Hard work pays off

The past 3 years have been particularly humbling for me as a parent. Gone are the days when my kiss heals a boo-boo, or an extra-early bedtime fixes most things. My kids have struggles I can’t lift from their shoulders, and I see in so many ways how my own good intentions went wrong in the execution.

But the past month or two, a few things have turned around, and I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. Perhaps I am more tuned in to small victories. With that in mind, for the rest of January I’m going to share a few of our celebrations.

One: Hard work pays off.

A million years ago (in the last decade, at least), one of my kids was in the Cub Scouts. My recollection is that we, as parents, put in a ton of volunteer time, and my kid had zero motivation to do any of the activities. He just wanted to hang out with his friends. The boys got badges for attending the mostly passive activities the parents put on, and my kid was more or less a sponge. I wanted some sort of activity to demonstrate to him the power of hard work.

When the Pinewood Derby came along, I thought it would be the perfect vehicle to show him how important hard work was. The troop had a marathon session to design and build the cars, and our kid showed up, cut a triangle out of wood with the assistance of a grown-up, and slapped some wheels on a chunk of wood. The most interesting part to him was painting it. I was sure that his car, though shiny, would come in last, and he would learn the valuable lesson that hard work counts.

His car won the Derby.  He happily accepted the shiny trophy and learned nothing about hard work.

Fast forward many years. I have watched my kids grow up in a culture that rewards even reluctant participation, and I wonder what we’ve taught this generation. As my kids have gotten older, each one of them has encountered the jump in expectations, where the “it’s enough to participate” suddenly turns into, “only the best players get time on the court.”  It has shocked each one of them and has ended many activities. I wonder if there’s a place for a more gradual transition, but I don’t see it happening.

As a homeschooling parent, I have gone too far the other way. When they get an A on an exam I know they didn’t study for, I find it hard to respond. I have erred on the side of calling out their hard work (“I see how hard you studied. Great job”), instead of congratulating them on results (“You got an A! Well done.”)  All the parenting articles told me this was the way to go. My kids tell me the message they heard through my praise is, “What you do is never enough for me.”

Anyway, you see my dilemma. Recently I’ve been trying to shut my mouth and let the consequences of their actions alone give my kids the feedback they need.  Jury’s out on what will happen.

My daughter routinely spends nine or ten hours a week in dance classes and rehearsals, but gone are the days when showing up to class means you get more than a minor part in the performance. It’s now about auditions and turn-out and strength and lines. She was sorely disappointed in August not to move up in ballet with some of her friends, and not to get the part she wanted in the Nutcracker.

After some moping, she sought out a new pointe shoe fitter. I had my doubts, but he was great. He acknowledged both her strengths and weaknesses and took a completely different approach than the previous fitter.  He gave her exercises to work on her turnout, and she has faithfully done these every day. She has set up to barter as a teacher’s assistant with the littlest dancers in order to attend an additional ballet class (!) every week.

Last night at class, her teacher said she’s noticed her progress and is going to advance her. My daughter was so excited to tell me, she was dancing. That’s feedback I can get behind.

This is only one take- more to come if I can keep my gratitude glasses on my face. Check out Kelly for more quick takes.

What didn’t work for me in 2019

See my previous post for what DID work for me in 2019.

What Didn’t Work for Me in 2019

I’m such an optimist that this answer is always smaller than its companion reflection. All the same, there were a few standout things I tried that did NOT work.

  1. My gym membership

I used to have at least one patient a month who came in to my office to get a note to help them cancel their very expensive monthly gym membership. My situation isn’t quite that extreme, but I did buy a half-price membership to the rec center.  Sam is really good about using the rec center’s gym, and I’m… terrible. In past years, I’ve gotten my money’s worth (mostly) because I used the gym (or even just the locker room) while my kids were at swim team, but they’re not doing that any more.

Since last February, when I bought my pass, I’ve used the gym once.  That’s a $184 visit to the gym.

According to mapmyrun, I did manage to work out 126 different times outside the gym, which is a work-out every three days (more or less).  I think next year I can pay the daily fee if I decide to use the gym on top of that.

Scenes from a recent run outside the gym…
  • Trying to use my two hours in the morning to accomplish All The Things

I’m not sure why I think this is going to work, but I consistently expect to write for an hour, work out, plan for the day, begin my food prep and have a devotional time, all from 5-7am.  Oh, and sometimes meet a friend for tea. Weirdly, I can’t seem to fit it all in.

I’m pretty sure variations on these themes were what didn’t work for me in 2018, either. At least I’m consistent. What about you- what didn’t work this year?

What worked for me in 2019

A few years back, I started a year-end review framed by the two questions, “What worked for me this year?” and “What didn’t work for me this year?” (The questions came from Modern Mrs. Darcy; the answers are my own.) Here’s what worked for me this year:

  1. Leaving the twinkle lights up all year

All right, so this photo is from this morning. But imagine the room
without the stockings and still with the lights. Cozy, right?

When we took down all the Christmas decorations last Epiphany, we left the twinkle lights up.  They make those long winter nights (and long, dark mornings) so much cozier.

2. Asking, “How can I support you in this?”

I’m a problem solver, and my go-to response when someone tells me they are hurting is always to try to fix things. This might work most of the time for my own problems, but it’s counterproductive as I try to support those around me. The last thing I want to do (especially for my kids) is make them think that they don’t have the resources to find solutions to their problems.

Asking “How can I support you in this?” has been especially helpful with my kids. It shows I trust them to find a solution, and that I have their backs as they figure it out, whether “it” is advanced academic work, dating, mental health, taking up cello, dancing, travel, or balancing school and work.

3. Writing questions down and leaving them up for everyone to think about

This idea comes from Julie Bogart’s book The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life. She suggests writing questions of all kinds on sticky notes, posting them somewhere you’ll see them a lot… and that’s all. She promises that seeing them every day will produce multiple answers and follow-through, even without intentionally revisiting the questions. Our two “how” questions have prompted significant changes in our driving:biking ratio, the trade-in of our larger minivan for a more gas-efficient vehicle, and a reduction in the plastics we bring into our home. (One of our other questions was, “What will happen to Spiderman now that Sony and Disney split?” I’m not saying that they worked it out just because I put it on a sticky note, but…)

4. Listening to audiobooks

I have three different audiobook apps on my phone (two from the library in addition to Audible), and while it’s confusing, using them has made my reading life so much richer.

5. Bowls

I have changed our cooking to include many more “bowls.”  It has made the challenge of cooking for two vegetarians and 3-4 omnivores easier. (By “vegetarian,” I mean a teenager who won’t eat meat but doesn’t necessarily eat vegetables. By “omnivore” I mean a person who will eat meat but on the whole is just as picky as the aforementioned vegetarians.)

Our bowls are built with a base (salad, roasted vegetables, rice, quinoa, farro or pasta), a variety of toppings (fried eggs, roasted tofu, meat, vegetables, seeds and nuts) and a sauce. My two favorite sources for bowl ideas are Run Fast. Eat Slow and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow by Elyse Kopecky & Shalane Flanagan. I think it’s the variety of sauces that make this feel like you’re not eating the same thing twenty-one times each week.

  • The kids’ cleaning schedule

A few months ago, I told our kids I was frustrated with how much cleaning I was doing, especially when I saw them sitting around having screen time. They came up with a plan and have faithfully followed through with it. It has been a real gift to me, and seems sustainable.  I’m trying to be as faithful in using my free time for the writing and studying I was missing.

What worked for you in 2019?


This Advent, I’ve been thinking about waiting. So many of the Advent readings reflect not just on Mary’s anticipation of the birth of Jesus, but also the the nation’s waiting for a political savior. We read of people’s waiting on a future where there will be justice, a righting of wrongs, and an end to sorrow.

I’ve been wondering where I’m waiting for the wrong thing. For years, I asked God to release me from the practice of medicine. Faithfully, daily, I begged God to let me stop being a doctor. The persistent widow had nothing on me. God said no. Persistently, daily, gently: No. Now, fifteen years on, I’m grateful for that No, but it was a long road to get here, and I spent much of it waiting on the wrong thing.

I look at the rising tide of racism in our country, the online bullying of a 16 year-old by the President of the United States, families losing access to food assistance, children fleeing violence and hunger in their home countries who think they’ve reached freedom only to be held in detention without access to medical care or education, and I want a political solution.

I walk alongside families whose loved ones are wasting away from cancer and chemo, or autoimmune diseases that ravage their bodies, and wonder When will there be healing? It can’t be wrong to ask and hope for physical healing, but when the answer is No, what then?

So I’m praying and contemplating this Advent. Wondering in which wrong places I have set my hope. Asking for God to open my eyes to where Hope is at work even now, even today, even in me. And I’m waiting for justice and healing, here and now. What are you waiting for?

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.


  • 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?