Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Excerpts from a Toddler's Bucket List

Today I noticed my 2-year-old staring intently at nothing for several moments, and when I called his name the spell was broken: he leaped up, grabbed a spatula, and jumped in an empty diaper box making siren noises.

What do toddlers think about when they're lost in thought? I'll never be sure, but it's most likely composing their bucket lists.

And from what I can gather, this is what's on my 2-year-old's list of things to do before it's too late.

Enjoy a sneak peek into the things every toddler wants to do before it's too late.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

1. Dump out all of the things in all of the buckets.

2. Like a Whole 30, but where I wholly reject 30 foods I previously enjoyed.

3. Become fluent in my native language.

4. Finally catch the cat.

5. Get stuck in the soft play.

6. Meet Elmo.

7. Face my fear of the vacuum cleaner.

8. Watch the sun rise. Preferably on a morning when my parents have a chance to sleep in.

9. Live for a month on nothing but carbs.

10. Cry at Disneyland.

11. Reach the drawer with the scissors.

12. Stop shoving objects up my nose.

13. Build a tower that doesn't fall over or otherwise obey the laws of gravity.

14. Eat something soggy on the floor of the pool changing room.

15. Remain calm in a survival situation, such as getting stuck in my pant leg.

16. Flush something irreplaceable down the toilet.

17. Do it myself. All of it.

18. Talk to a therapist about my phobia of costumed figures, my phobia of strangers, and my PTSD from meeting Santa that one time.

19. Also seek professional help for my rock hoarding problem.

20. Hike Everest Be carried up Mount Everest.

21. Have a diaper blow-out at a Broadway musical.

22. Learn to say "no" in 50 different languages.

23. Bite a celebrity or famous person.

24. Push ALL of the elevator buttons. Especially the red one.

25. Drive a car that isn't foot-powered.

26. Write to Baby Einstein and tell him I've learned nothing.

27. Fall off something in all 50 states.

28. Have a temper tantrum in a tropical location.

29. Lose the fat rolls on my wrists and do some ab work to get rid of the milk belly.

30. Get Thomas the Train's autograph.

31. Sell my artwork on Etsy. (Mixed media but mostly scribbled-on library books and poop fingerpaintings.)

32. Graduate from an anger management class.

33. Eat at least one page from every title on the New York Times' Best Seller List.

34. Streak through a public space to raise awareness for an important cause. The cause is that I hate wearing clothes.

35. Refuse to play with a toy that was expensive and highly-rated on Amazon.

Once I think about all the things my 2-year-old is trying to cross off his bucket list, I guess it's understandable that he's so cranky sometimes. It's a lot to remember when you lack the necessary hand-eye coordination to write it down.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Sudan

This post includes my affiliate link, which means I may receive a commission on products you buy through these links. 

For the last 7 years, my kids and I have spent summer vacations visiting countries around the world (in our imaginations, guys, don't get excited.)

We use resources from the library and around the Internet, and it's a lot of work but also fun and a nice break from trips to the beach which are mostly just walking kids back and forth to the Port-a-Potty.

This year my kids decided to kick off the summer with Sudan, and needless to say they learned a lot. In fact, I learned a lot, because before this week I knew nothing.


The kids started off by locating Sudan on the map and completing the fill-in-the-blank passport pages I designed when this whole thing started. (Feel free to print them out here.)

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

The next thing to do was draw the flag and add it to the wall. Our map was printed pre-2011, when Sudan broke into Sudan and South Sudan, so for the sake of going with the map we already have, we decided to do the flags of both.

As we were designing and drawing, we listened to some Sudanese music I requested on interlibrary loan and read out loud these 57 Interesting Facts About Sudan. Did you know that Sudan actually has more pyramids than Egypt?


Christianity is the main religion of South Sudan, but since we are Christian and have also studied various Protestant and Catholic denominations while doing other countries, it's pretty familiar to us. So we focused today on the dominant religion of Sudan: Islam.

I checked out a copy of Mohammed by Demi, which is such a beautifully illustrated children's book about Islam's origins that I'm almost tempted to buy it. We also watched a Religions of the World video on Islam from Schlessinger Media that you and I may or may not have been forced to watch in middle school, which was dry but informative.

The kids have already learned about Islam during our studies of Libya, Oman, and Mauritania, plus we went to an open house at a mosque a few years back, so they're pretty familiar with the history and basic pillars of the Muslim faith.

This week we decided to focus on a Muslim holiday we didn't know much about, and since Eid al-Fitr was just last month (and we didn't even know how to pronounce it without Googling,) we figured that was a good one to start with.
Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

After reading Rashad's Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr and Nabeel's New Pants: An Eid Tale, we talked about the ways people celebrate Eid and how we could do something similar at home.

We planned to wear our finest clothes to dinner at eat a full Sudanese meal, but I forgot we had youth activities at our church that night and we ended up eating a rushed meal of spaghetti and running out the door. (That's okay, it's the thought that counts.)

We did, however, make these Sudanese holiday cookies, gave gifts to each other (the kids drew each others' names and made a picture,) and pooled some money to donate to the poor through our church's humanitarian fund (which Muslims would call zakat.)

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
We used my 2-year-old's baby bottle to cut out the shapes.

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Not very sweet, but the kids ate straight powdered sugar of their hands after dusting the cookies so they were satisfied.

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
The 6-year-old went nuts creating paintings for her brother, but I think mostly because she accidentally poured herself WAY too much paint and was trying to get rid of it.

For the record, Phillip was very incredulous that we were skipping Ramadan and going straight to celebrating Eid because that's missing the point, but we meant well. (Our purpose was obviously not to offend anybody, but to increase our understanding of and knowledge about world religions.)


I put on a Little Pim Arabic learning video, which my youngest watched while dreamily lying on the carpet wearing a firefighter's helmet.

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

We quickly reviewed Arabic numbers and how to say hellogoodbyeplease, and thank you which we'd already learned in previous summers, and spent a few minutes on YouTube watching this alphabet song:

Even though it's just an alphabet song, it also conveyed the importance of the Quran and Mohammed to Islam which was a nice reinforcement of what we learned yesterday.

We never really tried to write in Arabic before because it looked so intimidating, but I found this chart online and had the kids trace the letters. I had them note that everything went from right to left, and tried to get them to follow the correct stroke order.

Everyone but the 2-year-old at least tried.

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

We attempted to learn color names with another YouTube video, and then we played Twister with this spinner and game board I'd stayed up way too late the night before doctoring with Arabic color names and just for fun, the Arabic words for 'hand' and 'foot.'

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

Unfortunately, the Arabic words for red, blue, yellow, and green all sounded too similar for us to tell apart, except for my 14-year-old who is sort of a foreign language wizard.


Having an almost high-schooler has its benefits, because all I did today in terms of prep was say, "Hey, I want you to read this Wikipedia article and tell us about it over dinner, kay?"

My daughter didn't disappoint, and she taught us all about the decades of civil war in Sudan and the resulting peace treaty that created South Sudan as an independent country in 2011.

We then read Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. I had no idea about this fascinating and heartbreaking piece of history. I wanted to watch the documentary Rebuilding Hope with the older kids (which we can get for free on Amazon Instant Video) but we ran out of time. Maybe another day this summer. (Caution: I haven't seen it or screened it for age appropriate-ness, so use your own judgement.)

That night for dinner I made ful medames, the national dish of Sudan. It was very pretty, but I must not have put enough salt in it because it definitely didn't taste as good as it looked.

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

I wasn't sure that the kids would be crazy about this fava bean-based dish anyway, but I served it with naan so I knew they'd at least eat something.

Six kids, one week learning about Sudan and South Sudan. Free resources and printables included!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

We have naan at our house all the time and they are willing to fight to the death for the leftovers.


We wrapped up our week in Sudan by touring a few of the interesting places in the country. We read about Suakin Island, where you can see the ruins of a once-beautiful port city on an oval-shaped island in the Red Sea that has been abandoned since the 1930s.

In this YouTube video, we visited some temple ruins and the Meroë pyramids in Sudan:

It was simultaneously very cool and very sad how those sites weren't protected or regulated by anyone. You could just walk right up to the pyramids and touch them, walk around in them... but some people abused that freedom and graffitied their names and all sorts of other dumb stuff right on the pyramids.

That gave us an opportunity to discuss the quote "With great power comes great responsibility," which comes from the great American philosopher Spider-Man. We talked about the importance of preserving beautiful places and treating them with respect, and then got a garbage bag and went to pick up trash on the side of the busy road near our house.

I'm sure it looked like I was out there with a chain gang of six, and by the end even my 2-year-old was pointing out cigarette butts for his siblings to pick up (not remembering what they were called, though, he called them "buttcracks.")

This week, I also left copies of the following books around the house knowing that my kids would pick them up and read them:

Who knew there were so many good chapter books to be found on Sudan??

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Friday, July 13, 2018

7 Quick Takes about Choosing Your Words, Some Grumbling Over Child Labor Laws, and the Agony of Losing Your Secret Peanut Butter Cookie Stash

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


You know that song on the radio that says "I'm a rebel just for kicks?" Here's a video clip of some random people I don't know dancing to it for reference:

Anyway, it came on the radio the other day and my 12-year-old asked, "What kind of a song is this? 'I'm disobedient and I break rules because I find it entertaining?'"

Her observation made me think of to the "archaic rap meme" I used to see on the Internet, my favorite of which was this one:

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

Feel free to chuckle silently into your sleeve if you get it.


My 6-year-old and I just finished reading the Great Illustrated Classics abridged version of Anne of Green Gables, so we decided to watch the 1985 movie.

Even though my 10-year-old was bored out of his gourd, he did stick around to yell "Make sure to check for ticks!" every time Anne went running through the tall grassy fields. We live in New England, obviously.

Anne was a cuter movie than I remembered, but what I did NOT remember was the male schoolteacher making googly eyes at Prissy Andrews the whole time. Come on, girl, #metoo that creepo so you can work on your penmanship without Chester the Molester drooling on your slate already!


I never stop being amused by visual representations of how many people are actually in our family.

Logically I know there are 8 of us, but I forget what that looks like until we pack up for a family bike ride and it seriously looks like the van is about to fall over.

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
One kid stayed home and the little kids' bike trailer was in the trunk.

This bike rack was a new purchase, and I was a little worried that the people at the factory hadn't thoroughly tested the "5-bike capacity" claim, thinking nobody would actually put that many on it.

Luckily it held, and we enjoyed a nice ride and some pretty views.

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Taken just seconds before the toddler fell in. Just kidding. This time.


Our 14-year-old got a job this week, but first she has to fill out a bunch of paperwork to legally work in our state because she's a minor.

"This is ridiculous," I said, paging through the multi-page document outlining everything we had to do to secure my daughter's right to employment. "The 10-year-olds working in the textile mills in 1901 didn't have to do this."

Taking the papers back, my 14-year-old replied, "Mom, the 10-year-olds working in the textile mills are why we have to do this."

Oh. Right.


Thinking Putty is admittedly the coolest thing, but we just threw ours away because I'm fed up with finding it in the carpet, in people's hair, and on their clothes. The last straw was when we went to watch a movie and discovered a huge glob of Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty stuck to the couch cushions (technically it was more 'sat on' than 'discovered.')

I'm not a violent person, but in that moment I honestly wished Aaron was here so I could show him what crazy really looks like.

In the process of cleaning up the mess, my spray bottle of rubbing alcohol went missing. I looked everywhere and couldn't find it, and then my daughter mentioned she'd seen the 2-year-old with it.

Cue the panic attack, but bless his heart, he just picked it up and put it away. Not where I usually keep it (which is why I couldn't find it,) but he did place it under the sink with other similar-looking spray bottles and I have never been prouder of anyone.


Ever been busted hiding treats from your kids?

A friend brought us two plates of cookies, one chocolate and one peanut butter. I shared the chocolate ones with the kids but conveniently didn't mention the existence of the second plate, which I hid in the pantry behind an economy-sized container of quinoa.

I rationalized that (1) two of the kids are allergic to peanut butter anyway, and (2) peanut butter is my favorite. Mostly #2, if we're being honest.

Anyway, the next day when the kids saw her at a church activity she asked, "So which did you like better, the chocolate or the peanut butter?"

Ugh, I was this close to getting away with it, too.


Yesterday when we got to the pool, my younger kids weren't finished with their lunch so I told the others to go on ahead and we'd join them in a few minutes.

I still can't figure out how it can take 35 minutes to eat half an English muffin (that mystery will have to remain for another day,) but I did enjoy watching a familiar scenario play out in the car next to us: mom and daughter came out and while mom packed the trunk, the little girl got in the car and started messing around, climbing over the seats, bouncing up and down, looking in the cupholders, picking things up and playing with them... Warily, the mom looked up at her daughter playing with the driver's side head rest and sighed, "What do you think I want you to do right now?"

And as all kids are contractually obligated to do in that situation, the little girl acted as if she had no idea. Literally none. Like the concept of sitting down and buckling your seat belt when you get in a vehicle is so outlandish that no one would ever in a million years think to do it.

At least she didn't also have an English muffin that her mom was waiting for her to finish before 2024.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Things I Don't Understand about Our Family Vacation to New York

Sometimes it takes a vacation with your family to teach you how many things you don't know.

Last week, Phillip and I plus the kids plus his parents spent several days in New York. We hit two destinations and had a lot of fun, but I didn't quite understand...

...why a 5-hour road trip is boring but sitting motionless reading a book at home for the same amount of time is totally fine.

Even though we brought a lot of things to do in the car, the older kids were apparently still bored. Which I don't get because I know for a fact that they have no trouble sitting and reading for 5 hours at home.

We made a ridiculous number of pit stops on the way there, but once we figured out that the problem was more boredom than actual urinary distress, we made much better time.

...how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.

Unfortunately you can't plan the weather when you plan a vacation, so we found ourselves snack in the middle of the worst heat wave in upstate New York since 1901. I just carried a ton of water everywhere and tried to embrace the wetlands formerly known as my bra.

And, because vacationing with little kids is actually a ton of work, Phillip and I sat on a bench outside the hotel every night after the kids were asleep and ate a secret Klondike bar. The romantic backdrop of the sun setting over the rear of the CVS across the parking lot was just a bonus.

...how to explain the concept of a church history trip to non-Mormons in 20 words or less.

The main purpose of our trip was to visit a few places in New York that are important to the history of my church. For those of you who have no idea what could be religiously significant there aside from the Jewish delis, let me sum up.

Mormons believe our church to be the same one Jesus Christ set up when He was alive (there's a cute video and some more information about that here.) But we also believe that some crucial aspects of Jesus' church were lost in the centuries after He died, and in 1830 they were restored when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized in — you guessed it  New York.

We stopped at the farm where the LDS church's founder Joseph Smith lived. Every Mormon kid knows stories about this place and what happened there, so it's nice to put pictures with the words we so often hear.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Informational plaques double as shades from the sun if you're really desperate and a little creative.

We visited the nearby hill where Joseph Smith obtained the plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon. The tour guide at the visitor's center was definitely having heart palpitations watching the kids crawl all over everything, but it's also where my favorite picture (of this trip and possibly of all-time) was taken.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

The visitor's center has a large statue of Jesus and the tour guide told my kids they could feel the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. Something about my oldest daughter lifting up my youngest one to touch Jesus gets me all verklempt.

I'm not crying, you're crying.

We saw the Whitmer Farm, where Joseph Smith finished translating the Book of Mormon. Our tour guides sat outside the farmhouse on benches talking about the events that occurred there, very convincingly pretending not to see my 2-year-old cavorting around behind them with a fallen tree branch he found, whacking everything in sight.

Even when he ran over to Phillip and proudly announced, "Dad! I got a tree!"

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
After the tour of the farmhouse he went right back to playing with the branch.

We visited the printing shop where the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were published, and also where my children misbehaved so badly they had to be physically removed from the building.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

But as we left the print shop and walked to the cemetery where some prominent figures in LDS church history are buried, they spontaneously held hands for the whole walk so they are back to being the cutest things ever.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

...the contents of the fire extinguisher box in the hotel.

Upon arriving at the hotel, my 2-year-old immediately opened the fire extinguisher box in the hallway and pulled out a pair of lacy black women's underwear. It was so weird, like he knew it was there.

I still don't understand. Was it like the penny trays at the grocery store checkout ("take a panty, leave a panty??") or maybe something to do with how your mom always told you to wear clean underwear in case you were in an accident?

Notwithstanding the mystery undies, the hotel was a nice place. We had adjoining rooms with Phillip's parents, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. (One afternoon we put the kids down for a nap and went across to his parents' room, letting the door close behind us and locking the sleeping kids in by themselves.)

And sometimes people focus on the negatives of big families, but I had a lovely interaction with a sweet couple at the hotel breakfast who asked about our 6 kids and then said, "You must have lots of pictures of lots of smiles on your walls at home." Some people just get it.

...that I somehow I have kids old enough to participate in a chicken fight with me.

Our family filled up the hotel pool to capacity, and the kids sure enjoyed it. In between catching the three little kids who lined up at the edge of the pool to jump in and have me catch them, I introduced my three oldest to chicken fighting.

I kind of can't believe I have kids old enough to do that now. It's also kind of fun not to be a responsible adult and do things like teach your kids to chicken fight.

...how we can still lose a church shoe in a 325 sq. foot hotel room.

I thought getting ready for church would be simpler because we had fewer belongings and a smaller space, but Sunday morning was just every bit as chaotic and loud. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse. (Eventually, we did find the shoe.)

Perhaps everyone got a little stir-crazy in the little room, because the 4-year-old got rugburn on his forehead from roughhousing and the 2-year-old ripped the full-length mirror off the wall.

...how not to tick off the border guards near Niagara Falls.

Our second stop was Niagara Falls, which I made the kids read an educational book about before going there. Don't tell me I can't ruin summer vacation!

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

I was surprised how commercialized it was outside, but once you got in the state park it was heavenly. The kids may have briefly glanced at the falls before resuming chasing the seagulls.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

The Maid of the Mist was more awesome than I'd expected, and after disembarking you can climb a walkway right next to the falls where you get drenched by the spray. Ironically, that's where my 4-year-old complained about wanting water the whole time. OPEN YOUR MOUTH, CHILD.

Then Phillip and I took the three oldest kids over the the Canada side to check out the view.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

We saw the hugest rainbow ever and the kids were excited to have left the country; it was even worth the crabby border guard and the sketchy-looking border crossing lined with razor wire.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Tip: border guards don't like it when you don't know the answer to the question "What city did you visit?" Pointing and saying "right there" is apparently not an acceptable response.

... how I got conned into buying an $18.99 stuffed animal.

Oh wait, yes I do. It's because the exit for the Maid of the Mist conveniently leads through the gift shop, and when your 2-year-old sees a plush duck wearing a poncho and hugs it and says "I love him," you just shut up and hand the cashier all your money. Because he's stinking cute and he's the baby of the family so he gets whatever he wants.

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

This is seriously unlike me. In fact, if it had been any of my other kids for the last 14 years, I would've pried that duck from their bony grasp and let their screams ring out across the falls without a second thought. But I guess I must be going soft, because this:

Like how it can be so face-meltingly hot without the air actually being on fire.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

But I guess all's well that ends well. Even if there are still some things I don't quite understand about our trip.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Teaching My Kids about World Cultures and Staving Off Boredom Since 2011

I may not be the crafty mom, the fun mom, or the mom who is willing to shell out the big bucks to throw her kindergartner a birthday party at The Little Gym, but I'm okay with that. Every mom has her strengths and those don't happen to be mine. One of the things I do happen to be good at, though, is making things educational. I get really excited thinking of ways to teach and expose my kids to new ideas.

To that end, I take my kids on a pretend trip around the world every summer, using nothing but materials from the library and ideas from the Internet to learn everything we can about the culture, geography, and history of a new country every week.

This week we hung up our gigantic wall map and all the homemade flags I've saved from our previous years of The Educational Summer Vacation, and I feel the excitement rising already.

For the 7th summer in a row my kids and I are taking a pretend trip around the world that we call The Educational Summer Vacation. Join us!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Everyone asks me about the circles. They're a decorative plates thing I bought at TJ Maxx that is on the wall year-round and has nothing to do with this project.

In our 6 years of doing The Educational Summer Vacation (we took one year off after I had a baby,) we've painted tulips in the Netherlands:

For the 7th summer in a row my kids and I are taking a pretend trip around the world that we call The Educational Summer Vacation. Join us!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

Decorated Islamic prayer rugs in Oman:

For the 7th summer in a row my kids and I are taking a pretend trip around the world that we call The Educational Summer Vacation. Join us!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

And didn't die from pickling our own kimchi in North Korea:

For the 7th summer in a row my kids and I are taking a pretend trip around the world that we call The Educational Summer Vacation. Join us!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

We've made scrolls and done maple leaf rubbings.

We've failed at erupting a volcano, failed at growing crystals, and failed at constructing a Roman aqueduct.

We've had a lot of fun.

Of course we've watched our share of boring videos and forgotten some of the things we learned, but it's a great experience and a good use of our time. My oldest, who makes it to the schoolwide geography bee every year and studies other languages on Duolingo for fun, tells me her love of geography started with The Educational Summer Vacation.

If you homeschool, like to torture your children with extra-curricular learning, or are just interested in following along with our family's madcap adventures, then you're in luck, because every Saturday night I'm going to be posting a recap of our "travels."

I made a schedule of the 5 weeks we have free this summer and asked the kids to pick countries from the map. (They thought they were just hilarious for choosing "Turkey" and "Hungary" together.)

For the 7th summer in a row my kids and I are taking a pretend trip around the world that we call The Educational Summer Vacation. Join us!  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

July 9 - 14: Sudan
July 16 - 21: Namibia
July 30 - August 4: Turkey
August 6 - 11: Hungary
August 13-16: Turkmenistan

If you've got any inside tips or recommendations for good recipes, books, or anything else having to do with one of these countries, please let me know! I may be good at planning this stuff, but that doesn't mean I enjoy reinventing the wheel when I don't have to.

See you next Saturday with the weekly recap!

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Friday, July 6, 2018

7 Quick Takes about Observant Children, Things They Should Really Cover in Parenting Manuals, and Swimsuit Shopping in Bizarro World

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


Okay, I know I said it last week but now we are really, truly, and fully home. 

Two days after Phillip and I returned from our anniversary trip to Québec, we left on a family trip with the kids and Phillip's parents. We visited some sites of historical importance to our church in New York and then hit Niagara Falls on the way back.

We had fun and spent a lot of quality family time together. In fact, the 10-year-old claimed to have realized for the first time ever that I have two different-colored eyes. The way he stopped abruptly in mid-sentence to stare at me in shock when he noticed was quite hilarious.


Our first night in the hotel, one of our kids peed on the bed. We stripped off the sheets and balled them up in a corner in the morning, but I was worried about the housekeeping staff just picking them back up and unknowingly making the bed with dried pee sheets. So I put a note on top of the pile requesting fresh bedding.

(If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. The same thing happened a few years ago on our family vacation to Washington, D.C. except with vomit, which was super-fun.)

Anyway, since this situation keeps coming up and writing formal memos on hotel letterhead to inform the maid every time my kids pee their pants is a little awkward, I need your help: what exactly is the protocol for this?

I'm actually kind of irritated there's not a chapter on these things in What To Expect: The Toddler Years.


More details from our trip will be forthcoming (I'll try to not make them all about urine,) but I do want to share this picture I took in a rest stop on the way home.

This was the sticker affixed to the front of one of those awful claw machines, the arcade-style game where you try to grab a stuffed animal. Yes, they are a total rip-off, but I approve of this message:

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Kids, I want you to meet Life. Life's not fair.


The timing couldn't have worked out any other way, but after doing a couple's getaway to Québec and a family trip to New York within a few days of each other, I can't say I recommend planning back-to-back trips.

Besides our two trips, everything that required even a modicum of thought or planning went entirely out the window. My brain was simply full and could not process a single additional piece of information.

The laundry situation when we got home was out of control. I was going to take a picture of the pile of dirty clothes to wash upon returning but it was too depressing.

The kids are also extremely tired. They've had a lot of late nights, from their carefree week of eating ice cream and staying up late with grandma to their carefree week of vacationing in New York with their parents and quite possibly being peed on at night by their bedmates.

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Passed out in the hotel crib.

During our trip, the 2-year-old woke up in the mornings and literally pulled the blanket over his head so he could go back to sleep. It was like having a teenager.


Considering how tired they already were, we debated the merits of letting the kids stay up for fireworks on the 4th of July. 

We ended up letting the older ones see the show but the younger ones stayed home and went to bed early, a decision that was solidified when our youngest daughter had a complete meltdown over NOTHING in the car at the very beginning of our 5 and a half hour drive home from New York the day before.

"Can you imagine taking that girl to fireworks?" Phillip shouted over her wailing. "They would probably stop the show and announce, 'That girl is ruining the independence of our country. Let's re-subjugate ourselves to Britain! Let the queen deal with her.'"

He was probably right. I think we made a good call.


So the little kids didn't get to see fireworks this year, but they did see Phillip and two of their siblings run in a 4th of July race.

Phillip and the 14-year-old participated in the 5-mile race, and the 10-year-old ran the 1-mile. Everyone worked hard and did their best in the scorching heat and I was proud of them. We also learned that saying "I got third in my age bracket!" sounds better if you don't announce there were a total of three people in your age bracket to begin with.

After the race, we went across the street and looked at some antique cars that were lined up for judging at a town auto show, and my 4-year-old somehow finagled permission from the owner of a 1934 Model T to sit in the front seat grinning like a Cheshire cat. 

Looks like someone has been borrowing my copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.


I've had my current bathing suit for several years now. I love it but it's getting very worn-out, to the point where on vacation I feared it was going to disintegrate in the hotel pool and create a very embarrassing situation for everyone in the room.

My kids and I wanted to hit the beach yesterday but I wasn't sure my suit was up for the job, and then I remembered that sitting on the counter was a swimsuit I ordered for my oldest daughter several weeks ago. It didn't fit right but Amazon wouldn't let me return it, so it's been sitting there ever since.

Since I'm at this incredibly bizarre point in my life where my daughter is borrowing my clothes and shopping in the women's department (seriously, how did that happen??) I decided there was no harm in trying it on.

It more or less fit, and since I couldn't return it anyway, I cut off the tags and wore my daughter's swimsuit to the lake. Life is too weird.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

8 Things I Learned in Québec City

When you don't often get away for a no-kids trip with your spouse, you learn a few things

While vacationing with my husband in Québec City for our 15th anniversary, I learned that there's still no one I'd rather have fun with than Phillip. I also learned these 8 things.

You Climb a Ton of Hills

I had no idea Québec City was so hilly. All over the city, these signs were spraypainted on the sidewalks telling you when you were coming up on a flight of stairs:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

It would've been more efficient to tell us when there WEREN’T stairs. If you aren’t going uphill in Québec City, then you’re going downhill. We climbed so many steps. After a while it just stopped being surprising.

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
This doesn't look that tall, until you try to find the tiny guy at the bottom and I tell you I was halfway down the stairs when I took this.

Sometimes there were iron railings bolted into the sidewalks to keep people from careening down the hills and into the St. Lawrence river and/or a tourist shop selling wool hats made from Alpacas.

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
In winter I'm sure this is totally fine.

French Canadians Are Nice and French is Hard

Everywhere we went, clerks and waiters greeted us with “bonsoir” and when we smiled vapidly and responded “hello,” they didn’t treat us disdainfully or like we were morons (to our faces, anyway.) 

Without skipping a beat they just spoke to us in whatever English they knew. Which, most of the time, was pretty good. Though I did like the lady who told us tours started the next day at “eight and a half in the morning.”

I decided that while I may not be able to understand French, maybe I could at least figure out how to pronounce the things I saw on street signs. I spent a lot of time Googling French pronunciation and it was ridiculously hard to wrap my mind around. 

It didn't help that our GPS had no idea we were in French Canada and just continued pronouncing every street name as if it were English. Even I thought she sounded like an idiot, and that’s saying something.

I’m Capable of Sleeping a Lot

Maybe one day, when the kids are grown Phillip and I will be the couple on vacation who is hitting up the eight-and-a-half A.M. tour, but right now when we get on vacation without the kids all we want to do is sleeeeeeeeep.

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
This mid-afternoon nap on the Plains of Abraham may seem lazy but it's not; it's a siesta, which is a totally sophisticated thing they do in other countries.

Every night, we were in bed by 10 and thanks to the superior blackout curtains in our hotel room, slept for a solid 8 to 11 hours every night. 

Which made for some groggy and kind of weird days, but we adjusted and started looking less like zombies every day. 

There is a Royal Goat

On a tour of the Citadelle in Old Québec, we learned some interesting things about the military history of Canada and the Royal 22nd Regiment stationed there. Including that they have a royal goat.

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
This is where it would come in handy to have kids along who'd want to pose in these things.

The goat's name is Batisse. Batisse the First was a gift from the Queen of England, just like Batisse the Second, Third, and Fourth. After the fourth one died, the queen sent over a male and female goat which means there's currently a royal goat family in Canada, and I'm wondering what is even the point of America now.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Batisse in action, since the Changing of the Guard ceremony occurred before our morning wake-up time of 10:30

I Can Eat a Lot of Good Food

Even though I was excited to come home and see the kids, it was difficult to say goodbye to the creperies and boulangeries to which I’d become accustomed. 

(Of course, the menus were in French so regrettably we were reduced to ordering using the grunt-and-point method. Which is one of the reasons I wanted to learn French pronunciation.)

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
This is what the light and flaky kiss of an angel looks like.

Check out our last dinner before heading back:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
You can't tell me you wouldn't be at least a little sad leaving this behind.

Even when we stopped for a quick breakfast at Cora on the way out of town in the morning, which is basically the Denny’s of Canada as far as I could tell, the food was pretty darn fancy.

The City Is Filled with Interesting Stuff to Look At

Québec City is relatively small, but there is no shortage of interesting scenery. Some days, all we did was walk around looking at stuff. There were cathedrals:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Does my flying buttress look big in this?

And statues:
#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
"Jean-Pierre, if I've told you once I've told you a hundred times: STAY OUT OF THE STREET!"

And woodworking shops where they make handcrafted wooden gnomes:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
I joke but we actually brought home one of these little guys as a thank-you gift for Phillip's mom for watching the kids.

Things are really old there, as evidenced by a banner that (I think) said Québec City is celebrating its 410th birthday, and this tree in a churchyard in Old Québec that had almost completely engulfed a tombstone:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
You can see two more in the background if you look closely.

There were all kinds of unique things to see in the city including tons of unusual graffiti:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

And people who did cool things to their houses:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
You are looking at a garage door painted like a zebra with thousands of metal flowers screwed into the wall above it. Why? I have no idea.

And then just 20 minutes outside the city, there was Jacques-Cartier National Park, where we alternately were eaten by mosquitoes and took in views like these:

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
In the park, we also saw these birds that soared through the air like majestic hawks but made a sound like me trying to yell at my kids with a gigantic swig of water I haven't yet swallowed. I’m curious what kind of birds they were but I'm at a loss for Google search terms.

Church is the Same Everywhere

As a Mormon, when I say it's the same everywhere I usually mean I belong to a worldwide church that teaches the same doctrines no matter where you go. But in this case, I mean it literally: Phillip and I bumped into a couple from our home ward, not once but twice, on separate days in different locations!

Then on Sunday, we attended a French-speaking congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that happened to be just a few blocks from our hotel. It was so close we could have walked there, were it not for our difficulty getting up in the morning.

The only other time I’ve been in a non-English speaking ward was in Aruba, but that time Phillip could translate for me because he knows Spanish and Papiamento. This time, we were left to our own devices. 

The first speaker was a missionary and I could tell he wasn't a native speaker, because his French was clearer. I still didn't understand him, but I could have at least repeated the sounds he was making. I had no idea about the second guy. I also sang some very unconvincing hymns in French (at least the tunes were familiar from home) and Phillip got the easier job of playing piano because he saw that their accompanist was out of town and volunteered to fill in.

Ziplining Over a Waterfall Isn’t as Scary as It Sounds

We weren’t planning on going to Montmorency Falls just 10 minutes outside of Québec City, primarily because we didn’t know it existed, but having learned about it at a Canadian history museum over a place where we got milkshakes one day, we decided to go take a look at it.

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
The thing is, there's a zipline across the top and Phillip is an adrenaline junkie at heart. I wasn't crazy about the idea, mostly because I get vertigo at the top of the stairs at home, but I saw some 10-year-old girls coming off the zipline so I figured if they can do it, I can do it. And I did it.

#4: There is a royal goat.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

All in all, it was an amazing trip and I really loved going to Québec City. Now my kids say they want to go with us next time. Which we actually might consider, since my daughters are taking French in school and can probably order us crepes with considerably less pointing and grunting.

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