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Today, February 2013

It is the one question I am never quite expecting every year, oddly enough: the question that always stays close to my heart but is compartmentalized now in my mind, the way some memories have to be.

The question always follows a series:

“Do you smoke?” (No)

“How much alcohol do you drink?” (None—I don’t drink alcohol)

“How about caffeine?” (I’ve spent the year getting off of coffee in favor of just green and black tea)

“Any history of heart disease in your family?”

“Any history of breast or ovarian cancer?”

And always then:

“How many times have you been pregnant?”

Usually I don’t have my two children with me at my annual OB/GYN appointment, but they came with me today. Watching them wait quietly against the wall near the intake station—Katie looking at me intently and Eric with his thumb for comfort—I feel my heart fill up with my two children. These two children made me a mother. I can never imagine having any others in their place.

But: “How many times have you been pregnant?”

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Spring 2004

It is spring break and Bill and I are on a trip to the Bay Area to visit my brother at Berkeley and help him start moving into his new apartment, as well as to enjoy time in San Francisco. We haven’t gotten married yet, and we are sitting on a the ledge of a big fountain in Ghirardelli Square. I have a huge ice cream in a waffle cone. We are people watching and talking about wanting children, the breezy bay air drifting around the late afternoon. I could be in San Francisco always, I feel—I love it here.

We start talking about names for children, just for amusement at this point. Part of my waffle cone breaks off and drops. The pigeons—many of them—come running. Peck peck peck. These pigeons are at the top of their game. Bill has such a silly streak, one of the parts of him I love best. He can make a joke out of anything. He loves to play with words and invert phrases. He won’t be too serious with me at this moment about children’s names. We need to get engaged and married and pregnant first. That is to say: there’s time. But he does offer one contribution, as he watches the pigeons put their heads in the dropped cone.

Pigeon-Hat. We can name our future first child Pigeon-Hat. Of course I laugh. I joke back: Pigeon-Hat McGaugh. That will make a great name!

November 2006 

We’ve been married for six months, and I have recently discovered a few weeks ago that I am pregnant. It’s early enough that I have an appointment made for my first check-up, but long enough that I have already bought a rattle. I am completely excited and have already been testing out names for boys and girls. I’ve told the family, including my Uncle Eric in the hospital—my uncle who would pass just a couple weeks after Christmas that year. I have held back no part of myself in my own excitement. I have always wanted to be a mother, and we couldn’t wait to start having children soon after marriage. The holidays, I am thinking, will be so cozy this year as I am growing a baby.

The day before Thanksgiving, the spotting starts.

The days that follow are the absolute worst of my life. To this day, I can only start to glance at my journal entries from that time before I have to turn away.

There is one particular night over the span of a short few days when I know for sure I am losing the baby, the precious life that was there, that I already loved and wanted so much. Bill holds my hand all night long as I alternate between sleeping and waking up in tears.

By some horrible stroke of misfortune, we both end up with a doozy of that year’s flu as well, right as this miscarriage is happening. I have to go in to the OB to make sure my uterus is empty and to get bloodwork. I have a temperature of nearly 103. I worry they will think I have an ectopic pregnancy. There is an ultrasound. I am advised to wait two to three months before trying to get pregnant again.

I spend many days crying and not wanting to move, and with that flu, I can’t really move far anyway. Thanksgiving break is long that year, but I still end up missing two or three days in my classroom. When I go back, I switch into teacher mode at work but come home and just wallow. That’s not much like me, but it is by far the darkest part of my life so far. I am taught many things in that time.

Eventually I become absorbed in work and the new city library and check out stacks of books about music history, a big passion of mine. I read Gone with the Wind for the first time and lose myself in it for hours. My Aunt Jenny sends me the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas—to this day, still a favorite. There are too many gingerbread lattes. My brother comes home and we decorate Christmas cookies.


Decorating cookies in December 2006

By March of 2007, I know I am pregnant with the baby who would turn out to be Katie. She was conceived on Valentine’s Day of 2007.

Had our first baby continued to grow, I would have been pregnant with him or her right at the moment Katie was supposed to be made. The possibility of not having her is unfathomable. I know that she and I were meant to be together.

Yet still when I see that rattle, I think of the life for whom it was intended, the essence I will never know in this lifetime.  Even after I had Katie, it was a long time before I took the rattle back out: it is a symbol of another time.

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So today I am asked the question:

“How many times have you been pregnant?”

I take a look at my two healthy, beautiful, perfect children. I am so thankful for them. I can imagine no one but them.

Yet a distant part of me makes only a gasp of a sigh as I look at the nurse and answer, before explaining:

“Three times.”

And that was Pigeon-Hat.

This is kind of a big day for me, in the history of being Sarah. A day that truly requires a leap of faith into the unknown. I’ve been both preparing for, and putting off, dealing with the letter that finally came today.

Years ago—five in June—I left my classroom at TVHS on a “Leave of Absence.” All this time, I’ve still been technically employed by the school district. Not on payroll, of course. But employed—with the option to return at any time to my profession without having to re-interview. I could just sign an Intent to Serve…and go back. Every February at this time I get a letter from the district asking if I wish to renew my LOA. I resubmit my own letter requesting the LOA and stating why, and the board approves it. Five years is a long time; I only ever expected two.

My jig is up. 😉

The letter first came on Friday, but we were at music class so I couldn’t sign for it. After last year, when they intimated that my resignation would be asked for soon, I knew that this particular year the letter would be different than all years that came before. It is. I either need to return, or formally resign. I have only a few days to return it to them, and then it is done.

It has been a comforting dance, knowing I still held my tenure and my position. I like leaving doors open. I have slept a little better knowing I have options. I like options. The biggest concern, of course, has been for my husband: his health, his desire to head into retirement. As long as I was on an LOA, it would be so easy, should the need arise, to return and provide for my family.

Yet more than just having the ability to provide for my family, the Leave of Absence represented that I still had one foot almost-sort-of in my pre-children life. That phase of my life was one of my favorites. I love being a teacher. I will always think of myself as a teacher, just like my Great-Grandmother Sarah Matics (the original, after whom I was named—my maiden name is Matics).  I worked hard to fund the schooling for my credential (I interned for the district while attending night classes and therefore barely slept that year), and I loved my teenagers. As my friend and former admin Beth likes to put it, drawing an analogy to a dinner party, I had the chance to teach everything from soup to nuts. I taught the full gamut of high school student, in every grade level at the high school campus. I loved my students, no matter who they were or whether or not they were one of the students that brought conflict into my wake. The point was to connect with them as best I could, to pass on my passion for literature and writing. I am so grateful for the lasting friendships I made. I could tell a million stories about the students who inspired me, or moments when I learned more about human nature and about myself. In fact, I have been thinking about these stories all day and at moments choking up for a time that has now officially passed. I may be in a classroom again—in fact, I hope to be—but it will never be in the same way. I love being a teacher.

So my letter is a big deal—to me. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make me a bit emotional, on many levels. I’ve been anticipating it all month, or rather, for four-and-something years. I am so incredibly lucky that my husband works as hard as he does, and when he could be retired, for us. I am additionally lucky for gifts from my parents that help us, directly and indirectly, to fund extra curriculars and enrichment for the children. I recognize how fortunate I am even to have a decision to make. I already know what my decision is, but without that resignation signed, the decision has unofficially lingered over me for years. The Leave of Absence was a nice middle ground. I have to jump off into the unknown now and to trust that we will land all right. I have to trust that, should I ever need to (and with Bill being older, this is a true concern), I will be able to find a way to provide for my family myself, without having something on which to fall back. It is a bit terrifying. I have to believe it is going to work out, that I am not doing something now that will lead to their detriment. I have to have confidence in a future I’ve never seen.

I love being a teacher. I love being Katie and Eric’s teacher. I feel so completely fortunate to be able to be with them everyday, to teach them at home, and to be able to guide their education with our particular teaching and learning philosophies. I am lucky that I am not asked or required to trade that unique opportunity. I know fully that I am meant to be doing just this, that it is a calling. It’s just that other part of my mind that frets.

And here I am, too, at the moment where “way leads onto way” as Robert Frost wrote. Every year that letter was a way to look back, just a little bit, at where the two roads of my life diverged. I realize now I am so far down my current road that I’ve passed the bend: there is no more looking back. The first phase of my teaching career is really done, and with it goes also my 20s and all the beautiful time of life that was. A life phase is truly done. I knew that, of course, and I have loved my 30s so far even more than my 20s. It’s just that the letter this year made it suddenly very real.

I now have to write my resignation letter, and it is due very soon. Maybe I should have been working on that tonight instead of this blog entry, but I find I need to release my emotion first before I can write something more businesslike. I guess it just needs to be short and simple. Nothing ever is, though…

How do I capture how much that time of life meant to me in just a paragraph? I guess I don’t need to. But for all the lives that I got to cross paths with in those years: You meant the world to me.





“Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends, memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL, Old Friends/Bookends

One of my best friends, Steve, and his family have now moved back to Southern California. He now lives just a few minutes from one of my other best friends Rosa, which worked out today as I was hoping to make a double visit. We live two hours away, but what’s a bit of a drive for old friends? My husband and kiddos and I passed the time listening to good music (Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon’s Graceland, etc), and we had a chance to talk about our mutual passions: music history, Google Glass, reality perception, etc. Time in the car with him always seems to zoom by, and the kiddos were great. After last summer’s road trip to Pennsylvania and back, a few hours feels fairly breezy!

I still remember meeting Steve for the first time at an Academic Decathlon meeting in Mr. May’s room in high school. At heart, I think we’ve always had a very similar temperament in many ways which is why we get on so well. After living in New York and in the Bay Area, Steve and Carol are now in the Los Angeles area for awhile. I am already thinking about all the playdates and field trips we might share with their kiddos…


Bill and my babies walking to Steve’s house….Katie is giving Eric’s hand a kiss.


Steve’s front door


Visiting at Rosa’s house after lunch…I love how Katie and Abby are showing something to Carol. I still remember meeting Carol for the first time, and now she is so much a part of our ever-growing group of spouses and children. Katie loved watching out for Abby and playing with her and Alex at Rosa’s house. So neat to see the next generation develop friendship with each other. I only wish Marguerite’s children were here, too!


With Alex and baby Abby at the restaurant for lunch


A bit out of order…catching up with Steve.


A new friend for Katie at Rosa and Dan’s house?


So much history here… As our lives continue to go in various directions, I hope we will never forget the bond that we have had. One thing we learn as we get older is that friendship takes nourishment and a desire to include one another in our everyday lives. It was so much easier in high school, being in the same classes and extracurriculars, and it is sometimes too easy now to get caught up in our day to day worlds sometimes. I wonder what our 30s will bring as we navigate careers, marriages, and children… And I hope for more opportunities of time with them, a chance to build memories that will take us solidly into our next 20 years of friendship. “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried/Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.” (Hamlet)


At Tin Roof Bistro in Manhattan Beach






I love all of the kiddos…


I was enjoying conversation with Carol in this picture.


Yes, Eric does have a butter knife. He was working on cutting an appetizer.


Sweet Katie.

Years ago when Bill and I were choosing our honeymoon spot, we decided to head somewhere relatively local and already meaningful to us—a place where we could easily return for anniversaries and where, eventually, we could bring the children we longed to have. Once we decided to honeymoon in the mountain town of Idyllwild, the question became where. We had been to Idyllwild a couple of times on a day trip but hadn’t paid much attention to the B&B and cabin rental scene. I still remember searching online with Bill for a bed and breakfast for our honeymoon. When we landed on the website  for the Strawberry Creek Inn we thought, “Hey, this looks pretty good. Let’s try it.” That one decision turned out to be one of the best we’ve ever made. That was May 2006.

On our first anniversary we returned to this special inn, Katie already growing in my womb. I still visit the bench we sat on in the inn’s garden while talking about names for boys and girls, her precious life already begun, while looking out over the creek and pine trees.

Some time after she was born, we had one more anniversarymoon (as we call them) there—I think it was when she was 19 months old. We haven’t stayed overnight since Eric was born, although we have taken both children every year to explore the creek and town on Valentine’s Day weekend.

As a Christmas present this year, Bill booked the Ponderosa Cottage—Strawberry Creek Inn’s stand alone cabin that allows for children and comes with neat amenities like our own kitchen and dining room, a jacuzzi tub, and logs for the fireplace. I’d rather have a gift of an experience—a memory—than just about anything else from my husband, and I was touched that he planned this for us. I’ve been excited for months, especially knowing that this would be our first stay as a family.

We have built intentional memories in this special place. This is everything we hoped for many years ago as we were making wedding and honeymoon plans. Intentional memories and family narratives, a shared history with layers of meaning not only for ourselves but for our children…

I was surprised to find flowers and chocolates, although I shouldn’t have been! Bill has always had them put in our room for me whenever we have stayed. I just wasn’t thinking about them this time. He even gave me a clue on Valentine’s Day!! He said, “Your Valentine present will be there tomorrow.” I thought he meant the cabin/experience itself. So yes, I was surprised! We all shared the chocolates and I brought my flowers home today. So sweet.


Panorama of the attic room…very cozy! We could hear the trees creaking and blowing the first night. Love the woods!


Our enclosed dining room, flanked by two balconies. Many happy memories made here during our stay. We loved heading to the store each night and choosing what to make all together.


Panorama of the kitchen, the door to the dining room, and the living room/room where we could pull down a second bed from a huge closet.


Eric explores some garden art…


Okay, so here is the well story. We were walking along when Eric came upon an old well. Suddenly, his foot went through a hole in a wooden cover that was partly covered by snow and pine needles. In fact, we didn’t even know it was a well when we were first near it and only by investigation did we see the whole wooden well

cover and set-up. His foot was partly still in his boot, and his boot was wedged a bit in the small hole. When Bill went to pick him up, the boot fell off.

At first I thought it was a simple matter of reaching my hand in the hole and grabbing the boot (we still didn’t realize it was a well). When I looked in the hole to judge how to angle my hand, I saw the boot about 10 feet below, bobbing in some water.

When I reported to Eric that I couldn’t reach his boot, he began to sob and sob—not just cries of inconvenience, but real sadness. “Me need my boot!” he wailed. “Me want my boot!” To understand this, the reader must also know how very proud he has been of his big boy boots ever since getting them. He even modeled them for his Nana and learned how to put them on by himself (“Me put boot on by my own!!” he had exclaimed proudly, right before this hike). His sadness touched some deep part of my chest and it felt almost unbearable. He and I are so very much on the same wavelength that I could feel everything he felt, including how upset he was at himself for losing the boot (“Me dropped my boot!”) Even when I tried to explain that accidents happen, he wailed more—I always feel overly responsible for accidents, too. I could tell he was crushed. That was not going to be acceptable in my world…

What to do? I decided to go investigate further. I thought about hacking off a super long branch and fishing for it. (My “mother bear” feelings had long since kicked in—you know, those feelings where you would absolutely do anything for your child, feelings that come from some place deep and untouchable inside). When Bill and I looked at the wooden cover, it appeared to have a padlock on it. My eyes went to the screws. Shortly after, I could see a metal ladder affixed to the inner shaft. I thought about getting a screwdriver and tearing it apart  gently and carefully modifying the cover so I could get in.

Bill could sense I was turning into the Mother Bear and reexamined the well cover. It turns out that the padlock was completely useless. I started to lift the heavy cover, and Bill helped me. I told him I was going in, and I think he tried for two seconds to stop me but he was more concerned (as he should be) about keeping the children away and, when he realized I was serious, about holding the cover open so it wouldn’t close on me.

My parents would later contemplate how this all happened as they saw pictures on our private Facebook group after it all took place. They couldn’t believe that Bill would let me go down the well, but I promise, there was no stopping me. It happened much too fast for him to make much objection. I can be headstrong, and I am no wuss.

Actually, I still feel I was in no immediate danger. Bill later asked what would have happened if I’d fallen off the ladder or if the ladder had fallen off the wall. “I can swim well,” I replied.

“But how long can you tread water?” he asked.

“Long enough for you to figure out how to get me out, I should hope. You’re a good problem solver.”

Anyway, when I got to the bottom of the ladder, the boot was floating behind me in some water. I couldn’t tell how deep it was, so I decided to stay on the ladder of course. I held on with one hand and reached behind with the other. Ta-da! Boot! Rescue mission complete!

Eric was so relieved and happy.


See? There is the menacing hole.

We told this boot story over and over again this weekend. Mainly, Eric would tell the story. It made an impression on him. He dreamed about the “purple pump well” (I don’t think it was a pump well actually, but we’ve read about those in old books) on the first night. We went back the next day because he wanted to see it again…it kind of scared him, and he has a tendency to turn things that worry him into his “friends” so that all is right with the world. “Me see my friend purple pump well” he kept saying the next day. He wants his world to be right.

So that is the well story. I thought I was just doing what needed to be done and wasn’t really being unsafe—-but my parents definitely think differently, which just goes to show that perhaps I am not correct in that assessment. All’s well that ends well, though, right? 🙂


Putting together a United States puzzle by the upstairs hearth, which was a fake fire. The downstairs fire was real, though!


Panorama of the living room and the kitchen to the side.


Reading before breakfast…we brought all of our favorite snow-themed books!


Waiting for breakfast in the main part of the inn


Beginning our adventure as we drive to Idyllwild!




Cozy cottage with cozy memories


Breathe in that fresh mountain air!

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Totem pole in the middle of town


“Miles to go before I sleep…”


With my valentine


Eric helps to whisk hot chocolate—so grateful for our own kitchen this time!


Yummy breakfast

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We had tea and a light lunch at Oma’s for lunch yesterday. Very lovely.



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Another hike!


Rope course at the new playground


Rock climbing



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Trying the parcourse! Strong boy!


Bubba’s used books, a tradition for us


Another view of tea at Oma’s.


My helper tossing the salad he made


Did someone say s’mores? Note: this was not Bill’s definition of safety, either. Between this and the well, I think he was shaking his head… 😉


Good morning, Strawberry Creek and mountain air


Bill looks out to the snow…


Snuggles after breakfast


I hope we return to this cabin someday!

walking with my babies

“The only other sound’s the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake…”

So thankful for a beautiful weekend in nature with my loves. I was also grateful for some journaling time, which, along with the mountains and snow and my family, gave me a real sense of peace and connection with who I am. Truly a magical getaway!

“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”

-RUMI, 13th Century Persian poet, scholar, and theologian

After making sure this week that we gave love to our Nana, our family elder, Katie and Eric met up this morning with fellow homeschoolers at the local senior care home to spread love to some of our community elders in celebration of Valentine’s Week.


Ready to pass out valentines during lunch at Sterling


Eric and Katie worked hard on their valentines this weekend, and we also passed out chocolate hearts


The freedom to structure service to others in our school day is, in our way of thinking about life and purpose, a definite advantage of schooling at home. I believe that developing a heart for service begins in the home, is actively modeled by parents on a frequent basis, and should be taught consistently and with the same care as any other academic discipline.

Passing out valentines to the seniors today also gave Katie and Eric the chance (as they get quite frequently when we visit Great Uncle Ross) to be a part of the cycle of life from an early age. The seniors were delighted to see the young children and enjoyed talking with them. What a perfect opportunity to learn social awareness in a relevant and highly meaningful context.

Later this afternoon, we took our valentines and our homemade pink-red-and-white M & M cookies to the park for a huge party with nearly 40 of our homeschooled friends and their parents.


Passing out valentines


So interesting to watch Eric gravitate toward the boys’ baseball game…


…while Katie chatted and made up games with girls of mixed ages. I love that our social time mirrors real world expectations and situations. In a real job, for example, we are never working with just our immediate peer group but always with people older and younger than we are. This deliberate, structured, and supervised social time is part of learning that crucial life skill. We get asked so much about the s-word here at the McGaugh Academy. Here is part of our answer to that query: yes, we most definitely teach our children how to be pro-social and productive within a set of cultural norms. We also teach them, however, to question those cultural and social norms. I gave Katie lots of independence to hang out today and snapped this picture from fairly far away…BUT I was observing the whole time. At home later, we debriefed and I was able to ask her relevant questions and lead her to learning moments (i.e. How she felt being the youngest, things like that. This group of girls is so sweet, so no worries there). So no, I don’t believe in shutting my children out from the social world (and I personally haven’t met many homeschoolers who do); I do, however, believe that it is part of my calling, as a mature and experienced adult, to guide them through that social world as best I can with clear and teachable objectives and goals.


Katie always loves to see Bella and Chloe, and always looks for these sisters first thing when we get to the park.


Katie was thrilled with her bag o’ valentines from our park crew! How lovely that we can have this experience which used to be (and maybe still is) traditional in elementary schools—I am glad and thankful that she does not have to miss out on this kind of fun just because we choose to conduct school at home!


Setting up for the party


Regina’s beautiful and festive cupcakes! Man oh man, was there a spread at this shindig! A whole big table filled with all kinds of treats and fruit. And Lisa was so thoughtful to bring bags for all the kiddos to use to collect valentines. So much fun! The kiddos had a blast, that’s for sure.

Tomorrow we are meeting with our beloved Mrs. G and setting up a fondue party with my parents. I still have a couple of valentines to make, as well. Better get going on those… 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gong Xi Fat Choi!

Lunar New Year is a big deal in our house, ever since we started adding it to our studies two years ago during Katie’s pre-school years. We tell the story of the Nian, and of course we connect the festival to the theme of light that runs through so many of the winter holidays around the world. Lunar New Year has been, for us, a time to connect to greater world geography and culture, and the kiddos love it.

I petered out a bit on my last post—too tired and too engaged in Downton Abbey to delve into the Lunar New Year. This year Lunar New Year began on Sunday the 10th, although last year it was toward later January which didn’t conflict as much with our Valentine’s Day celebrations. It was nice to be able to spread things out! We do tend to place an emphasis on the Chinese traditions involved with Lunar New Year, because China is one of Katie’s favorite countries and she loves much of the children’s lit that originates in Chinese tales.

So here is a bit of a peek at our Lunar New Year celebration this year, Year of the Snake!

Lunar New Year festival:



Making a snake with Amie


Paper snake!



Face painting—Katie chose, from among all the possibilities, a lantern. Of course we connected this back to our St. Lucia Day studies in December of this year.


Pretty Katie with her lantern




We watched a dance of the dragons—Katie knows the significance! So fun to see them this year in person.


So awesome.




Katie made a lantern…



Ribbon dance!



Eric loved this, too!






Eric enjoyed his pork bao, of course!

For dinner on Sunday night we just had Chinese take-out. Last year I made a big Chinese feast by hand, but we needed a shortcut this year! A few weeks ago, the kiddos and I watched a video on one of River Springs’ subscriber websites about traditions involves in Lunar New Year. Next year, we’re going to teach ourselves how to make traditional dumplings as the kiddos in the video did. We’ve got time to practice!

Shifting gears now entirely…

We’ve also started our Valentine’s Day celebrations this week with a visit to Nana. I’ll have to update more about that tomorrow, but I do have one picture ready for preview:



For various reasons it has been a couple weeks since we’ve seen Nana, so we wanted to fit in a visit sooner this week rather than later. Katie brought her valentines cards, and Eric brought her flowers that he picked out at the store. We also had a couple boxes of Girl Scout cookies we bought for her from one of our homeschool friends. You know what I love totally about homeschooling? The chance to arrange our own schedule so that we can have precious time with family.

As I wrap up, here is a bit of a flashback to our projects and studies last year for Lunar New Year. This took place during Katie’s pre-schooling, so we just made up our own unit. So much fun! Eric learned, too.

bamboo arrangement

Katie had lessons in the art of arranging bamboo

almond cookies


We made our own almond cookies




A paper chain dragon

lunar new year

Using stuffed babies (along with the panda) to represent the Chinese zodiac

orange peel chicken

Homemade orange peel chicken in our wok



Reading up on panda bears


Eric and Katie both made panda bears during a geometry/math lesson to tie into the bigger unit



A webquest on Chinese culture, geography, and achievement



And yes, we attempted to make our own paper (an achievement of the Chinese) with a homemade deckle! It turned out thick, but it was fun.

I had more to say about our lessons at the time, and I wrote about them, in part, here and here.

Hope everyone has a great Year of the Snake! I know mine is already so lucky, with these two around!

The January blues are passing and like any bear-personality, I can sense the end to Winter hibernation. Despite the cold and the storms this week, I detected spring in the air a bit this past week. Ah.

It helps also that I finally lost another pound this week, after being stuck at a 30 pound loss for a few weeks. I haven’t been gaining, but I have only been strict enough with calories to maintain and not lose. Bill is right that the formula is simple: it is calories in vs. calories out. Every time I have ever overeaten by 3500 calories, that’s a pound. Anytime I burn off 3500 more than I eat, I will lose. After years of taking a “it will work out somehow” approach to my weight and diet, fully diving into the mathematics of it turns out to be the only thing that helps me keep accountable to myself. As my friend Naheed says, “If it can be measured, it can be changed.” I weigh myself almost daily and count everything as best I can and the math works. 1200 calories is really not at all a huge quantity of food, although I can eat tons of veggies. I thought in past years that I could not handle the mental stamina and self-denial necessary for this approach, and yet now I find comfort and strength in the control and in becoming my own best guardian.

Weekends are also a time to log solid running miles without worrying about being home before Bill leaves for work, and I love the bright chilly mornings. On a second mile this morning, some neurotransmitter kicked in (this has been happening more and more), and all of the sudden I found myself really seeing—like really seeing—the bark on the nearby trees, and I found myself wanting both to laud and weep at how utterly and soul-crushingly beautiful that bark is. My whole mind and heart wanted to exault. This happened a couple of weeks ago, too, when I saw how truly blue some blue flowers were… It’s probably just extra blood and oxygen to the brain, but it is an incredible feeling.

The big, big news of this weekend is that one of my best friends Lauren had her baby, and first son, Luke. Welcome, Luke! I love his name so much. She was “overdue”—although we both feel that babies often come on their own timing, and in the perfect timing. Still, we had a long and great phone call on Thursday, and everyone had been hoping little Luke would come soon.  Well, he arrived on Saturday—accidentally at home at 4:13 in the morning! Lauren gave birth to her first daughter at home, but had her second daughter in a hospital and intended to have Luke there, too…whoa! I can’t wait to hear the whole story, but Lauren actually was planning to call me at 5:00 AM to let me know. She ended up writing instead, so when I woke up for the second time that morning, the good news was there! They later went to the hospital to check everyone over, and today they are back home. I signed up to take Lauren and Tim a meal in a couple of weeks, and I am trying to think of something comforting and nutritious to make! Fun! I love, love, love new babies and the amazing magical time that is in a family…

We also started getting ready for a long-term project one of my friends and former TVHS colleagues Susan is orchestrating. She was a creative and smart mentor in the English department when I first came on board, and now we’re both applying our love of teaching and learning to our children. Susan is putting together a kiddo art gallery at the end of the year, and our goal is to make ten pieces each while studying a variety of artists and techniques. Susan is a first-rate teacher and truly one of the most amazing lesson planners… It is so energizing to be able to share ideas with her. She has already put us on a clearer path in our Picasso studies. Katie is old enough to handle most instructions and work, but the key is to differentiate for Eric—I want the work to be truly his own.

Here is our Warhol pop art project from this weekend:

IMG_7572 IMG_7600


The finished project, with an emphasis on the technique of repetition


We also fit in some soccer practice this weekend:




Beautiful Temecula, my fun and active kiddos!


And we got started on our valentines this year. We’ve got a fun week ahead, full of Valentine’s Day celebrations! We are so thankful for our homeschool group to share these kinds of activities with. Some of us are planning to pass out valentines at the senior citizen’s home on Wednesday morning, and then we’ve got a homeschool Valentine’s party at the park that afternoon. Thursday will be our traditional fondue party, and then we’re spending some special time as a family this weekend.


Katie got busy making valentines for the homeschool party. I still remember passing out valentines at school and how the whole day was extra special because of that! So glad that Katie will experience that feeling, too.




Eric worked on folding his valentines after his nap (see the damp hair)!

And from earlier this week:




Katie became the teacher and supported Eric as he learned to ride Katie’s old trike. I love her protective arm around him.

There’s so much more to tell about this week, but I find my eyes growing heavy…and I am also paying attention to Downton Abbey.

Hope everyone had a beautiful weekend.

I am fairly not quite almost sure it was Cicero who once opined, “Omnia rosae spina.” If not him, then surely the philosophers who comprised the American glam rock group Poison offered this in their contemplative lyrics: “Every rose has its thorn.”

Discovering this truism firsthand as she fell into a rose bush on Monday, Katie now has a long scratch down her back. She wailed when it first happened, not just for the pain but because this is a young person who does not like the faintest of marks upon her skin. Those prints made by socks and pants? Oh yes. Like any decent mother, I usually turn an assessment of prints into a case for more water consumption in my preoccupation with trying to hydrate my children.

Naturally she did not want to submerge her scratch in the bath on the first night. (I have made almost zero headway in my years-long quest to persuade her that clean cuts are an advantage). She held her head over the bath so I could wash her hair, and we sponged off the rest of her. I have, however, managed to convince her over a long campaign that it is now our “tradition” to bathe any cut on the second night she has it.

Last night her scratch, which is healing quickly, itched a bit. She can’t quite reach it, so I itched around it for her while we read our bedtime stories and cuddled. It was then that she summarized her findings: “Rose bushes are bad.”

Wait, wait. It was time to get Socratic.

The discussion was a good one, and gentle, questioning. We spoke of balance. How everything and everyone and every experience has a dual nature. Looking for the good, instead of looking for the bad. How something can be good for one person and possibly bad for another. Optimism and pessimism. Choosing how to frame our responses to what happens to us. As I rubbed around her scratch, I hoped so much that she would begin to understand.

I know this is a theme we will revisit our whole lives. Those of us who know us best have observed that Katie and I can portray such opposite personalities. At age 5 (and 4 and 3 and 2…) Katie’s thoughts tend to skew toward what is not going right, what issue there might be with the positive execution of a request/instruction/advice, why something might not work or might be to her disadvantage, etc. I can usually cajole her, reason with her, offer evidence, etc. Other times, I am impatient and tell her to stop it. If I were perfect all the time, I would be the picture of patience, but I’m not. Few things are more of a pet peeve to me than not thinking positively. This in no way means she isn’t cheerful: she has many moments of levity and silliness and pleasure and happiness, too.

Even today, when I asked her to put on her socks, she started getting upset about how she can’t quite do it yet. She is so hard on herself when she doesn’t get something the first time, and it will frustrate her. This is my biggest challenge as her teacher—dealing with her self-frustration and the tendency to want to shut down. At the same time, I am so thankful that I am her teacher because I am certain that I can do a better job at coaching her past this tendency than anyone else could with her. Although there are so many things she does pick up immediately, there are going to be other things she is going to need time and practice to master.  So she got a pep talk all the way to music class.

Today I encouraged her to work backwards. “I do not know of any 30 year olds who can’t put on their socks,” I told her, borrowing a line of thought from my Aunt Diane and my Aunt Donna. “So the first thing to do is to tell yourself that you will not fail at putting on your socks in the long run. You know you will be like everyone else and able to put on your socks.” (She laughed here). “If you practice enough and give it enough time, you will not fail.” We talked about how releasing ourselves from the oppression of the possibility of failure—and choosing hope and optimism instead—will lessen her feelings of anxiety: her “stomach butterflies” as she calls them. We might not succeed the first time at putting on our socks, but that doesn’t mean we will always be unable to do it. We cannot control how good we are at something right away, but we can always control the time, practice, and attitude we put into learning it. If we are optimistic about it, then we do not have to let a fear of failure get in our way.

I fully believe that being an optimist (an optimist with a pragmatist’s way of getting to the goal) has served me well in this life. As much as I myself am prone to worry, I am ultimately hopeful and certain that things will “work out.” How do I teach this to my daughter? I will spend my life doing my best to understand how she sees the world, and I know that neither of us necessarily has it “right.” Plus, we are beholden to our genetic inclinations here. I know, too, that we are both so intense in our own ways. While I worry that she tends to see the negative first, perhaps she holds it at a much more surface level than I do. Maybe vocalizing it is her way of dealing with it…maybe that is her way of giving negativity less power. I’m not sure… I feel like when we put negative things into words, we give them more power over us, not less. From a pragmatic view, I have yet to see the function that complaining serves in getting us to our goals. I do understand infrequent venting as a pressure-release, but focusing on all the things that could go wrong…or why something might not be able to be done… Doesn’t that just create more obstacles for ourselves? Aren’t we better off just trying our best, then trying our best again? Every time we try to put on our socks, we get closer to meeting the goal.

Rose bushes have beautiful flowers and heavenly scent—aren’t they a goodness?

And when she looks inside of herself: how do I make sure that she sees the good in herself by the time I leave this Earth? We are all dual-natured. How we acknowledge that and what plan we make to deal with that fact during our lives can make all the difference. If she feels stress about not being able to put on her socks, then how will she deal with the fact that we all have failures of character? Will she make plans to deal productively with those traits, or will she feel crushed by them?

We think her rose bush scratch might leave a bit of a scar when it is done healing. We talked a bit about what that would mean. She’s okay with it. It will be a reminder of how there is good and bad in every bit of life and experience in this universe. May she always find a way to turn her face towards the sun, and may I find the ways and words to help her to do that.

“All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.” -Leo Tolstoy

A former student, and now a friend and colleague of mine, Catherine, is serving in Los Angeles through Teach for America. Catherine is the most open, light, and caring of people. She herself was one of those students you looked forward to seeing because of how instantly she could change the tone in the room for the better. She shared with everyone today that people tell her how she “can’t save all” of her students but how, even on the roughest days, she continues to “care too much and want[s] to [save them].” If I were still part of the hiring committee for our high school, I would have voted to hire her in a heartbeat.

That “caring too much” is something I look for in people. I look for that quality of loving to the point of being willing to suffer for it. Willing to keep our hearts supple and spongy and open, even though sometimes it hurts. I don’t mean romantic love here. I am thinking about love for humanity, for the Universe. “Caring too much” is the ability to continue to be soft even when we have multiple chances and reasons to turn bitter or jaded.

Coincidentally, and even serendipitously, my friend, former teacher, and colleague Mark shared a thought from C.S. Lewis today: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering and you find that you have excluded life itself.” We only suffer, I think, when we are soft enough to do so. We are only soft enough to suffer when we have ideals and people we love far beyond ourselves. Light and dark. I believe that if we are committed to waiting for light to come, it does, no matter in what labyrinth we may find ourselves. It may be that we connect with such light only through a willingness and supplication to travel through the maze without hiding ourselves in dead ends (bitterness, snarkiness, indifference, or worse).

Certainly the past two months have been difficult for humanity. Whether it is mass tragedy here or in another country, or solitary and lonely sufferings, everyday I see something else in the news. Sometimes it all makes a person wonder… What are we doing?

Yet as my friend Ms. Bier (so designated because I have several friends who all happen to share a first name) wrote to me recently:

Every time I’m brought up short by examples of how people suck I generally am able to take comfort in how awesome people who respond can be.”

And maybe that’s the whole of it right there. How we respond. What we choose to do when we’re hurting. How we choose to help. How we continue to choose Love. How we decide that, come what may, we will always care too much—because there is no other choice we can make and still be vital and truly alive.

Tolstoy is right.

We’re reading Another Celebrated Dancing Bear this week for our Five in a Row ELA curriculum. I truly cannot rave enough about this language arts program. Each book has a set of thematic lesson plans that integrate all disciplines, so not only are we doing ELA, but also we’re constantly incorporating math, science, art, and history. Another Celebrated Dancing Bear takes us to Russia. Both of the kiddos love our FIAR books, and Eric is getting some solid learning under him along with Katie. The lessons do not shy away from meaty ELA either: we’ve studied writer’s tools such as simile, personification, onomatopoeia, and alliteration this year. We’re expected to know and explain the main plot features of a story, and we’ve also delved into characterization. We keep everything we do in a composition book that I made into a “passport” at the beginning of the year. It is like a modified lapbook, essentially. Each reading selection has taken us to different countries, states, and even fictional places. (which is free) has printables for all of the FIAR books (so far as I can see) to use with the lesson plans in the teacher’s manual.

So off to Russia it was. We got a start on the book late last week and even worked on it a bit this weekend, anticipating a full morning traded for dentist visits today. Among other things, we decided to make a Russian feast for dinner last night. When I was in college, one of the most accidentally amazing meals I had was at a deli on the way to the craft store in my final year. It was a Russian deli. On a whim, I pulled off into the strip mall and ordered borscht and piroshki. Delicious. I have always loved beets, but in borscht they are a revelation.

For eleven years now I have wanted to make my own borscht but, even though I let the kiddos go wild with glitter and paint on an almost daily basis, I hesitate to cook with plant matter that stains. I usually buy pomegranate seeds (which Eric devours) instead of seeding them myself—although as of today, that’s about to change. Canned beets have nothing on fresh beets, especially roasted, and yet here I have been, hesitating. No more. We made our own homemade borscht last night and there’s no return. It is so sweet and filling and healthy and savory-good—and it has exactly one tablespoon of fat. I know, what?? Score one for the veggies.

Of course, we also broke with our mostly-plant-based diet and made real piroshki last night. Although we do still eat white meats, we haven’t been eating beef (with a couple exceptions). I could probably switch out the beef for something lighter, but for the first time I wanted it to be authentic.

kiddos piroshki

Katie and Eric make piroshki

eric piroshki

A Russian feast: ruby red borscht and piroshki

This officially beats the Russian cheese bread (a bit pungent, even for me, lover of goat cheese) I made while in the middle of Crime and Punishment one summer. I love to cook food that either is mentioned or is thematically appropriate with the books I am reading. Now we can do it all together and it is part of our lessons—a perk of homeschooling? I jest, I jest…er, kind of.

Otherwise, our dental exams went well today. Katie had her first set of pictures, and her teeth are great…no cavities. Two adult molars are in, with the other two expected soon. Dr. P showed Katie where, on her x-rays, we could see her adult teeth beginning to push up her bottom baby teeth. Great teaching moment. I didn’t have any cavities either, thank goodness. I’ve only ever had one (in 7th grade), but I still get nice and borderline phobic on x-ray day. You’d think that having two children without pain meds would be far more intense than having a cavity filled—a thought I try to keep in mind when my stomach has wild butterflies. Still, the mind cannot always be rational. There is nothing like the flood of relief when Dr. P views my films and gives the blessing for another year. Katie did especially well with her cleaning this time and really got a full treatment. Sealants and Eric’s first visit will be in August!

Hope everyone had a good Monday!

As much as I always love the coming of autumn with its longer nights, family holidays, chilly days (well, sometimes chilly days in California!), and cozy sweaters, by the time we enter January I am reminded how much I am a creature of the light. Sure, sure—I do most of my best writing and creating at night, and I am a sucker for a wild rainstorm and cuddles by the fire; and nothing in nature quite thrills me as much as the unexpected grey afternoon with swirling leaves as if I lived on the moor in Wuthering Heights.

Still, I find myself longing for March and days spent outside with my children nurturing our garden, replanting the pots, painting and crafting, and running around barefoot. I’m in the mood for bright spring sunshine, adventure, and the perking up of trees and blooms. Does anyone else start to get the winter blues? I’ve found myself struggling with the blahs the past couple of days.

It could be that the kiddos and Bill have been sick and that I’ve been dreading the same. Or the fact that we’ve been struggling to fit so much into every day (homeschooling is demanding—albeit rewarding—work, and I am feeling it). Or it could be the feeling of being camped out waiting for the change in the air that signals springtime.

Today I started to beat my blues a bit with an intense run this morning. I took music out with me for the first time since starting in July, in hopes of pushing myself to quicken my pace. Usually I love hearing the birds and sounds of the morning (and cars—survival!!), but I truly LOVED running with my music today. It might be a new thing for me. I feel so happy when I am running. Who would have guessed that many months ago? Not me!

With the kiddos recovering from sniffles, we sadly had to pass on a birthday party today. The birthday boy’s mom just had a newborn baby, and this has been a bad cold that we didn’t want to bring into their house. We decided instead to read and to indulge in a little baking. I’ve lost over 30 pounds now and am smaller than when we got married or when I was teaching: I find baking to be a hobby of extravagance that I cannot quite afford calorie-wise at this point, since I am honest with myself and know that I do not have enough self-restraint around homemade baked goods right now. (I truly miss my hobby, especially as a way to combat winter bluesy-ness, but I want my health and a sense of self-control more than I want those moments of temporary pleasure). However, we found the most darling book, Cranberry Thanksgiving, and the whole plot centers around Grandmother’s secret recipe for cranberry orange bread. Cranberry Thanksgiving was originally supposed to be part of our Five in a Row curriculum in K, but the book wasn’t in our borrowed set given how difficult it has been to come by in recent years. In August I checked into buying it ourselves, and secondhand sellers on Amazon were asking around $40.00 for it. Although there are some books I would pay $40 for, I had never seen or heard of this one and didn’t want to gamble on its value to us.  A few months later…and I found it, now in print again, for—what was it?—maybe $12? I ordered it with some other books, so I cannot quite recall. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to fit it in formally now as I replaced it with another book a couple of months ago; however, I still wanted the kiddos to experience it and I can do some informal teaching with it. We’ve read it a few times now, and we took the chance to make cranberry bread this afternoon:

making cranberry bread

We all enjoyed a small piece after a reasonable dinner, and I think we might have a piece with tea for breakfast tomorrow morning. It tasted like a bit of Thanksgiving.

The afternoon was quiet, and I was reminded while the bread baked that we have so much for which to be thankful even when we could do with some sunlight. We thought that Groundhog Day was streamable on Netflix (I could SWEAR I saw it there last week, even), but today, there was no sign of it…so we (Bill, Katie, and I) geeked out on Star Trek instead while Eric napped. Katie’s formal trekkie education has begun. I love how philosophy is so embedded into each episode, giving us all so much to discuss.

Bill and I made a date tonight to watch—finally!!—The Dark Knight Rises. I am a HUGE comic book movie nerd (we saw X-Men: The Last Stand on our honeymoon of all things, much to our mutual delight, at an old theater in Idyllwild with stale hotdogs—love that whole memory!), but we just haven’t gotten around to seeing this one, despite having it on our radar for months before it released. When The Dark Knight Rises released, we were on our road trip to PA and back…and then there was the horrible tragedy, and frankly, I really needed to distance myself from the film for several months after that. I felt torn about seeing it, or not. Too horrifying a reality surrounding it. Well, knowing how much I truly love the Dark Knight series, Bill did buy it for me as a present about a month or so ago. With our work, sleep, planning for kiddo-schooling, and ahem, other things we like to do when the kiddos are sleeping, we just haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, and we wanted to see it together. We’re only half a year behind or so, right? So we made a date to see it tonight and we’re so exhausted that we made it about half-way through (it’s a very long movie).We were practically falling asleep and my contacts were glued to my eyeballs. Ah well. Our saga continues. Will we ever finish it? The whole thing makes me laugh and I keep chuckling to myself during the film. We’re bringing back the old-school “Intermission” that used to be a natural part of long films!

So I am planning to try to get outside with the kiddos for most of the day tomorrow, to soak up that sun (uh, cloud cover permitting). With their sniffles, we’ve had short recesses, but at this point, I am longing to feel that sun-baked-skin-and-sweat feeling!