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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.

Jewy goodness · Travelogue · Vietnam · what's cookin'

Day 1080: Out of Touch

Google Translate has been my friend these last four weeks. Ever since we left Singapore I’ve been typing and then holding up my phone instead of resorting to charades with the shopkeepers and restauranteurs. It makes things much smoother… most of the time. Yesterday we had the place cleaned and the landlord approached us with his phone to tell us something: “The ladies are finished giving birth; time to pay them so they can go home.” Okay, then.

But the odd translations are manageable. What’s really killing me is WhatsApp. Everybody in Vietnam uses it—to the point where I got a “data only” phone plan because I figured I wouldn’t be making local calls.

It was all fine and good when I messaged Mr. December, K, or my parents. But it wouldn’t connect when I entered in the number for a local restaurant (“Just call me,” she said, “and I’ll bring your order by on my motorcycle.”) The proprietor of Lucky Beach Restaurant can call me, but I can’t call her. Not such a big deal—we can bike over and order.

A slightly bigger deal is that I can’t reach the bike rental guy to tell him that I want to keep the bike for two more weeks. It wouldn’t be a problem if the shop was nearby, but none of the neighbourhood shops had bikes with a padded seat on the rear rack for E, so I had to go a bit farther from home. Now WhatsApp is telling me that number isn’t on WhatsApp, and also refusing to send any “invitation to WhatsApp” messages. In theory the bike guy knows where we’re staying and has my number, so he should be able to WhatsApp me, but it just doesn’t sit right with me that I’m late returning the bike and can’t get in touch to explain why.

Worst of all are the tour operators who list a WhatsApp number that WhatsApp doesn’t think exists. I want to do the sunset kayak tour, the rice farming experience, the vegetable village tour… but it’s been so hard to get in touch with these people that we may run out of time here before we can do it all.

So what gives? Is it my phone? Is it user error (AKA I’m the idiot)? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.


We didn’t go to Chabad for dinner tonight because some of us were feeling sort of iffy. I went online and ordered us some food from a Souvlaki place; it turned out to be a hit. N ate most of my chicken souvlaki and E ate her own chicken-filled pita. Everyone ate, everyone liked it, and nobody was hungry afterwards. We did our Shabbat things (candles, hamotzi for the bread, kiddush over wine, blessing the children) and ate our dinner up on the roof, surrounded by glowing silk lanterns and a cool breeze.

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Day 1067: Should’ve Asked…

I didn’t think of asking whether this villa’s kitchen had a microwave, toaster, oven, or coffeemaker, but apparently I should have. It has none of those things. We’re also missing measuring cups, containers with lids (we’ve traveled with a few of our own,) pots smaller than 10 litres, some kind of food wrap (saran or foil) and basics like salt and pepper. Oh, and dish towels (they left us a couple of white face cloths to use in the kitchen.)

Also on the “shoulda-but-didna-ask” list:

  • Towels. The towels are pretty skimpy—I’ve been using my travel towel for showers and just air-drying after a swim.
  • Shelves or drawers. There is a very small wardrobe in each bedroom. Consequently, most of our stuff is carefully arranged on the table and floor.
  • Toiletries. All our other accommodations have provided hand soap at the very least. Not this one.
  • Bicycles. It sounds odd, I know, but most of the villas and homestays seem to have bicycles for their guests’ use. I’m still trying to find bikes we can rent for the month.

To be fair, the rent seems pretty low for a place with four bedrooms, comfy memory-foam mattresses, a huge covered terrace on the roof, WiFi, and a laundry machine. $1200 CAD for the month (plus electricity)—where else can you get a house this size for $300 a week?—leaves enough room in my travel budget that I can probably head over to the local market and pick up some of the missing items (I doubt it’ll cost me more than $100, coffee maker included.) I can also go ahead and deploy the 3M hooks I brought with me (the ones that won’t damage the walls when I take them down.) First, though, I have to figure out what I can feed this family for lunches and dinners with only the appliances available to me (a rice cooker and a single electric burner.)


We went to Chabad of Hoi An last night for dinner. It was quite similar to our experience in Chiang Mai, but on a smaller scale, and we once again got to practice our Hebrew with Israeli tourists. It was especially fun to watch the 3 older kids (especially R, who claims not to like talking to new people) hold their own in conversations with 20-somethings from all over the world.


I have one day to hit the market and get organized. Monday is a school day.

Jewy goodness · Thailand · Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 1052: Sharp Knives

In my experience, any activity that starts with handing sharp knives to children is going to be seriously fun; by that measure (and every other,) today’s fruit carving class did not disappoint.

We met our teacher in the old city, at a table in the outdoor communal dining area of a hotel. She had us carving in minutes: tomato roses were first, followed by carrot and pumpkin butterflies, cucumber leaves, and finally, elaborate watermelon flowers.

K absolutely loved the activity. N refused to touch a single fruit or vegetable (the teacher kindly didn’t charge us for him.) R enjoyed it immensely until she got too hot and went to lie down on a bench. E worked alongside K to the very end, although she was in tears once or twice because the watermelon flower was too difficult for her. I had to remind her that she’s the youngest by several years, and it’s impressive that she was able to do all the other carvings.

Mr. December enjoyed the class far more than either of us expected. He usually hates doing any kind of art or craft project, but somehow fruit carving was different. He worked very diligently on his watermelon flower and was heard to remark that he felt “ready for the big time. When’s the next competition?”


K, E, and I went to Shabbat dinner at the local Chabad House. There had to have been a hundred people there, all crammed in at long tables. We chatted with the people seated near us: an Israeli family on vacation, and a mother and two teenage daughters from New York. The food was exactly what I’ve come to expect: Challah, Israeli salads (tehina, eggplant salad, etc,) fish, and then chicken, potatoes, and rice. I’m fairly certain that they serve the exact same menu in Chabad houses all over the world. There was plenty of singing, all the traditional songs known by Jews the world over. The songs, the language, the food—all of it felt like home, which was a very welcome feeling in a place where everything is foreign and strange to us. The girls both enjoyed it; we might go again next week.

Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Day 1037: Recipe Time!

In our house, we make challah every Friday for Shabbat. It used to be my job; then R took over when my hands were hurting, and now she says it’s her job. Sic transit gloria mundi, right? At least she still lets me braid it.

Blogs that give out recipes can be really annoying. Before you can find the ingredients, you have to read the blogger’s life story and their personal connection with the recipe. Not here. No siree, one more paragraph and then we get into the recipe.

This is my personal recipe. I started with someone else’s and then tinkered with it for a few years until I settled on this version. I hope you bake it and enjoy it.


Sara’s Not-Yet-Famous(-but-a-Girl-Can-Dream) Challah

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup warm water
  • 4 ½ tsp yeast (or two packets)
  • ¾ – 1 cup sugar (you choose: how sweet do you want it?)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup cold water 
  • 6 eggs 
  • 8-9 cups flour

Method:

Mix the yeast into the warm water and sprinkle a bit of sugar on top. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine sugar, canola oil, and salt. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir well; then add ½ cup cold water. 

Test the water temperature. If it’s warm on the inside of your arm but not uncomfortably hot, it’s ready for the yeast. If not, wait a few minutes and test the water again. If it’s too cold, warm it up a bit in the microwave.

Add the yeast.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add them to the large bowl. 

Stir in the flour a cup at a time and mix until the dough sticks together like a ball and is no longer very sticky. 

Knead well and set aside in a warm place to rise. 

(The longer it rises, the more flavourful your dough will be. Minimum rise time is one hour.) 

When the dough has risen, divide the dough in four and shape your challahs (there are tons of online tutorials, so I won’t re-invent the wheel. Google “how to braid challah. I use six strands.) Take care to handle it as little as possible—this will keep your challah light and fluffy. 

Preheat oven to 325F. Let the shaped challah rise for 45 minutes to an hour (any more than that and it might collapse when you move it.)

Just before you put them in the oven, brush the challahs with a beaten egg (you can also use water) and the topping of your choice: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, streusel, sugar and salt, cinnamon, sprinkles… whatever you want, really.

Bake at 325F for 30 minutes, or until golden. Smaller challahs should be checked around the 20 minute mark. 

Remove from oven, cool, and eat some before everyone else eats them first. 


And now the obligatory food photos:

(If you use a screen reader, know that all of these photos are close-ups of challah in one shape or another.)

Any questions?

family fun · Jewy goodness · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1031: Shabbat Shalom

Some brief notes about today, because I don’t have the patience for anything more:

  • Visited the Buried Village. Great scones with cream and jam, beautiful scenery (a really great nature walk including two enormous pine trees that were only planted in 1939—at home trees that size would be hundreds of years old,) fun dress-up corner (see photos.)
  • Made challah
  • Made a nice rack of lamb for dinner (so much cheaper than in Canada)
  • Shabbat dinner on our back porch, overlooking the canal
  • Lovely evening walk with Mr. December, watched sunset over the lake

Time for dessert and then bed. Shabbat Shalom!

Jewy goodness · Kids · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1025: The Synagogue in Christchurch

Sounds a bit like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

As soon as we arrived in Christchurch, I looked up the local synagogue and sent them an email asking if there were services and if we could join them. Sadly, as in most other parts of the world, Jews have to be very careful about who comes into their buildings: I was warmly welcomed, but we’d need to send them pictures of our passport photo pages beforehand. I was also put in touch with a woman who was organizing a potluck kiddush.

When they heard we were going to shul, the kids started whining.

“We almost never go to shul in Toronto. Why are we going here?”
“I don’t want to go. Shul is boring.”
“Do I have to?”

Yes, they had to. I didn’t bother explaining my reasoning to them because really, experience is the teacher here.

The Christchurch synagogue is not very well attended, especially during summer vacation time (which is now.) The Jewish community here is small; there’s no rabbi, and services are only held if there’s someone who can lead them. Today’s leader, a visitor from Auckland, ran an abbreviated Orthodox service (for those in the know, he was using the Artscroll siddur. Everyone else had Gates of Prayer.) There was no minyan (women weren’t counted this morning,) so no Torah service. It was over fairly quickly.

We all moved to the social hall, kiddush and motzi (blessings over wine and bread) were said, and we spent an hour talking to the other attendees. They were all very curious about us; the kids really enjoyed answering questions about homeschool, how we travel, how they’re learning Hebrew, and their favourite travel destinations. They loved it.

On the walk home, all the kids said they were glad we went. I pointed out how happy the people at the shul were that we’d joined them.

“This is why we go to shul when we travel. It didn’t happen today, but sometimes a visitor or two can mean the difference between having a minyan and not having one—and if there’s no minyan, mourners can’t say kaddish and you can’t read from the Torah, either. It’s a mitzvah to go and make up a minyan. Also, did you notice that the leader wasn’t particularly skilled? He was the best qualified, and he did his best, but it wasn’t great. I want you guys to know how to lead services so that if you’re ever in a community like this, you have the skills to contribute to the community.”

The part I didn’t tell them, though I hope they’ve begun to infer it, is that we’re part of something much bigger: Jews are a people and a tribe. I want the kids to know that wherever they go, if there’s a synagogue there, they will be welcomed with open arms. The prayers will be familiar, the culture and food will be familiar, and they’ll meet locals and other visitors. It’s like having family all over the world.

blogging · have you bento my house for lunch? · Jewy goodness · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1018: #Jan1isCancelled

We still have four hours before we leave for the airport, and I feel like I must have missed something because we’re just too ready. We need to pack devices and chargers, and that’s it.

We’re also packing food for the plane. If you followed us through our past trips, you already know how food can make or break our kids’ day. With 19 hours (5 and then another 14) of airplanes, our best chance of the kids eating something they like is to bring it along. I’ve showed them pictures of the cute bento-style lunches I used to make for K (“Before I got tired and jaded,” I tell the younger kids jokingly,) and they’re going to try their hands at artfully packing a lot of food into a little container.

I’ve been wondering whether I should stop numbering the days of my posts. I still plan to blog everyday if I can—at this point, do the numbers mean anything? And a more immediate concern: when we cross the international date line and skip January 1, do I skip a number in my post title, too?

Anyhow, I’m packing up my computer and heading out. Happy Gregorian New Year to everyone celebrating. While we’re on the subject, you might find this explanation of New Year’s to be either funny or educational. It’s from a page that satirizes Christian hegemony and Christo-normativity from a Jewish point of view. I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, feel free to call me about it on January first.

See you next year!

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 1005: First Night

Image of chanuka candles and a dreidel-shaped lantern in front of a window.

It’s been a crazy weekend. A party for E, then K’s all-teens sleepover, and then tonight we had some friends join us to light candles and make sufganiyot. It was wonderful, and busy, and full of laughter… and now I’m done.

I’ve cleaned the kitchen three times this weekend, and I can’t anymore. It’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow.

Happy Hannukah, everyone!