Friday, September 29, 2023

7 Quick Takes about How Not to Name a Bird, Acting Jobs I Didn't Realize Existed, and Representing the United States of America

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


My 11-year-old was thrilled this week to finally get a bird. She saved up for a long time to buy a cage and all its accessories, and then she had to present us with a detailed plan for cleaning up after the bird and taking care of it.

I've personally never liked green parakeets because I thought they were boring-looking, but this one is so interesting because it's really bright with a tail that fades into a gradient of blue.

The bird's name is a bit of a controversy. At first my daughter named it Pringles, but once she jokingly said "What are you doing, Mr. Birdo?" and the name sort of stuck. So the kids decided to incorporate both names and making it proper with the full name "Jonathan Pringles Birdo." 

It was a fine melding of ideas. But after a few days, one of the kids looked up how you tell the gender of birds and it's almost certain that Mr. Birdo is... a girl. 

So anyway, now we have a parakeet who goes by Jonathan, Mr. Birdo, or Pringles, whatever he/she/it is.


For the first day after we brought it home, the bird was pretty quiet. But when I put on music to do some post-run stretches the next day, it started chirping like crazy about 10 minutes into the playlist. 

I looked at what was playing ("Devuélveme El Corazón" by Sebastián Yatra), so I turned it down and Googled whether that meant the music was making it mad or happy. The web results told me that parakeets will join in with music they like, and that they even have favorite songs.

Over the next few days we played it lots of different music from different genres and I swear that the bird seems to love that specific song more than any others, even ones from the same genre and the same artist. Even when I went to find the link for the song to write this post and it started playing accidentally, it started chirping along enthusiastically in its cage.


The 7-year-old has been drawing pictures lately of things going really fast. He will sketch a vehicle with flames shooting out of the back and attach as many rockets as possible to speed it up even more.

For illustrative purposes, he even included a close-up of the speedometer reading "9999999999" to prove it.


The older kids and I have been watching a cartoon called Gravity Falls (it's rated Y7 but I probably wouldn't recommend it for kids younger than 5th grade). I was curious about the voice actors behind a few of the characters so I decided to look them up. 

I think that compulsively having to do this every time we watch a show or movie is a sign of aging. I don't even know why I care now. I just do.

Anyway, I was scanning down the list of characters and noticed that "Waddles" was listed as a character with a corresponding voice actor. 

Waddles is a pig. Not a talking pig, either. He's just a pig that makes pig noises. So I couldn't not click on the guy who voices him (Dee Bradley Baker) and go down the rabbit hole.

According to Wikipedia, Baker is "an American voice actor. His work consists of mainly vocalizations of animals and monsters."

My 17-year-old thought the ways he had to contort his face to make some of these sounds was horrific, but I was just straight-up 100% impressed. Can you imagine how fun it would be to have this guy as your dad reading you bedtime stories??


One thing we reiterate in our church is the importance of the family. In Latter-day Saint theology, the temple is the holiest place on earth, but you'll also hear an often-repeated statement that "only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness."

So our family was talking about that recently, and I asked the kids "How can we make our home more like a temple?"

The immediate answer came from the 11-year-old: "Stop acting like fighty hobgoblins."

I wouldn't have phrased it like that but YES.


Our Spanish exchange student is coming in three weeks. The school shared Paula's bio with us and my 17-year-old daughter exchanged a few texts with her, and now she's really concerned that the exchange student will be too cool for us.

She probably will be. We're not very cool. But as I pointed out to her, Paula won't know what differences are specifically our family and what's just America generally. So in the worst case scenario she probably won't pass any judgment on us, she'll just go back to Spain thinking that the entire United States is lame.

I'm not sure if that made her feel better or worse.


This weekend is general conference, the biannual live broadcast from the worldwide leaders of my church, including the prophet Russell M. Nelson. If you're looking for peace or direction in life, or even if you just want to satisfy your curiosity about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with zero commitment to talking to anyone or learning more, watching conference online is a great thing to do this weekend.

There are a few different ways to watch/listen but my family personally prefers the YouTube channel. Different talks or sermons are given in two 2-hour sessions on Saturday and Sunday, with an evening session on Saturday. 

On my list of things to do today is buy Conference Snacks. We'll be watching and eating, and thoroughly enjoying both of those things.

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Friday, September 22, 2023

7 Quick Takes about Old People Problems, Painting Wooden Cars, and Playing Word Games in Spanish

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


Well, my gym membership  the one with the treadmill  ran out so it's back to jogging on the road for me.

I'm actually in better shape than I thought. I can go farther than I could the last time it was just me out on the road. I guess running with the constant speed of the treadmill really does help, where it's keep up or get thrown off and break an ankle.

We'll see how long it lasts now that I'm back to relying on my own willpower to go fast and keep going.


I've also been stretching a few times a day, and it feels great! Phillip and I are right at that age where the human body's warranty is beginning to run out and you just have to learn to live with it when things don't work like they used to anymore, so we each have our nightly stretching routine before bed.

In related old people news, I've woken up for no reason at all in the middle of the night every night this week and I'm exhausted. I'm embarrassed (and almost impressed, really) to report that yesterday I got absolutely nothing done because I laid down after getting the kids all off to school, and woke up with a start 4 hours later wondering what year it was and who was president.


When the kids painted wooden trucks for The Educational Summer Vacation last month, my 9-year-old had so much fun he asked if we could do it again sometime. 

So I bought {affiliate link} this pack of a million small unfinished wooden cars and took them out over the weekend when I needed to get something done. It kept the three youngest kids busy for over an hour, and then they spent more time on it the day after that.

It was seriously so fun for them, and was completely worth the money.


My 15-year-old got his annual eye exam this week and now it's time to buy him glasses. We tried on a few pairs at the office to get a feel for what style of frames he likes, doing our best to pretend that we were totally considering buying one of the $249 pairs in the showroom instead of ordering at for $20 once we got home.

My son asked me how Zenni's glasses are so cheap, and my answer was that I didn't know and didn't want to look into it too closely, either. Case in point: Phillip recently bought him a replacement pair of tennis shoes (how you can lose a gigantic pair of men's size 10 sneakers, I don't know) on Temu for 86 cents and... I just... how?? Did they pull them off a dead guy somewhere? Whatever it is, I don't think I want to know. I also don't think I want to buy from Temu anymore, it's too weird.


My 17-year-old finally quit her job at the grocery store. She just started a new job that she found through a friend of hers, and it's a lot different from the grocery store.

She interns at a small startup consisting of exactly two people, where her main job is cleaning up and organizing their space. She earns more per hour, gets to work with a friend of hers who is also interning there, and doesn't have to wear a uniform or deal with people (except for the two guys who run the start-up, but they're engineers so I'm guessing they don't do small talk). 

It also sounds pretty laid-back, which she probably needs during her high-pressure senior year. She tells me that instead of punching in and out, she just writes down in a notebook when she works and tells one of the guys at the end of the month so they can pay her. 


I continue to attempt to learn Spanish, which feels a lot like my brain melting a lot of the time. When it gets really confusing, I just try to remind myself that there are so many bilingual people in the world, and I just can't be dumber than all  of them! I can do this!

I also want my downtime to be productive, so I've made an effort to put Spanish games on my phone to play when I'm bored. I've discovered that most "educational games" for learning Spanish are unilaterally lame, but ones designed for a Spanish-speaking audience can actually be entertaining as well as educational. In case anyone else cares, here are some of my favorites:
  • 4 Fotos 1 Palabra  shows me four pictures and asks for the Spanish word that they all have in common; some are easy but some take me days to figure out
  • One Clue Crossword (Spanish version) — complete a crossword by naming all the objects in a picture, usually a themed picture
  • Ciudad de Palabras — basically Spanish Wordscapes, and you can click on a word if you don't know what it means to see a dictionary definition (which is written in Spanish, so more practice)
  • Surf de Palabras — currently my favorite, kind of like a word search with a theme to each puzzle
While writing this, I realized that palabras (Spanish for 'words') is in the title of most of the games I like so I searched for 'palabras' at the Google Play store and found a few more to try. 

We'll see how I like Verba (seems more educational in nature so we'll see how fun it is) and La Dice Gente (looks like Family Fued but with only one team and in Spanish.)


But since every minute of your free time can't be productive and educational, here's this YouTube video to watch at your own leisure:

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Friday, September 15, 2023

7 Quick Takes about Lost Keys, Opposing Ideas about Kids' Soccer, and People I Don't Want to Be on a First-Name Basis With

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


We went to a Hibachi restaurant to celebrate a friend's birthday. Apparently going out for Hibachi on your birthday is a thing, because we heard three other tables singing "Happy Birthday" while we were there, and it was not a big place.

So the chef was doing his thing, grilling the food while flipping his spatulas and putting on a show. First he started tossing little pieces of cooked food into our mouths from behind the grill, and then he pulled out a squirt bottle full of sake and motioned for us to open our mouths.

Well, when we told him that everyone at the table didn't drink alcohol (we were all Latter-day Saints) he looked disappointed but not for long. Almost immediately, he pulled out a baby bottle full of water and sprayed it in all of our mouths. 

I've had a lot of reactions to telling people I don't drink over the years, but I can honestly say it's the first time that has happened.


I wrote this about a year ago, and I am feeling it acutely right now.

This week I needed to go pick up my 17-year-old because she drove somewhere and somehow misplaced her car key while she was there. Then I found out it was actually her dad's key, which she'd borrowed because she'd already lost her own key someplace else. 

I told her to go the hardware store after school to make (and pay for) two new replacement copies, to which my 15-year-old observed, "That car is definitely getting stolen. In a few month's time, there are going to be hundreds of keys to it scattered all over town."

Of course, he lost his shoes several days ago and still can't find them, so maybe he shouldn't talk.


I need a word of advice about hand towels. After a decade of constantly picking them up off the floor, I stumbled across a brilliant hack and installed snaps to secure it to the towel rack using this {affiliate link}starter kit, which was well worth it. I haven't picked up a hand towel in two years, and it's not because my kids stopped being slobs all of a sudden.

But now I'm running into a different problem. 

How do you keep them from looking dingy after a while? The towels in our bathroom are a butter yellow color, but the place on the towel where they wipe their hands is starting to look gray, even after washing in hot water with vinegar and all the other tricks Google advises me to do.

Any tips?


After a few days of intense rain, all the soccer fields in town were closed and practice was cancelled. 

I was doing my customary happy dance, but my 4th grader's coach was so concerned that he talked the league into renting field space at an indoor sports facility in the next town over so they could still hold practice. 

I don't get it. Doesn't he know that when practice gets rained out, you're supposed to be excited and enjoy your evening off?? My kid is 9, not Lionel Messi. I think we'll all be okay if we skip it this week.


Our family got a gym membership over the summer but it stays active until next week, so I've been going and running on the treadmill during the day while the kids are at school to get my money's worth. 

I've discovered I like running on a treadmill better than running on the road. On a treadmill there's no humidity, no cold, no bugs, and no hills, plus it keeps me running at a faster speed than if I'm gradually slowing down on my own as I contemplate just lying down in the road and giving up.

"If you like it, maybe you should just get an individual membership for yourself," Phillip suggested.

"But it seems silly to pay $100 a month just to use the treadmill," I said. "I could probably buy a treadmill on Facebook Marketplace for the cost of one month. Everyone gets a treadmill thinking they're going to use it and then they don't so they just want to get rid of it-"

"And now you can be one of those people, too!" Phillip finished.


My kids are just a little bit too old, so I have never watched an episode of Bluey even though I've seen parents on Facebook saying how great it is. And then I realized that there's a Bluey Español channel on YouTube, and it's amazing for Spanish listening practice. 

The episodes are short enough (7 minutes) that I can listen once, scroll down to read the written transcript and look up words I don't know, watch again while reading the transcript, and then listen a third time without it for way better comprehension.

It's an awesome method for practicing and it's pretty entertaining, too. It's just slightly awkward when your kids ask what you were doing while they were away at school and your answer is watching Bluey by yourself for 35 minutes.


My 2nd grader's teacher has everyone in the class write a letter home every Friday, and I'm supposed to write back over the weekend for him read in class on Monday. It's a cute idea, although I'm not wagering any money on my not forgetting on a semi-regular basis.

I opened my 7-year-old's notebook last week and his letter started with "Dear Jenny..."

Let it be known that I'm extremely old-school about this. In this house, I am Mom. Children who aren't mine can call me Mrs. Evans (or Sister Evans, if you're church folk.) If you want to call me by my first name you must be (1) over 18 and (2) someone who never resided in my uterus.

So when I wrote his letter back it started "Dear Mr. Evans..."

Two can play at this game.

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Friday, September 8, 2023

7 Quick Takes about New Cars, Beach Camping, and Stupid Injuries You Give Yourself

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


I went for a walk and saw this cute sight:

So this is what having all your ducks in a row looks like.


Our two oldest kids have their drivers' licenses now, but we've put off buying a third car for years. I didn't want to deal with the expense and the maintenance and figuring out where to park it. Plus, after embracing minimalism I really have a hard time bringing more stuff into the house, and a car is a big piece of stuff.

But Phillip and I were having to sit down and make one of those evidence boards from CSI every day to figure out how to get all the people in our family everywhere they needed to go, sometimes the kids were late to work because the car simply could not be in multiple places at once, and I was starting to feel like a bus driver on crack pretty much all of the time.

So we found a used car from a private seller, and went for it. The day before the purchase, I went to withdraw the money from the bank, and it was really unnerving to be holding that much cash at one time. I left the bank with a giant envelope, muttering "Don't be like Uncle Billy, don't be like Uncle Billy!" the whole way home.


The new car is now Phillip's car for driving to and from work, and the old commuter car is now for the teenagers to drive. 

It's possibly a little insulting that my 42-year-old husband's upgrade car was bought from some rich 25-year-old kid getting rid of his starter vehicle so he could go buy a Tesla (really, that's what he told us), but we're not proud. 

In fact, we're thrilled at what a good deal it was; he even took our lowball offer "if we could come get it this week" because he just wanted to be done with it.


Over Labor Day weekend, we went camping with some friends from church. We usually go camping once a summer as a family, but we've always gone camping in the forest. The last few years we've even gone deeper into the woods, staying at the "remote sites" where you have to carry in your own water and you don't see or hear another soul.

This campground was right next to the ocean, and it was a lot different. The campsite, instead of being a secluded nature retreat nestled in the forest, was like a sprawling tent city with people everywhere and lots of noise. I think my 7-year-old expressed it best when we were setting up the tent and he said, "It feels wrong to be camping in public..."

 A few scrubby trees were growing here and there, but they were pine trees so we couldn't even find marshmallow roasting sticks anywhere.

The kids playing with glow sticks after dark made a nice picture.

It was cool being so close to the ocean, we could just walk to the beach from our tent. But I think I prefer woods camping, hands down.


You know when you leave a store without buying anything and you feel like you're shoplifting even though you're not? Well, I felt sort of like that this week, when I bought a Nutribullet blender on Facebook Marketplace. 

We arranged to meet in a Wendy's parking lot. We arrived within 30 seconds of each other, quickly exchanged cash for a folded-over brown paper bag, and then we both got in our cars and drove away. I know there was nothing shady going on, but come on. We couldn't have made that look more shady if we'd tried.


I have a very big, very dumb bruise on my arm. 

Circled on the left because the lighting of this picture makes it a little hard to see.

I got this bruise while I was unloading an armful of boxes from the backseat of the van. Trying to be efficient, I was planning to press the automatic door button and pull the boxes out while it was sliding shut. But I was too slow, and once I had the boxes in my hands the doors had already shut far enough that there wasn't room to get them out of the van.

Rather than drop the boxes and possibly break what was inside, I thought, "I'll just stand here and wait it out. The door has a sensor that makes it open back up when it feels resistance." Okay, yeah it does, but it pushes on you hard first.

So not only do I have no one but myself to blame for the door closing, but I also stood there and made a conscious decision to let it smash me even after I pushed the button. 


It's been a ridiculously hot week, but I wanted to get going on our mailbox landscaping project and that meant getting plants and putting them in the ground. And I wanted to do it now, while all the plants at our local nursery are on sale. 

My favorite plants. These are so cute.

Planting and mulching took way longer and was hotter and more difficult than I'd imagined, but I'm so happy with the way it looks!

I also planted grass behind the hill where it's just bare dirt. The last thing I need to do now is replace our wonky faded plastic mailbox with a nice metal one, and it will be all finished!

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Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Pakistan

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Did you know that 70% of the world's soccer balls are handmade in Sialkot, Pakistan? Or that Pakistan holds the record for "World's Highest ATM" (on a mountain in the Khunjerab Pass)? For our last week of The Educational Summer Vacation, my kids chose to learn all about Pakistan, which is a much more interesting place than we thought.


The first thing we do when studying any country is find it on the world map hanging on the dining room wall and fill in a passport page about it.

You can click here to download the passport page printables for free. The kids searched the map to fill in their passport with the name of Pakistan plus its continent, capital, major cities, bordering countries and waters, and any physical features. I also added a little space where they can design a pretend Visa stamp for the country. 

I hole punched the corners and made a little cover with the seal of the U.S., but you can do it however you want.

While the kids were coloring the flag of Pakistan, I read P Is for Pakistan and Nadia and Nadir Visit Pakistan. Then they added it to the wall.

We used the Internet to learn a little bit of Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. This video showed us how to say "Hello, my name is _______. Nice to meet you." After practicing that a few times, we learned how to say thank you and count from 1 to 10

For dinner that night, we had nihari which is the national dish of Pakistan. I used this recipe (thickened with gluten-free flour because of my husband) and served it with naan. 

As you can see, the broth turned out a little suspicious-looking and the whole thing ended up flavorless (I went easy on the spices not wanting it to be too much for the kids but I went too easy) so it won't make it into our regular meal rotation. But the kids at least ate naan for dinner.


Today we touched on some of the history of Pakistan. Pakistan and its neighbor India have been fighting since the two gained independence after WWII, and the rivalry is actually celebrated with a nightly ceremony at the Wagah border. 

The full show lasts 45 minutes, but here was a good shorter video showing some of the highlights:

We then went way, way back into history and talked about an ancient Indus Valley civilization called Mohenjo Daro.

People always make such a big deal about how sophisticated the Romans were in 400 A.D. for having bathhouses and all that, but Mohenjo Daro had a citywide sewer system in 2500 B.C. including toilets and running water in individual houses!

We watched this video about Mohenjo Daro and then decided to do a little experiment of our own with moving water from one place to another. 

It usually drives me crazy how Phillip collects random PVC pipe, tubing, and other construction materials in his workshop, but today it came in handy. I sent the kids to pick out things that could transport water and met them in the backyard with a roll of duct tape.

Collecting the supplies.

There wasn't really an end goal, I just told them to build an interesting method of moving water across the yard from the garden hose using the materials they found. They started with something laid across the grass, but then decided to tape it to the deck instead.

Beginning the design process.

If you wanted to do something smaller-scale that doesn't involve getting your kids drenched or making a huge mess in the yard, here is another activity that might feel more manageable.


The life of women and girls in a lot of the Middle East is a difficult reality to talk about, but I believe you can still find age-appropriate ways to do it with your kids.

We read a picture book called Malala's Magic Pencil and I gave my middle-schooler the book Who Is Malala Yousafzai? from the What Is/Who Is series. Yousafzai is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize because she fought for girls' rights to an education even after being shot by the Taliban for her activism. Our kids learned about the Taliban while we did Afghanistan for The Educational Summer Vacation a few years ago, so they already knew these dudes were bad news, especially for women.

Because I'm an optimist, and also because I don't want the kids to go telling everyone they meet for the next month what an awful place Pakistan is, I wanted to temper today's learning with some good news. We finished by talking about the Edhi Foundation, a huge humanitarian organization that is famous all over Pakistan. 

 They have the largest volunteer ambulance fleet in the world, plus a lot of other humanitarian services including orphanages, animal shelters, refugee help, and even graveyard services for people who no one buries. It's a big deal in the entire country. Later this week, we met someone from Pakistan, and when we mentioned the Edhi Foundation he got really animated talking about it and you could tell he was proud of it.

For a bedtime story that night, we read the picture book Nadia's Hands by Karen English. The kids were like, "Ooh! Henna! I've gotten that before."


Everyone knows that Mount Everest in Nepal is the highest peak in the world, but do you know that the second highest is K2 in Pakistan? Even though it isn't the highest, climbers all agree that K2 is much more technically challenging and dangerous. It's becoming more popular (and therefore safer) to climb as time goes on, though.

After watching this YouTube video about K2, I read the first chapter out loud of Three Cups of Tea (the young reader's edition) by Greg Mortenson, which opens with Mortenson lost on K2. I relied on the fact that their natural curiosity with the cliffhanger ending would get them to pick up the book again on their own, which I think it did for at least a few of them.

Then we read This Truck has Got to Be Special by Anjum Rana. If you don't have the book, Google "truck art Pakistan" and take a look at the pictures that come up. People spend a lot of money decorating their trucks in Pakistan, and it's quite unlike any paint job you'll see on the road in the U.S.

Ahead of time, I'd purchased these unpainted wooden trucks on Amazon and we already had a bunch of acrylic paint ready to go, so each of kids who were interested got to paint a truck of their own.

Some of them looked at pictures online for inspiration, while others chose to follow their hearts. Either way, they had so much fun that my 9-year-old asked if I could get more, so I got this pack of 12 unpainted vehicles to keep them busy over Labor Day weekend. Who knew they would have so much fun?


As a Muslim country, Friday is a very holy day in Pakistan. My kids were already familiar with the concept of a Sabbath (ours is on Sunday) but we talked a little bit about the basics of Islam, including the importance of praying at five set times a day.

How pretty is this? I got it at the library, believe it or not.

The kids looked up pictures of a famous mosque called the Faisal Mosque in Pakistan, and then I told them I had a surprise for them. 

Earlier this year at the open house of a local mosque, I'd mentioned to someone on the board of directors how much I'd enjoyed being an observer for one of their daily prayers during the open house in 2017. I figured that they were no longer doing it because it was too distracting to have a bunch of infidels goggling at them while they prayed, but surprisingly he said "Oh, visitors are welcome anytime. Just let me know when you want to come!"

So today we did. We arrived early and the guy on the board of directors met us and told us all about the mosque, talked about some of the basics of Islam, and guess what happened while he was talking? He mentioned that he was from Pakistan. This was total educational serendipity, I had no idea. 

After watching the prayer, we talked with him some more about Islam and about Pakistan. (Of course when he asked my 9-year-old what she'd been learning about Pakistan she stared at him blankly like she'd never heard of it in her life. That's what kids are for, I think. To make us look good.) I think the whole thing was a great experience for all the kids, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Throughout the week, I also left out a few mid-grade novels for the kids to read, and I saw them making the rounds around the house so I think it was successful. The books were:
Thank you for reading along about our journey to Pakistan which wrapped up another year of The Educational Summer Vacation! The random facts we learn about different places in the world turn out to be useful at the most unexpected times, so I'm just waiting for someone to bring up K2, Mohenjo Daro, or truck art in front of the kids now.

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Friday, September 1, 2023

7 Quick Takes about the First Day in Hades, Unconventional Personal Shoppers, and a New Sheriff in Town

It's 7 Quick Takes... September?? I'm aware of missing the last 3 weeks of August but something had to drop out and this ended up being it. Hopefully I can be more regular now that school has begun.


Speaking of school, it's been a little rough. The first day in particular was a disaster.

Our anxious child threw up twice from nerves and didn't make it to the bathroom either time. When you're cleaning vomit off the walls before 7AM, it's a pretty good sign that the day ahead may not go the way you hoped it would.

Then the 11-year-old accidentally took the 9-year-old's bag of school supplies instead of her own, and the 9-year-old almost got on the 7-year-old's bus and then missed his own.

That afternoon, I learned that none of my kids are actually registered for the bus (oops) and now I'm dropping them all off and picking them all up until some undetermined time in the future when the bus company starts answering my calls and fixes whatever it is that I did wrong.

But it's fine. The kids all had a good first day once they actually got to school, even our anxious child (who thankfully didn't repeat the pyrotechnics the next morning). 


Our 19-year-old also went back to school. She worked hard, the summer she was here seemed to fly by, and as of early this morning she was on a plane bound for her second year of college. 

Mostly, the summer felt pretty scattered and I mostly remember spending a lot of time trying to coordinate rides to get everyone where they needed to go. I didn't realize until the very end of this summer that what we should have done was try to coordinate the three teenager's work schedules more so they weren't always working opposite shifts of each other, maybe choosing one day a week for them to all ask for the day off so we could have enjoyed some family movie nights or day trips.

I guess I'm still learning how to do this. It seems sort of unfair that hardly any of the mothering skills you learn when your child is under 12 translate to big kid world very well! 


I've also been very busy the past few weeks with Young Women, in the organization of teenage girls at church that I lead. 

In August our group organized an overnight at the lake house of a member of our congregation, which was a ton of fun and seriously beautiful. It wasn't really vacation, because I was in charge and supposed to be the responsible adult, but it still kind of felt like it.

Just a few short days after returning from the lake house it was time for Young Women Camp, which is a 3-day camping experience for the teenage girls from several different area congregations. I technically wasn't in charge and didn't have to go, but I volunteered because I love the girls so much I wanted to spend time with them. 

I saw this dumpster parked on the outskirts of camp. It doesn't have anything to do with anything, really, but I love a good dumpster pun (and here were two!)

And I did get to know the girls better, in a way that my 17-year-old would sarcastically describe as "trauma bonding." The group I was with somehow got their things soaked by the rain and we had to relocate at midnight to sleep in the dining hall in borrowed sleeping bags like refugees. They were good sports about it, though, and they really did enjoy being together and having fun.


The other day I needed to buy some feminine products at the store and decided to bring my 15-year-old son after picking him up from cross-country practice.

Maybe a teenage boy isn't the first shopping companion that would come to mind, but I think it's important for him not to be an unhelpful bozo about this stuff for the sake of a future girlfriend/wife. I showed him where to find it in the store, the difference between types of products, and how to buy them.

Now instead of being like "duhhhh... I eMbArAsSeD to go in girly aisle!" when someone asks him someday to go pick up some tampons, he'll be able to say "Sure, what brand and absorbency do you want?" and I think that's way better.


In an effort to lessen my stress at home, Phillip took over food production at home, including grocery shopping, menu planning, and making dinner. He did it exactly the way a scientist character in a sitcom would, creating an Excel spreadsheet for the contents of our pantry customized with dropdown menus to easily mark what we have and what we need.

Although I was skeptical about at his method at first, it's been a week and I feel amazing.

Not only am I way less stressed not having to try to make a casserole while driving 5 kids all over town to their after-school activities, it's also just really vindicating to see someone else struggle with the same things I always assumed were my personal failings. When we run out of a key ingredient for dinner or end up eating at 8 PM, I feel like yelling "Thank you! You're single-handedly proving that it's not me, this is just a legitimately hard job!"


My 17-year-old had her wisdom teeth removed, and it went way smoother than when her older sister had hers extracted a few years ago. The procedure was quick, she seemed pretty with it post-anesthesia, and she never really complained about feeling pain. 

If it weren't for the fact that she was eating nothing but applesauce and protein shakes for several days, I would've forgotten she'd had her wisdom teeth out at all.


My 7-year-old was recently doing some kind of craft that involved cutting paper, and couldn't find the scissors. 

"Do you know where they are?" he asked me.

Sorry, but I haven't known where the scissors are since my oldest child got tall enough to reach the counter where we keep them. I told him he was out of luck.

With a resigned sigh, he observed, "It's, like, special when we have the scissors." 


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Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Costa Rica

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This summer, we've picked a handful of countries around the world to learn about over school vacation. It gives us structure, keeps our brains active, and if I'm honest, when your kids can readily identify dozens of flags from obscure countries it's kind of a neat party trick. This week we learned about Costa Rica!


We started by reading the picture book Costa Rica ABCs and drawing the flag. The kids immediately said "This is just the opposite of Thailand's flag!" proving my point about it being a neat party trick. (We did Thailand last summer.)

Then the kids found Costa Rica on the big wall map in the dining room and filled out a passport page.

Free blank pages to print and download are here.

Spanish is the language spoken in Costa Rica, so I introduced them to the phrase "pura vida" and talked a little about what it means and why it's important to Ticos (people from Costa Rica.) And, since the kids are subjected daily to hearing me talk in and about Spanish over the past year as I've been learning it, we skipped some of the basics and had a little discussion about conjugating verbs. The kids were riveted, I'm sure.

When we were done, I left an early elementary school reader out for them called A Postcard from Costa Rica. And sure enough, the cover is so colorful they picked it up right away.


Costa Rica has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world (my 19-year-old said she saw online that they have actually reversed deforestation) and there are 27 national parks in a country the size of West Virginia. 25% of the country is protected in either a park or wildlife reserve.

We read two books today about the rainforest and the cloud forest. The first was a bilingual book called Fernandos' Gift (El Regalo de Fernando) and the second was called  Forest in the Clouds by Sneed B. Collard III.

We watched a beautiful documentary on the hummingbirds of Costa Rica (we got the DVD at the library but it's also on Amazon Instant Video.)

Since today was all about nature and animals, I also gave the kids these books to read on their own (they devoured the ones about sloths which were full of adorable photos):
  • Destiny Finds Her Way (story of a sloth in a wildlife rehabilitation center in Costa Ricea)
  • A Little Book of Sloth (baby sloth cuteness overload; life in a Costa Rican "sloth orphanage")
  • Tortuga Squad (true story about Costa Rican kids who save endangered sea turtles)
  • Lost! from the Survivor Diaries series


Costa Rica generates 99% of its electricity from renewable resources, so we watched a Bill Nye video on renewable energy to teach the younger kids about the difference between renewable and non-renewable. 

I'd checked out this library book on renewable energy with project ideas at the back, and we decided to give the project on windpower a try. (You actually don't even have to have a copy of the book, just scroll down to "Renewable Energy" here to get the instructions and template.)

First we attached some paper windmill blades to a cup with a dowel and straw:

And then we set it up in front of a fan to make the blades spin. On the end was a paperclip on a string that it rolled up to demonstrate how electricity was generated.

We also decided to make one more renewable energy product, a waterwheel. I found lots of different tutorials online, but I liked the super simple design here. I just showed a picture to my 15-year-old son and he got right to work figuring out how to make it.

The website mentioned that if you need to do this indoors, you can use rice instead of water to make it less messy. But it was a nice day outside and the kids love to play with water until someone stomps in the house soaking wet and mad, so we used the garden hose to test it out:

I had planned to watch Pave the Road, a documentary on Green Pavement technology used in Costa Rica, with the older kids but we ran out of time. Not sure how excited they'd be about it anyway, but Phillip would probably be interested in it and maybe it's a nice date night movie for two people who have been married for 20 years and were never that exciting to begin with.


With 60 active volcanoes, Costa Rica is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. We watched this YouTube video about four different volcanoes in Costa Rica:

The third volcanoes in the video is called Poás, and I found it fascinating. There's a large crater lake at the center called Laguna Caliente. It's so acidic that nothing can live it it except bacteria; scientists actually study it to learn more about Mars.

Sometimes Laguna Caliente shoots acid up into the air like a geyser (which is called a phreatic explosion.) There is also acid rain and fog that limits what can grow in the area, causes things to rust quickly, and is a health hazard to people who are out there too long.

With the help of my trusty educational sidekid ChatGPT, I invented a volcano game that the kids could play outside. Using sidewalk chalk they drew a big circle on the driveway and put a bucket of water and some water guns at the center. 

They walked around the outside of the circle until I yelled "phreatic explosion!" and then they ran to the center, grabbed a gun, and shot water into the air. When I yelled "eruption!" they had to run out of the circle. There was one less gun than kids (think musical chairs but with water guns) and we took away one every round until only the winner was left. 

Guess how long it was until the shooters turned on each other.

The younger kids wanted to play several rounds, and the older kids humored them.


There's a rich indiginous culture in Costa Rica, some of which is actually kind of a mystery. Have you heard of the Diquis Spheres? Dozens of spherical stones of varying shapes and sizes that were found on the island in the 1930s as they cleared land for banana plantations, and nobody really knows what they were for. We watched this video and then had fun reading the guesses in the comments.

Another cultural celebration in Costa Rica is La Fiesta de los Diablitos, a yearly reenactment of the Spanish conquerors meeting the indigenous people. This video was kind of long, but a good explanation of what the slightly confusing festival is all about. 

After watching the video, we made boruca masks like the people in the dance use. They all chose to do it slightly different ways. Some kids made the design on paper modeled after a picture they found online:

Others wanted to color and cut the masks out. My two kids on the outside did that, and one even taped it to his face (I may or may not have walked in to find him reading on the couch like that later on). 

Truly horrifying and would definitely scare away a Spanish conqueror.

(My middle child posed for the above picture using a glazed mask she made in art class at school that is "scary and only good for this project." Her words, not mine.)

Gallo pinto (translation: spotted rooster) is a Costa Rican breakfast food, but we made it for lunch using this recipe. I was impressed because it was a pretty easy meal and the taste didn't offend anyone in our family, even if it didn't wow them.

You can't go wrong with rice, beans, and a fried egg.

Our week studying Costa Rica was a lot of fun. We learned about sloths, rainforests, volcanoes, and had lots of water play time in the driveway. What activities would your kids have liked the most from this week?

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