family fun · Japan · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1098: No Complaints!?

We got a late start this morning, on account of me getting up and starting the washing machine late, which meant we had to wait for it to finish so we could hang the clothes. Anyhow, with that done—and with a packed lunch of peanut butter sandwiches—we headed off to Peace Forest Park Athletic Field. That name is pretty long considering that it doesn’t give you any idea of what you’ll find there.

This “Athletic Field” is a giant obstacle course for kids and adults. We bought our tickets from the machine (you buy almost everything from machines here—more on that later) and got started. Since I had the option of skipping obstacles, I went through the course as well. I could describe it, but I’d rather just show you the pics.

After we were all worn out from the obstacle course, we checked out the Nori museum (really not for us—very limited English,) then found a playground with tall swings where R and K enjoyed swinging for ten minutes. Then we took the train to Kura Sushi, a fully-automated sushi restaurant.

By fully-automated, I mean that there was no need to speak to an actual human. When we walked in the door, there was a console for us to input the number of people in our party; the machine spit out a slip with a table number on it, and we found the table by following the signs. At the table we could either pick up plates from the lower conveyor belt, or place our own orders by way of an ipad. Our food would then arrive on the upper conveyor belt with a “ding!” and the ipad would announce which of our dishes awaited retrieval.

E had complained a bit about our choice of restaurant, but as soon as she saw onion rings and popcorn chicken on the menu she was perfectly happy. N was also happy with the selection of food. K and R discovered that they love smoked duck. Ordering was fun, but even more fun was watching the little game on the ipad every time we slid five empty plates into the plate return slot in our table. We even won one game—and the machine above the conveyor belt spit out a capsule toy for us.

Throughout it all, R was enthusing, “This is my dream! I don’t have to talk to any people! I love this!”

When it was time to go, we pressed “check out” on the iPad and headed to the cashier desk, where we inserted our ticket (from when we arrived) and our total flashed on the screen. We paid the machine—$64 for a family of six, which isn’t bad by Canadian standards.

Now we’re home, tired and very sore… but happy. And aside from E’s short-lived objection to the restaurant, everyone participated and there were no complaints. I win worldschool parenting!

crafty · family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1090: Get Out of the House!

We hauled our aching carcasses out of bed this morning and went out on a tour of Hoi An’s ancient city. Our guide was Emma, the same guide who took us through the vegetable village last week. She’s very sweet and infinitely patient, which is essential for us because it takes us FOREVER to go anywhere.

It’s not that we don’t try to be on time; I start sending warnings and updates an hour before we leave. But somehow, the following things always happen, with a few basic variations:

  • Someone gets in a snit at the last minute, refuses to go, and needs to be talked down from their room.
  • A kid asks, “Where are we going, anyway?” (as if I didn’t tell them last night and again this morning)
  • Someone else only just realized that their shoes are still wet (and their backup shoes simply won’t do for walking around town.)
  • Someone #3 needs to go to the bathroom. Then everyone is suddenly waiting for the same bathroom despite the fact that there are five toilets in this house.
  • Another kid asks, “What are we doing today? Why do we have to go?”
  • A device-addicted child runs back into the house for their extra battery pack.
  • Someone else asks, “What tour are we doing?”

By this point my eyes are rolling so much they’d roll out of my head if my orbital bones weren’t in the way.

Anyhow, that’s what it was like trying to leave the house today, and Emma just sat back and watched the whole amusing spectacle until we were finally sitting in the 6-row electric golf cart they call a shuttle.

There’s a family in the Ancient City that makes a proprietary tea blend. We stopped there first for some iced tea, which was scrumptious and which two kids didn’t want (more for me!). We saw the Japanese covered bridge and the Chinese assembly hall, and then we enjoyed a short performance of traditional Vietnamese music and dancing.

We hit the Hoi An market for lunch—a type of noodle dish that’s unique to this city—and we bought a new suitcase. “Get the biggest one,” the kids urged, but I decided to see if we could keep our carry-on-only options alive, so I bought a hard-sided wheeled carry-on (I’d realize my mistake later, when our folded lanterns proved to take up half the suitcase.)

Another golf-cart-cum-taxi whisked us off to the lantern making workshop. The (English-speaking) staff helped us build the lantern frames and then cover them with silk until they looked just like the pretty lanterns that light up Hoi An every night. We all enjoyed it, even Mr. December (who’s not usually into the crafting stuff.) The background music made it even more fun: while building the lantern, I got to sing along to hits of the 80’s, some early 2000s, and the Celine Dion album that reminds me of those months in high school when I was pining after Mr. December (right before we finally started dating.) The kids looked at me like I was crazy, but Mr. December got into it too; and eventually we had everyone singing along to the Backstreet Boys.

When we got home (in a regular Grab this time,) everyone crashed for a while before biking to the tailor shop to try our new clothes. We biked home in the dark, ordered dinner, and somehow it was suddenly bedtime. Unlike getting out of the house, it took almost no time for the kids to get to bed—and N led the pack instead of being the slowpoke.

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

Day 1088: If it’s not one thing…

We had a beautiful morning today. We biked over to the beach with the three girls (N refused to go) and went swimming in the ocean. The water was calm and clear, the bottom was sandy, and the sun was shining. Perfect. I was so busy swimming and having a good time that I forgot to take any pictures. Sorry, not sorry.

My legs are still very fatigued, though, and I ran out of steam halfway up the hill (the only hill there is around here.) I stopped, put my foot down, and told E to get off and walk the rest of the way up. As she started to dismount, the wheels slid through the brake pads and the whole bike started moving backwards. I had one foot planted on the ground and the other moving slowly downhill with the bike. I think I yelled. I tried to slow the bike’s fall so that E could get off safely. She did, unscathed—but I didn’t. Now I have a beautiful bruise and some scratches on my ankle where the pedal hit me.

But the beach was great.

This afternoon Mr. December went into the Ancient City to explore without the rest of us breathing down his neck. “Should I bike?” he asked. I encouraged him to bike because—aside from that one blasted hill—Hoi An is as flat as a pancake (which makes every bike ride so much easier.)

A few hours later I messaged him: “Coming home soon?”

And that’s when I learned that his bike—the one whose pedal fell off last week—had a flat tire. He rode all the way home (at least 6 kilometres) on the wheel rim. If you didn’t know, riding on a slightly flat tire is difficult; riding on a completely flat tire is painfully so. By the time he got home, Mr. December looked like a glazed donut: a thin sheen of sweat covered every inch of him that we could see.

As they say, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. I just hope tomorrow’s “one thing” has no impact on our sunset kayak tour.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · gardening · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Travelogue · Vietnam · what's cookin'

Day 1084:

Today we took a bicycle tour of the Tra Que vegetable village. As you can see from the photos, it was very hands-on.

After all the manual labour and plant identification, we left the farm and biked over to the home of a family that makes traditional rice paper. We got to try our hand at making it and then we ate the final result with some soy sauce for dipping. Crunchy and delicious.

After that we biked into town for lunch at the “Banh My Queen”—apparently the very best Banh My in Hoi An. We chatted with our guide, Emma, who grew up in Hoi An and whose English is excellent. At the end of lunch we biked back to our villa and practically threw ourselves in the pool (it was pretty hot out today.)

Tonight I went back to Chabad with N and R. We had a lovely dinner there (chicken kebabs, veggies, spring rolls, and challah) and then spent some more time chatting with Israelis. Now we’re home and I’m totally wiped out—so if you’ll excuse the brevity of this post (and even if you won’t,) I’m off to bed.

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

Day 1083: HAPPY PURIM!!!!

For a few minutes today, I was worried that Purim would be a letdown. We had no costumes, no way to bake hamentaschen, and nobody to exchange mishloach manot with. Sure, R had put some time and effort into making sure we had bags of candy for her and her siblings, but that was it. Well, that and whatever Chabad was doing.

So we went to Chabad for their Purim celebration tonight (there’s another one tomorrow afternoon.) It was the fastest megillah reading I’ve ever heard, made faster by the rabbi’s brother who said, “Listen, if we make noise every time he says ‘Haman’ we’ll be here all night. Just wait for the signal. We’ll tell you when.” I’ve never heard of doing that before—isn’t the whole point to blot out Haman’s name entirely? (and here I am saying it—not once, but twice—in my blog post.) In the end it was a good thing: R is sensitive to loud noises, so reducing the number of times the room erupts into auditory chaos could only help.

There was a long table set up with carrot soup, fruit platters, hamentaschen, and brownies. The rabbi announced that there were crafts for the children upstairs; R and E dragged me up there immediately. They decorated masks and solved a maze (the maze was for a special prize: kosher candy from the U.S.) while I chatted with another mom about traveling with kids. On our way out the door we each got a little mishloach manot package with a can of pop, a hamentasch, and a fruit roll-up.

When we got home R went running for the mishloach manot she had packaged for her siblings. “Hey guys, R has a surprise for you!” I told them. “It’s not a surprise, Eema. We all read your blog. We already knew.”

They all read my blog? I’m honoured. HI KIDS!!! *waving madly*

In the end, the kids had a great time and received way more sweets than anybody needs in a week. So far Purim has been a success… and it’s not over yet. N has already declared his intention of going back to Chabad tomorrow. He may be in it for the candy, but I’ll take it.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam

Day 1081: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Since WhatsApp wouldn’t work for me, I solved my communications problem the old-fashioned way: I biked down to the rental shop to tell them I wanted to keep the bike for longer. Mr. Thoî appeared completely unconcerned about it. When I asked if I could pay him some more because the deposit had been half of a week’s rental fee, he waved me off and said, “When you return the bike is fine.” People in Vietnam are pretty relaxed about this stuff.

The ride from our place to Mr. Thoî’s is 5.5k, so we biked 11k today. R came along in the hopes that there would be some kind of perk: I happily offered to buy her bubble tea (the place right next to the bike rental makes excellent drinks.) We had some time to kill anyhow, because one of the pedals fell off Mr. December’s bike and we had to wait for him to walk it the rest of the way to the shop to get it fixed.

I honestly thought twice before going on that bike ride today. I woke up feeling foggy-headed and achy; but did that mean I couldn’t or shouldn’t bike? I wasn’t sure. Maybe it wasn’t the beginning of a flare, but the consequence of quite a few very late nights in a row? Decisions like these never seem to get any easier, because my physical state is dynamic and always shifting—and just because it worked out fine last time doesn’t mean it will be fine today.

This time I decided to err on the side of overexertion. I feel like I spend enough of my life sitting things out; today I wanted to be bold and see what happened. My head still feels foggy, but I’m not particularly achy. The physical effects might show up in a day or two; or they might not show up at all. I’ll keep you posted.

Purim starts tomorrow night. R has been particularly concerned with being able to give and get candy, so I took her to a well-stocked minimart to buy treats that we could package into mishloach manot for all four kids. I’m hoping we’ll make it to Chabad for the holiday—I expect they’ll have hamentaschen and other familiar treats that make the it feel festive. We haven’t got any costumes, but maybe I can convince them that it would be funny to dress up as each other. I wonder if my pink dress fits Mr. December—the built-in bra would be pretty easy to stuff.

“It’s amazing how long things take when you have all day to do them,” Mr. December mused tonight. He’s right: we did almost nothing today—just a bike ride to renew our rental, and a quick trip to the store, but our day was full and drama-free. I never made it into the pool for a swim, though. Maybe tomorrow.

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

Day 1079: False Start

In my defense, the forecast said today would be sunny with some cloud, but not rainy. The forecast said.

We had plans to take a basket boat ride in the water coconut grove today. We hit our first roadblock early: R and N refused to bike there.

“Not optional,” was our answer. After a lot of grumbling and whining (and maybe a little understatement of the distance on my part) we finally hit the road.

And then it started to spit.

R biked up beside me and started yelling, demanding that we turn back “RIGHT NOW.” K and N joined the chorus of “Let’s turn back” as the few solitary drops of rain finally brought all their cousins and friends along for the party. I’m not opposed to biking in the rain (when it’s warm out,) but it was starting to look like the rain would last some time, and how good would the boat ride be in this kind of downpour?

We turned back.

It finally cleared up around 1 p.m. and we marshalled the troops for a second attempt. There was even more vocal opposition to biking this time. It was one of many times this trip when Mr. December and I looked at each other with the same thought in our minds: “Suck it up, buttercup. Holy cow, do they ever STOP complaining?”

I don’t remember what was said to get all the kids back on bikes. I suspect the whining was so awful I’ve blocked out the memory as a defense mechanism.

We did the 5k ride in decent time, with a couple of kids getting close to me to tell me about all the ways their bodies hurt too much to bike anymore. I could only respond that if they keep avoiding exercise, it will always hurt their muscles—practice is key to getting stronger. Meanwhile, carpal tunnel reared its head and my hands started going numb, so I rode one-handed while the other hand dangled at my side to get the feeling back, then switched hands.

Anyhow, we finally made it to this really cute village. Our tour operator offered us cold water and ushered us to the boats.

A basket boat—some people call them coconut boats—looks a lot like half of a giant golf ball. It’s round, woven out of some kind of leaf (banana or palm, I wasn’t quite sure,) with a bench across the middle. There’s only one paddle and the stroke looks a lot like the paddler is stirring a pot of something.

We floated through a narrow gap in the water coconut trees, and then came out into a huge open part of the river where a few men performed on their boats (mostly spinning and wobbling.) A little farther away, a fisherman demonstrated how he casts his net into the river before pulling it back in. Mr. December, K, and E all tried it. I have to say, E made the best first attempt of the three of them.

You’ll notice in the photos that we’re all wearing those conical Vietnamese hats. We were given them to wear during our boat ride, and K declared it “The first sunhat I don’t mind wearing.” I think we might have to buy one for her (or go to a workshop and make it ourselves.)

We biked back home, this time with less complaining (there’s always less complaining on the way home.) Would it really kill them to go without complaining from the get-go? The constant whining—when we’re working so hard to give them the experience of a lifetime—is really starting to grate on me. Suck it up, buttercups.

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

Day 1078: DAD* joke ahead

*DAD is the airport code for Da Nang, Vietnam.

We have some decisions to make—and I don’t mean where to eat dinner, which is a daily debate in this house.

We’re scheduled to leave this house in Hoi An on March 18. Our next destination is Japan. There are no direct flights. Mr. December proposed that we fly to Hanoi (we’d have to fly through there anyway) and take a couple of days to explore the city before continuing on to Osaka.

“I don’t know,” I mused, “all that unpacking and packing sounds pretty Hanoi-ing.”


I’ll be here all week, folks.

I don’t know what the occasion was, but tonight a bouncy castle appeared in the parking lot next to the neighbourhood bakery. Mr. December and two of the kids discovered it when they went to buy bread and bubble tea. He texted me to bring the other two kids, so we biked over. There was Vietnamese children’s music blaring from a speaker, one big bouncy castle, and an assortment of small motorized ride-on toys (think Powerwheels.) The rest of the parking lot was empty, and there were a grand total of three families there. I still have no idea why it was there. That’s not a complaint—unexpected fun is always good for morale.

Update: K says it was in celebration of the opening night of the new bubble tea restaurant that they built in two days (they were still painting the steel this morning.) I’d have preferred free bubble tea over a bouncy castle, but nobody asked me.

We had a good school day today. E decided she wanted to do an Elephant project, so we started a few days ago with her listing everything she already knows and then what she still wants to learn. Then we put it all into a powerpoint slideshow, with a few forays into the internet to fill in some of the gaps as E became aware of them. She’s been excitedly practicing her presentation for anyone who will sit still to listen, and she’s getting pretty good at it. Maybe we should put it on YouTube so friends and family can enjoy?

In the meantime, R worked on a program called “Touch Type Read Spell” because although she types pretty well, it never hurts to practice—and her spelling is atrocious. The program has modules about different subjects, so there’s some content delivery as well as skills practice, and she likes it well enough to work at it for an hour, uninterrupted. I call that a win.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · mental health · Travelogue · Vietnam · Worldschooling

Day 1073: How We Roll (in Vietnam)

Yesterday we rented bikes for me and K. The ride home was exhilarating—all the joy of riding at home, with the added fun of navigating a very different type of traffic.

Traffic in Hoi An looks chaotic from the outside. There are bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks all zipping around each other with only centimetres of clearance. Nobody signals. Everybody honks. Total bedlam, I tell you.

From the inside, though, it feels very different. Because nobody signals and people are constantly zipping around, everybody watches—I mean really watches—and uses their judgment.

The honking isn’t angry; a honk means, “Heads up, I’m coming through,” or “Hey you cyclists riding side-by-side, there’s someone behind you. Single file, please.” And everyone honks, from trucks to cars to motorcycles (the bicycles don’t have horns, or they’d honk too. I just ring my bell almost constantly.)

I felt very safe biking back to our place yesterday, despite the fact that we were on a busy road that had only one lane in each direction. The drivers are extremely careful to go slowly and give a bit more room when passing cyclists. There’s also a critical mass of small vehicles on the road: bikes and motorcycles are just part of the flow of traffic, and they get the appropriate level of respect and accommodation from motorists.

It’s been so long since I’ve biked. As soon as we got on the road, I felt the familiar rush of joy that accompanies the wind in my hair. My legs were so tired I couldn’t get up the incline of a bridge (I had to walk it,) but I was happy nonetheless.

Because the rental places we went to didn’t have any kids’ bikes, E has to sit on the rear rack of one of ours anytime we bike somewhere. Two of our bikes have cushioned rear racks, and all of them have fold-out foot rests. This morning I took E out to the street in front of our house (a very quiet street) to help her get accustomed to riding that way. There’s no seatbelt, no helmets, and no handle to hold onto. She was scared and almost refused to try, but I pointed out that if she could ride on the back of my bike, we could bike to the store and buy a treat. I am not above resorting to bribery.

She found it a bit scary, but after about ten minutes of riding around E had gone from petrified to nervous. We stopped at our neighbourhood mini-mart (where we buy our fruit and eggs in the morning) and bought some ice cream to celebrate E’s conquering her fear. A little later we went for a ride with K, who somehow managed to photograph us in mid-ride.

As I’m fond of saying, you can’t buy happiness—but you can buy (or rent) a bike, and that’s basically the same thing.

crafty · family fun · Travelogue · Vietnam · Worldschooling

Day 1072: Gone to Pot

There’s an interesting phenomenon in Vietnam: craft villages. These are entire villages where everyone practices one traditional craft. There are wood-carving villages, bronze-casting villages, lantern-making villages, pottery villages, and probably a whole bunch of others I haven’t discovered yet. It feels counter-intuitive: isn’t it better to have a variety of specialties within a village? But on the other hand it makes some sense: the pottery villages are right on the river, from which they source their clay. It’s efficient.

Anyhow, today we visited the Than Ha Pottery Village, the Terracotta Garden, and the museum. We wandered through the village and were invited into a few artist’s workshops to try making our own pieces. The kids got more hands-on help than the adults, which explains why theirs all turned out okay and mine was horribly misshapen. We sat at a café and drank mango smoothies, while across the small alleyway a woman cut slabs of clay off a much larger block, threw them onto a pile, and then stomped it into submission.

The Terracotta Garden had a section with miniature terracotta models of famous buildings. It was a nice little Geography review, with the kids identifying quite a few of the landmarks (the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and Stonehenge.) Then we went down to the workshop area, where the kids played a traditional folk game where you try to smash a clay pot that’s hanging in front of you, while blindfolded and wielding a bamboo stick. R actually smashed it twice; her prize was a small plant pot.

It was difficult to find a ride back to town, but eventually Grab came through for us. We took the kids for a late lunch at Dingo Deli (the same Western restaurant we visited for dinner a couple of nights ago) and then got bubble tea. K and I rented bicycles and rode back to our place while Mr. December took the other kids home in a car—but the bike ride is a story for another post.