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?

Daybook: mid-October

Outside my window: our maple tree is gorgeous. The crabapple already turned crimson and shed its leaves, and the maple is molting. But its color is still fantastic. Unfortunately, the warm, dry weather has been working on the side of the wildfires. I’ll trade my fall color for wet cold if it will put out the fires.

In the kitchen: this is birthday week, so the kitchen is full of treats. I’m trying to decide if cake with Spring Fling cake counts only as dessert or also as breakfast since it has zucchini and strawberries.


Yep, that’s a lot of candles.

After traveling, my body is protesting a lack of fiber. Today I made oatmeal bread and Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon. Even if the kids don’t like it, it will be just what my body needs.

In the garden: the roses have revived now that the heat has passed. Also, the Japanese beetles seem to have died in that shockingly early snow/light freeze, so nothing is currently eating the roses. They’re gorgeous. I still have green tomatoes and butternut squash I’ll have to bring in before the temperature drops to the 20’s this weekend. Also, my spinach isn’t going to plant itself.

In the school room: Next week we start The Merchant of Venice. (And yes, Moriah, they do stand around in the street and argue a lot.) There was confusion over some concepts in AP Calc, so I hired a tutor. How lucky I am to have a college student/math tutor living in our basement!


Art from Zoom school.

In my shoes: I’m dealing with some foot pain that I think is going to need an X-ray and some extended rest, so the running miles are paused. I am walking, though, including a beautiful walk this weekend at the Lincoln Marsh outside Chicago. It was breathtakingly gorgeous.

Grateful: for a masked, socially distant birthday gathering with Sam’s family this weekend.


Only two of us in this photo are 50.

I had the opportunity to join a book club this week as they discussed one of my books, Lost Things. It is such a joy to connect with readers.

Colorado has universal vote-by-mail, for which I am so grateful. We have an enormous ballot that encompasses everything from President to local initiatives (should we reintroduce gray wolves? anyone?) and I can’t imagine trying to manage all of the issues and people in a ballot box with a line of people waiting behind me.

On my mind: Our Bible study just finished discussing Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. I highly recommend this book for a group discussion. He presents the concepts of racism in its many, varied forms and triangulates them with academic vocabulary, historical context and Kendi’s own personal journey. It’s not an easy book by any means, but easy books on systemic racism aren’t going to get us where we need to go as a nation.

Praying for: Mandy. Judy. Heidi. Justine & Aaron. Lori. Families. People who are lonely. The sick and those in quarantine, waiting to know if they will get sick. Teachers and parents who don’t want to be teachers. Students. Firefighters and those whose homes have been lost or threatened. Essential workers. People without work. Health care providers and public health officials. Justice. The end of systemic racism. The election.

7QT: Beginning of School Edition

One: We’ve had two weeks of school so far. Week one, grades 7 and 12 started. (So far, 12th grade has consisted of my asking, “You good, bro?” several times a day in the 12th grader’s general direction.)

Two: This week, 11th grade began. I needed that extra week to pull together the final details of her AP Lit and (non-AP) economics classes. In order to prepare for Lit, I had about 834 hundred books spread out on the kitchen table. 11th grader came, picked up The Merchant of Venice, and announced, “I think I’ve read this one. Don’t they stand in the street and yell at each other?”

The next day, she said, “This can’t be the one I’m thinking of.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Duh, Mom,” she said, “it’s Venice. They don’t have streets.”

Three: Today’s economics discussion was on Specialization and Trade. We played Settlers of Catan as our class activity. Also: anyone who says economics is purely a descriptive science and is inherently amoral is full of it. I’ll go the mat on this one.

Four: Yesterday’s AP Literature discussion was on my all-time favorite essay, Expedition to the Pole by Annie Dillard. (Seriously. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s in The Annie Dillard Reader and in Teaching a Stone to Talk. Go ahead. I’ll wait…)

Oh, you’re back. Did you love it? My 11th grader did, and we spent an hour talking about the extended metaphors and how the structure of the essay led to the meaning. I think this is going to be my favorite class.

Five: 7th grade is doing “advanced botany” this year, which includes vermiculture (a.k.a, composting with worms.) I have been waking up in the wee hours of the morning imagining red wigglers taking over the house, which seems a little premature since the worms are still in a FedEx truck somewhere between here and Pennsylvania.

One of our dearest, earliest homeschool mentors told us a story eighteen years ago about a homeschooling talk they’d heard at a convention. The details have become somewhat apocryphal, but the gist was that one strategy for learning is to say, “Why not?” every time your kid wants to explore something new. We started with gardening, then added a cold frame, and now worms. I’ll keep you posted on where it lands us next.


preparing the worm bin

Six: The Denver Art Museum continues to be one of my favorite places. Their exhibits are so thoughtful, so thought provoking. The latest is Norman Rockwell: Imagining Freedom, and the curation of the exhibit taught me so much I didn’t know about WW2 and Rockwell as an artist. If there’s any way you can make it there (they’re doing timed entries and requiring masks), do.

Seven: Earlier this month, we visited one of our favorite local bookstores that had just reconfigured and reopened to make more distance in the store. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to browse bookshelves. We spent more than an hour seeing old [printed] friends and discovering future reads. All of us were so deeply happy to be there.

My job was to help them find the sections where books they’d been wanting were located. After I done that twice for my own kids, another random customer came over to me to ask if I could help her find a book, and I had to admit that I didn’t work there, I was just a mom.

Thanks for reading! I hope your adventures- be they homeschooling or with extreme botany or Adam Smith (that jerk)- are wonderful. Check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

Provision

Photo credit: Lourene Roode

Anyone tired of the pandemic yet? Yeah, me too. It feels like a repeating cycle of the same mistakes: denial, blame, and no one wanting to do what it takes to get it under control. Everything seems so big, it’s hard to pray. As the numbers of cases and deaths climb, my prayers get smaller and smaller. It reminds me of my experience during the cholera epidemic in Haiti. You can read more in The Well.

Daybook: August 1st

Outside: our front porch is a perfect little space in the morning, especially on these hot summer days. My friend Danielle inspired me to light a candle on the porch, and it has been a lovely addition to my morning routine.

In the schoolroom: We are still in full summer mode, which includes:

  • sleeping in
  • lots of screen time
  • trying to connect with friends (see previous)
  • complaining of boredom

For me, summer means not trying to maximize anyone’s anything. While the children play or hang out or complain, I have been prepping for school, which has meant reading lots of really interesting books and thinking about how to teach them. Good stuff.

My youngest is done with summer- she’s ready to start school again, and has been begging to start school early. (She even cleaned out all of last year’s leftover papers and random detritus from her school bin: see below.) I have put her off by promising a weekday camping trip. The only day I could find, however, follows a forty-eight hour shift at the hospital (for me, not her.) Wish me luck.

Random update: Remember my kids’ power point presentation to convince us to buy them a Switch? We responded with an earn-the-Switch campaign. Every mile walked/run counted 1 point toward the 500-point goal. Every indoor workout counted 1 point. Every mile biked was half a point. (Yards swam had some other complicated exchange rate I can’t remember.) Anyway, they did it, and they are happily smashing things together and negotiating with that tyrant Tom Nook.

In the kitchen: another brilliant friend (looking at you, Hillary) encouraged me to give the kids more time/space in the kitchen, so two nights a week most weeks, one of the kids is cooking dinner. It does mean more last-minute trips to the grocery store, but apart from that it’s a win-win. Yesterday Phoebe made my mom’s homemade noodles in a really fantastic vegetable broth and a green salad.

In my shoes: July’s goal was to “move more.” Having a lovely porch space means that I linger there, thinking up excuses not to exercise (e.g., I have a hangnail, my hair looks decent right now, I don’t know where my mask is…) until it’s too hot to exercise outside. I started writing down my excuses, which look ridiculous on paper, and then managed to do some kind of movement, be it yoga, running, walking, hiking, or biking, twenty-four days out of the month. Aside from being my main coping technique (and there’s a lot to cope with right now!) movement has been a lovely way to get out and see something other than the news. I saw hummingbirds, hawks, and even a buck who was snacking in our urban park.

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/50176494518_ffa41fb813_z.jpg&quot; width="640" height="352" alt="Untitled">

On my mind:

  • antiracism work
  • honoring my kids’ priorities in our learning
  • how can I better support my medical assistants who are front-line workers?

Grateful for:

  • our church
  • good therapists
  • the life of John Lewis and good trouble
  • music
  • this “bonus summer” our family has had together
  • quarantine birthday parties in the back yard and garage
  • young leaders stepping to make change
  • Sam

Praying for:

  • a shared narrative for the pandemic
  • the daily bread of patience, perseverance, and hope
  • the grassroots law project
  • public health workers, lab techs and supermarket workers
  • the Church and its mission of sacrifice and hospitality
  • parents, especially parents of teens and emerging adults

Making mistakes

Hey, friends. I’m still here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about white privilege and how it works inexorably in my favor, and against my neighbor. It’s hard to talk and think about, and I’ve been silent on this platform, because I’m uncomfortable with the conversation… so I’m listening and learning. This is work I have to do. Being uncomfortable is good for me, and I hope in the long run it will make the world a better place.

Also, I’ve been thinking about our home school- you know, looking back at this year and our successes and failures and all the meh moments in between. I’ve been thinking specifically about failure, and how important it is for learning. Julie Bogart of Bravewriter talks about how homeschooled kids never get a math problem wrong because their parents won’t let them. It’s funny here, but that was exactly how we worked in our house until I read that statement. Now after I mark their math work, I look for the patterns and decide which problems (if any) I want them to correct. Recently, it’s never more than one or two.

Likewise, I used to correct every little thing they did “wrong,” even when most of them were purely style. I did this in their reading aloud, in their writing, in the way they set the table, in the way they made their beds… all in the spirit of “learning to do it right.” How exhausting for them.

You know what? With most things, there are lots of ways to do it right. And who’s to say that my way of making the bed is better than theirs? Really, it’s just my preference.  My kids learn so much better from making real mistakes, whether it’s getting lost on their bikes, or not having enough money for something they want to buy because they spent some last week on candy.

But then I got to thinking about how my black friends don’t have the luxury of letting their children make mistakes.

If one of my kids talks back to a teacher in a classroom, I’m going to get a phone call. If my black friend’s kid talks back to a teacher, they’re much more likely to get embroiled in the criminal justice system, because we put police in schools.

If one of my kids is driving our car with a broken tail light, they’re going to get a warning or a ticket. If my neighbor’s black teenager gets stopped for driving with a broken tail light, who’s to say he will make it home alive?

This plays out in a million ways, most of which I’ve had the privilege never to consider.

Making mistakes is part of childhood.  It’s a necessary part of learning, and it’s an opportunity we’ve stolen from our brothers and sisters of color, and their children.  I don’t know how to change it, but I want to be part of the culture of change that will give everyone’s children the opportunities I’ve had.

Daybook: Mid-May, 2020

Outside my window: gray and green. The temperature today is supposed to top out at 41 degrees (F). I brought the fuchsia plants in so they wouldn’t go into shock. The trees are recovering from the late freeze and finally have some leaves.



I splurged on some hanging flowers for the porch. Normally I don’t,
because when we travel they all die, but… this summer we’re not traveling.

In the kitchen: Last night Phoebe’s first harvest of butter lettuce inspired me to make hoisin tofu lettuce cups and hot & sour soup, but my broth didn’t turn out right. It was a disappointment. However, not all was lost.

While I was trying to finish the final steps to put everything on the table, I had six hungry people chatting all around me and getting in my way. Once all the hungry people are fed, they want to disappear immediately into their own pursuits, though I would love for them to linger. I’m thinking a platter of hors d’oeuvres before dinner might prolong the pre-dinner linger. Please send me your favorite appetizer recipes in the comments!



My favorite part of Zoom school: Bob Ross-like
watercolor paint-alongs with the art teacher.

In the schoolroom: This week is the end of college finals for Jonah, and AP exam week (1/2) for Owen and Moriah. Phoebe had her first committee meeting (via Zoom) for an environmental action group she joined. It all sounds great on paper, but we are exhausted. According to the numbers we should continue school through May 29, but I going to call an audible (Omaha!) and wipe the final week of school off calendar. I figure we had less disruption to our school than, well, most of America, and we can just be done.

In my shoes: While all our lives are better when we move, we’re still struggling to do it.

On my mind: white privilege. It greases so many wheels in my life. I am beginning to see how systemic racism is much of the ground underneath my feet. I don’t know how to pull it up, but I am learning to look where I am walking. It’s not enough, but it’s a beginning.

Also: how health care system pays for procedures, not for thinking. For treatment but not prevention. We are seeing the effects of this in so many ways right now, from the failure to follow through on pandemic planning to the financial crisis in many health care entities.

Grateful:

  • for my neighbors’ creativity
  • for a weekend that managed to be both fun and restful
  • the technology that has made it possible to stay connected with friends and colleagues far (and near)
  • Sam’s hard work
  • my nephew’s college and MBA graduation
  • policy makers trying to thread the needle of economic survival in the face of loss of lives

Praying for:

  • clear answers and compassionate care for a hospitalized friend
  • family members who have to be advocates from afar
  • the lonely
  • safe spaces to grieve whatever we have lost, even if it’s smaller than what our friends/neighbors/communities have lost
  • students trying to show what they’ve learned during this much-interrupted year of learning
  • Mandy, Judy, Joanie, Eric & family, Jennifer, Clare

My child finished all their work. Now what?

Did we make it through week one?

By now you will have noticed the surprising truth about homeschooling: it doesn’t take the whole day.

2006. vinegar + baking soda + food coloring = happy child

When I started homeschooling, I thought that because traditional school occupied the child from 8:30-3, my home education was supposed to take the same amount of time. My effort to occupy my child for six and a half hours was excruciating. When he whizzed through his math worksheet, I added another. When he grasped the science lesson after ten minutes, I added three extra examples of the same principle. I heaped on assignments, thinking this was how it had to work. And still, we had hours each day where he looked at me, waiting for the next thing, and I had nothing. I felt like a failure.

As I read more and learned through experience, I discovered that less was more, especially during the younger years.

homemade Senet (ancient Egyptian funerary game), circa 2008

First grade “work” takes an hour. First grade learning takes all day.

You may have discovered the same thing this week by watching your own child.

So what do you do with the rest of the day, after your child has blown through the worksheets their teacher sent home? Please don’t buy more workbooks.

some sort of engineering project, 2009

What’s missing from your child’s “school day” is all of the negotiation between the teacher and the other twenty (or thirty) students in the room: classroom management. You’re not spending any time on roll call, handing in assignments, hearing the excuses for missed work, putting boots in cubbies, people asking to go to the bathroom, discussing the announcements, lining up to go to P.E.—or rather you are, but only for one child (or four). Multiply the transition time for your one by thirty, and now you have the other five and a half hours of first grade.

So what are you supposed to do with your child all day?

May I suggest boredom?

Boredom is the secret sauce of learning. Boredom is what makes a child look for the answers to their questions. It’s what makes practicing the piano interesting. An occupied child isn’t going to practice piano for two hours because you told them to, but a child who has “nothing better to do” might go try to figure out the theme song from their favorite anime even after their half hour of obligatory practicing. A bored child is going to be the one to follow the rabbit trail from their question of “how do I make slime?” to cooking and making their own cleaning supplies and actually testing those in your bathroom. (Or not.) They might build the BIGGEST LEGO WORLD EVER. They might figure out how to program their own computer game. They might practice their pirouettes until they can finally do a triple on their left foot.

playing Ode to the Bored Child, 3rd movement

So embrace the boredom. Let your kids plow through the assignments their teachers send home next week and then let them sit and wonder what they’re supposed to do next. It might be a new experience for them. It might open up a whole new world.