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.

bikes planes and automobiles · water you paddling?

Day 554: Seize The Day

I biked fourteen kilometres today.

We were going to visit friends. I stepped outside, saw how sunny and clear the day was, and decided to bike there while Mr. December drove the kids over. I guess I could have gone with them in the car, in the interests of time or whatever, but there are always excuses; and I don’t need any made-up lame-ass excuses because, as we all know by now, it’s always something. Being healthy, pain-free, and having perfect biking weather, it was a no-brainer for me to bike.

I’m glad I did—although I’m not used to that kind of distance anymore, which I believe means I should do it more often.

The weather looks favourable tomorrow morning, too. Since my legs will still be recovering from today’s 14K, I think I’ll sneak out of the house early and go kayaking. Alone. What are my chances, do you think?

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 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.

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

Day 533: Mope? Nope. (Well, not much.)

Mr. December took all four kids out today, first for some rock climbing, and then to explore the city a bit. Meanwhile, I stayed at home. It was another perfect, clear, just-warm-enough-but-not-too-warm day and under better circumstances I’d have gone off to the beach by myself for a nice long paddle in the kayak. But, of course, the wound on my hand is still not sufficiently healed, so kayaking is still out.

It was the perfect opportunity to try out some other activities I could include in my contingency plan for the inevitable times that I’m unable to do my usual happy things.

So I went down to the Makery with the intention of trying some watercolour techniques, only to discover that someone (I’m not naming names, but there are only four suspects) used the good Taclon™ brushes and didn’t wash them; the bristles were all caked with dried acrylic paint. Back upstairs I went to google “how to get dried acrylic paint out of my good paintbrushes that I’ll never allow my kids to use again.” Fortunately the top recommendation—acetone nail polish remover—was right where I expected it to be, not far from the hair dryer (for drying paint in a hurry,) the contact lens solution (for making slime,) and the iron (for melting Perler beads and for ironing seams when quilting.) I’ve heard vague rumours that some people keep these items in their bathrooms and use them for personal grooming, but that sounds suspect to me. They’re so obviously crafting supplies, aren’t they?

Anyhow, I put the brushes to soak in acetone and managed to find a couple of clean brushes to use with the watercolours. I spent an hour or so watching tutorials on YouTube and practicing some new techniques, and I can now say that my watercolour skills are… still not very good at all. I had fun, though.

So painting and drawing can go on my contingency plan—assuming that my right hand is fully functional. Next on my list was relaxing in the hammock with my Kobo and finishing an entire novel in one sitting. I hadn’t done that since before I had kids, but apparently it’s still enjoyable, so that makes the cut too.

Chatting on the phone with friends—yup. Playing computer games—also yes, although only for short periods. I sat at our table outside and did some Sudoku and a couple of crosswords. I suppose I could have watched some Netflix or something, but I didn’t feel like being on a screen so much when it was so nice out.

Mr. December and the kids left the house at 9:00 and didn’t return until 6:30 in the evening. I had the entire day to myself and I managed to find things to do that didn’t involve my hand instead of just moping about how I wished I could go kayaking. Don’t get me wrong—I still moped, but only in between doing other interesting stuff.

blogging · family fun · Homeschool · water you paddling?

Day 526: I’m not Mr. December

I forgot to ask Mr. December to be my guest blogger tonight, and now he’s gone to sleep so it’s too late. Once again, you’re stuck with me. Sorry ’bout that.

It was a very relaxed day for us: E is the only child at home right now, and she’s been begging me to take her to the beach all week, so this morning I dragged myself (and Mr. December) out of bed and we went down to Cherry Beach first thing in the morning. Mind you, “first thing” on a Saturday for us is 8:30 a.m. By the time we got to the beach the parking lot was already surprisingly full, given how few people were actually on the beach. I suppose most of those cars belonged to the many people swimming, kayaking, sailing, and parasailing on the water.

I joined the ranks of boaters and went for a nice long paddle by myself. I really want to do that more often, but I really need to do it with a better kayak. Something to keep googling when I’m not wrapped up in other plans. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed our time at the beach this morning, especially the paddling and swimming, despite the fact that it was kind of chilly out.

The temperature differential between the lakeshore and midtown surprises me every time. When we left the beach it was getting a bit warmer, but wasn’t hot by any stretch of the imagination. Half an hour later we stepped out of our car and into some very hot sunshine on our driveway.

The rest of the day involved me lazing around, watching Hamilton with E, and visiting a neighbourhood lemonade stand being run by friends of ours. And then the fun began, as I learned how to move assignments around in Homeschool Planet—with many stops, starts, and deleted classes, of course. I think I’ve got History sorted out for E and R now. So that’s one class down and… some number to go. Six? Seven? I really couldn’t tell you.

I’m also trying to buy a trampoline to replace our foster trampoline that went back to its original family. And, of course, I’m working on planning our trip—which is firming up nicely—and generally trying to be ready for the beginning of our new school year, which we’re starting on Wednesday (earlier than the schools around here, so we’ll see if the kids give us any flak.) Oh, and did I mention that Rosh Hashana is in just over a week?

Camping it up · DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · water you paddling? · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 520: Another Quiet Week

Sometimes life gives us do-overs.

We dropped K, N, and R off at music camp today. Last time we did a camp drop-off, they jumped out of the car without looking back; today they actually took the time to say goodbye. I guess that’s progress.

It’s brutally hot and humid right now, so I decided that after we’d unloaded the kids at camp, Mr. December and I would take E to a beach on the way home. We ended up at something called “Whale Beach” in Orillia: a lovely little beach with a playground, splash pad, kayak rental, and snack bars.

The water was warm—almost too warm to be refreshing—and we dunked ourselves before inflating our kayaks and setting out for a paddle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need a better kayak. Last night we went to the beach downtown and I saw a folding kayak and another kayak that comes apart for ease of transport; time for me to do some more research, I think.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

With the three big kids gone this week, I’m hoping to get some serious work done. Everyone knows that a great way to ensure you’ll do things is to be accountable to others; so I’m telling you what all I plan to have done by this time next week.

  • Cut, paint, and install drawer fronts in library.
  • Finish shelving all library books.
  • Finalize which book sections we have and order labels for the shelves.
  • Firm up our travel plans; buy plane tickets and book accommodations.
  • Learn to use Homeschool Planet, an online planner that looks like it’ll make my life easier. Plug in all the curriculum information and figure out our schedule.
  • Prepare history binders for R and E.
  • Make time for myself every day: see some friends, paint some rocks, go kayaking, whatever.

Looks like a full week, doesn’t it? I think I can do it as long as the weather cools down. If it doesn’t, well… I’m no Wicked Witch of the West, but I’m mellltiiiiing…

family fun · Kids · parenting · water you paddling?

Day 509: Driving

I hate driving my kids to and from activities all the time. I also love driving with my kids. Like, I really really love it.

Biking is wonderful for lots of reasons, but it’s not at all conducive to having long, important conversations. Kids are a captive audience in the car; also, sitting side-by-side staring ahead at the road is a very comfortable way to address potentially uncomfortable subjects. Just today I learned that thirteen-year-old girls are still having the same conversations we were having when I was thirteen: namely, whether using tampons means you’re not a virgin anymore. After that revelation we had a good and important conversation about how and why virginity became a big deal, the double standard for boys and girls, and a bit of English history. I think we covered enough to consider it a couple of health classes—it was a long drive.

We also listen to things together: podcasts like Freakonomics, audio books, and—our favourite—soundtracks to Broadway musicals. Today I introduced K to Les Miserables, both the original Broadway cast recording and the more recent movie soundtrack. We both agreed that the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert was a tragic mistake (“The words and music are powerful, and it should feel like, oomph, but then he’s singing it like nothing’s happening,” K observed.) And thanks to what must have been almost a year of listening to the original cast recording on constant repeat in the car when I was ten, I was able to clarify some of the lyrics for K (“Oh! Now the plot makes sense!” she said.)

Our long drive took K, R, and I to the cottage of friends of ours from school (two schools ago) and camp (two weeks ago.) The visit was a huge success: the girls all had a great time together, I got to chat with their parents (whom I love,) and we swam and kayaked in the bay. Given how much I love being out on the lake, you’d think that was the highlight of my day… but no; I’d have to say that my favourite thing about today was my four hours on the road with the two girls. While the highway took us home, the conversation took us everywhere.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Just the two of us · Kids · water you paddling?

Day 483: I’ve still got it.

…and E is definitely getting it.

Today E biked to my parents’ house for the first time. It’s about seven kilometres from door to door (driveway to driveway) and she biked the whole thing with a great attitude. I am so proud of her.

She chose to get a lift back with my parents rather than bike back home, a decision that all of us adults supported. For my part, I was a little relieved to be able to bike home at a normal pace.

You have to understand that despite the fact that she can go the full distance, E bikes very slowly. The ride we did today normally takes about thirty minutes for Mr. December and me (depending on the traffic lights,) but it took E almost an hour. There was a lot of stopping, a lot of waiting, and a lot of very slow cycling on a really low gear. It was just a bit painful to have to go so slowly.

Our ride home (sans E, remember) was exhilarating. Mr. December and I went at our usual pace, along streets that were mostly deserted, with the wind whistling in our ears and blowing through our hair (whatever stuck out from our helmets, that is.) It was twenty-six minutes of pure cycling joy. Why don’t I do this more often?

There’s no point wondering. I’m an adult; if I want to do something more often, I have to just get up and do it—which is why I spontaneously took E to the beach in the middle of the day today. The kayaks were already in the car along with our life jackets, and with only the two of us and some towels to get ready, it wasn’t hard to get out the door.

The weather was perfect for a day at the beach, by which I mean that it was cloudy and not particularly hot, so there were no crowds. We dug a moat that filled itself from the lake, then built a castle on the island in the middle. E insisted on adding some small huts “for the villagers.” She learned firsthand about how erosion happens when the water coursing through the moat undermined the edges of our island and caused chunks to break off and fall into the water; I don’t think any geography or ecology lesson could have made it any plainer. She diligently engineered retaining walls made of rocks to fix the problem.

Because I was determined to get some real paddling in, I tied a tow line from my kayak to E’s and told her to paddle when she could. We had a much longer kayaking session because of it (note to self: maybe a tandem kayak is a good idea.)

Image description: 1. selfie, with half my face showing on the left, and a green inflatable kayak with E in it on the right. There’s a yellow rope tied to the front of E’s kayak. The lake and the city are in the background. 2. The moat we dug with the pyramid-shaped castle and three mounds for villagers’ houses.

Today was pretty near perfect. How could it not be? Waffles for breakfast, beach time, bike rides… and Mr. December and I even enjoyed some drinks and quiet conversation out on the back porch before E came back home tonight. We need more days like this; happily, it’s in my power to make that happen.

family fun · water you paddling?

Day 477: I need a better kayak.

I’ve said it before, haven’t I? But this time I mean it.

I spent an hour or so out on the lake this morning with E. From the start of our paddle, no amount of shifting or moving or repositioning could correct the off-balance feeling I had in my kayak. It just felt like it was listing to one side the whole time.

Back on land, when I looked at the kayak head-on, I could see that the two different layers (it’s an inflatable kayak) were not perfectly stacked one on top of the other. That’s why it felt like the boat was leaning: it was.

My back is sore now; I was sitting funny the entire time I was paddling in order to make the boat feel less tilted. I absolutely adore kayaking. Back pain, not so much. I’m going to need a better boat.

Mr. December is on board with this, provided that I really think this through: if I get a “real” (non-inflatable) kayak, I have to figure out how I’ll transport and store it. No matter what kayak I get, I really should try before I buy to make sure that it actually is more comfortable than my current one. All of which means that, given my extensive to-do list, I’m probably not going to make much progress on the kayak front this summer.

In the meantime, I might try to rig up something to ameliorate my current kayak situation, because I love being out on the water too much to just sit out the summer. And from what I saw this morning, E does too.

Image description: A child paddling an inflatable kayak, with a beach and lifeguard house in the background.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten all the other projects I have on the go. How could I? I promise that when I’ve chosen the fabric for my window seat and the curriculum for next year’s homeschooling, I’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, assume that no news is no news.