family fun · lists · Travelogue

Day 723: New Digs

We’ve moved from the hotel into an AirBnB that’s right in the centre of the city. The house is built into the side of a mountain, so we have a front door with a couple of dozen steps down to the square (presided over by a giant statue of Don Quixote and his sidekick,) and a door on the stairway landing that leads to a tiny walkway and then to the main street.

We now have five bedrooms—so of course two of the kids have chosen to share. There’s a big rooftop terrace and a small balcony off the living room (which is pretty big.) The only thing we don’t have here is a park with swings. No matter—a taxi back to that park costs about $2 each way. We can go every day if we want to.

Tonight we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner. They live up on a mountain on the other side of town, and the view from their rooftop is spectacular. All the jacaranda trees are blooming, the houses are painted vivid colours, and there are mountains all around. I’d share some photos, but it’s late and my phone isn’t synced with my computer, so you’ll have to wait.

Just a few notes to self. Next time we travel, we should pack:

  • 3M hooks—for AirBnBs that have nowhere to hang a towel.
  • Something that can make a very bare apartment feel like home—maybe a wall hanging of some sort?
  • Our travel hammock.
  • The Aeropress (the hotel we were at had no coffee machines in the rooms, and the coffee they served downstairs was pretty bad.)
  • Shoe deodorizing spray. There are some seriously smelly feet in this house and it’s all the shoes’ fault.
ADHD · crafty · DIY · lists · Resorting to Violins · The COVID files

Day 648: Hyperfocus Hurts

I just went and practiced viola for maybe fifteen minutes. As practice goes, that’s extremely short—but I had to stop because of the pain in my left arm.

I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep practicing. It’s a classic case of ADHD hyperfocus: once I start something that I love, it’s very hard to stop. Yesterday I finally tore myself away from the instrument after forty-five minutes. Better quit while I’m not in pain, I thought to myself, but I caught myself inching towards the instrument cabinet several times again last night.

I guess yesterday’s practice session set me up for pain today, because ten minutes into today’s practice, my arm was starting to ache. It took me five full minutes to accept that maybe today wasn’t the day for another long practice session, however much I wanted it to be.

Know what’s as much fun as online shopping? Online browsing the library catalogue.

Seriously. Clicking “place hold” is even better than clicking “buy,” because it’s not costing me anything and I can click to my heart’s content. There might be a limit to the number of books I can put on hold at one time, but so far I’m up to thirty-one. Libraries are awesome—especially now that they’ve stopped charging fines for late returns. It’s supposed to be a temporary measure until COVID calms down, but I’m hoping Toronto follows the examples of Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Diego and just ditches fines permanently.

I’ve had ideas popping into my head all day about small projects I want to tackle. I should be listing them on my Trello page, but I’m too lazy to click over there, so I’m sharing it with you here instead:

  • Reupholster the storage ottoman in the living room (the faux leather is peeling.)
  • While we’re on the ottoman, install a puzzle shelf a few inches inside it, just a few inches below the top, so we have a place to leave puzzles that are in progress.
  • Organize a puzzle swap among my friends so that we can all have some new puzzles to work on.
  • Order the labels for the library.
  • Make the giant letters spelling out “Makery” for the makery wall. Right now the wall says, “welcome to the…” and whenever I see it I start humming “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away.
  • Work on N’s quilt.
  • Buy myself some new pajama pants. Also basic t-shirts. And socks.
  • Repot our spider plants in the new self-watering wall planters.

R and N are coming back from Florida tomorrow; they haven’t been home since October 20. This house is about to get a lot noisier. We’ll see whether I can get any work done when all four of the kids are in the house.

Costa Rica · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · lists · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 615: I should have packed more…

Packing light was a brilliant idea before our trip. I reasoned that we needed very few physical materials and books; between our Kobos and the internet, we could access anything we needed online.

The friends with whom we shared our last accommodation are traveling for a year. They packed a ton of things we didn’t, including one suitcase full of books and school materials. Each of their children had a huge pencil case filled with markers, pencils, crayons, sharpeners, and erasers; our kids are sharing one pencil box with a bare-bones set of coloured pencils and fifteen pencils to share between six people.

When it comes to clothing, I’m glad we packed as we did. Wearing the same three outfits every day for weeks on end is no hardship (if I’m honest, we do pretty much the same thing at home.) Homeschooling, however, feels like the wrong place to economize on packing. There are quite a few things I wish we had brought, especially now that our internet is slow and unreliable.

More Pencils

You may laugh, but fifteen pencils were with us at the beginning of our trip; a search this morning turned up a grand total of five. Sure, pencils are cheap and plentiful almost everywhere in the world, but they don’t grow on trees in the jungle outside our house. With no car and no plans to go into town, I find myself feeling just the tiniest bit agitated when N mindlessly sharpens his pencil for several minutes. We don’t have enough pencils to sharpen them into oblivion, I want to say, but don’t. An extra pack of pencils in our suitcase would have solved the problem.

(Mr. December just read the last paragraph and scoffed, “We’re not even close to running out.” That’s only because he’s not currently looking for a pencil. Tomorrow it’ll be, “Why didn’t we pack more pencils?”)

A Map and a Timeline

Every time we see or learn about something new, I get the urge to show the kids the relevant location on a world map or to place an event on our timeline. There’s a ton of information coming at the kids almost daily when we tour; a map and a timeline would really help them relate the new information to things they’ve already learned. It’s super easy to whip up a map on Google Maps… if you have adequate internet, which we don’t. Given that a map— even a large one—and a fold-out timeline would have taken up almost no space, they really should have made my packing list this time around.


In the name of packing light, I chose not to bring E’s writing workbook. Instead, I brought a ruled notebook so that she could use it for anything. What I’ve found since then is that she’s much more amenable to doing three full pages of writing practice in the workbook than one single page that I’ve written out for her. Same work, different source; somehow it makes a huge difference.

Books for E to Read

Our Kobos have been misbehaving lately; each morning I open mine to discover that books I was reading yesterday need to be downloaded again today. Given that I’d borrowed the only copy of some of those e-books—a Spanish book I was using to teach the kids, for example—I was unable to borrow them again and had to put them on hold instead. So much for our Spanish lessons. Kids’ books are a problem too: OverDrive doesn’t have a good way to browse Children’s Early Readers, for example, so if I don’t have a specific title in mind (spoiler: I don’t,) I’m out of luck.

Unlike pencils and a map, books would have added a lot of weight and bulk to our baggage. We would have needed another bag—a situation we were trying to avoid—but it would have been worth it.

Speaking of Bags…

The biggest lesson for me has been about packing in general. You all know that I pride myself on being able to pack things as if they were Tetris blocks, with no wasted space. I’m always very proud of myself when I manage to do it; still, there’s no great achievement in spending two hours packing everything tightly into a suitcase when I could have just brought larger suitcases and thrown everything in willy-nilly.

(And yes, Mr. December told me this multiple times before we left on our trip. I hate it when he’s right—which is 99% of the time. Engineers—ugh.)

Granted, I was working with the bags we own: two medium-smallish suitcases we got as a wedding present. Maybe now that there are six of us instead of just two, it’s time to upgrade to something bigger, like a wheeled duffel bag or maybe a used shipping container.

family fun · Keepin' it real · lists · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 584: Lessons Learned

Playa Chiquita, Limón province, Costa Rica

Everyone says travel is educational. Here’s some of what we’ve learned today:

  1. Toilet paper goes in the garbage can here, not down the toilet. Weird? You bet. Gross? Not as much as you think.
  2. The “Jaguar Rescue Centre” is surprisingly devoid of jaguars. It’s a good thing they had a mergay, because otherwise N would have been really disappointed.
  3. If you raise parrots in a small cage, they never develop the ability to fly well. Hmm… just like with kids and life skills.
  4. The kids really did pay attention to some of the documentaries we showed them: today at the beach, R and E lay down on their bellies in the very shallow surf and s-l-o-w-l-y crawled out along the sand, shouting, “Look! We’re evolving!”
  5. If you lecture your spouse about beach safety, you will find yourself in an unsafe swimming situation.
  6. It is very hard to swim against the current with a panicky ten-year-old grabbing your arm.
  7. Mr. December keeps a cool head no matter what.
  8. There are spiky things on the rocks in the ocean. You do NOT want to get dragged across them by the waves.
  9. Half of the restaurants in this town claim to open from 5-9; they do not. The other half require reservations—not because they’re swanky, but because there just aren’t enough restaurants open in town right now. Hmmm. Seems like a solvable problem…
  10. If you’re walking along the side of the road in the dark, there will be animal poop to step in. Corollary: if there is animal poop to step in, I will be the one to step in it.

It’s been a long day. Mr. December has just poured me a makeshift rum punch, and I intend to drink it before bed.

Oh, and #11: If I want to post pics on my blog, I should take them myself. Can’t rely on others to share pics in a timely manner.

blogging · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · lists · whine and cheese

Day 573: Brain Dump

I barely slept last night. I could blame Mr. December’s late-night meeting (it ended at 12:30,) but even after I was in bed with the lights turned off, I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, my eyes were closed, and I was lying fairly still, but I was still very much aware of ambient noises (thanks a lot, Metrolinx,) and I tossed and turned a whole lot. I woke up before 7, which in my world is pretty early, and I couldn’t fall back asleep.

The point is, I’m so tired that I can barely think. I have a vague feeling of panic—we leave in less than a week and I just know I’m forgetting something. But my thoughts are going around in circles (kind of like dogs, actually. Three circles and then they lie down and go to sleep.) Unfortunately for you, I need to use tonight’s post as a brain dump so when I wake up rested tomorrow, I’ll have a sense of what’s going on.

Today Mr. December decided that we all need hiking boots because we’ll be in some rainy parts of Costa Rica and the hikes will be muddy. After spending a lot of time on the Keen website (because we just bought shoes from them a few months ago so I’m sure of the fit and sizing) I decided that the most sensible course of action would be to just go to a store, all of us, and buy everyone shoes. Guess what, kids! We’re going on a field trip to MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op)! Feel free to place bets on how much unnecessary-but-really-nifty stuff we’ll come home with.

I’m working on picking out the elements of our Biology curriculum that I think will be most relevant on our trip. The evolution unit will probably be covered pretty thoroughly in the Galapagos; I think it could be neat to record observations of the different biomes we visit and compare them to our biome here in Toronto; I’ve got a few chapters of the history curriculum that discuss ancient Mesoamerican history; and I should probably choose a novel for us to read for literature. And I have no idea what I’m going to do with E for reading—I love the program we’re using but it has a lot of parts and we want to minimize stuff.

I definitely need to print off copies of all our reservations, as well as photocopies of our passports, and stash it away in one of the suitcases.

I now have two (count ’em, two!) bikinis that fit nicely and a third that needs to be tried on. I’d better try it tomorrow and then return it if it’s no good.

I managed to forget about E’s flute lesson today (not our usual day and time) and we missed N’s piano lesson. I’d better make sure I’ve told all our music teachers that we won’t have any more lessons until the end of December.

I need to take down the sukkah. Also, the kayaks need to be wiped down, folded, and packed away for the winter.

We need to start packing this week. I particularly want to see how many devices we have that will need chargers so that I can decide whether it makes sense to take our 6-port charging hub (readers, I’m pretty sure it makes sense. Mr. December seems to think that it makes more sense to have ten different adapters—hence the need to have a look in advance.) We also need to see whose carry-on has space in it, because R is taking her guitar as a carry-on and will need someone to take her other stuff in their bag.

K has asked me to head over to the optician tomorrow and get her glasses adjusted—apparently they’re feeling loose; it occurs to me now that if we’re ziplining and such, we should probably have some secure sport straps to keep our glasses on.

If my writing is still coherent, I’ll be amazed. My head is lolling back on my neck as I type. E is standing by, ready to tuck me in. I go shower now. ‘Night.

Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · parenting · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 561: I wanted to say…

We were at the supermarket checkout packing up our groceries. I was showing the kids how to bag items so that nothing gets squashed (“Guys, if you stack all the plastic clamshells from largest to smallest, you have a stack that won’t fall over and nothing will open accidentally.”) Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice behind us:

“Hey, guys? Just remember that you’re not the only people in the world, okay? Other people need to check out, too.”

When none of us even acknowledged his statement, he upped the ante: “Yeah, and that was the NICE WAY TO SAY IT!!!”

Here are the things I didn’t say to him (in no particular order):

  • “WHAAAAA?!?”
  • “Neither are you.” (the only people in the world, that is)
  • “Oh! Your Majesty! I’m so sorry—I would never want to obstruct the royal procession! Please forgive your humble subjects!”
  • “(gasp!) You mean…” I’d look around furtively, then whisper, “there are others?
  • “Oh, go love yourself.” (à la Justin Bieber)
  • “I’m trying to teach my children to be patient, and you’re setting a really bad example right now.”
  • “There are other people in the world, but no other checkout lines you could have used? How peculiar.”
  • “OMG, you sound just like my grade ten math teacher! Yeah…he was a jerk too.”
  • “I just upped my meds, so up yours.”

And my personal favourite:

  • “Damn! You distracted me and I did this bag all wrong! Now I’ll have to unpack it and start all over again!”

What did I say instead? Nothing at all. I kept my cool, ignored him, and went on with my day.

DIY · Keepin' it real · lists · whine and cheese

Day 528: Things I won’t be doing…

Things I won’t be doing for the next week:

  1. Kayaking
  2. Biking
  3. Playing viola
  4. Playing guitar
  5. Playing flute
  6. Swimming
  7. Using power tools
  8. Assembling stuff
  9. Giving high fives with my left hand
  10. Anything requiring the use of both hands

Things I won’t do ever again:

  1. Forget where the palm of my hand is in relation to the drill bit that’s on the other side of the board.

(No worries, my hand has been cleaned and glued up and I’m on the mend.)

Camping it up · family fun · Kids · lists · The COVID files

Day 474: A little *too* quiet

I don’t remember this kind of silence in our house, like, ever. Which is silly, because there have been times when the kids have all gone to the grandparents, and there have been times when Mr. December has taken all four kids out for upwards of seven hours, but for some reason this silence feels different. It lacks the tension of “How long til they burst through that door?” because I know that the three big kids won’t be back until July is over.

We drove them up to camp (no bus this year because of COVID,) which was about two hours of driving. Not far from camp, we detoured to a playground for the girls to enjoy some swinging for the last time til camp is over (I think.)

“I don’t think we’ll have time for hugs when we get to camp,” I told the kids. “They’ll be trying to move cars along as quickly as possible. So I want my hugs now, please.”

It’s a good thing I got those hugs before we arrived at camp, because they were set up for maximum efficiency: three cars at a time came to a stop in front of one building to offload anything the campers couldn’t carry to their cabins, then advanced to another spot for said campers to get out of the car. Counsellors were milling around with signs proclaiming their cabin number, coming over to greet their campers and spirit them away to the cabins.

My kids were so eager to get out that I had to remind them to stop pushing and give N a minute to gather all his stuff (he was seated right next to the door.) They hopped out of the van like paratroopers jumping out of a plane—one after another, all wearing backpacks—and walked away with their counsellors. None of them turned to look back. None of them said goodbye. I guess that’s a very good thing.

A friend asked me what I plan to do for the next three weeks. My answer was a long list of home maintenance, homeschool planning, and other tasks; also I do still have a six-year-old here for the month (she spent the day out with my parents today.) I’ve often felt that E misses out on activities that she would enjoy because they’re too easy or boring for the big kids, so this is an opportunity to go places and do things that E wants.

She has a list:

  • Treetop trekking
  • Swimming
  • Bike rides
  • Kayaking at the beach
  • Backyard playdates with friends
  • Sleepovers at grandparents’ homes

In case you couldn’t tell, she’s pretty excited about being the only child, with both parents and all four grandparents available to dote on her. Just when I thought she couldn’t be any more spoiled with attention…

Tomorrow I’m going to figure out a schedule that balances work I need to do with fun I need to have. Tonight I’m giving myself the night off.

blogging · education · fame and shame · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · waxing philosophical

Day 455: Not as bad as you think.

I hear a lot of bad things about social media—probably you do, too. And there are a lot of downsides: comparing your imperfect life to someone’s touched-up selfie, getting angry because “someone is wrong on the internet!”, seeing humanity turn ugly behind the anonymity the internet affords. There are definitely days when I think I’d be better off without Facebook.

Duty Calls
You can find an image description here.

On the other hand, Facebook has some very good points:

  1. It’s my proverbial front porch. I sit there in the evening and catch up with the people I know. I get to hear about all the mundane things, all the frustrations, all the celebrations—just like I would if we lived in a close-knit neighbourhood and sat on the front porch every evening, chatting with each other.
  2. It can be a great resource. Both Mr. December and I are members of a few homeschooling groups on Facebook. Through those groups we’ve discovered some of our favourite curricula and courses. We’ve also been able to get a sense of what homeschooling looks like for many different families. I’m also a member of a neighbourhood group, from which I learn about traffic issues, why our city councillor sucks, and who’s giving away free stuff.
  3. It reminds me about birthdays. If I wished you happy birthday this year (or any year, really,) you can thank Facebook for that. Every day it pops up and tells me whose birthday it is. It even lets me post a birthday message directly from the notification. I do realize that some people do this with their own calendar—digital or paper—but Facebook makes it so easy for me.
  4. Some people do use it for the betterment of us all.

Point number four is the one that gives me hope for our society. I’ve recently joined a group dedicated to being a space where people can ask good-faith questions about all kinds of social issues and receive honest, thoughtful answers rather than scorn and derision.

(If you don’t get why a question would be met with scorn or derision, think of someone asking about transgender issues and being labelled a TERF because of that honest question. It happens all the time, and it’s ugly.)

I have learned so much from this group. People have taken the time to post complex answers to questions about racism, gender issues, disabilities, etiquette… it’s an excellent read and very eye-opening, as the group members come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’m enjoying it immensely. Even more incredible than what I’ve learned from that group is the simple fact that so many people want to ask questions, learn, and improve the way they relate to people who are unlike them.

I have similar feelings about the group where non-Jews can ask questions about Judaism and Jews answer them. I’m fascinated by the things non-Jewish people don’t know about us; from the big stuff, like the fact that we don’t revere Mary, mother of Jesus, to the minutiae of why inviting a Shabbat-observant friend to a wedding on Saturday is more complicated than just making sure they have accommodations within walking distance of the venue. I also enjoy being able to answer people’s questions and see their responses when they’ve read all of the answers.

People are learning, reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in ways that would never have been possible without the internet (and social media in particular.) To me, that almost makes up for how social media also makes it easy for people to foment hatred, recruit people to radical organizations, and spread misinformation. Almost. Maybe if enough of us participate in groups like the ones I’ve been part of, education and enlightenment will replace the ignorance and hate.

I hope so.

Camping it up · el cheapo · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · Sartorial stuff · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 453: I never learn.

I feel like I’ve spent my entire day shopping online. If I have to look at one more sizing chart, I’ll scream: every few minutes I called a different kid over to my desk to be measured for clothing sizes. I managed to find bathing suits for all three big kids—no mean feat when you realize that the fashion and retail sector is always one season ahead of us. I had a hard time finding bathing suits at all, because all the summer stuff seemed to be on clearance and the only sizes left were for four-year-olds.

I thought we had all the large duffel bags we needed; but when I went to bring them upstairs so the kids could start packing, I found that two of the bags were shedding little bits of their waterproof coating all over the place. They had to go.

(It’s not like those bags owed us anything—they accompanied Mr. December and his brother to summer camp 30 years ago—but I was just so happy to think that at least I had luggage squared away.)

I decided to focus on bedding for a bit, so I went to the IKEA website and started loading things like inexpensive comforters into my cart. On a whim, I searched for “laundry bag” (because I needed those, too) and found this:

Image description: screenshot of the IKEA website. The product is a blue rectangular bag with handles, called FRAKTA. It sells for $3.99 and holds 76 litres.

It’s a 76-litre bag made out of the same indestructible material as those huge blue IKEA shopping bags you can buy at their checkout. This huge bag has zippers, carry handles, and shoulder straps (backpack-style.) And it costs $3.99. Four dollars for a bag that will probably never die? I hit “Add to cart” a few times.

And then I was sorely disappointed—again. IKEA has the worst e-commerce site I’ve seen in a while. They don’t tell you if an item is in stock for delivery until you get to the very end. So there I was, happily about to check out, when I was informed that the bag was out of stock for delivery. And for pickup. There were exactly zero 76L FRAKTA bags in their entire system. I almost cried.

And do you know where I ended up buying about half of today’s purchases? That’s right, Amazon.

So to recap, here are the lessons I should learn from today… but probably won’t:

  1. Don’t wait until bathing-suit weather to buy bathing suits—they’ll be sold out. The time to find swimwear for the kids is April.
  2. IKEA stuff looks promising but you’ll be disappointed somehow. (Didn’t we just cover this with the window shades, like, less than a week ago?)
  3. Despite your best efforts to buy from small local vendors, when you’re up against a deadline of any kind, or when you’re price sensitive, you’ll end up on Amazon. Again.

Lesson 1 I really should have learned the first time I had to buy bathing suits for camp, seven years ago. Lesson 2… well, as I said above, we just had this conversation last Friday. And lesson three… I’m still resisting, but sometimes it just seems inevitable.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn from today’s adventures, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour—which leads me to believe that after all these learning experiences, I’ve still learned nothing.