What’s working lately?

We are 1/3 of the way through our year of school. Here’s what’s working right now.

Field trips:
We’ve taken some pretty awesome field trips thus far.

Washington, D.C.
Highlights included our days at the monuments, the Library of Congress, and the National Portrait Gallery. (More on the trip here.)

The Denver Art Museum. We met my parents for the Monet Exhibit, which was packed but beautifully curated.

(Look how Monet captured the water and the reflection of the boats. It makes me want to paint the photo I took above of the Washington Monument reflected in the Potomac.)
Monet’s Grainstacks in Snow have always been my favorite.

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s concert for Beethoven’s birthday. This year I bought our tickets early, and we got to sit right behind the orchestra. It was fantastic being so close to the musicians, and being able to see the conductor’s facial expressions. Plus, the CSO rocks.

By the time the performance started, all the seats across were full.

The Denver Botanic Gardens. This trip was made especially wonderful by Aunt Mandy, who was here visiting.

One year, I tried to schedule us a field trip once a week. That was too much, even though no one was juggling AP classes or extracurriculars yet. One year, I just didn’t have it in me to schedule anything ahead, and I didn’t manage to arrange any field trips. By the time February rolled around, we were all sick of each other and our work.

This year, the kids are old enough that I (mostly) let them opt in or out of our field trips, depending on how their work is going. They’ve mostly opted in, which makes me think one field trip per month might be just about right. (Thanks, Goldilocks.)

We are still loving our weekly Poetry Teas. (Poetry Tea is a suggestion from Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.) We don’t have a huge agenda. We just drink tea and read or write poetry. Sometimes my 10th grader tags along for tea and does her biology homework while Phoebe and I write poetry. Sometimes all three of us exchange words and write poems together. It’s my favorite part of our week.

Okay, so not everyone gets tea. Sometimes they get milkshakes.

The other thing that’s working around here is the habit of work. Charlotte Mason promised me when the kids were little that laying down the rails of habit would pay off later. How I clung to that promise! And for the most part, it has worked. The kids are in the habit of getting their work done every day, and doing their chores, and treating each other with kindness and respect. I am so grateful for the work we did in those early years to make routines and habits of work and kindness.

What’s working in your home school this year?

Daybook: November 2019

Out my window: many shades of brown. We lost the last of our fall color with the hard freeze and snow last week. We’re supposed to get snow tonight, but today everything is degrees of brown and tan.

In the kitchen: my kids are coming and going more these days and need nutrient-dense snack food they don’t have to prepare ahead. Our regular staples are Humus and carrots, Spicy Black Beans (from Run Fast. Eat Slow), and a mountain of fruit. This week I’m planning to make a double batch of roasted chick peas (these go fast!), banana bread and some tiny quiches (baked in muffin cups). What are your homemade go-to snacks?

What I’m hearing: The house has been full of music, between the cello, harp and piano. I can’t get enough of it. In the rare moments someone(s) isn’t practicing, there’s a lot of Taylor Swift and Hades Town on the Spotify playlists.

I hit a slump in my audio book queue and have been trying to find some engaging and new-to-me podcasts or books to listen to. I downloaded a couple of Audible originals and have been enjoying This Podcast Will Kill You. Any suggestions?

On my feet: The early October snow and our unusually cold temps drastically reduced my road miles. I realized that since I renewed my Rec Center membership in February, I’ve used the gym once.  Unless something changes, that sole trip will have cost me $182.

The moral of this math problem is that I need to get back in the habit of basing my running not on the weather, but on a schedule I plan ahead and write on my calendar.  If the sidewalks aren’t clear, I go to the gym.  (I have three months to turn that lemon of a membership in strawberry lemonade Nuun.)

The girls and I are planning to run the Mac & Cheese 5K next weekend for our favorite local organization, FosterSource. Let me know if you’ll be there and we’ll look for you. (We’ll be the ones dressed as mac & cheese.)

In the school room: This will be week 12 for us (or one third of the way through the year). Our habits are established and for the most part, are good. Phoebe still hates her new reading/spelling program but is starting to recognize the benefits. She’s enjoying our current read (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH) and likes our schedule for the weekly subjects (Botany, History, Poetry and Spanish). We’ve had some good literature discussions, and Moriah thanked me last month for forcing her to take US Government. This week she’ll begin her weekly Spanish tutoring.

Around the house: Last week we made a new house cleaning plan. The kids stepped up to divide the tasks and agree on a plan. I’m hoping that turns my mornings back into writing time, instead of growling-about-how-dirty-the-house-is time. (And if we’re lucky, I’ll finally do something about how filthy the windows are.)

On my mind: I joined a one month challenge to learn about and practice clean speech. It’s based on Jewish principles of good communication, and I am loving the daily emails and thoughtful perspective. There are also local lectures throughout the month if you’re in Denver.

I cut my hair last week and then dressed up as Aunt May for Halloween. (Not the sexy Marisa Tomei Spiderman Homecoming Aunt May. The jaded Lily Tomlin Aunt May from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.)

No one who came to the door could figure out I was in costume, even though I was carrying a baseball bat. Note to self: for next year’s costume, pick something not quite so close to home.

Things have been tougher than usual at work, and I was close to losing hope. While the need for my work is great, the business of medicine makes the practice of medicine really difficult. We had a good meeting of doctors/NPs/PAs recently, and I’m feeling renewed energy to fight the good fight. The question is where to (re)start.

Grateful:

  • for my colleagues at work
  • that Mandy is home
  • our church (especially the youth group!)
  • for the kids’ stepping up their cleaning game
  • for friends who love on our kids in a myriad of ways (including taking them for a weekend so Sam and I could go away)
  • for Sam’s and my weekend getaway to La Jolla

Praying for: kindness in hard conversations and wisdom in the decisions that follow. Gentleness in how we judge ourselves (and others).

7QT in D.C. with Teenagers

We’re having a schooling vacation in Washington D.C. this weekend. Here are a few of the early highlights.

One: Sam flew out a day ahead of us to make it here for his conference, so the kids and I endured our 4:30 am wake-up call and long day of cross-country travel without him. Our first plane was full of babies, and I spent the whole flight being grateful that this was not the trip I flew solo with a baby in the backpack, a toddler trying to wander off and a four-hour delay because of a snowstorm. Oh- I was also grateful for Southwest’s Wi-Fi and my kids’ phones.

Two: The two schoolish “vacations” we took last fall nearly did us in, so I was very careful as I planned this trip. [I tried to link my posts about those trips but apparently I was so traumatized I didn’t write about them.]

First, we opted not to drive. There are families who can drive two thousand miles together and still speak to each other at the end, but we are not one of them. Second, we rented a house instead of trying to cram five people into one (or even two) hotel rooms. When the kids were little, Sam and I always tried to get a hotel with a pool (kids who swim are kids who sleep), but our needs have changed. Our criteria now when we look for vacation rentals are location (close to our destination, or close to public transportation), a small kitchen (eating out with teenagers is really expensive!) and high speed internet.

Three: I pre-ordered groceries to be delivered soon after Sam arrived, and the minute we put our bags down, we were all snacking on carrots and guacamole. I know this sounds ridiculous, but teenagers are hard to feed and need to eat almost constantly, like toddlers. (Also like toddlers, the moment you buy a jumbo pack of cheese sticks at Costco, they announce they’re no longer eating cheese.)

Four: Last night Phoebe and Momo wanted to go out and explore, so we walked over to the Mall and admired all the national things: US Capitol, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Museums, National Ice Cream Trucks, National Carnivorous Plants (at the Botanic Gardens).

Five: Owen was done last night and opted out of the evening fun, and it was fine. It still astounds me that my kids (some of them, at least) are old enough to hang out at the house by themselves. I remember so vividly the years where it felt like they were stapled to my side, and we had to be together every minute. I am grateful for not having to drag an unwilling child along with us somewhere (or curtail everyone else’s fun because someone just can’t take it.)

Six: This morning we went to the White House. Of course, in the rush of trying to get five of us out the door for an 8:30 tour, I forgot my photo ID and our tour boarding pass. We were already on the train when I remembered, and I had to make a sprint to the opposite train, run back to the house, and grab everything. The White House self-guided tour was quick. It felt like the security to get in was longer than actual the tour, and I wondered if the tour changes based on the administration (i.e., a longer, more informative tour might reflect a president who values history). I was struck again by the price paid by the children of our modern presidents. (I am grateful for Michelle Obama’s book which first made me think about the cost they pay.)

Seven: And that’s all we’ve done so far. We have a few days, and I hope to hit multiple museums (the woman suffrage exhibit at the Library of Congress, and the African American History and Culture Museum are at the top of the list), but for now, we had to come back to the house and rest (a.k.a. check Instagram and watch Parks & Rec). Anyone want a cheese stick?

7 Quick takes: first month of school edition

We’ve been schooling for a month now, and it’s time to take quick look back at how it’s gone so far.

One: I always have intentions to start slowly and ease our way into school, but I find the high school schedule is less accommodating of that plan than I’d like. On day 1, we dropped Jonah at the airport to head back to college, had a full day of school, and then Moriah and I took off for Red Rocks for the OneRepublic + Colorado CSO concert that was her birthday gift. What a great concert in a stunning setting. Seeing her happiness, watching the sun turn the mountains red, letting the music pour into me- my heart was very full that night.

In addition to their own music, OneRepublic played several of the songs Ryan Tedder’s wrote for others (Rumor Has It for Adele, Suckers for Jonah Brothers, Halo for Beyonce) and sang a stunning song by another songwriter. I appreciated his highlighting the often-invisible songwriter.

One and a half: I added a few OneRepublic songs to my running playlists, as well as Aftertaste by Shawn Mendes. It’s got a great beat for running, but the lyrics are confusing: “I’m PermaNick, you can’t replace me.” Who the heck is PermaNick?

Two: Our house has been full of music, between Owen’s recent trip to Vienna and the Harp Fantastia coming up. (I’m writing this from a coffeeshop while Moriah rehearses with a room full of harpists for a concert at the end of the month.)

Mozart’s Sonata K. 311 at the concert venue in Mozart’s wine-cellar
Chopin’s Waltz in E flat Minor No. 64 at Ehrbar Hall, Vienna

Years ago, before I even met Sam, I imagined my future family as always singing. I thought we might have a quartet of singers- not quite the von Trapps, but something in that neighborhood. That’s not how it’s turned out, but my prayer to have a house full of music has been answered.

harp/cello concert in the living room

Three: While I generally love having lots of music in the house, I’m not thrilled about how it has become the latest bedtime stall tactic.

Me: Please go brush your teeth and get in bed. [5 minutes passes. I hear the cello. I run upstairs] What are you doing? I said to get in bed.

Her: [innocent eyeroll] But Mom, I’m flossing!

cello (and multitasking) in the upstairs bedroom

Four: P.E. in our school continues to evolve. I learned a long time ago that I have to exercise every day, or the teacher (and all the students) will be sorry. I keep running (and stopping every few minutes to take photos), but I also want the kids to find some sort of outlet for all those huge, angsty teenage feels they have. So Owen and Sam have been training for a triathlon (completed today), Moriah continues to dance four days a week in public (and eight days a week in the kitchen), and Phoebe and I have been riding our bikes everywhere.

set-up in the triathlon transition-zone: 44 degrees
ballet exhibition
testing out the new bike lane

Five: Imagining we could afford a new (to us) car with a kid in college (ha!), we went car shopping. Our prep work included all sorts of weird google searches, including “is the Subaru outback a harpmobile?” We found a 2011 outback (certified harpmobile) in good condition and were ready to trade in our 2004 Sienna minivan, until they told us the tiger-claw scratches on both sides meant it was only worth $1500 as a trade-in. (Good thing we’re not trying to trade in the garage.) Ergo, no “new” car for us.

these musicians all drove harpmobiles to the rehearsal

Six: In case you were wondering, we are studying some academic subjects, too. Phoebe is working hard on her reading/spelling (and finally with some results, now that have a program that works with her strengths). She and I just finished reading The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street– what a delightful book! Owen and Moriah have US Government and Comparative Politics and American Literature with me, and Moriah’s doing precalc at home. I’ve outsourcedAP Physics, Biology and Calculus (thank goodness!) and will add some Spanish into the mix soon.

We’re planning a trip to Washington, D.C., next month, which should dovetail well with our government studies. Between Trump’s antics and Brexit, there’s certainly plenty of supplemental material in the news to keep us very busy.

We’ve been using Rooted in Language’s Annotating Literary Elements for our American Literature class. It had us analyzing the plot arc of a children’s book to begin: super fun.

each trail of stickies represents the plot a different children’s book we analyzed

Seven: We also had a visit from Aunt Mandy for a week. Uncle Matt popped in for two nights. We used Mandy’s visit as an excuse to go to the Botanic Gardens for an afternoon, which met my goal of having a field trip once a month. I’m planning to count all of D.C. as October’s field trip.

family resemblance? maybe…

On to month two of school…

Don’t miss the more and better Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Camping adventures, 2019 edition

Last week my eleven year-old and I went camping by ourselves. This was a somewhat spontaneous decision prompted by Dad and Owen’s heading to Europe.

To review, this is Europe (Westminster Abbey, London. Pop. 8.136 million)

This is Camping. (Heaton Bay Campground Spot 64. Pop. 2)

We were lucky enough to find camping spots both nights, though we did have to pack everything up between and move to the other side of the lake.

It was worth it.

Three things I learned while I was camping this weekend:

A younger child loves to be alone with her parent. There was no one to tell her how she was doing anything wrong. Without any hovering siblings who could “do it better,” she made 394 trips to the car to haul gear, learned how to set up the tent, made several of her own meals, built our fire independently, and did much of the clean up.

Dinner both nights: Hobo packets. (Apologies to actual hobos.)

Hobo packets work best when you bring pre-cooked potatoes from home. Also, a cooler full of condiments covers a variety of sins.

Fairy house. Wouldn’t you want to live here if you were a fairy?

Eleven is the perfect age to go camping alone with your mom. Eleven is big enough to work hard but young enough not to mind the lack of Wi-Fi. Eleven can pack her own backpack and follow directions about how far from the tent she has to be to spit her toothpaste, but still be excited to beat her mom at every game we brought.

Two nights and three days was long enough to be ready to go home to our own beds and cats and cellos, but long enough to feel like we were away.

What’s your most essential camping condiment? (Phoebe’s is dry BBQ rub. Mine was milk & sugar for my tea.)

7QT: Baby, It’s Hot

One: I know I was just complaining about how cold it was, but that was two whole weeks ago and I can’t remember back that far. At least the roses like the heat.

Two: We had a grill fire the other night. It smelled GREAT, but the peach tree immediately behind the grill was not happy about it. I texted the neighborhood group chat to ask for a fire extinguisher and I had two at my door in 30 seconds. (I like to think of that as neighborliness and not self-interest.) We seriously have the best neighbors.

Three: I’m giving a talk on physician burnout later today. It’s not pretty. Most of my creative/mental energy this week has gone into preparing it, and I’m simultaneously alarmed and exhausted. Instead of sharing it with you, here’s a photo of kids and cats. You’re welcome.

Four: The good news is that it’s cherry and apricot season, and we got both in our farm box this week. Yum.

Five: We had a picnic at church on Sunday. I love our church. A friend tried to take a new family photo for us. We have probably nineteen of these gems. To be clear, we’re the knuckleheads. Don’t blame the photographer.

Here we were trying to take a photo with everyone facing right…
Here we are discussing who will be on the bottom of the pyramid.
(Spoiler: No takers.)

Six: Meanwhile, life continues: advanced ballet intensive. Diving. Lifeguarding. Piano, violin, cello, harp, writing.

When Sam and I got married, I prayed we would have a musical family. I was imagining the von Trapp family singers (who surely knew how to stand still and all look in one direction for a photo). It’s different than what I imagined. Better.

Ballet feet.
She assures me that this face is not unhappiness.
It’s focus. Concentration.

Seven: Meanwhile, I’m in the throes of planning school. We’re in that awkward phase right now in which the books are arriving, but I haven’t put away last year’s books, so there’s nowhere for them to go except my floor.

I just finished rereading Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which I’d been planning to use for our lit class and decided not to, because a character opts for suicide as a solution to her problems. Now I’m not sure what I want to substitute. I’m looking for a mystery, and I’d love an unreliable narrator. Suggestions?

Go check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

June thoughts on homeschooling

It’s the second day of official summer, and it’s 47 degrees and raining. I can’t decide if that means it’s still winter, or it’s already next winter.

June is usually when I do much of my school planning. I begin by looking back the year (you can find my thoughts on our specific curriculum choices in the 2018-9 tab above, or on the sidebar). Here’s the bird’s eye view:

What went well:

Phoebe playing Copeland, her cello
  1. We all survived the year. You think I’m kidding, but depression is no joke. I am SO grateful for our mental health team (two good therapists, a responsive doctor and an army of people supporting and praying for us every day).
  2. Music lessons. We have three teachers who are a good match for the three kids, everyone playing an instrument (or two) that they are excited about. A long time ago we decided that playing an instrument would be part of our kids’ education. We knew they’d resent us now for making them practice, or resent us later for letting them quit, so we opted for resentment+music. Today, it feels like we chose well.
  3. Learning testing. It took 9 months, but with the help of a great psychologist, we got a better understanding of P’s learning challenges and how to work with her many strengths.
  4. Poetry tea. (Almost) every Thursday, the girls and I went out to a coffee shop to drink tea and read/write poetry. Two years ago, I never seemed to get around to reading poetry with the kids, but because we pinned it to a little treat, it happened almost every week and man, was it fun!
  5. More ownership of their learning. I could put this in both categories (what worked, and what didn’t) but I think the benefits outweighed the downsides. My sophomore really owned their learning and managed their own time.
  6. Cooking as low-pressure reading. While we do have power struggles over whose turn it is to use the kitchen, following recipes has been a useful (and tasty) tool to show the benefits of careful reading.
Momo made a cake for Jonah’s 19th (!!!) birthday

What didn’t work well:

  1. Time management: This was a year of struggle over screen-time creep. I felt like every time I turned around, the kids “needed” more time on their phones/computers. Some of them did better than others, but it’s something I’m going to have to be more vigilant about next year. Our online classes make limiting this tricky.
  2. I don’t know what to call this. I love watching my older kids grow up and embrace their passions and opportunities, but I still have an eleven year-old who is home. I would love to give her the same warm, fuzzy, everyone-on-the-couch-in-our-pajamas school experience the older kids had, but that’s not what it looks like. And it makes me sad.

All right. I’m off to plan for next year: more counseling, more poetry, more tea, more music, less YouTube, more pajamas.