First Week of School: 7QT

— 1 —

And so it begins. I like starting school with a four-day week; I’m a fan of four-day weeks in general, but especially when you’re coming off of a two-and-then-some-weeks family beach vacation. The detox period is painful when coupled with a Return to Structure. Therefore, we bribe with the promise of getting to bake and decorate a cake.

— 2 —

I’m hoping that I have now taken a long enough break from blogging that I no longer care about it whatsoever and can therefore be liberated from the imaginary pressure to Join the Conversation on whatever it is we’re all supposed to be talking about at any given time.

— 3 —

I shall turn 40 this month, and that still doesn’t really compute for me. 40 is something my parents were in the mid-80s, celebrating with “Lordy, Lordy, look who’s 40” cards and oldies music. You know, REAL oldies music, like Sam and Dave and The Swinging Medallions and The Jesters. Not, like, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

— 4 —

Anyway, so – it was a good first week, all things considered. Our homeschool group has a core team this year and we have put a lot of activities on the calendar, including a park day yesterday in the rain (with a covered pavilion). The rain provided welcome relief from the broiling heat.

We’re going to try to have a group activity every Friday – sometimes just a park day, other days a field trip, etc. I really hope this works out as an incentive for my kids to get all of their work done earlier in the week instead of putting it off (often due to Mom running out of nagging steam by Tuesday).

— 5 —

It’s a marvelous thing when your children are old enough that their help is actually helpful and their jokes are actually funny.

— 6 —

We’ve been getting gradually less unschoolish each year, particularly now that my oldest homeschoolee is in seventh grade. At the same time, being unschoolish with history (in particular) has really worked well with that child, who loves to read about history on his own. He’s definitely left me far behind, and not only because I don’t remember more than 10% of what I learned while earning my undergraduate degree in, uh, history. Frequently I just check out a bunch of books for him to power through, and tell him to let me know if there’s stuff in one of the books that seems weird or “inappropriate” (that wonderful modern catch-all.)

Every once in a while, I think, “maybe I should make them do projects.” I loved assigning projects as a teacher. And I was mostly the good kind of project-based teacher, because I tried to assign projects that could be completed in class and didn’t require parental trips to obtain supplies, get certified as a notary public, steal the Declaration of Independence.

But then I think…ehhh. I don’t really like crafts when they happen inside my house.

— 7 —

Look what my husband caught at the beach, in the water in which the kids and I had been swimming for days!


This shall now be my default end-of-post image.

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7 Quick Takes, Math Road Trip Edition

We road-tripped from Houston to Fort Worth today in preparation for the Private School Interscholastic Association state meet tomorrow; my son’s competing in the sixth grade mathematics event.

— 1 —

Mathlete riding shotgun.

Mathlete riding shotgun. Forced review activities courtesy of Mom.

— 2 —

Even though I only have three children, it’s rare that I spend an extended amount of one-on-one time with any of them. I enjoy getting to interact with each of the kiddos sans the sibling issues that are usually present – surely there’s an expanded version of Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, but if they are siblings, none shall speak without interruption.”

I’m actually Agent Interruption in the family a great deal of the time. I’m not sure if I was always like this (probably) or if I can blame my years in the classroom for my tendency to DIVERT THE CONVERSATION MID-STREAM and start my own awesome topic. So I am probably the one who passed this along to the children.

— 3 —

I don’t usually listen to music in the car when I’m driving with the kids, but my husband does. Which means that the children seem to assume a road trip will involve lots of Weird Al.

Suffice it to say, that was not the case today.

Instead, we listened to Chuck Berry and also (not related) the “Music Man” soundtrack. The best part of singing along with “The Music Man” is being Winthrop on the Wells Fargo song. Such a sensitive Hollywood portrayal of young people with SPTHEEECH ISSTHUES. THE MAIN ISSUE IS THE SHOUTING. IT COULD BE THUMPIN, FOR THUMONE WHO IS, NO RELATION BUT IT COULD BE (yes you’re right it surely could be) STHUMPIN STHPESHIAL JUST FAAAR ME!

They say homeschoolers are out of touch with pop culture, and…they have a point.

— 4 —

The wildflowers along Highways Whatever We Drove Today are still lovely. It reminded me of when my husband brought home a hand-picked bouquet a few years ago, including a diabolical thistle.  The thistles look really pretty from the road.

— 5 —

The second best part of the day was when we took the markerboard into Chick Fil-A, as you do on a Friday afternoon over lunch, and talked about slope-intercept form. Basically because I realized there might be questions about that on the contest and I’d forgotten to teach that to my kid. (In my defense, it isn’t part of his regular sixth grade math.) There is maybe something wrong with me that I thought that was…a really fun lunchtime.

— 6 —

The BEST part of the day was dining at the home of my esteemed Dappled Things colleagues, Bernardo and Katherine Aparicio. I hadn’t seen them since the 2012 Catholic New Media Conference and I really enjoyed catching up with them. We discussed (remember that there was a 12-year-old present) the inadequacy of the second Hobbit movie, teaching economics, the differences between parental and grandparental permissiveness, and the possibility of creating a new market for Catholic literary converts by spreading a rumor that Chesterton was half-vampire.

I mean, can we categorically say that G.K. Chesteron was not a vampire?

The possibilities are endless. If we can tap into that lucrative teenage-girl-vampire-mania demographic, we are looking at an unstoppable wave of New Evangelization.

— 7 —

When you dine with your grownup friends and your children present, there needs to be a mutual non-aggression pact in place. I won’t tell embarrassing stories about you, my child, if you don’t tell incriminating stories about me. Nobody needs to know where you learned your first bad word or what happened to your extra Easter candy after the third day. (Heavy parental taxation rates go into effect after a 72-hour waiting period.) In fact, I think I might have to draw up a contract just for these occasions. Always good to have things in writing.

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SOTG.jpgWHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! I published this post and forgot to mention that my copy of Something Other Than God was delivered today!

I must have repressed the memory, because it was of course delivered AFTER we’d hit the road. So my husband back at home gets to read it first. I’m going to order a copy for my Kindle, actually, so I don’t miss out.

I had the honor of reading an early version of the book and enthusiastically recommend it! Even if you’ve memorized every blog post Jennifer has ever written and play her reality show episodes every Friday for Family Movie Night, there’s terrific new stuff to laugh about, ponder, and enjoy in her memoir. I’m so, so happy for her that this day has finally come!

In Case of Emergency…

…Parents, put on your own oxygen masks first.

It's like a swimming pool for tipsy dolls

Donnez-moi une for my baby and une more for the road

Mulled wine, sold from a crepe stand on the street. ON THE STREET.

Vive le vin chaud! Vive la France!

Now, children, tell me what you would like to order since you’re tired of ham and the cheese is stinky.

7QT: Traveling with Kids Edition

— 1 —

My mental space for this trip to France with my three kiddos has been broken down roughly as follows:

Almost 100% travel-related

It might be closer to 99%

I am going to dedicate a later post to “long-plane-flight activities broken down by minutes of distraction”, but even after the plane flight was finished, I am still looking to the future at all times, figuring out – how will we get where we’re going? Bus? Is the bus going to be crowded? Will a child end up left at the bus stop? Would the Metro be better? What if I accidentally make eye contact with the wrong person on the Metro? What if a child sneezes on a diplomat? Is a cab worth it? Do you tip cab drivers? Should you tip cab drivers, just to ensure their sympathy and make up for the fact that the child who threw up on himself on the airplane is now snuggled down in the back seat of the cab? Should I take the stroller? Is using the stroller going to mean that the four-year-old doesn’t do enough walking and isn’t tired at night?

That kind of thing.

— 2 —

So I’m realizing I left off “Thinking About Kids’ Sleep Habits” from said graph, because that is at least 45% of my thinking. It’s kind of like being bounced right back to the early days of babydom, when the question on everyone’s mind is “will there be sleep tonight?”

We actually did pretty well for the first few nights, but then all three kids somehow got bounced into a time zone eight hours further east, or something, because they were all AWAKE AWAKE AWAKE from 1-5AM a couple of nights in a row. That was when I implemented the “bribe with electronics” system to ensure that I myself would get at least a little bit of sleep, namely: “Hey, it’s 3 AM, and this is crazy, but here’s my Kindle, and you can play with it if you’ll watch your little brother while I sleep maybe.”

— 3 —

I would say “but now we’re doing much better” but I don’t want to jinx it. I will allow that marching a four-year-old across Paris, complete with a nighttime trip to La Tour Eiffel, is a good way to reset his internal clock.

It's really windy atop the Eiffel Tower at night


— 4 —

I feel like we traveled pretty light, given that it’s me we’re talking about. We made it with one backpack per person, one small rolling suitcase, and a big wheeled suitcase. Still, we could have left a bunch of clothes at home. My boys would each be happy wearing the same pair of pants each day – although the people of France might object for a few different reasons – and both my daughter and I could have left about 1/3 of our wardrobe back at home. I’m so glad I got her that brightly colored sweater, though, as it helps her stand out from all of the black/brown/charcoal-colored trench coats when we get separated.

— 5 —

I’m  just not fooling with travel-size containers from Target anymore. All of them leaked. It’s going to be Nalgene from here on out, or else travel-sized versions of things like shampoo (versus the crummy bottles we bought to fill up).

— 6 —

Of all the little things I did stuff into that big suitcase, I’m most grateful for Moleskine. Ahhhhh…my blistered feet.

But my most-used travel accessory has probably been this sweet stroller – lightweight, durable on cobblestones, easy to fold one-handed, and doesn’t bump into people on the Metro TOO many times. The great thing about living outside a major metropolitan area is that we have access to a functional Craigslist and can pick one of those up for about $20.

— 7 —

I think if you’re going to travel with young kids, you can either care about seeing the sights or eating the fabulous food, but not both. We have come down firmly on the side of seeing the sights, partly because I just don’t want to deal with the coaxing and bribing and challenging of my particular children to try new and exotic food. And we don’t try to pack too much into a day, because then there’s a lot of whining about “can’t we just have a day to relax and stay home?”

They have shown a remarkable willingness to experiment with various forms of chocolat, however:

Chocolate tart

Nom nom nom nom nom

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Two Thumbs Up ~ A Trip to Lyon's Musée Cinéma et Miniature

We’re spending a few days in Lyon with a dear friend and her family, and I am so pleased to have been introduced to this city. Paris has been tremendous, of course, but Lyon is a bit more…laid-back. There’s still so much to enjoy that I am sorry we won’t be staying longer, and the highlight so far has been this place:

Miniature library

La bibliotheque!

Reminiscent of the great library at Alexandria, it features shelves upon shelves of…teeny, tiny little books.

This is one of what must be close to a hundred different miniature scenes we took in this afternoon at the Musée Cinéma et Miniature. I wasn’t aware of Lyon’s prominent role in cinema history; it’s where brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph in the 1890s and shot the very first motion pictures. The Musée Cinéma et Miniature is a combination of movie memorabilia and intricate miniature scenes of both real locations in France and rooms conjured in the imagination of these artists. Museum curator Dan Ohlmann ‘s work as “France’s first miniaturist” led to the eventual establishment of a full collection of miniature works from around the globe, along with props from various movies and recreations of the sets of the movie “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.”

Although my youngest kept asking “when are we go to the museum?” – having connected “museum” in his head with “ride in the stroller looking at paintings” – it was most definitely an impressive collection. My daughter loved the miniature scenes, being an avid dollhouse furniture collector, and my older son was very intrigued by the variety of movie props – particularly these:

Indiana Jones props

Indiana Jones’ biggest fan poses with props

We spent at least two hours exploring the multiple floors of the museum and could have stayed longer. You can peer into the workshop where Ohlmann creates his miniature masterpieces, and learn about the techniques behind special effects in movies both past and present. I was taken with a display of plaster casts of various actors made for fitting prosthetics, including this guy:

Jack Nicholson plaster cast

Heeeere’s Johnny!

And I couldn’t believe the intricacy of the series of miniature silhouettes on display – I didn’t catch the name of the artist, unfortunately, but I just don’t understand how you cut things this tiny. I don’t think I could achieve this precision if I were cutting out life-size drawings:

Miniature silhouette of a house

This image is about 3″ square on display

This was an excellent change of pace from our church/museum/baguette circuit so far and I know the kids will consider it a high point of the trip. Plus, they each got to spend some of their money at the gift shop on non-junky souvenirs – always the best part of any tourist experience when you’re under 12 with Euros to burn.

Dan Ohlmann is very proficient in creating new scenes to display and collecting new movie memorabilia, so I have no doubt it would be a different experience if we were to go back in a couple of years, which…could happen. You never know.

And if I may be so pedestrian, I would also like to salute this museum for offering restrooms on several floors, which makes it all the more family-friendly.

Here’s a little gallery of some of the other scenes we enjoyed at the museum (this gallery thing is a new gadget I’m trying out so if you’re reading this in a feed reader and you don’t see the images…click here to view the post itself.)

It was a happy accident that we had recently watched Hugo, based on the story of another famous French filmmaker, Georges Méliès. There’s actually a rather significant miniature prop from the movie displayed in the museum:

Miniature from the movie Hugo

Miniature from the movie Hugo

7 Quick Takes, Bumper Sticker Edition

— 1 —

I wasn’t going to do 7 Quick Takes this week; I told my husband, “I am not staying up late, and I mean it this time.” And then, as I was shutting down my computer, I remembered this bumper sticker I saw today:
Coexist bumper sticker with Keys of Peter
What are these symbols? Other than the Keys of Peter, I don’t recognize any of them, because I guess I’m culturally illiterate like that. Is this like a Catholic version of the popular bumper sticker which many people have strong opinions about and this is not really a post about that other bumper sticker? Or is this just a different set of symbols?

UPDATE: Ha! I was WAY off – see the comments…

— 2 —

I’ve been using Google Plus for sharing photos for several months now instead of Flickr. Nobody in my extended family ever really “got” Flickr and Google Plus seems to work pretty well for the relatives who have Gmail accounts. But for those who don’t, it’s been pretty confusing. So now I’m thinking of switching back to Flickr. Anyone want to have a Google Plus vs. Flickr gang fight? Flickr is old-school so you best watch yourself.

— 3 —

This year, my two older kids go to a fine arts immersion program one day a week and it is seriously saving my sanity, homeschooling-wise. They really enjoy it, it’s not stressful in terms of requiring a bunch of outside commitments, and I have a day with my youngest, which is kind of fun. It also makes us more productive the other four days of the week because I know we need to squeeze everything into four days instead of five.

— 4 —

Having said that, all is not wine and roses around the homeschool shelf-and-rooms-into-which-books-spill, as one individual in particular rants about how much he hates school right up until the moment when he grasps the latest concept in long division, at which point he bursts into song. I tell myself this would all happen later in the day re: homework if they were in traditional school

— 5 —

I have spent WAY TOO MUCH MENTAL ENERGY pondering the Ideal Travel Journal. I actually know a guy with a cool print shop and I may or may not have commissioned journals for my kiddos, depending upon whether or not that was a special favor he is doing for me because we had him over for dinner and made steaks. He also has this zombie novel you may have heard of.

Anyway, tonight I spent a good 45 minutes in the sketchbook aisle at Michael’s. I am eschewing the need for vegan leather hand-sewn-by-monks blank paper books in favor of a $10 mixed media sketchbook that costs $15 at Amazon for some reason.

It is not perfect: The cover is ugly, and it is spiral-bound. BUT the paper is a nice weight (98 lb) and works for pencil, watercolor (IT COULD HAPPEN), and pen. And the pages are perforated, so I can someday take them neatly out of the spiral bound ugly-covered journal and…do something with them.

I also think the plainness of the cover will help me overcome my terminal case of Journal Paralysis, where nothing I could write or draw could ever be worthy of the beautimousness of the blank book in which I am scrawling. This book has no expectations of me. I am free to be ridiculous and/or bad at drawing. Perfect for traveling.

— 6 —

My newest laundry-folding show on Netflix is Warehouse 13. Have you seen it? It’s fun, lightweight sci-fi, about a mysterious warehouse of artifacts from the past that have special – usually destructive – powers, and the team of agents who retrieve stolen or newly discovered artifacts. Each episode involves an item that belonged to a Famous Historical Person and is imbued with powers associated with that person – so, for example, Mata Hari’s stockings enable the wearer to become a perfect seductress, and Edgar Allan Poe’s pen…does weird stuff that I don’t remember because I was trying to match a whole household’s worth of mateless socks and wasn’t paying too close attention.

There’s appointment television, and then there’s chore television.

And then there are virtuous people who eschew Netflix so that they can devote themselves to inner contemplation. Those people probably write in really nice blank books, too.

— 7 —

The journal thing is related to our upcoming trip to France, for which I am trying to not overpack. My kids really like to draw, and so do I, and so I am hereby giving myself permission to do terrible drawings of France, because hey, it’s just a $10 notebook.

I recently happened upon a box of unopened artist pencils, graphite, erasers, and other supplies. When my dad was at home, receiving hospice care, he really liked looking out the window at the various birds that would come to our birdfeeder. He loved to doodle and would send me cards with clever, minimalist sketches from time to time. I bought him the art supplies thinking he could draw from his bedside, but his condition soon deteriorated and he never used them.

I haven’t wanted to open up the pencils, even though it’s been ten years since he passed away, but now, I showed them to my kids and explained that we will get to use them on our big trip. Feels like an okay reason to not let them sit unused any longer.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!