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Tonight Katie, Eric, and I are hunkered down in “Fort Thanksgiving”—yes, still the same fort we built the day after Halloween and which has been the focal point of our living room for these many weeks. After reading and cuddling for hours, I snuck out from between their sleeping bodies to grab this, my laptop, my link to the modern world. We have been fasting from television lately in order to clear their minds (I hardly watch TV anyway—usually they only get an 1-1.5 hours a night during dinner prep/clean up, though sometimes it is more especially during the more permissive weekend mornings, and so anything I watch is really only a kiddo show). But I do like my technological link to the outside world, I do admit it. If I really want to challenge myself, I should require myself to fast from the Internet… On the other hand: let’s not be too hasty, har har.

So we’re in our fort. Until now, we have been using Fort Thanksgiving primarily during the day. We wanted to start a new family tradition of building and sleeping in Fort Thanksgiving every year. All of our coziest blankets and pillows are in there, our favorite books, and a lamp that was doubling as our “campfire.” It’s cozy and lovely and as magical as a fort should be, especially with my snuggly munchkins. I’ve saved some older sheets specifically for fort construction, and though at times I have been tempted to purge them, it is times like this when I am thankful for my packrat gene.

I’ve been keeping track of my gratitude for quite some time, in gratitude journals mostly and on Facebook. I’m not sure how I would make it through life, frankly, without taking time every day to put my mind in a meditative place of counting my blessings, rather than dwelling on what goes wrong. As soon as we become negative critics I feel we are somehow placing ourselves above everyone else, above all that happens to us, as if we are somehow superior to the facts of our lives and have the right to judge all those elements that we have not ourselves necessarily produced or set in motion. I tried on in my college years the position of being jaded and judging. For me, I found that such position effectively shuts out all curiosity and creativity. What business have we to judge and criticize the work of others, or the work of this universe? Isn’t it, rather, our business to realize how humble and subjected we are to all the forms of luck and possibility that roam around us mathematically and to choose instead to devote our lives to becoming a producer of good things whenever we may? To embrace a mind that knows how much it has left to know and will never know? To foster a heart life that is thankful for the simple joys, as well as the big moments? This is the essence of Thanksgiving, to me: that we seek out and stand in awe and gratitude of the beauty around us, so that we may become worthy producers of beautiful moments in our own right, thereby passing it on to those that come after us. Or, something like that.

I haven’t written much the past couple of weeks in this blog, not updates or better still, essays. That happens: writer’s block, lesson planning, online Christmas shopping, making gifts. But since it is Thanksgiving week, and since my neglected blog is making me saddish, I thought I would do one big cram-in.

It’s only going to get more neglected, I fear, when our Elf on the Shelf returns in a week. Dude, that guy takes time I sometimes don’t have. But he’s only for a month, right?

1. I am thankful for our daily (or almost daily) afternoon/sunset walks/scooter sessions. I exercise in the morning five to seven days a week (five running, and sometimes I will do yoga/weights on an “off” day just because I get antsy if I do nothing), but I am starting to be more vigilant about teaching K and E proper exercise habits while they are young. Exercise is a fundamental part of our lives, kiddos. It is  a priority. I thought it might be difficult to fit this in on top of everything else, but you know what? I cherish my evening walks with these yahoos. We go at their pace (sometimes Eric decides to ride in the stroller after a time), we admire as much as we see, and we note the changing seasons. What started out as something I felt morally responsible to do has now transformed into something I am excited to do at the end of our day. We’ve missed a few days, but the spirit has been established. We’re really going to have fun when all the holiday lights appear!

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2. I am thankful for Norse mythology.


3. I am thankful for lifelong friends and the next generation.




4. I am thankful for Pinterest and its many inspirations. I am reminded to make life whimsical and fun.



5. I am thankful for the Santa Rosa Plateau so close to us and for beautiful hikes. Katie’s new accomplishment was hiking for 7.3 miles without assistance.



6. I am thankful for McGaugh Family date nights to the live theater.


7. I am thankful for seasonal crafts that are cozy. We did both the scarecrow and the maize craft last year, but Eric needed to do them again now that he is three, and Katie loves them, too.



8. I am thankful for homemade pumpkin spice play dough and how delicious it smelled, how cost effective it was to make, and how it entertained all of us from making-to-creating for about two hours.


9. I am thankful for a double annual visit to the pediatrician that went incredibly well. I always bring crayons so the kiddos can color on the examination paper while we wait, and so that it doesn’t feel so strange in there. I was very, very proud of these two and the way the appointment went. Eric stunned everyone when he announced without crying, “I’m ready for my shot.” He proceeded to scoot down the paper on his back, put his arms above his head, and only said “ouch.” He later explained that it was “no big deal, like Boppa say.” Eric saw my dad get his flu shot a few weeks ago, and my dad made it a point to be a role model. It worked. He admires his Boppa so thoroughly and wants to be like him. Eric didn’t cry at all, didn’t resist, nothing. My daughter, on the other hand… But she got herself together in the end. The doctor was impressed by their verbal skills—Eric read the word “stop” (unexpectedly) on a sign on the door, and the doctor said, “What?!?” I don’t overshare when the doctor asks me questions about what they can do. I figure there is never any way to prove it in that short time, and you only sound like a crazy mom if you make claims about milestones that are atypical. He has a handful of sight words, so we got lucky that “stop” is one of them! His funniest bit was this: the doctor asked him right when she started his exam whether he was a boy or a girl. He explained as clear as day, “I am a boy because I have a pe—” and he pointed to where. She was very amused by that one.


10. I am thankful for autumn birthday parties and a little pair that can go everywhere together.


11. I am thankful for rainy mornings and being able to go outside and find our breakfast in the chicken coop.


12. I am thankful for a little boy who has a heart of gold, who empathizes with others, and who understands the idea of giving joy. Eric made “joy cards” for several people he loves the other day. It was his own idea. He can spell and write J-O-Y on his own. I love his little writing. This is his first word that he can both spell AND write unassisted. He can spell a couple other words, but he needs help shaping them on paper. His first authored word is therefore “joy.” I love that so, so much.


13. I am thankful that our chickens are back in line after some egg eating incidents last month. We knew for sure it was egg eating, since there were numerous yolk splatters and since one of the girls would stalk the other girls while they were sitting. We got to adopt the hat of a behavioralist, and the kiddos and I turned the quest for a solution into a project rather than an out-and-out frustration (although that, it certainly had the potential to be). We planted decoy eggs, put mustard into their egg shells, added oyster shells to their diet, and spent a few days checking every 15-20 minutes and would actually take warm eggs out from under the girls. We also let the primary offender out of the coop during peak egg laying hours. I wasn’t sure any of this would work, but it did. Production is back up to what it should be. I look back on it now and think, although worrisome, I am thankful that we got to brainstorm these solutions together as a family and to learn from this.


14. I am thankful for cute little snack projects with my kiddos, like this mini cornucopia we made on the day we studied them. Keeps snack time from being just another to-do on my list. Life needs to be fun, right?


15. I am thankful for the day that Eric got up super early. I had made it back from my run, but I hadn’t finished my weights yet. He helped me count them and also watched birds with me while I lifted and when he tired of counting. We had enough time, too, to do the chicken chores together and to catch a lizard and to make it a shoebox house. Although I do like my morning routine, one-on-one time with him is so rare…and therefore so precious. I was happy to hear his little padding feet come down the stairs.


16. I am thankful for another holiday season with Nana and our recent visit. We weren’t sure this summer, at one point, that we would have her here right now. So this is truly, truly a gift.


17. I am thankful for walks in the rain.


18. I am thankful for time to read a book by one of my favorite authors.


19. I am thankful for the right and privilege to homeschool my children.



20. I am thankful for Temecula and its heritage and history. I am thankful for a community services department that helps to put on events like Pechanga Pu’eska Mountain Day. We learned about grinding acorns, yucca plant, Native American toys and recipes, pump drills, and more. We heard the Tribal Council chairman speak the Pechanga language as he led us in reflection. I love living here and love raising my children here.




21. I am thankful for legs, a heart, and a mind that allow me to run and run and run. I am thankful for my health. I am thankful for trails out in the wineries that afford views of hot air balloons, and vineyards, and snow-capped mountains under a bright sky of crisp and clear autumn air. I am thankful for rainy morning runs, for the willpower and fire I have found to get up and take care of myself. I am thankful that my legs feel like they could go on forever at 7 miles and for Sundays when I can run 12 miles if I want to because my husband is caring for our children. I am thankful to feel alive and vital and back in touch with my inner spirit. I am thankful to be able to greet the sunrise almost every day and to feel a part of the earth as the seasons change. I am thankful that running and a proper diet has saved my life in ways that I cannot even fathom, and many ways which I can. I am thankful that I woke up from my unclear thinking and stopped using my husband and children as reasons to martyr myself, as reasons to give no time to my basic health needs—because no person in life deserves to bear the horrible and enormous responsibility for my lack of health other than myself. I am thankful for finding deep accountability for my actions and my thoughts and for the fire it has rekindled in me. I am now in the best shape I have ever—EVER—been in my whole life, probably since the age of three or four. For a time in my life, I thought I would never find this…I am not talking just about my weight here, although I am proud of the immense effort and discipline it took to lose the extra 60 pounds. I am talking about finding that mind-body connection that is energy-giving, the one that makes me laugh out loud when I am running sometimes, laugh in pure mirth and freedom. Some call it endorphins—maybe. I only know that I am forever grateful for the push from my husband and my dad and others who believed that I could master myself and my short term desires/fears and aim for something greater in myself. To become acquainted with myself in this new way has been totally eye-opening this past year and a half. I am thankful that, within us all, resides that spark to change our lives and our narratives into whatever we want them to be.

I am thankful for views like this to start my day and that I have the ability now to run and chase them and grab them and press them deep into my being:


I am also thankful that tomorrow is a scheduled off-day for running, since I stayed up way too late writing this post! I hope everyone has a beautiful Thanksgiving!

Occasionally I receive e-mails and Facebook messages from readers asking for online teaching resources. Some of our favorites for this period of learning have been Montessori Printshop (no subscription required and nominal fees for printable downloads which can be laminated), Making Learning Fun (great printables, no subscription), Enchanted Learning (worth EVERY cent of a subscription fee, which is $20/year for single user), Super Teacher Worksheets ($19.95/year and great for elementary school kiddos), and BrainPop Jr. ($85/single homeschool user).

There are many other online places and people from which I draw inspiration, but these are a great start. I love Pinterest, too, a clearinghouse of ideas and a way to curate lessons and ideas until patterns and themes emerge. We are so fortunate to be homeschooling in a time when we have so many resources right at our fingertips, which we can browse over pumpkin spice rooibos while listening to Chantal Kreviazuk, and feeling cozy in the glow of orange twinkle lights around the window.

These autumn months (September-December) are heavily themed for us in terms of seasonal lessons. Regardless of whatever else we are learning, I try to connect it to the seasons and holidays, if possible. Toward the end of October (and Super Teacher is GREAT for this, because they always offer seasonal math sheets and nonfiction texts, for example), we worked through some Halloween-themed work that built on the standards Katie is pursuing.

So what are we doing lately?

Language Arts: Caddie Woodlawn, big Owl Moon interdisciplinary unit (FIAR) which I am extending to 3-4 weeks instead of the usual two weeks per FIAR book, literary devices, complete sentences, proper nouns, syllabification, real vs. fanciful, outlining/main idea, phonics, spelling, suffixes, comparison/contrast, oral narration, copywork, oral reading.

Math: Real life models of subtraction and addition sentences, more/fewer (language in word problems), doubles, 10s buddies, timed drills for +0, +1, +2, number sense to 100, greater than and less than, graphing/plotting, counting up and counting back on the number line.

History: The world of work, i.e. buying/trading, factories, goods vs. services, scarcity, decision making about needs/wants, money; also, appropriate seasonal history, such as finishing a (historically questionable, I thought) biography about Squanto, the history of the jack-o-lantern, Dia de los Muertos, Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, etc.

Science: Owls—life cycle, owl pellet dissection, nocturnal animals, bats; and Eric focused on the life cycle of a pumpkin (we love the text Pumpkin Jack and the life cycle cards from Montessori Printshop, both of which we also used with Katie way back when). We’ve also been troubleshooting our chickens, after an egg-eating incident. They are almost back to work, but we’ve been talking about behavioralism and the behaviorists. Instead of looking at this occurrence as a frustration, we have turned it into a big learning opportunity and project, as well as a chance to practice problem-solving in a real life scenario. This issue has been a blessing in disguise—thank goodness for life’s teachable moments!

Art/Special Interests: several Halloween and Thanksgiving crafts and art projects!

P.E.: soccer for Katie and our new autumn tradition of late afternoon/early evening walks all over our neighborhood. I run almost every morning, but the kiddos need daily exercise, too, beyond what they get just playing and being chased during hide-n-seek around the yard. We love to take that time at the end of the day, before dinner, to talk together and admire the beauty of the world around us and to debrief on the day and just explore. I am cherishing those walks. These years are going way too fast for my liking, and I want to savor as much time as possible with them.

Eric matches upper and lower case letters to pictures that begin with each letter


Pumpkin plotting on the axes.


Owl Moon snack


Looking at our moldy white pumpkin Jack Skellington and using the life cycle cards


Homeschooling in a fort the day after Halloween


Life and learning should be fun! What’s more fun than a cozy fort? We have left it up now for days, and we are all still enjoying it.


Owl pellet dissection


Katie loved assembling her voles


Thanksgiving themed counting cards from Montessori Printshop, which we laminated. I think they were $0.49? GREAT for Eric this week.


“Ii” is for “Indian”…I forgot to take a picture of “Gg” for “Ghost” and “Hh” for “house”


Pulling out literary devices in Owl Moon and interpreting them. These are her words, and yes, we have talked about the sublime. I did help her with spelling on this.

After reading a nonfiction article about the origin of pumpkin pie, we made mini pumpkin pies riffing off of a colonial recipe, and we also made “I am thankful for…” pumpkin pie spinners. The orange part rotates and the slice reveals various people/ideas Katie and Eric are thankful for.

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Katie read a nonfiction article on wild turkeys in North America, and then we did a preschool/Kinder craft together. I am more aware about building time in the day for Katie to join in these crafts with her brother. She still wants to, and why not? That’s one reason we school at home…so that we have time to do little fun things like this and so that she and her brother can learn and, more importantly, have FUN learning, together. It has been hard for me, at times, to temper my drive to be working on standards constantly, but for her happiness and mental stamina I know that sometimes I need to back off and just let her play and create. When we do things like this in the morning hours, I later get products from her like the hyperbole explanation above. Play and work have to be in balance, and if we can get work to feel like play, then we are going to get so much further toward our goal of fostering passionate lifelong seekers of knowledge.

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Using the unifix cubes to model math sentences… Those cubes have been one of my best purchases for our academy. We use them all the time, for various purposes, including pattern making and measuring.

Katie and Eric made moon viewers the other day (a paper plate with the center cut out, attached to a popsicle stick, with colored and cut out moon phases all around the circumference. They can hold it up to the moon, look through the hole, and match the real moon to its current phase.


We tried them out tonight… kind of a funky picture, but you can just see their bodies and Katie’s moon viewer. Waxing crescent! Owl Moon is SO rich for so many different little projects and connections to science. It has been one of my favorite texts that we have studied in the FIAR series.

It has been a busy month!

As Katie snuggled in bed with her favorite blanket, her first loose tooth still wiggling, it was the moment of hushed and giggly confessions as I tucked her in and kissed her good night. A little shy around the eyes, a little sly of smile, she told me the name of her first official crush. He’s a sweet little boy, I must say.

Oh sure, she’s had a “husband list”—infamous in our house—since the age of four. Most of the denizens of this list have been literary characters with a couple of exceptions: Hagrid, Sirius Black, Captain Jack Sparrow, Thor, Steven Tyler, and several more. Her plan? They would all live with us someday…in the shed outside, of course.

This boy, though, is part of her real life.

I remember my first grade crush: Ethan R. One day he even called me when I was playing after school in my backyard on my swing set. To say we were a precocious bunch of first graders that year of 1985 would be putting it mildly. Every recess was a chase game. The school had a rule that boys could not go into the girls’ restroom (and vice versa), so when it was our turn to be chased all the girls ran into our restroom. As the chasers, however, we ladies served no mercy. Those boys, including Ethan, ran for their lives all over the schoolyard (where were the teachers??), until we pinned them to the fence or down on the ground and kissed them as they screamed. Why did those boys never flee to their bathroom? That’s what I’d like to know… Oh who am I kidding? I’m married now: I know very well!

Ethan was the first—no, Mr. Rogers and Isaac from Love Boat were the first—of many crushes in my life. Somewhere in there was a crush that made a friendship stronger over time, a crush that wrecked a friendship irreparably, and a crush that became my first intense 17-year-old love, a love perfumed with summer jasmine at three in the morning, the we’re-leaving-for-separate-colleges love, the one that became the practice and instruction for all the hard goodbyes I would ever face again in this life.

There was the 6th grade crush who often passed by my street, and I would keep vigil reading in a chair in my room waiting for him to pass, listening (naturally) to Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush” on repeat (hello, 1990s). He had several journals dedicated to his existence. Now that I sound like a scary loser, I will say that I eventually moved on and set my sights on the boy who would become my first puppy love kiss (no, those first grade boys don’t count since they were screaming) one day after school.

After we broke up a few weeks later (young puppy love is short, man), he kissed other girls and I rotated through a handful of boys I liked from afar. Then I met Mr. Rochester, my first literary crush. Darcy? Yeah, okay. Heathcliff? In my more conflicted moments. Even to this day when I read Mr. Rochester’s words to Jane, my stomach flutters.

That butterfly, flippy, hot-streak-to-the-cheeks stomach is a feeling I know well. It’s been a few days since Katie spoke about her crush, and I guess I had never really thought too much about that state of mind at an objective distance too much before now. How do we describe the state of mind that is a “crush?” Reflecting now, I actually tried to count the number of crushes I’ve had in my life. They are numerous, but I promise if you were one, you can still feel special. Some were more serious and longer lasting than others. Not all were pathetic vigils, and I tried to cut out the scary stalking bit sometime after age 12. Well, kind of…

I think I’ve always loved that gloriously painful feeling of unrequited love, and the excitement of seeing the object of passion. The most cathartic poetry comes from it. For some reason the paintings of John William Waterhouse come to mind, the ones with the longing maidens staring wistfully off into space on a grey day. I am sure I have modeled those expressions more than once. Such delicious torture of wanting all of someone, or something, but being unable to have him/her/it enlivens the mind.

To have a crush is to live in a story. A crush is, after all, a work of superior fiction, a fantasy life that exists in liminal space.

To have a crush is to bring the literary imagination almost-but-not-quite into real life. It is to live constantly at the threshold of what we know to be true and what we have yet to know. To have a crush is to have curiosity, passion, and yes, obsession coexist for lengthy periods of time solely in the mind and unaided by anything except one’s internal fictional narrative.

To sustain a crush, our mind has to occupy a space in which anything is possible. It is an open, artistic, and creative mental space. The pleasure in the torment, the awe at the object of affection: these are perhaps the hallmarks of a life lived according to Burke’s definition of the Sublime. It is the same sublime feeling of shock and wonder we feel as we look over a precipice at a craggy vista or feel the thrill of the death drop on Tower of Terror: we know we will not perish, and thus the excitement titillates us from head to toe.

Perhaps that “crush” mindset is essential to our grasping of the universe? Or at least, our quest to grasp it. When we have a “crush” on knowledge, we do more than merely seek it. To live a life full of passion is to wake up daily and have a crush on something, sometimes many things. If we want to know a subject deeply, don’t we need an obsessive curiosity? If we want to create, musn’t we exist in that liminal space of real and imagined and bring one realm into the other?

I wholeheartedly love my husband, yet I also approach him with the crush mindset, which differs from love and which I believe we can will into being for ourselves (or squash if it does not serve us well). How powerful would we be if we could apply that crush mindset to other parts of our lives, besides people? I have a crush on running. I have a crush on Hamlet. I have a crush on autumn. I have a crush on playing with my kiddos. I have a crush on physics. I have a crush on this day.

As I was thinking about this topic, my first thoughts were, “I don’t think anyone has ever had a crush on me.” Then I wondered if there has ever been a person who did have a crush on me, and I was just oblivious. I wondered if I ever had a crush on someone when he did not know. I did have a crush on someone in 10th and 11th grade, and I thought I was playing it off really cool (in fact, I was playing it so cool I even convinced myself it wasn’t a crush but just admiration…although my journals reveal otherwise to my laughing adult eyes now). Ah, the schoolyard.

Why does talking about our crushes make us sound insane? I mean, seriously.

Anyway, in the process of going through a cabinet I found a little box I had made in elementary school. Inside this box was definitive proof that, yes, at some point in my life I was the object of a crush.

Exhibit 1:
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These were from D, at a mixed age daycare. I remember he was a year or two older than I was. I love the rainbows and sunshine—if it is to be anything, love should be rainbows and sunshine and hearts, right? For the boys who have become the men who wonder if we girls kept these notes…some of us do. Some of us have never laughed at you for the love you gave out.

Exhibit 2:


This note was from T.R. in 4th grade. We had the same teacher, and I had a crush on him, too. He was a sweet boy whose birthday fell on Valentine’s Day. This note says, “Will you be my girlfriend?” He had started to write, “Woud [sic] you be…” and then erased and changed it. He might have sensed my penchant for spelling things correctly and decided to go with a word he knew, or perhaps he had a 4th grader’s instinct that the conditional mood might leave too much up in the air.  (Would I be? And if I said yes, starting when)?

On the front of this note I wrote just a single word: “absolutely.”

Guess we weren’t pulling any punches here, eh?

Exhibit 3:


This note, one of three from A.E. in middle school, tickles my fancy even more now. At the time I found this approach unworkable. He sent me three letters that weren’t really letters but drawings, each of a piece of punctuation colored in dark black marker. The first was an exclamation point, the second was a colon, and the third was a question mark. Each note was folded and each had a similar disclaimer in the corner. A man that understands my love for grammar and conventions and plays to my sense of irony?

But I was crushing on someone else at the time… Even I had to go through my rebel-boy phase, sorry nerd-boys. I know: it’s like the pot calling the kettle black. But I ended up with one of you!

Sarah McGaugh

Sarah McGaugh


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