Home improvements

As we headed toward the new school year, I felt the need for a few new workspaces.  The more classes I outsource, the more the kids use the computer (read: internet) to connect with teachers and the outside world.  And because it’s the internet, the more we need safeguards to keep all of us accountable.

So first up: a different computer station in the study.

The old one set-up gave me a nice view from the computer station, but I couldn’t see what the kids were doing on the computer when I walked by.  This desk gives us two workstations and a nice view of the monitor from the hallway.

Second: a device charging station. (It’s the basket threatening to vomit cords onto the floor at any minute.)


Moriah asked for three things for her birthday: #3, a camera, #2 a phone, and #1 a LIVE cat. Well, I wasn’t up for #1, but #2 and #3 could be combined.  Sam made her write an essay on why she should have a phone. She wrote 3 pages, and (most of) her points were apt.  So we gave her a phone with a camera on it and a phone case that looks like a cat. [Compromise.] We quickly made a rule that all phones had to live on the main floor (away from the bedrooms) and then had to make them a place to live.  Hence, this charging station. For the most part, it’s working, although I had to put a good-sized hole in the backboard of the bookcase to fit the plug of the surge protector through it.

Third, we added counter stools to the kitchen.

We’d been looking for the right ones for awhile- since we moved in, really- and it turns out that Sam and I had completely different ideas of what we wanted.  In the end, we went with what was available.  And while there was considerable push-back from a certain child who really prefers to work on the couch, this has become an acceptable workspace.  See?


I’m calling this one a win.

Finally, I wanted a place for games that wasn’t the kitchen table so we could set up a game or puzzle and leave it up through a mealtime (or two).  Hence the coffee table.
image Have you been tweaking your interior environment lately?

Daybook: first day of school


Out my window: I love the cooler mornings and evenings as we head toward fall. Also, I love the light as it starts to slant.  My favorite season is the changing of the seasons, I think.

In the kitchen: I made oatmeal and oatmeal bread for the first day of school.  I have only easy meals planned for this week as we adjust to a new schedule.

In the schoolroom: Owen was up early and took his math to work on at his desk.  He’s very motivated this year.  Jonah has a heavy schedule, including AP calculus and AP biology, and I am a little nervous about supporting him through it.  I’m hoping the girls sleep late today- they were tired.  I’m tired.  We had a harrowing weekend.

Around the house: we had lots of guests last week, which is such a joy. Sam put the house back together before he left for his conference, so I’m not feeling compelled to address any of the deeper issues this week.  Hopefully no one will be stuck permanently to the kitchen floor.

On my bedside table: The Poisoner’s Handbook (Blum) and Arabella (Heyer), but I doubt there will be much time for reading this week.  I’m hoping to be surprised.

Grateful: I had the privilege of walking through some hard days with dear friends this weekend and saw a lot of prayers answered.  It was humbling. I also had a few hours with my friend Christine, whom I hadn’t seen for more than a year.

Praying for: Mandy.  Aimee, Sue & Ed. The Neals, Simons and Farrs. The Westervelts. Season & family. Deb & family. Lisa. Teachers and students everywhere. The Philippines. Refugees.

Every Year I Think It Will Be Easier… and I’m Wrong

Every year I think the Back to School rush will be easier.


I’ve been doing it for 10 years now, so I should have it down, right? As one of my patients said about her sixth pregnancy, “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

But every year, the craziness of hunting down a list of school supplies, shoes that fit, jeans that don’t stop at children’s ankles, and lunch boxes that don’t smell like rotting vomit catches me off guard. New routines, new books and teaching styles, and the shuffling of peer group stresses me out.

Sure, now I have great confidence that by mid-September, we’ll have this down.  Unlike my self as a first-time kindergarten mom, I’m no longer lying awake beginning July first, praying my child won’t be ostracized for some huge faux-pas on the first day.

But instead of coasting into the fall with my eyes closed, I’m like a mom facing her third or fourth labor. Yes, I know what to expect, but that doesn’t make it easy. And maybe it will go quicker this time, but I still have to do the work.

So here I am, t-7 days, biting my nails and praying that the year will get off to a good start. That my kid won’t be the one the class decides to pick on. That I won’t get to the store to pick up our school supplies and find someone else cornered the market on Elmer’s glue and graph paper.

Because someone is going to try. I know, because this isn’t my first rodeo.

Exercise: How Much is Enough?

We’ve all heard recommendations for exercise, but then we try it and we don’t see the results we want. So how much exercise is enough?

Let’s talk about money for a minute. Just like exercise, we talk about saving for retirement.  But the reality is, by the time we get to the end of the month, we have $5 left, and it hardly seems worthwhile to put that in savings.  $5 a month isn’t going to get us a retirement nest egg of a million dollars, but it might be enough for a nice vacation, or the down payment on a car.  If I want to have enough for retirement, I might have to cancel my cable and drive an old car for awhile in order to save a significant amount of money.  Significant savings require significant sacrifice.

Say we did put $10 a month away. Every month. And every year we earned a measly 5% interest on it every year.  At the end of 10 years, we’d have $1575.  That might not be enough to retire on, but it would keep me from having to put the car repair on my credit card.  It’s a start, and it’s certainly better than nothing.

Back to exercise.  What are the benefits of exercise?  Improved sleep. Better sexual function, Decreased risk of diabetes and obesity. Bone strength. Decreased risk of depression, heart disease and stroke. Decreased risk of many cancers, and improved survival from the bad ones. Less back pain. Almost all the studies that document these benefits use 150 minutes of brisk exercise “most days” as their measure.  That’s right: 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  Not a huge sacrifice, but if you’re not there yet, don’t despair- just start today with five minutes.


But now you say you want to lose weight.  (Remember: moderate exercise leading to a 5-7% weight loss over 4 months decreases your diabetes risk by 58%.  That’s right: for a 200lb woman, a 10lb-weight loss is enough to cut your DM risk in half!)  How much do you have to exercise for that?

On average, walking 1 mile burns 100 more calories than you’d burn sitting. Not a perfect calculation, but it will do for our purposes.  So say in the morning, I get up and walk 2 miles in 30 minutes.  I burned about 200 calories more than I would have otherwise, and then I have a Pepsi because I feel good about walking in the morning.  My 1 can of Pepsi is 150 calories.  So what is my net burn? Only 50 calories.

To lose one pound, I have to burn 3500 extra calories over what I took in.  In a week, that’s 500 calories a day to lose 1 pound in a week—and that’s without replacing my calorie-burn with extra food or drink calories.

Those extra calories often are hidden in beverages, or portion sizes.  For example, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large fries and a large soda is 1,380 calories.  Or: a 13 mile walk.  If I have a regular cheeseburger, small fries and a water: 540 calories, or a 5-mile walk.

If it takes you 30 minutes to walk around the 1 mile park, I say “Good for you!”  You are outside, getting vitamin D and doing enough walking to decrease your risk of many cancers, stroke, heart disease, depression, sexual dysfunction and insomnia.  As you do it every day, little by little it will be easier, and in that 30 minutes, you will cover 2 miles. That brisk walk is enough to reduce your risk of diabetes.

But if you want to lose weight, you can’t expect exercise to do the whole job. If you’re currently gaining a pound every week or two, it means your current intake is 3500 calories more each week than you are currently burning.  If you’re eating three large meals and snacks and sweetened beverages, a 30 minute walk isn’t going to bring your weight down.  But if you start cooking smaller meals at home, snacking on fruit only, drinking water instead of sweetened drinks, and walking 3 miles a day twice a day, you’re going to lose weight. Slowly, sensibly, and in a way that will be sustainable over the long term.

Let’s talk for a minute about the dreaded weight loss plateau.  What’s going on?  You’ve changed your diet, been exercising and have lost 40 pounds, but now you’re stuck.  The weight just won’t come off any more.  Two things have likely happened. First, you weigh less now, so the number of calories you expend sitting, sleeping and walking is less.  That 2-mile walk burns 50 fewer calories for the same amount of walking when you were 40lbs heavier.

Second, your body has become more efficient.  Two miles used to wipe you out: you were sweating and exhausted at the end. Now you feel energized and invigorated by a two mile walk.  The solution? Cut a few more calories (leave the top piece of bread off your sandwich, maybe?) and add a few more miles to your daily walk. Change it up: add pool walking once a week, or an exercise bike for half an hour.  Doing a different kind of exercise will feel hard and use different muscles, thus increasing your calorie expenditure.


If you put your $10 away for 10 years and then start drawing money out of your account little by little, what happens? Your balance dwindles. It’s math.  Losing weight is a lot of math, too: energy out must be greater than energy (food) in if you want to lose weight.

But if you want to live a longer, fuller, healthier, happier life, a brisk 30 minute walk every day should do the trick.

Click to read more on the other benefits of exercise, or what you can do to decrease your risk of diabetes.  Next month I’ll post on sleep: more than zzzzs.

Two hikes near Vail Mountain

First up is Berry Picker, a trail that begins at Vail Village and climbs 3.2 miles to Eagle’s Nest, where you can catch the Gondola back down the mountain to Lionshead.  Instead, where Berry Picker crossed Fireweed, we took Fireweed back toward Mid-Vail and caught Gondola One back down to the Village, decreasing our total mileage to 3 but with all the elevation gain (2108 feet). This hike is rated moderate.
imageI found a fantastic hiking blog, which has details (and gorgeous photos!) about hikes all over Colorado. If you’re heading this way, I highly recommend checking out The Trail Girl’s blog.   image

For the most part, the kids hiked at altitude the way they walk at home: the boys head out together at the front and Jonah occasionally circles back to check on me, while the girls bicker at the back.  Phoebe likes to climb everything, and Moriah keeps up a running commentary.

The hike alternated shady paths through pine and aspen groves with meadows bursting with wildflowers. With all our rain, some of the flowers were taller than the girls.

While I thoroughly slathered everyone with sunscreen (thank goodness), we underestimated the amount of water to bring and were thirsty at the end. We hiked for 3 hours and ate every granola bar, apple and m&m we brought.  I highly recommend chocolate on hikes– it works for hiking and dementors. image

Several days later, we drove to the top of Vail pass and headed another 2.3 miles south to Shrine Mountain Pass.  While the hike is both shorter and less steep, climbing only 1/3 of the altitude of Berry Picker, it begins at 11,089 feet, almost 700 feet higher than where Berry Picker finishes.  It’s not for the faint of heart (or breath).  (This trail is rated easy to moderate.)

The trail begins with a 98-foot decline, which might give you false confidence. But the views more than make up for the mean climb when you come back “down.”
IMG_9119There was more water, in the form of ponds and boggy trail, which meant more bugs.   IMG_9121

On our way up, a hiker we passed told me that there was “log on the right up there where jays will come and eat out of your hand.”


This was the wrong log.

But he was right, and the prospect of the birds kept the whining to a minimum for a bit.
IMG_9129Right log.

Near the end of the trail, we lost most of our trees, and the hike became very steep.  A group of trail runners flew by us, and I wished so much to be able to do that. They were so light on their feet. We also passed a lot of older hikers who were already on the way down and kept telling us the view would be worth it.

IMG_9152… steeper… IMG_9155

IMG_9156Totally worth it! IMG_9149

If you’re hiking (with or without kids) don’t forget your sunblock, hat, water (I’d recommend a liter per person for 3 hours), and chocolate/other snacks. A sweatshirt or rain gear is essential in the rapidly changing Colorado weather. We beat this storm by an hour, but I wouldn’t want to be the tallest thing at the top of the mountain in a thunderstorm!

A Twist on Game Night

We love family game night, and one of our favorites is The Character Game.  Briefly, one person is the designated writer.  Choose a category (for example book characters.) Each of the players chooses a book character and tells the name of their character to the writer (privately, so no one hears.)  When everyone has chosen a name, the writer reads the list of names (without identifying the players) aloud twice, in a different order each time. The list is never read again.

Then the players try to guess who each of the others is. (There is no acting or giving of clues: the winner is the last person identified correctly, so your goals are to 1) remember all the names and 2) choose a name for yourself that is not memorable.)

For example, the names might be Aslan, Olivia, Jean Val Jean, the Pigeon, Harry Potter, and Professor McGonnegal.

  • Bob: Cindi, are you Jean Val Jean? 
  • Cindi: No. Steve, are you the Pigeon.
  • Steve: Yes! [Now Cindi quietly tells Steve who she is, and they work together as a team, guessing the other players.  Continue until the last person is guessed.]
  • Cindi & Steve: Sharon, are you Harry Potter?

Playing the character game with cousins in June.

On vacation this year, we played it with twist. This team, each person told writer something on their “bucket list” and then we had to match the dream with the dreamer. It was brilliant.

Among the dreams were:

  • Driving a stick-shift BMW
  • Visiting Victoria Falls
  • Be on TV
  • Visiting Whistler
  • Sleeping in an over-water bungalow
  • Having a pet
  • Go to Oxford
  • Sing the part of Javert in Les Mis
  • Visiting Costa Rica
  • Graduating from college
  • Visiting South Africa
  • Swimming with sharks
  • Swimming with dolphins
  • Visiting Paris
  • Owning a convertible
  • Petting a tiger
  • Having a pet cat

It was amazingly difficult to think of one that would neither scream my name or that Sam didn’t know. In the end, he knew I was the one who wanted to visit Whistler. Only after the game did I remember my long-time dream of working on the Penske pit crew at the Indy 500. That would have been a surprise.

What would you have picked?

9th Grade English Literature and Composition- 2nd Semester

This is the curriculum I wrote for my son’s second semester of freshman literature and composition. Feel free to adopt and adapt it to your own home school, and add your suggestions in the comments!


Revenge versus Mercy in Literature

Choose any six of the following books:

  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
  • Wuthering Heights (Bronte)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas-abridged okay)
  • The Iliad (Homer)
  • Unbroken: The Louis Zamperini Story (Laura Hillenbrand)
  • Les Miserables (Victor Hugo-abridged okay)
  • Baking Cakes in Kigali (Gaile Parkin)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)
  • King Lear (William Shakespeare)
  • Titus Andromicus (William Shakespeare)
  • The Tempest (William Shakespeare)

As you reach each of the texts, please consider the following questions for any of the characters involved.  (You do not have to make a note of minor characters who do not have a choice before them of choosing revenge or mercy):

1. Define justice, revenge, and mercy in the context of this book.

2. Shakespeare’s contemporary, the philosopher Francis Bacon, defined revenge as a “kind of wild justice.” When one private individual decides to revenge himself on another, he is going outside the official justice system. And yet, as the phrase “wild justice” suggests, the revenger is responding to what he sees as a “higher law.” The revenger takes the law into his own hands when he feels that the state is not capable of or refuses to enforce justice. Therefore, while law and revenge are technically opposed to each other, since revenge is illegal, they also overlap. For example, Shylock, pursuing Antonio’s “pound of flesh,” exposes the intimate connection between law and revenge. He seeks vengeance against Antonio precisely by sticking to the letter of the law within the Venetian justice system. Could the revenge portrayed in this book fit this model of “wild justice”?  (Thanks to LitCharts for this question.)

3. In Romans [12:16-21] Paul advises against revenge. What is his reasoning? Do you think his appeal would be compelling to the characters in this book?

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

4. Are there prerequisites for Justice? What about for Mercy?  How does the book support or deny the need for a divine being?

5. At what point is it right for an individual to take revenge because there is no other way of redressing wrongs?

6. What makes a person choose mercy over revenge?

7. Is there a crime that is too heinous for mercy?

8. The Count of Monte Cristo likens taking revenge to idolatry. “I . . . have been taken by Satan into the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he . . . said he to me, ‘Child of earth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?’ . . . I replied, ‘Listen . . . I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.’”   Do you agree with this assessment?  Is Mercy then also idolatry, if it is also God’s nature to have mercy on us?