Daybook, mid-January (2019)

Outside my window: snow on the rooftops, but the paths are clear, which means I have no excuse not to go for a walk today.

As long as I keep moving, I won’t freeze over.

In the kitchen: oatmeal and yogurt. Two of the kids became vegetarians (again) last week, so all my stockpiles (i.e., a freezer full of locally-sourced organic meat) are less useful than they normally would be. The other child eats like a bear (80% berries, 20% meat and candy) so we’re having some growing pains again. They tell me not to prepare anything differently, but then I bear the brunt of the hangry when the carbs they ate for lunch wear off. This is fodder for lots of discussions about nutrition.

In the school room: yesterday was our first ski day of the year. (The teen who doesn’t like to ski had a full day with work in the morning and robotics in the afternoon.) I managed not to zip my pocket, so I lost my credit card somewhere between the living room and parking lot of the ski area. (It could be worse- I could have lost it on the lift!) I said a prayer I would find it, and we skied anyway. When we got back to the car at the end of the day, I found the missing Visa inside my ski boot. No wonder my calf was unhappy.

Blue skies and snow for miles

Today it’s back to geography and spelling, Chagall and biology, Sense and Sensibility and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the Medes and the Persians, adding and subtracting fractions, precalc and stoichiometry. In no particular order.

The cat could be working harder.

On my reading shelf: I just finished listening (again) to Connie Willis’s Crosstalk. Such a great book. I’m about halfway through Michelle Obama’s Becoming (it’s so good I keep stopping to write things down). Also a reread, and well worth it: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Grateful: for a few miles in my shoes thus far, and some yoga. It’s been a struggle to get out there (and I have a million excuses) but I’m always glad afterwards. And during.

An eleven year-old’s birthday party a few weeks ago. She felt very loved.

This was a hard core game of spoons.

Friends who have kept in touch, across miles and years.

We had a lovely three weeks with Jonah before he went back to school, which he’s clearly loving. I’m grateful he comes home, and I’m grateful he goes back to a place that’s a great fit for him.

On my mind: we’re looking at school plans for next year, specifically AP classes versus dual enrollment. We’ve had good experiences with both, but with different goals. I’ll try to post about this in a few weeks.

Praying for: Mandy. Judy. The Neals. My kids. Refugees. Furloughed friends. The ability to choose our response to hard things in our lives… it looks easier than it is.


What worked (or not) in 2018

For the past few years, I’ve used Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2-question template for evaluating the year past. As I sat down this year to ask “What worked for me in 2018?” and “What didn’t work for me in 2018?”, most of the answers come in mixed bags. Some part of my system worked, while another part didn’t. Unfortunately I don’t see any quick fixes for the latter, but please pipe up if you see a glaringly obvious solution (or a splendidly clever one!) I’m overlooking. Untitled

Finances: We paid for a year of college. Granted, we had significant help from my parents, but we did it.  We are one (hopefully) sixteenth of the way there. Hooray! I credit automated transfers to savings, the January Money Diet (in the past found at Happy Simple Living) and including the kids in some of our frequent talks about the budget.  It’s hard to include them without freaking them out, but for the most part, we walked the tight rope, and they have some understanding what the budget looks like.


Reading: I read a ton of books.  What worked here was leaving them lying all over the house, using the library’s audiobook loans while driving the kids all over town, and a brief slump into a turtle phase while I was trying not to think about Jonah’s leaving for college.

We became a house with cats again: This one is really a mixed bag.  We adopted two cats at the end of 2017, and one of them got terribly sick. (Like $1000-vet-ICU-bill-and-then-euthanasia sick.)  It was heartbreaking and expensive, and for twenty-four hours we thought we were going to be the source of a local rabies outbreak. How’s that for irony?


Anyway, we adopted a third cat and have been a happy home with two cats again, except for the allergies and cat litter. It turns out that two cats pee twice as much as one cat does. (Who knew?) Anyone have a brilliant solution to the cat litter problem? Anyone? Bueller?

Devotional reading: A challenge from our priest last Christmas spurred me to read the Bible chronologically this year. We happened to be on ancient history, so much of my school prep dovetailed with the old testament in a really enlightening way.


Exercise: I was having a good exercise year until the first of October, when I broke my toe. You’d think I would have just upped the yoga and waited to heal, but instead I sat around feeling sorry for myself, and I lost two months of fitness while it healed. Now I’m back to where I started a year ago. I think the problem is that I really have one good block of time I can count on every day, and I’ve been using it to write instead of exercise. I need to carve out a second chunk of time and make movement a priority.


Screen time: This is the one area that abjectly didn’t work. As I have used my phone for tracking more things (and children), it’s harder not to pick it up at every spare moment, and it’s really hard to tell my children to put down their devices when my face is glued to a screen. So here’s to big changes in 2019.

What about you?  What worked for you (or didn’t) in 2018?

Advent: it’s not too late to make room

It’s been a few years since I wrote a post on how I love the church year and how it loves me back. I used to post every year on our Advent traditions, and what I loved about Lent and Ordinary Time. But then some of my posts had the opposite effect of what I’d wanted. I shared a practice that was life-giving for me, and it was making other people feel bad.  That had to stop.

But, as a perpetual optimist, I’m back this year to try again.  I want to share a few things I love about the Advent, which began yesterday. Happy New (Church) Year.


Advent is about waiting and making room. It is a season for contemplation. I need more of all three of those in my life, so it’s no wonder Advent is my favorite season.


There are a million and one resources out there to enrich your Advent, but I’m not here to talk about those today.  I don’t want to add anything to your burden, because Advent is about waiting to receive.  Making room. Advent isn’t asking you to do more, or be more.

“Mom, that Prepare sign is really freaking me out.” — child

Advent is asking us to rest in a place of waiting.  Waiting on God to fix what’s broken. (Not my strength. I’m more of a Sarah kind of gal.)

Anyway, I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late. Even if you don’t have any candles, or can’t find your Advent wreath (or don’t have one), or if the broken light is the second one in the string and none of them will light, or you are too overwhelmed to dig any of your decorations out of the basement, or they all went down with your house in a fire, and your kids refuse to snuggle on the couch to listen to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever even though we do it every year but now they think they’re too old for it…

Even if all of that is true, it’s not too late. You don’t need to do anything. Because Advent is about the promise that God is going to show up in the flesh to take care of everything. It’s not going to look like what we expected, and that’s all right, too. Our job is just to make room to see what the Incarnation really looks like.

Grateful: Thanksgiving, 2018

Lots of blessings to count this year. Here are just a few from my list, not in any order other than ease of pulling the photos.  I am grateful:

+ to live in a place that recognizes the importance of open space


+ for the days I remember to make getting outside a priority, and the friends who encourage me to do so


+ for artists and their work, especially work that tells truth and shows me kindness and beauty that is stronger than the evil around us

Members of the original Broadway cast of 'Come From Away.' Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Members of the original Broadway cast of ‘Come From Away.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

+ friends from far away, and poetry


+ having this nutty crew all together for a week:


I am grateful for you, friend.  May you have time to count your blessings this week.

Charlotte Mason and Mother Culture

Charlotte Mason talks about Mother Culture. It’s a funny play on words. Is the culture supposed to be my mother? Is she talking about socialization for mothers?

The Domain of Arnheim, Rene Magritte

I like to think of it in a Julia Cameron Artist’s Way kind of way: in order to keep feeding my children a rich diet of art and music and thought, I need to be feeding myself. Like an oxygen mask for a home educator.

The Happy Donor, Rene Magritte

Or, like the yogurt starter (aka culture) I use every week to make my yogurt. While the recipe books tell me I can use keep using last week’s yogurt to start this weeks, I find the yogurt tastes better if every 2-3 batches I use some fresh starter.

Mason encourages home educators to keep reading books for themselves, not just with their children. She says we should have 3 books going at all times:

Besides my Bible, I always keep three books going that are just for me – a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel or one of poetry. I always take up the one I feel fit for. That is the secret: always have something ‘going’ to grow by.”…

While I don’t strictly adhere to this recommendation, slipping into a book for a few minutes each day helps me immensely. But sometimes I need more than that.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

This month I had a chance to slip away (twice!) to an art museum without my kids. At the beginning of the month, my friend Amy and I hit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for their Magritte exhibit. It was a great collection of works. (I also listened to audio tour through their free app and was able to show my kids a few of the pictures that way. I think it’s freely available even if you can’t make it to the museum in person.) The day was delightful on so many levels: reconnecting with an old friend, amazing art, time away…

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet

Then for my birthday, we happened to be in Chicago. I met my friend Gina at the Art Institute of Chicago. My kids had expressed interest in going, but I said no, not without a twinge of guilt. We had just a few hours, but we hit a whole bunch of my favorites: the Chagall windows, A Rainy Day in Paris, Van Gogh’s bedroom, Cezanne’s Apple and Oranges. While her conversation was the biggest blessing of that day, the art itself filled me up in ways I’d forgotten I needed.

Still Life with Basket of Apples, Paul Cezanne

My kids have recently put up some resistance against Picture Study, but the joy I felt at seeing the originals of pictures we’ve studied reminded me it’s worth it. Their disappointment in not going told me it’s worth it. I have renewed motivation to keep up with the daily work.

What’s your oxygen mask/yogurt starter right now?

Daybook, late October

Out my window: darkness. But there’s color out there, and soon I’ll be able to see it.

This is not a maple tree.

We had an early snow and hard freeze right at the beginning of the month, but our maple tree somehow wasn’t affected and we came home to a blaze of red that makes my heart sing.

In the kitchen: I have a butternut squash in the oven. Butternut is one of my favorite foods.  I put it with pasta in this sage butternut penne. I use it in place of pumpkin in this Pumpkin Ribbon Bread (minus the pecans). The trick, of course, is to make your squash ahead, either diced and roasted (for the pasta or any yummy autumn salad) or baked and scooped out of the shell (for breads and desserts), because once you decide you need pumpkin ribbon bread (or pumpkin cream cheese muffins) you can’t wait the extra hour for the squash to bake and cool.

In the school room: We just got back from a 9-day road trip. Somehow all the bags are unpacked and all the laundry is clean, but I still feel like the car is still moving. I’m in the kitchen, inside a giant minivan full of irritated humans and fast food trash, and we can’t. stop. moving.


Today is a pull-it-back-together day. I wish I had thought of that when I scheduled a doctor’s appointment and a weekend working at the hospital. Hopefully we will be able to find some of our books and read for a few minutes today.

In my shoes: There has been no running since October 3, when I broke my toe. Usually I can buddy tape it and after a few days I can grit my teeth and move on. Not this time. My goal today is to try a running mile and see what happens. If I can’t get back to running, I’ll have to look into the gym schedule (ugh).

This is not my living room.

Grateful: for a good trip. We packed those nine days full of good (and old, like us!) friends, birthday celebrations, opportunities to meet Jonah’s college friends whom we keep hearing about, wedding celebrations, and ancient history.  We were the recipients of endless hospitality and delicious meals. After 3250 miles, we’re still speaking to each other. Not bad. Alas, I couldn’t get blackout on the license plate game (though I’m close!)


Praying for: Mandy. Judy. My kids, in all their various states of process and dilemma and angst. The gift of remembering that God isn’t finished with me yet.

Seeing the details…

We are fully in the throes of autumn here. Red leaves, frost on the grass in the morning, cold noses and toes.


With a new school year comes new patterns. With Jonah’s departure for college, we have had a major shuffling of responsibilities at home.

I have written before about chores and teaching them to my children. At different times, I organized chores by capacity. Then, once the kids reached a certain age, I assigned the same chores in rotation to all the kids and gritted my teeth when their capacity was vastly different.


Today’s version of “clean.”

What I want now is to teach my children to see what needs to be done without being told.  This is completely different than what we have previously done.


I want my kids to be able to look at the kitchen and see that not only do the dishes need to go in the dishwasher, but the counter needs to be wiped and the questionable organic matter growing inside last week’s lunch bag should go in the compost (and the bag in the washing machine.)

I think this ability to see what is front of us is necessary for all kinds of work, both at home and in the wider world. This skill translates into:

  • a landscaper who makes sure the sidewalk is clear after the job is finished
  • a chef who prevents a diner’s anaphylaxis by keeping ingredients separate in the kitchen
  • the CEO who can balance the needs of the workers with the company profits
  • a host who can see not only who is the life of the party, but also who is on the fringes

I have the vision for what I want, but we’re not anywhere near that yet. My theory is that it starts with the area of one’s passion (which, ahem, is not cleaning the kitchen) but then practiced by extension in other areas.


For one child, the means to this end will be through music. For another, it’s going to be through following all the details of a complicated recipe.  For another, it will be the small adjustments needed to make no splash when she dives. But I don’t know how to make that attention to detail spread to other areas.

Any ideas?