Monday, August 19, 2013

Outdoor Fun

Friday afternoon we celebrated the end of our first homeschooling week (which I should write about, huh?) by going outside to play in the sprinkler. We even set up the water table for the babies. They have finally gotten over their aversion to grass (do all babies hate sitting in the grass at first or just mine?) and loved playing in the water.

I don't think we got the water table out at all last summer so it was like a brand
new toy.

Jude's first reaction to the sprinkler

Who needs a pool?

Austin's antics with the sprinkler reminded us of
the fountain shows at The Grove in Los Angeles.

Austin was trying to refill the water table with the sprinkler...Joshua fell victim
for a few seconds.
Notice the beautiful fence in the backyard. It was built a few weeks ago and now our yard is a much nicer, safer place to play.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Magic in the Morning

Overheard while the kids were playing this morning...

Austin: "Esther, cast a spell on the baby and turn him into a frog!"

Esther: (tapping a twin with her princess wand) "I spell him! F! S! H! F! A!"

The baby is still a baby. Maybe she misspelled him. ;-)


Monday, August 12, 2013

First Day of School!

We decided to homeschool when Austin was about one and a half. Since then we've done a little bit of preschool at home, a little bit of preschool away from home, some math, some phonics.... Now it's time to make an official start.

I've spent many, many hours reading about homeschooling philosophies and researching curricula. From the moment I discovered the classical approach I knew it was for me. The emphasis on reading, writing, and thinking; the centrality of history and language; studying subjects in depth even at a young much appeals to me. Not to mention the priceless opportunity to weave God's wisdom and beauty into every subject.

So what exactly will we be doing with our time? Here's what we're starting with; I plan to add more subjects in a few months after we (hopefully!) settle into a nice routine.

  • Both Austin and Esther will be using Bible Study Guide for All Ages, the Beginner version. What I love about this program is that it is designed for the whole family to study the same parts of Scripture together; they have different worksheets and activities for various ages but everyone can work together. There are 416 lessons in the complete program, enough for three or four years!
  • Esther will do Confessions of a Homeschooler's Letter of the Week curriculum just as Austin did a few years ago. She knows her letters pretty well but I think she'll benefit from practicing writing and scissor skills and the like. And it is just fun.
  • Austin and I will continue to work through Phonics Pathways. We started it ages ago and for awhile it was rather rough going. But at some point everything clicked (I can't take much credit for it) and he became a reader. We'll finish the book, though, just to make sure he gets all the main phonics rules. And like we have for five years now, we'll read read read. Independent easy reading for him and chapter book read alouds. We just started Little House on the Prairie, having read Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy in recent months. We have also read James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just since returning from vacation. I'd love to hear more ideas for good read-aloud books!
  • We will use Letters and Numbers for Me, the Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten level book. Austin's preschool used the HWT preschool book last year and I really like the approach.
  • We will finish Saxon Math K, which we started last year and are about halfway through. Then we'll move on to Saxon Math 1. I love math, of course, and it is a joy to see Austin enjoy it so much so far. The kindergarten level has seemed like play to him, I think: teddy bear counters, pattern many colorful pieces to touch and manipulate. One of my great frustrations in my crowded LAUSD classrooms was that using any kind of manipulative was so difficult to manage. Either you didn't have enough pieces for everyone or kids stole the pieces or you just plain didn't have the manipulative you wanted. Not a problem at home!
  • I don't feel like we're ready to dive into studying history yet so we're going to work through this simple geography book. It covers basic map skills and teaches about the oceans and continents. It's just worksheets, really, so I'll try to supplement with more fun, hands-on stuff. Maybe learn more about the places mentioned in some of our favorite books. Pretty low-key, just a little bit a few times a week.
  • Science will be similarly light for now. Just exploring our environment. I found a great website with about 75 ideas for simple pre-k/kindergarten science activities. For example, this week we're going to dig in the dirt, talk about what it's made of, maybe make some mud, shake dirt and water up together and watch the sediment settle. I think the kids will love it. And when you think about all the big concepts that could potentially come out of the conversation (erosion, decomposition, insect habitats, etc)...pretty cool.

Here are my adorable little students!

And the little ones who are along for the ride.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Another Esther-ism

Know who this is? Mr. Sneeze, of course.


Monday, July 1, 2013


"I see that some people even live in castles in the middle of the river." (Austin)


We saw these "castles" as we crossed the Mississippi River on our way home from my parents' house. I love how at Austin's age, anything is possible. Live in a castle in the middle of the river? Sure, why not.

And he was sort of right, as it turns out. In my search to find an image to use here, I learned a little bit about what we saw. Read it here.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Esther-isms: A Picture Dictionary

1. Yergoat (n.): a favorite snack

2. Go-merry-round (n.): a fun thing to ride, often seen at the mall

3. Finger toes (n.): the things at the end of Mommy's toes that she paints in the summer


Friday, June 21, 2013

My Super Kid

"Now I really look like Superman."


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 6 in Montreal

Ah, our last full day in Montreal! We did our best to make it a good one.

Breakfast was a little different this morning, not because of the food, but because it was the first time we ate with other guests at Le Terra Nostra. I think there was a family there our first night who left before we got up the next day, but otherwise we have had the house to ourselves. This morning we met a couple about our age from Lyon, France who are spending two weeks in Canada, although only a day or two in Montreal. Mireille introduced us but I didn't catch their names. The woman spoke some English and I speak some French (Zach commented later that our respective foreign language skills seemed about equal) so between the two languages we managed to have a nice conversation about what we've seen and plan to see around town.

Zach and I went back to Vieux Montreal one last time this morning, mostly because we needed a return visit to olive + gourmando and we decided to have lunch there. But to pass the time before lunch we visited Château Ramezay, the residence of the first governor of Montreal. It was built in 1705, I think, although it has undergone many changes since then. The building has served many purposes, so unfortunately there are no original furnishings. Instead there are exhibits and artifacts tracing 300 years of Canadian history in this area. Something I learned: Benjamin Franklin attended meetings there to try to convince the Canadians to ally themselves with the colonies against the British. Otherwise, I learned that my knowledge of the colonial period is lacking--I look forward to studying history with Austin so much.

The back of Château Ramezay, which looks down toward the river.

Next, of course, was olive + gourmando. We got a table for lunch today. Zach had a Cuban sandwich and I had a chèvre chaud sandwich, goat cheese with caramelized onions. Wow, was it rich. They served it with a yummy homemade ketchup, though, which eased the richness of it. Of course we didn't let ourselves get too filled up with sandwiches; we made some requests at the pastry counter before paying our bill! Zach had an "everything cookie" and I had a snickers square. It was basically a cookie bar with chocolate chips and peanuts. Good, although not quite as good as Thursday's chocolate brioche. That may be the single tastiest thing I've had on this trip.

Not easy to take a self-portrait while holding baked goods and coffee

We decided to make a stop at the Musée des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts Museum) this afternoon. Their permanent collection is free so it's a nice place to pass a bit of time. My favorite room was the one full of Impressionist works; there was a Monet that I enjoyed as well as a few works by a (new-to-me) artist called Signac that I loved. Zach, on the other hand, preferred the Medieval and Renaissance collections. So plenty for both of us to enjoy.


We changed our evening plans somewhat based on a recommendation from Mireille. She told us about an upscale neighborhood around rue Bernard with restaurants, shopping, and some nice parks in an area we weren't familiar with. She said it's a place she recommends if people are spending a more extended time in the city (like us) and have already seen Vieux Montreal and the more common tourist sites. So we trekked over on the metro and spent some time reading on a bench. So peaceful.

The view from our bench

We ate dinner in the same neighborhood. There were lots of choices; we settled on a place called Café Local. We had a table overlooking the street which was nice for people watching. (You get good tables pretty often when you eat so unfashionably early like we do.) Zach had a bison "black and blue" burger with poutine on the side while I had fish and chips. We liked this more upscale version of poutine better than the street version, I think. The gravy was less salty. We both loved our entrees. It was certainly not exotic and not particularly Canadian or québécois but just plain tasty food.

That's poutine in the middle

We got some pastries to go from a nearby bakery, then headed back to Le Terra Nostra to pack. What a week it's been! It has been so much fun to spend time with Zach exploring a new place and talking as much as we want without interruption...reminds me of the years before the kiddos came along...but I miss those kiddos. I will be so glad to see them when we get off the plane tomorrow!


Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 5 in Montreal

Much like yesterday, today was a day without big plans. We ended up doing a lot of little things; another day of many metro trips! First we visited Archambault, a huge music and bookstore. Zach had heard they had lots of sheet music. And indeed they did have a selection of tuba music, but it was either high-priced or something he already owns. But (shh, don't tell), we did get some presents for our kids.

This was across the street from Archambault. I think someone was actually playing a game at the left.

Next we visited the Jean Talon market. It's a lot like Marché Atwater which we went to Friday, only bigger. We again shopped for an assortment of lunch items and ate at a picnic table in the middle of the market. We bought a baguette, some Manchego cheese (another excellent discovery, thanks to the nice guy in the cheese shop who gave us the recommendation), some strawberries, and some cashews and maple syrup candied pecans. We finished our lunch with gelato from Havre aux Glaces, yet another place I pinned way back. Although they had some rather unusual favors (strawberry and pepper?) we played it safe: espresso and milk chocolate for me, hazelnut and dark chocolate for Zach. Tiny portion for a big price but awfully tasty.

Simple but delicious.

Stop number three took us to Pikolo espresso, a coffee shop Zach found through online research. I believe he said it's the best coffee he has had in Montreal so far. The shop was rather crowded but we did manage to snag a table so we hung out and read for awhile. Relaxing and reading is something I am sure we have meant to do more of on this trip but we find ourselves going here and there. It was great to slow down for a bit this afternoon.

But then we moved on. Our next destination was a bit disappointing, to be honest. We went to Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is located on two islands in the middle of the river. (You can take the subway from Montreal to get there.) It is not a terribly large park but big enough to have lots and lots of paths going off in many directions. We wandered for quite awhile and never saw anything very interesting. There are a couple museums, one that we knew we didn't care to visit and one we never found, plus some facilities from the Olympics that are open to the public now (a pool, the rowing basin), and the track that the recent Formula One Grand Prix was run on. But nothing was going on today and there were hardly any people around. So we just took a long walk, basically.

We did get to see some wildlife up close at the park. Or maybe not so wild.
I couldn't resist climbing on this. Our kids would have liked the playground behind me.

We went back to Vieux Montreal for dinner and to do some shopping. We ate at Papillon, a restaurant whose menu we saw the other night and liked. Zach had linguine primavera which he enjoyed and I had a pork loin stuffed with cranberries and blueberries. It was not as outstanding as I hoped it would be but still good. Somewhat unbelievably, we did not eat dessert tonight. In fact, we did not have a single pastry today. Never fear, we have a return trip to olive + gourmando planned for tomorrow.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 4 in Montreal

After three fairly nonstop days, we decided that today should be a lighter day. Hmm, now that I'm at the end of it I'm not sure we achieved that goal. At least we didn't spend as much of the day on our feet. We spent a lot of time on buses and the metro and a lot of time eating crêpes in lovely restaurants. And a few other things.

This being Sunday we decided to find a church to visit. We found the People's Church of Montreal online and spent the morning worshipping with them. The pastor preached an encouraging Father's Day message from Psalm 128 and I had cause to give thanks for the wonderful husband and father at my side.

We went to another Pinterest plan of mine, Muru Crêpe, for lunch. Wow. As Yelp told me it would be, the service was kind of slow but making individual crêpes takes time. We had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal. Zach tried one of their waffles, which they only have on the weekends. At the waitress' suggestion, he had one with condensed milk, peanut butter, butter, and sugar. She (the server) explained that it's a common street food in Hong Kong where her family (the owners) are from and they wanted to bring that taste to Montreal. Sounds like a pretty crazy combination, right? It was crazy good. I had a savory crêpe with chicken, veggies, pesto, and tomato sauce. Also good. Then we shared a strawberry, banana and Nutella crêpe. Because you can't go into a crêpe restaurant and not eat Nutella. Or at least I can't.

Vacations are made for crazy eating like this.

We are not really into visiting big ornate churches (of which there are several around here) but we made an exception today to visit St. Joseph's Oratory because they are hosting a weekly Bach festival, to show off the recently-restored organ I think. We unfortunately arrived late and missed a few pieces but still got to hear some amazing organ music including that most famous of organ works, Toccata and Fugue in d minor. The way the last notes of a piece resonated in the room was unbelievable.

The organ, obviously. I wish I had taken a picture of the rest of the basilica because its style was unlike anything I'd seen before, sort of Art Deco. You can see a bit of that in the shape of the ceiling here.

The Oratory is waaaay up on a hill. Pilgrims go up the steps on their knees; there is even a section of the stairs reserved for that purpose. So thankful to know the truth that God does not require works like that to please Him; Jesus' work on the cross is enough.

View looking up
View looking down

Lest you think that we climbed all the way up to the basilica, there are escalators inside the building once you get past the initial stairs. Still a lot of climbing. Fun unusual disturbing fact of the day: Father Andre, who had the desire to build this church in honor of Joseph...well, his embalmed heart is on display. Got to see it on the way out. Ugh.

After a late, long, filling lunch we decided to have an early, light dinner at juliette et chocolat. (Knew we'd be back.) I had another crêpe, this time with ham, potatoes, and cheese (I love them, what can I say) and Zach had a salad with ham, eggs, potatoes, asparagus, cheddar crisps, and a sort of crêpe-batter lattice on top. Not as light as we hoped, but really just a warmup for the main event at this eatery. Zach came back specifically wanting to try their drinking chocolate. They prepare their chocolate beverages the way coffee connoisseurs do, by isolating beans (cacao beans in this case) from different regions and even single plantations so one can taste the unique flavors of the beans. Zach chose a dark chocolate from São Tomé which the waiter told him was interesting because the volcanic soil in which it is grown imparts a smoky flavor. And it did. Pretty cool. I, predictably, chose a much sweeter chocolate and caramel hot chocolate. Not exotic but so yummy.

So maybe you've realized, as we did, that our day was not nearly as restful as we'd hoped. We love our lodgings but they are enough off the beaten path that going home for a midday rest is just not practical most days. We end up just going going going. And did I mention that it rained most of today? So being tired and damp, we decided that our wonderful bathtub was calling our name once more and we headed home straight after dinner.


Day 3 in Montreal

We enjoyed breakfast in the garden for yet a third time this morning which, according to our hostess Mireille, has been almost unheard of this spring! Rain and clouds have been the rule in Montreal and they are supposed to return tomorrow but we have been blessed with three perfect weather days so far. Our meal this morning consisted of warm apricot-cranberry-almond bread, followed by a ham and cheese crêpe with fresh fruit on the side. Mireille told us that in this region people consider maple syrup and ham to be a great pairing so we dutifully poured it on our crêpes. They definitely know a thing or two about good food around here.

Hey guess what, Zach just showed me how to make accent marks with my ipad keyboard! So forgive the lack in previous posts; I'll try to do better now.

We decided to visit the Biodôme-Jardins Botaniques-Planetarium area today (several major attractions in one area) but we made a pit stop...well, a really out of the way put a bakery I'd read about online, Le Fromentier. It was in a neat neighborhood filled with families out strolling around, and nice-looking cafes and shops on every corner. Le Fromentier's cases were filled with delicious-looking items. We opted to get a small loaf of chocolate bread and an Empereur pastry, which was pastry dough twisted up with chocolate chips, basically. Both good, but I kind of wish we had bought a baguette. Just to see what their traditional bread was like.

We took this picture on the way to the Biodôme. It's the Olympic stadium and tower, built for the 1976 games. You can go up in the tower (see the little elevator thing on the right side?) but it's kind of expensive and we figured the view would approximate what we got yesterday climbing Mont Royal for free the price of sore legs. :-)

So we headed into the Biodôme. (Say Bee-oh-dome if you want to sound more local.) It has exhibits highlighting four ecosystems; at least a couple are those found near Montreal. There are live animals and plants so I guess it's like a small, indoor, locally-focused zoo. It's not a large place but we enjoyed it; my favorite part was the penguins and Zach's was a porcupine in a tree. Most of the pictures I took are ones I thought my kids would like. And Zach's porcupine.

Colorful birds
Esther, this monkey's for you
Not sure if this is an alligator or crocodile, but in either case I can hear my little girl informing me that "it's fendley"

We ate lunch in the little cafe inside the Biodôme. Once again, I was just blown away by the quality of the food at a location like this. Perhaps Americans are a little too willing to tolerate mediocre food...this was nice stuff for about the price you'd pay for a hamburger and fries at a similar attraction in the States. They even threw our pre-made wrap and sandwich on a panini press to warm them up and give them a nice crispy exterior. And veggies on the side--extra nice!

Next we went to two shows at the planetarium. Both were in domed rooms and we sat in chairs that were tilted back. (Maybe this is standard? I've not been to a planetarium before.) The first show was just images and music, not very scientific but cool to watch. The second was more informative; a guide showed stars and constellations visible in Montreal's night sky during this part of the year, then turned the theater into a "spaceship" and took us out to see the solar system, the Milky Way, and beyond. "The heavens declare the glory of God" reverberated in my head the whole time. (From Psalm 19) The universe is so vast and so complex...I don't think there is a logical framework for understanding it except as the product of a creative, powerful God. We tiny humans, just a speck in the enormous breadth of creation, don't merit His attention or favor but He bestows it out of love. Wow.

The last stop was the Botanical Gardens and Insectarium complex. I think we picked an unfortunate path when we first set off into the gardens; it was just trees and bushes and frankly looked like our backyard. But then we got to the good stuff: flowers, ponds, Chinese and Japanese gardens. (I have a fond spot for flowery botanical gardens since Zach proposed to me in one.) The peonies were especially nice here. Lots of color everywhere. And the Chinese There were several pagodas overlooking a little pond, might have been my favorite part of the entire garden.

One other cool part of our visit was watching preparations for an upcoming horticultural exhibit. We got to watch giant plant sculptures being created at several stages from welding the frames to detailed placement of the greens. We saw a few completed pieces as well. That was quite eye-opening for me; I had no idea so much work (like building a frame) went into something like that.

...and their shepherd. And sheep dog, I guess.

We had very little time to spend in the insectarium as it was closing in less than an hour. Let's just say there are some truly large and scary-looking bugs out there. It was kind of cool to watch a stick insect eating a leaf. I can see how a group of these bugs could destroy a tree pretty fast.

We headed off to dinner at the Dominion Square Tavern. I don't remember how I found it online but I pinned it way back as a place we should try. Even though it was on the early side by local dinner standards, we nearly didn't get a table; very few were free since they were being held for reservations. As the name implies, much of the menu was pub-type food. We had corn fritters with homemade ketchup to start, then variations on pork and potatoes: homemade bangers and mash for Zach, a pulled pork sandwich with fries for me. We ended up splitting both entrees because we each liked what the other had quite a bit. But the corn fritters were the best part of the meal.

Our last stop was to go back to Vieux Montreal for something rather silly: Eepybird's Coke Zero and Mentos Spectacular. (Have you seen the YouTube video? It's how they became famous.) Basically they drop Mentos into coke and it makes a geyser and they do a kind of choreographed fountain sequence. It was fun and we got there early enough to have a great view.

Another exhausting day. We keep telling ourselves we want to take time to relax but there is just so much to do here!