End of School Daybook 2022

The first pink bloom from this peony.

Outside my window: the garden is amazing right now. We had rain last week and a cooler weekend, and everything is acting like it’s England. Just lovely. (Except for the aphids on the roses. Between the aphids and the Japanese beetles, I wonder if it’s time to take the roses out altogether.)

Early June is always a time of great abundance in the garden- not of food, but of flowers- and I love it. We traveled a lot when I was a kid, and I remember my mom saying she didn’t want to travel in June because she’d miss everything in her garden. At the time, I thought she was crazy, but now I understand.

A profusion of purple clematis.

In the kitchen: Part of this June abundance is a profusion of eaters with opinions about what we should be eating (mostly: not leftovers.) This is what my fridge looks like right now.

Refrigerator with mountains of leftovers and no order.

The house is likewise a mess of abundance as the kids are going through luggage brought home from school, seventeen years of school supplies, and old books they want to pass along to make room for new ones. We have no routine yet. We have five drivers with plans they don’t share and only three cars. I proposed a very basic weekly food plan that was received like a deflating balloon. Something has to be done, or I’m going to have to run away to the circus. (Correction… from the circus.)

In my shoes: I had fluid drained from my knee yesterday and almost passed out. The rheumatologist said I must be a “lidocaine super-metabolizer.” Whatever, but next time please put ALL THE LIDOCAINE in there before you stick the big needle in my knee.

There is no photo of this. You’re welcome.

What I’m reading: I’ve been posting lots of book reviews at my other site.

In the school room: We’re done. I have retired. For the ultimate kick in the teeth, Sam and I got Covid-19 the week we were supposed to fly to Ohio for Jonah’s graduation. His roommates’ parents took lots of photos for us and took him out to dinner, but it was lonely and anticlimactic, and I can’t figure out how to turn it into something else.

Our first college graduate with an ornithological anatomy specimen from his lab.

We were out of our isolation period for Mo’s graduation and well enough the next week to host a breakfast for her, so her graduation felt like the real deal.

Proud parents and high school graduate.

I managed to pull myself off the bed for our final week of school, and Phoebe did a great job with her written exams. (These were Charlotte Mason-style exams, in which she answered questions in essay form about what she’d learned, e.g., “Explain the differences between ionic and covalent bonding.”) We finished our seventeen years of homeschooling with a poetry tea. It was lovely, and I had all the feels.

Grateful for: our friends in Ohio who were Jonah’s family for us, especially this hard semester with his broken ankle and our Covid-19.

The village who has helped us educate our kids these many years:

  • Sam’s unwavering support for this work
  • my parents who spent years coming to care for our kids on my work day and later, asking my kids hard questions and listening through all the answers
  • nannies who likewise made it possible for me to continue to work and school
  • my work’s willingness to take a chance on a part-time doctor (a weirdly hard sell)
  • the kids’ godparents, and our friends at church & elsewhere who prayed us through
  • the friends homeschooling and learning alongside us
  • tutors (Latin! Arabic! French!)
  • piano, cello, violin, and dance teachers
  • the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Barr Lake State Park and Bluff Lake Nature Center: places that made our experience so rich
  • soccer, swimming, diving and Robotics coaches who have mentored our kids
  • climate activists who have welcomed our child into their work
  • friends who shared joys, sorrows, books, skills and adventures
  • wise teachers who helped us sort out learning differences and how to accommodate them
  • the writers of the living books who shared their passion and knowledge with us
  • these four kids who made this journey such a joy

I am so grateful.

Four little kids on a blanket.
Four big kids at a bookstore..

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?

Of invisible growth and winter blooms

As my oldest child is applying to colleges, I’m doing some heavy reflecting. Our time, which once stretched seemingly forever (I’m just talking about between dinner and bedtime, here) is now short. No matter how many times he comes home after he graduates, I will no longer be his primary educator. I wonder what I neglected to cover and what we spent too much time on and should have breezed over.

Many years ago, my friend Erin gave me a Christmas cactus. It was beautiful, covered in trailing red flowers. It was just the thing for my dull, hard winter. And then its blooms faded and fell.  I’ve been waiting for it to bloom ever since. We’ve moved homes twice in the intervening years. I’ve moved it around our houses, searching for the best light. Watering it faithfully. But nothing. Nary a bloom to be seen.


There are lots of websites with instructions for how to force a Christmas cactus to flower. They recommend cool darkness and drought. For whatever reason, I never tried any of the tricks. I’ve just been watering it faithfully once a week for seven years and moving it from house to house.

There have been many seasons in our homeschooling where it seemed that there was nothing happening. Despite our faithful daily math and daily reading, progress was invisible, maybe even non-existent. I looked for short-cuts and magic curricula. Perhaps I needed to put the kids in a local school, where they would flourish. (Especially in February. Every February, the grass always looks greener at our local school.) My lofty goals and ideals crumbled into shards of I-wish and what-if.  What if he never gets this? I wish our days/school room/crafts/history lessons looked like the ones I saw on fb/pinterest/instagram.


Last February, something looked different on my cactus. Almost imperceptibly, the tips of its fronds (leaves? arms?) turned red and then opened. It was blooming. I hadn’t done anything different: same windowsill, same weekly water ration, same morning sun. But all the invisible, internal work it had been doing burst forth in blossoms.


I’m seeing the same phenomenon happening in my older children this year. Habits I used to have to enforce daily now happen without my reminding them (most of the time). Where I used to hear, “I’m bored,” now they say, “I need more time to finish what I’m working on.” It’s amazing, especially since I haven’t done anything different. It’s just their own invisible process finally producing fruit I can see.

Please help me remember this come February.

Countdown to school: T-7 days


I have seven days till we start school.  This is my 13th year homeschooling, and my last year homeschooling my oldest.  Granted, things may change, but at this time it’s looking like I have a few years more to go.  No matter how many years I’ve been doing this, every year feels like a new, distinct challenge.  Here’s how I’m talking myself back from a precipice of anxiety.

We don’t have to start everything all at once.  When my kids were littler (and for the one who’s still little) I don’t start everything all at once.  I begin with a favorite subject (or two), and one that is new to us, sandwiching the new between the old.  Then when those are rolling well (which might be a few days, or in a harder year, a few weeks), I add the next.

We’ve got good books.  Much of our schooling is based on books, and if all else fails, we can retreat into our living room and read books for a week or two until I figure out where to go from here.

We take advantage of early-fall weather.  I love the fall as a time for hikes and nature walks and family bike rides.  There will be plenty of time come winter to hunker down at home for longer lessons.

“Important things will be repeated.” I stole that quote from my favorite medical school professor (Dr. Wood), and it’s true.  We can repeat and refine as much as we want, so why am I so worked up about every moment being critical?

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”  I take this quote to mean that we are learning together all the time, in the attitude (atmosphere) of our home: we ask questions, we pay attention, and we are curious; in the habits (discipline) we practice, and in all aspects of life.  Thank you, Charlotte Mason.

Our aim in education is to give a full life. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. –Charlotte Mason

Quick Lit: December 2015

This month gave me less reading time than I thought it would, and much of my planned reading was replaced with nursing care.  Nevertheless, I have some gems to tell you about.


The Best of Connie Willis (Connie Willis)

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If you’ve read my book reviews in the past, you know I am a huge Connie Willis fan.  This book had two new-to-me stories and many of my favorites, including “Even the Queen” and “All Seat on the Ground.”  I have several copies of “Even the Queen” but tend to lend them out, so it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.  (It was time.)

Willis’ stories span the gamut from hilarious to thought provoking to deeply touching.  This collection was a perfect hospital companion.

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

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I couldn’t put this book down.  The Power of Habit covers the cue-routine-reward cycle that defines habit, how we can change our habits as individuals, how habit can be exploited to build willpower, and how corporations exploit our habits for their benefit.  I found his research on Starbucks and Target as fascinating as his analysis of AA and a US Army major’s experiment in Kufa, Iraq.  I have several pages of notes I will be using in my own life, and I am hopeful this book will make me more helpful to my patients.  Highly recommended.

Make It Stick (Peter C. Brown)

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I picked this book off the “just returned” shelf at the library and have been making notes left and right. There are many theories about learning, and as a home schooler I feel so much pressure to “teach toward their learning styles” and avoid over-testing.  This little book goes through the evidence on both.  Surprise!  The studies refute much of the conventional wisdom about how we learn, including the benefits of learning that feels hard, and the benefits of frequent no-stakes testing.

As I read, I kept hearing Charlotte Mason in my head.  She wrote over 100 years ago and yet much of the modern research backs up what she found in her own experience. From Make It Stick: Rather than drilling a task over and over, we should interleave it with other subjects.  Or, as Charlotte Mason said: intersperse short lessons on a variety of topics instead of drilling one until mastery is achieved.  From Make It Stick: Practicing retrieval after a first reading is more effective at promoting recall than cramming or rereading.  Or, from Miss Mason: require a narration immediately to teach the habit of attention, and the reading will stay with the student.

Highly recommended, whether you teach others or are a life-long learner yourself.

My previous Quick Lit reviews can be found here: November, OctoberMay, April, March, February, January, December 2014.  For more Quick Lit, check out Modern Mrs Darcy.

Habit Training for the Long Haul

When we started homeschooling, I had a five year-old, a two year-old and a one year-old. We planned to school at home for one year. I never anticipated that we would still be at it ten years later. Now I have a ninth grader, a sixth grader, a fifth grader and a first grader. While the quantity of work and the style of our education has changed, one thing has remained constant: the need for good habits.

Obviously, habits guide many parts of our lives: physical (brushing our teeth and washing our hands), mental (paying attention the first time, putting forth our best effort), and spiritual (telling the truth and showing kindness). But I had most of those down when they were young, and most of the training was unidirectional, from me to them.


Now, as we reach middle school and high school, my habits mean as much as theirs, and are as hard to learn.

Charlotte Mason wrote, “Education is a discipline—that is, the discipline of good habits in which the child is trained. Education is a life, nourished upon ideas; and education is an atmosphere—that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives.” (Vol 2, p. 247)

When my children were little, it was easier to overcome my fatigue or lack of preparation by the quality of our atmosphere. I could easily say, “Today is nature study!” and spend the day out-of-doors. Counting the petals on the flowers in bloom could count as math for the day, and labeling a diagram of a flower could count as writing. Now that my children are older, it’s harder to get away with that. Yes, my children have habits that, like rails that guide a train, get them going in the right direction if I am having a tough time getting started in the morning. But the stakes are higher now, and leaving the math ungraded till the end of the week can mean my kids have been practicing square roots wrong for five days before I catch the problem.


Yes, the atmosphere of our home still matters. The focus on books and experiences instead of television makes a difference. The ideas we discuss at the dinner table shape the people my children will be. But as much as my kids were observant at five, they are ten times more so now. They know exactly when I am at my weakest, and they are quick to exploit it. If I am on the phone all afternoon, no one is going to learn much from an unguided exploratory search online.

My getting up before the children to gather my thoughts and plan the day makes a huge difference in how our day goes. Having a stack of living books lined up on the shelf means we don’t waste a week waiting on the library requests to come in. Checking in on the math and the writing every day or two keeps us honest, both in terms of getting the work done and learning it right the first time.

When I am off, physically or emotionally, our learning suffers. I can’t control the circumstances of our lives, but habits give us a head start. And at this stage of the game, my habits are as important as theirs.

Art Museum with Littles

Does the thought of tackling an art museum with your children give you hives?

If I had thought about it before we began doing it regularly, I’m sure I wouldn’t have taken my children.  And we all would have missed out.

Last week’s Adventure Day was a trip to the Denver Art Museum.  We invited friends (we always prefer to do the art museum with friends).  And these were awesome friends to do art with.

We set our expectations low: meet at ten, lunch at 11ish, leave by 12.  In reality, our morning lasted till almost one, but if it hadn’t, no one would have been upset.


First, we review the museum rules: don’t touch the art. No running. Quiet voices.
Our museum has lots of hands-on areas, but even if yours doesn’t, you might be able to step out of the way in a gallery to draw with a pencil. Or with a little advance preparation, you could prepare a scavenger hunt in the art. (Find one king, two girls, three horses, four dogs…)  Or, we like to let the children pick out one postcard each from the gift shop and then hunt those pieces down.


Notice the photo-bomber on the back of the tortoise.

Allow the children to direct the pace.  Over time, my kids have found favorite places, where they want to spend a long time.  But maybe there’s  gallery you love that won’t speak the same way to the kids.  Allow them to move you along, and you can come back another day without them.  You want their introduction to the museum to be a fond memory.


Try to hit the museum when it’s not too busy.  We didn’t plan that so well this time, but a call ahead to the front desk would have told me that six tours of junior high kids were going to be there.


This is my architecture-lover.  There was an architecture tour leaving from the lobby just as we arrived, and he asked to be allowed to go on it one day.  Let the kids’ interests direct you.  So what if I have a unit on Chagall planned?  If they fall in love with Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s fruit faced portraits, the day is a success.

Summer by Guiseppe Arcimboldo
Spend wisely.  For us, this means joining one or two museums per year as a family, and making multiple visits to them.  The next year, we join different ones.  Having a membership has meant that I can let a 30 minute trip be a success, knowing that I can come back another day.  But there was a time when we lived in Chicago that even one museum membership was out of our reach.  We relied on the free passes occasionally available at the library.  Had I paid $40 for our family to get in, I would certainly have pushed my cranky toddler to make it longer than forty minutes.  In Denver, the museums post online a schedule of several free days each year.  It means the museum is more crowded, but the crowd may be less important than your ability to walk away while the day has still been a joy.
For older children, consider using the headphones for a guided tour.  We did this for a recent Van Gogh exhibit, and it was a hit.  They learned a ton, and there were several different levels of narrative for different ages.
Let the children experience the art themselves.  They don’t want to hear your lecture on art history.  Most likely, you don’t have time to prepare one.  A few simple questions may be enough to lure a reluctant visitor to look more carefully (eg, “if you were in that picture, who would you be?”) but for the most part, our commentary just gets in the way.
Elizabeth Foss recently had a great post on Art with littles.  What would you add?

Taking Children to the Museum


After the  Musee D’Orsay and the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum is one of my favorite places. It has really thoughtful spaces and projects put together to help kids enjoy art. This was my first trip to the museum with the kids since my friend Amy moved away. She was my Art Museum buddy for years. Even though no one wore formal attire this trip, we had a great experience.

I took them to a special exhibit, “Becoming Van Gogh.”  Normally I wouldn’t have thought to buy the audio guide headphones, but they came with our museum membership, and it enabled my “big kids” to wander the exhibit on their own, listening to the guide when they wanted (or not, depending) while I focused on making sure my littlest remembered the museum rules.  She did.


It’s been 4 years since we studied Van Gogh, and before we went, the kids enjoyed going through their old “copies” of the pictures (and their self-portraits in blue and green).  Then in the exhibit, they were fascinated with Van Gogh’s notebooks and with his drawing/paintings that were copies of other artists.  It was a great exhibit.


After working our way through (it took us about an hour), we hit the painting area, where we painted sculptures and did our own still life paintings.


We didn’t end up hitting our other favorite spots, but we will go back. After a picnic lunch on a beautiful Colorado day, we went to the (central) Children’s Library. They were like kids in a candy store. On the whole, it made for a successful day.


Have you been intimidated by taking your kids to museums?  Here are my (in-process) tips for making it a good experience:

1) Start small.  A big museum can be overwhelming.  Spending twenty minutes in a small museum is much better than 2 hours and a meltdown in a big one.

2) If you’re ready to tackle a bigger museum, plan to hit only one area.  This is where joining a museum is a blessing– perhaps grandparents would be willing to give your child a museum membership instead of toys for Christmas?  When we lived in Chicago, we were able to use free family museum passes that circulated through the libraries like books.  (What a great idea!)  Denver has SCFD Free Days at each museum through the year.

3) Something familiar in the museum can make it feel like a friend.  If your children have been introduced to one of the paintings before you go, you can plan your trip through the museum to arrive at the familiar painting like scavenger hunt.  Many museums have online sites where you can access either the gift shop or the collections, and each child can pick a picture which is “theirs.”  In the past I gave each child a postcard to carry with them to help them identify their “goal” in the museum.

4) A little Charlotte Mason here: Don’t get “between” your child and the art.  I find the more I talk to the kids about the art, the less they experience it for themselves.  When I let them interact with the art themselves, the more that art becomes their own.

5) I have given each child a dedicated Art Notebook, which we usually take with us to the art museum.  Check with your museum about whether they allow pens, colored pencils, or only regular pencils.  Looking back over this notebook before our next trip reminds them of their “favorites.”

What are your suggestions for making a museum trip a success?

A New Nature Table

I’ve been reading lots of Charlotte Mason lately– ever since Amazon raised the price on the Kindle Georgette Heyer books I’ve been consuming like candy corn.

Right now Miss Mason’s going on and on about Nature and getting kids into Nature and how our early exploration of Nature is vital to all sorts of later functioning, like Faith and Science.  Here are some quotes:

“It is infinitely well worth of the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them, a love of investigation.”

“Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun– the powers of attention, the discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing in his growth, what will they not fit him for?”

“There is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in.”

“The little girl: she it is who is most tempted to indulge in ugly tempers (as child and woman) because time hangs heavy on her hands… is it to the girls, little and big, a most true kindness to lift them out of themselves and out of the round of petty personal interests and emulations which too often hem in their lives; and then , with whom but the girls must it rest to mould the generations yet to be born?”   (All from Charlotte Mason: Home Education, Vol. 1, sections V, VII and VIII)
But I struggle with Nature Study.  Seriously, I am supposed to make my children spend hours daily outside?  I’ve got laundry to do, people.  Our yard is the size of a two-car garage, and the only wildlife there I can see is the neighbor’s cat.
I liked the phrase she used: “to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them” a love for Nature.  Maybe I can go back to shooting for an hour outside every day.  I notice that when we get our one hour outside (especially in the winter) in the morning, then we are more likely to want to go back out later.
I want to bring more Nature into our home (and thus, our school).  I saw this great idea on Still Parenting recently: sandwiching a specimen from nature between two pieces of clear contact paper, for looking at later.  Duh, but it had never occurred to me.  Whenever I think, “Bring Nature inside,” I end up with a pile of crushed, dry leaves underfoot or a dead cricket in a glass jar.  So her idea– preserving the Nature so we can look at it– cherish it, investigate it— later was a  lightbulb moment for me.  It only took me 6 weeks to get my hands on clear contact paper.
How do you encourage your children to Cherish Nature?