What’s Saving My Life Right Now

Upon the inspiration of Anne Bogel, this is a reflection on what’s saving my life right now.

Midday walks.

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Sometimes we borrow our neighbor’s dog. Sometimes we hit a nature preserve (no dogs allowed.) Sometimes we just walk, but it’s always worth the effort.

Good books.

The children and I are reading Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome and Greenglass House by Kate Mitford. I am re-re-re-reading Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night. (Sam just read it for the first time.)

Honestly, I’m not up for a challenge right now. I need something I know ends well. Suggestions?

Colorful food.

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This week I made Run Fast, Eat Slow’s Runner’s High Peanut Sauce, and we poured it over bowls of rice, grilled chicken and diced vegetables. Yum.

Prayer.

My friend Lori introduced me to the app Pray As You Go. It’s a lovely 11-12 minutes of contemplative music, Scripture, meditation on the Word, and prayer.

Also, because I’m not playing music in church right now, I am free to seek prayer from our prayer ministers during communion. And I do. Every week.

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What’s saving your life right now?

7QT: STEM at home

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Alas… those were the days, when all I had to do was grow bacteria in the kitchen…

One: It began like any other home science experiment: we had almost all the pieces needed, and I figured I could use the substitutions in the teacher’s manual without a problem. (That might have been my first mistake.)

We started with a 9-V battery and some wire. And a metal Allen wrench.

The goal: build an electromagnet.

Two: We followed the directions, taping the wire to both ends of the 9-V battery and coiling it around the wrench. But it wouldn’t magnetize.

Three: I’m so tired of science experiments that don’t work. It’s happened so many times that the kids were ready to give up, as one does, but I was having nothing of that.

I knew the battery was working, because once we connected the circuit, the battery got hot. But the Allen wrench wouldn’t pick up any of the paper clips. So I pushed the kids a little harder: what could the problem be?

We came up with a list:

  1. maybe the paper clips aren’t the right kind of metal
  2. the Allen wrench was too big
  3. the Allen wrench was the wrong metal
  4. perhaps we need more coils of wire around the wrench
  5. the battery wasn’t powerful enough

Four: We substituted out the wire. No change.

Five: We tested a different magnet on the paperclips. The fridge magnet picked up paper clips like… well, as it does.

Which left the battery.

Six: I happened to have this 12-V battery lying around.

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I believe this is the key to having successful science and engineering experiences at home: have a bunch of stuff lying around. It’s impossible to have a clutter-free house and a successful home science environment. The battery may or may not have been part of our old security system, we aren’t sure. But anyway, there it was, just sitting on top of the freezer. So I connected it.

The first time I tried to wrap the wire around the battery terminals, it blew sparks and I felt the charge from my fingers all the way down to my ankle. Whoa. Okay, the battery worked.

The kids were all for stopping at that point, but I was going to show them how science requires perseverance! And as Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” We were going to keep trying.

Seven: The second time, I used alligator clips to connect the wire to the battery. When I clipped the wire to the negative terminal, there was a small fire, the alligator clip melted, and all the children screamed.

If I’d been a good homeschool mom, I would have taken a picture.  Instead, I unclipped it and smothered the fire.  We went back to the 9-V battery and a smaller screwdriver for the Allen wrench.

Success! Not only did we pick up a bunch of paperclips (this is meaningful work here!), my children developed a healthy fear of perseverance. When Sam asked them what they learned that day, they said, “We learned it’s not safe to do science experiments with Mommy.”

I’m counting this one as a win. And because the battery can’t be thrown away in the regular trash, it will still be hanging around my house until I need it the next time.

How’s STEM education going at your house?

Be sure to check out Kelly’s site for more Quick Takes!

Scenes from an anniversary

Thanks to generous friends who moved their family into our house so our children could continue their everyday lives while we were gone, Sam and I took a six day vacation to Cabo San Lucas at the end of January.

I had no desire to cook or plan meals (even for two people) or explore, so we stayed at an all-inclusive resort. It was a first for us. Beautiful, yes. Full of people drinking way too much, yes. They woke us up almost every night as they came back from the disco, shouting in the tiled hallways and telling each other to be quiet.  One night they spent half an hour trying to get Maureen to let them into her room to find their shoes.  (Maureen, wherever you are, next time please share a room with somebody else.)

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But in the morning, while they slept or heaved in their bathrooms, we had the pools and the birds and the paths to ourselves.

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These birds perched in the palm trees to wait until diners abandoned their plates, and then they’d swoop down to feast until the serving staff cleared the plates away.  Everything was open and breezy.  Beautiful and birdy.

We made two exceptions to our do-nothing plans:

  1. spend a lot of time in the hot tub.
  2. go whale watching.

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These are the aging mermaids overlooking the jacuzzi.  I love everything about them, from their gray hair to their musical instruments to their stretch marks.

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This is the humpback whale we followed for an hour as she breached repeatedly and swam and waved at us.  I call her Hermosa.  She has six barnacles on her tail.

We came back- if not rested- at least refreshed. And that’s a marked improvement over how I felt when I left.

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Scenes from the Women’s March on Denver, 2017

Most of our family participated in Saturday’s March Denver.  We’d been talking about it all week, mostly in a hypothetical fashion, until 9 am and then I said “I’m going. Who wants to come?”

Turns out, most of them wanted to come.  (We didn’t force #6.  We didn’t even make him tell us why.  It could have been his shoes were too tight, but no one was going to force him into political speech. First Amendment, you know.)

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First uncomfortable moment: the bus ride.  My husband, bless him, doesn’t like the bus.

Next uncomfortable moment: having to explain to my 9 year-old daughter why there were so many signs about pussies and what they were telling Trump to stop grabbing.  Trump’s words, forced into my lexicon… and now, into my children’s.

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We marched around downtown.  None of us brought a sign, although two of my kids wished they had.  Instead, we read other people’s signs. We listened to the chants.  We walked next to strangers who had the courage to speak up.  I tried to focus on what we agree on: decency.  A future for our children.  Mutual respect.  Education. Health care.  Our family didn’t stay for the speeches.  As we were trying to get back to the bus stop, we got swept back into the march route.  “You’re going around again?” I asked.

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No, these were all people beginning their march.  What I had read was going to be a gathering of 34,000 people had swelled to >100,000.

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At one point, Jonah said, “I feel vaguely uncomfortable.”  Not unsafe, or frightened. Just uncomfortable.

Which is right.  It is uncomfortable to stand up against injustice.  It is much easier to ride the wave of mainstream culture.  Dominant thought.

Even when we have much common ground, standing up for what we believe is hard.

Let’s be real: none of these nice, Colorado protesters had any beef with us.  Colorado went for Clinton in November.

Even if I had made my Christian pro-life, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-refugee, pro-immigrant, pro-Obamacare, pro-science sign (weirdly, I didn’t see any other signs that were exactly what I would have wanted to say), no one there was going to castigate me.

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But it’s time.  It’s time to listen well and speak up.  It’s time to stand for truth and justice, the vulnerable and the good-of-the-many over the good-for-me.  It’s time for me to stop shying away from the uncomfortable conversation and the uncomfortable protest in order to stand with the vulnerable.

Did you march on Saturday?  What would your sign have said?

We made it to the mountain!

So after a week with chain restrictions on I-70 and ski equipment piled in our bedroom and tripping me in the dark…

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… we finally made it up to ski.

I had “ski day” on the calendar. We woke to clear skies in Denver, but continuing chain laws up in the mountains. I don’t own chains. Sam doesn’t like our driving in bad weather.  The girls woke up, and I broke the bad news… and then at 11:30, I checked the highway department’s website one last time. In sorrow, almost. (The same way I keep checking my news feed for some change in the last year’s election.)

The road was open! No restrictions. The girls and I piled into the car, and 15 minutes later we were on our way. At two o’clock, I was paying 50 cents (for an hour of parking) to park in the town lot, and we carried our skis up to the lift.

Doing the math, it seemed like an awful lot of work for an hour and a half of skiing. But watching their faces as they set off down the mountain and zipped through the adventure zone told me it was totally worth it.

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And an hour and a half was a perfect way to find our ski-legs for the first day of the season.

Wishing you happy trails of all kinds, friends!

Early January Daybook

Outside my window: Snow.  I knew it was coming and had planned to take the girls skiing, but then CDOT closed the highway because of all the accidents.  So no skiing. The irony is not lost on me.  By the time I had finished my to-do list this morning, the kids had a bunch of neighbor children over to play, so I didn’t even make it out snowshoeing. (Looks like I might have another chance tomorrow.)

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In the kitchen: Beef noodle salad bowls, from Pioneer Woman. (Google it; I can’t get the link to work.)  They always get 6 thumbs up around here, and they don’t require a lot of beef.

On my mind: The January Money Diet.  This is the third year I have participated in a series of challenges to pull our finances into control.  During last year’s diet we saved a significant amount of money on non-essentials that was able to go toward our trip to London. Eliza’s challenge for day #2 this year was to go on a home scavenger hunt to find treasures you already have but aren’t using.  I unearthed some empty picture frames that were so dusty I had to vacuum them, but they look great on the wall.

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Around the house: mostly chaos.  I got the Christmas tree down and the ornaments packed away, but the rest of the decorations are up until tomorrow (Epiphany).  We are making slow progress on our new Harry Potter puzzle.

In the school room: We’re on break till Monday, but I did manage to complete the syllabus for Jonah’s comparative governments class.  I have a little grading to finish before we start back next week.

Our Eclipse Glasses arrived yesterday.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about the solar eclipse next summer.  I reread Annie Dillard’s essay Total Eclipse and found myself completely unable to explain to my family why I am over the moon (haha) about it.  There was a total lunar eclipse during my first week in Haiti, and the experience was amazing. I was in the kitchen trying to express this to my family, and all they could say was, “Why are you crying?”

Sam went off on this whole rant about how he saw the last one in 1979 at school so why is the 2017 one so amazing?  (Hello!  He remembers seeing the eclipse thirty-eight years ago! This was the first thing ever he told the children about his elementary school experience, but was it a big deal?  Apparently not.)  Anyway, the children are  but they are not impressed. Good thing they’re not in charge of our home school, or we’d never do anything cool.

August 21, 2017. Put it on your calendars.  Here’s the map to the see if you’re near the belt across North America where the solar eclipse will be total.

Grateful for:  the privilege of attending a lovely birth last week.  My dad’s generosity in driving my kids home from their once-a-week school, even when the roads are terrible.  A finished draft of my new novel. (I’m sure it won’t be the last draft, or the last novel.) Feeling better after the cold that knocked me flat on Tuesday.

Praying for: Mandy. Beth & family. Eileen’s family. So many of my patients who are dealing with bad news or challenging diagnoses.  Truth.  Hope.