Summer School 2021

It seemed like the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics would never get here, and now they’ve already come and gone. Here’s a look back at our Japan-themed summer school.

We visited Origami in the Garden at the Missouri Botanical several times over the summer. The large-scale art installation was the perfect field trip to coincide with Tokyo 2020 (and was also postponed from last summer).

We also visited the Olympic Spectacular in St. Louis at Francis Field, home of the 1904 Summer Games:

I made a few fun treats for the Olympics…Olympics torches (white chocolate covered pretzels) and Team USA CHEERios treats.

We did a lot of cooking and tried a lot of Japanese foods. I worked really hard to find things we hadn’t had before, and used a variety of cooking methods and unfamiliar ingredients. We tried:

  • Spicy Ramen/Udon
  • Pork Gyoza
  • Coffee Jelly
  • Okonomiyaki
  • Matcha Mochi Cake
  • Vegetable Tempura
  • Potato Korokke
  • Fluffy Japanese Cheesecake
  • Kani Cream Korokke
  • Chicken Katsu Sandwich
  • Matcha Green Tea Cookies
  • Oyakodon

We were supposed to go out to a Japanese restaurant this summer, but COVID-19, so we got a party platter of sushi instead:

I’ve been holding on to the Lego Architecture Tokyo skyline since last year, and we finally got to build it!

Our American Girl dolls got into the Olympic spirit:

In between watching as much of the Olympics as we could, we also did some more traditional school work. We learned about Japanese history and culture, as well as the history of the Olympics. We read a lot of books…some I read out loud, and some were book basket choices. We also watched a selection of Olympic documentaries:

  • FirstLondon 2012
  • The Everlasting FlameBeijing 2008
  • Atlanta’s Olympic GloryAtlanta 1996
  • 16 Days of GloryLos Angeles 1984
  • Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory
  • Seoul 1988

And we also did several crafts, including origami, paper lanterns, Koinobori (Japanese carp windsocks), pipe cleaner and tissue paper cherry blossom branches, and medals (of course!):

I’ve been holding on to Ticket to Ride: Japan since last year, and we finally had a chance to play! I really enjoyed the new game mechanics introduced in this edition, and it was fun to get to know the geography of the area a little bit better.

We updated our medal chart every evening…here’s a look at the final results…we were very excited that the US won the gold medal race and had the most medals overall!

And, better late than never, our Family Olympics, which was delayed due to heat. We only had four events this year (frisbee throw, broad jump, soccer kicks, and a running race), thanks to time constraints and a lack of basketball hoops on the backboards we normally use. Technically, Turkey came in first, but since we participate as a family, we all won gold!

This summer school was a long time coming. I think we all still have mixed feelings about the fact that the Olympics were held at this time, but we had to just accept that that was out of our control, and embrace the Olympics as we usually do. It’s always hard to say goodbye when they extinguish the flame, but the Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and we only have to wait three more years for Paris 2024!

The Top Five–Around the House Photos of 2020

Continuing my series of “Top Five” lists to end the year, I’m moving on to photos taken around the house, a place we’ve all spent many more hours than usual in 2020!

To start off, a picture of my complete Ticket to Ride collection, as seen in February. I’ve actually added two more games since then (the newest board, plus the only other one from my collection that was missing), but I still love seeing how many different maps are/were in my collection!

This might not be the best picture ever, but it represents one of the few high points of the year for me…the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons:

I’m a huge fan of the Bésame Cosmetics “Love, Lucy” collection, and I really like how this picture of the lipstick I purchased turned out:

One day, I went upstairs for school and found this in my chair. It tickled me.

To the end the list as I began, a recent picture of an old Ticket to Ride game played with the clear trains from the edition I received for Christmas. The trains are so cool!

That’s just a small glimpse into our year as seen in photos taken around the house!

The Complete Ticket to Ride Collection–2020 Edition

I know I’ve talked about my very favorite series of board games, Ticket to Ride, in the past (it even made my “40 of My Favorite Things” list last year!). After adding the newest map collection, Japan and Italy, plus a special, available-only-in-Europe board of Poland that Ryan ordered for me, I thought it would be fun to get a photo of my entire collection. Even I was a little surprised by just how large it is!

Yes, I have it all, including the card game, the dice expansion, the My First Journey boards, and even a set of character score markers. As far as I know, I’m only missing two significant items (and one of them really isn’t even that huge). I never did get around to purchasing the Halloween freighters, which really aren’t necessary, but look fun. I also didn’t buy the 15th anniversary game, which I still have mixed feelings about. Ordering a whole new game just to have a set of translucent trains seems a bit extravagant, but as a completionist, it bothers me that I don’t have it, plus translucent trains!

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next…they’ve done everything I’ve hoped for (including a London board), except for one map…I’d love to see Ticket to Ride Chicago, which could have some fun twists by combining all three of the passenger trains that come into the city: Amtrak, Metra, and of course, the “L!”

Ready for the First Day of School!

The summer went by way too quickly, and it’s already time for the first day of the 2019-2020 school year! Yesterday was spent doing a few last fun things before we get back to work…playing board games, baking cookies, building a Lego set, and having an Iron Man movies marathon:

Today, on the other hand, was “cleaning day.” We got the school ready (more or less) for another year of learning. Surprisingly, not too much has changed in the last year, just some minor rearranging, which is very unusual for us!

We had a “Farewell to Summer” dinner tonight…ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, watermelon, and root beer floats for dessert. We also watched Detective Pikachu, which was a really cute movie, even for someone like me, who isn’t too familiar with Pokemon.

And the outfits are ready for tomorrow morning!

Everything else that needs to be ready for tomorrow is good to go…I put the schultüte together (but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see their contents), organized the bookshelves, and got all the new workbooks sorted out and put on desks. I’m looking forward to beginning our 12th year of homeschooling!

Summer School 2019

Just like that, another year’s summer school has come to an end. I think our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school might be my favorite that we’ve done so far, because even though I didn’t have to do as much work (until it was time to start cooking), and hands-on activities and field trips were a little elusive (although I did make a few things work!), we all learned so much, and had a lot of fun while doing it!

So what did a primarily video-based summer school look like? We watched (if I counted correctly) 72 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe over the course of two months. While we couldn’t “visit” every place I would have liked, we did get a great overview of Europe with “trips” to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine, plus a few other places. We also watched all three regular travel skills specials and the cruising special. We even found time for all three other specials: Christmas, Easter, and Festivals! (We watched The Story of Fascism in Europe last spring, and since it was kind of intense, we didn’t watch it again this summer.) I bought my oldest students travel journals, and Chickadee a sketchbook, and they wrote and/or drew something for every episode we watched. Places they hope to visit someday, interesting facts, travel tips…anything that jumped out at them. I really hope they’ll keep these journals, so that if they ever do have the opportunity to go to Europe, they can look through them, and see what their younger selves thought would be cool to visit, and maybe add some locations to their itinerary.

I mentioned field trips and hands-on activities. Some of them were a bit of a stretch, but I did my best. For example, we visited Frankenmuth, MI, this summer, which is known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” I figured this was as close we could get to visiting a European town, and it really did look like I imagine some German towns do. We also got to eat a lovely German meal while we were there:

Speaking of food, we also tried a new-to-us cuisine this summer when we went to a local Bosnian restaurant. We were all very impressed, both with the dishes and the “slow-food” way of eating there…I’m sure we’ll be going back!

And how could we make it through the day we learned about traveling in Greece without having gyros?

The St. Louis Art Museum is hosting a special exhibit of work by a European artist, Paul Gauguin, which was a nice way to experience a bit of European culture:

Now, on to “other activities.” We played a lot of games this summer: Ticket to Ride Europe, 10 Days in Europe, and Ticket to Ride: My First Journey (European Map). These all gave us a chance to talk about the various cities/countries on the maps, and recall things we had seen watching Rick Steves’ Europe, and talk about the places we’d like to visit. I also gave my students a few special assignments…Chickadee made a poster about her favorite European city, (Paris), Ladybug wrote a 1,500 word essay about hers, (Rome), and my oldest students read Travel as a Political Act, and I have to say, I think our discussions about that book might have been my favorite part of the whole summer. They certainly learned a lot about life in Europe and the importance of travel, and I think their worldview changed a bit because of it! For one hands-on activity everyone could enjoy, we built the only Lego Architecture European skyline set we didn’t already have: Paris. It was a fun little build, and a nice addition to our collection!

And finally…cooking at home! This is always one of my favorite parts of summer school, but I have to confess, I kind of put this off to the end of the summer, and was rushing to cook all the things I had planned. In the end, we tried French, Swiss, Norwegian, Spanish, Hungarian, British, Italian, German, and Middle Eastern cuisines at home (full details on what we tried next week). I think we all have some new favorites, and I definitely learned a few new cooking techniques along the way!

Obviously, traveling to Europe as a large family isn’t a realistic option, at least not for us. But I did my best to give my children a glimpse into European culture and history, and more than that, I really I hope I inspired in them a desire to travel when they’re older and have the opportunity. There are so many interesting places and great people throughout the world, and I am grateful for any chance to explore them, even if we had to do it vicariously for now!

Chickadee Thursday

Last Thursday, I shared a picture of Chickadee with the poster she made for our European-themed summer school. Today, I’m taking a look at something else she did in summer school this year:

She’s played the US map of Ticket to Ride: My First Journey before, but this summer was her first chance to play the European map. She recognized many of the illustrations from watching Rick Steves’ Europe, and I didn’t even have to try to let her win…she’s a natural!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Six

Last night, we played Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. I like this board, because it’s designed for only two or three players. Since it’s meant for so few people, you don’t feel as though you’re missing out when only two are playing. There are no bonuses in this game, and locomotives aren’t true wild cards…they’re used when claiming a tunnel route, and only a tunnel route.

Ryan took this one, winning 141 to 134. The reason was obvious…I just didn’t claim as many routes (although we both had the same number of completed tickets…10), and so I had nine trains at game’s end, compared to Ryan’s two.


At least this was a close match…I’m still hoping to tie things up at some point!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Five

On Sunday night, we played another new-to-us Ticket to Ride board–The Heart of Africa (another Christmas present from last year).

Like the Netherlands board, this game incorporates another new element…terrain cards. (As an aside, things get confusing when you’re talking about train cars, trains cards, and terrain cards!) When you play the terrain cards, they allow you to double the value of the route you’re playing, based on the number of cards you have compared to other players, the type of terrain, and the length of the route. To be honest, I used this ability only a few times (although Ryan used it a lot), because I couldn’t figure out how to coordinate getting the terrain cards with getting the train cards I needed, and building my routes before Ryan got to them!

In the end, the score was Amanda 200, Ryan 153. I’m just as shocked as you are, trust me. We both thought he was going to win handily as we were playing, because of all of the double route values he was getting. But I guess since I was ignoring collecting those cards, it allowed me to focus on route-building…I finished nine routes, and got the African Globetrotter bonus, while Ryan finished only four routes. I also had zero trains left at the end of the game, while Ryan had seven.


We’ve played seven different boards/versions of boards so far, and Ryan has the lead four games to three. Maybe I’ll tie it up next time!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Four

On Saturday night, we played two more variations of Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Europa 1912–Big Cities of Europe.

The Europe board is pretty standard, with one addition–stations. There is a bonus card–the European Express, which goes to the player with the longest route. I lost (again), but this game was a bit closer, at least…Ryan 140, Amanda 128. Ryan completed six routes, and won the bonus for longest route, with four trains and two stations left at the end of the game. I completed seven routes, and had no trains and three stations left.


Big Cities of Europe is a bit different. There are no bonus cards, but there are depots and stations, which have the ability to give a player bonus points at the end of the game, as well as warehouses, which allow you to pick up a bunch of train cards in one turn.

The final score was Amanda 184, Ryan 136…I finally won one! I completed ten routes, and had one train, three depots, and three stations left at the end of the game. Ryan completed nine routes, and had eight trains, three depots, and zero stations left when the game was done.


I think we might take a break from the Europe board from a bit, even though there are more ways to play it. There are still plenty of other Ticket to Ride maps left, though!