Impromptu France

How an unplanned "trip" to France took shape—without disrupting our daily routine. Too much.

Painted background scene from a Disney animated Mickey Mouse short, showing L'arc du Triomphe in Paris.
Background art from the Mickey Mouse short Croissant de Triomphe

We do best with a regular routine... but we also do best with a lot of flexibility. Balancing between those two is easier than it sounds. Yesterday was a good example of how our days can easily hold these two seemingly-at-odds truths. Here is a detailed window into how that unfolded over one day.

First thing yesterday morning, I woke up and lay in bed thinking about what our day would look like. There was nothing special on the calendar, just our typical routine day. The night before, I had started a preferment for baguettes, so making those would have to be woven into our day. But the thing that I was puzzling over was language arts. We've had some great breakthroughs with writing academic paragraphs recently, but in order to keep that momentum going, well... we have to keep writing them. It's still challenging for Wanda, and choosing the right topic is key. I was pondering our options, and nothing was leaping out as a solid choice. I was going to have to keep thinking on it. Maybe punt and just do spelling or a Quill activity. Again. Ergh.

Once Wanda was up and we were getting breakfast together, Wanda asked me a question she has asked me several times daily, for about a week and a half now: "When are we going to try the French candies???"

An oval tin is opened, revealing white round candies inside. The cover of the tin is a painted scene of a woman with roses.
les Anis de Flavigny rose-flavored candies

A couple weeks ago one of the kids in our local homeschool group brought an oval tin of rose-flavored French candies, and a nostalgia bomb went off inside me. Anis de Flavigny candies! I loved those candies when I was a kid, and the beautiful tins they came in. They came in other romantic flavors, too: violet, and anise. I used to get them from the drugstore near my house, on top of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle.

I blew my inner nine-year-old's mind by pulling my phone out of my pocket and immediately ordering six different flavors of them.

When they arrived, Wanda wanted to try them now now now, and I can hardly blame her... but they were too special. I wanted to save them for a special day. Which was just setting myself up to be hounded non-stop about when it would be time.

So yesterday morning, when she asked me once again if it was time yet to try the French candies as I measured out the bread flour for my French baguettes, I realized: it is time. TIME FOR FRANCE!

Maybe we could even get a paragraph out of it.

"Y'know what? YES! Should we make today an Acorn Airlines day, to France? We'll have our baguettes and try the candies... what else can we do?"

(Acorn Airlines is our fictional airline*.)

Wanda and I went to the blackboard and came up with some ideas for the day. Here's what our last-minute changed-up day looked like:


During breakfast, instead of watching news, we watched the 2013 Mickey Mouse short "Croissant de Triomphe," where a Parisian Mickey Mouse tries to deliver croissants to sidewalk café owner Minnie. It's rather charming, and all the dialogue is in French.

Croissant de Triomphe

Wanda watched an It's Okay to Be Smart video while I tended to my baguette dough and slipped some croissants and some Oui brand "French-style" yogurt into the grocery delivery arriving later that morning.

We got dressed, brushed teeth, rang our school bell, and talked about what the day would hold.

We did a little GoNoodle for exercise.

While Wanda did Beast Academy for math, I tended to my baguette dough, set up the living room for Acorn Airlines, and did some searches on my phone to line up last-minute France resources for the day.

The living room set up for an Acorn Airlines flight.

Now it was time for our trip to France to begin! I announced that our flight for France was ready to start boarding, handed Wanda her plane tickets and passport, and we settled into our seats for the in-flight entertainment. While Wanda munched airline pretzels and drank sparkling cider (ooh la la!), we watched the France episode of Geography Now! on YouTube. I thought it was one of the better episodes.

Geography Now! France

Then we took a short break, and Wanda got to do her own thing while I tended to my baguettes.

Next we snuggled up on the couch to watch an OverSimplified video. OverSimplified is Wanda's new favorite on YouTube. It has silly, simple recaps of major historic events. We had two Frenchy options: the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars. Wanda opted for Napoleon. It's spread across two videos, lasting more than an hour altogether.

OverSimplified The Napoleonic Wars


It was finally oven time for the baguettes. I needed to bake them in two batches, so they needed my full attention for an hour or so. During that time, Wanda worked on Wanda things. She's been spending a LOT of time reading the frighteningly thorough wiki for Homestar Runner.

My baguettes

Once the baguettes were out of the oven, it was time to go downstairs to eat lunch and watch something Frenchy on the big screen.

Before we headed down, Wanda had a thrilling surprise for me: while I had been in the kitchen, she had been writing a rather impressive academic paragraph. 🙀 It was full of complex sentences, appositive phrases, and crystal-clear expository writing. It was about... Frank Bennedetto. (Frank Bennedetto is an obscure Homestar Runner character, and explaining him to you would take more than you or I have in us.)

She was literally jumping for joy. She was stunned that she had been able to create formal writing in that style. She attributed it to her spending a lot of time reading the Homestar Runner wiki, because it gave her plenty of exposure to that style of journalistic, expository writing.

She was particularly thrilled to know she was capable of this kind of writing, because she knows it means that someday she'll also be able to write effectively when it really counts, and that made her feel powerful. She was so happy, and so proud of herself.

That very thing I'd been spinning my wheels on—getting her some academic paragraph practice—she did all on her own, unprompted. It's the culmination of a lot of little steps she and I have taken, together and separately, to build those skills. Sure, we could do a France paragraph, maybe we will later this week if I see value in it for helping her retain what she's learned, but she's already demonstrating big progress. We're good.

For our Frenchy lunchtime entertainment, we watched Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, plus a making-of featurette that explained that the events in the film mirrored Charles Schultz's own experiences of serving in France during WWII. Wanda and I were in agreement that the movie isn't very good, but it's still plenty likeable. I had tried to nudge her towards Ratatouille, but the allure of Peanuts is strong for my kid.

A clip from Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown


Wanda snuggled up for a while on the couch and read a short chapter book set in Paris, Diva and Flea. I love the illustrations in this book, and the story, about a pampered dog and a streetwise cat who become friends, is very sweet.

And now, at last... candy time.

I mentioned that in the morning while Wanda was busy doing math, I had been researching some quick resources. I knew that the French candies were from a monastery, which I figured could be good to learn more about. Turns out it's in a medieval village in Burgundy, called Flavigny-sur-Ozerain. I found a short video about the town.

I hit the jackpot at the website for les Anis de Flavigny: they have a virtual tour, including videos! I downloaded and printed the full-color tour brochure PDF, and we went through the site learning about the abbey and the candies, while sampling each of the six flavors I'd purchased.

The Anis de Flavigny website has several more of these short informational videos, I encourage you to watch more of them!

The monastery was founded in 719, and the candies have been made there since 1591!

The remains of the oldest part of the abbey.

We loved all of the candies, but Wanda's favorite was mint, while my favorite was violet.


For dinner, Wanda ate baguettes and French fries, while I ate my baguette with pâté and pickled beets. The store-bought croissants were pretty terrible, so I'll work on turning them into a bread pudding or something.

A slice of baguette, topped with pâté and small deep red cubes of pickled beets.
This is actually from the last time I made baguettes and ate pâté... which was two days earlier.

During dinner we talked about what we had learned that day. Wanda said she especially liked way Geography Now! explained the relationship between France and Japan, and how they have some similarities that lead to special appreciation of each other's cultures. Wanda also did some interesting comparing and contrasting between the expansion of the French empire under Napoleon and the invasions by Germany under Hitler in WWII. She was particularly struck by Napoleon's dramatic changes in fortune in such a short timeline: somewhat humble beginnings, astronomical highs, and then death in exile. And she liked tasting the candy.


We did our normal exercise and math, but everything else we did during the day was unplanned. Despite that, we accomplished a lot! Wanda did amazing language arts work, unprompted, right at her usual language arts time. We obviously covered some solid geography territory, learning not just about continental France but also about its many widespread overseas territories. We touched on the history of Napoleon, World War II, and medieval times. We soaked up a bit of French culture, and talked a bit about the language.

This was a special day—days like this only happen a few times a month. Most of our days we're sticking a bit closer to our curricula. And this day is nothing at all like what I would have created if I'd had a chance to plan ahead (there wouldn't have been so many videos, for starters). But it was still a full day of solid learning.

Having our days follow a somewhat predictable rhythm doesn't keep us from having special days like this... rather, I feel like it makes them frictionless to pull off.

* The one-time investment of effort into creating the whole setup for Acorn Airlines has given me something I'm able to deploy again and again, making it easy to make days like this feel special and intentional. You can learn a bit more about Acorn Airlines in this previous post.

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