Here's me, being me . . .

My zentangle. I know it looks like an 8th graders marginalia, but it helps me feel less anxious. Weird, I know.

My zentangle. I know it looks like an 8th graders marginalia, but it helps me feel less anxious. Weird, I know.

Here's part of why blog writing(for me) has been intermittent as of late: I don't have anything interesting to write about. My intent is to draw things from real life: what I'm doing, what I'm thinking, things I want to do or see or make. But right this minute, mostly I'm just thinking FRANCE: what to pack, how to prep the home front for my absence, getting Jordan's room (which is currently scattered about the gameroom) back in order. And mostly . . . GETTING MY BABY BACK!

In the meantime I just have half-conceived, mini-posts rattling about my head. Let me give you a sampling:

Zentangle. Many moons ago I posted a short blurb on the art of Zentangle, and after trying a few tangles online I've made it a part of my daily routine. It's part doodling, part drawing, part meditation. It's super relaxing (some people call it yoga for the mind), and gives me a short creative burst in the middle of the day. I have an artist's notebook where I keep all of my patterns and tangles. I'm still working my way through this book, but I'm considering this one next..

Sleep. I'm just finally understanding the whole "How did you sleep?" inquiry. For the majority of my life I've gone to sleep, stayed asleep, and then woke up fairly well-rested. But now? It's a veritable crap shoot. At times, I have trouble falling asleep. Sometimes I can fall asleep, but I wake up 200 times. My mattress feels too hard. What is it with sleep? And how can I get some?

Football. I really love football until about the last week of October (that would be now). Then it's enough. I'm through. I don't want to sit through any more 2+ hours games. I no longer feel like I can justifiably eat the nachos. I'm ready to settle myself in front of a roaring fire with a good book. But no. Football continues.

Ikea! I went to Ikea yesterday! Ikea makes me inexplicably happy. So much good design lurking in that maze of pathways. It makes me feel hopeful and inspired even. (This hope and inspiration is also made possible by a husband who is truly gifted in furniture assembly. I bring home the boxes. He fits it all together.)

Gilmore Girls. Could I write an entire post on the Gilmore Girls? Yes, several even. Guys, Gilmore Girls is now available on Netflix, and watching an episode in the evening fills the cracks in my heart -- mostly because there is always some nugget of dialogue that makes me feel understood. Do you know entire transcripts of various episodes are available online? For this reason was the Internet created. For instance, in one episode Lorelai is trying to write a letter. But she's stuck. This speaks to me: 

LORELAI: Because my brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish:
"I'm writing a letter. I can't write a letter." 
"Why can't I write a letter? I'm wearing a green dress."
"I wish I was wearing my blue dress." 
"My blue dress is at the cleaners." 
"'The Germans wore gray. You wore blue."
"'Casablanca' is such a good movie."
"'Casablanca.' The white house. Bush."
"Why don't I drive a hybrid car? I should drive a hybrid car." 
"I should really take my bicycle to work."
"Bicycle. Unicycle. Unitard. Hockey puck. Rattlesnake. Monkey, monkey, underpants."

And now, all I can think about is Monkey, monkey, underpants.

Happy Wednesday out there.





Indexing is strangely soothing

My great-grandmother, Heba Hortineese Ransom (1889-1970).

My great-grandmother, Heba Hortineese Ransom (1889-1970).

Looking for something constructive to do with your big kids? Try indexing . . .

Except for a family history class I took at BYU many, MANY years ago, I haven't really engaged myself with family history. I mean, I'm super interested in learning about my ancestors, but I'm also fairly lazy and allergic to microfilm and tedious searching. But hello? The Internet is changing all of that. You can search your family history in your PJs, which is right up my alley. 

Just the other day, while pajama-clad, I found my great grandfather's draft card. He lived in Waco, Texas at the time of filing. And guess what? I've lived in Waco, Texas!!! And I didn't even know that was the land of my ancestors. I just stumbled about, feeling no familial connection whatsoever. So silly.

I wouldn't exactly say I have the family history "bug," but I do want to introduce my kids to the available technology. Their lines are researched back pretty far, so I figured indexing is a good place for them to start. Indexing involves taking digitally scanned records and entering them into searchable fields. Last week the kids and I entered a whole slew of death records recorded in the state of Virginia in 1945. As we went through each record we learned the name, age, parents' names and ages, and cause of death for about 60 individuals. It was all fascinating, and now those people's records are easily accessible. Indexing is a little bit of service and a fine history lesson to boot. Also, it's strangely soothing. I just wanted to do one more batch. Then another. And another. Someone else figure out dinner. Come on people!

Literally, you need about 15 minutes to learn how to index and download the software, and then you are off and working. If you are interested, you can start here. Becca (17) took off rather quickly, but Sterling sat with Parker (13) to make sure he got the hang of things. You earn points for each batch you complete. You can't exactly do anything with the points, but I like turning anything and everything into a competition . . . so I'll be issuing a challenge to my folks in the next few days. Bring it on.

Also of note: BYU has this cool relative finder that shows if you are related to famous people. For instance, I'm 13th cousins with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Shouldn't I get like preferential parking or something?

Oh, what do you do in the summertime?

Yesterday Annie posted a picture on instagram of her son painting an apple -- like a still life. And he was doing a pretty bang-up job. Meanwhile, my son had been watching Netflix for something like 27 hours straight, and so I felt like maybe . . . I  . . . should . . . turn . . . off . . . the  . . . television.

Does anyone else think it's harder to conjure up your fun-summer mojo by child number four? When I had four kids at home, I think I scheduled more productive days primarily out of self-preservation. So the kids would stop swinging from the chandeliers and randomly distributing cracker crumbs in messy piles around the house. But now, when Becca is at her SAT prep class, it's easy to just let Parker watch some Netflix while I work.

Except Annie went and posted that apple and ruined it for me.

Not really  (sorry Annie!). Mostly, my mommy guilt is ruining it for me. 

Here's a fun idea! Not much effort. Not many supplies. Listen to some music and start zentange-ing. See the instructions here


Occupying small street

We said goodbye this morning to our French exchange student who stayed with us this week. It's an interesting experience having a stranger stay with your family around the clock and jump right into your routines with you. It made me look at our habits and our home in a completely different light. (Are our packed lunches up to par? Should we have more structured activities going on? Are we boring? Too busy?) Sure, we have guests and friends here quite often in short bursts but when someone stays with you for a week--and sees you in your pajamas, in your hurry-up impatient times, in your feeling-too-sleepy-to-get-up-and-make-breakfast times--that's another level of acquaintance and sudden closeness! As I told Sarah mid-week, it's tough to keep the shiny facade in tact for that long, haha! Margaux was terrific, though--smart, funny, easy-going--and a lovely guest who spoke English really well. Her visit was a great preview and example for Sam, who is excited to head to France on a school trip for the month of April, including two home stays--one in Lyon and one in Carcassonne. 

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Over the weekend we went to Enlighten, where Canberra illuminates some of the public buildings and museums with artistic light shows.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House

Then we happened upon a really cool project in the Museum of Democracy in the Old Parliament House. They had collected hundreds of toy figurines and invited everyone to choose a figurine, make a mini protest sign out of broken toothpicks and small cardboard squares for the toy to hold (either something you believe in or something the toy might advocate for) and add it to the masses assembled in the "Occupy Small Street" there in the hall (sorry for the grainy phone photos!). 

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Some were silly, some were funny, some were serious. Sam chose to speak out on a crucial issue facing the world today:

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It was a fascinating exhibit. I thought I'd mention it here because I think it's an activity that would appeal to most big kids and teens, since identity development in the teen years includes a very typical fascination with advocacy for causes. They are developmentally right in the process of piecing together what they believe in, what to stand up for, what advocacy means. I think this could work as an art installation, classroom or school or even city-wide project. I can also imagine the appeal of using this as an activity at home--a sort of animated version of a suggestion jar!

Okay, so what would your protest/advocacy sign say?  Mine was a little playmobil guy holding a sign that said "Educate me!" but later I thought of several other slightly more witty things I wished I had said.
Story of my life!

Group game idea: Occupations

A while back we played a fun and easy, new-to-us group game called Occupations. I love a game that can include everyone from the very youngest, bright-eyed players to the very oldest, wisest ones; this is one of those times when "fun for all ages" is actually genuinely true. When we played it was at a party with several families--the youngest kids were about 6, the oldest kids were 18-19, and the parents topped off the range (*cough* 40-something). Everyone had a blast.

Gratuitous Richard Scarry picture placement. I have Busytown nostalgia. My kids loved these books.

Gratuitous Richard Scarry picture placement. I have Busytown nostalgia. My kids loved these books.

Here's the lowdown:

Equipment: a slip of paper for each player (and enough pens to use) and a basket/bowl/bucket

Skills: memory and good guessing

To win: remember the occupations list, correctly guess, and be the last one standing whose occupation has not been guessed

1. Everyone sits in a circle. Have each player write down an occupation on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in the basket without telling or showing anyone what's on it. (The occupations can be real or invented, silly or serious. I think our bank of jobs ranged from "elephant poop picker upper" to "cashier." It doesn't have to be what you are or what you want to be--just any occupation.) 

2. After all the slips are in the basket, one person reads through them out loud. The group should listen carefully because it's the only time they'll hear all of the occupations and being able to remember them is important when you play the game. (When we played, the person read through them twice because we had 30-40 people and a LOT to remember.)

3. The youngest person in the group starts off the game by taking a guess what someone in the circle wrote ("Dad, are you the "circus clown"?)

4. If she's correct, that guessed person joins the guesser as a member of her team  and she (the guesser) gets to guess again. If she's not correct, the turn moves to the person on her left.

5. When you correctly guess the occupation of someone who's already part of a team, the whole guessed person's team joins the guesser's team. Teams are led by the guesser who's still "active" in the game (that is, whose occupation has not yet been correctly guessed) but the teammates can give advice and suggestions.

6. The last person standing (whose occupation hasn't been guessed) wins.

Hint: The more the merrier with this one! You want plenty of players, enough so it's hard to remember all the occupations. 

What group games do you love to play at your house? Any suggestions for teen gatherings? Mixed ages?

Alt cinema picks just for you!

When I'm feeling the itch to escape the burbs and need access to some insta-culture, I often choose to drive into town to a fabulous little theater that specializes in independent films (River Oaks Theatre for any locals). It's a bit of a drive, but, as a bonus, the shopping center also boasts one of the BEST macaron bakeries in town -- so there's THAT.

Here's two films I can whole heartedly recommend:


Several months ago (as in five) I saw Fill the Void, a film about an Orthodox Hassidic family from Tel Aviv. The narrative focuses primarily on the women, particularly an 18 year old girl who is considering marriage within an extremely conservative and duty-bound culture. The story is interesting, but the insight into Hassidic culture is spectacular. The clothes, the food, the rules -- all of it made for an anxious and beautiful look at duty to family, personal choice, and the downright uncertainty of life. Several weeks after seeing the film I was in New York and ended up staying in Brooklyn, quite near an Hassidic neighborhood. I tried my best not to stare, but I have to admit I'm fascinated. NPR has a great review of the film (with some information on the director, Rama Burshtein) here. Available on iTunes or Amazon. [Note: This movie would be good for teens, although I suspect girls would like it more than boys.]


Just last weekend I drug my sister back downtown to see Philomena (see the trailer here).  When we arrived it was actually sold out (imagine them not holding a ticket for me!), but we persevered and waited until the later show. Guys, it was completely worth the wait. Judi Dench plays an older Irish woman whose son was put up for adoption in the early 1950s. She actually gave birth in a small convent that took in unwed mothers, charging them four years of hard labor in return for room and board. In addition, the convent adopted the babies out (for a sum) to families in America. It's all about shame, choice, forgiveness, religion, and  . . . well . . . of course the resiliency of the human spirit. Judi Dench is incredible. I'd really like to take Rebecca back to see the film, to give her a taste of what life was like for women in 1950. Be aware that there is some explicit language, although it's not used gratuitously (meaning the objects of the profanity dearly deserved the eptithets). There are also some sexual references (Philomena is very forthright about sexuality), so this would definitely be more for an older teen. And this one is still in theaters, so go forth boldly, with popcorn and junior mints!

Now dehibernating

Hello friends! I've been looking forward to jumping back in here, compiling mental lists and things to tell you, and yet I'm suddenly feeling inexplicably awkward and nervous as I sit here writing this.  It feels kind of like going back to school after a long break--will my friends still be the same? Are rainbow shirts/leg warmers/Guess jeans still in? Will we all still sit at the same lunch table? 

Anyway, I've started three different posts here but I think what I'll do is catch up a little on a few highlights of our last few weeks before I delve into some of the other thoughts patiently waiting (or more possibly shimmying and doing the limbo) in my head. Posts for another day.

Remember how we went to the US for a month at Christmastime? Because we were going to be there that long, we knew we would want to have a home base rather than be nomadic (or impose on longsuffering relatives) that whole time. We really lucked out with this rental--the top floor of a barn made into a lovely guest house that the owners rent out when their own guests aren't visiting. It was heated by this fabulous Swedish tile stove in the center of the cabin; we definitely earned our firestarting merit badges in that month. The kids each had their own lofts with beds and there was even a swing right there next to the fireplace. We'll definitely be back.


We wanted to fill up on time with family, since we're so far away from our people all the rest of the year. We managed to squeeze in a couple of local friend visits, too, but this one was mostly about getting our family fix. 

Visiting my grandparents at their house

Visiting my grandparents at their house

Sam and my grandma, bookends on four generations

Sam and my grandma, bookends on four generations

All of my siblings were home this Christmas--lots of movies and music and games and laughing.  This photo (of my brother Chris and my dad) pretty much sums it up:


We got to Skype with Lauren on Christmas. She sounded so good and seems really happy, confident and older. We managed to hold it together until the very end, when we valiantly tried to sing her a Christmas carol but it ended up a sad little mess of a song through our tears. I have never mastered the skill of singing through tears, have you? I need lessons.


We took the kids skiing for their first time ever. It took a couple of weeks for the snow to arrive but then we hit the local resort where G and I both learned. (I used Sarah's list of gear and it worked like a charm.) Skiing's tough--I remember hating it my first couple of times--but they were troopers, starting from scratch with a new skill/sport in their ripe old teen years. (We did spring for a private instructor because they were not at all interested in the bunny hill school with the little kids.) They really got the hang of it and at least neither of them swore they'd never return to ski again.


We also tried cross-country skiing. We were total newbies and it showed. As Maddy said, for us this could better be called "synchronized falling." Lots of maniacal falling and uncontrollable laughing. Not a good combination for being able to get back up. Maddy got a shot of this one, featuring G and me. I think we look like we are (or wish we are) at the beach:


And now, back in summery Australia, I'm surfing the wave of jetlag (early rising, early fading) and feeling recharged and ready for my mundane, stay-put, lovely life again.  I say a big amen to this Ann Patchett line: "I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while and then makes me long for it again." 

So that's where I've been. How about you? 

. . .

p.s. Man, I'm paying the price for my willy-nilly holiday eating. It was the Tour of Food, y'all, and I was the groupie, number one fan, and tour guide all in one!  Time to pay the piper--and apparently the piper likes to be paid in green leafy veggies, moderation, water, restraint, and exercise.