You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.

As I turn 33-years-old, I am so thankful for my family and my friends who truly make this life so beautiful. My mom used to say that she loved her 30s, and I am finding the same to be true. These are good years, full of a sense of purpose and the creation of deeper bonds with those I love, whether those lives have been entwined with mine for quite some time or are new (I am thinking here of new friends and new family babies). I am thankful for the chance to work on my health this past year and for the support and encouragement of my husband, parents, and friends as I have started an exercise regimen and changed my relationship with food and returned to the way I felt physically and mentally during my teaching years. I end this year feeling that I have back a part of myself from which I had been estranged for awhile. That is a good feeling.

Year 32 was a year full of adventure: zip-lining in Hawaii, traveling across eighteen states on a road trip back and forth from a dear friend’s Indian wedding, teaching Kindergarten to my Katie, playing in the snow for Valentine’s Day, crying at the Gettysburg memorial, standing on the corner for awhile in Winslow, AZ, playing soccer by the Mississippi River, receiving my first henna, learning to cook in healthy and life-sustaining ways, keeping up with my two-year-old, writing and receiving handwritten letters, cheering Katie on for her first season of soccer, and more. There was also the adventure of forging new friendships (one of my new and lovely friends Erin is having her fourth baby today!!!) and nurturing lifelong ones.

I started this morning with a run (just a 2.5 miler). I ran yesterday, too, and usually skip every other day…although the more I run, the more I want to run everyday. When I thought about what gift I wanted to give myself for my birthday it was the gift of running and what it symbolizes for me. Freedom. Health. The chance to be around for my husband and kiddos for a long time. Liking my clothes and my body. Confidence. Mental happiness. If someone had told me back in May (when I first started to change my lifestyle) that I would wake up on my birthday and want to run, I would have looked at that person like he or she was crazy. All of my life, I have viewed exercise as work…something we’re able to skip as a treat on special days. Now I view it as the treat and reward itself. I loved my run this morning. Freedom. Power. I did a big hill that I used to do on runs only with my mom in high school. It felt good.


One of the first sweet birthday messages I received today was from our friend Noreen. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to teach her son Max, and she works as a Campus Supe at TVHS. Her daughter Alex had my husband for class and we share an university alma mater. What I love so much about Noreen is that she makes everything she does into something fun, and event, and has a magical quality in her: everything she does says how much she loves to be alive. She also always seems to be doing something nice for someone—today I was on the receiving end of her thoughtfulness! Noreen sent me a gift through Facebook—how cool is that? I’ve never tried that, but I will now! Her gift was a certificate to Starbucks. The really serendipitous part? I had made a plan for the morning that would connect perfectly to using the certificate…


…and that plan involved taking a walk along main streets near our house (streets on the path to the nearest Starbucks, as it turns out) to pick up some trash. We did use tongs. A few months ago, I viewed an inspirational video made by a young man who did 22 acts of kindness for his 22nd birthday.

I started out equally ambitious (33 for 33!), and then I saw all the creative ways that some of my friends came up with for implementing the birthday-acts-of-kindness idea. My friend Kelsey started a virtual birthday party on Facebook for her 22nd birthday in November, and invited several of us to attend it virtually. Our present and participation was to do something nice for someone else, take a picture of the act or somehow document it, and upload it to the Facebook group or hashtag it on Instagram. I loved Kelsey’s implementation and how it involved everyone. What a great idea for a birthday party!

My friend Donna also spent her birthday in service through a women’s group of which she is part. What a gift from life to be able to spend your birthday at an event helping others! Inspirational.

My friend Lauren also had a good suggestion: Why not try for 33 events during the year (above and beyond what we might normally do) and have an inaugural event on my actual birthday? Especially around Christmas, we’re doing so much charity and so many people are benefitting right now from all good works—it might be better to spread out some of those acts of kindness throughout the year.

I like this suggestion.

Also, my mom had a good point, too: kindness and goodness is sometimes most effective when it is anonymous and seeks no particular attention. I do agree and in fact, I do most of my philanthropy in just that way. Still, I also view acts as having potential symbolic weight… I wanted to engage in an act on my birthday that would symbolize how I want to live my next year. As I continue to shape who I am and what I stand for, I think that choosing actions and making them symbolic pledges to an ideal helps to keep me focused on purpose.

So, a walk to pick up trash it was!


Both Katie and Eric ended up really enjoying themselves. At first, Katie resisted, explaining that what people should do on their birthdays is just receive gifts and parties… Which is why it then became a moral issue for me as a mother to teach my children about having a heart for community service. If she represents a five-year-old’s way of thinking, then thank goodness I am turning thirty-three!  I am tempted to make trash pick-up a new tradition on all of our birthdays. 😉

As we walked along, however, Katie came around to it. We talked about how important it is that our birth somehow leaves the world a better, nicer, and more gentle place. We’re not born to be “in it for ourselves.”

She also really loved the hunting-for-treasure aspect of collecting the trash. If anything, it was an important example of how we can use our imaginations and mind to make work into play.


Katie took this picture, showing our two bags of trash collected in less than a mile of walking down the street. TWO BAGS! It might be tempting to get down about humanity on my birthday, but I won’t choose to go there in my mind today… The important thing is to live up to our ideals.


Then we did treat ourselves (life is a balance of care for others, care for our world, care for ourselves) using Noreen’s amazingly sweet gift! Eric enjoys his Starbucks scone!


Then we walked home, and we asked Bill if the four of us could all go to the park to play (my birthday tradition). I love making memories as a family!


Playing with my girl at the park!


There are a million reasons why I love Rancho Dental and Dr. Perry…including the fact that they send me a birthday greeting in my e-mail! And yes, I will be “seeing them soon” LOL!


Then I got another e-mail. My husband’s birthday gift to me was to make a donation to Common Threads, an organization that teaches low-income children to cook healthy and wholesome meals (and affordable) to lower the rate of childhood obesity while teaching how to connect to all cultures through food and nutrition.

My Bill knows me so well…

I have written this after reading to Katie and while watching High Noon, one of my favorite films. Now my mom is here for a dinner celebration: she is making French onion soup, salad, and a spice cake with maple icing. I love that she gives me the choice of whatever birthday dinner I wish for each year. My dad will join us shortly.

It has been a lovely birthday so far, and I am so grateful for everyone who has sent me a birthday wish! Time to be festive and eat my favorite soup!

We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, or time to gather with friends and family during the many winter celebrations that celebrate the triumph of light over the darkness.



McGaugh family Christmas, on December 21st



The McGaugh brothers: Bill, Chet, Seth, and Patrick



Christmas Eve morning: K and E hear a story about panettone, eat panettone, and receive their annual ornaments. This year Katie received a lamppost engraved with her name to commemorate our reading of The Chronicles of Narnia; Eric got a Winnie-the-Pooh riding a rocking horse.



Christmas Eve morning: preparing our reindeer food to scatter on the lawn before leaving for dinner



Christmas Eve: festive family photo attempt, take #1



Festive family photo, take #2



Katie and Eric before dinner at The Ritz in Newport Beach



(A little out of order) Christmas morning at my mom and dad’s house. The stockings were fun! My dad gave us a book on the secret life of seeds with beautiful magnified pictures of seeds—so neat! My mom gave us za’atar (one of my favorite spices, though a challenge to find in the store—but Williams-Sonoma carries it) as well as Vietnamese cinnamon. LOVE my good spices!



Beautiful cousins: Violet and Katie during Christmas Eve dinner



Katie chose the classic Christmas goose with lingonberry sauce, sweet and sour red cabbage, and mashed potatoes. I chose the same! She ate almost all of my goose last year, so we knew what to do this year!



Christmas morning at mom and dad’s.



Opening an amazing present from my sister-in-law: a literary places sign post for the yard! Each sign (to be affixed to a large pole) points to somewhere different: Green Gables, Thornfield Hall, Mr. McGregor’s Garden, the Shire, Hogwarts, etc. She made one for all of our favorite literary places. This present is so meaningful to me! After I get it put up in the yard, there will be more pictures. Amazing gift of time, care, and effort!



Walking back to the table with Eric on Christmas Eve after he greeted the carolers.



Christmas dinner at Nana’s house! After dinner, the kiddos bathed in sugar plum fairy bubbles (thanks, Erin!!!!) in Nana’s tub, and put on their jammies for special Nana Christmas cuddles. Memories.

with eric


A favorite, special moment on Christmas Day…didn’t know Bill was taking this picture at the time, and so glad he did. Eric and I were having a sweet moment putting our heads together and expressing our love. I was telling him how much I love him and was breathing that child’s essence right in… In a day full of blessings, this moment is pressed forever to my heart.



The holly and the ivy on Christmas Eve. (I cropped off my head because my eyes were closed, but Katie looks cute)!



My mom makes a most delicious Christmas breakfast every year!



Eric received a toy chainsaw from Amie-Nani and Boppa this year. He carried it around all day and trimmed Nana’s hedges. 😉



Playing with a soft football with the cousins at Nana’s house!

sanchez family


And the day before Christmas Eve, we had a very special visit from one of my favorite people—Erin Sanchez—and her parents and her boyfriend Erik. They gifted us with absolutely delicious cookies, which we proceeded to gobble! Of all the many people for which I am thankful, the Sanchez family (including Erin’s sister Lauren and brother Patrick) are especially dear to me. Such a good, solid, decent group of people who love each other… And as Erin’s mom Linda said, the best gifts at Christmas are the gifts of making time for one another. Such a treat to see them! And congratulations to Erin for her recent placement as a DOU nurse at Huntington Hospital!

I usually “take Christmas down” either the 26th or the 27th, but I am finding myself slow to get to it this year. We’ve been playing with our new toys and cuddling. As sad as I always am the few days before Christmas that it will all end soon, usually a switch flips on Christmas night and I am so ready to reorganize my house. I guess I just feel like clinging on to the Christmas magic a little longer this year before it ends…



I find myself revisiting William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and  of Experience tonight. Do you know this dual collection of poems? He is one of my favorite Romantic poets. Each of his poems in the “innocence” collection has a corresponding poem in the “experience” collection, and they were originally illustrated by Blake himself. In these poems he explores the condition of an innocent childhood, later lost to the awareness of harsh world and a fallen human nature.

Although part of me finds comfort in the study of neuroscience and behavioral biology, and although I love to ponder time and space and physics, when I am faced with events I fear I cannot handle or begin to process, I turn to my literature. I sometimes forget why I majored in English, and then I remember: When I am hurting and my mind starts to recede into the darkness, there in my favorite books and poems are the words of friends and thinkers, words that allow my own words to breathe. My essence suddenly finds an anchor in the expanse. Across time, I am connected with friends who felt what I feel: authors I will never meet, but who feel like intimates. Literature reminds us: we are never alone, never stranded in our feelings, our questions, our heartaches, or our joys.

My friend Erin gave me a gift last night of a passage from The Diary of Anne Frank. The content of the quote was immediately soothing unto itself; it was the method of delivery—a passage from a book—that had an even greater effect. Go into the words that have become part of your soul, I was reminded, and let them help work out your emotion. And so I did. I reread parts of Catcher in the Rye this afternoon, and cried thoroughly. (I understand Holden just a little too well, I fear. He would be, perhaps, one of the last characters some might assume I would identify with, and yet I have more in common with him than I do with many of my other literary friends).

Blake’s poetry, too, gives context to the journey my mind is on right now:

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did He smile His work to see?

Did He who made the lamb make thee?”

(From “The Tyger,” Songs of Experience)

Contrasted with its companion poem in Songs of Innocence, “The Lamb,” this poem reveals how complicated is the question of the presence of evil. How can such horror coexist with all the goodness that is also part of this universe? And how do we know for sure which is which?

Catcher in the Rye asks the same question, essentially.

Those who find this book unappealing usually don’t like Holden’s initial negativity or cussing, and some of the exposition can seem meandering. Holden positions himself as an unreliable narrator: “I am the most terrific liar you ever saw.” (Which, interestingly, is in direct opposition to Fitzgerald’s narrator Nick Carraway: “I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.” Oh how I love thinking about Catcher and Gatsby together—they are two sides of the same thematic coin: alientation, loss of innocence, loss of the ideal, etc). So we know Holden is unstable. To me, that gives nuance to the novel’s thematic lessons: Salinger, through Holden, draws our attention to the instability of creating personal or fictional narratives. Why should we, as audience or reader, trust the narratives of another?

The whole telos and mystery of the novel is this: why is Holden unstable? Why has he been kicked out of so many schools? Why does he feel “lousy” and “crumby?” Why does his head hurt so much?

We learn quickly enough that Holden’s little brother died in the recent past. That begins to explain some of Holden’s behaviors, but it doesn’t quite reveal Holden’s full psychology. Patient readers have to wait until the end to discover all of the layers about this character. I love that Salinger prolongs the revelation of crucial information. In the last few pages, we realize that Holden’s whole narrative has been given to us from a mental institution—that he has gone insane, by someone’s standards, although he insists that he is not crazy to feel the way he does about humanity.

Salinger’s brilliance is to put his readers in the role of psychoanalyst, and my first desire upon reaching the end was to re-read the book from start to finish again, now knowing what I knew about Holden’s location.

Is Holden crazy? Or is he more sane than all of us? He goes to meet his little sister, Phoebe, at her school, and when he does, he sees graffiti on the wall (omission of the full curse word is my notation):

“But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written’F— you’ on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them—all cockeyed, naturally—what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days…”

Holden goes on to say that he wishes he could punish the creep who wrote the slur or even rub it off with his own hand, but he finds himself gutless to do either—and this makes him feel, in his own words, depressed.

Shortly thereafter, he goes to a museum and has a similar experience:

“I was the only one left in the tomb then. I sort of liked it, in a way. It was so nice and peaceful. Then, all of a sudden, you’d never guess what I saw on the wall. Another ‘F— you.’ It was written with a red crayon or something…. That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write ‘F— you.'”

So is Holden insane? Or is he right to feel depressed about human nature? He is probably the most pure character in the novel, and this is one reason why he suffers from alienation. We, being acculturated to the world around us, view Holden as extremely troubled in the beginning of the novel—but is Salinger making the point that, by expecting Holden to start fitting in a little more, we are the ones who are most troubled?

Phoebe asks Holden what he wants to be when he grows up. Holden misremembers a line from a Robert Burns poem:

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,’ I said. Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff….That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Holden wishes he could spare children “the fall”—the loss of their innocence. He wants to preserve purity in the world, but he knows he cannot. He begins to think like the rest of us: that he is crazy. In a media driven culture that glorifies violence and heartache, maybe he is crazy. Or is he? Salinger criticizes the baseness of human nature very roundly here. We’re willing to lock Holden in a mental institution because he expects more of human nature than we can ever give him. He wants to save innocence from the intrusions of those who would seek to corrupt it, but like he discovers with being unable to rub out the graffiti on the wall, he is not powerful or courageous enough to do so. Society is too strong; the expectations of conformity weaken and condemn him.

So how do we fight against the loss of innocence? How do we catch ourselves before the fall? How do we gaze upon the “fearful symmetry” and still believe that everything will turn out for the good?

Tonight I am strong enough again to ask how. Yesterday I kept asking why. Why why why…despite having recently encouraged someone I love very dearly (who is having a hard time) to forgo asking why, as if the events that come to us can be negotiated, and to move toward the how: how can I meet these events with goodness, justness, and sense of what is pure and lovely?

Maybe here is a start:


“That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

With love,





“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”

~ Desiderius Erasmus

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

~ Edith Wharton

Long before I had children I was looking through recipes one day and came across a bread that was part of the St. Lucia tradition. Celebrated primarily in Sweden, Norway, and some other Scandinavian countries on December 13th, St. Lucia’s Day dedicates its festivities to Saint Lucy and emphasizes the triumph of light and truth over dark and evil forces. Descended from the Norwegians (on Nana’s side), I’ve longed to participate in this tradition for many a year now, though it has always seemed that we have events on or around December 13th (usually a family Christmas party) and so every year since Katie’s birth I have found myself unprepared. This year, finally, we found the circumstances just right: the family party is next week, our history curriculum involves studying winter holidays around the world (which we have been doing since last week—we made a dreidel!!!—and which gave us instructions for making a St. Lucia crown), and Katie was old enough to enjoy her role (the eldest daughter dresses up as St. Lucia and serves special bread to family members).



The daughters dress up in white dresses with red sashes on St. Lucia Day. Fortunately Katie’s Christmas dress from a couple years ago fit her still, and we added a red sash today. We made her St. Lucia crown this morning. This link will take you to an external site that I believe our River Springs lesson plans must have linked to for the crown instructions—since this appears to be exactly what we did! Eric got involved, too, in making headware for himself and in helping to put glitter on the candle flames.



“This little light of mine/I’m going to let it shine…”



The kiddos spent all day off and on making our Lucia bread. It is supposed to be made and served in the morning, but when you’re in the middle of homeschooling with two students age five and under, I say it is a win that it was even ready to go by this evening! They had fun, though, going through the process.



Our St. Lucia with one of our (battery-operated) remembrance candles.




Our braided St. Lucia bread, with orange icing and cranberries, and decorated with big lighted candles. Festive!


I am no photographer and this came out fuzzy, but it captures the spirit of the sharing of the bread with my parents. I’m thinking this is going to be an annual event. And I didn’t know this until today: my Aunt Jen and Aunt Anna also celebrate St. Lucia’s Day with pfeffernusse and John Donne’s “Riding Westward.” Does anyone else I know out there celebrate this day, too?

Other than that…


On Monday we had our mandatory P1 attendance reporting for River Springs. We used to do this at the high school, too, and it’s no biggie but I am used to it taking a bit more time. We really lucked out, though, because our ES was stationed to meet all her parents/teachers at the Starbucks just down the street and around the corner from our house. We printed out attendance, put on our walking shoes, and headed out for a lovely morning walk to the coffee shop. We met briefly with Stephanie (she is beautifully efficient and supportive at the same time—it takes true skill to be both, so I really appreciate this), picked up peppermint cake pops and a decaf gingerbread latte for me, and sat outside playing by the fountain and taking in the morning. P1 doesn’t get better than that!

Trata escapades:



He dressed up as Holiday Barbie…



He perched on the ledge with our bird guide pamphlet and did a little bird watching.


He hid in a poinsettia (thanks, Emma J., for the idea)!!

Last night we went to the annual Valley Winds Christmas singalong concert:





(I tried to fix their glowing eyes, and the picture turned out even creepier…oh well)!!



More creepiness in the eyeballs…just don’t look too closely.



Eric, who is really, really, really into Christmas this year, turned the shopping cart into “my sleigh.” He was pretending to be Santa this morning, and Katie was an elf.

Let the light prevail…

Recently a college friend of mine happened to ask his Facebook friend list for our least favorite words. Enamored as I am of all languages, I do have many. My submission for this particular question happened to be “literally”—primarily for its overuse to the point of absurdity. Other offerings from friends included “irregardless,” which I loathe, too, for the fact that it is not actually—literally!!!—a word. Someone else skewered “moist” which, coincidentally, a former student and now friend had mentioned with disdain a few days previously. I’ve never minded the word “moist” myself, although I do see why it might be problematic.

His was my favorite thread for days. A question like that stays with me for awhile. Probing our least favorite words, or our least favorite anything, reveals much about us. What seems like such a simple question evolves quickly to philosophical and psychological litmus testing.

In truth, one of my long-standing least favorite words is “overachiever” and it has been for many years. I saw it again just the other day, cast about in something I was reading online, and—of course—used incorrectly. I certainly have used it to describe myself, mostly in an effort to be humorously self-denigrating when I have thought it might serve a social situation well; although this is a practice I will not be likely to repeat. Whenever my husband has caught me using that about myself to brush off an accomplishment, he always speaks up for me and reminds me to celebrate what I do and who I am. “Overachiever” does, in fact, have a use, particularly in the field of education. In the strictest sense, an overachiever is one who is attaining better academic grades than would have been indicated by aptitude tests (sometimes given in relation to an IEP—and remember, an IEP can be written for GATE, too). Similarly, an underachiever is one who obtains lower academic grades than would have been indicated by an IQ test. It has to do with standard deviations and probability.

Very few students, strictly speaking, are either underachievers or overachievers. While “underachiever” may be an easier concept to understand (imagine that GATE student who is making all Fs—yes, that happens), finding a true “overachiever” is much more difficult to do. How is success measured? Are grades inflated, absolute, curved…or what? And the basic logical question: if a standard is set, and a student achieves it (even if they were predicted not to by some IQ test), who is to say that student “over” achieved? They just…achieved. I am sure there are many more people—people who actually study statistics and psychometrics—who could speak more comprehensively about this than I could. I just know that, as a teacher who taught all ranges and ability-levels, I witnessed some amazing moments in my classroom: the kind of moments in which young people realize that they may be capable of more than what they thought they were, triumphant moments. A teacher who believes in us can get things out of us that we might not ever have dreamed. (Yes, I am far and away much more schmaltzy/idealistic of a teacher in some ways than my husband, who probably just read that last sentence and thought, what the heck to himself—hi, honey!).

So “overachiever” is one of those words people like to throw around, usually in an effort to 1) minimize accomplishment or 2) explain away the need for hard work. Just as with the words “nerd” or “geek,” some people who have been categorized as “overachievers” don’t mind commandeering the word in order to transform it into a compliment of sorts. Yet—call me a curmudgeon—I don’t see “overachiever” as any kind of positive word. I am reminded, too, of a favorite teacher and mentor of mine who once shared her dislike of the word “tolerate.” Prior to her bringing it up, I always thought of “toleration” as an ideal; when she explained the way she saw it, however, I understood: when we tolerate someone, we might somehow be implying that we are so above that person. I still think about this, and to this day, I use that word very sparingly and only within a certain set of circumstances. Once you see a word for what it implies, it is difficult to unsee it.

If one person describes someone else as an “overachiever” it is the very opposite of celebrating accomplishment. That label, to me, implies: you did way more than you had to do or should have done, so your work was wasted and silly. My first question is, who sets the standard for how much work is enough? Should we ever be content to rest on our laurels, or not put every ounce of ourselves into a project, idea, or plan? Should we strive only for a so-so version of ourselves?

Note: I did not write, Should we strive only for the so-so? Achievement is never about comparing ourselves to anyone else; achievement is about comparing our personal best to our next personal best. Competition has specific places: sports, academic teams (Mock Trial, speech competitions, etc), the marketplace. We do not need to be worried about besting our neighbor, the mother at the park, the driver in the next lane, or the student in front of us in the lecture hall. As long as we’re doing our best, that is enough. We will never connect with others on an authentic level if we’re preoccupied with beating them at competitions that are not real. This is what Bill and I teach our children, and we try to live it, too. Someone once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I fully submit to this as my life philosophy. It is one of the reasons I have big wooden letters on my family room wall that spell out J-O-Y. Joy is something we make or absorb as life’s gift through hard work and being kind to others. Joy cannot be won. I think as soon as we compete for joy, we’ll never find it.

The word “overachiever” connotes comparisons, the very kind of comparisons I eschew. Underlying the use of that word is insecurity: if we use it about others, we are insecure about what they achieved and seek to make it less significant or useless; if we use that word about ourselves, it is at best a poor attempt at the humblebrag and at worst a sign of lack of personal confidence that our achievement means something.

I believe that achievement, whether in others or in myself, is always to be celebrated because most achievement comes only from hard work. Hard work is a beautiful ideal, and I love it in anyone. When I meet alchemists who manage to do 30 hours of work in a 24 hour day, I feel true admiration and inspiration.  I’d rather be known as a hard worker than known as just about anything else, except as being kind and fair-minded to others. I’d rather be hard working than beautiful, and I’d rather be hard working than genius. Hard work builds our families, our communities, our societies, our world.

But an overachiever? No, that’s not what I am. It is a word I wish writers and speakers thought about more carefully before employing. Think about what it implies, what the function of that word’s use is meant to be. I might use “nerd” and “geek” with relish, but not a word that looks down on hard work.

What do you think the worst word is?

Carols and cuddles. Friends and fancies. Pomanders and popcorn. Leaves and Ebenezer. A silly elf…

christmas babies 2

Every night: cuddles, Christmas stories, and carols by the light of their room trees. I love these two so much…sometimes I am staggered by the gratitude I feel at having been meant to be their mother.

zipline elf

Trata made a party in the kitchen and went ziplining.


Katie and Eric wanted to keep the crepe paper up all day—they were delighted in the magic of it.

popcorn garland

Making popcorn garland for our kitchen tree



Diligent garland maker


Making pomanders…smells so good!


Together with the Bergons, making graham cracker houses. Thank you, again, Lauren, for making the houses in advance. What a fun decorating party!


The scene, shortly after our kiddos went off to play…


Eric in the Bergon’s glorious pile of leaves


Making cookies: neopolitans, Mexican hot chocolate cookies, oatmeal-cranberry-hazelnut-white-chocolate, and ginger crinkles

Bill and I also took the kiddos on a family date this weekend to see A Christmas Carol: the Musical at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater.



Eric meets Scrooge at the end of the production



Katie was THRILLED to meet Scrooge (one of her favorite characters for three years now). This actor was an EXCELLENT Scrooge. Marley and Fezziwig were also notably amazing this time around.



A huge hug for Scrooge.



Listening to the Christmas carolers during intermission



Eric and Daddy before the show






Family Photo #1



Family Photo #2



With our little people before our date

homework elf


And one more for the elf: he was found doing Katie’s homework one morning! Helpful little guy!

There’s so much magic afoot this time of year…

elf bath

Trata, our elf, was caught one morning taking a bubble bath. I love Katie’s delighted expression in the mirror. She was an elf-skeptic when our adventure began with Trata (Eric’s name for him) this year, but she has let the magic wash over her now.

elf muffins

Trata surprised everyone this morning with batter for cinnamon-chocolate chip muffins. It takes only a few minutes to put together a muffin batter (in fact, I should do this before bed more often), and the payoff was huge with Katie and Eric. This may have been their favorite so far… Trata has also been found playing Candy Land with one of the Holiday Barbies and a stuffed reindeer, sleeping in a Santa hat under our tree, and a couple of other scenarios. I am having so much fun thinking about what he will do next and trying to be creative with him!

homeschool park days

Developing friendships during homeschooling park day this week… Katie loves this time. She played with friends for two hours straight, not at all concerned about what I was doing or where I was. Eric requires more watching, though he does follow his sister around and exercises some independence while I get to know the other moms. We had so many laughs this week, and that was much needed.


Decorating our tree on December 1st.


We had my parents over for dinner on Christmas Tree Day. We always make lasagna (Christmas colors!!), bread, salad, and boiled cookies.


Picking out our tree…


My little supermarket helpers


The repeating layers of lasagna are GREAT for young cooks. Here, Katie is dolloping the ricotta. She put this vegetarian lasagna together herself, with minimal guidance. (I did prep the mushrooms and made the sauce, though she helped pick our basil for the sauce).


A couple years in, and our homemade “tree forest” advent calendar is still going strong and holding up to use. We made this forest back in 2010; here are the directions from another site. I put two Hershey kisses under each cone. Katie lifts all the odd numbers; Eric has the evens this year. They love the dark chocolate first thing in the morning—must be Christmastime!!


Lights on a grey afternoon…


We went over to my mom and dad’s house and helped them decorate their tree, too. I love seeing all of our favorite ornaments each year. So festive.


Another elf pic! Here, Trata was fishing for goldfish crackers with a candy cane fishing pole and a Hershey kiss on the end as bait. To be fair, I have seen variations on this over the years, though I did add my own twists on it. The kiddos thought it was a hoot.

on a walk

On a walk this morning to the corner store to pick up candy for graham cracker house decorating tomorrow with our Bergon ladies! Eric wanted to wear this hat (from a stuffed animal) and put it on himself. So sweet.

stocking craft

Katie has been working on stocking-themed items this week (just here and there, not like a big unit or anything—not sure how I could make a big unit out of stockings, LOL!!). She has been working on addition of digits under 10, and I found one of those worksheets where you work all the sums, color each section according to the number, and reveal a picture—in this case, it revealed a stocking. For some history and ELA, we read (actually, she read with just a few assists) an essay about the legend of hanging stockings and answered reading comp questions. To involve Eric, I found a stocking template online, cut out some red construction paper stockings, broke out the cotton balls and glitter—and they went to town. Fun, easy, and the customers were quite satisfied long enough for me to clean up the lunch dishes. I love that they can do some work together and learn from each other, a definite perk to homeschooling.

We had Monday off from school, technically per the River Springs calendar, but we did a full session to make room on Tuesday to go visit Nana with my mom and Aunt Debbie. We all love to go to the market with Nana: Eric loves to ride with her in her cart, and I have fun seeing what she buys. After eating our lunches back at her house, we usually all go to visit Great-Great-Uncle Ross. The kiddos are growing more and more used to the nursing home and how to behave there. I bring things for them to do, though sometimes they really like visiting or looking at things, especially Eric. We are grateful to have a schooling schedule and the freedom that allows us to do this. We are grateful that our children get to experience social learning in a real environment: i.e. what is life like as we get older, and how do we relate to our elders? What traits in our human nature connect us across generations? What is the essence of love and duty and respect? When I am asked, as homeschoolers often are (at least I have personally been asked quite frequently), about how I “socialize” my children, one of my first thoughts is that all of their social interaction takes place in the very real world with all social dynamics in a realistic context.

The kiddos are so lucky to have so many opportunities to make friends their age, and we see peer friends sometimes several times a week. We play on teams, practice sports and music, meet for crafts, park time, and more. We attend museums, see live theater performances, and make conversation with clerks in stores. My children have different personalities from one another, one more introverted (like me and Bill) and one more extroverted. But this is a difference of personality and not a difference of skill set. Social protocols, manners, and cues can all be taught. Bill and I are both introverts who managed classrooms and helped to manage whole departments at a large high school. Introversion/extroversion really has very little to do (Bill and I have read up on this) with social skills or the very ponderous, unwieldy, what-do-people-mean-exactly-when-they-use-it-term “socialization.” I just consider myself to be the lucky teacher who gets to teach them the social skill set, as well as their mother. As a homeschooling family, we just choose to divide social time (at the McGaugh Academy) a bit more sharply from our academic time than we might otherwise find taking place in a traditional school setting. Homeschoolers with co-op arrangements no doubt feel even differently than I do. At the McGaugh Academy we teach our children their academics, and then we also take them into real life settings and situations with their peers and with people who are not their peers and we teach them there, too. We are never in a closet, as the socialization question sometimes implies. The community is truly our classroom. We can learn from anyone, and anyone can be our teacher. We believe that and live that, every day.

The Christmas season is a perfect one for making the most of our community resources and for celebrating our fortunate friendships. This coming week holds so much magic, and we are so thankful for it! Here is to a week of more memories with family, friends new and old, and Christmas magic!

Disneyland at Christmastime is so magical! We were lucky recently to take a mini vacay there to kick off our Christmas season. This year also marked my first time to California Adventure Park. In all the years it has been open, I’d actually never been. We have been going so seldom to Magic Kingdom that, when we go, I always choose the old-school, classic Disneyland for the day. We’re set now on buying season passes, though, because the kiddos are at the age when they just really, truly love it and can experience most rides!

The day before we left, I came down with the kiddos’ stomach bug from Thanksgiving week. Packing for three people for three days of clothes in between waves of queasiness was not the easiest venture I’ve ever undertaken, but the job got done. Fortunately I had no fever and was otherwise not too badly off, though my intestines never quite straightened out until a couple of days after we got home. This actually worked in my favor, because I wasn’t too hungry and not even tempted (as I had feared I might be) to overeat caloric park food, so the timing was good as far as that goes. Ever the optimist, I just decided to ignore the stomach bug as best I could and to have an excellent time. And we did!

We stayed in The Grand Californian, which is quite possibly our favorite of the hotels during this time of the year. So cozy! Over the days we were there, the rainy and grey weather made for a relatively uncrowded space, and we had hardly any waiting at either park with walk-ons to several rides that usually have long lines (like Pirates, Space Mountain, and Haunted Mansion). At Disneyland alone, we fit in fifteen rides and met six characters. Fortunately the drizzle still allowed for the showing of World of Color, the Christmas parade, the fireworks, and the snow. Last year, the storminess prohibited the fireworks, so we were lucky to see them this time.

When it was time to go, even I did not want to leave!



Eric loved the Monorail: “Me ride Monorail. Monorail take me somewhere.” Oh, he was as pleased as punch.



Katie was so excited to meet Jack and Sally—she loves them!




And she dove into Merida!



Our annual picture with the kiddos on Snow White’s bridge…it is a tradition. I happened to have a pic taken there when I was newly pregnant with Katie. Now we take one every time we go, which has been once a year up until now.



Enjoying the Christmas parade… I also had the kiddos’ silhouettes cut this time. My parents have silhouettes of my brother and me; my Nana has silhouettes of all of her children. Disneyland: traditions and memories.



Meeting Winnie the Pooh!



The first night, we had dinner at Ariel’s Grotto. We met Ariel, Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, and Aurora. I think I was as excited as Katie and Eric!



Eric outside of Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. He was tall enough for this ride in Cars Land, and we were all thrilled that he was. Big boy! During lunch, we saw the real Mater drive by…



Happy Christmas!

Sarah McGaugh

Sarah McGaugh


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