Summer Eats: Week 2

For previous posts in this series, check out Summer Eats, week 1.

Monday: Chicken Fajitas (I slice the meat in thin strips, marinate it in a mixture of chili powder and lime juice in a ratio of 1:2, and stir fry it with red onions* and peppers) with melon*.

Tuesday: Beef Noodle Bowls from Pioneer Woman (I added steamed broccoli* to ours), a beet salad (roasted golden and red beets* drizzled with balsamic glaze and sprinkled with feta cheese) and Special Cake (with zucchini* in it) to celebrate our friend’s engagement. Hooray!
Wednesday: Tacos (it was Takos Tuesday but on a Wednesday). Musk melon* (like a cantaloupe but way tastier) and green beans*.

Thursday: 3 bean salad (with green beans* and hopefully undetected zucchini*) and quiches with our eggs*, and broiled (or grilled works too) apricots* with mascarpone cheese and cinnamon.

Friday: black bean soup with avocado, lime, and corn chips.  Musk melon*.

Saturday: sauteed vegetables (zucchini*, fennel*, green beans*, onions*) over pasta.

Sunday: out for a birthday dinner, and at home: birthday cake!

What’s for dinner at your house?


phfr: late July

Pretty: I think it was all the late spring snow and rain we had, but this has been an amazing year for our roses.


Happy: this week we got to celebrate our friend’s engagement and meet her fiancé. Stupidly, I didn’t take a photo of them, but she and I both took photos of the cake. Recipe from my friend Kristina’s awesome baking blog here.


Funny: I’m running some new routes this week, and I keep passing this car. It makes me feel like I’m in Mayberry.


And there is one house that totally overwaters (their sidewalk is always flooded) and I nearly stepped on this little fellow.


Real: So many heavy things are on my heart right now.  So many shootings.  Politicians using fear as a weapon.  My goddaughter is in the ICU far away, getting good care, but still… heavy. Scary. Would you add her to your prayer list?  Thanks.

For more {phfr} check out Like Mother Like Daughter.

Hey! I just caught a Ponyta!

You may have heard of a little phenomenon going on.  Pokemon Go, anyone?

Owen downloaded it last week, but it kept crashing on his phone.  Phoebe had better luck on my phone, and we’ve been walking around our neighborhood (and others) to catch Pokemon and incubate our eggs.  I think it’s hilarious.

Yes, I’ve read about all the downsides.  Pokemon Go may be getting almost as much press as the Donald.  But this is what it’s done to my stepcounter:


A game that gets my kids asking me to walk around the neighborhood (“Can we go for another walk, Mom?”) gets five stars.  Did Michele Obama design this game?

I caught three Pokemon inside Old Navy last week, while Moriah was trying on shorts.  Old Navy for the win!

P.S. Yes, I fixed the terrible typo on my runniversary post, in case anyone was horrified by the idea of my running through Linden trees dripping in blood.

5th Runniversary

With our 20th wedding anniversary coming up next month, it seems silly to be celebrating my 5th runniversary.  But it feels significant to me.

I started running after getting the knee surgery Sam had been after me about for years.  I didn’t get the surgery so I could run, but so I could move.  My pain had been enough that I had limited my activity more and more, until even walking up the stairs was a challenge some days.  That was not where I wanted to be.  There are plenty of people who don’t have a choice about that, but I did.  So I had the surgery and 12 weeks of PT, and when I was cleared to run, I did.


The view on a recent run.

No matter my mood before I set out (grumpy, tired, sad, fearful) it doesn’t take long for me to realize how blessed I am that I can move.  Smell the sweet Linden trees in bloom. Taste the sweat on my skin. Breathe. See the mountains and feel the sunlight on my face. Hear the birds.

I wish that for you, friends.  Whatever your thing is, that thing you do that makes you feel glad to be alive, I wish it for you today.  Thanks for celebrating with me.

Summer Eats: Week 1

Our summer CSA deliveries started a month ago, and we’re working to adjust. It’s a change every year, switching from the routine of winter recipes we love (chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti…) to the new and different, based on what’s in season. I love the challenge, and it makes me enjoy cooking again after my winter rut. The kids often don’t love what I serve, but none of them is going to starve, and at least no one complains any more. (More on the why we joined a CSA here and here and here.)

So I thought I’d share here our weekly menu. My links aren’t working right, so no links today. Hopefully I’ll figure that out and link the recipes where I can. Anything with a * was sourced locally.

Oregano I’m drying

Monday: roasted kielbasa and vegetables (beets*, turnips*, zucchini*, and sweet potatoes with fresh oregano*), and kohlslaw (kohlrabi*, red onion, apples and dried cranberries in a little olive oil and cider vinegar.)


Tuesday: sour cherry nut bars (sour cherries* from our neighbor’s tree), frittatas (eggs* from our chickens) and sautéed chard* with bacon*.


Wednesday: spaghetti and meatballs (I didn’t say we were abandoning ship on our standbys). Don’t tell the kids, but I threw an aging zucchini* in the sauce before I put it through the food mill.

Thursday: maple-mustard spare ribs* with turnip* soup and a garnish of bacon* and croutons* and a green salad.


Smoky turnip soup

Friday: fried rice, sliced cucumbers* and a mango-melon-strawberry* salad.

Saturday: a pasta salad with all the leftover vegetables* and meats tossed in.


Sunday: the other pan of sour cherry bars or toast with strawberry* jam. Hamburgers*, oven fries and fresh cherries*.

Please post your local eats in comments (especially any special ways you’ve gotten your kids love all the stronger vegetables!)

How to teach AP Biology at home

I don’t often post homeschooling how-tos. I believe there are as many ways to homeschool as there are families. And each year for our family looks a little different from the previous. So take my how-to with a grain of salt, and skip to the end if you need the down-low without all my ramblings. All the links to what I reference in the text are at the end of this post.

Last August, when it became clear our plans to participate in dual enrollment weren’t going to work, Sam scrambled to find some other advanced coursework for our high schooler to do. He found a large number on online AP courses at the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers site, and I highly recommend their classes. We, however, were too late to enroll in AP Biology. Which was when the madness overtook me. I have an advanced degree in a biological science, I thought. They have all the materials online. Why don’t I teach AP Biology at home? Starting next week?

Maybe, had I had the summer to prepare, throwing the prep work for an AP class into an already busy school schedule wouldn’t have tipped me over the edge. As it was, I had two weeks to assemble the materials for a rigorous lab and teach an astounding amount of material… only half of which has anything to do with my own biological degree. (In case you were wondering, a degree in medicine did not prepare me well for teaching a semester of ecology and evolution.)

The College Board, which oversees the AP curricula and tests, has a wealth of material available online. They even have made available four complete syllabi (all different), from master AP educators. I chose one that went from small [chemical components and bonds] to large [ecosystems], since I was comfortable already teaching the micro-level biological information. I’d have plenty of time, I thought, to learn the macro-concepts before I had to teach them. [insert crazy coughing here] I ordered the textbook and several supplements from Amazon, and the lab manuals from the College Board bookstore. Then I tried to order the lab supplies.

The syllabus I chose recommended a particular lab supply company, and I sorted through the AP labs to compile a master list of the various reagents and supplies we’d need. 50mL of sulfuric acid here, 20 mL 5M NaOH there… but the smallest amount of any chemical I could put in my “cart” was 5 liters. Hmmm. Looking deeper, I found kits for each of the AP labs (hooray!)—but built for 30 students. Not cost effective for a single student, especially when there are 12 labs. Finally I found a website to substitute some of the ingredients… only to discover that you’re not allowed to ship most of the chemicals to a home address anyway. So there, people making bombs in your basements. Take that.

I spent at least 20 hours one weekend trying to order all the labs goods, to no avail. And then I remembered Carolina, which supplied all of our Chemistry supplies a few years ago. If you’re planning an AP adventure at home, look at Carolina first for your lab supplies. (Not a paid announcement, just an honest endorsement. They saved my sanity.) Note: the Carolina labs are not the exact labs in the AP Biology lab manual, but they cover the same concepts and ideas. You will use the lab manual included with the labs, not the manuals from the College Board, which could save you lots of money.  To shore over any gaps, have your student review the CliffsNotes AP Biology review book section on labs, and review the virtual labs at the Pearson Lab Bench.

Because the AP exams are on fixed dates in early May, we had to begin our class almost immediately. I altered the AP syllabus for our needs and we took off running. There’s far too much material to cover thoroughly in a year, but the syllabus we chose had a good balance between covering the essentials and going deeper in select areas. I highly recommend taking the time to sort through the syllabi online to find a course that plays to your student’s particular interests. The exam offers some latitude in terms of where depth can be achieved. The AP review books we used (our favorites were Barron’s and Reece’s Preparing for the AP exam) had good predictions of what subjects recur most frequently on the test, so these areas should not be skimmed.
Another challenge for me was writing the exams and assessments. The syllabi offered the big-idea topics to be covered, but no more. I spent hours writing questions before the first exam. And then for the second, I got smart and compiled questions from review books and chapter-end quizzes.

Which brings me to the biggest studying aid I found: self-quizzing using the review books and chapter ends. Peter C. Chase’s book Make it Stick convinced me of the value of frequent, low-stakes quizzes, and we employed these a lot. Quiz on a topic (or collection of mixed topics), grade the quiz, and then focus on the area of weakness. Repeat.

Bozeman Science (on youtube) has a collection of mini-lectures on many of the AP topics (not just biology). These were very helpful, both to teach the first time and to review.

The labs were a continual headache. (Says a scientist.) While the labs are supposed to be “student-led, teacher-guided”, they each required several hours of teacher prep, and then one-on-one attention. I could have supervised twenty students doing one lab together, but it was impossible to read with a second-grader or grade algebra tests while supervising the injection of plasmid DNA into non-pathogenic E. coli.

I was surprised at the difficulty I had finding a school that would allow my student to take the test with them. There is no option to proctor the test at home; all students must test on the national date at an approved site. No school is required to offer testing to outside students, and I called nine schools before finding a school that was willing to let him test there. The College Board was very helpful in this, even when I called back in a panic. Schools order the tests in late March, so start calling early. The College Board will give your student (or your homeschool) a school code that he or she will need for the exam. Because we are enrolled in a once-a-week school hosted at a public school, we used their school code.

I’ll go over the cost of the class in a separate post.

As the year raced on approaching the test, I found myself becoming more and more nervous. This was the first time any class I taught was gearing toward a test. And a test I’d never taken. The AP exam felt completely different from the standardized tests we take each year. Somehow I’m able to compartmentalize those tests as a guide for our planning, a tool in my skill evaluation, or a life-skill for the children. This AP test felt like a judgment on my teaching, which wasn’t stellar for this class or this year. However, my son is pretty remarkable and managed to do well enough (on both his AB Calculus and AP Biology) to receive college credit. [insert large exhale] When he texted me his results, I cried—not because this test was the end-all be-all, but because I hadn’t failed him. Isn’t that all of our deepest fear?

Of course I have failed him in a myriad of ways. As people, we fail each other all the time, and if AP exams were the measure of our love or our value, this world would be a sorry place. All the same, the exam felt like a referendum on my homeschooling. I have an exceptional son who is very gifted academically, and I wonder now and then, have I done him a disservice by cheating him out of the academics he could receive in “regular” school? While he files his score away to use for college credit later, I’m going to save it in my pocket for the days I feel like my children aren’t learning enough. (Or on really bad days, anything.)

In summary, here are my recommendations for teaching an AP class successfully at home:

  1. Think carefully before choosing to teach an AP class at home. It is a huge time and energy commitment, and many students don’t have the inclination or the background to be successful in an AP class. If your student knows already where she wants to go to college, make sure you are going to get sufficient credit for the class to make it worth your while.
  2.  Start planning early. You can find links to the College Board’s master teacher’s curricula here. Check the test date to make sure it works for your family. You can’t change the testing date, and the entire class must be wrapped up by that first week in May.
  3. Buy the version of the textbook that matches your curriculum’s page numbers. (I bought the previous edition to save a few bucks, and it caused me several days’ headaches just to make sure the page numbers I assigned corresponded to his book.)
  4. Think ahead to whether or not you are equipped to run a lab in your kitchen. If you’re not, is there a school or local business that might have lab space you could borrow? Do you have a friend or relative who could watch your other children (preferably somewhere other than your kitchen laboratory) while you do the labs?
  5. We ordered our lab supplies from Carolina, which has a full kit of AP-biology equivalent labs. Use Pearson’s lab bench for simulated labs to supplement what you can’t do at home, and review the labs in the CliffNotes AP Biology review books.
  6. I recommend purchasing Barron’s AP Biology and Reece’s review books right at the beginning of the year, so you can use them to help you write your unit tests and quizzes. Note that there are multiple choice questions that require factual knowledge and a deeper understanding, as well as short answer and essay questions on the exam. A simple memorization of biological facts is not adequate for the AP exam.
  7. Bozeman Science has a variety of youtube videos covering many of the biological concepts.  These were much easier to coordinate to the textbook than any of the Khan academy materials, and they were great.  I particularly liked Paul Anderson’s take on how we teach science.
  8. To maximize learning, have your student self-quiz frequently. Then he or she can guide her studying toward her areas of weakness. There is too much material in an AP course to learn all of it in depth, but the review books will tell your student needs depth, and what he or she can learn more superficially.
  9. In January or February, call the College Board for the phone numbers of the AP coordinators at your local schools and for your testing code. Be sure to confirm in early March with a school so that the test can be ordered on time.
  10. Only 10-key calculators can be used on the AP Biology exam– no phones or fancy graphing calculators. (They allow you to take two with you just in case your little sister pulled the keys off one and it doesn’t work.) Buy these ahead of time so you’re not scrambling for one at the last minute (like me), because your student will need a calculator.
  11. Be sure not to hold this test (or the score) too tightly. You may decide that the class itself was enough, and the grade you give your student is an adequate record of the year. If your student decides to take the test, remember that it is a mark of one class, not a referendum on your home school experience or your student’s global abilities or future success.

SQT: Staycation

One: We had a delightful (and full) staycation with my brother- and sister-in-law and their three children.  The logistics of a house with 11 people in it can be challenging, but Matt and Jen are both so flexible and obliging that it felt like we had more adults than children. (Spoiler: we did not.)  I highly recommend, if you decide to have a staycation with 11 people, you invite my in-laws, because they will make it wonderful.


Two: The first day, the children decided to do a play. They chose Romeo and Juliet. Step one: I cut Shakespeare’s masterpiece down from 104 pages to 27 pages. Step two: We vetoed the idea of auditions. Step three: Matt negotiated the minefield of my children’s unkindness to help them through the trauma of casting.


Step four: younger children got very excited about a) costumes and b) killing each other with swords. Step five: All the children hung through 3 hours of read-through, in the original language.


Step six: We began staging. Step seven: Everyone abandoned the effort in favor of popsicles and running through the sprinklers.



Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. — William Shakespeare

Three: We managed to take one hike.  It was raining as we drove to the mountains. It rained all the way home.  But miraculously, we had two hours of sun-dappled beauty in the pines without crowds or rain.  It was a gift.


Four: We celebrated Independence Day by picking the neighbor’s pie cherries (with his permission), listening to NPR’s annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, taking the citizenship test, cheering on the local parade, and watching the fireworks.


Five: What family vacation would be complete without a medical emergency?  Only one person had to be hospitalized, and she bore it with patience and grace.  Happily, she came home (healthy) to much acclaim and a hero’s welcome.

Six: We celebrated four birthdays and a baptism anniversary all at once.

Seven: The children finally managed to produce a full play, Rapunzel. We all agreed that the porch was equally perfect for Rapunzel’s Tower or Juliet’s balcony.  The witch was defeated before bedtime, and fun was had by all.  The end.


I can’t wait till next year’s Staycation.