tell us that our food would be an hour late.
  • My blog ate my blog post.

I give up, Sunday. You win this time.

My Mum in one of our inflatable kayaks, after we finally made it out onto the water.

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.

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 546: A Fast from Screens

Yesterday was a weird Yom Kippur. I wasn’t feeling great, and fasting is more important than attending synagogue, so I took two naps. Yes, two. I got five hours of sleep during the day. At the end of the day I gathered the family and we did the end of the Neilah service, blew the shofar, and did havdalah. It felt magical.

I also went screen-free from Wednesday afternoon until I turned on our synagogue’s livestream yesterday evening around 7:00. I really enjoyed it—I might try going screen-free on Shabbat for a few weeks and see how that feels.

I’m actually very tempted to enforce a screen-free Shabbat policy for the kids, too; Yesterday I had said there would be no screen time for anyone til at least noon… which lead to them asking all morning whether it was noon yet. Their level of screen addiction isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t fill me with delight either. I think they need some time out to rediscover all the things they used to do.

This weekend we’re taking a short road trip and we’re not taking computers (at least, we’re not taking any of the kids’ computers. I might bring mine just for blogging purposes.) It’s going to be great—I love road trips with the kids. It’s the perfect opportunity to make them listen to whatever podcasts or musicals I want them to hear. In all seriousness, though, my kids do road trips really well—they always have, even as toddlers. I don’t even have to bring wrapped toys to surprise them with anymore.

All of this to say that if you don’t see a post from me tomorrow or Sunday, do not panic. Remain calm and go read some of my really old stuff—I was funnier back then.