Friday, September 20, 2019

7 Quick Takes about Ways to Wear a Dress, Copious Amounts of Trips to the Hardware Store, and Motherhood in a Nutshell

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


When my daughter picked up my phone, the Pinterest app randomly opened up and the article "12 Ways to Wear 1 Dress" caught her eye.

She was pretty disappointed and a little confused when she clicked through and just saw options for layering clothes on top of it.

"Those aren't ways to wear a dress, That's just wearing different stuff with it!" She complained.

I agreed, the title was maybe a little clickbait-y.

Then we had fun thinking of how we would've written it differently, featuring 12 actually different ways to wear the dress: around your neck like a scarf, as a turban on your head, upside down like a pair of parachute pants...

I never before in my life entertained the idea of being a fashion blogger, but I see now that it could be kind of fun.


Do you remember when people used to say "Let's not and say we did?"

That's become one of my go-to phrases with the kids lately.

At dinner the other day, my son voiced yet another ridiculous/dangerous idea and I responded, "Let's not and say we did."

Usually he just takes that as a 'no' and moves on, but this time he paused and said, "Well, I'd still get in trouble for it, so that's not a very good idea."

"You should do it and then say you didn't!" the 7-year-old piped up.

"But then you'd get in trouble for lying," the 13-year-old pointed out. "So you should probably just do it and say you did."



I was at the hardware store earlier this week picking out some paint for a smallish project I'm working on.

It took me forever to find the right color and when I found a swatch I liked the employee told me it was only available in the super-fancy expensive brand.

I gestured to the promo flyer beside the register and joked, "Maybe I should just come back on Thursday and order it like a pirate."

Arr matey! Be this paint water- or latex-based?

The employee, who was apparently not that into his job, looked at me and deadpanned, "But is two bucks really worth your dignity?"

Okay, first of all, yes.

And second of all, don't you work here?

I laughed and asked, "If someone talks to you like a pirate do you have to answer like one?"

"They don't pay me enough for that," he said, handed me my quart of paint and a stirring stick. "Have a nice day."


We finally finished sanding the deck! 

Like most things in life, I'm glad I didn't know how much work it was going to be when I started, or I never would have done it.

Now we were ready to stain it.

Phillip picked out some stain at the store. The smallest can they had was a gallon so he bought one, brought it home to test it on a spare board we had in the garage, and saw that it looked like baby poop. I refused to entertain the idea of actually using it.

"Are you sure you want to get a different one?" Phillip asked. "It cost fifty dollars."

Ordinarily, I'm a very cheap person, but in this case I just said, "I will happily pay $50 for my deck not to look like diarrhea. Let's go back to the hardware store."

As we got out of the car in the parking lot, Phillip shook his head and said "They're going to know exactly what's going on here. Second trip to the hardware store in an hour but this time the wife comes marching in?"

Like they don't see that every blessed day of the week. No one even batted an eye at us.


So we had the stain, and on the way home it started to rain.

Then I started to cry.

Some people flip houses in their spare time, but I think of us as DIY-challenged, and this overwhelming project was not looking very doable.

We'd worked so hard to prepare the deck for staining, and every time it rained we had to wait another few days for it to dry out before we could do anything, and the way the weather was looking it didn't seem like we'd ever finish.

Phillip is a problem-solver, though, so he went back to the hardware store and got a huge tarp. Once the deck dried out from this rain, he explained, we'd cover it until the next sunny day so we could stain no matter what.

I was deep in a pit of existential despair by then, so trying to cheer me up, Phillip showed me the tarp's product label: "Look, it says right here that it's good for covering houses, trees, and giant cow turds."

It did make me feel a little better, if you're wondering how mature I am.


True to Phillip's word, on the next nice day we started staining.

Because we have about a million after-school activities every night of the week we didn't get started nearly as early as we'd like, and when we did start working the four oldest kids who could've actually been helpful were gone at various practices and appointments.

The only ones home were the 3- and 5-year-olds, who of course were very eager to "help."

But I can hardly take decorating the Christmas tree with them, letalone watch them slinging deck stain all over the place, so all I can say is thank goodness for YouTube and Shaun the Sheep.


People sometimes ask me to share my awesome parenting routines so I'll tell you how my 3-year old's naptime routine usually goes.

First, we read a book and then dim the lights and rock in the rocking chair. I tell him to be quiet while he talks to himself and wiggles around and knees me in the groin ten times until I yell and then we're both mad. Then I put him in his crib and tell him to go to sleep, and after I leave he crawls out and plays with toys for 45 minutes.

But on one particular day this week he was really tired, so he just snuggled his tiny body up against me in the rocking chair and went to sleep.

I was smelling his precious little head and thinking, "I love being a mom so much, this is the best job in the wor-" and then he farted in my lap.

Which is probably the most accurate description of motherhood that has ever been written.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

7 Quick Takes about Stealing Furniture, Blatantly Ignoring a Driveway Full of Caution Tape, and What to Wear When You Don't Know What to Wear

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


My 3-year-old asked what we were going to do today, so I told him we were (1) eating breakfast, (2) getting ready, and (3) getting a dresser at the Hendricksons, who are some friends of ours.

He looked at me and said, "Well, that's mean."

To clarify, the Hendricksons are giving away a dresser they don't want anymore. We're not going to crawl in their bedroom window and steal one, which is apparently something we do so often it's naturally what my son assumed I had planned.


Earlier this week we had our driveway sealcoated, and I relished every minute of the two days when it was a roped-off unblemished sea of perfect inky blackness that everyone was forbidden to use. It was almost as thrilling as that time we got the carpets in the kids' rooms shampooed.

The day before, the kids had written a message for their dad in sidewalk chalk, and I wondered if the driveway guys felt bad spraying black gunky stuff over the colorful, crooked bubble letters that spelled out "WELCOME HOME DADDY."

I know I would have.

After they were finished with the driveway I had to leave for a doctor's appointment and wouldn't be there when my 11- and 13-year-old came home from school. I could just see them obliviously walking right past the caution tape and over the driveway on their way to the door, so I decided to leave them the world's biggest note.

Thank goodness for those campaign signs I kept from last November. They proved useful, after all.

Enjoy some Friday laughs with this week's 7 Quick Takes! The 8-person Unremarkable Files family usually has at least some chaos you can relate to (but hopefully not all of it!) #7qt #7quicktakes #unremarkablefiles #lifewithkids #real #relatable #funny
I was actually worried the kids would still just walk right past this sign, if you're wondering how spacey they can be.


The next morning, I went out to retrieve a package and noticed a MAN'S FOOTPRINTS ACROSS THE DRIVEWAY.

I asked Phillip if it was him and he said no, which means it was most likely the delivery guy.

Which is fine. I get it, you've got a hundred deliveries to make and you're on a tight schedule, so maybe you don't have time to notice 15 feet of caution tape and the three neon orange traffic cones at the head of the driveway. Whatever. I'm not mad.

But here's the weird thing: if he'd walked across the driveway to put the packages on the doorstep, why were they lying in the grass on the opposite side?

Enjoy some Friday laughs with this week's 7 Quick Takes! The 8-person Unremarkable Files family usually has at least some chaos you can relate to (but hopefully not all of it!) #7qt #7quicktakes #unremarkablefiles #lifewithkids #real #relatable #funny
It's a mystery.

Since there was no return set of footprints, I can only conclude that he brought the packages to the door, realized he'd messed up the driveway, and tried to cover his tracks by walking allllll the way around to leave the packages on the grass so I wouldn't suspect it was him.

So... maybe I should have left up the big 'DO NOT WALK ON DRIVEWAY' sign??


One of the things in my delivery was this toilet paper, which I'd ordered to meet the free shipping threshold:

Enjoy some Friday laughs with this week's 7 Quick Takes! The 8-person Unremarkable Files family usually has at least some chaos you can relate to (but hopefully not all of it!) #7qt #7quicktakes #unremarkablefiles #lifewithkids #real #relatable #funny

The fact that it ripped as I was removing it from the box does not bode well for the "ultra strong" claim on the packaging.


As the mother of multiple children involved in multiple activities, you come to depend on two things: carpooling and sheer good luck.

We've always relied on both, but this season there seems to be an unusual amount of serendipity.

For example, having three kids with 6 PM activities on Monday night would ordinarily be cause for panic, but they all happen to be 3 minutes away from each other so it's actually super-convenient.

From 5:45-6, I just drive around like a school bus, making stops and letting kids off at orchestra, robotics club, and soccer practice.

No, seriously, it's like an actual school bus. I drive carpool to soccer.


Yesterday was a killer day. By dinnertime I couldn't even see any of the kitchen counter. It was too littered with dirty dishes waiting for the dishwasher to be unloaded, onion peels and celery ends waiting for the trash to be emptied, and laundry waiting for someone to get his/her act together and put it away.

Enjoy some Friday laughs with this week's 7 Quick Takes! The 8-person Unremarkable Files family usually has at least some chaos you can relate to (but hopefully not all of it!) #7qt #7quicktakes #unremarkablefiles #lifewithkids #real #relatable #funny
There was also a random extension cord in the middle of the floor, I don't know why.

Phillip came home from work to a war zone, and by 'war zone' I mean a very angry 37-year-old woman yelling to no one in particular, "If this stupid inflatable toy isn't put away in exactly one minute I'm going to POP IT WITH SCISSORS!!"

Turning to Phillip, I said through gritted teeth, "There's a Relief Society activity at church tonight and I am going."

"Sounds like fun," he said in the soft, reassuring voice you'd use when cornered by a rabid timberwolf. "What's the activity?"


I just needed to get out of the house, preferably somewhere with food and other adults where I wasn't responsible for cleaning anything or keeping anybody alive.

Luckily, the Relief Society activity (that's the name of the women's organization at my church) fit all of those criteria and I was in a much better mood when I came home.


I don't really know or understand anything about fashion, as you well know if you've been following this blog for any length of time.

For instance, my 13-year-old likes to tease me about a list I wrote when I was in elementary school titled "Jenny's Fashion Rules." (Rule #3 was "always make sure your socks match your shirt," so clearly I've been this way practically since birth.)

But this article makes me feel a little less alone, and also gives me some great ideas for what to do when I have no clue what to wear. Because that happens a lot, actually.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Back-to-School Spells and Incantations to Avoid Head Lice

Back-to-school season is one of the most nervewracking times of the year, and not just because you're putting your baby on a bus with kids who look like Paul Bunyan and sport facial hair.


They could be lurking on any head in your child's class right now, and just like with the Black Death that swept 14th-century Europe, you never know who's going to fall victim next.

So what did our Medieval forefathers do in the face of such a mysterious scourge? They tried to ward it off with folk magic. To be honest, that's how desperate you are during prime-time head lice season, too.

If you have a child between the ages of 4 and 11 and you'd do literally anything  to avoid:
  • spending hours picking nits
  • washing everything you own
  • quarantining your child's 1,247 stuffed animals in trash bags
  • becoming a social pariah
then these magical charms and enchantments adapted from Medieval times are for you!

When an email comes from school notifying you of a case of lice in your child's class:

On a parchment of goatskin, write the names of thy children and get ye to a body of running water  a river or a brook will suffice. Remove the same number of stones as ye have children, and return home. Heat the stones over a fire or open flame whilst chanting:

3, 2, 1
1, 2, 3
Keep thy lice 
Away from these

Once the stones are red hot, remove them with tongs and bury them at thy children's bus stop. At sunrise, dig up the stones with a silver spade and immerse each in a vessel of pure, cool water.

When you send off your kids on the first day of school:

On the eve of a new school year, gather ye chrysanthemums of an even number from a field or garden that thou ownest. Bind them with a ponytail belonging to thy child and boil in water for 10 minutes.

With the reed of a nearby marsh or the golden flax from an ear of corn, brush the magick liquid on the doorposts through which thy children pass on their way to school. Sprinkle thou the remainder on their backpacks.

When you catch your kids sharing hats or dress-up clothes with the neighborhood children:

Bid the neighbor children thither, then use a straw broom to thoroughly sweep all negative energy from thy house.

Shutter all thy windows in an east-to-west direction and with slowly increasing speed, wave a jar of mayonnaise clockwise and a bottle of distilled vinegar counterclockwise around thy child's head seven times.

When you learn that a friend's children have lice:

The correct magick doth depend on the contact betwixt their children and thine in the last fortnight.

If thy children have had no significant contact, toss the thigh bones of a chicken into a circle drawn in the dirt with a sycamore branch. If the bones fall in parallel lines, diagonal lines, or a T then all will be well with thy children; if they fall in an X, a triangle, or a horseshoe, 'tis a poor omen.

If thy children have had a playdate, inscribe the words "please oh please oh please do not let us have lice" on a small tablet of wax or lead and sew it into thy child's pillowcase.

If thy children have attended a sleepover together, thou must tie a length of hemp around thy child's birthstone to make a protective amulet for wearing round the neck. If the birthstone be hard to locate (diamonds and rubies art expensive,) then thou mayest substitute a wooden circle upon which their likeness has been carved with a steel blade by moonlight.

When you pass the medicated lice shampoo at CVS:

Halt thy shopping cart and hie to the first aid aisle, where the bandages art located. Use them to construct a five-pointed star on the floor with the topmost point facing the shampoo. Stand ye in the center and recite the following:

Rid and Nix, Nix and Rid,
Let no nits hatch upon my kid.
Itchy scalp and fine-toothed comb,
Let no lice infest our home.

When the recitation hath ended, spit over thy left shoulder and exit the aisle in the exact way that thou camest.

When reading an article (like this one) on head lice:

Pour ye lavender, rosemary, and tea tree oil into a glass decanter that may be stopped up securely. Store this in a dark place beside a hat or hair accessory that belongest to thy child.

After the sun has risen and set thrice, retrieve the item and instruct thy child to wear it as a talisman to guard him or her until the school year hast ended, or at least until thou hast forgotten about the article that afrightened thee so.

—    —    —    

As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, and there's nothing that makes a parent more desperate than the fear of head lice. So this back-to-school season, you might as well give these Medieval spells a try!

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Friday, September 6, 2019

7 Quick Takes about Inevitable Change, Futuristic Things I Don't Particularly Care For, and What My Preschooler Hears When I Say "Get in the Car"

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


I wrote in my previous post on church callings that when you feel comfortable in one calling you inevitably get released and given a different one, right?

So that happened.

I was honest to goodness in the middle of writing about how much I enjoyed my current calling as nursery leader when I was asked to accept a new calling as a counselor to the president over the Young Women's (i.e: teenage girls) organization.

It's bittersweet to say goodbye to nursery, which was a much-needed breather for me. It involved little prep work and was completely inside my comfort zone because taking care of little kids is the most natural thing in the world to me.

But I look forward to a calling that stretches me, and more importantly gives me a reason to get to know and love the Young Women in our congregation.

The older my kids have gotten, the more thankful I've gotten that it's not just Phillip and I looking out for them.

At church, there are so many people thinking about them, praying for them, teaching them good values, and trying to help them see the worth they have in God's eyes.

It's pretty humbling and kind of awesome to think that this is my opportunity to be one of those people for the other families at church, whose teen daughters need a network of people who love them every bit as much as mine do.

So as I was sitting in the bishop's office with the rest of the Young Women's presidency waiting to be set apart (given a priesthood blessing to help me in my new calling,) I was feeling okay  maybe even good  about this new change.

Only briefly did I reconsider when the Young Women's president leaned over and asked, "Can we have a presidency meeting tomorrow at 7:30?"

I realize now that the correct response wasn't spitting out my drink and gasping, "in the MORNING?!?"


Luckily, the 7:30 meeting (to which I was late, and I wasn't even surprised) isn't a regular thing and we're meeting at a much more sensible hour going forward.

One night a week, the Young Women have an activity at the church. This week was getting to know your new leaders. Each of us presidency members had 5 minutes to teach the girls a new skill.

I taught them how to be funny.

Allow me to explain. In the writing of this blog, I've dissected humorous stories, memes, and jokes more than any normal human probably should, and asked over and over, "Why is this funny? If it isn't funny, why not? How could it be funnier?"

It may sound like I'm ruining the magic of a perfectly good joke and maybe I am, but to me it's totally fascinating. Read this and this if you don't believe me. There's a science to funniness, and I love that.


After having been saddled with a broken dishwasher for a month, we finally got a new one. We researched, read reviews, and pored over ratings. We even found a family at church who owns and loves the dishwasher we ultimately bought.

And I don't like it.

For starters, it's too sleek and streamlined. The racks just slide all around with no resistance whatsoever. The door is hard to close properly because there isn't a hard latch you can really feel.

The control buttons aren't actually buttons; they're just touchscreens with no feedback, which means that when it's any of the kids' turns to run the dishwasher they freak out and start punching every button in sight like deranged monkeys yelling, "It's not worrrrrrrrking!"

It's also one of those new high-efficiency machines that takes 3-7 business days to finish a load of dishes, and in conclusion I'm not sure anymore that I am up to the 21st century.


School started this week! Everyone seems to be adjusting well, even the kindergartner I was most worried about.

He's always had a hard time separating from us. During swim lessons in August, there were several days when the instructor had to physically pry him from my arms to get him to join the class.

Luckily, he'd gotten to ride the bus once before because there was a kindergarten bus orientation last week (in which the principal did have to pry him from my arms,) and his 7-year-old sister is in the same school so he didn't have to get on alone.

I explained to her ahead of time that he'd probably be scared, so she had to hold his hand and then sit with him once on board. She's a great sister so she was like, "Yeah, I was already planning on it."

This week's 7 Quick Takes Friday will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you know you're not alone. The 8-person Unremarkable Files family is here to show you that you're pretty normal, after all. #7quicktakes #7qt #friday #unremarkablefiles #funny #reallife #family
Cute even if it was 100% coached.

However, all our worrying was apparently for nothing because he happily skipped onto the bus and then came home and said "school was fun!" So there's that.


Do you want to know why parents are always late?

While everyone else was at school it was just the 3-year-old and me at home, I thought we'd run some errands. When I told him to get in the van and buckle up while I did one last thing in the house, he headed outside obediently and I thought, This is so easy!

Until I went outside to find the van totally empty. He wasn't even in the garage. He was sitting in the window well playing with a tennis ball.

And that is why we're never on time for anything, ever.


We have a beautiful deck on the back of our house, but while we were busy having babies it sat neglected for almost a decade, accumulating more weather damage every year.

We prayed the serenity prayer and recognized that fixing it was so low on our priority list we had to just let it go, and so the cardinal rule of our house became "don't walk on the deck barefoot unless you want to end up with an inch-long shard of wood in your foot." It was that bad.

I even entered it in an ugly deck contest once, but lost. I'm not sure if the fact that we didn't win made me feel better or worse.

Anyway, we finally decided to replace the worst boards, sand it down, and paint it. Phillip rented a floor sander from Home Depot and got the floorboards done in pretty good time, but it's taking forever to do the railings. There are just so many surfaces to do.

Luckily we have a couple of hand sanders and a lot of kids, so on a good day we can have two of them going continuously.

This week's 7 Quick Takes Friday will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you know you're not alone. The 8-person Unremarkable Files family is here to show you that you're pretty normal, after all. #7quicktakes #7qt #friday #unremarkablefiles #funny #reallife #family
Wish I had taken a "before" picture for comparison but I always forget that part. I'm too excited to jump in and get rid of the ugly.

If the weather cooperates this weekend, I think we should be able to get the railings all done. Maybe. 

But as I said to Phillip after surveying our hard work at the end of a long day, this seems like an awful lot of work just to make the deck look slightly less bad. 


On the way to my 13-year-old's violin lesson, a crazy double rainbow (what does it mean?) appeared in the sky.

The main one was definitely the brightest rainbow I'd ever seen, and when the trees cleared we could see it arcing all the way across the sky from one end to the other.

This week's 7 Quick Takes Friday will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you know you're not alone. The 8-person Unremarkable Files family is here to show you that you're pretty normal, after all. #7quicktakes #7qt #friday #unremarkablefiles #funny #reallife #family
The real thing was more vivid than this photo, I'd wager it has something to do with our dirty windshield.

And a minute later, the whole huge impressive thing suddenly disappeared and was gone.

I'm sure there's a good metaphor in there somewhere.

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Rwanda

This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something, the cost stays the same to you but a small commission goes to me for referring you.

For the last week of our Educational Summer Vacation, the kids chose to "visit" Rwanda. Rwanda is a country in central Africa about the size of Maryland (although with twice as many people.) Here's what we learned about it!


The older three kids were staying with their grandparents until Monday, so we started our week on Tuesday.

I put on a CD from the library called Rhythm of Life: Music of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda while the kids found Rwanda on the giant wall map and drew the flag.

(The music wasn't in English but my daughter said it sounded like "In the cow zone, we think like meteorologist! In the cow zone, we think like meterologists" I don't mean to brag, but mishearing song lyrics is kind of a special talent in my family.)

The kids pulled out the passport pages I made for them and wrote down everything the map told them about Rwanda: what continent it's on, what countries it borders, and so on.

Download the Passport Pages

I wish I'd had the foresight to make each kid a bound book with a ton of these pages inside, and keep them from year to year. I just didn't know when I started this that it would be an annual thing, and only hindsight is 20/20.

I read interesting parts of We Visit Rwanda out loud and then we watched Rwanda from the Countries Around the World DVD series. I love that series, and we have watched so many of them during our Educational Summer Vacations.

Rwanda basically sits on the equator and I wanted to visualize why that makes it so they never have cold weather there.

So we read The Equator by Todd Bluthenthal and then did a little demonstration. We took out our old beach ball with a world map printed on it, put stickers on our location and on Rwanda, and then we took turns making the ball orbit around the sun (a.k.a: a lamp with the shade removed.)

I pointed out how sometimes our home in New England is tipped away from the sun, but Rwanda never is so it always stays warm there.

I wish I'd taken a picture of this demonstration, especially since we lost the ball when we went to the beach later in the week.

Yes, we can just buy another one, but it won't be quite the same. Our beach ball was so ancient it still had the U.S.S.R. on it. I'm a little sad about it, actually. It was kind of an antique.


We started out by watching Rwanda: The Royal Tour. This DVD is part of a series with a really interesting concept: a journalist visits a country and gets a personal tour from the head of state.

It was really interesting to see Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, although my 15-year-old and I later agreed we were getting a distinct propaganda-like vibe.

The number of votes it said he got was inflated, and the areas of Rwanda we were allowed to see on the video were surprisingly nice (especially since the other video showed plenty of dirt roads and corrugated tin roofs.)

Rwanda's official languages are Swahili, French, English, and Kinyarwanda. Kinyarwanda is the most commonly spoken.

Kinyarwanda is a tonal language like we learned about earlier this month with Vietnamese, but unlike in Vietnamese the tones aren't indicated in writing.

It's kind of hard to find any "how to speak Kinyarwanda" tutorials, but we did our best with this YouTube video. It wasn't the most exciting thing we've ever watched, but at least the kids got to hear what Kinyarwanda sounds like.

Then we learned about imigongo, a form of art unique to Rwanda. It's incredibly beautiful (see video below:)

Did I mention it's made of cow dung? My kids loved that little plot twist.

We made our own version of imigongo, using 10"x10" squares of cardboard and Crayola air dry clay. This 5-lb bucket was just the right amount for all 6 kids to make one.

One daughter added a lovely gash to our dining room table with a box cutter while cutting out her cardboard, but luckily we haven't had nice things for 10 years so it was fine. We'll get a new table when the last one graduates.

We left our faux imigongo to cure in the basement for 72 hours (as per the instructions on the tub of clay) before painting them. I have no idea if we would have to do the same thing if we used real cow dung, but you know, I'm actually okay with not  knowing.

For dinner I wanted to try a recipe from Rwanda. I made something similar to this when we were doing South Africa, and nobody really wanted to repeat the experience.

So we tried isombe, using kale instead of cassava leaves.

As I was making it, throwing green thing after green thing into the pot, I was thinking, "this is going to be so disgusting. Nobody is going to eat this. I don't even want to eat this." But do you know what? It was actually not bad.

Even though it wasn't the most amazing meal ever, this contained so many healthy vegetables I think I'll make it again sometime.


Mountain gorillas are considered "critically endangered," and they only live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda.

We read Dian Fossey: Friend to Africa's Gorillas. You may not recognize Dian Fossey's name, but I bet you recognize Gorillas in the Mist, which was the title of her book that was made into a movie in the '90s.

I never saw the movie, and I probably don't want to. I got all choked up reading about how Dian Fossey didn't really "get" people but she loved her gorillas and when she was killed (probably by a poacher who didn't like her advocating for the mountain gorilla so much,) she was buried next to her favorite one, Digit. Seeing that on the big screen might break me.

Dian Fossey believed the gorillas needed to accept her as one of them before they acted naturally, so she often imitated them to show she was just "one of the guys." The kids thought that was hilarious so I asked, "Well, would you act like yourselves if there was some weirdo in the corner watching you and taking notes?"

My 13-year-old hesitated and said, "You basically do that for your blog, so..."

Good point. I do feel like I'm observing wildlife every day, now that she points it out.

Based on the first few minutes, I thought Mountain Gorilla (a National Geographic IMAX DVD,) I thought it was going to be a real snooze-fest. But once the people stopped talking and it was just footage of the gorillas doing their thing, it was so fascinating.

Whenever I see gorillas at the zoo, they're just sitting there doing absolutely nothing. I'm sure these gorillas did a lot of that, but they edited those parts out and it was 40 minutes of the gorillas eating, playing, climbing, and fighting. We were all thoroughly entertained and by the end, my 5-year-old was crawling around on his knuckles saying he was a gorilla. It was awesome.

I told the kids that for the next 20 minutes, we were all going to be like Dian Fossey. I thought it would be easy because our yard is perpetually overrun with squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits. But as Murphy's Law would have it, there wasn't a single one outside that day.

It took a little extra looking, but we found something alive eventually.

The 5-year-old and I studied a dragonfly.

The 15-year-old saw some catbirds having a conversation in the trees.

The 13-year-old watched some ants digging a new tunnel.

The 11-year-old found a slug in the backyard.

The closest I've ever been to a slug. Also the closest I ever want to be to a slug.

The 7-year-old observed a spider and even took notes on a very official-looking clipboard.

I did tell her that sketching your animal is an important part of wildlife observation.

Even though I was disappointed most of the animals we saw were bugs, it was still really fun. I liked going outside and wandering around with no real objective except to see what we could see.

Maybe we'll make "wildlife hour" a weekly thing around here.


Since our imigongo art was dry now, it was ready to paint.

They curled up a little and the clay cracked a little while drying, but we were still able to paint and I was impressed with how the finished pieces turned out!

And then, onto a more weighty topic: the Rwandan Genocide. 

I knew it happened in 1994, but I didn't know very many details about it (I was 12 then, so that might explain it.)

I did some research on my own before this week started (The Rwandan Genocide by Don Nardo and this article are good places to start) and let me tell you, it's horrific. Even compared to other genocides.

Because I have young kids, I naturally started at the most logical and age-appropriate place: Dr. Seuss. I don't know how he would feel about me using The Sneetches to teach my kids about genocide, but that's what we did.

Sorry, Dr. Seuss.

After we read the book, I asked each kid to write his or her name on a piece of paper, then surround it with all the labels that describe them: girl, violinist, American, Latter-day Saint, short, 4th grader, etc.

We talked about how everyone has a full page just like ours, so it doesn't make sense to dislike someone based on just one label, because we are all lots of things.

I recommend this BBC video because it explained the basics of the Rwandan Genocide without being too graphic (although I did skip ahead a few seconds at 2:55, because I wasn't up for explaining what 'sex slaves' means to my 7-year-old.) And then I gave the kids 11 and up a children's novel about the genocide called Broken Memory by Elisabeth Combres to read on their own time.

After the younger kids went to bed, Phillip and I stayed up with the 15-year-old to watch Hotel Rwanda. I'd never seen it and just assumed the movie was rated R, because genocide, but it was actually PG-13.

It was super-intense. After the last credits rolled we all just sat there, not really able to say anything, until finally I broke the silence by telling Phillip, "And that's why the little kids and I read The Sneetches."


The traditional show dance done by Rwandan women is called umushagiriro, which literally means "dancing and swaying elegantly in the trunk and arms while moving slowly."

After watching this video of the umushagiriro, my daughter said, "We could have just read the translation of the name instead of watching this." She was pretty much right.

Intore is the dance of the heroes, traditionally done by male warriors for the king after a victory in battle.

But today it's done for tourists and at special ceremonies like weddings and baby namings. We learned about the history of the intore dance and then watched this video:

Ingoma, drumming, is also an important part of Rwandan culture. It used to be that only men could play, but now women can, too.

We read this article about the Rwandan drum and how it's traditionally made, and then made some drums using the method here, which only requires some kind of tube shape, packing tape and some chopsticks.

My husband was at Home Depot about three times today getting supplies to sand and paint our deck, so I had him pick up a cement pouring tube and I cut it into three pieces with a hacksaw.

I took the child out first.

My kids had so much fun with these drums once they were done, and other than the part with the hacksaw, they didn't take long at all to make.

After they had made the drums, the kids didn't want to go to bed, but I bribed them into sitting down for a Rwandan folk tale called Sebgugugu the Glutton.

They weren't entirely impressed, but it certainly wasn't weirder than anything from the Brothers Grimm.

It's kind of fun to take a country like Rwanda that I really knew nothing about and spend a week talking about it. The kids learn so much, and so do I! That concludes our Educational Summer Vacation for this year, and we'll be back at it in 2020. Maybe I'll even get around to making those big passport books we can use from year to year. Maybe.

Learning about Rwanda is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #rwanda #africa #educational #kids
Building the perfect Africa lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Rwanda-themed activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #rwanda #africa #lessonplan #geography #socialstudies
This Rwanda unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Africa in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #rwanda #africa #homeschool
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Friday, August 30, 2019

7 Quick Takes about Broken Everything, Inducing Panic at the Airport, and Setting the Manners Bar Really, Really Low

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


Do you ever have those weeks/months/years when everything is broken?

Our trusty minivan just crossed the line where it doesn't make sense to pour any more money into repairs. (When we told the 13-year-old we're planning on buying a new one in the spring she said, "Oh, good. Now I won't have to clean out that pear juice that spilled in the cupholder, like, 3 years ago." Umm... what?)

Our dishwasher is toast. That's not new; it's been out of commission for a month. I'm simultaneously  kind of used to it and kind of ready to jump out the window if I have to wash one more dish by hand. (A new one should be arriving today, in the super-specific time window of 12:30 to 4:30.)

And then there's our bodies. There's my cutaneous lupus, my 3-year-old went on antibiotics for Lyme disease, and we just learned that the 5-year-old has pneumonia.

Click to read your favorite summary of the week from the funniest and most chaotic family on the block! This week's 7 Quick Takes will surely make you feel better about your family chaos. #7quicktakes #7qt #funny #relatable #friday
If I ever need a chest X-ray I'm going here because they give out rubber ducks afterward instead of lame stickers.

So it's fine. We're fine.


You've probably seen a Little Free Library before, maybe outside of a house or park or public building.

It's a little book collection, usually housed in a cute structure about the size and shape of a dollhouse, and people are supposed to take and leave books on the honor system.

Anyway, I was with my kids at their favorite park and happened to glance at the Little Free Library where a very familiar volume caught my eye:

Click to read your favorite summary of the week from the funniest and most chaotic family on the block! This week's 7 Quick Takes will surely make you feel better about your family chaos. #7quicktakes #7qt #funny #relatable #friday
Could that be The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ? Why, yes. I believe it is.

We don't live in an area with a ton of other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I wonder where it came from...


My three oldest kids have been visiting their grandparents for the last 10 days, so while they were gone we decided to do lots of things that the little kids would enjoy.

Apparently having completely forgotten what it's like to have all little kids, one night I planned for us to have a bonfire in the backyard. We'd roast hot dogs and make S'mores. It would be so fun and the kids would love it!

Or not.

They were too young to roast their own hot dogs (either they held them in direct flame, dropped them on the ground, or complained about the heat) so Phillip and I had to do them all.

Everyone was complaining, the hot dogs kept jumping out of their buns (the kids swore they never dropped them,) and no one could balance their plates on their laps or put together their own S'mores. To top it all off, the mosquitoes were awful.

As we tore through the yard to escape the bugs and reach the safety of the house I think I heard Phillip call out, "Thanks, Mom, this is fun!"


It may sound ironic because he's a mechanical engineer, but Phillip is actually my favorite editor. He always gives me helpful feedback on my writing.

After reading a post I'm currently working on, Phillip paused and said, "I like your writing style. It's really distinctive. You're... passive-aggressively funny."

Which, frankly, I think is a perfect way to describe it.

Later that day, I mentioned something he'd forgotten to buy when he went to the store so he smiled and said, "Surprise! Your husband's an idiot!" So now I think I know where I get the passive-aggressive humor.


Finally it was time for the big kids to come home, so I went to pick them up at the airport. And you know how the airport always makes a dozen paranoid-sounding announcements over the loudspeaker about unattended bags every time you're there?

Well, they are not playing around. My 13-year-old left her backpack in the terminal, and by the time she realized she didn't have and we backtracked to the ticketing counter to ask for help, it was already being rifled through by a state trooper and probably on its way to be blown up in a field somewhere just to be safe.

Luckily, the state trooper did bring out my daughter's bag in one piece and gave it to her. I asked if he needed to keep her in jail overnight to teach her a lesson, but he said no.


We've been noticing lately that the kids need to work on their mealtime manners, so I suggested we sit down and brainstorm a list of good manners we'd like to start using at the dinner table.

The very first item suggested was "no burping," so we have kind of a long way to go.

Click to read your favorite summary of the week from the funniest and most chaotic family on the block! This week's 7 Quick Takes will surely make you feel better about your family chaos. #7quicktakes #7qt #funny #relatable #friday
If they do even half of these things, I'll be thrilled.

I made a bingo sheet out of the 9 most important ones (read: the ones my kids never, ever do) and my plan is to let the little kids play bingo with mini chocolate chips and eat the ones they put down at the end of the meal.

I had a good laugh while making the bingo sheet, though, because every time I tried to type "clear your place" my computer's spellcheck changed it to "clear your placenta."


We are so close to the start of school! By the time I write 7 Quick Takes next Friday, I'll be up to my eyeballs in first-day-of-school paperwork.

(The kids actually relish giving me all the paperwork because I always pretend to be furious at having so much "homework" to do.)

My 5-year-old is going to kindergarten this year and I kid you not, the other day he had "bus orientation." We went all the way to the school so he could take a 5-minute bus ride while they explained the rules of the bus.

I probably would've been annoyed if it weren't so stinking adorable.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Sneak Peek into My "Other Job"

The world may know me as a stay-at-home mom, but in reality I've been working — sometimes as much as 20 hours a week — at my "church job" for as long as I've been a member in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In my religion's parlance, a person's "church job" is referred to as their "calling." Nearly everybody has a calling that changes every few years, and it's how every ministering and leadership role in the church is filled, from the local nursery leader (me!) to the president of the entire church.

This is a crazy and unprecedented way to run a church, and I love it.

Not my actual church, but it looks a lot like this.

A reader on a post I wrote a few years ago about callings asked if I'd write about the callings I've held throughout the years, so here are a few:

Current Calling

(Nursery Leader)

Right now I'm our ward's nursery leader. Another woman and I watch a room full of kids 18-36 months old for an hour after church. We play trains, we sing songs, we have snack, we do a short lesson about Jesus and then we color. It's heaven.

A lot of moms with little kids wouldn't like to be in the nursery because it's the same thing they do at home ALL DAY LONG and only hastens their descent into madness, but for me nursery is the best. Toddlers are my happy place.

If you've been following this blog for more than 5 minutes you know I'm having majorly sad feelings about my kids growing up, but for at least one hour a week I still get to be a part of those sweet toddler years for as long as this calling is mine.

First Calling

(Valiant 11 Teacher)

Just a few short months after I joined the church at age 18, I found myself teaching the Old Testament to a class of 11- and 12-year-olds. I look back and laugh now because I knew nothing. I did grow up in a Christian religion so at least I was vaguely familiar with most of the Bible stories, but every kid in there knew them ten times better than I did. (To be clear, I was given a lesson manual so I wasn't totally winging it every week.)

Teaching has always been a passion of mine (I was going to major in Education before I switched to English) and those kids were so amazing. I accompanied them to Primary and learned the children's songs that are sung by my kids today. And it was my first introduction to just how much faith we as Latter-day Saints place in our young people: they were learning to be capable, organized leaders who seek personal revelation from God in all areas of their lives.

Most Challenging Calling

(2nd Counselor, Relief Society Presidency)

The Relief Society is in charge of the welfare of our congregation's women and their families. The president does the lion's share of overseeing this, but she also has two helpers, called counselors.

One counselor was tasked with organizing Sunday lessons for the women, and the other was asked to organize weeknight activities for them every few months. Now, if I tell you I'm awesome at organizing and teaching, but paralyzed with fear and indecision by anything that even faintly resembles party planning, which of the two do you think I was?

You're right, I was the counselor over activities. And it was brutal. Phillip says I have an excellent poker face when it comes to acting normal, so I don't even think anyone knew how completely out of my element I was.

And yet, I grew a lot through the calling. I learned I can get better at things I'm horrible at. I also got a front-row seat to see our Relief Society president helping people and just loving them, whoever and wherever they were. She was (and is) a great source of encouragement and example to me.

Hardest-to-Like Calling

(Sunbeams Teacher)

My co-teacher when I taught Sunbeams (the 3- and 4-year-old class) was one of my favorite people ever so I liked working with her, but I struggled with the calling. I had a hard time getting into fluffy lessons like "I Am Thankful for Fish" (seriously, that was Lesson 11) which really didn't even matter because most of the time I was just putting band-aids on fake boo-boos or fielding a long and irrelevant story about someone's pet guinea pig in answer to an important question.

I don't think this would bother me now, but I was at a different place in my life then. The kids I had at home were 5, 3, and 1, and I was probably feeling the same burnout young moms might feel in nursery.

I try to come away with something I learned from every calling, and even though I struggled to find it this time, my co-teacher and I still provided a positive place for the kids to learn and be on Sundays, and that's important, too.

Favorite Calling

(Primary President)

For almost 3 years I was president of Primary, our congregation's children's organization. That includes looking out for the welfare of each child, managing the logistics for all the Sunday classes and weeknight activities, planning quarterly kids' activities outside of church, and once a year, putting on a big program where the kids present what they've learned that year.

It was so much work, and I loved it. I liked problem-solving, meeting families of the kids, communicating with the teachers, and organizing things so we could all get our spiritual buckets filled at church. I guess I felt sort of like a religious cruise director. Is that a thing?

The Primary president is also in charge of staffing all those classes (probably about 30 people altogether) and remember how I said all those teacher positions are filled by calling? So I learned a lot about prayerfully selecting people for callings and discerning God's will. If you ask me, learning what answered prayers feel like is one of the most useful life skills there is.

Most Inspired Calling

(Visiting Teaching Coordinator)

Since babies are basically black holes of your time and energy, the bishop sometimes releases you from a heavy workload calling when you're expecting a baby. Which is why I didn't tell the bishop I was pregnant when I was the Primary president; I loved my calling.

Unfortunately it didn't work, because he called me into his office and released me, anyway. My new calling (should I choose to accept it) was Visiting Teaching Coordinator. Basically, I would be a record-keeper of sorts for the Visiting Teaching program, the church's program for people to take care of each other.

I was really sad — for about a week, and then my pregnancy turned complicated and I wound up on bedrest in the hospital. And wouldn't you know it? Visiting Teaching Coordinator was the perfect calling for me to do from my hospital bed and during the difficult birth and recovery ahead.

Coincidence? You can draw your own conclusions.

Calling I Would Most Like to Avoid

(Relief Society President)

As much as I loved learning from the example of the Relief Society president I served with as a counselor, I wouldn't want to be her.

Of course there's no required personality for a Relief Society president, but I feel like I lack the compassion and ease with people necessary for the job. The Relief Society president is a supportive rock to so many women in our congregation, but I think I'm too awkward and can never find the right words to say without putting a lot of thought into it first (there's a reason I'm a writer and not the host of a live radio show.) I would feel unbearably inadequate to fulfill such an important role.

Publicly stating this feels dangerous, since we in the church like to joke that when you're comfortable with your current calling, you get released; when there's a calling that stretches you, you get asked to do it. I'd say yes if I was asked to be Relief Society president, but I'd need major help from God. MAJOR.

*   *   *

And those are most of the callings I've had (plus one I haven't) and what I thought about them.

If you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what's been your favorite calling and your hardest calling? If you're not, what do you think about the idea of callings?

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