bikes planes and automobiles · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · Travelogue · Vietnam · Worldschooling

Day 1076: Where the Buffalo Roam

Our cleanup after Saturday’s fire was thorough. We even threw out any open packages of food (this is a great reason not to have open shelving in the kitchen) because the sand from the fire extinguisher was absolutely everywhere. As you might imagine, we were left with very little food in the house; we ate at restaurants for the rest of the weekend—in between cleanup efforts.

Everyone was exhausted this morning, but we forged ahead with school anyway. The sky was overcast and it drizzled on and off all day; but despite the weather, Mr. December and I rode our bikes down to the Western-food supermarket to stock up on groceries.

You know what’s weird? Even though Hoi An has an impressive number of bike paths and special lanes, Google Maps insists that there’s no cycling information. To find a route that didn’t go down all the major streets I had to ask Google for walking directions. Once we crossed over the river, we were on car-free paths until the last block before the store. Idyllic rice paddies stretched out all around us, water buffalo grazed, and motorcycles honked as they zipped past us.

I went to the housewares store next to the supermarket to pick up a few things this house lacks—cleaning cloths, shampoo, and tea towels, among other things—and the young woman at the counter asked me why I wasn’t cold wearing just a long-sleeve t-shirt (for the record, it was 20 degrees celsius at the time.) Anyhow, I responded that as a Canadian, I see 20 degrees as slightly cool summer weather. She looked at me incredulously, shook her head, and shivered.

Our ride was about 10K, round trip. On the way back we biked along the riverfront path that goes right past our house. It looks like someone had grand plans for this neighbourhood—the stone path lined with palm trees, the iron railing at the edge, and the many smaller paths leading from the river to the street at regular intervals all suggest an upscale neighbourhood—before COVID came in, shut everything down, and got rid of all the tourists. It’s a shame—it would have been stunning, with the view of the river. I wonder who will restart the project, and when?

It seems that I demonstrated poor judgment tonight: in an effort to be efficient and not mess up too many pots, I put the pasta and the sauce in the rice cooker together. It worked beautifully—but apparently N doesn’t like the sauce, so he stood up and walked out of dinner because there was no plain pasta for him. Oops. That’ll learn me.

This week’s challenge: find a place to dry our laundry that doesn’t leave it smelling like mildew. Today I tried hanging it from the back edge of the metal stairs to the roof. After ten hours, it’s still damp. Why doesn’t anybody sell clotheslines in this town?

Just the two of us · New Zealand · Sartorial stuff · Travelogue

Day 1043: 5 Reasons to Ditch Cotton Clothes (when you travel.)

Mr. December is full of contradictions. On one hand, he’ll change his opinion based on reliable data; on the other hand, he’s firmly stuck in his ways—especially when it comes to packing.

He’s the author of such classic hits as:

“You don’t need more than one sweater. If it’s cold, just layer five t-shirts on top of each other.”


“That’s too many changes of clothes. Just wear the dirty clothes again.” (On behalf of all of us here, let me just say: Ew.)

Every time we travel, I offer to buy him some quick-dry t-shirts and underwear. It’ll make laundry faster and easier, I tell him. It’s more compact! Every time, he shrugs and continues to pack his cotton gym socks and thick cotton t-shirts. I know that “100% Cotton” used to be seen as a good thing, but when we travel, it’s really not.

I don’t expect to ever convince Mr. December; but for anyone else who’s wondering whether buying technical clothing for travel is worth it, I give you my top five arguments:

  1. They take up less space. Fold a cotton shirt and boxer briefs, then put them beside a quick-dry shirt and a pair of technical boxer briefs. You can fit 3 times more technical clothing in the same amount of space.
  2. They dry faster. Look, it’s right there in the name: “Quick Dry.” My synthetic and quick-dry clothes come out of a front-loading washer barely damp, and they dry within the hour. Meanwhile, Mr. December’s cotton t-shirts have been hanging up for six hours and they’re starting to feel dry.
  3. They smell less. It’s not true of all synthetics (I cringe inwardly thinking of how N’s fleece shirt holds onto the sweat smell,) but most technical clothes have some kind of anti-odour something in the fabric. I can vouch for them: I can wear my technical shirts twice as many times as my cotton ones before they need washing.
  4. They don’t wrinkle. I can stuff my synthetic t-shirts and pants into a packing cube any which way I choose (folded, rolled, flat, scrunched—doesn’t matter) and it will all come out of the cube looking ready to wear.
  5. They weigh less. Air Asia just sent me an email reminding us that our carry-on and personal item must weigh no more than 7 kg combined. When you’re travelling carry-on only, every gram matters.

So… are you convinced?

Just the two of us · Worldschooling

Day 994: It’s his baby…

This trip, this year, this travel thing… it’s really Mr. December’s baby. And like all his other babies, I end up doing most of the work. At least this work doesn’t involve sleep deprivation… oh, wait—it does. Well, then, very much like all his other babies.

But we’re not a great team for nothing. While I’ve been slaving away on the internet trying to find minivans and accommodations large enough for us, he’s been loading and unloading the dishwasher, walking to the bakery to buy bread, schooling all the kids, planning field trips, and getting dinner on the table.

He’s also been recognizing and appreciating all the work I’m doing: this morning in our school meeting, he told the kids how much work I’ve been doing to get our trip organized and give them the best experience possible. Tonight he thanked me again, and actually apologized for the extra work it took when we had to cancel and re-book something so we could use a better payment method.

I feel so lucky to have him. He didn’t even complain when I appropriated his pyjama pants today. What a guy.

And speaking of great men, today is my dad’s birthday. If I were less exhausted I could probably write a beautiful tribute to him, but my eyes are closing. I can only say that I love him fiercely and that he gives the best hugs. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Just the two of us · Kids · Resorting to Violins · Worldschooling

Day 988: Our New Addition!

“I should probably tell you something before you see it with your own eyes tomorrow,” I said as Mr. December turned out the light last night. “I… um… I bought something.”

“What kind of ‘something’?”

“Another musical instrument,” I said very quietly. “A guitar.”

“Don’t we already have three guitars?”

“Two. The twenty-dollar toy guitar doesn’t count. Anyway, this one’s different. It’s made of some kind of composite material that’s impervious to changes in climate and temperature. And it’s very, very durable. And small. It’ll be perfect to travel with. And don’t worry, it wasn’t expensive at all.” (Can you tell I was getting a wee bit excited?)

Photo of a guitar with a lavender body.

It arrived today just before dinner and I was self-disciplined enough to not focus on it til after dinner. When I finally sat down with it, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it has a really nice sound. It came with a semi-rigid case, and although it’s not quite carry-on sized, it’s very small for an instrument.

How small? Well, it’s pretty much the same size as K’s viola:

A small lavender-coloured guitar next to a 15" (full size) viola. Their bodies are basically the same size.

And speaking of K’s viola, Mr. December is trying to convince her to leave it at home when we go away for three months. He mentioned it again at dinner, and she was appalled at the idea. “How am I supposed to make any progress if I can’t practice?” she demanded of him. He says we’ll talk about it some more another time, but I predict the viola will be traveling with us. If we’re short on packing space we can always fill up the gaps in the viola and guitar cases with socks and underwear.

Now the only decision remaining is… what do I name this new member of our instrument family? E suggested Lavender, but I think that’s a bit too obvious for a pale purple guitar. I could really use some suggestions.

family fun · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 976: About last night…

It seems logical that hours of manual labour would help kids fall asleep faster that night, doesn’t it?

Logic doesn’t explain why, at 11:30 p.m., I had to forcibly evict all four children from my bedroom—from under the covers of my bed, in fact. It wasn’t entirely their fault: they were no doubt encouraged by Mr. December, who tried to hide under E when I came storming into the room demanding silence… and answers.

“Why on earth are you still awake, and why are you in MY BED?” I thundered.

“Hey Eema, we’re playing a game! One of us pretends to be a member of this family and you have to guess who!”

I folded my arms, raised one eyebrow, and glared. They were undeterred.

“Okay, me first…” K said. “Are we done yet?” she whined.

“Too easy,” I said. “That’s N.”

“Let me try!” R thought for a minute, then shouted, “Why aren’t you in bed yet? Go the heck to sleep!”

“Me, obviously.” I smirked, and then tried one of my own: “What this family needs is discipline! We need to put you kids to bed on time! Now what was I saying… oh, yeah. LET’S PLAY! WOO HOO!” Then I ran around flailing my arms and hooting like a deranged gibbon.

(If you guessed Mr. December, you were right. The kids got it in one.)

Accepting that I couldn’t win my bed back, I went into the bathroom, closed the door, and started reading on my phone.

A tap at the door, then: “Honey, can I come in?”

“Not unless the kids are all out of our room!” I called back.

I heard muttering on the other side of the door, then silence. Then more muttering and laughter. It was probably another ten minutes before the kids actually left for good, and Mr. December went directly to the sink, avoiding eye contact.

“Now you’re afraid of me? Well, you should be. That was some very irresponsible parenting just now.” I sighed theatrically. “I think you’ve earned a spanking.”

He raised his eyebrows as I stalked past him and back into the bedroom; I soon realized that someone had broken the glass shade of my bedside lamp.

“You broke my lamp!?!? Did you at least clean up the glass?”

“Technically it was one of the kids, but yeah, it broke. I think we cleaned it all up, though. Now, am I getting that spanking?”

I just glared, got into bed, and turned off my (broken) light.

And how was your evening?

Just the two of us · Kids · love and marriage · Sartorial stuff

Day 932: Getting Dressed

Mr. December and I went to a wedding today. I haven’t attended a formal event since way before COVID, so the “Black Tie Optional” on the invitation had me stumped as to what I could wear. In the end, I fell back on my full-length purple Henkaa dress, styled with a halter top and a sash at the waist.

But what to do with my hair? My kids seem to have taken my hair with them when they were born, and I just don’t seem to have very much of it. Thinking back, though, my hair always looks amazing at the beach—so I mixed some salt water with a bit of coconut oil and sprayed it all over my hair. Voila! Curls, volume, everything I could want.

I wore contact lenses for the first time in years, and makeup, too. K helped me style my dress and choose the perfect jewellery.

When R saw me, she gasped and then gushed about how amazing I looked. Then Mr. December stepped into the room and said, “Whoa…” so clearly K and I nailed the look.

Of course, none of the pictures of me in the full outfit are on my phone, so I’m waiting for my dad to send them from his phone. In the meantime, I tried to take a selfie so you can see my hair.

Selfie of me with a curly, tousled-looking updo.

The wedding itself was beautiful; it was even more special to see a roomful of people dancing and celebrating together. I haven’t seen that in a very, very long time.

Just the two of us · water you paddling?

Day 927: By Myself

This year I made a resolution: that I’d take the time to go do the things I enjoy, even if nobody else in the family wants to join me. I promised myself I wouldn’t beg or cajole the kids to come along kayaking just because I wanted to do it.

This morning I kept that promise.

It was a beautiful way to kick off October. Lake Ontario was completely calm. The sun shone on the dozens of sailboats in the distance. It was just me, my paddle, the water, and the birds. It was perfect.

I was testing out a new piece of equipment, one that I hope will help me paddle well into fall: a spray skirt, which I bought this morning on my way to the boat launch. After an hour of paddling my sleeves were pretty wet, but nothing below my sternum (where the spray skirt was) was wet—not from the lake, at least. The skirt sealed the cockpit so well that my sweat couldn’t evaporate out. My lower half was cozy and warm until I got out of the kayak, at which point I was very happy I’d brought along a change of clothes.

The kids had decamped to the inlaws while I was out, so when I came home it was just me and Mr. December. We rode bikes to the library (my legs are really not used to it anymore,) then came back home. I watched a 90-minute episode of Outlander.

And now the two of us are headed out to a campfire—a friend’s 40th birthday celebration. I love campfires; it will be a lovely end to a really enjoyable day.

Just the two of us · Kids · love and marriage · Worldschooling

Day 913: Midnight Monologue

Thursday night was a total bust, in terms of sleep. I think I might have gotten four hours, if that. Mr. December didn’t fare much better (except that he handles sleep deprivation way better than I do); when I realized he was still awake, I scooted over to him and snuggled into his side. Then I started talking.

“Did you get my email tonight? The one about traveling? I looked at Vietnam and it looks so cool—they have these entire villages, each of which specializes in a different handicraft! We could do a tour of them… pottery, bronze casting, conical-hat-making, woodcarving… the kids would love it. I would love it. We should do that, okay?”

“Mmph,” he grunted. I took that for assent… and encouragement to continue.

“Oh, and I found a program in Thailand where you do a four-day homestay in a remote village, learn their weaving technique, do some cultural exchange, and observe the elephants. Doesn’t that sound cool? You don’t have to sleep in someone’s house—there’s a lodge you can stay in instead, but you still get assigned a host family and you eat with them and stuff. We should do that. The cultural exchange stuff is always the best part of a trip, right?”

“Mmph-hmm.” Seriously, if he didn’t occasionally grunt or squeeze my hand, I’d have thought he was asleep. But he was listening.

“The driveway contractor said he had a cancellation tomorrow afternoon and might be able to squeeze us in. Isn’t that exciting? I guess I need to figure out how to get permission to park overnight when we have to stay off the asphalt. That won’t happen for a few weeks yet… first they have to lay down the gravel base and let it settle… but I should get it figured out anyway. Oh, and I think we should do a concrete walkway with embedded objects or a mosaic or something between the driveway and the front steps. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

“Could be…” he mumbled.

“I am so proud of E! She dictated a whole story—three pages of text—to me today! And did you see the adorable pics we took of her stuffies? We’ll use those as the illustrations for her book. I looked into Amazon self-publishing and I think that would be way cheaper than having it printed as a photo book. Besides, then we can get more copies whenever we want to…

“Oh, and N did amazing with his Hebrew work today. He was answering a question in the workbook, and you know they give you all the vocabulary you’ll need, but he wanted to say something different, and he just made up the spelling for “trampoline” and he was mostly right! I had to teach him the spelling rule about the difference between tet and tav, but isn’t it great that he branched out and didn’t just write the easiest answer?”

“Hmmmm…” a hum of agreement from my bed buddy.

“I love you,” I said. “We’re so lucky.”

He nodded and squeezed my hand.

“I don’t think I can sleep yet,” I sighed, “but you probably should. Goodnight, love. Sleep well.”

And then I continued silently, in my head:

Man, it’s so true what I used to say about marriage being a sleepover with your best friend every night. Speaking of best friends, I should call S and see how her family is doing… and I haven’t called L in a while. Did I remember to reschedule that doctor’s appointment? Ugh, I’d better check tomorrow…

My brain is a noisy place at night, I tell you.

better homes than yours · el cheapo · Just the two of us · Renovation

Day 911: The Driveway

When we renovated our house, we decided not to include any landscaping or paving in the project; I think we didn’t want to make the build any more expensive than it already was.

That was a mistake.

It’s better to cry once, as Mr. December says. If the house had cost an extra $10K but with the exterior taken care of as well, it’d be done now. Instead I get to go back and forth with him over whether it’s worth spending money to fix our driveway.

His argument: The driveway is fine. It still works.

My argument: The driveway is all cracked and crumbling. It’s uneven enough to cause twisted ankles (ask how I know) and meltwater doesn’t drain properly anymore, so we get sheets of ice in winter.

His rebuttal: I’d still rather not.

I mean, what do you think? Bear in mind, the worst parts are right where the car’s shadow is, to the left of the car.

Photo of our driveway and the front yard. Driveway is cracked with weeds growing up through the cracks.

Here’s a different angle, a screenshot from Google’s street view. All those dark areas? They used to be patches; now they’re mostly holes with a drop-off at the edge.

Our driveway and minivan. The driveway has multiple patched areas.

The issue came to a head when I injured my knee and the ambulance came to take me to the hospital. The stretcher wheels got stuck in the cracks and potholes at least three times. It was embarrassing—I wanted to pretend that we were just renting and it was the landlord who was a cheapskate. Sadly, the cheapskate is…

…look, we all know. I’m not naming names again.

Point is, the driveway needs to be done. At this point it’s a safety issue—especially with R’s and my unstable ankles and knees.

I got a couple of quotes—not a lot. In the end, I decided to get asphalt again. I’m just not sure that I want to spend an extra $15K on interlocking brick. Does it look nicer? Of course. But are there like five other things I’d rather do with the money? Um, YEAH. In the end, I need a driveway that’s even, and properly sloped.

So I chose a company: excellent reviews, in business for decades, no deposit (payment upon completion)… how bad can it be?

Camping it up · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 885: Four Weeks

When people ask me how I “do it” (by which I’m pretty sure they mean homeschooling four kids and doing the things I do without going nuts) I always start with, “I have help.” We’ve had a full-time nanny since E was born, and she does most of the household stuff—cleaning, laundry, cooking—so I can focus on the kids and other things.

(We also have our parents, all four of whom are alive and well and happy to be involved with their grandkids, up to and including sleepovers, rides to extracurriculars, and taking them shopping for clothes. We’re really blessed. But this post is about our nanny, not our parents.)

She gets sick often, though, so we’ve had the odd week here and there without our beloved nanny; and during the first month of COVID, she stayed home as per government regulations. We muddled our way through, though by the end of the COVID month I was thrilled to have her back with us.

Her health problems came to a head five weeks ago; she was scheduled for surgery shortly thereafter, and although she’s healing, she can’t start working again right away. It’s now been four weeks since she’s been here. Four weeks, a.k.a. before N came home and K left for camp.

We did a reasonable job for the first three and a half weeks, at least as far as the kitchen was concerned. Dishes got washed, counters got cleaned, floors got swept (although not with the frequency that I might have liked.) We even cleaned the bathrooms a few times. But once K arrived home on Thursday (and Mr. December left on a guys’ weekend trip) it fell apart a bit. Scratch that—it fell apart a lot.

It doesn’t help that K is the worst offender when it comes to cleaning up after herself in the kitchen. Or that she came home from camp and we had to wash all her stuff—towels, bedding, clothing—and get it packed up again to go back to camp (tomorrow morning.) And it certainly doesn’t help that I don’t sleep well when Mr. December isn’t home, and that I go to bed way too late without him to remind me that it’s time.

Tonight, though, I’m exhausted, slightly nauseous (normal for me when I’m overtired,) still in pain from my knee, and snapping at everybody. I don’t need Mr. December to tell me I should go to bed right now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not even think about starting to read something in bed. And so, goodnight.