Daybook: mid-Ocotober

Out my window: our maple tree is in its full glory. I love this tree.

A red maple tree against the blue sky.

In the kitchen: Mo made me this fantastic birthday cake topped with maple leaves. We were watching Little Women (2019) yesterday, and I requested Marmee’s cake. (I don’t know what flavor hers was, but mine was carrot.)

Marmee’s cake
My cake

Also, Sam made these amazing beef satay skewers from one of Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. The rest of the week I’m planning red lentil dahl with naan, brown butter and butternut squash pasta with sage, sheet pan chicken thighs with cauliflower and purple potatoes, and frozen pizza.

In the garden: Last week there was a freeze alert. The clouds moved in, six snowflakes swirled around without actually touching the ground, and Phoebe and I ran outside to bring in the last of the tomatoes and herbs. The kitchen was covered in rosemary, sage, chives and thyme. Bunches of rosemary are hanging in Phoebe’s room to dry, and I had trays of them in the oven. Then Sam turned on the oven to make the satay. Three minutes later the whole house smelled of rosemary. Anyway, today I have to crush all the dried herbs into jars to reclaim the counters.

Beets, rosemary and a random medical journal I should have moved before taking the photo.

Pro tip: fresh herbs in flower bouquets smell amazing.

Fresh bouquet of zinnias, oregano, rosemary and basil.

In the school room: Mo is putting the finishing touches on her essays for the Common App. Colorado has a free day (this year, it’s been extended to three days) for applying to the state colleges. It’s a good nudge to get the application done early. We are reading Annie Dillard for English and have moved into the 19th Century in US History.

This week’s topic in 8th grade Economics is inflation. Yesterday we tried to find the exact items included in the Consumer Basket of Goods, which is surprisingly hard to find. Phoebe’s going to make her own basket of “essentials” and compare prices from three months ago. We will use this same basket later when we talk about purchasing power parity.

This week’s Chemistry includes Nova’s Beyond the Elements, hosted by David Pogue. We’ve also been reading Sharon Creech’s lovely One Time together.

We also have lots of volleyball on the schedule this week.

Phoebe on her knees, receiving a serve.

On my reading table: In addition to the above school books, I’m reading two (as yet) unpublished novels for fellow writers and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling. I just finished Margaret Mizushima’s seventh Maddie Cobb novel, Striking Range. So good.

On my mind: I’ve been working hard on an essay about the idea of “American freedom” and its effect on the pandemic.

Grateful for: friends loving on my kids who are far away. So many birthday messages (thank you!) Miles on my feet. Snuggles with my kids at home. Sam (a million times, Sam.) Our mental health team. All the folks at church who are putting our youth space together.

We went to Wonderbound’s October ballet, Penny’s Dreadful, last Friday. Wonderbound is a local dance company known for their collaboration with other artists and their contemporary choreography. We love their shows. They bought a new performance space last year, and it was set up as a café in Paris. The ballet was a vampire story. I don’t even like vampires, but I loved the show, and we had a great night.

Two masked girls waiting for the show to start.

Praying for: friends with big decisions on their plates. That my kids would know how much they are loved. My aunt. Those who work, or watch, or weep this night.

Ten Tips to Help your Homeschooled Student Apply for College

September has been the month of college. We moved Owen into their dorm in Chicago, and Sam and I have been working with Mo on applications.

We look significantly older than the last time we sat on this quadrangle.

Thirty years ago my parents steered me toward a small liberal arts college, but what did they know? I thought I knew everything at 18 and chose a state school across the country because a) it was really far away and b) it offered me a full scholarship. I never considered the similarities between that school and the university down the road I had soundly rejected, though I could articulate clearly the reasons why University Down the Block was not right for me. I’m not sure if visiting State School Across the Country would have made alarm bells ring for me, but certainly a semester of classes did the trick. During my freshman year there, I applied to five completely different schools, abandoned my scholarship, and ended up at a much smaller liberal arts college that was a great fit for me.

So you can imagine my great apprehension about my kids’ applying to college as homeschoolers. This seems silly to me in retrospect, since I applied to nine colleges myself and then to medical schools three years later. I should be an ace application coach. But this felt different, because we didn’t have the high school application machine behind us.

Mo is my third college applicant, and I have a few suggestions for how you as a parent can make your child’s application process smoother.

One: Keep good records all the way through high school, including book lists.

Not every school requires this, but some colleges want a detailed list of the classes you offered at home and the books you studied. This blog was my secret weapon, but if you don’t have years of curriculum blogging to turn to, you can look back to your school planner/calendar. Our library keeps a running list of all the books we’ve checked out over the years (happily without an asterisk on every book that we turned in late.) If you haven’t kept good records so far, be kind to your future self and start now.

A screen capture of our list of library books from last November.

Your child should be keeping a list of their volunteer engagements, awards,
speaking opportunities, honor societies, quiz bowl championships, etc. This list 
will be helpful for several purposes:

·      The adults who have agreed to write your student’s recommendation letters will need the details in order to highlight your child’s strengths.

·      This will be invaluable to your student in writing down all their accomplishments for school and scholarship applications.

Two: Location, location location.

Our one rule for our kids’ college search has been to choose a school where we have someone we we can call to sit with them in the emergency room until we can get there.

This rule led Jonah to an excellent school that has been a great fit and is 10 minutes from his godmother.

This rule led Owen to an excellent school in Chicago where we have both family and dear friends.

This rule helped Mo’s list of zero schools expand to eight colleges in five cities. The amount of mail my kids get from colleges is overwhelming. Mo didn’t have any idea where to start looking, but Google did the work for her when she put “college in _______ with dance and math majors” into the search bar.

Three: Don’t let finances determine where you apply.

Finances come later, after your student has been accepted.

I had the misconception that we would only be able to afford a public state college. I’m not convinced that piecing together twenty small scholarships to cover a big bill is worth it, but the extra financial resources of private colleges/universities changed the financial equation for us.

Jonah got into several liberal arts colleges we considered more or less equivalent in quality, cost and prestige, but using the same data, they calculated our financial aid completely differently. I have no doubt that he ended up at the right school, but we almost didn’t apply there because I thought the cost would be prohibitive.

Four: As much as possible, use the Common App.

Remember when every college had its own application? Me too. The good news is that many colleges have come together to streamline the application process. The Common App allows your student to fill in all the demographic and school information once online, and send later it to as many colleges as they desire. The Common App includes a common essay, with a variety of prompts to choose from. Alas, individual colleges still have individual fees for applying. That part didn’t change.

Five: Consider using supplemental classes or test scores to help standardize your child’s application.

While a huge benefit of homeschooling is the individuality of our kids’ educations, this must be hard for colleges to interpret. Does “Alternative linguistic structure in creative writing” mean my child taught themselves full Elfin grammar from the Silmarillion and wrote a 300-page epic fantasy fan fic novel in Elfin, or does it mean they made captions for four memes that were popular on Twitter? I say, put it all on the transcript, but prepared to include in some detail what that meant for your kid. (See #1 above.)

If your kid has a strong traditional academic background as well, be sure to highlight it. Community college coursework, summer classes at your local college, and nationally standardized exams are helpful to schools trying to understand where your child fits academically. I’m not talking about just the ACT and SAT. AP exams and the National Latin Exam would work for this, too.

Six: Start thinking early about the application essay(s).

The Common App essay prompts are released in late summer and are good topics for early fall writing. The application essay is your child’s opportunity to show off their special interest in medieval armor, African dance, or matrices. Of course the essay should be well written and comply with the word-count guidelines.

We’ve gotten mixed feedback from friends/teachers my kids asked to read their essays. Advice leaned toward writing a generic, self-aggrandizing essay that highlighted the child’s academic strengths. But the schools my kids were most excited about asked questions that encouraged creativity. The schools that accepted them quickly and gave them the most scholarships were the schools for which my kids took risks in their essays. If I were reading thousands of college application essays, I would certainly notice the ones that demonstrated an unusual interest or sense of humor about a universal experience.

Many schools have essay requirements above and beyond the Common App essay. One is often some variation of, “Tell what aspects of our school make us your ideal college.” Rather than rolling your eyes at this one, use it to prod your kid to look beyond the shiny brochure that came in the mail to consider the school’s unique strengths or weaknesses. As we did the research for this with Owen, it became abundantly clear that a school high on their list would be a terrible fit.

If you’re looking at schools early enough, you may find essay prompts that work for multiple schools. These are the supplemental essays about the applicant. “Tell us something you are passionate about and that your application would be incomplete without mentioning.” Save time and choose to write these essays instead of ones that might work for only one school.

Seven: Get help with essay mentoring if you need it.

If coaching is writing is not your strength as a parent, or your parent/child relationship is too strained right now to do this, I encourage you to outsource your essay coaching. While putting themselves on paper for strangers to read may seem like the biggest hurdle, in reality our kids might have a harder time putting themselves into writing for us. The dance of self-revelation is a delicate one, and you might not be the best coach at this time for your kid.

Bravewriter.com offers college essay writing, as does the Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop. Perhaps there is a writers’ collective near you that offers in-person or online coaching, or a friend your child sees as an ally.

Eight: Early Decision and Early Action are different beasts. Early Decision allows a student to apply to only one college early (usually around November 1,) and if they are accepted, they are committed to that school even before seeing the financial aid package.

Early Action, which is not offered at many schools, allows a student early consideration of their application. They may apply to multiple other schools for Early or Regular Decision, and they do not have to commit to a school until the regular deadline in the spring (after financial aid has been awarded.)

We had good luck with Early Action for Owen. I think it made their application stand out in a year with record college admissions. Being admitted early also meant that the school began considering them for merit-based aid early, while there was still money to be spent.

 

Nine: Consider visiting a few schools at some point, but don’t make this the pinnacle of your process.

With Jonah, we visited a few schools in the fall of senior year. This backfired, as those became the only schools where he could imagine himself. Then, when those weren’t the schools he got into or we could afford, he felt disappointed and stuck. We finally visited his most affordable choice at the end of April, and he found his people within ten minutes of arriving on campus. It all worked out, but I wished we had been more strategic in visiting categories of schools instead of particular favorites.

Owen had a chance to visit two large state schools, Jonah’s small college, and a mid-sized urban private school before applying. We talked about these as prototypes rather than specific college options. We had plans to visit Owen’s top two or three choices before making a decision, but COVID made all college visits virtual which wasn’t helpful.

For Mo, we made a list based on location and her unusual choice of major (see #2.) We plan to wait and see where she gets in, what her financial aid looks like, and the state of the pandemic before visiting her top choice(s).

Ten: Most importantly, keep college in perspective.

College is not the end point of education. College does not define a person’s worth. Having a college degree does not make someone educated. It does not guarantee kindness, happiness, or meaningful work.

Our kids have internalized pressure that Sam and I never intended them to feel, and it has caused them a world of hurt. Make sure your teenager has no opportunity to misinterpret your enthusiasm for the next step of their schooling for a statement about their worth as a human.

A windy day in the windy city.

Daybook: Week 3 of School

Out my window: It’s harvest time. The peach tree has been heavy laden, and we’ve been harvesting and freezing peaches as quickly as we can. The days are still hot, but the nights are fresh enough to make the house cool again.

In the garden: uh, peaches. And my tomatoes are slowly coming in. Our fruit trees all managed to bloom between the terrible snowstorms last spring, so we also had a bounty crop of pears, which were delicious. We ate pear upside down cake four times and ate pears for days.

In the kitchen: Sam pulled a bunch of long-frozen meat out of the freezer to make room for the aforementioned fruit, and we had a highly successful brisket he made in the Instant Pot. Tonight will be red lentil dal and naan, just to balance out all the meat.

Schooling very hard.

In the school room: School has been a mixed bag thus far. Calculus at the community college is good, except for the parking situation which is disastrous. Volleyball starts this week, and anxiety is high- but we have been playing volleyball almost daily, which is fantastic. My cousin (who is an actual volleyball player) and her BF came to play with us. They even brought their own net. We can’t wait to do it again.

Literature has been good: 8th grade is reading Shakespeare this month, and we’re watching lots of adaptations for comparison. (Two thumbs up for 10 Things I Hate About You; She’s the Man didn’t have enough soccer and was pretty cringe-worthy. And why wasn’t Title IX a thing in 2006? Next up: The Lion King.)

We finished Garlic & Sapphires (Reichl) for senior English- so good. It has inspired lots of exploratory college essays (i.e., describe an event/place you participated in from two different perspectives. How was your experience different in each case? How were you different during the two experiences?)

I completely miscalculated 8th grade Chemistry and chose a textbook that requires tons of high school math. So this weekend I scrapped it and redid my curriculum. While that was a pain, I loved going through all the archived episodes of Science Friday to find ones that would supplement my lessons. (Next up, World-Class Tips for the Home Fermenter!)

We are gathering college dorm supplies. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have bought a used bike when we were in Chicago in the spring and figured out how to store it. Instead, I will be looking for a used bike 3 weeks AFTER every other college student in Chicago just bought one.

In my shoes: No running. I’m still walking, riding my bike to work and playing lots of volleyball. One of our favorite races is back- the Mac N Cheese 5K– and it’s supporting our favorite charity, Foster Source, so come join us!

From a previous Mac n Cheese 5K

Grateful for: Sam and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. He is such a gift to me. Also: we played croquet in fabulous hats at youth group on Sunday, and on Saturday some of us put carpet in the new youth room. (It’s coming together!)

That’s a lot of glasses. Apparently we were very thirsty.

Praying for: Haiti. Afghanistan. Refugees everywhere. Those affected by Ida. Those who mourn. The isolated. The lonely. The sick. Health care workers (I see you, lab techs and chaplains and respiratory techs!) caring for those with COVID-19 and all the other viruses going around right now. Jen. Mandy. Judy. My kids.

Seven Quick Takes: not quite back-to-school

ONE: Are your friends/family sending you lots of first day of school photos? We have been getting them, and the traffic patterns around the neighborhood have definitely changed. I rode my bike to the clinic this week, and the traffic to the campus (it hosts both a middle and a high school) was backed up a full mile. Two cars almost hit me as they crossed the bike lane to get to the drop off lane. Everyone is a little out of practice.

We don’t start school again until next week. Jonah will head back for his senior year of college (!) and we’ll do a family road trip (first one in 3 years, since the Year of too Many Road Trips) to take Owen to college next month. I’m elbow-deep in school prep.

TWO: We went back to the beach this month, for the first time in years. It was wonderful. Sam didn’t open his computer all week. I barely cooked at all (remember this gem from the Onion?) and came back refreshed to try some new recipes. Which is good, because it’s peach and tomato season.

Last beach trip:

This beach trip:

THREE: Peach season! I think the easiest way to preserve peaches is to wash them, slice them in half, remove the pits and freeze them like this on a tray. Then, once frozen, they are easy to pop into bags. I like them in halves for lots of recipes, but for smoothies I will often quarter them. I don’t take the skins off. They add fiber and make everything pretty.

For lunch today, I’m planning to make this Tomato, Peach and Burrata Salad from Half-Baked Harvest. Our herb garden is in its prime, and I have lots of fresh herbs to go with all the heirloom tomatoes and peaches.

Also, I’m planning to make this Peach Salsa from Natasha’s Kitchen. And Peach Upside Down Cake from Taste of Home.

FOUR: This is the time of year that we rearrange desks. Our rule is that kids can’t have screens (phones, computers, TVs, DSes, etc.) in their bedrooms. This requires lots of desks on our main floor, and we shuffled people around and cleaned spaces up.

Before:

After:

FIVE: This year, I’m going back to using BraveWriter‘s Arrow curriculum for my eighth grader. It’s a literature-based writing curriculum that has everything I need (grammar, mechanics, good books, great discussion questions.) They choose great books, and it’s flexible enough to adjust it for each student’s unique needs.

SIX: Turns out I don’t have seven takes today. But I have this awesome photo of the beach to leave with you. Happy end of summer, friends. May there be fresh peaches and tomatoes in your day.

Go check out Kelly for more Quick Takes.

Daybook: Peak Summer

Outside my window: we had a weirdly rainy June, and July has been an oven, so everything is very green and extra enormous, even the weeds. Somehow the fruit trees managed a huge bloom between the late spring snowstorms, so the fruit trees are heavy with tiny pears and peaches. The roses finished blooming just as the Japanese beetles were arriving, so the beetles have thus far been thwarted. It’s like everything and everyone spent the entire last year of quarantine planning how to make up for lost time.

In the kitchen: the saga of the Seven (actually we’re down to five) Silly Eaters continues. Do you know that book? It’s my favorite Mary Ann Hoberman book, and Martha Frazee’s illustrations are perfect. One of our therapists recommended eating out more as a form of exposure therapy, and so instead of my cooking weird, crazy meals to meet multiple people’s dietary needs, we spend hours each week arguing over which restaurant to go to. Will it be too crowded? Do they use paper or cloth napkins? Are they paying a living wage to their workers? It’s fun, I tell you.

The Seven Silly Eaters

In the school room: It is summer, so I’m not actually teaching anything formally. However, Moriah is doing the Colorado Governor’s school but over Zoom, just so that every postponed fun thing we were looking forward to would be dead by the time we do it. It’s been full of lessons in “independent time management” with her family peering in the French doors to make sure she’s not playing computer games on the side and wasting this beautiful opportunity.

Somehow Jonah’s postponed summer research program managed to assemble twenty vaccinated college students who are all obsessed with biology, and he has had an amazing summer doing ornithology research, hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains, watching Planet Earth and applying for graduate school.

Owen has been working long hours lifeguarding at a very sunny, very crowded outdoor pool, or as I like to think about it, “reflecting on the benefits of higher education.” It will also make them grateful to go on vacation with us, so there’s that.

Phoebe’s summer has been a hodgepodge of pet sitting, speaking at environmental rallies, volunteering at the botanic gardens, diving, and complaining.  She won her age group’s regional diving meet last week after a very controversial, late protest lodged by the East German judge that will go down in history. Today we’re headed to the country club for the state meet. The riffraff is reminded to bring their own towels and that the use of cell phones and the wearing of denim is not allowed.

On my reading pile: Ostensibly I’m prepping for our fall classes, including Moriah’s senior English literature class and a middle school course on the economics of the Green New Deal. (Teach to their interests, right?) In reality, it means I’ve been rereading all my favorite memoirs (including Tina Fey’s Bossypants on audio) and wondering how the planet is going to survive capitalism.

In my shoes: This has been the Summer of the Hike for me. It’s not the once a week I fantasized about, but it’s certainly more hiking than I’ve done in recent memory.

Grateful: We have continued our dinnertime practice of gratitude, and it works! It works! There is far too much to list here, but I am grateful for the chance to celebrate my dad’s birthday with him, some vacation on the horizon, being back at church in person, Moriah’s dance company’s fantastic production of Giselle, and an army of tiny origami pigs.

Praying: to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Peace to you today, friends.

Seven Quick Takes: Graduation #2

One: it’s unbelievable to me, but we are graduating child #2. We were able to host a senior recital at a church near us. Both the space and the weather were perfect: open windows let the evening light, fresh air and birdsong in; we had room to sit distanced from one another; and the piano was beautiful. We had an opportunity to thank of three of Owen’s four music teachers. All in all, it felt miraculous on many levels.

My heart is very full. There were many days- months- when I didn’t think we would get here. I am reminded of Owen’s asking us in 7th grade, “What would you think if I went to public high school?” I grieved then, both that my daily time with them would be less than what I expected, but more that Owen’s passion hadn’t revealed itself. Owen couldn’t see the benefit to homeschooling. Six months later, when the time came to choose a school, Owen told us, “I only asked what you would think. I didn’t say I wanted to go.” But the reality was that in the intervening six months, they had discovered music. It was one step on a long, hard road, and music often was not enough- but I am so grateful we are here today.

At this point Owen doesn’t plan to study music in college, but I am so grateful for the last four years and the time they devoted to it. It has more than repaid them.

Two: Jonah was home for a week, and it was lovely. It was also so busy I could barely see straight. He left this weekend for a summer environmental studies research program in Kentucky. Two month ago, Sam and I started piling his summer supplies on his desk and felt ridiculous for doing it so early. However when the tornado of the week began, I was very grateful everything was ready.

Three: Phoebe’s summer plans are coming together. She will continue her environmental justice work and was thrilled to be invited to speak at a recent rally at the Capitol.

She was accepted into the Denver Botanic Garden’s Horticulture volunteer program. She was hoping for 30 hours/wk, but it turns out she will get 2-4 hours/wk. It’s not enough, but it’s something. It will be such a relief for her to leave the house. Also, she got her first vaccine last week, so there’s that. I am so grateful for the vaccine.

Call Lorilynn’s truck for all your ice cream sandwich needs.

Four: My friend Lori is now running a food truck for ice cream sandwiches. Hooray! Not only did we get to go to the soft opening, we got to eat ice cream sandwiches! Hooray! And fate conspired to give us this super fun photo of us in our matching jackets. Hooray!

The matching team jackets once belonged to my father-in-law.

Five: I finally had my first mammogram. And colon cancer screening. And DEXA scan. Turning fifty is no joke, friends.

Six: My neighbor offered his & his son’s services to lay down new mulch and dig the dandelions out of our front yard. (And two days later, another neighbor asked if he could come dig them out for me for free.) So the front yard looks good. However, the back yard is a forest of dandelions.

Not the front yard.

Seven: Now that summer is officially here, I’m hoping to reinstate some routine into my days. Daily prayer, yoga, walking/running, reading, cooking, hiking, gardening, preparing for fall school… and tea on the porch. Want to join me?

Daybook, Easter Week, 2021

Outside my window: the tulips and daffodils are up, but not yet blooming. My neighbors’ (fertilized) grass is dark green. Ours: not so much. The trees are on the brink of brilliance, though the branches I brought inside for our Easter tree are blooming.

In the kitchen: I am unmoored. Some days I make multiple dishes that have nothing to do with each other (Tuesday: roasted feta, kielbasa and halloumi with brussels sprouts and carrots, and green lentil mujadra with a side of farro) and other days I can’t bring myself to make anything at all (tonight: Owen brought us Chipotle.) I feel like I have unpredictable toddlers again, who one day will eat only string cheese and the next, reject string cheese as if it were poison. (Only a hangry teenager is stronger than a hangry toddler.)

In the school room: Phoebe and I are reading Connie Willis’s Crosstalk. Whenever Moriah hears me reading it, she snuggles up with us to listen. Phoebe and I have been building a raised bed for an herb garden. Our eyes were bigger than our yard, however, and we haven’t filled it with soil yet because we can’t figure out where to put it.

Seventh grade this week included both basic stoichiometry and plans for a Rube Goldberg machine. Our junior is super busy with both the SAT and ACT next week, and then has just two weeks until her AP exams, and our senior has only 5 weeks left of high school.

On my reading shelf: I have been plowing through Jenny Colgan’s books– so far I’ve liked all I’ve read. Her characters are just so likeable, even when they’re making stupid mistakes. I am working slowing through The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron and Make Change by Shaun King.

And a dear friend sent this poem by John Updike, Seven Stanzas at Easter. I have been reading it several times a day.

All the other things: I just got a jury summons again. It feels like just last week I was called last–and was the last jurist dismissed for a murder trial– but of course it was before the pandemic started. This time I won’t try to take my knitting in.

And I’ve just renewed my medical license. Colorado is requiring all physicians renewing to do several hours of training on how to combat the opiate crisis. It was very interesting and of course important but on top of everything else, just felt like one more straw…

However, it’s not all straw. One fun moment from the week: instead of hosting an Easter egg roll at the White House this year, the administration chose to honor frontline health care workers by giving them commemorative eggs, and our clinic was chosen to receive them. There was supposed to be a big ceremony at the end of March, but all the flights into Denver were canceled that day. When I got to work this week, my egg was on my desk.

I’m grateful for: Naps. Faithful friends. Spring. Our small group. Our excellent medical team. Vaccines and all the people involved in making/administering them. (Colorado is currently vaccinating anyone over the age of 16. If you want to get on my clinic’s waiting list for a vaccine, you can sign up here.) The healing of Mandy’s elbow.

I’m praying for: those who mourn; truly good use of our new church space; the mental health crisis in America’s teenagers; those who are lonely or frightened; graduating seniors; the grace to operate from a place of abundance and faith, rather than scarcity and fear.

Seven Quick Takes: Are We There Yet?

One: It’s been a year since Jonah came home for spring break with his laptop and backpack of clothes and then found out he wasn’t going back. As we all know, a year is a long time to be doing… whatever this is we’re doing. It’s not quite perpetual quarantine, but I sure hope this isn’t the new normal.


I definitely had more side effects with the second dose of vaccine: go, immune system, go!

Two: There are signs of hope: vaccinations are rolling out, and I’m so encouraged by the research showing their efficacy. I’m not ready to eat at an indoor restaurant yet, but I did hug my fully-vaccinated parents (and was so happy, I forgot to take a photo.) Jonah is back at college- it doesn’t look like it did pre-pandemic, but he’s on campus and is so grateful for that.

Three: Work is… weird. For everyone’s safety, our office has moved most of our visits to telehealth. It’s great for chronic disease management (looking at you, diabetes!) but terrible for well-child care. So much of my diagnosis is really made through history, but there are some things even a good history can’t tell you. Every day, I see four or five people who have survived their own personal COVID-19 infection and at least one who has lost a loved one to it.


My neighbors made care packages for my medical assistants at work.

Four: I have been walking. I developed a bad case of metatarsalgia in September and haven’t run since. Thanks to a used-car’s worth of orthotics, my foot pain is, better, but I’m still not running. Walking instead is different, but good. I can definitely go longer, and it can be more social. I just passed 200km for the year so far.

A cold walk on New Year’s Day with two of my favorite people.

Five: Owen picked a college. Now we just have to get them through the next seven months till it starts. Early action (that’s the one where you apply early, hear early, but aren’t committed to a school you can’t afford before you get the aid package) is really great. I wish more schools offered it as an option.

I realize what a gift this is: that my kids have had choices, and that they received enough financial aid and scholarships to make it possible for them to choose based on preference and not just dollars. But it also feels like major vindication to me, after all those years of wondering if our choice to homeschool would hamstring my kids. It hasn’t, and for that I am enormously grateful.

Six: The girls and I have been watching The Great British Bake-Off. It is the first time I’ve really appreciated “reality TV.” Now we walk around the house saying things like, “Just a few minutes shy of a perfect bake” and “it’s not bad at all” and craving self-saucing pudding.

Seven: So here we are in 2021, which so far looks a lot like 2020.

As much as the pandemic has been difficult on so many levels, it gave us a bonus ten months together as a family. The massive amounts of time at home together showed our fault lines and took away many of the distractions we’d been using to ignore our problems. For months of 2020, it was just the six of us, the cast of Community and a handful of mental health professionals we were lucky enough to find early on.

February flew by in a haze of doctor’s appointments, parental surgeries and hospital visits. Here’s hoping “in like a lion, out like a lamb” applies to more than weather.

Pandemic Games

The longer I go without writing in this space, the more overwhelmed I feel about trying to dive back in. So I’m going to ignore how deep the water looks (and how much life has changed over the past 10 months) and just start writing.

Early on in the pandemic, Sam’s family decided to connect via Zoom, but given the sheer number of us and the age range (ages 1-77) we had to be creative about how to do that. We came up with some great ideas, and I want to share them here in case your family has been struggling to make your group Zoom (or Hangouts) time a success.

The Name Game

This is a game we play often when we get together, and it works online as long as everyone also has a phone (or an adult nearby has a phone.) We choose a theme (eg, Disney characters, or historical characters, or desserts) and designate one person as the Writer. Everyone else chooses a name (eg, Gaston, Rasputin, or Tiramisu) that fits in the category and reports it to the Writer one by one. The Writer records them all (just the names- no need to write down who chose each) and then reads the list twice to the assembled group. No worries if three people chose the same name: there will just be three people named Elsa.

It’s very important there’s no table talk about the names during the reading (i.e., no one asks, “Who’s LaFou?”) because that will cement the name in everyone else’s head, and there’s an advantage to choosing a forgettable name.

Once all the names have been read, the guessing begins. The goal is to be the last person guessed.

Player 1 guesses by asking another player if they are one of the names that were read. For example, “Phoebe, are you The Beast?” If she is, she joins Player 1’s team, Player 1 whispers their name to her, and they address another player to see if they can guess their identity and gather that player to their team. If she is not, then it is her turn to guess someone else, and so on. Each time an identity is successfully guessed, the players join together, creating larger and larger teams, until there are only two teams left trying to guess the still-unknown player’s names.

In person, we move around the room and reassort based on who the teams are. On Zoom, that couldn’t happen, but it still worked. This is a good game with lots of kids and adults of different ages. Only one person has to be able to read, and the slight timing disconnect online didn’t matter.

The Great Family Bake-Off

Five groups took part in this, and each one was tasked with making a dessert within a time limit using only the ingredients they had on hand. One household was designated as the judges. (They judged mostly on presentation, since we had people participating from multiple states.)

Movie Trailer

One challenge was for each household to make a trailer for a summer blockbuster movie. (We used an app, but several other groups made theirs simply by cutting a pasting video footage.)

Scavenger Hunt

I made a scavenger hunt, in which each household had fifteen minutes to find/make as many items on the following list as they could. (I recommend assigning assigning points generously.)

  • greatest number of mismatched spoons (1 pt each)
  • dirtiest stove
  • funniest t-shirt
  • smallest Christmas tree
  • best pet costume
  • moldiest food
  • most inspiring fridge magnet
  • weirdest keychain
  • Easter candy
  • keys (1 point each)
  • condiments from take-out restaurants (1 pt each)
  • creature from outer space
  • most complete puzzle
  • most expired food
  • beach sandals
  • a snowball
  • the most Draw 4 cards from Uno
  • a rainbow of somethings (crayons, t-shirts, etc.)
  • the most annoying toy sound

The best part of this challenge was enjoying each other’s offerings for each category.

Board Games

We’ve played a variety of games over Zoom: Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary being the most successful.

After schools restarted in the fall, many of them virtually, more serious Zoom fatigue has slowed down our online adventures, but we’re game for some more, if you have some to recommend. How has your family used technology to connect while far apart?

New Year’s Thoughts, 2021

Normally at the close of a year, I spend a little time looking back at what worked and what did not. I like to examine the year’s goals (which recently have been hopes for tweaks in my routine more than resolutions, per se) to see what was “successful.”

But 2020 isn’t a year I can evaluate that way. I haven’t even looked back at last year’s “goals.”  Any metric I would normally apply to 2020 feels pointless. Did Sam and I increase our giving to causes that are important to us?  If we did, I’m sure it wasn’t enough. Did we move the needle toward a more sustainable life at home? Did I write as much as I’d hoped, or meet my exercise goals? No, I didn’t: there was an f-ing pandemic. I didn’t exercise, or write, or spend quality time with my people in any of the ways I had hoped in 2020.

But 2020 was still a success, and I know this because I wrote it down in real time. Day by day, I recorded in a 10-cent spiral notebook (3 of them, actually) exactly what happened last year. In excruciating detail. I can look back and tell you the day that school was canceled. The day that one of my long-time patients died. The day my daughter and I were supposed to leave for Spain (and instead stayed—you guessed it—at home.) The day my friend entered isolation for COVID-19, and the day she emerged. The day I ran/walked a 10K by myself instead of in solidarity with my BRF and 998 strangers.

I can tell you that one of my kids became an activist and somehow used the pandemic as a vehicle to fuel her work. One of my kids had the courage to start working through years of hurt I’d caused him and honored me by letting me do that with him. One of my kids wrote some fantastic college entrance essays and is seeing it pay off.  One of my kids asked for help, and we listened.

Whether you are a Big-Picture Goals person, a Small Habits Reap Big Rewards person, or a person who thinks New Year’s is a crock, I’d encourage you to write it down.  Instead of (or in addition to) looking forward at goals we may or may not accomplish this month or year, take a few minutes each day and record what did happen.  It might be a list, or a doodle, or some stream of consciousness notes. You don’t have to start it January 1, or even the first of any month.  Start today, whenever that is.  Write down three things you’re grateful for, even if those are as mundane as indoor plumbing, a really good apple and the morning quiet before everyone else wakes up. At the end of the week, or the month, or the year, you might discover amid the chaos there was more to celebrate than you thought.

What worked for me in 2019

What didn’t work for me in 2019

What worked (or not) for me in 2018

What worked in 2017

What worked for me in 2016

What worked (or not) in 2015?

What worked (or not) in 2014

Do you keep a journal? What is your favorite part of it?