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

Day 580: Trip Day 1

It’s late at night, so I’m just writing a few lines and some point form notes so I remember what happened today.

  • Flight was delayed for an hour—which we spent sitting in the plane. Mr. December and I had the worst seats on the entire plane—back row, couldn’t recline AND slightly less legroom than the rest of economy class.
  • Shuttle to hotel fine, hotel great, remind me to tell you the story of its founder.
  • Woke up early this morning and met guide for walking tour. Visited parks, markets, pedestrian malls; saw an iguana sunning himself next to the “temple of music” in one park; took pictures in front of bronze angel wings that were a gift from Mexico. Tried ice cream from a vendor that’s been making it for like 100 years—delicious. Vanilla with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg… I loved it. E and N, not so much.
  • E ate next to nothing all day. At breakfast she tasted the bread (plain white bread! with butter!), the pineapple pudding, the granola cereal. She didn’t like any of it, so she didn’t eat.
  • On the walking tour we stopped at a fruit stand, bought a bunch of different local fruits. Our guide cut them up and we sat down and tasted everything. Except N who tasted nothing. Mr. December took him to a bakery and they came back with a loaf of—wait for it—white bread, which N shared with a ravenous E (to her credit, she did taste the fruit.)
  • All very tired. Back to hotel. Mr. December to his company’s San Jose office. “I’ll be back at 5-6” he said.
  • I took a nap. Kids watched Shrek 2, then played computer games. Went out briefly to convenience store for snacks, since Mr. D was due back in a couple of hours and we’d go to dinner together then.
  • Mr. D did not come back at 5. Texted me at 5:30 that he’d gone to get something to eat with coworkers. I was pretty miffed.
  • Kids were hangry; we went to the hotel restaurant. Pleasant surprise—menu full of things they’d actually eat (except for E, who ate fries and that was it.) Ordered Panko crusted chicken, steak, beef stir fry, chicken soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese. Chicken soup came with tiny pot of plain rice. E ate nothing, kept whining about how hungry she was.
  • Restaurant staff probly thought I was upset with them or the food. I kept looking around for Mr. D and putting my face in my hands in despair b/c E wouldn’t eat.
  • Mr. D arrived at 7:15. We went out to get E something to eat. Almost everything CLOSED. One bakery open. E didn’t want any of the savory options. Ended up with a donut. If we hadn’t suggested a donut she’d have gone hungry.
  • Back to hotel; packing up for tomorrow’s 6:30 departure to the coast. Trying not to be quite so annoyed with Mr. D, with mixed results. No idea what to do about E and food.

TL:DR—beautiful country, friendly people, great tour guide. Food excellent, esp rice and beans for breakfast. Fabulous coffee. Picky children. Tired me.

Keepin' it real · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 577: Well, I tried.

I had such high hopes of packing light for this trip. At one point I even did a trial pack to prove that we could probably go with carry-ons only—which was a neat idea until Mr. December (the killjoy) pointed out that it would mean keeping track of twelve pieces of luggage (one carry-on suitcase and one personal item each.) That’s just too many pieces of luggage. I agreed that it might be better to take one large suitcase with everyone’s clothes in it, and have each person take care of their own personal item.

That was the first nail in the coffin of my aspirations. Then Mr. December decided we all needed hiking boots. Do you know how much space those things take up? I managed to convince R and K to wear their boots on the plane, and I’ll wear mine—but that still leaves three pairs of clunky boots that need to be packed. When I realized that, I brought a second large suitcase upstairs.

Another blow to my plans: the CPAP machines. Mr. December and I both have sleep apnea, so we have two CPAP machines—each of which takes up an eighth of a suitcase—to pack. I know there are tiny little machines for travel, but they’re expensive and we figured it wasn’t a big deal. I’m pretty annoyed that the case for my machine is so much bigger than the actual device. Maybe I should just bury it somewhere in the middle of all the clothes and forget about the special case. Then again, I can see the CPAP cases as placeholders for any stuff we pick up on our travels; on the way back we can take our CPAP cases onto the plane in addition to our carry-on and personal items, because they’re medical equipment. I guess that’s the silver lining.

We’re also packing almost two litres of maple syrup as gifts for Mr. December’s co-workers in the company’s Costa Rica office, as well as for anyone else we feel we should give a gift to. Fortunately it’s all in small bottles which just happen to fit perfectly into E’s and N’s hiking boots. And Mum, when you read this: of course I lined the boots with plastic bags. This isn’t my first travelling-with-liquids rodeo—I’ve brought more bottles of vanilla essence back from Barbados than I care to admit.

Runners-up in the “taking up space” category are sunscreen and bug spray. I burn—badly—and K has (localized) allergic reactions to mosquito bites, so we need quantities over and above what the average family might take. Even with our sun shirts and sun hats, I’m taking no chances with the sun at the equator. When the bug spray and sunscreen went into the suitcase it displaced an entire packing cube full of clothes; I had to bring up a small carry-on suitcase to accommodate the overflow.

In case you’re not keeping track, here’s our current luggage list: two large suitcases, two carry-on suitcases, four backpacks, and a guitar. I guess it’s an improvement over the twelve items we would have had before, but it feels to me like we’re in a bit of a no-man’s land where we haven’t packed light, but we’re still working with limited space. My dream is dead.

Also dead is the idea of buying myself a new Kobo before we travel. I checked online, and it seems they’re just about to bring out some new models; so either I can get a new model with a better display and audiobook compatibility, or I can pay less for the old models they’re trying to sell off. Either way, now is not the time to buy a Kobo. I do sometimes read on my phone, so I guess I’ll just do that when E is monopolizing my e-reader. Besides, “I can’t ever use my Kobo because my six-year-old won’t stop reading on it” has to be one of the best humblebrags ever.

The packing is almost done. Tomorrow I have to pack up everyone’s medication, finish packing my clothing that’s currently hanging to dry, fill out the health declaration form for Costa Rica, and then double- and triple-check everything. No big deal. I might even have time for a bike ride.

Image description: three pairs of hiking boots, identical except for their size and the colour of their shoelaces.
family fun · Homeschool · Kids · whine and cheese

Day 576: E-Reader

I’ve never been happier to lose a Kobo to someone.

Today was a big day for E, reading-wise. She finished lesson 20 of All About Reading Level 2, and even wrote her own book.

See, lesson 20 involved cutting out and stapling together a mini-book about whales. E read it to her stuffies, and then said, “Can I keep this book? It’s the perfect size for these guys!”

“Sure,” I responded. “We could also make more books for them, if you like.”

That’s how we ended up at the kitchen table with E dictating and me scribing for her. She made sure to include a cover and a table of contents, and then wrote three pages about wooly mammoths, elephants, and penguins, respectively. I drew the outlines of the animals and she coloured them in, and then we stapled it all together. Then E brought all the stuffies to the table and read them her book. Mr December came upstairs, and she read it to him, too. And to K, and then again to R.

Image description: E standing next to the table, reading from a tiny booklet. There are several stuffed animals (mostly elephants) on the table, clearly listening to the book.

Finishing lesson 20 before our trip was a challenge I had set for E a couple of weeks ago. Since she succeeded, we had a party to celebrate. Nothing fancy: just lemonade, popcorn, chocolate and butterscotch chips, charades, and some karaoke.

When E came and perched by my shoulder this evening, I passed her my Kobo and said, “Can you just take a look at these books I downloaded and tell me if they’re the right level for you?”

“Ugh, reading AGAIN!” she whined. “I already did so much reading today!”

“I just need you to look at a few of the pages and tell me if the books are okay for you,” I reasoned.

“Okay, fine.” She took the Kobo out of my hands.

The next time I saw the Kobo, she was waving it in my face and telling me that she’d already finished one book. As soon as I helped her open another book, she ran off to her bedroom to continue reading. I didn’t see my Kobo again until she returned it to me at bedtime, saying, “We can share this Kobo but you might not get it very much because I like to read A LOT.”

Okay, then. Guess I’m in the market for a new Kobo. The only question is, before or after we travel?

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 · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 568: I didn’t even know their names.

I’m feeling pretty cruddy today. In classic mom style, though, I saw a need and filled it: the dishwasher needed to be run, so I started loading it up.

Then around the corner strolled Bob (okay, fine. I didn’t ask his name; I’m making it up.) Also Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna (again, not their real names.) All five of them, with their segmented bodies and six legs each, scattered across the countertop.


“R and K!!! Get down here NOW!!!” I bellowed (as much as one can bellow while feeling ill.)

“What is it, Eema?”

“You two ate outside on the back porch. Fine. Then you left your dishes outside. So I called you to bring them in, which you did. Great. Know what else you brought in? ANTS! When you bring in dishes that were left outside, you have to rinse them immediately to make sure no insects have hitched a ride! Now they’re ALL OVER THE COUNTER! WHAT GIVES?”

By this point, Bob, Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna had been joined by at least a dozen other ants. I didn’t ask their names; it’s probably for the best, since I knew I was about to kill them. Down slammed the executioner’s dishcloth, and the ants were washed away in the sink.

“Sorry, Eema. I didn’t actually know that would happen,” said a child who will remain nameless (but not blameless.)

“Seriously? You didn’t know that if there was an ant inside the bowl when you brought it inside, it would crawl out of the bowl and into the kitchen when you failed to rinse it? Come on.” I huffed.

In a very small voice the child said, “Is there something I can do to help you now?”

An exasperated sigh from me, and then, “Just don’t do it again,” I grumbled as I turned back to the dishwasher. A lone ant marched along the cutlery tray, probably giving me the stink-eye; I popped in a detergent tab and closed the door.

So long, little ants. We hardly knew ye.

Keepin' it real · Kids · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 567: The Party’s Over

For fifteen months, nobody in my house got sick. It was amazing. I only know this intellectually, though—I don’t remember what it was like at all. We got our first post-COVID cold when the kids came back from camp in August; as of today, three of us have our second cold of the past two years.

Miraculously, I’m not one of the three. E started with sneezing and a runny nose two days ago, and yesterday R’s nose was stuffy (different from her usual allergy symptoms.) Last night K said she wasn’t feeling well; today she’s been droopy and miserable all day. She even napped on the couch this afternoon, which I haven’t seen her do since she had mono in the fall of ’18.

I can feel that my body is fighting it, though, and I can only hope that sleep and rest will allow me to bypass sickness this time around.

R’s birthday party—she’s turning ten—was supposed to be this weekend. It’s now been cancelled, and she’s kind of bummed out about it. “This is the worst birthday ever, and that’s making it the worst year ever,” she said morosely. I can sympathize. I can also remind her that this year is about to turn awesome, since we’re leaving for Costa Rica in under two weeks, but I don’t think that will make her feel any better this weekend. I should probably just get her a cake and line up a whole lot of fun stuff we can do together until we’re past her birthday.

bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 563: I don’t get it.

The air travel industry drives me nuts.

If I search for flights from Ecuador to Toronto (one way,) I can get a flight that goes through Miami for $3100 (for the whole family, not per person.)

Now, if I search for the same flights as above, but separately (Ecuador to Miami, and another search for Miami to Toronto,) the total price is $2100.

What gives?

Interestingly, when I clicked on “book through the airline,” the American Airlines page opened up for me… in Spanish. It seemed to think I was searching from Ecuador. I tried to search for that flight with my country set to “Canada—English,” but the page crashed every time I did that. In the end I decided that there’s nothing wrong with a flight ticket purchased in Spanish; Google translated the page for me, I filled in our details, and we got our cheap(er) flight.

I still don’t get it, though. Don’t get me wrong—I’m thrilled that an extra hour of searching saved me $1000 in after-tax money (easiest $1K I ever made,) but it seems just a little bit absurd, doesn’t it?

Even weirder: I just went and did the same searches again so I could get a screenshot for this blog post… and got completely different (higher) prices on the two separate flights this time around. HOW????? and WHY????

I think my head just exploded.

Renovation · whine and cheese

Day 559: “Fire! Feu!”

I was asleep.

Suddenly, a piercing sound and flashing lights… and a woman’s voice saying “Fire! Feu!”

Beside me, Mr. December bolted upright with a shout and then swore. He was wearing his CPAP mask so I couldn’t hear what he said, but it might have rhymed with “brother chucker.” He threw on his robe and ran out of our room to check on the kids.

I, on the other hand, pulled the blanket over my head and covered my ears. This wasn’t the first time we were woken up by a false alarm, after all. I took my sweet time getting out of bed and following Mr. December out to the hallway.

We checked each of the alarms—they’re all linked, you see, so as soon as one goes off they all do—to see which was the instigator. We couldn’t tell, despite the fact that there’s supposed to be a flashing red light on the one that initiated the alarm. Mr. December grabbed N’s bunk-bed ladder and started taking the units down one at a time. Finally, after probably six solid minutes of the shrill alarm and blinding strobes (and that insufferable bilingual woman,) the alarms stopped. Blessed, blessed silence.

I hate these alarms. We have had more false alarms that I can count on two hands. The first time, the firefighters came and when they saw our alarms they informed us that they don’t trust those things. They installed an old-fashioned smoke detector in our upstairs hallway before they left. Apparently the alarms we have—in addition to being notorious among firefighters for their false alarms—have a hair trigger: if a piece of dust floats into one, the alarm could go off. Last time I called customer service to complain, I was told that we’re supposed to clean these units with compressed air every few months.

Is it too much to ask for a fire detector that detects fires, and only fires? Or at the very least, an alarm that doesn’t always choose the middle of the night for a malfunction?

I do worry that we’ve become inured to these false alarms and were a real fire to occur (God forbid,) we might not take it seriously. Of course, it’s hard not to be resentful and dismissive of the alarm when the entire family has been jolted out of a good night’s sleep for nothing.

As you can imagine, homeschool was a disaster today. We were all too tired to focus, and we did next to nothing. Hopefully tomorrow will be better; hopefully tonight will be alarm-free.

Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · parenting · Renovation · whine and cheese

Day 557: Who needs it? I do.

I never understood the point of huge “master suites” in otherwise normal houses. Toronto real estate is expensive; why would you waste so much of it on a sitting area when you already have a living room and a family room, and maybe a rec room? Mr. December agreed with me, so when we designed our house we made our bedroom big enough for a king-size bed and some bedside tables. When she suggested that it was too small, our architect was outvoted.

For the most part, I’ve been happy with our decision: the bedroom does what we need it to do, our bathroom is the right size for the way we use it, and we’ve got plenty of storage in our closet. Sometimes, though, I start to wish I’d designed a whole big suite just for the two of us.

I didn’t feel the need for so much private space when the kids were little (probably because they went to bed long before us and I had time and space to myself anywhere I wanted it.) These days, however, there’s always someone awake until I go to bed, and the same kids who mostly ignore me during the day always need to talk to me after bedtime.

Mr. December just came out of someone’s room and asked if we could maybe go to sleep earlier tonight. Instead of a very reasonable, “Sure, I’m just finishing up my blog post,” I unleashed my exasperation on him: “Oh my God, seriously, can everybody just stop talking to me for, like, five minutes so I can finish a sentence?!?!?”

It’s becoming very clear that I need an office with a door. Or a giant suite to which I can retreat at nine p.m. after proclaiming that I’m done for the night. Until then I’ll be right here, practicing my relaxation techniques so my cortisol level doesn’t spike every time I hear someone talking to me after bedtime.

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.