Scarlett Jumps.


Whenever Scarlett’s happy, she jumps. She stops what she’s doing and she looks at the ground to steady herself for a second, and then she hop, hop, hops, usually setting a pair of light-up sneakers feverishly ablink.

They are just a small thing, her little jumps, but they’re delighted in around here like a gifted ability. What a stroke of luck, I always think when we’re laughing over her collectively as she hops (because Mommy found the glue, because this water is for her, because cousin Angelina outgrew another pair of boots). What a very lucky thing that one of the most distinguishing pieces of her childhood for us to to look back on someday, would be a thing so infectiously lovable.

I will remember this forever, I think. “I hope she never stops” her dad coos, his eyes doing that twinkly thing they do for her and only her. “I hope that when she’s seventeen and a boy asks her on a date, she goes: (hop, hop) ‘YES!'”

But we will forget. And she will stop.

It’s just like the way she used to flap the palms of her hands open and closed, arms stretched toward us as far as she could reach, beckoning for someone to hold her. Or the way Mary loved writing hilarious personifications in second grade, stapling together illustrated sheets of copy paper to make “real, live” books. Or the way Matthew outgrew being afraid of cracks in the sidewalk, like stepping on a little broken gravel might split the whole world in two and send us all plummeting to the Land of the Lost. There are a hundred and two examples that, had I remembered to scribble them down while they were fresh with existence, I could pick from for this paragraph. But just about all of them are lost to a busted, overworked memory.

Over the weekend, we were hit with a forgivably warm Saturday for the middle of January.

Knowing the answer perfectly well, I asked Scarlett if she wanted to go outside, and in response, she did what she always does when she catches wind of news that is, in any way, not terrible. Both bubbly-toed, stocking-clad feet caught a little air over the kitchen tile. And when she landed two clutzy landings in a row, she flashed me a grin so gaping I could probably have counted every tooth inside. “I wan go OUT-SIDE!” she assured me, leaving no room for question when both hands met for a belly-flashing clap above her head. I scooped her up for a kiss I just couldn’t resist. Then, laughing, I set her down from my hip and watched her hop away, galloping in a happy little side-step all the way up the hall for her boots.

She will grow and I will probably forget. Just not today.



Matthewisms and Other Grammar Faux Fas of a Nearly Five Year Old Boy.

Five is a pretty cool time for little kids because they don’t mess up words as often. Five is a sad time for parents, though, because our kids don’t mess up words as often. Gabioli’s are just Ravioli now. And a Fridgafrator is just a dumb ol’ fridge. It sucks. 

Matthew’s always been pretty articulate, and in less than a month, he’ll be officially five which means that soon, I’ll have like no material left for his baby book and it’ll have to be retired. To box myself out of reality for a while, I’ve started writing down all of the ways I catch him still talking like a kid. 


  • If referring to sometime in the future he’ll be very specific:

Hey Mommy, on the one hundredth day, can we also go to a circus? 

  • Having kids is the only prerequisite to manhood.

I can’t drive a car til I’m a dad. 

  • If referring to sometime in the past, he’ll say:

Hey Mommy, one hundred and thirteen weeks ago, did you push me in a stroller too? 

  • If ever talking about the beginning of a movie or a song or a day, he’ll call it the front.

Hey Daddy, this song* is in the front* of the driving-by-itself-cars movie*! 

(Bad to the Bone) (opening sequence) (Maximum Overdrive)

  • If talking about any big number, ever, you bet he’ll be characteristically specific.

Daddy, thirty and one-hundred years ago, little kids didn’t have car seats, so that’s why I don’t think we should have to use them. That’s just not fair. 

  • Also, when talking in big numbers, the little number always comes first.

“Mommy, how much dollars/many money is this?” ($150.00) “We can’t buy this today, Scarlett, it’s fifty and one-hundred dollars.” 

  • When referring to anything remotely ‘adult’– whether it’s parents giving a “hi, honey” kiss on some Disney Channel program or some unexpected dialogue that sends us scrambling for the remote, Matthew calls it “falling in love”.

Close your eyes, Scarlett. These grown-ups are about to seriously fall in love. 

  • When really excited, grammar suddenly becomes entirely too important:


  • He knows that “be’s” is not a word. But watching him try to finish a sentence without using it is priceless.

Mommy! Every time Mary be’s… be… be… be’s… is be… is be’s… be… be… Mommy, every time Mary be… be… SHUT UP, DON’T TELL ME! 



Just for the sake of this blog, sometimes I wish the toughest thing going on to write about, was that we’ve decided to hold off on potty training Scarlett or that Mary got a new pair of glasses.

More than the big stuff, it’s always been little nuances of daily life that I’ve enjoyed trying to put into words. I’m learning, with mixed emotions, that our day-to-day just isn’t very little anymore. It won’t be for a lengthy while, either. Raising a big family is no small feat, not always effortless to keep light. So, all too often, the stuff consuming my conscious, taking up all my energy to be creative, is not the kind of plate I feel comfortable sharing with everyone at the table. I’m a little torn, to be honest. I want this space to be a mix of raw everyday failure, small victory and light commentary. That’s what I feel like our life has always been.

A few months ago, I stopped writing in my old blog because I didn’t like that it was starting to take on kind of a negative air. In being honest and open, which helped me to make it through some difficult times internally, I painted too harsh a picture of our struggles for other people to see.

Objectively, Mary is not always complicated, Matthew is not always ornery, Spencer is really an easy guy to get along with, and you wouldn’t know it from the way that I write when I’m feeling a little down on myself, but not everything is a struggle.

I started this one because I thought a fresh start would make a new and gentler voice easier to adopt.  My aim was to keep this lighter and more objective. I set out for it to be less of a coping mechanism for me if hard times are to pop up, which is sort of why I haven’t written a lot since Christmas. Nothing is bad, but almost everything is an effort. Whenever I start to feel like I can be proud of the progress I’m getting under my belt, some meager slip derails all of it. My whole mentality takes a dive. I’m feeling a little down on myself right now, and keeping my spirits up for the kids is where having my spirits up counts. Once I get a minute alone to reflect, it hits me how close I am to my whit’s end, trying to keep up with a few things that aren’t a lot of fun.

Homeschooling is just such an elephant in every room right now. When it’s good, it’s more exciting to me than anything else. When it’s hard, wanting to fix it is an all-consuming occupation.

I miss writing about superfluous things, like a puddle of urine on the floor because potty training blows, or the fact that we’re flirting with the idea of getting a dog, or how every time I corrected Matthew in front of Louis Elf this December, he’d remind me that Santa was watching and I was in serious danger of getting coal in my stocking if I kept up all this authoritarian nonsense. Both words came out of my four-year-old’s adorable, totally out-of-line mouth: nonsense and authoritarian. (Not surprisingly, something similar was was said to him that week.) But still, like, WTF? How do you just NOT write about something that sincere and wrong and hilarious?

I guess I’m just writing this to mark a resolution I have; to stop letting homeschool rule every facet of my life. I love my Mary, and I have such a passion for setting her on the right academic path, but I’m letting certain occupational hazards take more out of the me than they need to. So I’m scaling it back. I’m letting Matthew finish his sentences when he comes to me during a lesson, even if it is just to tell me he found a cute little ant in his bedroom. I’m stopping in the middle of calculating grades if Scarlett asks politely for help dressing her doll. I’m putting down the lesson planner when it’s time to start dinner, even if it means that catching up will be necessary in the morning. I’m going to let our sidetracked conversations go on uninterrupted during school sometimes, even if it means I have to teach past 3:00.

I keep pointing out that this is Matthew’s last year with us; his last full year home before going off to do so much growing up away from my side. But the hard truth is that this is a pivotal year for everyone, because every year with every child, is important.

Coincidentally, while I was busy typing this up, a friend of mine posted a link on my wall for some site where you can print your blog into a book for a very reasonable price. I’m not a fan of the covers on this particular one, but the idea has me seriously inspired to keep this resolution. I want to make a book of memoirs worth reading about for every year of parenthood with my kids. This is where I’ll start.

Taken the Year They Were Married.

parents old final

Today marks the first of homeschool semester two for us. It’s our first day back after a two week Christmas hiatus and we’re on a whole new schedule. I’ve spent more than one restless night and countless hours huddled over books and keyboards with a cramped butt, preparing for this. So it’s kind of a big deal. But yesterday, buried deep in the business of procrastinating out of inescapable boredom, I spent a lot of time hashing out last minute plans with my mom for something else – and it’s all I’ve got on the brain today.

Twenty-five years they’ve been married now. That’s just… pretty cool, you know? I don’t have a lot of time to write, and literally no time to even glance this over for a spell check, so I won’t get all sappy on you. But not a lot of (almost) 27 year old kids can say that about their mom and dad. I’m planning most of the anniversary party myself, which is intimidating in a way that sort of overshadows the little bouts of trepidation I have about staying organized for school. But I figure it’s mostly like planning a wedding inside out, and since I got married before Pinterest, let’s just say — I shall have my fun pulling this off.

Yesterday I had her drop off an old oval canvas that used to hang in a thick gold frame at their house. Back before their house was “their” house because I was a kid so it was mostly mine and they just kind of hung around to pay bills and cook. It’s always been one of my favorites. My dad looked similar enough in it, but my mom looked so young and somehow (though I can’t put my finger on how) un-motherly, that it wasn’t hard to imagine them having a life before me, being boyfriend and girlfriend instead of husband and wife. For some reason, I don’t know… that was cool to me.

I hadn’t seen it up in years, though. Over time, our own school pictures were turned into Christmas tree ornaments as the toothless grins of my nieces and nephews took their place. Then it was JCPenny photo shoots of grandchildren, with my own babies squeezed in between a still-growing number of cousins, infiltrating the wall space. There’s a wall dedicated to vintage, hueless photos of generations spanning both sides of the family, in a tasteful collage style of intentionally mismatched frames about the couch. But the oval canvas wasn’t one of them. I guess it wasn’t vintage enough to make the cut. Or mom just doesn’t want to believe it is, which is more likely.

Coincidentally, my mom’s debut novel (!) is due for release a month before the big anniversary. So during a shoot for her author’s bio, she asked the photographer to snap a few of them arm in arm at one of their favorite spots. The best one was put in one of those massive, elaborately matted frames, on which my mom is constantly teased about spending too much money and way too much wall space. “Well,” she defended to me one day, “it’s the first professional photo we’ve had taken of ourselves in… well…” She looked up at my dad as if for rhetorical help, like looking at him was helping her to figure it out more than actually asking him would. “Since I was pregnant with you.”

I realized as we were talking over facebook yesterday morning, that that old oval picture would have been taken around the year they were married. At which point she reminded me again that they didn’t know it yet, but I was there too — holdin’ it down embryo style. I had to have it. She dug it up and dropped it off at noon.

I don’t even know what I’m going to do with it for the party, except to have it on the event page of facebook.

But isn’t it cool?

A ‘Not’ Back to School Prompt: Day in the Life.


It’s hard to do a day-in-the-life writing prompt when Monday starts a brand new schedule for us. I’m looking forward to this second semester being much easier on us because I think I’ve remedied our biggest weakness from the first semester’s schedule.

We’ve only been homeschooling for half a year, and if there’s one lesson I’ve been beat with over the head, it’s that homeschool rarely spins out the rainbow and butterfly reality I plan for it to.

But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’m going for..

God willing, on Monday, the schoolroom will be tidy again. (It’s today’s project. And that’s what I’ve been saying for about, let’s see… three days now?) Instead of having the schedule for each week posted in the schoolroom on our pretty, little hanging dry-erase planner, it’ll be typed and hanging on the fridge. (No more “what are we doing today, mom… UGH, I have to go ALL the way downstairs to check!?”). I’ve already prepared her for the new block schedule, where each day will focus on a particular core subject. But Mondays are grammar, and grammar’s already kind of a yawn without knocking out the whole week’s worth in an afternoon, so I expect a hot, heaping load of complaints to kick us off. This subject will come with 8-10 worksheets by the day’s end and I’m pretty sure her eyes will bulge out of their sockets if she realizes this before we gets started. (Not exactly famed for her subtlety, this one.) I’m sure that once we get rolling though, she’ll be fine, especially because I know for virtually a fact, that we’ll finish sooner this way than on any other Monday before. She does much better staying on one subject than she does hopping from task to task, which is why I chose to switch it up for take two.

Our morning routine will pretty much always be the same. 

She’ll wake up around 9:00, look over the new schedule, and we’ll eat breakfast over a little video. First thing in the morning is always the roughest for Mary; she is the polar opposite of a morning person. So I think that waking up to a short video (relevant to whatever we’re learning that week) will be a good mind-stretch for her without me having to wrestle morning combativeness. (I’m compiling a playlist now, titling each video based on what week in the year it’ll compliment a lesson.)

Over Christmas break we rearranged the kitchen and dining room to allow for a new breakfast nook that’s perfect for our new HS lifestyle. The nook gives us more room to sit at and move more freely around the table; there’s storage in the benches (great for all those workbooks and papers that are rarely taken back to the schoolroom when they ought to be); and we’re able to set the laptop up on a nearby surface now so that I don’t have to worry about the smaller kids grabbing at it if I put a video on for them over a snack or schoolwork. We’ve instituted a new rule, where the laptop stays in plain view permanently. (Mary’s at that age — internet safety is at peek importance.) I’m not thrilled about it from an aesthetic point, but having it at our easy disposal during school is a nice, glittery little lining of silver.

Reading, 30 minutes. 

Then, I’ll read aloud to them, which usually gets Mary wanting to read for a while too. Reading is one of my favorites because it engages the whole bunch of us, from two to twenty-seven. It’s just a cozy little way to start a winter day, especially with kids who won’t be content to listen so quietly later in the morning. I also like taking the opportunity to point out where the author used strategies we’re learning to plug into our own writing, and encouraging her to speak up when she sees or hears them too.

Writing, 30 minutes to an hour. 

I like to warm-up with writing immediately after a good book’s just spurred us to get creative. Good writing has a natural flow, and I always feel like reading just before she writes helps to get that rhythm wheeling.

Spelling and Vocabulary/Editing, 10 – 20 minutes. 

Then, we knock out spelling, which is required to be done everyday, but only takes about 10 minutes.

And to wrap it up, she’ll play for a while on Word Dynamo. Last semester, we tried three different ways to tackle vocabulary. I’m a huge vocab nerd, so it was underwhelming for me to watch none of it really work any magic on her — until she introduced me to this neat, little number. I actually bookmarked it before we started officially schooling, and then let it slip through the cracks of my frazzled, distracted brain. She found it on her own one day and has been hooked ever since. Seriously, I have fun just watching her play. It’s fast-paced and better yet — one player, so I can actually pay attention to my other kids while she becomes a word-whiz on her own. (A lot of times, even when I’m happy to have a little of my own time freed up, I’ll get sucked in just rooting for her.) It’s pretty cool, so I’ve decided to make it a small part of the daily routine. A fun way to transition from the stuff we do everyday to our core subject.

If it’s Tuesday, though, she’ll do an editing exercise instead. These are only required once a week, which is nice because even I think they’re dull. They’re quick, though, and essential, or I wouldn’t make her do them.

Core Subject of the Day. 

One of the hassles of our old routine that I can’t wait to escape, is the need for every single book every single day. (Almost, anyway.) When I expected that most of school would happen in the schoolroom, there was no reason to mind that. But school happens so much more often at the dining room table or curled into the sofa, that we wind up with forty pounds of books and binders and art supplies and pencil shavings scattered around the dining room – that no one cares to lug back down a flight of stairs and into their schoolroom cubbies. Taking care of a single core subject a day ensures that we’ll only need one massive textbook at a time, which, by the way, will fit like a well-worn shoe into the new bench storage.

Check out my last post to see an outline of our new schedule. It’s full of adventure and excitement and bullet points.

Then, there’s Matthew…


Of course, that only covers Mary. There are two other kids to parent and one of them is a pre-schooler, which forces me to drag this out a little longer. Bear with me. For him, I’m a little more lax. Play is a big part of his day and I take full advantage of that. He occupies his little sister while Mary and I work on the more “mom-intensive” academics.

Down in the schoolroom, we have a little routine that we call “calendar time” usually before Mary even wakes up because Matthew’s an early riser like his Momma. He counts all the days on the calendar and posts the new one, then we practice saying and writing the date. Then, we do the Pledge of Allegiance. Lastly, we have poster where I point to each letter blend sound, and he tells me what sound each of them makes. Periodically, he’ll work on Reading Eggs. It used to be a daily endeavor, but that tended to make him lose steam a little. When we scale back his reading program to just a few times a week, he treats it much more like a privilege. He’ll plug away at that thing for hours and I’ll have to pry him off with a spatula.

He’s always involved in the art projects, history crafts or science experiments, lending a small hand whenever age appropriate and loves being included in the discussions afterward. This semester, I plan to organize his day a little better. He has a backpack for next year that he can’t wait to use. So I’ll fill it each day with the games, activities and workbooks I want him to spend some time on. I think that he’ll enjoy reaching into it himself to pull out kind of a surprise activity. Instead of being told out of the blue: “Okay, time to do your reading”, he’ll know from the first time he peeks into his bag, exactly what we’ll be doing. Plus, he can pick the order in which they get done. Board games are (at least) a once a week activity for him because the number practice is so effective, and I love that Mary always wants to join. For kids who are generally at each other’s throats (getting used to being around each other 24/7), it’s a great way for them to practice keeping cool and being considerate.

So, in a nutshell, that’s our day. If you’re here from the homeschool hop, let me know you stopped by! I just missed the cut-off for participation, but because I’m THAT big of a nerd about reading other people’s homeschool plans, I’m going to check out everyone’s blog in the listing anyway.

The Switch to Block Scheduling: Semester 2


You know that feeling you get when someone reaches over to scratch your back.. You didn’t even know that you wanted it, but suddenly you’re in the middle of heaven, clinging onto every last alleviating second, begging it not to go? Well, that’s what Christmas break was for me. I’m not ready to stop unwinding, but I am excited to finish planning for the rest of the year. So I’m just taking that and running with it. School! Positive energy! Yay!

So, the title wasn’t lying. One thing that has me totally psyched about this fresh start of ours is the fact that we’re trying on a whole new schedule. New year, new us, baby! Okay, I’ll stop.

Everything that’s still kind of messy about our old routine points a big, blaming finger at the constant start-and-stop of our old schedule. When I sat down to pencil out last semester, I tried my best to make her have a little of each class every day, or at least three times a week because I didn’t want her forgetting stuff. That was kind of dumb.

I never felt like we got to root deep enough into any subject before having to rush out of it and into something totally different. Mary likes to do this great thing where she whines about starting each new subject for about ten or fifteen minutes before getting to work. (Part of the creative process, I guess.) Once she works, she’s very diligent. But if you pull her out of that diligence to put it on another path in a new subject, you pull her out of a studious mindset altogether. Between every finished assignment, she hops up from her chair and starts an 80’s montage of completely random activities while Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” vociferates the background. Then I have to reel her back in and say, “Now’s not the time to start rearranging bedroom posters/organizing your bookshelf/taking pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror for facebook, Mary. We only finished the first assignment. Back to the table.”

One day, as a journal activity for time management, I had her log in start and stop times for each subject’s activity. You wouldn’t believe how much time was being wasted meandering around the house between “classes”. Or, telling her to stop whining already and just get started. Of course, some of it is me, too. Poor Matthew is told to pipe down, like, 90% of the day now. I feel like I’m constantly shooing him away so that we can stay on task and I don’t loose Mary’s attention. Between classes is when I sometimes have to catch up on… you know, paying attention to the other two. I guess Mary figures that if I’m catching up on stuff, then she can be too, so she hightails it away from the desk at every perceivable opportunity. Reeling her back in always takes ANOTHER sliver of time. And even if all of those slivers are small, they add up when there are seven or eight “classes” for them to fall between.

Because we were more conscientious of it on our second go of the logging experiment, our day was finished in HALF the time. Not kidding. And I wasn’t surprised. I knew then that if we dedicated each day to one particular subject, we’d skip over so much of that “stop that, start this” whining, and would be able to keep her little mind motoring on at a much healthier pace.

It’ll also be much easier for her to know what to expect. Everyday she asks “is today gonna be long?” before she’s out of her pajamas.

I have tried so many different methods of writing out her schedule so that our day isn’t interrupted with her having to ask me so often “what’s next?” or “what do we have today?” or “is today gonna suck?”. For some reason, I dread those questions. Sometimes, our day is going to be a little longer.. and “what’s next” is such a trap question. She’s going to attack me with the death groan no matter what I say, and when you know that the death groan of torture is coming before you even answer the questions — UGH, it’s like an upright fork stabbing into a glass plate. I want to be angry, but I’m too busy just begging it to stop. Please, please, just make the whining stop, I’ll do anything.. anything, I tell you.

Sometimes I swear it’s just a stalling tactic because even after I tell her, she just sits there until I finally say: um, okay, you know what to do now, so… you know… permission granted to get a move on — she follows it up with: Okay, well, where are my worksheets? (same place as always) Well, where is my notebook? (same place as always) Well, what SIDE of my notebook is it in? (same place as always) Where do I put it when I’m done? (same place as always) What pencil am I supposed to use? (why the hell would I care?) Well, what if it doesn’t have an eraser? (kill me now) Well, what if the apocalypse comes before I can finish the assignment?

She could stand to spare me a few thousand of those regular complaints, but with our schedule the way it was, I actually don’t blame her for needing to be reminded what she has next incessantly throughout the day (even if it’s always written at the start of every week in fifteen different places that she could check herself). The new schedule is so simple, she’ll know the gist of her day without having to check the planner at all. A few, very short subjects (vocab, spelling) are done at the start of everyday, then there’s writing on all but Friday. The rest of each day is dedicated to one core subject. She’ll know Mondays are grammar days. Tuesdays are History. Wednesdays are Science. And Thursday – Friday are Math.


Some subjects I still think it’s important to have everyday. Writing, for example, requires repetition. I like that one being everyday. It’s nice to work on a piece for a while, put it away for a night (or even the next day), and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes, but also with ideas that are still hot out of the oven. Daily reading is a healthy habit – if not vital, as far as I’m concerned, and spelling tests are just too redundant to fit more of than one into any day. But the rest of our subjects are made up of enough smaller components that fitting a week of lessons into a day won’t be like doing the same activity for hours and hours.

With History it’s like: Okay, do this pre-test. Now let’s have our lesson. Okay, now make yourself a notecard. Alright, now let’s get the art supplies for our activity. Okay, now let’s clean this up, let that dry, and watch this video. Now we’ll do some mapping so grab your atlas, and then we’ll wrap it up with a little What Did You Miss exercise. There are just enough start and stops to keep the redundancy of a block schedule at bay; whereas there are just too many of them for it to be the seventh subject tacked onto an already up, down, left, right, A, B, jump kind-of-day.

Alright, enough yapping.

Here’s the new schedge:

Weekly health goal: (*note: alright, a little more yapping. Health class, though I had it on the original schedule last semester, never worked for us. I have much better luck not trying to make our health discussions so official and forced. I’m her mom and we’re together all day long now, so we talk about nutrition, exercise and sexual health in our everyday dialogue. Instead of giving her assignments, I’m instituting a weekly healthy goal. A few examples so far: make a smoothie that has a meal’s worth of nutrients; stick to water or milk for every drink all week; run everyday and chart any progress in time or distance; pick a dinner recipe we make often and tweak it to make it healthier – then treat the family to it! Whatever she does, I’ll be doing too.) 

Monday: Grammar

Language: spelling; writing; vocab

  • lesson 1; worksheets 
  • lesson 2; worksheets
  • (if applicable) lesson 3; worksheets

Tuesday: History/Art

Language: editing; spelling; writing

(*History is the most involved subject. I like having it all lassoed into one neat and tidy day. But there’s a lot of info to process, so I’m throwing two of it’s components into Friday. Both Friday activities are all-inclusive of what’s been covered that week, so it’ll be a great review. Also, Mary despises art for some pain in the neck reason. Every attempt to make it a separate class has ended with her being in trouble for acting out. BUT, a lot of the history lessons comes with an accompanying craft for the daily activity. I have a lot of unused art-class assignments that I’ll be incorporating into the pre-planned crafts related to History.) 

  • review; pre-test 
  • lesson 1; notecard; activity (to include art)
  • lesson 2; notecard; activity
  • lesson 3; notecard; activity
  • mapping

Wednesday: Science

Language: spelling; writing; vocab

  • Physics: Lesson; experiment
  • Mechanics 1
  • Physics: Lesson; experiment; lapbook (of lessons 1 and 2)
  • Mechanics 2

Thursday: Math

Language: spelling; writing; vocab

  • lesson 1 
  • lesson 2
  • lapbook choice of lesson

Friday: Math


  • lesson 1 
  • lesson 2
  • lapbook choice of lesson

History: (Cont.)

  • Timeline 
  • Worksheet exercise/Quiz

At the beginning of each week, I’m going to make a print-out of our schedule with each assignment on it and have it posted on the fridge. I used to write the schedule in dry-erase marker on this neat Martha Stewart weekly planner hangy-thing above her desk in the schoolroom, but it was a pain to fill out by hand every Monday, and to keep it neat while fitting everything in. This’ll be easier. Plus, she won’t have to go all the way downstairs or rummage through our daily stack of books and papers for my planner, just to check the schedule.

As always, I still have more to say than any respectable adult probably has time to read, but I think that about sums up our major changes. Today I’ll be baby-sitting Matthew and Scarlett’s besties, so before they arrive Mary and I will be making something presentable of the schoolroom again, and cracking down on this photocopying obligation hovering over my head. I swear if I knew how many photocopies were required of a homeschooling parent, I never would have signed up for this. Like seriously, that would have been the deal breaker.

Little Bare Feet in the Doorway.


And then they wake up, and just like that it’s Christmas morning.

All those weeks of instagramming little toy elves, 24 days of having an advent calendar chocolate with breakfast, are done and dusted. Little bare feet in our doorway are the bells of Christmas. “Mommy, Daddy, are you awake?” they whisper. The perfect juxtaposition of quiet, just before everyone’s favorite ruckus.




play puppy

pajamas poster




























Making Snowflakes for Newtown.


When I was little, before I knew what a national tragedy was, I used to think that grown-ups all just pretended to care about things like that. I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine crying over the hurt of a total stranger the way I’d seen or heard adults doing before. My mom used to tell me, in slow, reminiscent detail, about being in Miss So-and-So’s second grade class the day Kennedy was assassinated. Then there’s that country song about the whole word crying when the space shuttle Explorer fell out of the sky. In 10th grade, when my whole school was sent home early because our country was under attack, I still had a hard time feeling personally connected to those who went to work that day and never came home, or to the millions of family members devastated by the sonic boom following every single, tragic death. Of course it was awful and sad and serious, but I still came home and microwaved a hot pocket and watched t.v. at my friend’s townhouse and was glad I didn’t have homework.

I’ve cried so many times over what happened in Connecticut. Maybe it’s because I’m older. Maybe it’s because they weren’t. I don’t know, but I have a hard time understanding anyone who can’t cry over this.

I had to wave Mary away when she came home from girl scouts on Tuesday, and told me that six of them were girl scout Daisies. I had to Lamaze-breathe myself out of crying in front of the Ninjago lego sets at Toys ‘R Us, because I read that morning one of the little boys shot, loved those stupid things. I bet his mom had Christmas shopping almost done… She might be wondering what to do with that very $30.00 toy now that there’s no Noah to unwrap it.

Aaaaand, I have to stop.

Anyway, in the days that followed, there have been choirs of children singing Silent Night on comedy shows, and the flags have been set at half mast as if these children were the tiniest of soldiers; these teachers, the most badass of heroes. And the president cried on air, just mustering the gall to tell our country what happened.

A teacher, patting her eyes with a tissue but managing a smile, told us a story about one lion-hearted little boy who said to her as they were locked in a bathroom, “It’s okay, I know karate! I’ll lead the way out.”

Freckle-dotted faces of children who never even stopped believing there’s a tooth fairy yet, have littered the news. The last time I thought to check it, The Huffington Post had been alive and rowdy with political opinion. Three days ago the biggest story on there was the Eulogy of a six-year-old’s mommy, saying one last upbeat and crushingly brave goodbye. I sobbed all the way through the second half, locking myself in the bathroom until I could breathe enough of the pink out from behind my glasses.

And this one — ugh, this one hit me the worst.

I don’t know these kids. But I know what it’s like to fear for the safety of my children every waking moment (and for that matter, even in my reoccurring dreams) like there is nothing, nothing, nothing worse than losing them in even the gentlest, most peaceful of ways. I keep trying not to care because it’s four days before Christmas and every time Silent Night comes on, I’m a worthless puddle of grief. I can’t think or focus on anything but knowing that this really happened to somebody else’s Matthew and Mary and Scarlett. And for a long time after that, I don’t care a lot about very much else.

So the reason I’m writing this, even though I told myself that I wouldn’t, is because I’ve been wracking my brain for something helpful to do. How in the hell you can possibly help grieving people so far away, dealing with the intentional murders of their smallest family members days before Christmas — I had no idea. But I wanted to find something, and that’s honestly never happened to me before, so I thought it important to act on.

This morning I found this: Snowflakes for Newtown at I Can Teach My Child.

Obviously, the many survivors of the kindergarten massacre won’t be returning to their old, sullied classrooms. There’s a new building being set up for them to go back to in January, but there’s no doubt that it’ll be hard. There’s a lot that we can’t do for those kids. But what we can do, is make snowflakes. If all of us around the country make a few snowflakes with our kids this holiday and mail them to the new school in Connecticut, those precious babies – whose innocence has been ripped from their souls far, far too soon – will return in January to a cheerful, little Winter Wonderland of snow.

That’s pretty cool. Small, but big, ya know?

Mary made something with her girl scout troop also, that they’ll be mailing to the school. I’m curious to know if anyone else is aware of, or can come up with, any ways (seriously, at all) to contribute – either to the families of victims or to help make life easier for the surviving teachers and students, or just to give our condolences to the community of Newtown, whose Christmas this year is sure to be a hard one. If so, leave a comment and I’ll do everything I can to spread the word.

Let me know if you guys make snowflakes today. Before we drop our letters off to Santa, it’s certainly what we’ll be doing over here!

Being a Homeschool Mom on the Holidays – oh, and All the Magic of Christmas, Too. No Pressure.


Now that we’re at the end of our pre-planned schedule, organization is getting muddy.

Yesterday I took an hour to get our Christmas cards in order and it threw off our whole Thursday. Days that we leave the house are troublesome always, and that’s exactly what we have to do today – again, which will likely push us even (at least a little) further behind. Because I’m responsible for the health and upkeep of five people, four mice, two cats and a house, I have to pack us all into the minivan and pull out of here a lot.

I just can’t wait for things to get back to normal. Which is like, exactly the opposite of what my holiday spirit usually sounds like – or especially, what a homeschool mom’s is supposed to.

Being a mom is a lot of work on it’s own. Being a mom on the holidays is more work. Being a novice homeschool mom on the holidays to three kids is quite literally maddening. There are harder things that I could be obligated to, I know that and I appreciate it, believe me. But this season in this phase of my life comes with a lot of pressure. I am responsible in so many ways for keeping the magic alive, and I’m sorry, it’s fun – it is. But it’s just a lot to live up to right now.

Today I have to get a shower before we buy a new broom, go on a nature walk and do the library.

Speaking of which (real quick): have you ever walked around for three days on a floor that usually requires sweeping 3 times a day, but hasn’t been swept at all? I don’t know how a broom handle actually snaps in half, but ours did. The crunch under my feet, when I’m already feeling behind on so much, has me ready to blow a gasket – and I don’t even know what that is.

I’m positively dreading that I have to take time for something so unrelated to school. Oh, I don’t mind nature walks, having to buy things for the house or spending quality time at the library because each one is school-related, and that’s my number one priority right now. It’s the shower I begrudge, which, to a younger me would have been unfathomable. (And even to the older me is still kind of gross.) It used to be that I couldn’t function without a shower. Now I wake up on the days I don’t need one celebrating that it’s one less obligation I have to plan around. There are already so many predictably unpredictable deviations that happen as a natural consequence of working with kids, that throwing in my own personal hygiene is what always seems to tip the scale.

Wow, that sentence was depressing.

Anyway, the holidays are making it especially hard. I hate to be one more person in the world bitching about something that on every level, should be slowed down to appreciate, so I’ll make this quick. Bare with me for just a paragraph.

I have to design, print, embellish and mail out holiday cards because ordering them is too unnecessary an expense right now. I have to keep up with the tree that is destroyed on a continuous, nightly loop because of our new kitten. I have to “find” Elfie every morning before the kids are awake – which Mary always reminds me in secret code I could be doing better. I have to decorate, which makes me feel even more obligated to have the house presentable enough to fully enjoy. I have to shop and wrap and plan in preparation for the holiday itself, while keeping an impossible number of presents well-hidden from snoopy children. I have to do holiday crafts and baking with the kids and not cuss at the mess left for me to clean afterward, because that would kind negate the point of doing it in the first place. I have to make time for spiritual lessons surrounding the holidays. I have to cart them around to holiday activities (visiting santa, making gingerbread houses at the library, themed skating), not to mention a THOUSAND birthdays that all seem to fall in December – not the least of which is my husband’s. (Seriously people, whatever aphrodesiac about March is so coercive it actually causes you to think: hm, Christmas falls exactly nine months ahead of today and I STILL want to do this with you right now — I’d like to know about.) And there’s a lot of pressure to do it all, while surfing the everyday wave of chaos, with a smile. It’s not just exhausting, it’s just flatly impossible to keep up with entirely, day after day. So to top it with a cherry, I finish just about everyday, feeling like I’ve still fallen short.

If I devote myself to everything at once, my heart just isn’t into any of it all the way. If I try focusing on a few major priorities at once, whatever I didn’t have time for STILL taunts me until I get to it. Yes, laundry, I SEE YOU, I GET IT.

But the one thing that I won’t let myself let slide on is school for the kids. Or at least, that’s what I told myself just before I did.

Yesterday was something I don’t want to repeat. I was so frustrated with how disorganized everything suddenly felt, that I decided to let nothing stop us from getting caught up – on housework, on schoolwork, on holiday stuff, on everything. We were still doing spelling after dark while I simultaneously jumped from cooking dinner to wiping down neglected appliances around the kitchen. Mary was a good sport about it, but that’s exactly my problem. She’s finally at a place where she doesn’t hate being homeschooled. Her behavior and general enthusiasm is what I’ve dreamed of working with from the beginning, so she’s the last thing I want winding up at the mercy of my struggle to keep up. I’m extremely proud of her… She’s a big priority to me right now.

My plan for the day is pretty simple and straightforward, but one that I know I have to keep chipping away at in order to not fall further behind.

I’ll wake her up early enough to be showered and fed by the time Matthew and I are done with preschool. There’s leftover sausage gravy from yesterday so breakfast should be quick and easy. Elfie is already situated, so that’s done.

Matthew and I will do our usual morning routine: calendar, phonics, math, and reading while Scarlett plays at our feet.

Scarlett will join us for read-aloud just before an early nap. We’ll read Scooby-Doo and the Egyptian Treasure Something-or-Other, and then the Revolutionary War picture book before they go back to the library. I really wanted Mary to do a book report on Miss Peregrines House for Peculiar Children, but we just ran out of time. The books area already a day or two late so they can’t be renewed either. Meh.. It wasn’t even part of her curriculum material – I just thought it would fun. You win some, you lose some. At least reading it was fun.

Mary and I will do grammar, writing, and mechanics before going to the library. Ideally, Matthew will clean his room while this is happening, but that’s aiming pretty high. While we’re out, we’ll pick up the new broom that we desperately need, I’ll take out cash to get those pesky library fines off my back, then we’ll stop at the park near the library, where we can take a little nature walk. On our walk I’m hoping to let the kids collect a bag of small treasures, like berries, pine needles and cones for a “nature wreath” craft I pinned last night. We’ll get home and do that, which will count toward art. Afterward, we’ll sit down to really focus most of our energy on science — which is, coincidentally all ABOUT energy today. Last week we did our first lapbooking activity, and I’m hoping to make it a weekly Friday endeavor for physics so that at the end of the year, we’ll have a cool, 3-D display for each lesson. (From this point on, anyway.) I also have a little video about energy set up and we’ll do our regular, weekly experiment while the baby takes a second nap.

Having kids on the holidays is literally, in every sense of the word, priceless. I cherish it like nothing else in the world but this could possibly be loved. There’s nothing I’d trade it for: no amount of carefree nights out with childless friends, no romantic wintry dates, no ostentatious gifts that my husband and I could afford to exchange between ourselves. I wouldn’t trade my mess-making time with these brats for all the free time or clean floors or phone calls made in peace the good Lord could have offered me instead.

I’m frazzled, but it’s just because living up to everything that they deserve means so much. Really, that sentiment alone – just typing it out, kind of helps to pull it all back into perspective.

That, and knowing that pretty soon at least, I’ll be able to sweep the fucking floor.

Teaching Humility.


Stepping out of the bathroom, a towel heavy on my head, he was the first thing my wandering eyes caught. Watching him play quietly in his room is always a treat, but this was new.

Sitting just on the edge of his bed, his little knees were cradling a book – a big one – open to some random page of an unnumbered chapter in the middle. His eyes were locked in a sturdy gaze over the page, his body stiff with concentration — except for a murmur brushing his lips.

The only bathroom we have faces all three of their bedrooms, so no matter what time of day or night it is, it’s just habit to look in on them on my way out. I usually stop there, wrapped in a towel, watching them for a minute while I pass the time it takes to shimmy a second one over my hair and swab the dampness out of my ears.

His legs are so short that his size 10 sneakers have to rest on the lip of wood nesting his mattress. He is four, really reading a nineteen chapter book about Abraham Lincoln, published in the sixties and pulled from a box of library recycling just before it was trashed. His dad, an unpolished, big-hearted recycling truck driver, knows how much I love reading “crap like this” to the kids, so he’s always coming home with books that almost didn’t make it.

He doesn’t understanding half of what he’s reading yet, not from a book like that. He’s skipping over words that are more than a few syllables long, unless they’re familiar enough to try sounding out. But he’s working hard at something, just because he feels like it.

What’s shocking about it is that ten minutes before, he was rocking the house with a lung-scathing tantrum. His sister was dragging him by the wrist out of her room and I could hear Matthew calling her a stupid jerk idiot. I had pulled the curtain back grudgingly and was literally screaming to be heard under the hissing hot water, through the barrier of the closed bathroom door, and over their combined volume on the other side, while he kicked repeatedly at a wall. “GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW, MATTHEW! MATTHEW, COME IN HERE AND TELL ME THE PROBLEM! MATTHEW!”

So I expected to see him sitting on the floor when I got out, still seething in a pile of thrown-about toys, arms crossed and face scrunched. Our days always turn again and again from feeling like I’ve got none of this under control, to being positively on top of it all, like I should have someone being paid to follow me around and take notes. I’m shocked, but not floored. Chaos will ensue again, you can be sure of that.

“Wow. Whatcha got there, bud?”

“Mommy!!” An urgency charges over him, snapping his trance like pretzel while he clumsily flutters through pages. “Look at these cool pictures – hold on, I’ll find ’em…” His lips wouldn’t stop moving except to rapidly suck in spit that sometimes collects when he talks really fast — a habit that drives his sister up the wall because it’s gross and embarrassing. “I found this book about a president! His name is not APE, it’s ABE. I opened it and I saw, guess what word!: RIDE. And then I saw another word next to it that I didn’t know and I did my tech-a-nique that you showed me and I sounded it and it said FREEDOM. Like slaves! Like in our book about Thanksgiving! And then I kept lookin’ and there was THE and there was IS and there was BUT and there was MEN and there was ABOUT and there was GUNS and there was LOTS of words that I know. HERE’S THE PICTURE! Look!!”

I cocked my head over the page and we both laughed, scrunching up our noses at each other and then back at the book. Staring up at us was an inky illustration of a hand doing something poetic that wouldn’t make sense to any kid sporting cartoon tank-engines on the side of his shoe. I almost explained it to him, what the picture metaphor was trying to say. But I decided instead to let him be four and just think it was funny.

“I think it’s about the country or somethin'” he said. “It says the U-nine-ed States a lot — like in the ‘ledge of allegiance!, but I don’t know all the words. Just, like, some of ’em.”


Lately, being a good parent to Matthew has meant focusing on humility. He’s a good-hearted little boy. He prays more often than I do, sometimes even taking my hand in his out of the blue and asking if I’ll help him pray for stuff. Meaningful stuff, like that his sister sleeps well tonight after having a nightmare the day before. He’s nurturing and tender to children who are smaller than him, he’s very accepting of anyone who’s different, and he’s a born defender of the weak. He’s always been the first to speak up for anyone being talked down to — at as little as two years old, he’d square off to his pop-pop or uncle or father and tell them with a stomp of his foot not to talk to his cousin, or his mom-mom, or his cat “like that anymore!” He was born high energy with a fire-eating temper, but at the core of who he is, he’s really a very special, one-of-a-kind kid. It’s not hard to be radiantly proud of myself for being the vessel that brought him into the world. To me, (as well it should be) this kid is magic.

But part of that magic is being a perfectionist. When he was two, he’d struggle, tear-stained and petulant over not being able to write a capital A with a perfect point at the top. He’d throw things after trying 27 times and he’d cry and he’d call himself stupid until he got it. It was his process, and try as I would to tell him that he didn’t have to learn this stuff yet, he’d hate himself until he got it. And even then he wouldn’t beam with pride; just put it aside, breathe easy a time or two and go on to play with something else. It’s two years later, and now we have a new problem. He knows that he is smart, but he actually believes that he is smarter than other kids. In fact, the other day, he told me that he was smarter than me – and his dad, combined. He didn’t even say it in a way that was meant to sting. He said it as though he were stating a fact, one that I should be proud of.

This is what Spencer always worried about. My husband, ever the graceful one with words, swore that every super smart kid he ever knew was annoying as hell when they were small and then grew up to be a total dick. Then again, too many kids nowadays take no pride in being successful at school. So where do you toe the line? And how do you draw it for a kid this small to understand?

So now, I tell him that he is smart. But I remind him every time that being “smart” is not about how much he knows. It’s about how excited he gets to learn about the things that he doesn’t know yet. I tell him on a regular loop that everyone has things they haven’t learned yet – even the very, very smartest grown-ups in the world. And that the wisest people are the ones who are proud to admit there are still lots of things they don’t know, and are excited about it! — because it means that they still have lots of opportunities to learn. Learning is what makes us smart, not already knowing more than the next guy.

The impression was not immediate. At first, he stomped off pouting, claiming that I hurt his feelings because I wasn’t proud of him for being smarter than me. He even tried to take a gentle approach on another day saying, “Yeah, I get it. But, still,” with a condescending tilt of his head and a hand on my shoulder, “I AM actually smarter than you. I just won’t say it to you anymore.”    -_-       You’re killin’ me, Smalls.

But after a couple of repetitions, it sank in. We’re learning to be the parents our little boy needs; one that nurture a love of even old, forgotten books. Ones that offer him the best of educations. Ones that prize humility over accomplishment. Ones that love him for all that he is, no matter what. But ones that do our part to make sure he grows up strong in all aspects of life – not just the ones that come naturally, or that we like best.

Their needs are changing all the time. But our pride in them never will. To us, he will always be a gift to the world. Just, you know.. a slightly more humble one.