52 Lists: Quirky Things About Me

I missed last week’s list, so I’ll include that first… It was “Favorite restaurants.”

  • The Old Spaghetti Factory
  • Olive Garden
  • Vineyard Grill (this is a local place that serves delicious Korean food and awesome burgers and fries)
  • Storr’s (another local place where we go for biscuits and gravy in the mornings sometimes)
  • Burgerville (a regional chain with amazing halibut fish and chips)

And now onto this week’s list: Quirky things about me.

quirky things list

  • I’m barely 5 feet tall. As in, if I’m not wearing shoes, that number might be a bit too generous.
  • I don’t wear pants, only skirts and dresses.
  • I used to drink a lot of iced tea, but last summer (I think… may have been the summer before) I switched to water. Now plain old water (I don’t even like adding things like lemon or cucumber) is my beverage of choice 99% of the time. I do buy distilled, though, because the tap water in our town is pretty gross.
  • I am not an animal person. I grew up in a house full of pets, but as an adult I prefer an animal-less home. Especially dogs. I really, really hate dogs.
  • I’ve had four surgeries in my life: one to get my wisdom teeth out when I was 21 and three c-sections.
  • On the subject of those c-sections…: I’ve had one vaginal birth and three c-sections. I wanted a vbac for my most recent baby, but it just didn’t work out with the hospital and insurance. Luck would have it that my water broke the day my surgery was scheduled and I started contracting right away. The pain of that was so intense (and I was only in labor for two hours) that I think I’ll take my chances with additional c-sections if we have more children. (My recovery was really easy this time around; I never even took anything stronger than 800mg Ibuprofen for the pain.)
  • My vaginal birth was with Seahawk, my oldest. I was in labor with him for 33 hours.
  • I’ve never tried smoking. I don’t understand the draw, so I never will try it.
  • I’ve never really drunk alcohol, either. We bought a bottle of wine once, “just to see,” and it was so foul that we’ll never do that again! I use cooking wine (from the vinegar aisle in the store) instead of regular wine for cooking, even.
  • I was a JV cheerleader in 10th grade.
  • I haven’t been on an airplane since 1997. Not because I don’t like to fly, because it just hasn’t worked out.

For more random things about me, check out this post from 2013 and this one from 2014. Some of the things on those lists are repeated here, but many aren’t.


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52 lists with Chasing Slow

Video of the Week: Peek a Boo!

A video posted by Wendy (@ladybugdaydreams) on

This video was taken when Dragonfly was exactly 9 months old (last Saturday), so it can double as his 9-month photograph 🙂 An extra tidbit: Sunday marked the “anniversary” of him being as old as his gestational age at birth – 39 weeks, 2 days.

Have a great weekend!


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52 Lists: My Favorite Scents

my favorite scents

Scents are some of the very first memories we have. They connect people with bits and pieces of their pasts, and they can serve to comfort us. We all like different things as far as scents go, and that’s a good thing. What we like to smell helps to make us who we are. Here are some of my favorite scents.

  • Carnations
  • Roses
  • Freshly baked (or baking) bread
  • Freshly baked (or baking) cookies
  • Spaghetti sauce in the crock pot
  • Dragonfly’s (my 9-month-old son) breath

What are your favorite scents?


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52 lists with Chasing Slow

Never Lose Puzzle Pieces Again! (Enlivenze LLC Review)

flipstir graphic

Kids love puzzles. But it’s no fun for anyone when you get nearly finished – the box is empty – and there’s a hole in the picture. This is where the FlipStir Puzzles from Enlivenze LLC are such an ingenious invention. Available in five different pictures spanning two difficulty levels, FlipStir Puzzles, put simply, self-contained, 3D puzzles. There is absolutely no way for the pieces to get lost. Allow me to explain more.

Each puzzle (we’ve been playing with the Tyrannosaurus Rex one) consists of a clear tube with ten pieces inside. There’s a wand with a handle on the outside and a foot on the inside, and the goal is to use the foot of the stick to manipulate the puzzle pieces into place. It’s a little difficult to imagine based on written words (I know I had a hard time understanding before we got it), so I’ll allow Seahawk to do it verbally for you.


See, much easier to understand now, isn’t it? (My apologies that the sound doesn’t quite line up with his mouth. I don’t really know why.)

When we first got this in the mail, I was on my way out of town on errands. I kept the puzzle with me (the boys were staying home) and tried it as soon as I was parked at the store. It was interesting to say the least. It took me about 10 minutes to solve, which was less than I expected, especially once I started. I found it tricky to move the pieces into position, but once I had a method it was a lot easier. As soon as I got home, I presented it to the big boys with no words of explanation. They were really confused as to what they were supposed to do, so I offered the very basic instructions on the company’s website: Flip, stir, solve. Seahawk managed it fairly easily once he knew what it was. Munchkin had several failed attempts. He was getting very frustrated, so I suggested he put it aside for the day. He tried again the next day, and though it took him about an hour, he succeeded. He was very proud of himself, and I was pleased with him for not giving up.

flipstir puzzleI mentioned before that there are two levels; T-Rex is a level 1 puzzle. The other level one puzzle is rainbow colored pencils. Level 2 puzzles include the Statue of Liberty, the Solar System, and the Periodic Table of Elements. The difference between level 1 and level 2 is that the harder puzzles have wavy edges rather than straight ones. I haven’t tried a level 2 puzzle, but I imagine those wavy edges make it more difficult to move the pieces around inside their casing. The flip side (pardon the pun) is that once you get them into place, I bet they don’t try to slide out of place so easily. That sliding away from where you left them is one of the biggest hurdles to cross with the straight-edged puzzle.

As a parent, I love several things about this puzzle. First, the pieces will never get lost. The puzzle is completely self-contained, and the lid doesn’t come off. Second, it’s a great brain exercise for the children, and one that doesn’t require screen time or batteries. Third, it’s not Legos (lol). It creates very little clutter in the house because it’s just one piece, not much bigger than a can of soda. The kids liked the challenge. They’ve worked on it multiple times since we got it; it doesn’t seem to have lost its luster at all. After several weeks of having it, that really says something!

Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are reviewing all the FlipStir puzzles (except the Periodic Table) this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog for more information.


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52 Lists: August To-Do List

August to-do list

This week’s assignment for the 52 lists project is to write about our goals for August. Mine are few and finite, but here they are:

  • Finalize our curriculum plans for the 2016-17 homeschool year
  • Keep up on meal plans
  • Organize the kids’ clothes and pack away what doesn’t fit for younger brothers and/or future siblings
  • Finish reading the book for September’s Book Club post
  • Empty my stuff out of the closet in the little boys’ room (We recently moved the younger two into what was my sewing room. Since I gave up recreational sewing, I didn’t need a room for it anymore.)
  • Continue to attend Aqua Zumba twice a week

I think that’ll do. 🙂


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52 lists with Chasing Slow

Book Club: My Life in France

Book Club with Lori

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually finished this book yet. But it’s a great book so far, and I highly recommend it. I’m going to do my best to answer the discussion questions based on what I’ve read so far, what I know of the rest of the book (Will read it a while ago and told me several of the main parts before I’d decided to read it myself), and what I know of Julia Child and her other book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Questions for this month’s Book Club come from LitLovers.

1. Julia Child was an exuberant personality. How does that exuberance reveal itself when she first moves to France with husband Paul, a country many Americans have found unwelcoming? Why was Julia’s experience so different?

Her exuberance shows right from the very first page. Mrs. Child has such joy in all of her surroundings and experiences; she’s a person we can really look up to in this area. She embraces the changes thrust upon her rather than shying away from them. That attitude is what makes her experience as a world traveler so different.

2. Talk about Julia’s ability to overcome self-doubt and rejection as she pursues her career…both as chef and later as writer.

Julia Child was rejected many times on her way to her chosen career, starting clear back when she wanted to attend cooking school (she went to the real Le Cordon Bleu in Paris). The leader of the school didn’t want her there, but she persevered and became, arguably, the most famous chef ever to come out of that school.

Later in her life, when she was developing recipes and compiling them for her book (which she wrote with two friends), Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and more specifically when she and her co-authors were ready to shop the book to publishers, she was rejected several times before finding a willing publisher. This is the case with any author, of course, but Julia Child was able to move through the rejections with a thick skin because she believed in her product.

3. What role does Paul play in Julia’s development? How would you describe the quality of their marriage?

Paul and Julia’s relationship was something wonderful. Their marriage is something we should all work toward in our own because they supported each other so much in everything, and I don’t think Julia would have become The French Chef without the love and support of her husband.

4. Trace the process of how Julia comes to fall in love with French food—the fact that it was not just to be eaten but to be experienced. Talk about that first meal in France where she had her epiphany? Anything similar in your own life?

Her first meal in France was (if I remember correctly) an amazing fish dish – I forget the details. The server, who was also the owner/proprietor of the restaurant, really went all out to impress the American couple, and he did just that. She and Paul dined in many other restaurants during their time in France, all of which were amazing (or she just didn’t write about the non-amazing ones!), but it was that first experience that really spoke to her.

5. Discuss some of the interesting side stories: Julia’s relationship with her father, McCarthyism and Paul’s subsequent disillusionment with the U.S. government.

Because Paul and Julia had been stationed in China during WWII, they were automatically considered to be (at best) “risks” or (at worst) sympathizers with the Communist Party. Paul was hauled back to DC for some serious questioning/accusations while they were living in France, even though he’d done absolutely nothing wrong. (The US government assigned him to China, after all. It wasn’t someplace he chose to go.) That experience of being accused for absolutely no (valid) reason was the cause of his disillusionment.

6. Consider, too, some of the ironic or humorous moments: language missteps or Julia’s initial thoughts about TV.

I haven’t gotten to the part about her TV show yet, but one of the language missteps that stood out to me the most was actually something her sister said, not her. I forget what exactly she was trying to say, but in her fragmented, poorly accented French, it came out as “Mr. S**t” or something similar.

7. How important was Julia Child’s role in introducing America to French food and classical cooking? Has her influence lasted, given the culture’s affection for (or addiction to) fast food and convenience cooking, as well as our emphasis on low-fat diets?

I think Julia Child was vital in introducing America to classical cooking and French cuisine. I can’t honestly think of another chef who cared enough to develop French recipes for the American cook. She went to an amazing amount of work to figure out what the differences between French and American groceries were, and scientifically adjusted the recipes so they would turn out the same. It took her 11 years to develop the recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking; that should tell you something about how diligent she was.

Sadly, I don’t think her legacy is lasting because of the reasons stated in the question. It’s awful, but I think most modern families care more about speed and ease than quality in the kitchen these days.

8. If you have visited France (or live there), how do Julia’s reminisces compare to life in France today? What has changed…and what has remained the same?

Unfortunately, I’ve never visited France, so I can’t really answer this question. I want to go someday, but as of yet, it hasn’t happened.

9. If you have cooked with any of Julia Child’s cookbooks, especially her most famous, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, what were your experiences with her recipes? Difficult? Easy? Delicious? Too rich? Which are your favorite recipes of hers? Do you, in fact, enjoy French cuisine?

Yes, we actually own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Will bought it after having read this memoir himself a few months ago, and we’ve cooked 3 recipes from the book. The first one we tackled was Bouef Bourguignon – a burgundy beef stew, and the recipe that won over the publisher at Alfred Knopf, the eventual publisher of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This recipe was quite complex and took about 4 hours to cook. The result was delicious, though I’m not fully convinced it was entirely worth the time investment.

The next one we tried was her potato-leek soup, and that’s become a favorite of our family. It’s so simple (just potatoes, leeks, water, salt, and pepper), but so amazingly delicious.

The last one we tried was a kind of lasagna, but using (homemade, from-scratch) crepes instead of pasta. The sauce was essentially the same one you’d use for macaroni and cheese, but with Swiss cheese instead of cheddar. It had two “hearty” fillings – one that was spinach based and one that was mushroom based. This took a long time, too (about an hour and a half), but it was really delicious. My children didn’t think so, but my husband and I did. It was a show-stopper in appearance, too.

After only three recipes, I’m not sure whether I can honestly make a judgment call on whether I like French cuisine or not. It will take some more experiences first.


Next month, Lori and I will be reading a follow-up book to this one, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. It chronicles the author’s experience of cooking every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (524 of them) in a matter of just one year. It’s also the basis for (half of) the movie of the same name that stars Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child.


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A Night at the Opera

My favorite classical composer is one who is often forgotten these days: Gioachino Rossini. He was a master of opera in his day, writing over 35 operas in barely 20 years. When I was in high school concert band, we played a few of Rossini’s overtures (the part of the opera that the orchestra plays before the actors come on stage – the “opening credits,” so to speak), and my very favorite one was L’Italiana in Algieri – The Italian Girl in Algiers. The piece was difficult, but once mastered, it was so beautiful that it quickly became my favorite, and remains thus to this day. Outside of the overture, though, I knew nothing of the rest of the opera.


A few months ago, we looked up Rossini operas, thinking that it might be something we’d (well, I’d) enjoy since I already love his music so much. The closest one was in Paris. That’s a bit far for a date, so we tabled the idea for a while. Then randomly a few weeks later, Will checked again, and guess what? The local opera house was doing a Rossini. But not just any Rossini opera… The Italian Girl in Algiers. We bought tickets about a month out from the event, and anxiously awaited the date.


When the time came, we left the kids with a babysitter (Seahawk is capable of babysitting, but we didn’t want to pressure him by leaving him alone with the littles – especially the baby – for so long by himself) and left for our date. We dressed in our formal clothes and had dinner at one of our favorite places. Then we headed into the big city for the opera. We arrived in time for the pre-show, which was quite interesting. It was a college professor giving a speech on both the composer and the opera. She also explained a bit of the director’s vision for this particular rendition so we wouldn’t be taken aback. (It was an interesting blend of current and timeless.) After the pre-show, we headed up to our seats – officially the “worst seats in the house.” To stay on budget, we were seated in the very back row of the second balcony. Our seats were a tiny fraction of the cost of anything on the orchestra level. Even though we were so far away, though, the way the theater was set up, our view was still great.

The story of L’Italiana in Algeiri is one based in reality in that it takes place during the early 1800s when the countries of northern Africa were taking Italians captive as slaves. The opera opens with Elvira, the wife of the Bey (king), in despair that her husband no longer loves her. Mustafa, her husband then comes in and confirms her laments; he talks to Haly (his servant) and tells him that not only is he tired of his wife, but he’s also tired of the rest of his harem. He wants Haly to find him an Italian girl. Haly is given six days to accomplish the task. All of these characters exit, and Lindoro (an Italian captive, and my favorite character) comes in to clean up the mess. He sings an aria about his lost love, Isabella. Mustafa comes in and tells him that he’s got a wife for Lindoro – the queen, Elvira. They have a comical duet where Lindoro tries to explain that he doesn’t want a wife because he loves Isabella, but Mustafa convinces him that the woman he has in mind for Lindoro is wonderful in every way.

The scene changes after Lindoro’s aria, and we meet Taddeo and Isabella, Italians who have been captured by Haly and his men. Haly is sure that Isabella is the perfect Italian girl for Mustafa, so he has kidnapped her and is taking her to be the king’s new woman. Taddeo, Isabella’s lover, is captured simply for having been with Isabella at the time. To keep both of them safe, they decide to pretend to be uncle and niece rather than lovers. The first act ends with a huge number featuring all of the characters singing about their various situations – Elvira mourning the loss of her husband, Lindoro and Isabella shocked at the sight of each other, Taddeo still trying to figure out what’s going on, and Mustafa and Haly talking about how perfect Isabella is for the Bey.

The second act focuses on Isabella’s plan to escape with Lindoro (you see, she was THE Isabella he sang about during his solo). At the same time, Mustafa makes Taddeo his “kaimakan” (kye-mah-kin) – essentially a made-up title meaning “second in command.” Taddeo is given a new uniform to wear to denote his position, and he asks Mustafa if he was given this position simply to impress Isabella, whom the king has decided he loves. His answer is a resounding, “Of course!” Meanwhile, Isabella and Lindoro come up with a crazy idea to distract the king so that they can escape together back to Italy. They will tell the king that Isabella wants him to be a “papataci” (pa-pa-tah-chee). This is another made-up title, and it means that the king will join the ranks of Isabella’s own male harem (basically). His job as a papataci will be to eat, drink, sleep, and enjoy Isabella’s company. He readily accepts, and the plan is in place. Lindoro keeps Mustafa occupied while Isabella plots their escape. The opera ends with Isabella telling Mustafa that she and Lindoro are leaving and that he should get back together with his wife. And they all do just that.

Prior to attending this opera, I had no idea that some operas are comedies, but this one definitely is. There are so many funny parts (and my summary didn’t really do justice to any of them). While L’Italiana was produced by the local opera house here, very few of the main players are actually from around here, which actually made it feel even more “legit” than it already did. The cast and crew hailed from all over the world (the man who played Mustafa is from Cairo, Egypt), including the director, who is German.

I’ve rambled on far too long for one post already, but I have more I want to say, so I’m going to add more in a post next week. The focus of that one will be “why I think you should go to the opera (and take your kids with you).” I hope you’ll join me for that one.


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A Pre-Reading Program for Your Littles (Talking Shapes Review)

Encouraging Early Literacy with Talking Shapes

In my years on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, most of the products we’ve been blessed to try out were for the older boys – they were the ones who were school-age, after all. But now, as Small Fry is getting older and bigger (he turned 4 last month), he’s excited to start some formal learning of his own. (Only some, though. He’s not even old enough for Kindergarten yet, especially when you consider our state doesn’t have compulsory education requirements until age 7.) When this new review opportunity from Talking Fingers Inc. came up, I knew he’d be super excited to try it out. I sat down with him and watched the sample video on the website, and he was hooked! So we eagerly requested to be on this review.

So what is it? It’s called Talking Shapes: A Supplemental Curriculum for Early Literacy. The title just about sums up what the program is, but I’ll go into more detail over the course of this post. Put simply, it’s a computer-based program that teaches young children (kids who are ready to start reading, about 4-5) letter sounds in a fun way.

The company’s website states that this is an iPad app. While this is true, they are also now developing the same program as a web-based computer program. The web version is what I’m reviewing today.

talking shapes 1The fictional characters in the program live in ancient times, and the two girls love to tell stories. They just wish there was a way of recording their stories so that wouldn’t forget them from week to week. In order to accomplish this, they develop a system of making symbols/pictures represent sounds, and now they’re sharing that system with young learners using the program.

The program is divided into seven “books,” and Book 1 (The Fat Cat) works with a simple CVC set of words. Because Small Fry is at the lower end of the age range for this, we took it pretty slow – it is, after all, his first exposure to reading and writing (outside of forming the letters for his own name). During the past month, we’ve made it through Book 1, which teaches -at words (cat, sat, hat, and fat). Each letter is given a picture to help children learn the shape of it (C is a cat, S is a snake, H is a hat, F is a fox, A is an acrobat, and T is a tree). These pictures are used throughout the lesson for consistency.

Talking shapes C

This screen shot shows the three ways children are asked to “write” the letters.

The book starts by reading a story to the child, which includes the base story (about the sisters developing the system of writing) and the focal words for the story – in Book 1, it’s the -at words I mentioned before. Each word appears in the story multiple times, and at certain points in the story children are given the task of repeating the sounds and “writing” the letters for the words three times each. The first time is traced, with the picture and the letter superimposed together. The second time is just the picture and the child writes the letter over the top. Finally, there’s an empty box where the student draws the letter “from scratch.” This can be done on a touch screen (if you have one) or with the mouse on the computer. My laptop has a traditional screen, so we used the mouse. It quickly became apparent, though, that this wasn’t going to work for my son long-term. It was too hard for him to control the mouse, and I didn’t feel like moving a mouse on the screen was the same as writing, anyway. Also, the program doesn’t recognize whether you draw the lines in the right order or not, only that you’ve traced the predetermined locations of the lines. To combat this, I helped him with the mouse maneuvering and then had him write the letters on a sheet of paper separately as those activities came up.

talking shapes c1

An example of how it’s possible to draw the letters out of order.

Once you reach the end of the story, there are some games utilizing the words learned. For Book 1, there’s a stanza that has all of the focal words as well as few other -at words. The program reads the poem aloud, then on the second pass, the focal words for the lesson are removed and students have to find the right one from floating balloons.

I think this program is a pretty good introduction to early literacy for young children. It’s a much more fun approach than the book we used for teaching Seahawk (now 12) to read. I think making reading fun instead of difficult or hard is important for creating life-long learners and readers. Talking Shapes is perfect for that. My only critique of the program is the writing portion. Doing that digitally isn’t very effective for very young children, especially when you take into account the fact that you can just scribble the mouse over the letter and make it work. I can’t think of a better way other than having a separate workbook, though, and that’s not going to be ideal for every family either.

So that’s what I think… What about my son? Well, he absolutely loves this program! Every single day, he asked if he could do “my school.” He is so excited to work on this program daily, and that is high praise from a 4-year-old. Having such a fun way to work on words and sounds will ensure he learns to read and ends up enjoying the pastime.

All told, if you have a child who’s ready to start learning to read, I think Talking Fingers’ Talking Shapes is a great way to go.

There are 43 members of the Review Crew blogging about Talking Shapes this week. Make sure to hit the Crew blog for more reviews.


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52 Lists: Sports I Like

Sports I Like

This week’s list is very similar to last week’s. Last week was “Games I Like”; this week is “Sports I Like.” I mentioned a couple of sports on last week’s list, but I’ll mention them again this week since that’s the official theme.

  • Tennis
  • Basketball
  • Bicycling
  • American Football (occasionally)
  • Swimming

What are your favorite sports?


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52 lists with Chasing Slow

Picture of the Week: At the Beach

Baby Dragonfly had his first experience at the beach last week. He’s the only one of our children to not hate the feeling of the sand. (The others like it now, but always freaked out when they were babies.)


While we were there, Will and the big boys decided to build a sandcastle. Overall, a fun day for everyone.



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