Friday, September 17, 2021

7 Quick Takes about Family Journals for Posterity, Saturday Success, and DIY Disclaimers

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


I feel very fortunate to have our laundry area on the main floor of the house, but it's shoved in a tiny utility closet that for the last 10 years has looked... pretty utilitarian. 

It wasn't even that utilitarian, though, because the ugly wire shelf above the washer and dryer was too high and deep, so it was basically crammed with a ton of junk we couldn't access.

After I went nuts decluttering the house this spring thanks to The Minimal Mom, I saw that our laundry closet was looking better already and decided take it a level further. My new goal was to turn it into a space I wasn't embarrassed of if the closet doors were open (which they always are, because kids.)

I love how it turned out.

Hard to get a good picture because of the tight space, so this weird fish-eye lens will have to do.

What we did (aside from throwing away 80% of the stuff we had in there):
  • fixed an unslightly hole in the wall from an emergency plumbing repair
  • painted the closet walls to match the surrounding room
  • polyurethaned boards and installed floating shelves
  • bought all the pretty containers and decor you see on the shelves
  • affixed the ironing board to the wall
  • replaced the plastic "unclaimed clothing" laundry basket on the dryer with a nicer-looking one
I was really proud of myself, going shopping and finding the right decor, even repurposing some things with a vision of how they could look: the rug under the laundry basket to prevent scratches is a bath mat, the white containers for our cleaning supplies are dorm room trash cans, and the flower planter is a coffee creamer pitcher from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. 

I can't believe it all came together.

I feel like the least qualified person on earth to be "making over" any living space by myself, so the fact that I LOVE how our new laundry area turned out is nothing short of shocking to me. 

Not only am I not embarrassed now when the closet doors are open, I'm actually considering taking them off altogether.


I have a journal that I've badly neglected for years, but when COVID hit and I realized it was actually going to be a big deal that one day someone might actually care about reading, I started to write in it again.

No one else in the family recorded anything about their experiences, though, so when I saw a list of COVID-19 journal prompts it gave me an idea. Every Sunday, the whole family is going to sit down and answer one prompt, and when we're done we'll make a book about our collective experience.

This week's prompt was "The basics of COVID-19, from your perspective." So, an objective explanation of what the virus is.

Some of the kids are too young to write an entry, so they drew a picture. And others don't really like writing, so we told them it's okay to write a poem instead of multiple paragraphs. 

The 5-year-old drew a Coronavirus, with no prompting from us whatsoever.

The 7-year-old has the "surgical mask blue" color down perfectly!

The 15-year-old is obviously going to become a poet.

This is going to be an interesting book, I can already tell.


Something else I've unexpectedly been enjoying is genealogy. 

I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which really encourages family history, one reason being that we can bring our late ancestors' names to the temple to perform baptisms and marriages on their behalf (click here or send me an email if you're like "What. In. The world. I need to know more about this.")

So I've always dabbled at my family history, but more out of a sense of obligation than a particular enjoyment of the process. Maybe I just have more time now that the kids are in school, but I'm really getting into it.

Filling in your family tree is like unraveling a mystery, combing through old census and marriage records and trying to do sneaky math to figure out when it's likely someone might have been born or died based on other events you know already.

One day I was researching a very distant relative on my great-grandma's side of the family and found someone new. "Hey, look!" I called out to Phillip. "I've got an ancestor from Utah in 1880. I wonder if they were Latter-day Saints?"

With Phillip watching, I entered Utah guy's name on the family tree software I use and clicked "Show How They're Related to Me." And watched as the program traced the relationship through Phillip's family line, not mine.

Don't worry, it had to go back like 10 generations to find a common ancestor between us so it's not like we're secretly cousins or anything. It was just funny and confusing for a minute.


My 15-year-old who plays the violin had her first practice with her new orchestra on Saturday. Yes, the exclusive one she worked her butt off to get in.  Yes, the one we thought she wouldn't even be able to do because she hurt her wrist right after the audition.

All summer, we've been doing physical therapy and worrying about whether she'd have to withdraw from the orchestra after all that work. We agonized over it with her doctor, her violin teacher, and each other. We almost emailed her conductor to back out several times. Even in the week leading up to the first rehearsal, we were unsure if her wrist would be able to handle it. 

In the end, she went to rehearsal on Saturday and her wrist did okay. It was funny how I just dropped her off with all the other musicians filing into the concert hall, and nobody had a clue it had been such a long, uncertain struggle for her just to be there that day. 

I guess the moral is: never assume someone doesn't have a complicated backstory. Also, thank you to everyone who offered prayers or asked about how she was doing over the summer. I really do think it helped, because four months ago she could barely bend her wrist.


With some amount of trepidation, I watched the new movie adaptation of Little Women with my kids. The original story is pretty progressive already, but with today's political climate I was fairly certain I was in for two hours of the director screaming into a megaphone "Marriage, bad! Strong, independent woman, good!" 

But I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it actually did a fantastic job staying true to the original story and weaving in bits about the author since Little Women was based on her life.

One of my daughters thinks I look like Emma Watson, especially when our hair is up, so when Emma first came on screen complaining about the price of fabric for a dress my daughter said to the other kids, "See? Doesn't that give you mom vibes?"

"Because of her looks or because she's being a cheapskate?" I asked. Because it could've gone either way.


I came across this video on YouTube while I was, um, NOT mindlessly scrolling. Except that I was.

It's on the longer side, but Phillip and I sat down with the teenagers to watch it and it led to a really good discussion. 

I loved the video's definition of "boredom" and its explanation why aimlessly looking for entertainment doesn't actually alleviate boredom like you think it does!


Another exciting new development around here is our new archery storage area in the garage. We have an unfinished garage so it's definitely not as pretty as our laundry room, but still exciting nonetheless.

Our archery supplies used to be stacked up high on a shelf, because the kids were young and we didn't want them to be able to get into it. But now that they're teenagers and don't need constant adult supervision, not having it accessible was really annoying. Here's our new system:

It made me really happy when my 13-year-old had a friend over to do archery and they didn't need any help getting anything down.

After hearing me go on and on bragging about all these newly organized and beautified spaces in our house, I don't want any of you to feel bad so I will give you three reasons why you shouldn't:
  1. If my kids weren't all in school and I wasn't a stay-at-home mom, I'd never be able to do it.
  2. Our house looked like a dump for 10 years while we were busy with babies and toddlers and I don't regret a minute of it.
  3. We're not on top of everything, just the stuff we show pictures of. (We need a new roof so badly that water started coming through the living room ceiling last time it rained, so don't forget that.)

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Friday, September 10, 2021

7 Quick Takes about Doctor's Appointment Switcheroos, Muddy Cross-Country Races, and Appreciating Other Cultures at Target

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


Not only is having a lot of kids hilarious, sometimes it's also highly convenient. 

The first cross-country meet was this week, and the school lovingly reminded me that I need to provide them with a doctor's summary from a physical within the last year in order for my 13- and 17-year-old to participate. 

I found my daughter's form, but my son had apparently missed his last physical and the meet was tomorrow right after school!

Not to worry, though, because as luck would have it, his brother was going in for his yearly check-up this afternoon. All I had to do was call to swap out the names on the appointment and we'd have that physical form, after all.


When I started watching Phillip's road races years ago, Spectatorland seemed like a bizarre place that I would never really get the hang of. Turns out it's an acquired taste, and this cross-country meet reminded me of how much I really like watching races.

As the first two runners came into view at the end, I couldn't help but notice that their legs were covered in mud. How unfortunate, I thought, They must have fallen down! But as the rest of the runners started showing up similarly splattered, I figured out there was a giant mud puddle on the course. 

Both of my kids' shoes were disgusting when they got home. When they signed up for cross-country, I wasn't aware of the weekly shoe cleanings that were going to be required. I want my money back.


We're almost through our first full week of school. The kids are doing well, although the younger ones are exhausted. 

I'm doing okay, but by Thursday I was getting tired of silence (something I never thought I'd say) and prefer it when Phillip works from home. Then I at least have the background noise of him walking around and business jargon like "must-win battles" on his Zoom meetings.

(Just to be clear, Phillip engineers building materials and not weaponry, so the "battles" are purely metaphorical.)


I've been keeping myself busy redoing our laundry closet and it looks ah-mazing. No pictures yet because I'm not completely done. But there will be some next week!

I knew I'd have a little more time when all the kids were in school, but even I'm shocked by how quickly I've been making progress. 

In this past week, I've gotten more done than I ordinarily would on a home improvement project in 6 months.


After painting the closet and putting up some new shelves in the laundry closet, the next step was buying some organization and decor. I headed for the pretty stuff aisle of the nearest Target, and since I never go there it was kind of like trying to appreciate another culture.

I meandered the rows looking at glass orbs and wicker baskets and wondering how I could ever select a few items that would be right for my laundry room shelves, when I got distracted and confused by this metallic pretzel:

What is it supposed to be for? A doorstop? An April Fool's joke? No one knows!

I checked the label for a clue, but I guess the manufacturers were just as baffled as I was because it just said "DECOR." 

"What do you mean, why? Because people love pretzels, that's why. Just make a bronze one and stop asking dumb questions." -The CEO, probably.

Then I turned the tag over and saw that the other side read "Not a toy." 

No kidding: it weighed at least 10 pounds. A toddler could kill someone with that thing.


After visiting a few other stores with varying degrees of success, I went online to order a woven basket to replace the ugly one we keep on top of the dryer to hold random socks and other clothing that got separated from its herd.

I was sifting through a list of Amazon product images when I was startled by this little girl. I couldn't figure out why they Photoshopped a kid into this basket until I finally realized the product description said "Nursery Storage Basket." 


Not for storing actual nursery-aged children.


My 9-year-old doesn't have a phone, but that didn't stop her from figuring out how to "text" her best friend.

They're writing a joint story on a Google doc, and discovered by accident that they can type to each other in real time if they're both logged in.

Being 9, they also discovered you can secretly hang around while the other is adding on to the story, stealthily adding a second 'T' every time they write a sentence containing the word 'but.'

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Friday, September 3, 2021

7 Quick Takes about Ice Cream from a Past Life, Waiting Until the Last Possible Second, and a Graphing Calculator Hack

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


When I was decluttering the house this spring, I came across a tin box shoved in the back of a drawer filled with plastic cards of all kinds: membership cards, discount cards, a few old credit cards, and gift cards that may or may not have expired years ago.

I have no idea what thought process led to all these things being together in this box, but apparently if it was card-shaped, this was where it went to die. (I would never do something so disorganized. I know it was a person I'm married to but I won't say his name because I don't want to out anyone.)

Anyway, there was a gift card in there for an ice cream place that I remember being given in college (it was a nearby place that we really loved going to at the time) and surprise! There was still $15 left on it.

So Phillip and I went out on a date this weekend, paid for with my decluttering efforts and a 15-year-old gift card.

(When I took this picture, Phillip was looking around furtively for anyone watching and protesting, "We look like influencers. I do not approve of what we're doing.")


It wasn't technically a totally free date, because after ice cream we went shopping for new kitchen counters and they aren't exactly cheap.

Our current ones are a lovely forest green laminate circa 1995. They've served us well for the last ten years, but it's time to upgrade.

We haven't bought anything yet, but hopefully will this weekend! Pictures forthcoming.


Last week we wrapped up our 10th year of The Educational Summer Vacation, where I make the kids learn about a different country every week. 

When we did Cambodia for our final country we didn't get around making fish amok for dinner, but since we had all the ingredients we made it this week. 

It's traditionally served in these little baskets made out of banana leaves (there's a picture of what I mean in this recipe,) and we don't exactly have banana leaves but we do have aluminum foil and 6 kids who like to make stuff, so we improvised.


The end of the summer really did sneak up on me. One minute we're finishing up the last activity of The Educational Summer Vacation, and the next we're in a fistfight over the last backpack in the school supply aisle of Target.

My 9-year-old's backpack broke at the end of last year and I forgot about it until the day before school started, so we headed out naively to buy one, thinking it would be no big deal.

In reality, if aliens beamed down to the school supply section of Target, they would assume that the apocalypse had happened on Earth. Tumbleweeds rolled through aisles that were completely empty except for some stray trash and fallen sale stickers. The wind whistled through the rows of hooks meant to hold lunch boxes and packs of colored pencils. Occasionally, a haggard-looking survivor would appear and comb through the debris, looking for anything salvageable before walking away disappointed.

Luckily for us, a nearby Kohl's had plenty of backpacks so if you ever wait until the last possible second like I did, keep that in mind.


A new family moved in to the house next door to us. We usually give new neighbors a little time to settle in and then go over to introduce ourselves, but we actually ran into them this weekend and met them already... at church.

There isn't a huge population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in New England, so it was a little funny that another family from our church moved in next door. (I did text my old neighbor to tell her how considerate it was of them to sell their house to someone who can drive carpool to our kids' church youth activities!)

Our new neighbors' two oldest kids are the same ages and genders as our youngest two. Actually, our 7-year-olds are in the same 2nd grade classroom... where they're also neighbors, since their desks are next to each other.


How did the first day of school go for you all? My youngest started kindergarten and my oldest is in 12th grade (she was homeschooled last year but went back to public school for her senior year.)

Here's the older kids about to leave:

Ignore the ragged basketball hoop in need of replacement and the drain in our driveway that obviously doesn't work. We're on it, I promise.

And here go the younger kids:

I've been wondering when the day came to send everyone (including my baby) off to school was going to be bizarre, sad, or depressing. And it really... wasn't. 

I mean, it's only been one day so I could totally have an existential crisis next week, but so far, so good.


Lastly, I'd just like to tell you that if you're shocked at the outrageous price of graphing calculators in this day and age, you're not alone. And here's what you do if you see one listed on your kid's school supply list:

Step 1: Buy a cheap, crappy cell phone. Or use the 10-year-old one you have sitting at the back of a drawer somewhere. It doesn't even matter.

Step 2: Install a graphing calculator app on it. There are even free ones.

Step 3Email the teacher to let them know what the deal is and that it isn't even operational as a phone, it's just a phone-shaped graphing calculator.

Step 4: There is no Step 4. You've just saved yourself $100.

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Cambodia

This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you use them to buy something I receive a referral commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks a ton!

As it happened, we had 6 free weeks this summer and I have 6 kids, so each one picked a different country of the world to learn about for a week. It gives us some structure for the summer, and we find ourselves doing, eating, and learning things we probably never would have otherwise.

My 7-year-old knew right away which country he wanted to pick: a classmate of his from Cambodia last year talked about her country for show-and-tell and it must've made quite the impression on him!


The first thing we did was pull out our crayons and make the Cambodian flag. My 13-year-old copied down the temple in the middle and the 5- and 7-year-old colored around it. 

While researching, we saw several claims online that Cambodia is the only flag that features a building and the kids were all like, "Nuh-uh! We just did Afghanistan and their flag has a mosque." So they're learning something, evidently.

While I read Cambodia from the Countries We Come From series, the kids found Cambodia on the map and filled out their passports. I started keeping the kids' pages from year to year because of their cute handwriting and misspellings, but even if you just throw them away afterward it still gets them searching the map and thinking about what's on there.

(We have this big wall map and the passport pages are a free printable here.)

We then watched Cambodia from the Globe Trekker series. I don't know how many of these videos there are, but we've seen at least a dozen of them. The host - who's starting to feel like a personal friend of mine after all this time - essentially takes you along on a vacation to a different country every episode. My teenager thinks he's funny.

In Cambodian folk tales, you'll come across an interesting character called Judge Rabbit. For a bedtime story, we read Judge Rabbit and the Tree Spirit by Lina Mao Wall. 

The moral of the Judge Rabbit stories seems to be that ignorance and pride get you nowhere. Not sure if my kids got that message, but they enjoyed the pictures regardless.


It's a little hard to find online resources to learn Khmer, the language of Cambodia, but we did our best today.

First we learned a few Khmer phrases from this guy, and then we learned to count from 1 to 10 here. Khmer is by far the easiest language to remember numbers in, because it essentially goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5-1, 5-2, 5-3, 5-4, 10. Easy, right?

Khmer (also called Cambodian) shares a lot of features with Thai, which my kids remembered from last summer. They have a similar script and share a general sound, but Khmer isn't a tonal language like Thai is.

We watched someone writing in Khmer to see what the script looks like, and then learned just a little about the alphabet. Khmer has the longest alphabet in the world, actually, with 74 letters (although some of them aren't currently used.)

You can print off a coloring page here, but my kids chose to use some of these handwriting practice worksheets from Facebook instead.

The 15-year-old.

The 9-year-old.

The 7-year-old.


Cambodia is probably most famous for Angkor Wat, the ancient stone temple that is positively gigantic. The Khmer Empire built it in the 12th century, but they died out and the city of Angkor was completely lost to the jungle.

Some French explorer randomly stumbled upon it 900 years later, probably looking for somewhere private to go to the bathroom. What would it have been like to be that guy?

We watched this mini-documentary on Angkor and then saw some 4K videos of Angkor Wat to get a feel for what it's like to visit there.

It wasn't the greatest quality YouTube video you'll ever see, but the kids liked watching the traditional Apsara dancers at Angkor Wat here.

Originally, Angkor Wat was a Hindu temple, but it was later converted to a Buddhist temple as Buddhism became the main religion of the area.

We reviewed what we knew with Buddhism from the DK Eyewitness Books series, and then did some Buddhist-style meditation with the help of a guided meditation script for me to read out loud. 

The older teens said they almost fell asleep (which is good, I think?) and the 7-year-old sneaked out in the middle to go play Minecraft, so I think I know now where each of my kids falls in terms of mindfulness.

For dinner, we had this Khmer curry. I had really high hopes after reading the recipe: it had great explanations, pictures of unfamiliar ingredients (I often have to Google them), and promised to be "not too out of reach for the average American home cook."


Sadly, it did not live up to my expectations.

It took a long time to make, and the shrimp paste it called for smelled SO BAD. Like, think of the worst thing you've ever smelled and then ferment it, and that might give you sort of an idea of what shrimp paste smells like. I now have an entire bottle of the stuff in my fridge and I'm afraid to get rid of it, worrying that if I throw it in the trash it will leach out and poison the water supply.


For a bedtime story, I read a cute folk tale about four jungle animals called The Last King of Angkor Wat by Graeme Base. The kids liked it and the pictures were pretty.


After the Khmer empire died out in the 1400s, the French colonized Cambodia. You can still see French influence and names around the country, and some people still speak French in addition to Khmer.

A particularly gory part of Cambodia's history came next, when a communist group known as the Khmer Rouge (French for "red Khmers") took over in 1975. 

In four years, they killed 2 million people: a fifth of the population of Cambodia. Because of that and also civil war afterward, half the country is under 25.

I read the picture book A Half Spoon of Rice by Icy Smith was a compelling story (I could tell because they were listening very, very quietly) and gives some historical context in the back. A Song for Cambodia by Michelle Lord is about the power of music for a young boy who was allowed to play  for the soldiers during the time of the Khmer Rouge, so we next decided to look up the instrument he played which was called the khim.

(A little freeze dancing to this video of someone playing the khim is a great way to burn off some nervous energy if necessary after all that.)

In 1993, the civil wars were finally over and a king started ruling Cambodia. You can see pictures of the royal palance in Phnom Pehn if you look them up online. Today, it's a peaceful and friendly country, although still poor and recovering from years of hardship.


In Cambodia, no one celebrates birthdays. Some older people don't even know their exact age. (My 13-year-old says that makes more sense than having a party every year for doing nothing other than continuing to exist.)

Funerals, on the other hand, are multi-day affairs that get very, very expensive. In a country where the average monthly salary is $100, the average funeral costs $9,000. Families pool together their life savings, and funeral attendees traditionally give the hosts a gift of money to offset the costs.

The most important holiday in Cambodia is Khmer New Year, which happens on April 13 after the rice harvest is over. It lasts for three full days. On the first day, they clean house and play traditional New Year games. 

We searched this list and played the most popular game, Leak Konsaeng. The kids described it as a Cambodian version of Duck, Duck, Goose.

A second important holiday is Cambodia is the water festival, which celebrates the retreat of floodwater from a large lake named Tonle Sap. 

We watched this video about the "floating villages" on Tonle Sap (although they aren't really floating, they're houses built on stilts):

On the first day of the water festival, there are illuminated boat parades and boat races with these ridiculously long boats that seat upwards of 70 people. On the second day, people give thanks to the moon and go to the temple at midnight to eat a rice dish called ambok.

We totally tried making it. My 9-year-old, who was still in a bad mood because she got yelled at for hitting her brother too hard during the New Year's game earlier (you're supposed to hit but it's supposed to be more of a playful tap than a concussion,) helped make it.

We didn't do the staying up until midnight part, though. We had the ambok for lunch. 

One thing we didn't get to, which we still might do because it looks fun, is making fish amok for dinner. Traditionally it's served in little banana leaf baskets, and I think the kids would have fun trying to make them with aluminum foil, but it ain't happening this week!

Lastly, here's a list of books about Cambodia or set in Cambodia that I left out for the kids to read as we studied the country:
Thanks for joining us for the sixth and final week of The Educational Summer Vacation 2021! We'll be back with more next year, if my kids have anything to say about it. 

For any complaining they do, they always seem eager to pick new countries the next summer and put more flags up on our wall.

Learning about Cambodia is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Cambodia #angkor #khmer #educational
Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files
Read More »

Friday, August 27, 2021

7 Quick Takes about Milestones at the Airport, Mostly Failing to Guess Who, and Being Forced into Retirement

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


This week we said goodbye to our furry new friend. We've been pet sitting for a friend's dog and they came home last night. 

You should've seen my 9-year-old calling from the driveway "I love you, Murphy! I love you!" and then running back to give him one last hug before we went home.

I'd better step up my game this week, because she's going to be so bored this. No Murphy, and her two older sisters are out of town visiting their cousins. 

This could be disastrous.


Sometimes you just run out of energy by 3 PM, and getting through the rest of the day is a genuine struggle. I had one of those days this week and was semi-comatose on the couch by 7, but my teens were leaving for the airport the next day and I needed to dispense a few words of advice and wisdom, like "do your laundry so you have clean clothes to pack."

I tried to summon them from where I lay but they couldn't hear me, so Phillip helped out by announcing, "Gather 'round, children, and listen to the dying words of your mother!"

I was so tired I almost had to give my advice Weekend at Bernie's style, but at least they did their laundry.


My teens have flown alone ever since they were 6 and 8, going to visit their grandparents in Minnesota nearly every summer. But this year they are 15 and 17, and they can fly like totally normal people instead of "unaccompanied minors."

No mounds of paperwork, no having to wear a name tag and a bracelet with a bar code, no flight attendants "carrying you around and stuff" (bonus points if you caught that reference.) No need for a parent to be there at all, really. You just drop them off at the curb and say "Have a good time!"


Bad news: they ruined Guess Who. 
My kids recently played the new version, which has gotten some updates since I owned it as a kid in the late 80s. 

Now there's more or less an equal number of men and women (I always wondered where all the babies came from in the Guess Who? universe, since there were only 6 women and some of them were old ladies.)

But other updates, while well-intentioned attempts to add diversity that reflects real life, don't seem to work in a children's yes-or-no guessing game. At least not from what I observed.

The racial diversity is on a spectrum, so if one kid asks, "Does your person have [insert a color] skin?" the odds are very high that they'll get a wrong answer or flip down the wrong person, because it's all relative.

Some of the characters now have streaks of funky colors in their hair. My son asked my daughter "Does your person have brown hair?" and she said yes, so he flipped down a person with brown and purple hair... who was the person he was supposed to guess.

This game is too hard and worst of all, there are NO rosy cheeks!!!

The best was when one of the kids asked "Does your person have a hat?" The response, after a long pause, was "I don't know... does a headscarf count as a hat?" Well, now we all know who you have so thanks, Guess Who!


I walked in on my 5-year-old the other day and asked "What are you doing?"

"Playing grownup," he answered, then took another sip of his coffee.

The plastic mug was full of water, I checked.

I guess I get the phone and computer, but no one in our house even drinks coffee so I'm not sure where he got that from.


Speaking of playing grownup, my youngest starts kindergarten in a week. I wasn't having any particular thoughts or feelings about that, and honestly believed I wasn't going to... until I got an email from playgroup.

Meetings are sporadic, but they're usually at a playground around 10 AM on a weekday, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I am done with playgroup. Forever. Starting in September, for the first time in 17 years, I will have no reason to go.

I mean, we've been too busy to actually go to playgroup meetings for, like, the last 3 years. But we theoretically could.

I'm trying to be cool about this transition but I don't think it's working. Is it still being cool if you're making halfway-serious plans to kidnap a baby and take them to the park on the first day of school just so you can feel like you're not out of a job?


Overheard in a dispute between my 5-year-old and 13-year-old over a Nerf gun fight:

13yo: You're out! I shot you.

5yo: No, you didn't.

13: Yes, I did.

5: No, you didn't!

13: Yes, I did!

5: No, you didn't! I felt every single one not hit me!

And that is why you never argue with a 5-year-old.

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files

Read More »

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Fiji

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Email me if you know of any vacation homes in Fiji I could spend it on.

This post is part of a series on what I affectionately call The Educational Summer Vacation. I have six kids, ages 5 through 17, and every summer vacation we "travel" to different countries, learning about the history, the language, the customs, and the food! 

This week my 5-year-old picked Fiji off the map. Here's how it went!


There are over 300 islands in the archipelago of Fiji and over 1,500 species of sea life off the coasts. Most of its people live on the two main islands: Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

We watched this intro to Fiji video and then found Fiji on the map. Usually our giant wall map is great for this, but I felt like it was kind of misleading to see Fiji down in the corner like it was just hanging out at the end of the world.

So we brought out a globe (we have this one) to find it, as well.

That's better.

Then we watched a short video on some Fijian myths and folk stories. Legend has it that the first people to sail to Fiji in their drua (sacred canoes) accidentally dropped a sacred relic called the Katonimana off the coast and it's still there to this day.

We looked up the flag of Fiji, which was probably a 6 out of 10 on the difficulty scale to copy. My kids all start complaining when they see a flag with a coat of arms, but at least this one was pretty straightforward.

Taped up on our Wall 'o Flags.

We looked up each item in the coat of arms and why it's important to Fiji. So what might be on our family coat of arms? I asked the kids to make one, but they were in a silly mood so most of them were about Cheetos.

I don't think we've had Cheetos for 6 months, at least, but clearly it made an impression on them.


Tuesday was a complete wash as far as The Educational Summer Vacation was concerned. 

A friend of ours went on vacation and, long story short, their dog's first 24 hours at the kennel went very badly and we went to make an emergency pickup. 

After getting Murphy home, bathing him (because stress-induced diarrhea is no joke,) and giving him lots of positive attention, the day was pretty much over. But the kids liked playing with Murphy way better than anything I would've planned having to do with Fiji so it turned out fine.


Fiji has three official languages: Fijian, Fiji Hindi, and English. Today we focused on the Fijian language. It's got a great sound to it, I kind of love it.

I had the kids take out pieces of paper and write down the Fijian alphabet as they listened to this 10-minute video. Ten minutes might sound like a long time, but my 7-year-old kept yelling, "He's going too fast!" 

That's because he was also explaining how Fijian uses letters from the Latin alphabet but pronounces some of them quite a bit differently. According to this website, that's because a missionary in the early 1800s matched Latin alphabet characters to their sounds but it didn't quite represent how Fijians conceptualized the sounds in their language so they tweaked it until it did.

We also counted from 1 to 10 and learned that "kerekere" means "please" in Fijian.

Then we took a minute to talk about the ocean. We read Coral Reef by Kate Scarborough to learn how a coral reef is formed. My 5-year-old had gotten bored and wandered off by this time, so I periodically yelled out a fun fact hoping it would get him curious enough to come back in.

"Did you know that a coral reef is made of animal skeletons?" I called. 

"Yes!" he answered, and kept doing whatever he was doing in the other room. (What a punk. He totally did not know that.)

The traditional Fijian canoe is called a "drua," meaning "double." I sort of described it to the kids but when I showed them a picture and they were all like "Oh, the boats in Moana." So maybe instead just say that. 

I planned to have the kids make their own drua, but we were all kind of hot and tired so I wasn't sure how into it they would be. I ended up making it a competition: one team would make a drua from materials they could find inside the house, and the other would make one from materials they could only find outside. 

Awarded Most Natural Recreation (right) and Most True to Its Fijian Roots (left.)

The outside drua turned out great. The kids used leaves, sticks, and bark from the yard, and lucky for them I'm terrible at lawn care so they had some nice blades of crabgrass to lash it all together. I loved how authentic it all was.

My favorite part of the drua made from inside materials was the attention to detail. They put a meke dancer on board (okay, hula, but it's close enough) and added a box to represent the Katonimana from the legends.

I wasn't planning on doing this, but the kids wanted to go put some water in the bathtub and see if they would float. 

I guessed that the sock forming the sail of the inside drua would soak up water and sink first, but actually both canoes stayed afloat until we got bored and declared it a tie.


The indigenous people of Fiji were fierce Melanesian warriors. In fact, sailors avoided Fiji which had earned the nickname "Cannibal Island" for a reason. We read a few fun facts from this article and then tried to move on before the kids asked too many questions.

Meke was a popular way to pass down stories through song and dance. There are male and female mekes, and they look really different.

(As an activity, I asked the kids to plan and present a story-song to me. The topic could be anything they wanted. What they came up with was a retelling of the Star Wars story, go figure.)

What people might not know about Fijians is that a significant percentage of the population is Indo-Fijian. Yep, they're descended from people brought as indentured servants from India to work on the sugar cane plantations when Fiji was a British colony (1874-1970.)

That's why music like this Indo-Fijian bhajan, while probably not the first thing you think of when you think of the South Pacific Islands, is another style of traditional Fijian music. 

That night for dinner, we made a Fijian curry.  

Served over rice.

I chose curry because it just seemed a lot... safer than other traditional Fijian dishes like kokoda. Also called ceviche, you "cook" kokoda by soaking the fish in vinegar, which is another way of saying you don't actually cook it

I like to think I'm motivated to experience each culture we cover during The Educational Summer Vacation, but it turns out my motivation stops where the likelihood of getting Salmonella begins.


Today we talked about some of the plants and animals you might find in Fiji.

We looked up the collared lory, which is the national animal of Fiji. It's such a colorful, pretty bird you can't not color one of your own with this coloring page.

Fiji is also home to 1,500 kinds of sea life, so I got the kids a few books, including Starfish by Deborah Coldiron and Sea Turtle by Melissa Gish. We read the book about sea turtles, which symbolize good luck in the Islands.

One of our books about Fiji shows a picture of a man carving a wooden sea turtle, which gave me the idea to "carve" sea turtles of our own. I got out the playdough and some toothpicks, and three of the kids made their own sea turtles.

We then learned about mangrove trees, which are also called "walking trees" because their roots look so weird. They're actually pretty cool, as seen in this video. If the kids want to learn more, I also got them Mangroves by Beth Blaxland to read.

Tomorrow we're planning to make a Fijian dish called roro, and I'll update this post when we do to let you know how it went. Spoiler alert: I'm sure none of the kids will like it. I expect that it will be more of an experiment than a meal, but time will tell.

And that was our week in Fiji! It was a busy one doing everything from learning about animals to choreographing a dance to having a canoe-building contest. No wonder I'm so exhausted by the end of The Educational Summer Vacation.

One more week left...

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files

Read More »