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..

hooray hooray it’s spring!

The birds are back. Yesterday they started singing at 6:40. Everything was silent, silky darkness and then all of a sudden, multiple birds woke up and started to chatter. Our tulips are up, the daffodils and crocuses are abloom, and the earth smells fresh and new.

The winter wasn’t even that long, but my winter habits were dragging on. I needed a reset, and this week I made one in the form of renewed goals (a couch-to-5K program, a better writing plan, less time on my phone) and spring routines (hanging laundry outside, after-dinner walks or street volleyball.)

We are looking forward toward graduations (two of them!) and lots of changes ahead. I’ve been homeschooling for seventeen years, and it will end in May. I’m sure there will be both mourning and celebrating ahead, but right now the ending feels good and right. A job well done that I can be grateful for and lay aside.

lesson on gastropods, 2006

engineering lesson, 2008. (the best engineer=the only one wearing safety goggles correctly)

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/8019/7309988416_9469483dcb.jpg&quot; width="500" height="375" alt="Morning work">
morning work, 2012
table time, 2014
homeschool P.E., 2016
poetry tea, 2019

bookstore run, 2021

Daybook: Holding things lightly

Outside my window:

fiery feathered clouds

The sky has been really beautiful. I’ve been walking a lot and trying to notice.

In the kitchen:

watercolor painting (unfinished) by Phoebe on the kitchen counter
peppermint bark (unfinished) by Mo in the fridge

In the school room:

We are finishing up the semester. Today there was a field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Owen and I took a walk. They told me about Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935.) We talked about Charlotte Mason’s homeschool philosophy. And Owen told me I had prepared them well for a college literature class. (There are not enough heart emojis in the world to put after this statement.)

Grateful:

dragon sculpture at the Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights

We have a few things planned this month, though we’ve already had a cancel or reschedule a few of them. Phoebe, Sam and I made it to Zoo Lights two weeks ago during the Members’ nights. It was warm and not crowded. The porcupine was super active, and the llamas and elephants were all out. It was lovely.

The Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light is on the schedule, as is the Lion King at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (these are the tickets we bought as a family Christmas gift 2 years ago!) Our rescheduled date for the Wonderbound’s December performance, Winterland, is this week. And this weekend was Mo’s Nutcracker, which was delightful. It sounds like a lot, but it works out to one outing a week. The rest of the month we are watching Christmas movies together and playing games. (If you’re looking for suggestions, check out Connie Willis’s list of Christmas movies at the end of her book of stories, A Lot Like Christmas.)

Mo as Cake Pop in The Nutcracker

On my mind:

When my kids were little, I had a lot of plans. Not just long-term plans for what I wanted our life to look like, but also small plans. When we finish x, we move on to y. A lot of that was survival as a mom surrounded by small people, but much of it was an illusion of control. I might had control over where all the bodies were at a given moment, but I never had control over what my kids learned from our time together.

Both our college students were home for a week at Thanksgiving. Double bonus, they’ll both be home over Christmas. As they’re growing and reflecting back on our years together, I get to hear more of what they really thought as we learned together. I get to share the Why behind the How. Sometimes, it worked out the way I wanted it to. Sometimes, it backfired.

Anyway, these next few weeks I am trying to hold things lightly. Plans, secret hopes, get togethers: they may happen, they may not. I am trying to have open hands, so that I can receive what comes rather than looking for something different. And I am trying to be open to letting go of my expectations.

Praying for:

People to choose life by getting vaccinated.

me in PPE

This was a hard week at the office. We have enough PPE now, but not enough staff to take care of everyone who is sick. There were lots of people with COVID and not enough mAb to go around.

It doesn’t matter if you have COVID or knee pain; you’re going to have a hard time getting in for care. It didn’t have to be this way, and I am discouraged.

All right, friends, that’s all for now. I wish you a cup of tea and a good book to keep you company.

Daybook: mid-October

Out my window: our maple tree is in its full glory. I love this tree.

A red maple tree against the blue sky.

In the kitchen: Mo made me this fantastic birthday cake topped with maple leaves. We were watching Little Women (2019) yesterday, and I requested Marmee’s cake. (I don’t know what flavor hers was, but mine was carrot.)

Marmee’s cake
My cake

Also, Sam made these amazing beef satay skewers from one of Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. The rest of the week I’m planning red lentil dahl with naan, brown butter and butternut squash pasta with sage, sheet pan chicken thighs with cauliflower and purple potatoes, and frozen pizza.

In the garden: Last week there was a freeze alert. The clouds moved in, six snowflakes swirled around without actually touching the ground, and Phoebe and I ran outside to bring in the last of the tomatoes and herbs. The kitchen was covered in rosemary, sage, chives and thyme. Bunches of rosemary are hanging in Phoebe’s room to dry, and I had trays of them in the oven. Then Sam turned on the oven to make the satay. Three minutes later the whole house smelled of rosemary. Anyway, today I have to crush all the dried herbs into jars to reclaim the counters.

Beets, rosemary and a random medical journal I should have moved before taking the photo.

Pro tip: fresh herbs in flower bouquets smell amazing.

Fresh bouquet of zinnias, oregano, rosemary and basil.

In the school room: Mo is putting the finishing touches on her essays for the Common App. Colorado has a free day (this year, it’s been extended to three days) for applying to the state colleges. It’s a good nudge to get the application done early. We are reading Annie Dillard for English and have moved into the 19th Century in US History.

This week’s topic in 8th grade Economics is inflation. Yesterday we tried to find the exact items included in the Consumer Basket of Goods, which is surprisingly hard to find. Phoebe’s going to make her own basket of “essentials” and compare prices from three months ago. We will use this same basket later when we talk about purchasing power parity.

This week’s Chemistry includes Nova’s Beyond the Elements, hosted by David Pogue. We’ve also been reading Sharon Creech’s lovely One Time together.

We also have lots of volleyball on the schedule this week.

Phoebe on her knees, receiving a serve.

On my reading table: In addition to the above school books, I’m reading two (as yet) unpublished novels for fellow writers and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling. I just finished Margaret Mizushima’s seventh Maddie Cobb novel, Striking Range. So good.

On my mind: I’ve been working hard on an essay about the idea of “American freedom” and its effect on the pandemic.

Grateful for: friends loving on my kids who are far away. So many birthday messages (thank you!) Miles on my feet. Snuggles with my kids at home. Sam (a million times, Sam.) Our mental health team. All the folks at church who are putting our youth space together.

We went to Wonderbound’s October ballet, Penny’s Dreadful, last Friday. Wonderbound is a local dance company known for their collaboration with other artists and their contemporary choreography. We love their shows. They bought a new performance space last year, and it was set up as a café in Paris. The ballet was a vampire story. I don’t even like vampires, but I loved the show, and we had a great night.

Two masked girls waiting for the show to start.

Praying for: friends with big decisions on their plates. That my kids would know how much they are loved. My aunt. Those who work, or watch, or weep this night.

Daybook: Week 3 of School

Out my window: It’s harvest time. The peach tree has been heavy laden, and we’ve been harvesting and freezing peaches as quickly as we can. The days are still hot, but the nights are fresh enough to make the house cool again.

In the garden: uh, peaches. And my tomatoes are slowly coming in. Our fruit trees all managed to bloom between the terrible snowstorms last spring, so we also had a bounty crop of pears, which were delicious. We ate pear upside down cake four times and ate pears for days.

In the kitchen: Sam pulled a bunch of long-frozen meat out of the freezer to make room for the aforementioned fruit, and we had a highly successful brisket he made in the Instant Pot. Tonight will be red lentil dal and naan, just to balance out all the meat.

Schooling very hard.

In the school room: School has been a mixed bag thus far. Calculus at the community college is good, except for the parking situation which is disastrous. Volleyball starts this week, and anxiety is high- but we have been playing volleyball almost daily, which is fantastic. My cousin (who is an actual volleyball player) and her BF came to play with us. They even brought their own net. We can’t wait to do it again.

Literature has been good: 8th grade is reading Shakespeare this month, and we’re watching lots of adaptations for comparison. (Two thumbs up for 10 Things I Hate About You; She’s the Man didn’t have enough soccer and was pretty cringe-worthy. And why wasn’t Title IX a thing in 2006? Next up: The Lion King.)

We finished Garlic & Sapphires (Reichl) for senior English- so good. It has inspired lots of exploratory college essays (i.e., describe an event/place you participated in from two different perspectives. How was your experience different in each case? How were you different during the two experiences?)

I completely miscalculated 8th grade Chemistry and chose a textbook that requires tons of high school math. So this weekend I scrapped it and redid my curriculum. While that was a pain, I loved going through all the archived episodes of Science Friday to find ones that would supplement my lessons. (Next up, World-Class Tips for the Home Fermenter!)

We are gathering college dorm supplies. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have bought a used bike when we were in Chicago in the spring and figured out how to store it. Instead, I will be looking for a used bike 3 weeks AFTER every other college student in Chicago just bought one.

In my shoes: No running. I’m still walking, riding my bike to work and playing lots of volleyball. One of our favorite races is back- the Mac N Cheese 5K– and it’s supporting our favorite charity, Foster Source, so come join us!

From a previous Mac n Cheese 5K

Grateful for: Sam and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. He is such a gift to me. Also: we played croquet in fabulous hats at youth group on Sunday, and on Saturday some of us put carpet in the new youth room. (It’s coming together!)

That’s a lot of glasses. Apparently we were very thirsty.

Praying for: Haiti. Afghanistan. Refugees everywhere. Those affected by Ida. Those who mourn. The isolated. The lonely. The sick. Health care workers (I see you, lab techs and chaplains and respiratory techs!) caring for those with COVID-19 and all the other viruses going around right now. Jen. Mandy. Judy. My kids.

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.

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

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

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+ 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

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+ having this nutty crew all together for a week:

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

7 things I’m loving this month

October is my favorite month, even if I hate all the death-themed lawn decorations. Here are a few of my favorite things right now:

One: game night (and game afternoon and game morning.)

Recent favorites have been Pictionary, Rhyme Out! (thanks, Aunt Mandy!), and Phase 10.

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Two: Oatmeal bread.  It’s finally cool enough to be grateful for the oven’s heat.

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Three: knowing that the word is finally getting out about AFM and the need for more surveillance of enteroviruses.

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Four: Autumn light.

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Five: Autumn color.

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Six: Phoebe and Jonah playing phone games.

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Seven: music in the living room.

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What are you loving right now?