Seven Quick Takes: Welcome, instant homeschoolers

I started this post yesterday and was writing about how concerned I was that people weren’t taking the idea of social distancing seriously enough. But then my phone exploded with texts from worried friends and family wanting me to put my doctor hat on and tell them they really could still go on vacation/attend the concert/play that tournament, and I didn’t finish writing.

Now, twenty-four hours later, schools (and sports, club and the school play) are canceled, church is canceled, dance classes/recitals are canceled, and for some reason the entire US strategic stockpile of Charmin is gone. So now I’m writing a different post.

ONE: Are you a parent who is suddenly thrust into the world of schooling at home? WELCOME!

We’ve all been there. Even if homeschooling was our choice to begin with, please know that there have been days and weeks and months that we have not wanted to be at home with our children 24/7. You are not a bad parent for looking at the days ahead and wondering what on earth you’re going to do.


You too can have a house that looks like this!

Know that your child is likely just as freaked out about the situation as you are. I recommend trying to treat this time as a temporary normal as much as you can. Do not try to replicate in your living room the school experience your kids are used to. Instead, recognize that this disconnection from your/their normal life is hard, and offer lots of grace.

As much as you can, be patient with yourself. Offer yourself grace. All of the kindness you give yourself will spill over onto your nervous children. Likewise, all the ways that you beat yourself up because the house is a wreck and you ran out coffee (why did we spend all that time looking for toilet paper when what we really needed was COFFEE???) will spill over onto your family.

As my children remind me when I lose it and then they lose it, everything rolls downhill.


The medal ceremony from our 2010 LegOlympics.

TWO: Here are a few suggestions to keep from strangling each other while you’re at home. Whatever you do, don’t try to do them all.

(Studies show that accomplishing small goals actually gives us an endorphin boost (like a runner’s high), and couldn’t we all use that right now?)

  • play every board game in the house at least once
  • work through your puzzles
  • spring cleaning
  • NaPanNoWriMo (my own invention: National Pandemic Novel Writing Month): can you write an entire novel before we all go back to our regular programming?
  • let your kids write and film a movie
  • make a LEGO world
  • work your way through a cookbook together
  • build a Minecraft (or other computer game) world and all of you play it together (this is way more exciting if you, the adult, choose to participate and let your kids introduce you to their world)
  • paint a room together
  • choose a topic you know nothing about and learn everything you can together

Your kids may not be used to having unstructured time together. With all the scheduled activities we’ve given our kids over the years, some kids have never had an opportunity. They may need some modeling of what creative play looks like. The best way to teach them how to do it is to join them in it.

THREE: Welcome the spring. Depending on where you are in the country (world), spring may have already come and gone. But if the spring is headed your way, use this interruption in life to pay some attention to the renewing of nature that long predates both this pandemic and our society. Outdoors is likely the healthiest place for us, and the numerous studies show the link between time outdoors and decreased anxiety.

Do you have a garden? Start one. Do you have a landscaping project you want to take on? This is the hour!

FOUR: Support local businesses. Part of the reason many activities have been slow to cancel is because so many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. There is a role for social distancing, but there are ways to stay connected that don’t have to mean economic collapse for our neighbors’ businesses. For example, our dance studio is going to offer private classes. They’ll wipe down the ballet barre between students, and the teachers can effectively teach from six feet away. I want them to be in business at the end of the pandemic, so I’m going to support them. Ditto for our music teachers, whose other lives as teachers and performers have been canceled.

Maybe you have parents or grandparents who are also isolated right now. This is great time for your kids to start a project with them. Interview them about what school/childhood/early life/the war was like for them. Do they have a skill? Ask them to teach it to you!

Also, the US mail is still delivering letters. Kids love pen pals. Grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins all make great pen pals.

Google and Zoom are making their services free, and this is a great time to find a neighbor/teacher/friend who has a skill your kid wants to learn and let them teach it. Hire a Skype Spanish/knitting/writing tutor for your child and let them learn something totally new.


Here we covered the table in big paper, pulled out the art supplies, and drew/read together.

FIVE: Y’all know I love books. This is a great time to discover books you’ve never read. While your library may be closed for business, their online catalog is open. Likewise, your local bookstore would probably appreciate your business. Some of our best memories as a family come from books we read aloud together.

Remember that time we were halfway through the Little House books and drove past Vinton, Iowa, and I said, “Look- there’s the school Mary went to after she went blind!” There was a moment of horrified silence, and then all my children howled from the back seat, “Mary goes BLIND???!!”

SIX: Do you have vulnerable neighbors? This is a great time to check in with your neighborhood. Perhaps your kids could take on the grocery shopping for them.

SEVEN: Your family may not have medically fragile or elderly members right now, but your community does. Our willingness to comply with social distancing is going to make the difference in how this pandemic plays out. Thank you for doing your part!

During the upcoming weeks I’ll be posting links here to online tutorials, activities and learning we can do at home during this unusual time. Feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might need a little extra support during their brand-new homeschooling adventure.

You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.

Clara Barton

Hang in there, friends!

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 outsourced AP 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.

Seven Quick Takes: May Madness

May Madness: it’s like March Madness, without a bracket.

One: Last year I made mental notes (and paper ones) about how crazy May was, so that we would never do it like that again. And now it’s May, and it’s just like last year, only worse.

May is when my head is full of “finishing well” and what that looks like, and instead of executing what’s in my imagination, I am usually swept away by the avalanche of recitals, school dances/concerts/plays, and award ceremonies.

Blurry photo of Annie, Jr., featuring Phoebe as the diminutive tycoon, Oliver Warbucks
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Piano recital
Spoiler alert: they played beautifully

Two: We haven’t quite recovered from April yet. Between robotics tournaments (including an amazing week with a trip to NASA), illness, swim meets, and piano recitals, we came into May pretty depleted.

I think the trip to Houston was worth it for the trip to NASA alone.

Three: So we’re focusing on good nutrition (read: Easter candy from the clearance aisle) and exercise.

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These are the disgusting jelly beans left over after my children picked out all the good ones. They weren’t quite as bad as Berty Botts Every Flavour Beans… but they were close. (Not that that stopped me from eating them.)

Four: Okay, we could do better on the nutrition. But exercise, yes.

I’ve been running and doing yoga. I bribed the children to ride bikes for ice cream. We’ve been playing Kinect Sports in the basement. (I’m filing virtual bowling under the heading of Something Is Better Than Nothing.)

Best part of bowling at home: bowling in bathrobes.

Five: Now we’re just trying to focus on finishing well. This year (as opposed to last year), that includes embracing the art and music and time outside that I so easily leave behind in the push to finish all.the.things.

Denver Art Museum (yet again) for the win: the printmaking studio open right now is so cool. (The DAM is kind of like Duke or UConn: almost always makes the Final Four.)

Six: Finishing well (for us) means saying Yes to Giant Jenga and ice cream.

Seven: Finishing well means leaving time for reflection in the midst of all the doing.

What does finishing well mean for you?

Be sure to check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

Seven Quick Takes: Vacuuming the Couch Edition

Wow, it’s been busy around here. No one has been hospitalized, and we’re not moving, but it still feels like the gerbil wheel is spinning on high. There have been several triumphs recently, which I will share here in the spirit of telling you how low my standards have sunk.

(For more better and likely quicker takes, be sure to check out the link-up at Kelly’s blog.)

One: I just vacuumed out the couch. In addition to finding 756 pencils, crayons and crochet hooks (which we hadn’t actually noticed were missing), I found the cat’s favorite toy (a super ball with eyeballs on it), 432 Dove chocolate wrappers, a purple Barbie shoe, and three squeezable applesauce wrappers. (Are they wrappers or containers? Whatever they are, I’m not buying any more of them.) It was an error not to take a photo of the detritus before vacuuming it all away.

Two: Last week I got an email from an observant educator in West Virginia who wanted to know if we would be traveling to Charleston for my child’s AP exams in May, or if we had an alternate WV address other than the one I had put on the AP registration form.

That’s right. I registered my kid for AP exams at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia. For those of you who are new here, we live in Denver. Colorado.

I contacted Total Registration to try to correct this error, but of course it was a holiday weekend. And I couldn’t register for the correct exam until the wrong one had been canceled. And the local AP coordinator had to sign off on any cancellation. And the all the teachers in the entire state of West Virginia went on strike. And the deadline to order exams looms, grand-piano style, over my head.

Three: I also missed the deadline to accept an invitation for my child (same kid, who could make a case for thinking I’m out to get him) to play a piece by Mozart in a concert next summer in Mozart’s house. That’s right: after I badgered my child into learning Sonata IX, I sent my confirmation email to the wrong address,it bounced, and I couldn’t find the right one. I missed the deadline, and it was a holiday weekend, and there was an old lady who swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

Four: The reason all these things are happening is that I need an executive assistant. I have had a bunch of really sick patients who need a lot of medical coordination lately, and there is never time to do that while I’m in the office. So I’m left making call my calls to other doctors in the time I would normally be taking care of things around the house.

Wanted: organized, helpful daytime assistant willing to make phone calls, register children for activities, drive carpools, double-check locations and deadlines, go to the post office, find appropriate costume pieces for the school play, and complete home repairs.

Five: You heard that right. Home repairs. Our Wi-Fi and security system went out a few weeks ago. Being efficient, I ordered a new router and didn’t stress about the security system until I missed some deliveries that needed signatures because I couldn’t hear the doorbell. So I checked the basement, where I noticed that the plug that fed the router and the security system was dead. Turns out I didn’t need the router after all. Just an electrician. And someone to schedule the appointment. And someone to stand by the door so we can hear the the knock. And someone to drive to the post office to return the router I didn’t need.

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This cat is a terrible assistant.

Six: In other news, I did manage to wash my hair once this week. I didn’t find any Barbie shoes or cat toys in it. Just writing implements.

Seven: Yesterday morning I woke up to the email from the Mozart opportunity:

Dear Mrs Rodrigues, we received your email and have your son registered for the Mozart concert. We look forward to hearing him play in Vienna.

If I had an assistant, I might let him or her correct my name, but I’m just going to sit here by the door while I listen for the piano tuner and feel grateful that my kid gets to play Mozart in Vienna in August.

The West Virginia teachers are back in the classroom, and that observant educator in Charleston approved our cancellation. If you need me, I’ll be on the AP website trying to register my kid for some tests. There can’t be that many schools in the country named George Washington. I’m sure I’ll find the right one eventually.

SQT: The pears are ripe (it’s a metaphor)

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One: It’s Friday, and a week from now my oldest son will move to Ohio for college. Jonah has packed boxes and boxes of books and bird statues.  It makes me worry his legs are going to be cold.

I have a mountain of things to do, but I don’t handle change well, even good change, and I’ve been dissolving at weird times into a little puddle of tears. To cope, I have been binge-reading Robert Crais books. I’m sure it’s helping.

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Two: Summer is almost over. We made it to the pool a lot, and while I never managed a hike in the mountains (rotten children didn’t want to hike), I did take a few runs in the cool mountain air. (By “air”, I mean “without air.”)

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Three: I didn’t set any sort of school schedule for the kids because of their work schedules, and it has meant they have degenerated into going online whenever they are not working or (for the youngers) being actively entertained. I am looking forward to reestablishing a healthier routine fall, although I know the detox is going to be a pain. The age gap between 10 and 18 (or even 15) feels a lot bigger than it did when they were 2 and 10 (or 2 and 6), and it doesn’t work anymore to have the same standards for them all. I’m sure you can imagine how the 10 year old feels about this.

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Four: It has been a weird year for the garden and our CSA.  Early heat and hail killed the corn and green beans. I did manage to make pesto with our basil and some spicy garlic from the farm.

Five:  We stunk at pruning the peach tree, so it auto-amputated its top half during a wind storm two weeks ago. We still have lots of peaches, but I feel bad for the tree. I kept watching its branches sink lower and lower, and–remembering the agony of the third trimester—knew just how she felt.

The pear tree seems to be better designed to manage the weight of her own fruit.

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Six: We have had all sorts of health scares and complicated parenting dilemmas this summer. (e.g., Which chemicals should a 10 year-old have in her chemistry lab? Why are we the mean parents who are anti-sleepover?) Jonah took a job that was disrespectful of his time, and he ended up missing our family vacation in the mountains. Owen has been a loyal worker at his job, and every time I turn around, they give him an extra shift.  He never says no. I am full of self-doubt, wondering when I should push and when I should let the kids learn the consequences of their decisions.

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Seven: We are heading into the mountains for the weekend. I still harbor fantasies of hiking, but I will be happy if we just get our feet into the lake. We should have a good view of the Perseids meteor shower. Then Sam heads to Guatemala for 3 days while I try to finish packing Jonah for school. For the sake of everyone at his college, I am going to insist he take some pants.

Don’t miss more (and better! there’s cake!) Quick Takes over at Kelly’s!

7QT: Don’t you have something you’re supposed to be doing?

One: After two weeks of illness (one child on antibiotics, another on Tamiflu, me on nothing as I hacked up one or more of my lungs) we are finally clawing out way back into schooling at home. Sam is coming down with something now, too, but since he’s goes to work to be sick, I don’t really count him as one of the stricken.

Two: Man, getting back into this is rough. In the midst of that, Sam and I both traveled. I really should have stayed at home, but… I wanted to see my friend. I saw her, but I spent the whole time afraid I was going to give her the plague.

Three: Speaking of plagues, we adopted a lovely cat. His name (spoiler alert) was Julian.
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Then his larynx swelled up, and despite high-dose steroids and a veterinary ICU and more steroids and another vet, he still died. After his necropsy, at which the vet couldn’t determine the cause of the allergy/infection/laryngeal edema NOS, she called me back to ask if I’d been able to get his shot records from his previous owner. No, I hadn’t. So she put us on Rabies Watch, had the county public health nurse call us to find out our travel plans and if any of us were acting strangely, and billed us $65 for rabies testing. Just like that, our family went from the infectious disease specialists to the possible source of an urban rabies outbreak. (Better spoiler: he didn’t have rabies, and neither do we.) Here is a gratuitous photo of the new cat, whose rabies vaccination I have documented on paper.

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Four: Anyway… now, two weeks later we have adopted a replacement cat, and everyone is trying to get back in the groove. To that end, everyone made it to the co-op for classes this week, all the adults went to their gainful employment, and I’ve been trying to teach things to the children with limited success.

Five: On Monday, I made it till one-thirty before I had to crawl into my bed for a nap. When I got up, I went to see where Phoebe one of the children was with her work.

Mom: Where are you with your school work today? Do you need help with math?

Anonymous Child: Why are you asking? Don’t you have some work you’re supposed to be doing?

Mom: I was under the impression that helping you with math was my work.

So that was really successful. I should have stayed in bed.

Six: Yesterday I finally made it outside for a run. I discovered three things:

  • two weeks without exercise turned me into a meatball, and I couldn’t breathe.
  • spring is coming, whether the bomb cyclone and Storm Emma realize it
  • exercise is my anchor activity.  Once I made the effort to exercise again, all sorts of other things became possible, like making dinner and putting bleach in the toilets and following up on my daughter’s math.

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The guardian of spring.

Seven: However, an anchor is not entirely sufficient to return everything to normal. In order get us back in the routine, I had to pull out the paints and insist everyone make some art while I read aloud to them. An hour later, the children wandered off to play Minecraft and left me with a huge arty mess to clean up. I think this means we’re back in the groove.

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Be sure to visit Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

7QT: Our How-to-pay-for-college plan

I know y’all are very concerned about how Jonah’s college search (and our search for college funding) is going. We are making definite progress on both fronts. I’ve been getting lots of ads for subscription boxes in my feed lately. For only $24.99 a month, I can have a box of practically anything delivered to my door—boxes of books, or beer, running gear, dog treats or purses, beauty supplies or gourmet snacks. Because I’m never one to miss out on a trend, and because college is really expensive, I want to offer you my own special twist on the subscription box club:

TiredMomBox! For only $19.99/month, club members will receive one “artisan” (a.k.a. shoe) box for the month’s theme, and the warm fuzzy feeling you can only get by helping us pay for our son’s college tuition.

Resolutions Theme (January): you will receive a box of selected fitness gear I bought in years past and no longer use, such as handheld weights of different sizes (no two alike!), fitness bands I can’t get the knots out of, and prenatal and postpartum yoga DVDs I never want to see again.

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Middle-Aged Romance Theme (February): you will receive a box of take-out pizza, a bottle of two-buck Chuck, and a Kipper video to put the kids in front of so you and your hubby can have a conversation. (Try to look deeply into your husband’s eyes as you decide who’s driving the swim team carpool this weekend.)

How Long Is Spring Break? Theme (March): I will send you all the old, dried up craft supplies from my closet, and—as a bonus for new subscribers—the leftover pieces from the puzzles and board games we got rid of last year.

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Earth Day Theme (April): you will receive a box of leftover kitchen scraps to add to your compost. Good feelings for doing the right thing are included.

Mother’s Day Theme (May): I will send you two hours of free time. However, odds are good that you’ll waste it pinning things on Pinterest and feeling bad that you aren’t one of those moms making a forever-memory with your family.

School’s Out! Theme (June): June’s box comes with a summer calendar, marked with 100 days’ worth of super fun daily activities. Your family will enthusiastically do three of them in June (Spend a day at Water World! Hike the Monument Incline! Go out to breakfast in your pajamas!), one in July, and then spend all of August complaining that they’re bored.

Put Your Best Face Forward Theme (July): This month subscribers will receive all the old make up I’m going to clean out of the bathroom: clumpy mascara (your eyelashes have never looked this thick!), concealer that might not have dried out yet, and the Clinique lipstick samples I’ve been saving since 1989. You don’t want to miss July’s box!

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This is just a sampling of the goodies in store for you with your TiredMombox! Subscription. Thank you for your support for the college of my son’s choice.

Fine print: A one year subscription is $19.99/month, plus $7.99/month shipping. There is a $5 shipping surcharge for the January box because the weights are heavy. May’s shipping is still $7.99 because you will have forgotten at that point that you’re paying for this every month, and you can’t figure out how to cancel your subscription.

Finer print: For the record, I was going to name this box something way cooler, but when I Googled the names, MomBox, SuperMomBox and WonderBox were already taken.)

Go check out Kelly for more Quick Takes!