First week of school


So there are both advantages and disadvantages of schooling at home for years and years.  I’m not talking about the obvious (you can wear your pajamas, you don’t have to pack a lunch, you can wear your pajamas…)

No, I mean the habit of schooling at home is both a boon and a challenge.

Jonah is in ninth grade, and his last full-time, out-of-home schooling was in Chicago ten years ago.  Since that, we’ve been learning at home.  The advantages:

  • my kids know the drill.  They get up in the morning, grab their assignment sheets and go to work, often even before breakfast.
  • we can take up in the fall (almost) right where we left off.  Thursday we jumped right back into the middle of By the Shores of Silver Lake. I asked the kids to recap where the Ingalls family was, and they summed it up in a few sentences before we started reading.  Phoebe was in the middle of a math book, and she just hopped right to it and did an exercise before I got out of the shower.
  • you can keep using the same supplies.  We have a bin of hundreds of colored pencils, all somewhere between almost-new and too-short-to-sharpen.  I didn’t feel compelled to spend  $20 on four sets of eight new pencils, a different set for each child’s classroom.
  • no one brings teacher-notes home.  Each of my kids has at least one annoying school habit: one likes to hang upside down while I read aloud, one interrupts a lot, one starts side conversations, and one is sometimes too busy drawing to listen.  But we know this already, and I’m not waiting each afternoon for the backpack containing the note from the teacher who just discovered how annoying a talking, disruptive, artistic opossum can be during class.

The disadvantages:

  • my kids know the drill.  We may change up a few things, but there’s aren’t any new faces in our class this year.  No one is quietly sitting in their seats on their best behavior lest this year’s teacher is secretly an ogre.
  • we can take up right where we left off.  There’s something fun about new books that do things differently.  There’s always a chance they’ll go over something you already know, and then you’ll get a bye for two weeks while everyone studies the pilgrims or the water cycle yet again.
  • no (or few) new school supplies.  Who doesn’t love new markers?
  • no notes home.  Wait… um, that’s not a disadvantage.

The kids did start a new one-day-a-week homeschool school this week. (Enrichment school? I never know what to call it.)  My parents called the night before to talk to the kids before they “started their new school.”  The children had the butterflies of “Will I make new friends?” and “What if I can’t find my classes?” and “What if my teacher doesn’t like me?”  We had to buy new dividers and pencils and markers and water bottles. The kids thought carefully about what to wear (well, most of them did).  It’s fun.  New things are fun.  They made new friends and re-discovered old ones.  They are going to have some interesting classes and some new teachers.  It’s good.  But it’s not where the majority of our learning happens.

I’m grateful for new opportunities.  I’m grateful for new faces and different teaching styles and that my kids have the chance to learn from other teachers.  But their first day of school was Monday.  No one had to pack a lunch, but they all chose to stay in their pajamas till noon.

Further developments in air conditioning

You may recall our air conditioning has been broken.  It was broken in June when our friends turned it on for the first time.  It was broken in July.  The first time HVAC guy came to fix it, he started by telling me that I didn’t understand how to use it properly.  “See,” he said, “you  can’t wait until the house is 90 degrees and expect it to cool down just like that.” He snapped his fingers.

I said when I turned it on, I expected to have cold air pumping through the vents, regardless of whether the house was 88 or 90 degrees.

He asked if I had changed the filter recently.

Two hours later, he said that the coolant had frozen into a block of ice because of a shortage of coolant.  He had “topped it off.  It should work fine now,” he said.

Two weeks later, I turned it on, and there was almost no cold air running through the vents. Again, there was a ring of condensation on the floor around the furnace.  I youtubed it this time to see what else could be wrong.

Enter HVAC man #2 (same company).  I explained how the first time the system had been low on coolant and since the same thing happened again, I suspected a leak in the system.

“Have you changed your filter?” he asked.


Two hours later, he came to explain to me that there wasn’t a leak, precisely, but that the system thought there was a leak.  “The air conditioner is like a heart,” he said.  “You know a heart is like a pump?”

Yeah, I said, I know about how the heart is like a pump.

Anyway, he’s gone again.  The pseudo-leak has been fixed [he says] and “it should all work fine now.”  Of course, today it’s 72 degrees and there’s no way I’m running the system to find out.  But I may go change the filter just for fun.

Daybook: First Day of School

Outside my window: the sky has just turned white, but the sun and the birds are still sleeping. We had a hard, middle-of-the-night storm that woke us up, so everything is wet and green.

In the kitchen: we’re having one of Sam’s mentees and his family over for dinner, so we’re planning to make Special Cake.  Of course, more workmen are scheduled to be here today to replace one of the cabinets and re-drywall in a few areas and replace a door and fix the A/C (again!), so the Special Cake will have to wait till it’s too hot in the kitchen to bake. I guess we’ll be eating outside.


In my shoes: planning a little run today.  The kids want to begin training with Kids Running America, so my run may be a few loops when they are done.

In the school room: Ninth grade, sixth grade, fifth grade and first grade.  The kids all seem excited. I ordered next week’s library books (a biography of James Beckenwourth of Sand Creek Massacre fame, a few books on women’s suffrage, Elijah of Buxton and House of Tailors) but I’m most eager to start of our kitchen time line.

In my reading basket: Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success and The Light Heart.

Grateful for: the privilege of educating at home, a good weekend away, a mountain run for a great cause, how coming home last night actually felt like home, Owen’s insight about last year and how he wants to do things differently this year, that Phoebe’s cast is coming off today.


Praying for: AJ’s breathing, teachers everywhere, Mandy, to start our school year off (and continue) on the right foot, Clare, Judy, refugees, those serving at risk of their lives in the Ebola crisis.


{phfr}: mid August

{Pretty}:  There are three hibiscus bushes, huge and thriving, by the water fountain on the path where I run. I stop to get a drink, but the whole time I’m just marveling at their beauty.

When I was pregnant with Owen, one of my friends at work hosted a party for me the night before his due date. We all sat around her fireplace, and she taught me how to knit. I drank a gallon of Raspberry Zinger tea and prayed that the raspberry leaf would promote my labor. After the ninth or tenth cup, as I was floating away on a tide of tea, I read the box and discovered that there was no raspberry leaf in the tea: it was all hibiscus.

{Happy}:  We’ve been to the Botanic Gardens now four times this summer to see the Chihuly. Every time we go, I see something new or learn more about the glass. So many of the sculptures seem to have grown up in the plants- I’ve walked right past them in the conservatory, thinking the glass itself was an exotic tropical plant.

{Funny}: This enchanting guy is a Poison Dart Frog. The Botanic Gardens has a terrarium of them by the door to the conservatory, with a note explaining that without the alkaloids in their natural diet in the Panamanian forest, the specimens here are not venomous. It seemed interesting but an academic point until my friend Tamarin located this large one– much bigger than the ones in the terrarium– hopping free among the plants.


{Real}: We visited friends this week and played a rousing game of Blob Tag. [An aside: when I wrote this post, my autocorrect kept changing it to Blog Tag.]

(One person is “It”. When she tags another person, they hold hands and try to tag more players. The blob gets bigger and bigger– you hope– until the last person still free becomes the new “it”.)

Earlier that morning, my planned four mile run was abbreviated into a [really slow, lame] two-mile run, and I was beating myself up about it until we started to play blob tag. After being “It” multiple times, I calculated  that I ran more than a mile, all in a desperate sprint with an inadequate bra.  Now my “bad run” has been reframed into a “good warm-up.”


For more {p,h,f,r}, go check out Like Mother, Like Daughter!


We had a day in the mountains Monday.  A dear friend from medical school brings her family to the mountains every summer, and drive up to meet them not-quite halfway at a park along Gore Creek.  My kids think of it as “our friends’ creek”; they think it’s ours.  Either way, I’m grateful for the tradition.


It made me realize how little unstructured time we had outside last year.  I had grand plans for walks at the state park and time to play in the St Vrain River near my parents’ house.  But the flood last fall caused the river to change course, and both of our places were closed.

Jonah was accountable for attending his community college class, and that meant we were tied to his schedule. We still managed outside time– riding bikes, sledding and skiing– but it lacked the pull of water-play.  We were going somewhere, even if it was just up and down the hill, and I missed the unstructured nature of creek play.


The little girls made a pine cone pond.  The bigger girls sat in the middle of the ice-cold creek and watched the birds.  The boys built a dam and a swimming hole and forded the creek.  I lifeguarded and sat still as the past weeks’ tension in me unwound.

I am wondering how to fit more unstructured outside time into our lives.  The chickens have helped with that, but part of me is a mountain girl, and I need the hikes and the frigid waters tumbling down from the Continental Divide.

Daybook: early August


Out my window: the chickens are in my cucumbers.  Next year I’ll make fencing, but this year… well, I find I like watching the chickens more than I need cucumbers. So I’m happy to share.

In the kitchen: our CSA share has been bountiful, which surprises me given how much rain we’ve had.  Right now my favorite is green beans.  We like them fresh, or sautéed with a little garlic and soy sauce, or steamed…

On the calendar: this weekend alone is a birthday party, a hospital shift, Tae Kwon Do class, a planning breakfast, a meeting after church, lunch with friends, and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Tempest.  That’s after I make it through today’s dentist visit, meeting at school, and visit from the Dell computer tech.   But now that Sam is not going to Liberia next week, I find my brain has opened back up and I can plan.  I will post more about the decision-process later.  The situation in West Africa is so heavy on my heart; thank you for praying.


In the school room: the high school we had “choiced” into for Jonah decided not to allow him to do part-time there, so we are now deciding between a different once-a-week homeschool program and two the community college options for his math.  Other than that, most of the pieces of our autumn schedule have come together.

I know you can’t see SweetP in the boat, but she’s there, safe in the bottom– I promise we didn’t lose her!

Grateful for: July was a month of many visits from dear guests.  The trips were all short and incredibly sweet– full of prayer and laughter and blessing.  I’m also so grateful for a really good vacation over this past weekend.  Phoebe was able to swim every day multiple times; everyone loved the white-water rafting and wants to go again; Sam and Owen had a great hike up the mountain; and my heart filled up with mountain air and space and wildflowers and hummingbirds again.  All much needed.


Praying for: the Neals’ trip to Fiji next week.  All the Ebola victims, their families, and all those working in incredibly difficult conditions to save them. Mandy. Judy. Heather & fam.  The Simons’ plunge back into life in Davao.  Clare.  My children.  Kathie’s healing. My friends who are foster parents– what a ministry.