bikes planes and automobiles · diet recovery · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Worldschooling

Day 569: Ten days more…

I’m having a bit of trouble accepting that we leave for our trip in ten days. It doesn’t feel real. We’ve been planning for months, and we’re still planning, and right now I can’t imagine getting the six of us on a plane and going anywhere.

Part of my brain does seem cognizant of the timing, though, since today I sat down and organized our first aid kit for the trip. To give you a sense of the kind of first aid kit it is, I’ll tell you that of five pencilcase-sized pouches, one holds such useful tools as a stethoscope, thermometer, otoscope, pulse oximeter, and peak flow meter. The other four pouches contain ointments and creams; medications; gauze and tape; and six different kinds of adhesive bandages including steri-strips. If it sounds like a lot of stuff, that’s because it is. Most of the time we don’t need these things, but when we do, we need a lot of them; if we’re suddenly struck with a stomach bug we’ll need to hunker down next to a bathroom—not run to the store to get more Immodium and Gastrolyte.

On a more upbeat note, I’ve been shopping for bathing suits—bikinis, to be precise. Since I’ve finally accepted that a bikini body is just having a body and putting a bikini on it, I figure I should take advantage of what two-piece swimsuits have to offer: namely, easier trips to the bathroom and no more cold, wet midsection.

I’ve been ordering bikinis online with the intention of trying them all on and keeping one or two. So far the frontrunner is a hot pink high-waisted number with a top that’s both secure (i.e. I won’t fall out of it) and just a touch sexy. I still have to try a couple more that should arrive this week too, but I’m already feeling good about my bathing suit situation.

As for homeschooling supplies: it’s hard to strike a balance between how much work we’d like to do in a perfect world and how much work we think will actually get done (Mr. December estimates that we’ll do about ten school days on our sixty-day trip.) My current plan is to load up my Kobo with books on different subjects that I can read aloud and discuss with the kids, and for each of them to take their writing notebook to write about either what we’ve read or what we’ve done each day. I’m also bringing things like a monocular for wildlife-watching and a pocket microscope. Oh, and sketchbooks and drawing supplies. That’s it.

On second thought, I’m not as oblivious to our looming departure as I thought I was. I’m sure I’m forgetting something basic—while I’m busy planning for pulse oximetry and microscopy—but what?

Five different-coloured zippered pencil cases with transparent sides. They contain adhesive bandages; pills in blister packs; gauze and first aid tape; medical instruments; and creams, ointments, and sanitizer respectively.
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.

ADHD · Worldschooling

Day 523: Analysis Paralysis

It’s hard to plan a trip when every decision affects every other decision. I’ve been going round and round on the internet trying to pin down something, anything that I can use as an anchor for our travels this fall; so far I’ve found everything and nothing. To wit:

  • If we want to be in the centre of the country, we should fly directly to the capital; but it’s the rainy season, so we might want to try for a different part of the country where it’s drier, in which case we should fly to a different airport. So we can’t book flights until I know where we want to stay.
  • Beaches in the drier part of the country aren’t as safe or good for swimming as beaches near the centre. We have kids who are accustomed to swimming in placid little lakes; we don’t need to court disaster by taking them to a beach where there are rocks and undertows.
  • A separate-but-related decision has to do with the type of place we rent: do we want to be in a lush tropical setting, or would we rather be in a town or village where we can walk everywhere we need to go? If we get some beachfront villa it’s likely we’ll have to rent a car…

… and so on.

“Just make a spreadsheet!” Mr. December says for the umpteenth time while shaking his head resignedly. “Also, you have too many tabs open in your browser. It’s confusing.”

Sweetheart, I want to say but don’t, I have too many tabs open in my BRAIN. It’s called ADHD.

He’s right that I need to attack this in a systematic way… but I’m not really sure how. Maybe a grid that takes into account location, walkability, amount of rain, and beach safety? Maybe I should just print a map and do some colour-coded highlighting. On the other hand, a comparison chart—the kind you see when you’re comparing appliances on a website—might be the best way to go.

Are you confused yet? I do like to give my readers an immersive experience…

DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · The COVID files · Worldschooling

Day 484: Curriculum Decision

After lots of research into ready-made curricula, I’ve made my decision:

I’m going to create a curriculum myself.

It’s not that there aren’t lots of fabulous-looking curricula out there; there are, in as many different flavours as there are approaches to education. More, even.

But Mr. December and I have been working on our travel plans (for when we can realistically travel again,) and it looks like our most likely option would be Central and South America, since Costa Rica is open with no restrictions and Ecuador has no restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated (children too young to be vaccinated take on the status of their parents, so we’re good to go.) And as long as we’re there, might as well check out the Galapagos. You know, before climate change and tourism muck the whole thing up and there’s nothing to see.

With that decided, all of the homeschooling pieces have fallen into place. Of course we should learn about the geography and history of the places we’ll be travelling. Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas. And then when we get to the Conquistadors and start talking about the monarchy that financed them, we’ll naturally be talking about the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects it, but there it is) and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. From there, we can talk about the Sephardi Jews: customs, music, food, and language (let’s learn some Ladino!)

I’ve gotten really into the planning; I have the mind map to prove it. I divided it into curriculum areas—Language, Food, Geography, History, Music, Art, Math and Science—and jotted down everything I could think of to learn about them. There’s even a separate section for the Galapagos, highlighted in blue.

I’ve compiled a long playlist of Crash Course History videos and the like to introduce various topics. Our public library gives us free access to Mango Languages, which we’ll use for learning Spanish and maybe Ladino (if they have it.)

So that’s it: I’m dumping the premade curricula and going with Mesoamerican and South American studies. This is going to be so much fun!

family fun · Jewy goodness · Worldschooling

Day 433: My kind of fun

N has always been a whiz at puzzles. As a toddler he breezed his way through so many of them that I started buying out all the puzzles at the secondhand toy store. Now he takes out our jigsaw puzzles and times himself to see how quickly he can finish.

He’s clearly ready for a new challenge. That’s why Mr. December and I decided to buy him an infinity puzzle: it has no straight edges, and if you could bend a puzzle into a cylinder, the opposite edges fit together. The pieces don’t look like any puzzle pieces I’ve ever seen before. Truly, this thing is the work of either a genius or a sadist. I’m not really sure which.

N tried it for a little while and then declared it too difficult. Meanwhile, I became engrossed in it. It’s slow going—it probably takes me five to ten minutes to place a single piece—but it’s so exciting when I manage to get it right. Now that he sees me working on it, N has taken to joining me again. We both find it hard to drag ourselves away.

I had planned to spend some time with the puzzle tonight, but I got distracted (of course I did. It’s what I do.) I was working on our travel plans and started to explore things to occupy our time if we worldschool in Israel. I googled “Tourist ulpan for kids” and next thing I knew I was taking a Hebrew proficiency test to determine my level. It involved some verb conjugations, reading comprehension, and conjunctions; and I had to type it all in Hebrew. I can touch type in Hebrew, but it’s slow going and I’m quite error-prone. Anyhow, now I wait for them to email me my score.

So that’s what I do for fun: fiendishly difficult jigsaw puzzles and Hebrew grammar quizzes. If you can think of a more fun way to spend the evening, please keep it to yourself for now; it’s time for bed.

family fun · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 429: Hopes Dashed

We’re starting to plan for next year, which is kind of a joke during COVID because it’s pretty hard to predict what life is going to be like. I mean, did anybody think we’d still be under stay-at-home orders this summer? But we’re trying to plan anyway, because when you want to travel the world with kids you really have to plan ahead.

Mr. December and I had already chosen a few countries we wanted the kids to see. The next step, which we did today, was to get the kids’ input on things like trip duration, destination, and accommodations. I created a Google Form, each kid submitted their answers, and Mr. December and I tabulated the results. I was getting excited.

Then—for some reason—Mr. December looked up the COVID restrictions in each country… and our hopes were dashed. New Zealand is closed. Israel is open only to tourists who are fully vaccinated, which children can’t be. Thailand too. And on and on, until we stopped googling, sat back in our chairs, and said, “Well, this sucks!”

We googled “where can I travel from Canada right now?” and found this neat interactive map that shows which countries are open, which are closed, and which have some restrictions. The map for travel from Canada looks like this:

Image Description: a map of the world, with most countries coloured red. Parts of Europe, Africa, and North America are yellow. Mexico is green as are a few small countries.

Green means open, yellow means restrictions (which usually involves tourists being fully vaccinated, which makes it impossible with kids,) and red is right out. It’s not looking too good for Canadians right now—and to think, we used to be so beloved abroad that Americans would sew Canadian flags on their backpacks so they’d be better received in every country.

At least Mexico and Costa Rica are fully open. So are the Dominican Republic, North Macedonia, and Albania, but those don’t quite make the cut (although I’m sure they’re very nice.)

I guess now we have to—and I do heartily apologize for using the most overused word of the past four hundred and twenty-nine days—pivot. I’m already starting to shift my expectations from Israel, Thailand, and New Zealand to Costa Rica. Now we have to help the kids shift their expectations, because E has her heart set on Thailand (to see the elephants,) and everyone wanted to see New Zealand. Israel was kind of a given, but the kids know we’ll get there eventually.

So tomorrow I’ll start with a fresh Google Form and solicit the kids’ opinions on some different destinations. Then it’s time for my favourite part of the process: scouring Air BnB for a cool place to stay.

I’ve heard it said that the planning and anticipation is the best part of a trip. If that’s true, I’m super lucky to get a double dose of planning; but if COVID makes me pivot again and plan a third trip, I will be most put out.