making do

One afternoon when the boys knew screens were not an option, they wandered outside and then into the garage where they picked up the bow and arrow their grandpa had made a number of years ago. Determining it was time for an updated model, they come in to get the pocket knife. Then pretty soon they wanted to watch an instructional video on how to make a bow from a tree branch. I was invited to help with the project.


“I could give you a hug,” the teen said as he tried out the bow just after we had finished stringing it with baling twine. For someone who never willingly offers a hug, that was saying a lot. I never did get the hug, but I’m holding on to the sentiment.

finishing well

“Did you get an email from school? our middle schooler asked when he arrived home Tuesday.

“An email about what?” I asked.

“School’s done for the year because it’s so hot.” I hadn’t yet received the email. I was actually looking forward to getting a lot of things done the last two days I’d be home by myself… Instead, I get one more opportunity to adjust to a change in plans. Another abrupt ending. Feels like that’s been a recurring theme in the past year.

“Did you get an email?” our fourth grader asked when he came home later in the afternoon.

“Yes, I found out that school’s done for the year. How did your classmates respond to the news?”

“Some of them started crying.”

“Why do you think they did that?”

“Because it was unexpected,” he responded.

Couldn’t they just have just gone on and ended the year according to schedule? Lots of kids will be missing the closure they really could use right about now.

I still insisted they do their homework. I directed my middle schooler turn in the assignments due that day. I tried the same thing the next day. Since the work is all submitted online, his only counterargument is, “But WHY? They’re not going to grade it anyway.”

Because the teacher assigned it. Because the main reason we do homework is for the sake of learning. Because your education is at stake. No, I’m not talking about your grade; I’m talking about your education.

When I was a kid I had to feed newborn calves. Every once in a while there’d be a calf that didn’t want to take a bottle. The preferred way I dealt with those finicky calves was to tell Dad they wouldn’t drink. He’d take care of it, he’d say. But as I got older, that didn’t work any longer, and Dad would send me back to finish the job. He offered some tips, like try putting the calf in a head lock with your legs and then get the bottle in its mouth. Sometime that worked. Sometime it took more than half an hour to get some milk into a calf. Sometimes I got pretty irritated with my dad for making me do something so difficult. More than once I was surprised to discover that what I’d called impossible was actually possible.

Finishing up a few school assignments – even if they’re hard or take more time than a kid would like – seems like a poor proxy for the real-world experience I had on the farm, but it’s what’s before us at the moment. So the past two days have involved working on math packets and science assignments that my boys are convinced no other kid in their classes is actually doing. They are probably about as irritated as I once was.

When this week is over, we’ve still got time to enjoy our summer vacation. In the mean time, we might just be developing a little bit of grit.

February lessons

I saw my ten-year-old off to school this morning – something we hadn’t done in a good 11 months. No one else was at the bus stop, not even his older brother who goes to the same school, because only elementary learners have been welcomed back so far. We waited in the below zero weather, thinking about how much more pleasant it is to wait for the bus in September, when you don’t even need a jacket. This is not the way I would have written the script. But I’m trusting that things have happened this way for a reason.

And if I were writing the script, I surely wouldn’t have included any broken bones, but that’s what I got earlier this month. Trusting that it has happened for a reason is a little bit harder when it comes to my broken wrist. Yet I’ve come to see that there are things for me to learn in the forced stillness, including things that I hadn’t known I need to learn. My new (metal) accessories were attached last Friday:

After a week with a rather bulky wrap around my wrist, I got a slimmer brace yesterday.

I’m rejoicing at the increased mobility and looking for ways to savor the moments that are rich and meaningful: helpful acts, kind words, and time spent with those I love best. Sure beats worrying or getting stuck in the “I can’t wait until…” mentality where I’m so preoccupied with what I want to happen next that I’m not fully living in the present.

a lesson in lunch prep

The library is one of the few places we go during quarantine. While browsing at Rice Street Library last week, our older son picked up a copy of the Bone Handbook by Jeff Smith:

While he was reading it, he pointed out that there’s a recipe for quiche in there. “Let’s make it,” he suggested.

“Good idea,” I responded, deciding not to mention that both he and his brother complain whenever I put a veggie-laden crustless quiche or frittata on the table. 

His ten year-old-brother grabbed the book when he had set it down and looked over the ingredient list. “As long as you leave out the green onions,” he said.

“Okay,” I agreed. “I could just sprinkle some on my piece after it’s baked.”

So I made the pie crust, fried the bacon, and delegated most of the other preparation tasks to our teen. He likes his vegetables raw, he pointed out. The unstated message was clear: resist any urge to add something green to the dish. So made a cabbage and kale salad to serve as a side. Once the quiche was in the oven, he jumped onto a Google meet with his Computer Applications teacher, and I was left to keep an eye on it during its time in the oven.

It turned out to be a lovely lunch, we all agreed. The leftovers were great, too, but one of the best parts is that he’s starting to take more ownership for his cooking lessons, which officially began last month as his mom’s addition to the studying-at-home curriculum.

fall 2020 “firsts”

The first day of school this fall was a first day like no other. We took the obligatory first-day pictures of our fourth grader

…and our seventh grader.

But no one got on the bus. The boys logged in for Google meets, though I think the middle schooler missed a few. Distance learning is no one’s favorite around here, but we’re focusing on the positives. No long bus rides. You can take breaks when you want. You get to have a hot lunch at home – and you don’t even need to pack it.

The back-to-school shopping was different this year too. In addition to typical things like jeans and shoes – which were still necessary because they’re both growing like weeds – we bought a globe, a couple of magazine subscriptions, and portable desks (actually TV trays). Now everyone has a designated work space (including mom and dad).

Another, perhaps more exciting, first happened this week. We got to return to our local public library for browsing. It was the first time since March that we could wander through the stacks. (Though we were thankful for contact-less pick-up to tide us over.) We came home with a nice selection of library books, which we can hang on to for a whole month if we wish.

Other firsts have included a socially-distanced outdoor fourth-grade meet up, joining a masked soccer league, and the first day of youth group. We’re developing resiliency as we figure out how to thrive in this new normal. Some days are exhausting, some days are tear-filled, and some days I feel like I’ve accomplished almost nothing. But I’m holding out hope that one day we’ll look back at this period of time and remember it with a certain fondness. Here’s to the memories we’re making!

nature photo journal, late July 2020

You immediately registered your dissent when your mom suggested we all grab our iPads and try our hand at nature photography. But, as usual, it turned out better than you were expecting.

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Our first stop was Villa Park, where we immediately saw the egret-in-residence wading at water’s edge. But it was hard to get a good shot among all the trees. Our amateurish attempts did yield a few memorable pictures of the bird as it decided we were getting too close for comfort.

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Then there was the green heron, perched peacefully just near the shoreline,

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the deer that was calmly browsing, pausing several times to stare back at us,

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and some cool fungus that seemed particularly photogenic.

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After taking these photos, we headed to Harriet Alexander Nature Center, where we mostly kept our iPads tucked away, protecting them from potential pond water mishaps. We paused several moments to watch this caterpillar up close, gobbling up its dinner.

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As you and your dad were walking toward the parking lot, your mom managed to capture a photo of some bees busy collecting nectar.

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Across the street, at the arboretum, your brother found the gravel just as fascinating as the flowers.

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The blacked-eyed Susans were as lovely as ever,

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and the silver sage looked so soft you may have had an impulse to pet it.

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It turned out to be a lovely evening for a walk, and a bit of cloud-gazing. And the picture-taking added a fun new twist to our outdoor time that day.

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blueberry week

D4368DEE-6708-43AD-816D-27F56F3125B9We have had a number of blue days this summer, days in which we have felt just a little too confined and too stuck in a rut. We’re missing the variety and spontaneity that ought to be hallmarks of summer. Of course there have been laughter and fun moments too, but the waiting and wondering about when we’ll see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel lingers in the back of the mind and adds a little extra heaviness on the down days.

But this week is blue for a different reason: blueberries. Tuesday we picked blueberries at Blueberry Fields of Stillwater. Wednesday we baked blueberry kuchen. Today we are still enjoying both the fresh berries and the cake.

some defining words of fourth quarter

ACEACE92-F184-4BAD-9B4B-8AB66499B421This week we’re closing the books on a school year like no other, complete with some big life lessons and the unique twists and turns of distance learning. Let’s recap by reviewing some of the defining words of this last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year.    

Racism. You got a glimpse into just how much racism continues to plague this nation. The disturbing images on the news in recent weeks have left us all grieving. It’s been a bit overwhelming to witness such injustice, rage, and brokenness in our system and in our city – even in ourselves. You’ve grown up in a household in which two different races and cultures are represented. You have seen that people with different skin colors can live together in harmony, that our lives are richer for the diversity within our family and  reciprocal friendships, and that different perspectives can be an asset when working together toward a shared goal. Your parents still have much to learn, but we hope we have at least been an example of recognizing our own shortcomings and working through misunderstandings with grace and humility. We are confident that you can be agents of positive change in this world as you discover your purpose in life and live out your part in the ultimate redemptive plan. 

Fragility. We rarely like to think about our own limitations, but this pandemic has reminded us of our vulnerability and our mortality. It has shed light on the truth that we are not as in control of our world as we tend to think. As concern and fear of the coronavirus spread, leaders felt they had no better option than to call a halt to life as we knew it. We stayed home. Nearly everybody stayed home – all the time. You heard stories of empty grocery shelves (didn’t see them yourselves because you were at home.) You’ve grieved the loss of our familiar routines. You’ve felt pangs of isolation, missing friends from school, missing all the casual, commonplace interactions in a given day. We have all felt emotionally exhausted. We have been crankier than usual. We have been more easily moved to tears – or emotional outbursts. We have gotten lots practice asking for and extending forgiveness. We’ve grown closer. And stronger.
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Resilience. You have shown yourselves able to adapt in the midst of adversity and stress. You have applied yourselves and learned the academic content your teachers delivered online. You have turned our kitchen into a science lab while floating foil boats, observing chemical reactions, and twirling convection snakes. You have become better problem solvers. You’ve asked good questions as we read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn together. You’ve been reminded that using one’s skills and time for the benefit of others is our responsibility and privilege. You have held on to hope. One day you will come to understand just how much fortitude you’ve gained by overcoming the challenges and frustrations of these past few months.

You’ve learned a lot this year – we all have – and we want to celebrate that learning. It has been a privilege to grow alongside you and help you develop in ways that will serve you well for years to come. 

distance learning from the perspective of a twelve-year-old

My middle schooler wrote a poem modeled after The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams:

So much depends

upon

the world wide

web,

connecting with distant

people

on an old

iPad.

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