Seven Quick Takes: College Application Edition

One: This is NOT the SQT where I will reveal where my oldest is going to go to college for the simple reason that he doesn’t know yet. So there. However, this IS the SQT where I will diss bitterly on all the ridiculousness that this process has entailed. You’re welcome.


Two: Remember back in October when we visited my alma mater and a whole bunch of book stores? Well, that school and a whole bunch of the others filled more than 50% of their spots in “Early Decision” (aka in November). Consequently, there are very few spots open for everyone else later.

Three: There are three options for applying, and the process is different from back when I applied. Here’s my primer on applying to college.

One recruiter (I think she was from Duke) described Early Action as dating. You can date more than one person and you can apply early action at multiple schools, except when the schools specifically say they are serial monogamists and they don’t like you to do early action applications at more than one school. (Or, in case you’re my son, who took that analogy to heart and said, “I would never date more than one person at a time, so why would I do Early Action?”)

As a side note, I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal which says the DOJ is looking into whether Early Action violates anti-trust laws.

Four: Then there is Early Decision, which is like getting engaged. You only ask one school to marry you, and if they say Yes, you’re done in December as long as you can afford the school that you chose. If you can’t afford it, then you have to break that engagement and move back into the regular dating pool with everybody else.

Five: The rest of America’s 17 year-olds apply with Regular Decision in January and February. With great relief, they hit send on that last application and think they’re done until May 1, when they’ll have to make a decision. But they’re not actually done, because there are Intentional Learning Communities (I’m not making this up) and scholarships and dorms and research fellowships with their own applications and essays and deadlines that just keep coming. The students aren’t really done… and now they’re mad. They’re like the Bachelor who’s back on the show after an earlier stint as one of the many candidates hoping for a rose and then came back as the Bachelor but broke his last engagement and knows America hates him but is really sure he’s going to find love this time around.

Six: I think the nail in the coffin of this process for my son was a prestigious private school that invited him to apply for one of their Intentional Learning Communities that came with a scholarship. He wrote three extra essays and then, after about 6 weeks, received a letter addressed to someone else, “Dear Lauren B., we’re sorry that we have to inform you we can’t give you the scholarship…” He emailed back to say, “Hey, I’m not Lauren B.. Can you check on my application?” To which he received an email reply, “Okay, we looked and you didn’t get it either.”

So that school is off the list. (The more schools that behave badly, the easier it is to choose!)

Six: We’re currently down to two schools, one of which we will visit for the first time this weekend. He is an alternate for an Intentional Learning Community (see, this actually is a thing at multiple schools – I’m not making it up) but will only get that spot and scholarship if the first choice cis- white male (CWM) with a smidge of Mexican backs out and goes somewhere else.

Seven: So, with 10 days left before the deadline to choose, our current decision algorithm looks like this:


Really, this is just like the Bachelor. With lower ratings. Stay tuned.

For more Quick Takes, go check out Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!


Shaking it up: Poetry

Last week I took the girls out to a new coffee shop near us for tea and poetry.

Book - Zen Ties by Jon J Muth

Jon Muth’s Zen Ties is one of our favorite children’s books (a lovely, gentle story, beautiful paintings, and humor: what’s not to love?!) , and it happens that Stillwater’s young cousin, Koo, speaks in poetry. “Hi, Koo!” I brought it with us, and we read it over tea and croissants.

We spent half an hour writing our own haiku. First we each wrote one about the coffee shop. Then each of us wrote two words for the others which they had to use in their poems. (I got “candy” and “east” on the first round, and “San Pelligrino,” “Danger” and “Monkey” in the second. Hazards of being in a coffee shop, I guess.)


I’m counting this for poetry, syllables (early grammar), and Lit.

Are you shaking things up during these last two months of school? If you’re not changing things around a little, do you need to?

Growth v. Confidence

This has been a challenging year for us as a family, and as homeschoolers. I can’t share much of that here, but I want to reflect for a minute about one particular pitfall of homeschooling, and how I’m trying to work around it.


My school experience as a kid was one of boredom. I spent years finishing my work before the rest of the class and having to sit quietly at my desk while other kids finished. When they “pioneered” a gifted-and-talented program at my school, it meant that after I finished the regular work, they would pull me out and give me more work. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that maybe a few of us should have different work, or be able to work at our own pace.

That experience led me to design our homeschool to be a place where my kids could work at their own pace(s). When they master a concept, they move on to the next thing. The idea was not to “waste” any time sitting around being bored by repeating the same old information they’ve already mastered. On the other hand, if they need more time on a topic, we can spend as much time as they need before moving on.

We’ve been doing that for twirteen years now, and for the most part it has worked well. Most of our time is spent at the growing edge, or at the place where we’re all being stretched.  I have noticed one problem, though, and it’s this: living at the growing edge can be pretty uncomfortable. And tiring. Working at the growing edge doesn’t ever let you rest in a place of mastery, which builds confidence.


There are several sources of confidence. One is internal, where the experience of repeated success causes us to trust our skills and our mastery of a subject or skill. The other is external, where we are able to see our mastery in comparison to others, or hear from others that we have mastered a subject. (Think: exams, teachers, certificates, races, performances, etc.)

While I hated the boredom of my own education, it was pretty great seeing that I was ahead of everyone else academically. That built my internal confidence. I had many teachers who gave me a lot of messages that built my confidence externally.

In our homeschool, my kids have very little opportunity to compare themselves academically to their peers. Instead, they compare themselves to one another, which leaves my younger children feeling lost as they compare themselves to a much-older, academically very gifted sibling. Our homeschool has effectively erased a major source of external confidence. On top of that, I have eliminated the sense of mastery that comes from lots of repetition by engineering a learning space in which we spend most of our time with new material.


Where do I go from here?

We are trying to spend more time resting in mastery. As much as the repetition grates on me, I need my kids to see how much they know. This means different things for different kids- one needs more opportunities to perform. One needs opportunities to do things without an older sibling making suggestions over her shoulder. Another needs to spend more time reviewing material we’ve already done. They all need opportunities to compare their work to their own peers (instead of to their older siblings.)

What does the balance between growth and confidence look like for you? I’m looking for ideas here, friends, so please don’t be shy sharing in the comments.

Garden update: April 2018


As I write this, a heavy spring storm is moving in over the mountains. Once again, I’m left worrying for my peach tree’s blossoms (will they all be frozen, and we’ll have no fruit come fall?) and all the tender young things coming alive.


I am lucky enough to have a small yard, and I’ve been enjoying the sight of all the perennials waking up in the front yard. I’m like Mary Lennox, crying in delight over everything showing how “wick” it is. Our tulips are going to bloom soon, and even last year’s Mother’s Day forsythia is throwing out a first few brave flowers.


This is the peony I added to the bare patch last fall. We’ll see if it survives. So far, so good.

One of our neighbors (I think it was a kid) made some delicious-looking sushi or spring rolls with the leaves from my tulips. So far everyone has denied being the mystery chef.

I’m conflicted: I love the creativity, but I think I’d rather keep the tulips in the garden.

I finally planted the spinach, broccoli, lettuce and peas in my garden. We have two square foot gardens in which I plant just my favorites.


We are so lucky to be members of a CSA farm, which provides the vast majority of our produce. A CSA is like your own private farmer’s market, which provides fresh, local produce to its members on a weekly basis. If you’re curious, I’ve written about CSAs here and here. Perhaps a CSA near you might have an opening in its membership for you to try out. Here are two links to help you find a CSA near you: Local Harvest and the USDA directory of CSAs. Joining a CSA truly transformed how we eat- both in terms of quality and variety- and I think has been a huge part of my journey toward health. Plus, buying food that is locally produced has a major impact on the environment.

Okay, back to my garden. These are 4’x4′ boxes filled originally with a 1:1:1 mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and compost as specified by the Square Foot Garden method by Mel Bartholomew. Then every spring I add an additional layer of compost. In our first SFGs, I made wood grids, but we have since changed to twine and string (it’s easier to cut the compostable strings than to disentangle large squash and cucumber vines from the wood).


It was so good to have my hands in the dirt. It smelled wonderful, and something in my own heart came alive again with a day spent planting in hope of sweet June shelling peas eaten raw and crisp salads of baby spinach. (Are you hungry yet?) I started basil, zinnias, and cherry and Roma tomatoes (for canning) inside. The farm gives us lots of big, juicy heirloom tomatoes, but there’s nothing like pulling a warm cherry tomato off the vine on an August afternoon and popping it in your mouth.

Have you started your garden yet? What’s your favorite thing to plant?

Daybook: mid-March


Outside my window: snow, but not enough to shovel. Just enough to make driving a pain. Last week our crocuses bloomed, and the tulips are getting taller. Sam pruned the roses earlier this month, so we can actually see the bulbs emerging.


In the kitchen: kittens wolfing down their tuna. (I should used a cat metaphor there. Lioning? Cougaring? Ew, no. Wolfing will do.)

Sam went to the grocery store yesterday, so there’s a chance I’ll cook some food this week. Moriah made these lemon basil cookies, so in a pinch we can just eat those.

We can’t eat it, but my orchid rebloomed. This is the first time I’ve ever kept one alive long enough to bloom a second time. Hooray.


In the school room: We’ve had a lot of performances. Willy Wonka (we are the proud parents of an Oompa Loompa) and High School Musical, Jr. were early in the week, and dance was this weekend. Whew. Everyone is beat.

During the plays, we had a lot of complaining about “being forced” to watch one’s siblings’ performances. Then afterwards, I asked them all what the difference between the performance and the dress rehearsal was. (Same stage, same cast, same costumes, same lines… but no audience.) We had a good discussion about the importance of the audience, and- thankfully- everyone came without complaining to the dance performance.




I might be slightly biased, but I thought they were great.


We all are ready for a break. The boys’ outside classes all have different spring breaks [they lose], but we are trying to embrace a lighter schedule. We took a few good walks [totally worth the whining] and are planning to see the Degas exhibit later this week.

In my shoes: I managed one run this week, and I love walking. I’ll take what I can get.


On my reading shelf: I’m creeping through Deuteronomy, Hannah Coulter (Wendel Berry) and The Newcomers (Helen Thorpe.) I have a shortage of reading time right now.

Grateful: For the abundance of these days. For good conversations with my kids. For walks and crocuses and birds awing and hens laying eggs again. For all of it.


Praying for: Mandy. Judy. Austen. Caregivers and new parents and those who grieve. Kids making college decisions (and their parents). Stillness within the storms.


Daybook: Early March 2018

Outside my window: They are finally building the income-qualified housing on our corner (promised 10 years ago!) so I’m hearing lots of big trucks. I just heard a concrete mixer pull up, so we may go watch them pour some foundations later.

In the kitchen: Phoebe is making pancakes. It’s rare that she gets to cook alone [i.e. without a big sister telling her what to do], so I’m trying not to hover.

Also, we finally hung the pendant lights in the kitchen. We moved into this house four years ago and have been looking for glass pendants in cobalt since then. I thought I’d found just the right thing in a bar about a year after we came, but they had been brought back from Florence in the restaurant owner’s luggage. This fall, we were up in Estes Park for a weekend, and someone told us to check out the glass blowers up there. Turns out they’ll do all kinds of custom glass work, and this is what they did for us. I love them.



Around the house: I came home from my hospital shift this weekend to find the house piled with laundry. (Sick + house guests + washer that wasn’t draining = laundry mountain. #math) I spend half of Monday watching DIY videos on how to clean out the drain trap, flooding the laundry room with water, scooping out all the detritus from the trap (ewwww! I know people think what I do at the hospital is gross, but it’s got nothing on this) and trying to screw the plug back in. I watched the first three loads with great trepidation, lest my insufficient torque allowed the water to drain all over the floor, but I think I solved the problem. Now I just have to fold it all…


In the garden: I haven’t started any seeds yet, but the chickens have definitely noticed the change in the light. They laid these for us this morning.


In my shoes: February was a bust for running. Between sickness and travel, I ran twice. That means I’m to square one for distance. On the bright side, I run slowly enough to see all the minute changes happening in everyone’s gardens. Tuesday I saw daffodils, crocuses, and all sorts of colorful branches fattening up their buds.



In the school room: Owen’s robotics team competed in Utah last week and did awesome (mombrag!) although they didn’t qualify for Worlds. Two weeks ago, all three of the big kids placed at National History Day regionals, so now we need to make some improvements in their projects for state. When we turned the corner into March, Jonah’s AP exams suddenly felt much closer (at least I remembered to register him for them this year!). He is still anxiously checking the mailbox every day for college letters. Lots going on.


We are reading Little Town on the Prairie (spoiler alert) with new eyes now that Jonah is looking at college. When we read it seven years ago, the passages about Mary’s impending departure were not so personal to us.

Speaking of spoilers, the kids keep reminding me of the day we drove past Vinton, Iowa, and I pointed out that that was where Mary went to the school for the blind. We had only read the first few books and had not gotten to On the Shores of Silver Lake. Three horrified children (and one baby) all started screaming, “Mary goes blind??!!!”

Grateful: For our new niece who arrived last week- what a blessing! For healthy outcomes at the hospital after some scary moments this weekend. For this awesome Ted talk we watched (Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work), for last month’s visit with my friends in NC (still savoring those moments), and for getting to see Hamilton last week. (We were only able to procure 4 tickets, which meant the girls were out of luck. But then Owen ended up traveling, and Jonah gave his ticket to his sister. Awwwww.)


Praying for: Mandy. Judy. Lori. Ruth. Austen. Christine. Rev. Anna’s move. Those suffering from depression or violence (or both.) Refugees.



7QT: Don’t you have something you’re supposed to be doing?

One: After two weeks of illness (one child on antibiotics, another on Tamiflu, me on nothing as I hacked up one or more of my lungs) we are finally clawing out way back into schooling at home. Sam is coming down with something now, too, but since he’s goes to work to be sick, I don’t really count him as one of the stricken.

Two: Man, getting back into this is rough. In the midst of that, Sam and I both traveled. I really should have stayed at home, but… I wanted to see my friend. I saw her, but I spent the whole time afraid I was going to give her the plague.

Three: Speaking of plagues, we adopted a lovely cat. His name (spoiler alert) was Julian.
Then his larynx swelled up, and despite high-dose steroids and a veterinary ICU and more steroids and another vet, he still died. After his necropsy, at which the vet couldn’t determine the cause of the allergy/infection/laryngeal edema NOS, she called me back to ask if I’d been able to get his shot records from his previous owner. No, I hadn’t. So she put us on Rabies Watch, had the county public health nurse call us to find out our travel plans and if any of us were acting strangely, and billed us $65 for rabies testing. Just like that, our family went from the infectious disease specialists to the possible source of an urban rabies outbreak. (Better spoiler: he didn’t have rabies, and neither do we.) Here is a gratuitous photo of the new cat, whose rabies vaccination I have documented on paper.


Four: Anyway… now, two weeks later we have adopted a replacement cat, and everyone is trying to get back in the groove. To that end, everyone made it to the co-op for classes this week, all the adults went to their gainful employment, and I’ve been trying to teach things to the children with limited success.

Five: On Monday, I made it till one-thirty before I had to crawl into my bed for a nap. When I got up, I went to see where Phoebe one of the children was with her work.

Mom: Where are you with your school work today? Do you need help with math?

Anonymous Child: Why are you asking? Don’t you have some work you’re supposed to be doing?

Mom: I was under the impression that helping you with math was my work.

So that was really successful. I should have stayed in bed.

Six: Yesterday I finally made it outside for a run. I discovered three things:

  • two weeks without exercise turned me into a meatball, and I couldn’t breathe.
  • spring is coming, whether the bomb cyclone and Storm Emma realize it
  • exercise is my anchor activity.  Once I made the effort to exercise again, all sorts of other things became possible, like making dinner and putting bleach in the toilets and following up on my daughter’s math.


The guardian of spring.

Seven: However, an anchor is not entirely sufficient to return everything to normal. In order get us back in the routine, I had to pull out the paints and insist everyone make some art while I read aloud to them. An hour later, the children wandered off to play Minecraft and left me with a huge arty mess to clean up. I think this means we’re back in the groove.


Be sure to visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.