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“But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night.”

-Neil Young, Harvest Moon

The harvest moon is a yearly holiday for us. We make apple strudel, both to honor the season and also to pay homage to a line from Katie’s and my special song: “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. This was the first song I ever sang to her that first night in the hospital, a song I still sing every night to her, and the theme of her first birthday party.

Our McGaugh Family Movie Night (a weekly event) happened to coincide with the harvest moon and our apple strudel. We’re working our way through (again for Katie, though for Eric many are new) most of the main Disney films in anticipation of our upcoming trip to The Grand Californian, Disneyland, and California Adventure. Naturally, on a night when we were having apple strudel, we chose to schedule Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

 

After her morning soccer game (we brought the treat bags this week), Katie changed and did her own hair. She was so proud of dressing herself and styling her own hairdo, so I took a picture.

 

 

She was in the middle of working on her Draw Write Now workbook, something I did not prompt. She likes to work on schoolwork for fun… The girl is just like her mommy that way. 🙂

 

Making apple strudel…

 

Cozy movie night: pizza and strudel. I love to cuddle with them on the couch. Bill watches, too, from the big chair.

 

 

After the movie, we went out to dance and play in the moonlight.

 

 

Shadowy children underneath the moon…

 

 

Wild dance! I think it is so important for children to experience the outdoors at night and to be connected to all of nature’s cycles. It’s these kinds of whimsical moments that are worth breaking bedtime to experience. If there is one hope I have, it is to give my children the gift of whimsy, fancy, and imagination. Be serious and practical when you need to be (school, and at work), and be silly the rest of the time. I want to give them the tools to create their own magic, invent their own excitement. It is a way of looking at the world that, I believe, ensures a person is never bored. There is always something in which to engage and something to explore.

This afternoon we went to the birthday party of my brother and sister-in-law’s other niece Anna. So, Ashley’s niece by blood. That’s the way we roll in our family. Everyone adopts the relationships of everyone else, a bit like Eastern Indian culture it would seem. I think it is beautiful when families do that… My cousin-in-law Marshall started bringing his family to all of our events, and now Marshall’s brother and sister are like more cousins (in fact that’s what we call them) and Janie and Rob are like an aunt and uncle. My brother’s mother-in-law often feels like my mother-in-law, but with only the good feelings and not in the stereotypical way we see on TV. This is kind of a new world to me, since we’ve only discovered the idea of merging families now that we’re (the cousins) are all getting married. And it just so happens that Beth’s in-laws (the Booths) and my brother David’s in-laws (the Rybas) are super open to merging. I am sure that if Hannah’s or Fon’s family lived here, we’d hang out with them all the time, too. It probably helps that the Booths and the Rybas tend to be friendlier people on the whole than the Maticses generally are. 😉 I cannot speak for EVERY one in the Matics family, but several of us have inside jokes about how standoffish we can be. We know we’re slow-to-warmers, but once you have us, we’re very, very loyal. We just want to get to know you…

 

 

Anna is ready to blow out her candles! Her smile while we were singing to her absolutely was one of the sweetest smiles I’ve seen in a long time. It went right to my heart. Anna’s namesake is her great-grandma Beatrice Anna (to the right of the picture), and I think they have a similar spirit. Anna gives the best and most heartfelt hugs just like Grandma Bea, an open spirit, like there is nothing in the way of their connection…pure.

 

 

Anna and Eric play at the piano. Birthday party duet?

 

 

 

Ready to open presents!

 

 

Eric laughs with Amie-Nani.

We had a great time at the party. Lorraine and Steve have chickens, and we went outside for a bit to visit with them. Their soft gutteral sounds remind me of childhood. Chickens are so peaceful and mellow.

Tomorrow is October 1st! We’re having a decorating festival (just with ourselves) in the afternoon. We really go to town with the Halloween decorations… And we’ll make our first pumpkin bread of the season tomorrow, also. My favorite month begins in just a few hours…!!

 

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We took a little field trip this afternoon to visit my cousin Kd at her new college, Life Pacific. What a sweet and memorable day!

 

Katie and Eric walk with Kd to her dorm after giving her the autumn mums they picked out as a dorm-warming gift

 

 

We asked a friendly student to take a picture of all of us. Life Pacific has to be one of the friendliest campuses I’ve experienced. With a student body of only 400, nearly everyone knows each other already. So many people came up to say hi to Kd and to us, and all of them were smiling and gracious.

 

 

Embracing some life changes and a new engagement, Kd’s roommate decided to leave LPC for the year. Kd misses her roomie but in the meantime made up the upper bunk with new sheets and the quilt she made at our house last year. The kiddos LOVED the upper spare bunk. Eric kept saying, “Me sleep in bunk bed.” And when it was time to leave: “No bye bye. Me sleep in bunk bed.” We joked that Kd might have a new little roommate on her hands!

 

 

Cousins for life, at Life. And by the way, they seriously loved the bunk bed.

 

 

Kd gave us a great tour! We saw everything—library, chapel, classrooms, coffee shop, The Loop (a lounge/study/hang out area, the laundry room, the hair salon, the art rooms, the music rooms, the private prayer rooms, the cafe, where she keeps her bike, everything. We even got to meet her R.A. and one of the quadlings. It brings back good memories to be in a dorm room again, nostalgia. And Eric found these super-neat lampposts that look like they are right out of Narnia, or Disneyland. He’s such a ham: this pose is all his own doing!

 

 

Katie explores near the academic building. I love picturing Kd in her new space. Now when she talks about going to this class or to any place, I will be able to see it. Being able to imagine someone you love in her space is so special and important. I remember, too, how much it meant when family would visit me at school. Afterwards, there is this beautiful feeling that they are part of the place, too, because we have memories of them being there.

 

 

So there’s an In-N-Out a couple blocks away… Katie was THRILLED.

 

 

We also got a chance to see Kd’s new Target (Kd and I share an abiding love for Target). She needed to pick up some snacks for a group of people watching the premier of New Girl tonight.

 

 

With my two little people… Both of them loved spending time with Kd, neither wanted to go home, and everyone loved the vibe of the college campus. Kd showed us many of her books and a sample of what a day’s homework is. Whew! She is taking a survey course of language. First she has been learning Greek; next up is Hebrew! She has history courses, art, dance…

Things I loved about the campus:

1. Professors return graded work to the student’s post office box! How neat is that??

2. Student art is everywhere… Including my cousin, there are several legitimate visual artists who attend Life. I saw some AMAZING pieces today. I get the sense that artistic expression is nourished there.

3. There is a sense that the whole person is being educated at Life… students can use private rooms to practice instruments (included inside the room!), to pray and have alone time, to meet with friends, and there is a well-equipped gym. There are also substantially large spaces dedicated to hanging out with others and studying. Relationships seem to matter there, including a relationship with one’s inner self. Very cool to see so much actual and physical space dedicated to this vision.

4. Seriously, everyone was super friendly.

Katie and Eric had a great time, and so did I. And the drive was fairly easy and not really that far from us. I hope we get a chance to visit again soon!

We celebrated our first day of Autumn 2012 on the soccer field and at Nana’s house with extended family. One of my friends went apple picking, another friend got engaged, and my dad ran twelve miles in training for his upcoming half-marathon. In a nod to the season, an otherwise warm Temecula day offered us a bit of cozy cloud cover this morning. The kiddos and I ate red pears and sweet potato bread and the merest bit of white cheddar for breakfast while watching the hot air balloons outside of our windows.

 

With my girl during half time

 

 

Taking a rest

 

Ready to play

 

 

Amie-Nani and Eric played footsie, and Eric laughed

 

 

A birthday lunch for my mom around Nana’s table! How many memories we have shared as a family right in these chairs… No matter what ever happens, there is laughter and love around this table. It is a sacred place for me. Fon made a delicious lunch for all of us, one of her Thai recipes. We sometimes have yummy Thai food at Aiyara in town, but nothing beats Fon’s cooking. She has so many layers of flavor; my mouth loves the interplay of sweet, salty, and sour. I also adore spice. So delicious.

In other EXCITING news, Aunt Debbie and Uncle Tom and Jed and Fon’s family are all getting serious about moving to Temecula within this coming year. We are over the moon about it and are already imagining blueberry patch dates, classes for the girls, classes for the boys (our girls are about the same age; so are our boys), family dinner nights, shopping dates, cooking fests… My dad has been locating possible properties, and they all might come to look at some next week. This would be a dream come true for all of us, and my mom and Aunt Debbie could finally live close to each other again. Oh it would be wonderful!! We’d be that much closer to the family compound fantasy that several of us (on both sides of my family) nurture. 😉

 

 

Eric climbed up to cuddle with Nana. He’s so sweet… he just likes to go sit with her.

 

 

Then we attempted a picture with all four great-grandchildren…

 

 

It’s the spirit of the thing…

 

 

Nana lighted my mom’s candle… So, so special that we get to celebrate my mom’s birthday with her… Nana made brownies for dessert. Eric had nearly three of them. He kept asking, “More cake! More cake!”

 

 

Everything was so festive. Katie is sitting in the spot I used to sit in when I was her age. How amazing is that? Full circle. I am so thankful for this time…

After lunch, cake, and presents, we played outside and then Aunt Debbie had a PERFECT idea! She suggested we go inside to play “Duck Duck Goose.” I haven’t played Duck Duck Goose for ages! So much fun. Several adults played as well as the kiddos. I love the idea of old-fashioned, even Victorian, parlor games at parties. Classic and lovely. Aunt Debbie and I are going to brainstorm some more parlor games to play at Christmas. Just thinking about the coziness of such old-fashioned fun gives my stomach jolts of happiness and joy and anticipation!!!

I’ve never been sure I was born in the right era, but I know I was born to the right family for me!

This week has much to look forward to with excitement. On Thursday we’re going to visit one of my cousins at her new college, have lunch, see her dorm, celebrate her life. Friday after music we might see our house hunters (if they come Friday—still to be decided), and then we have Homecoming at TVHS (my alma mater as well as the site of my professional career and home to so many of my friends, mentors, and people I adore). Saturday we have a soccer game (and we bring the snacks!), then we might see Nana again, then movie night (we actually had our movie night last night this week: Cinderella and pizza. We’re working our way through every Disney film we own in anticipation of our two days-three nights trip that is coming up at a time I can’t mention online). On Sunday we are going to the 5th birthday party of my brother’s other niece Anna. So many, many fun events to look forward to as we work through our schoolwork early this week! Oh, and of course we have the Harvest Moon on Saturday as well. Every year, we make apple strudel and go dancing in the moonlight to celebrate.

Happy First Autumn Weekend to everyone. Autumn is officially on. Time to make magic!

 

This week we reached our first milestone here at the McGaugh Academy: we have officially made it to, and through, Attendance Period/Learning Period #1! Our first five weeks were closed out on Wednesday, and we met with Mrs. G (our Education Specialist, i.e. River Springs liaison) on Thursday. We submitted our portfolio pieces and work samples to River Springs.

Five weeks in, I love the River Springs system. I love having the level of accountability they require: not too much, but not too little. I love Mrs. G, so encouraging and down to earth and knowledgable about Kindergarten. River Springs is such a great fit for us.

It has taken about five weeks to feel the benefit of our new home and learning routines. We had a really (thankfully) smooth week this week. We’ve been working out the blips, getting into our groove. This week sailed by, and we were able to include Eric so much more—which makes the learning more fun for Katie, too. I am adjusting as well… As much as I conducted preschool for Katie last year, we were not in the kind of predictable routine we’re in this year. With my personal changes also, such as adding exercise early in the morning, I truly have felt as though I am back at work. Taking care of children all day and keeping house and cooking healthy meals has always been work, so what I mean is that I have felt deeply the added pressure of more work on top of that. Let’s just say: I cannot remember the last time I watched an evening of TV, or even a single TV program, and personal time right now is a luxury. Maybe that will balance out later, but right now I doubt it! There’s too much to be done… In the past five weeks, I’ve seen a couple of movies and had a little crafting time… I do read here and there and write when I can. It’s like being back at an external job in many ways… Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having my children with me in this way, and most of all, I love that THEY have this time TOGETHER in their earliest years.

I take Katie’s education as seriously as I did when I was in my classroom with my high school students and approach Katie’s schooling with the same kind of conviction. It’s been an adjustment to acclimate to this kind of work again and the high accountability (beyond the normal accountability I always have to myself, my husband, and my kiddos). The verdict? Homeschooling is far, far from easy…but it is doable.

Mrs. G told us, in fact, that just making it to the first attendance period means that we have already defied the homeschooling odds. She gave us a statistic (which I forget now) about how many families quit and disenroll within the first month. I have certainly had some days where I have understood that feeling. As a classroom teacher, though, I know that it often takes a full month (or more!) to start feeling like the year is rolling smoothly. Time and tenacity usually take care of the kinks.

So while we’re far from old hat at this homeschooling gig, we’re feeling optimistic and comfortable as we enter our 6th week. I’m sure there will be more bumps, just as there always are in a classroom. Nothing is smooth sailing all the time. We’re working it out.

Here’s a bit of what we did this week:

 

For history this week, we studied four different folk stories including the Gingerbread Man. We have two different versions of that story at home, so we re-read them and the kiddos started off Monday morning with a gingerbread man craft.

 

Eric loves doing whatever Katie does. What a great opportunity for him to learn along with her this year…

 

On another morning, Katie and I worked on several items in the hour before Eric woke up, and then he joined us and we all made freshly squeezed orange juice to have with breakfast. How often do we get to do that in school? A few times in these past five weeks I have thought about how much Eric and I would be missing Katie if she were going to a public school this year and how much we cherish making these memories together right now. Those are the thoughts that sustain us when homeschooling feels challenging. It is difficult, but the payoffs are beautiful.

 

As part of our history sequence, we re-read The Three Bears. Katie had several writing activities with that text, also, but I made an impromptu decision during my run that morning to add something more kinesthetic for both kiddos. Before they woke up, I set up the living room to be a stage with props for a Three Bears play.

This spontaneous activity (running is great for freeing up thoughts) was probably the highlight of our homeschool week. They loved it and rehearsed it more than once and then put the play on for Amie and Boppa last night for Amie’s birthday. Eric and I played the narrators: we introduced the bears, and Eric helped move them to their appropriate chairs in the beginning. He knew right away what we were doing, and he was able to replicate the story. What a great way for him to show what he knows and to reinforce the idea of “First, next, then” as well as sorting items by size.

 

Still in the introduction, Eric helps prepare the porridge. He also had Baby Bear sniff the porridge and helped hold Mother Bear when she decided it was “too hot.” Then he helped me carry all the bears off stage for their walk in the woods.

 

Katie played Goldilocks and came on stage while Eric and I stood off stage. She was great! She made up her own lines and went through the porridge-chairs-bed sequence really well!

 

Goldilocks tries out the chairs…

 

She falls asleep in Baby Bear’s bed. Eric and I then returned on stage and had the bears assess the scene. We found Goldilocks asleep and she woke up and ran out of the house as fast as she could go!

Great fun. Having this kind of flexibility makes homeschooling fun. There are so many ways to assess real knowledge and genuine learning…

The kiddos also had a busy week with all of their extracurriculars. Eric and I have a class on Monday mornings with Mrs. Russo (and Katie hangs out and learns with Amie). Eric’s class starts with several hands-on learning centers, then circle time (shapes, colors, alphabet), then exercise, then a craft (this week we studied dogs), then snack time, and then reading time and the closing song.

On Wednesday they both have gymnastics with Coach John and his fellow coaches at the CRC.

Katie has soccer practice on Wednesday nights (and games Saturday). Eric and I go hang out, watch Katie practice, and talk with other mothers and siblings.

They both have music class on Fridays with Miss Kara. We love our music class friends.

 

Here is a picture from gymnastics this week: Katie and Coach John are laughing together (Eric is behind Katie). He is so GREAT with the kiddos. I think of all the people who have been instructors in my children’s young lives. Mrs. Russo (whom Katie had also), Miss Kara, Coach John—all familiar teachers who have, in many cases, been with us consistently or off and on for YEARS at this point. Now Katie has her soccer coaches, as well, who are teaching her. In October, we have our first event with other homeschooling families and all the ES’s…and we can’t wait to meet them. In a way, we have cobbled together our own little school: we learn at home primarily, but we have relationships with so many other adults and children. We’re lucky, too, to live in a community with a strong homeschooling population and to live in a city that offers amazing community classes and programs for all ages. The McGaugh Academy is made by a team all over town.

I am excited for our next five weeks. We have some cozy lit coming up, and everything about autumn lends itself to fun teaching and crafting!

 

Today marked the start of my mom’s birthday week! We began our celebrations with a family dinner tonight so that David and Ashley could make the trip from Culver City on a weekend day. On Thursday, my mom’s actual birthday, I think we’ll take her out for frozen yogurt at Golden Spoon and/or make a special outing in the late afternoon. On Saturday, we will celebrate with Nana (my mom’s mom) after Katie’s soccer game.

The kiddos have been excited about Amie-Nani’s birthday party for days.

 

Katie helped to decorate the dining room and set the formal table yesterday.

 

Setting out the silver…

 

This morning we made apple-themed cards for Amie-Nani and baked her birthday cake. Eric was able to help much more this year with the baking of the cake, and I love that I can pass the recipe to both of my children. I have made this version of a chocolate cake for eighteen years for my mom’s birthday, since I was fourteen. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a birthday. Even when I was in college, we’d celebrate before Stanford started the fall term. (In fact, I wrote about this particular cake for one of the mini-essays on the Stanford application).

 

Two little stirring people!

 

Best part? Tasting the batter!

 

 

Dinner: pork schnitzel with walnut-sage pesto; cornbread-apple-fresh thyme dressing; homemade applesauce, served chilled; mashed yams with milk and brown sugar; brussel sprouts roasted with golden raisins, olive oil, and salt. This is my version of a festive autumn meal! Katie and I were able to make four components yesterday during Eric’s nap, so that helped!

 

 

Amie-Nani looks at her apple cards…

 

Opening presents… We found this beautiful retro-looking red paper with vintage cake stands (and cakes) on it that matched our autumn-and-apples theme.

 

Katie always helps to put the candles on her Amie-Nani’s birthday cake.

 

Eric wanted to add a nice straw…

 

Our table before the party… Katie made the party favors on the plates and was so proud! We used paper baskets, and she put construction paper maple leaves and a wrapped chocolate in each.

 

With my favorite little girl…

 

Mr. Eric sips his sparkling apple cider.

 

Applesauce for Eric!

 

Happy Birthday, Mom!

 

I think I was chewing…

 

Dinner conversation…

 

The beginning of all our fall celebrations…

 

Why hello there, Katie’s face!

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” 

-Martin Luther

The rub of it is this: we know that nothing lasts. Our lives here are transient, fleeting. Our sun will expand. Our human nature evolves slowly. There are many reasons why we should not bother to plant our trees, and if we buy into those reasons, the only logical outcome is to become a cynical nihilist. Jaded. Out to critique. Feeling and giving no compassion to anyone, anywhere.

I could see that bleak horizon in my early 20s, pressed up close to human nature in my dorms and co-ops, taking university philosophy classes and biology classes, history classes and of course English classes. We are heavy with knowledge in college, until we figure out with maturity (it is to be hoped) how to sort that knowledge. Where do we put it? How do we use it? For good or for ill?

Do we become a voice that seeks to uplift? Or do we use knowledge to tear down? How do we put our knowledge in the proper perspective? How do we ensure that we make room for all else that life will teach us?

We have (some) choices to make about how to use and direct our energy. Snarky? Edifying? We have about 100 years to wield that energy semi-directly. Then we’re done, and we leave only ripples behind us when we go. What ripples are we leaving? We can’t always know, but we can try to pull them along for a moment.

And so, one day we’re standing in our dorm room looking out at the trees and bicyclists below, pondering our future. We have been crying off and on in our junior year, not feeling like we’re achieving success as defined by all the shallow things that tend to define it. We put pressure on ourselves like no one knows we do. We know we won’t be famous. We’re quieter and more humble in our ambitions than that, we’ve realized. We will be lucky if we write something truly capable one day—and we have no real ideas. We have spent three years and all our lives wondering how to be a “good” person and how to do the most good. We have seen our ideals challenged until they are black and blue (no, the co-ops teach us, utopias in which everyone thinks about each other, loves, and works for the mutual good of everyone else probably are not truly possible).

And at that moment we realize: we need to teach. To educate. To go toward the Family, and work from the inside  outward. We start our ripples where we know. We can be a decent person in any town, in any place…the point is to start with Love. We choose, at that moment, to live looking for the good in everyone while keeping our own flaws in the front of our mind. We choose to use our knowledge well: to know how far we ourselves are from perfection, and to celebrate humbly the quiet moments, the beauty in the natural world around us, and all that is glorious in a species that has no choice but to continue to learn and to better itself.

Life had more to teach me in my later twenties, and the creed by which I live would be further refined through fire, but it is strong. Start with Family, seek Love, look for the Good. Or something like that.

Alice Walker wrote it better in The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

I’m not usually an expletive person, but this works. Sorry for my other readers who aren’t expletive people. For my agnostic or atheistic family and friends, don’t be distracted by the reference to God in this either. Just think about what she’s really saying…

The most beautiful part of life, I think, is that we have a chance every day to make and to affect meaning. We can make meaning in everything we do. Our narrative is ours. Well, partly. What words will we choose to write it? What deliberate words will we put out into the world to make ripples? How will we use our body to generate language? How do we connect to separate times together? What will we choose for symbolism? What actions become literary devices? Yes, I really think about this. Crazy.

Today was my Uncle Eric’s birthday. He’s my Eric’s namesake. The circumstances of his death are the things I sometimes cry about when I am holding my children and singing. No, I don’t always cry when I am singing to them, just occasionally when I’m really thinking about what Life is. How happiness and pain, loyalty and loneliness, and memories and missed opportunities are so entwined.

Both of my children have family namesakes. Katie June is named after her great-grandmother June (Julia) Mitchell (and also shares her first name with her great-great grandmother on the Yoder side).

Name Day is an old world tradition celebrating the birthday of the saint after whom you were named. In our family, we named our children after family members and we celebrate our own version of Name Day. There is a special cake associate with Name Day, a gugelhupf, or Name Day cake. We made our gugelhupf yesterday to honor Eric’s namesake’s birthday today:

 

We spent the day with Nana, celebrating her son and missing him:

 

 

Katie also had her first soccer game early this morning. Go, Green Rockets! I love my hometown and I love raising my children here, for many reasons: chief among those reasons is that we are able to use a sense of place to build continuity in their shared family history. Where Katie played soccer today I have played soccer and practiced soccer. The scent of the autumn grass at her evening practice on those fields on Wednesday was the same as the scent years ago when I played with my teammates and friends. Her Uncle David also practiced and played on those fields. History. Meaning. Shared spaces. Tradition. Full-circle.

 

Katie is on the left in mid-run (in the picture above).

 

My parents are awesome grandparents. They both came to the early game and helped cheer Katie on. My mom dressed in green, too. Love it.

 

 

One of our coaches, at the end of the game. The game was sweet and hilarious at parts, since they all clump up around the ball at that age. But it is so much about just staying super positive and giving them a love for the game. And maybe they will learn a thing or two about soccer, too. Watching, though? I had the biggest desire to put on my cleats again and play. I loved soccer. I know there are adult leagues…hmmm…

And finally, here is a picture from Monday’s Labor Day party with the Matics-Lambert-Horne-Booth clan:

This is my beautiful cousin Beth and her new daughter Chelsea. Chelsea took her first swim on Monday, and we all flocked around to watch. That’s one of the many traits I love about my family and extended family: we’re enthusiastic for each other. There is a sense that one person’s joy is joy for everyone. We love to see ourselves increasing, too, as we add more family members.

Family love is my apple tree.