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

Day 1088: If it’s not one thing…

We had a beautiful morning today. We biked over to the beach with the three girls (N refused to go) and went swimming in the ocean. The water was calm and clear, the bottom was sandy, and the sun was shining. Perfect. I was so busy swimming and having a good time that I forgot to take any pictures. Sorry, not sorry.

My legs are still very fatigued, though, and I ran out of steam halfway up the hill (the only hill there is around here.) I stopped, put my foot down, and told E to get off and walk the rest of the way up. As she started to dismount, the wheels slid through the brake pads and the whole bike started moving backwards. I had one foot planted on the ground and the other moving slowly downhill with the bike. I think I yelled. I tried to slow the bike’s fall so that E could get off safely. She did, unscathed—but I didn’t. Now I have a beautiful bruise and some scratches on my ankle where the pedal hit me.

But the beach was great.

This afternoon Mr. December went into the Ancient City to explore without the rest of us breathing down his neck. “Should I bike?” he asked. I encouraged him to bike because—aside from that one blasted hill—Hoi An is as flat as a pancake (which makes every bike ride so much easier.)

A few hours later I messaged him: “Coming home soon?”

And that’s when I learned that his bike—the one whose pedal fell off last week—had a flat tire. He rode all the way home (at least 6 kilometres) on the wheel rim. If you didn’t know, riding on a slightly flat tire is difficult; riding on a completely flat tire is painfully so. By the time he got home, Mr. December looked like a glazed donut: a thin sheen of sweat covered every inch of him that we could see.

As they say, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. I just hope tomorrow’s “one thing” has no impact on our sunset kayak tour.

Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam · whine and cheese

Day 1086: Burnout

I’m tired. And I don’t mean sleepy.

My legs are really sore and tight from that long bike ride two days ago. I could get a massage from one of the ridiculously-cheap spas around here, but I’m worried that someone who’s untrained might do more harm than good to my body. I’m not willing to risk it.

I’m tired of having my entire day consist of things I’m not very good at, decision making and planning ahead being chief among them.

I’m tired of eating whatever there is, as opposed to things I enjoy.

I’m tired of listening to my kids complain about the food, the weather, screen time, school work, each other, and who-knows-what-else.

I’m very tired of hearing karaoke sung off-key at top volume all afternoon and evening (yep, they’re doing it again as we speak.)

I’m tired of everything smelling like damp and possibly mildew.

Oh, and K and E are sick, so I’m also tired of dodging their coughs, sneezes, and snot while still giving them the cuddles they need.

I’m tired of spending our days in the house, but we can’t really go anywhere with K and E while they’re sick like this.

I’m craving a warm cookie. Bikini bottom has one on their menu… and they are available on Grab, so I could order one… but then I have to explain to my kids why I get a dessert and they don’t. It’s probably not worth it. Maybe I’ll just put some Nutella on a Ritz cracker and call it a night.

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

Day 1079: False Start

In my defense, the forecast said today would be sunny with some cloud, but not rainy. The forecast said.

We had plans to take a basket boat ride in the water coconut grove today. We hit our first roadblock early: R and N refused to bike there.

“Not optional,” was our answer. After a lot of grumbling and whining (and maybe a little understatement of the distance on my part) we finally hit the road.

And then it started to spit.

R biked up beside me and started yelling, demanding that we turn back “RIGHT NOW.” K and N joined the chorus of “Let’s turn back” as the few solitary drops of rain finally brought all their cousins and friends along for the party. I’m not opposed to biking in the rain (when it’s warm out,) but it was starting to look like the rain would last some time, and how good would the boat ride be in this kind of downpour?

We turned back.

It finally cleared up around 1 p.m. and we marshalled the troops for a second attempt. There was even more vocal opposition to biking this time. It was one of many times this trip when Mr. December and I looked at each other with the same thought in our minds: “Suck it up, buttercup. Holy cow, do they ever STOP complaining?”

I don’t remember what was said to get all the kids back on bikes. I suspect the whining was so awful I’ve blocked out the memory as a defense mechanism.

We did the 5k ride in decent time, with a couple of kids getting close to me to tell me about all the ways their bodies hurt too much to bike anymore. I could only respond that if they keep avoiding exercise, it will always hurt their muscles—practice is key to getting stronger. Meanwhile, carpal tunnel reared its head and my hands started going numb, so I rode one-handed while the other hand dangled at my side to get the feeling back, then switched hands.

Anyhow, we finally made it to this really cute village. Our tour operator offered us cold water and ushered us to the boats.

A basket boat—some people call them coconut boats—looks a lot like half of a giant golf ball. It’s round, woven out of some kind of leaf (banana or palm, I wasn’t quite sure,) with a bench across the middle. There’s only one paddle and the stroke looks a lot like the paddler is stirring a pot of something.

We floated through a narrow gap in the water coconut trees, and then came out into a huge open part of the river where a few men performed on their boats (mostly spinning and wobbling.) A little farther away, a fisherman demonstrated how he casts his net into the river before pulling it back in. Mr. December, K, and E all tried it. I have to say, E made the best first attempt of the three of them.

You’ll notice in the photos that we’re all wearing those conical Vietnamese hats. We were given them to wear during our boat ride, and K declared it “The first sunhat I don’t mind wearing.” I think we might have to buy one for her (or go to a workshop and make it ourselves.)

We biked back home, this time with less complaining (there’s always less complaining on the way home.) Would it really kill them to go without complaining from the get-go? The constant whining—when we’re working so hard to give them the experience of a lifetime—is really starting to grate on me. Suck it up, buttercups.

Keepin' it real · mental health · Travelogue · Vietnam · what's cookin' · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 1071: Trying.

trying /ˈtɹaɪ.ɪŋ/

(verb; gerund or present participle)

  1. Making an attempt or effort to do something. I’m trying to keep it together despite my depressive thinking and difficult housemates.
  2. Make severe demands on a person; irritating; bothersome. With their whining about food, their resistance to schoolwork, and their unwillingness to work towards a solution, my children have been especially trying today.
  3. Subjecting (someone) to a trial. It feels like they’re trying me in a court of parenting law and finding me guilty.

Today I found a restaurant for breakfast that serves Western food; I rushed everyone out the door to get there before people imploded from hunger. The kids ordered a bagel with smoked salmon, pancakes, French toast, and fried eggs with breakfast potatoes. I was so happy that we seemed to have nipped one problem in the bud early today.

Then the food arrived. One kid didn’t like their French toast at all (both Mr. December and I tasted it and thought it was quite good.) Another (I’m not naming names, but I bet you can guess who it was) finished their pancakes and then asked if we could also order some French fries (the answer was no.) A third asked if they could have a smoothie; when we said no, the child persistently asked why not, loudly and in a whiny tone (that kid most definitely did not get a smoothie today.) As we paid and left, the kids all complained that they were still hungry. All I could think was, I make an effort to find the right restaurant for them, and all they can do is complain and ask for even more?

(Also, I can’t imagine how they can still be hungry. Those servings weren’t meager.)

In the afternoon it started to rain. Then it really rained, sending us from our rooftop classroom back into the dark depths of the main floor. One child refused to do their work and had the temerity to throw a fit when we explained why we were exasperated with them.

The kids were trying; but I’m still trying.

I googled “Western-style supermarket Hoi An,” read all the reviews, and picked a likely candidate. K and I went armed with a list and our grocery bags. We took the time to read every label carefully (thanks, google translate!) and discovered that all of the seasoning mixes here contain dried shrimp. Instead of one bottled of mixed spices, I bought six different seasonings.

This grocery store had something we hadn’t seen yet in Vietnam: frozen French fries. The only bags they had were 2.5 kilos, but I’m sure the kids will be able to demolish that in a couple of days. We also bought fresh milk, pasta sauce, pancake mix, and a few other things this family definitely eats. We finally staggered to the cash under the weight of our baskets (no carts here) and packed our bags while the clerk cashed us out. Then we learned that this store doesn’t accept credit cards. I didn’t have enough cash to pay for it all, so I got directions to the nearest ATM and left K at the store to hang out with our groceries. When we finally paid and left the store, I had the presence of mind to dash across the street to a market stall and buy a strainer so we’ll be able to fish our French fries out of boiling oil (no oven, you remember, so we’ll have to deep fry them every time.)

Dinner was pasta, and I was bemoaning the fact that one of our two burners doesn’t work, so I’d have to cook the pasta first and then take it off and cook the sauce. Then I saw the rice cooker out of the corner of my eye and thought, “Why not?” The rice cooker got the sauce nice and hot in about five minutes (and then kept the sauce warm on the table in between servings.) Now I’m googling what else we might be able to cook in this very basic rice cooker. Rice cooker challah, maybe?

Everyone liked dinner, and we ran out of food before people felt full. Cue the complaints. I pulled out my secret weapon: a bag of popcorn kernels I found at the supermarket today (it was in the corner on the bottom shelf—aka the floor.) I popped a giant pot (on our one burner) and then sat down with the kids to watch Big Bang Theory and eat the popcorn.

It was a far-from-perfect day, and I started off feeling pretty discouraged after breakfast, but I kept trying. It was all I could manage. I’ll keep trying again tomorrow.

Keepin' it real · mental health · Travelogue · Vietnam · whine and cheese

Day 1069: Frayed

It’s very predictable: by the third or fourth day in an unfamiliar place, tempers start to fray.

We don’t have great cooking facilities, and we haven’t yet found a place to buy some of our familiar staple foods. Couple that with Mr. December’s broad definition of “meal” and we’ve got some pretty ticked-off children. Of course, he’s frustrated at their unwillingness to even try new foods. It’s dietary chaos over here, and I feel like it’s up to me to fix it somehow, but I’m not doing too well right now myself.

Our villa, while good on paper, is very dark, It’s a long, narrow concrete house with windows at the front and back of the house. My bedroom window looks out directly into our landlord’s yard, so I keep those curtains closed. I’m not sure it would be much better with them open, though, because it’s been cloudy and gray for the last two days. And just like that, I feel depression creeping up on me. It doesn’t help that, at the end of the day, I’m not eating particularly well myself. I’m trying to set a good example for the kids by eating the local stuff, but I don’t really like any of it; so I end up nibbling little bits and pieces.

This place has a dearth of comfy seating. The best we’ve got is a thinly padded wooden couch (and I use the term “couch” very loosely.) It’s been a while since I’ve had somewhere comfortable to sit that isn’t my bed. I want a hammock, but the landlord here says we can’t hang one on the roof (from a thick, welded metal roof frame,) so I’m probably out of luck. Maybe I’ll just go sit in one of the hammocks on the other side of the street near the riverbank and see if anyone comes to kick me out of it.

Riding a bike might cheer me up… but we haven’t rented them yet because every time we’re in town (near the rental place that actually has bikes with locks and padded rear racks for E to ride on) it’s evening; I don’t want my first ride on Vietnamese roads to be in the dark.

This too shall pass, I know. But right now everything kinda sucks.

Me leaning my cheek on one hand, with an unhappy expression on my face.
Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Vietnam · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 1067: Should’ve Asked…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thailand · Travelogue · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 1058: Not so Easy

I needed to top up my prepaid SIM card. It was so easy that I managed to do it after only 3 days and multiple tries. When it finally worked, I got a fraud alert from my VISA card (yes, they were very concerned about the $2.02 paid to a cellphone company in Thailand, even though I’ve been charging stuff on that card practically every day,) in which I was asked to call the card company immediately. I laughed and sent them a secure message (through their website) saying that I would not be phoning them from Thailand, but that the charge was real and no fraud had occurred.

I seriously regret not bringing my travel hammock with us. I’m feeling hammock-deprived. (I’m serious! At home I do at least 50% of my sitting in one of our hammocks!) Anyhow, I finally decided to order one online and have it delivered to our place here. I checked the delivery charge, and it showed an option for delivery using Grab—so I chose that one. Turns out I missed something in the translation, though: I was supposed to arrange for Grab to pick it up and bring it to me. How did I miss that? I have no idea. I also don’t have the street address of the store, so how exactly am I picking it up? I may end up just having to cancel the order.

Dinnertime: once again, we decided to order on Grab, seeing as it’s not expensive. I submitted K’s order for Indian food and got confirmation. Then I tried ordering a pizza for N and R, and the transaction was declined. Confused, I checked online and verified that my balance is still well under my credit limit; not only that, but the transaction was listed as “pending,” not “declined.” I was baffled as to why it didn’t work. Luckily Mr. December was at the mall, so I asked him to just bring home a pizza—not so easy to do when you’re walking across an unfinished sidewalk with construction debris scattered everywhere.

The pizza was excellent, though.

This morning we went to Doi Suthep, the big famous temple in Chiang Mai. We didn’t really know enough about Buddhism or Buddhist temples to appreciate the significance of everything; but it occurred to me (and I shared this with the kids) that a couple of millennia ago, we had a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and it probably wasn’t so very different from what we saw at Doi Suthep. Steps leading up the hill to a large compound with a big courtyard; places selling offerings (flowers, bells, and I’m not quite sure what else); incense in the air; a row of oil lamps; people coming to make their offerings, pray, and receive a blessing. The major differences as I saw it were that our Temple would have also been—as Yuval Noah Harari puts it—a cross between an abattoir and a barbecue joint; and, of course, we wouldn’t have had hundreds of statues to worship. It was an interesting train of thought and I plan to pursue it with the kids when we have a school day.

On the way back down the 300 steps, we stopped at a waffle stand and discovered a new favourite dessert: a banana baked inside a (banana-shaped) waffle, on a stick, with caramel sauce. It tasted kind of like banana bread. We all got seconds.

Next we stopped at the Orchid Jade Factory, where we were invited to watch a short video about jade. The announcer’s voice made me feel like any minute he’d say, “Hi, I’m Troy McLure! You may remember me from such videos as Understanding Precious Stones and Refine your own Gold the Old-Fashioned Way!” There were some interesting tidbits about jade, but I’ve already forgotten everything. We got to see the artisans at work and then perused the jewellery cases. R was enthralled with the purple jade (yes, that’s a thing) but it didn’t exactly fit her budget.

Then we drove up to the Hmong Hill Tribe Village, but it wasn’t that different from any of the markets we’d seen recently; and besides, we were all hot and tired. We went home, I took a nap, and that was it for the day.

Did my planned crash day work? Not exactly, but I sucked it up and went ahead with today’s tours anyway. No rest for the wicked, either: tomorrow morning I’m taking E to spend a few hours learning how to take care of mommy and baby elephants.

New Zealand · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 1045: When it Rains…

First off, it’s not very often that the post number corresponds to the time that I’m writing and posting it, so… yeah. Day 1045 at 10:45!

The title—When it Rains—was not meant metaphorically. It was raining when we woke up, it rained all day, it rained as we lit candles and ate challah, and it’s still raining now.

We got rained out of our tour of a gold mine, but nobody called us about it until we were halfway there (it’s an hour and twenty minutes away from here.) We actually didn’t get the message until we arrived in Waihi because our big red van has no handsfree phone technology. At that point it would have been silly to just turn around and go home, so we did the interactive exhibit on mining. I wouldn’t have driven three hours round trip just for that exhibit, but we were already there, so we might as well enjoy it. The kids seemed to like it.

An aside: there’s a thing that all the attractions here seem to do: they give the kids a clipboard with some questions that are answered in the exhibit, and if the kids turn it in with the correct answers at the end, they get some kind of treat. On the one hand, why is everything about candy? On the other hand, it’s so nice to wander through an exhibit at my own pace without my kids whining about wanting to leave.

As you can imagine, driving—on the left, in the rain, with a bunch of cars stuck behind me—was kind of exhausting. I came home, went to bed, and got a solid three hours of sleep with the window open and the sound of the rain serving as white noise.

At one point the rain was drowned out by someone shouting “Eema! Eema! Look!” (this was when I started to regret sleeping with the window open.) I stepped out onto the balcony to see R and Mr. December… dripping wet… dancing… in the rain. R, who has anxiety about the weather and refuses to leave the house when it’s raining, was dancing in the rain. I still don’t know how or why that happened. I didn’t want to say anything to jinx it either, so I silently went and got some towels for when they finally came in.

The kids took care of braiding and baking the challah and we gathered to light candles, make kiddush, and eat the challah. Then, just as after the Shabbat dinners of my childhood, we all decamped to the TV room and watched a sitcom (Derry Girls season 3 had me busting a gut. I love Sister Michael.)

Tomorrow is our last day here; Sunday morning we drive into Auckland. But first… packing. Again.

Keepin' it real · New Zealand · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 1044: It’s Not the Dog

At first I thought it was an allergic reaction: our cousin (at whose house we’re staying) has a dog—an adorable one, who deserves her own post one of these days—whose hair is probably everywhere in the house. No big deal: I took Reactine daily and decided it was worthwhile given how nice it is being here with our cousin and how happy R is about the dog.

You can see how it was easy for me to discount my congestion and even some of my sore throat. Yesterday I started to feel woozy and maybe a bit clammy too; I was also fatigued in that slightly breathless (but not scary COVID breathless) way that comes with colds and flus. This morning I felt worse, not better, and I spent much of today in bed in the hope that a good dose of rest will make this illness pass sooner rather than later.

On the bright side: I’m staying in my cousin’s home, where I get to rest in a comfortable bed with food and drinks easily accessible. It’s way better than being sick in a hostel room or even a hotel. It really is just like being at home, except for the fact that I had plans (kayaking, swimming in the river) for this week and now I won’t get to do those things.

Oh, wait. That does sound a lot like home, doesn’t it?

We leave New Zealand in four days. I hope to be all better by then.

(And Dog, I’m sorry I blamed you for my illness. Forgiven?)

Kids · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin' · whine and cheese

Day 1014: Nothing to Eat

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m hungry, but there’s nothing to eat!” today. We’re trying to use up all the perishables before we leave, and apparently what’s left doesn’t count as food. The kids have a point—there’s nothing to eat if you’re not counting the bread and butter, cheese, tortillas, homemade granola bars, nuts, eggs, Rice Krispies, hot dogs, peanut butter, bananas, strawberries, yogurt, and ice cream. These poor, starving children.

If left to their own devices they’d probably air a commercial: “You can sponsor a child in our home for just $2 a day, and ensure they have access to medicine, fresh water, pizza, chicken fingers, and french fries. We’ll send you a photograph of the child enjoying the food, and as a special thank-you, we’ll also include a personalized Rainbow Loom necklace as a gift. These children are hungry—please call today.”*

They’re cute and all, but I have zero empathy for them right now. We made a baked French Toast casserole for brunch today; it was essentially a dessert. We had four loaves of bread to use up and now we’re down to three. It was delicious, too. If the kids turned their noses up at it, that’s their problem—not mine.

*Last time I mentioned my kids wanting some kind of food—probably candy—some friends and family brought them some. Please, don’t bring us any food. We’re trying to use it all up. They’ll survive.