Sunday, August 31, 2014


Charles and I spend a great deal of time today organizing.  We had cleaned out the garage a few weeks ago and now began on the closets, relegating our linen to a stack in an old television cabinet and using the linen closet for a craft and science supply space.  Mr. Science (a.k.a. Charles) had been stacking his science teaching supplies in a corner between classes and that wasn't working too well... and since he ordered some cool new stuff, it was time.

I also went through all of the State of California learning objective standards for the third and fifth grades, plus some other standards I thought might be interesting, updated our paperwork to keep our homeschool legal, and organized books for initial curriculum options.  (I feel sorry for whomever had to write these standards, which we use to make sure we aren't forgetting anything.)

Felt good to get organized, even if my plans are a bit optimistic in terms of what I hope to accomplish: I'm hoping to add art, philosophy, and anatomy to our regular basics (reading, writing, math, history, literature, religion, Spanish), plus both girls are taking classes in theater/Greek mythology, engineering, and chess and K will have a public speaking class.  I'm excited about merging our ongoing CA history plans with some US History, which has always been a favorite topic of mine.  Now we'll see where this academic year's journey takes us!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Playdate... for Me

The kids had fun at a local park, but really this was for me - a chance to reconnect with their mom, who is a friend with whom I worked on a Board of Directors for over ten years and one of the most extraordinarily bright and interesting people I know. She recently made a career decision to go to work as a consultant so that she could choose work and colleagues that inspire and interest her and indeed hearing about her innovative work in education, leadership, and more was fascinating and exciting. I loved connecting, of course, and especially loved being inspired by work choices that show intentionality of purpose and an authentic, holistic understanding to what work really is. Great to catch up with her awesome kids, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Not Back to School Hike

The local public schools started back today.  We went for a hike with a neighbor mom and daughter who homeschool; beautiful day and our young friend caught a young lizard!  This picture turned out better than the photo of the kids, who were not being particularly cooperative; ah well!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Go Giants!

Last minute tickets offered by the neighbors, season ticket holders who were disappointed with a work commitment.  Charles and K went together and got home at about 10:45 buzzing with excitement, as the team had come close to pitching a perfect game.  The next morning, K decided on a goal:  within the next three years, she'd like to get her Giant's posted signed by Madison Baumgartner.  Love her enthusiasm (and determination to play for them herself someday).

Monday, August 25, 2014


I had a day of back-to-school meetings, so Charles took the girls to the Tech Museum.  Or, told another way, they weren't ready to go back to school themselves, so we blasted them into outer space.  Sounds like a fun day; sorry I missed it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

49er Game at New Stadium

A friend gave us tickets to the 49ers preseason game against the Chargers and it was fun to see the new stadium.  It looks like an airport terminal with a drinking problem - very elegant and with alcohol (bars) everywhere.  And cost-prohibitive!  Yikes - $720 just for the four of us to get in the door.  We didn't buy anything inside, needless to say!

The girls must bring the 'Niners luck, as they won.  Yeah!  The girls will always be able to say that they saw the first 'Niner touchdown ever in the new stadium.

Fun family Sunday after a family Saturday of togetherness organizing the garage and craft closet.  The Saturday was less glamorous, but it did feel good to get it done... next step: swapping the linen closet for the science cabinet.  A week until school starts again!


Woke me at 3:25AM; I could hear the glass in the windows rattling and the cause was immediately clear.  I lay there, wondering if I should wake the girls, but then it was over.  It woke Charles too and K opened her eyes for a moment, but fell back to sleep.  G and the dogs didn't move a muscle. 

Good to know that this house, one of the oldest in California, can withstand a decent-sized earthquake.  Friends in the north bay had huge messes in their homes as things fell out of cabinets and broke and we're glad everyone seems to be okay.

(The girls tell me that next time, I should definitely wake them up... they didn't like knowing they'd missed the action!  Good Californians.  My grandfather slept through the 1906 earthquake (though later his house was destroyed in the fire), so I guess it is in their bones.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A New School Year Begins

First class to start:  Religious Ed.  I took this photo at a reception following the first classroom session.  K is going to get homework, which is great because it allows us to reinforce the learning (something we didn't have last year at all) and G's teacher made a point of telling us that she has "a real presence" in the classroom, volunteers readily to help, and follows through with whatever she is charged to do.  Funny, that follow through is not something I see much at home unless the activity is her idea... hmmm.  :-)  Glad, though, that other classes don't start until AFTER Labor Day; classes any sooner violate the sanctity of August as summer time and horrify my inner child (I was never eager to give up freedom and fun for school).

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Everyone in Glasses

Silly fun with pajama-clad girls, our dogs, and Puck's "BFF," who is staying with us for a few weeks while his family is on vacation.  K had on her new Harry Potter glasses, Puck has my sunglasses, Ike has some cheap ones Charles picked up somewhere, G has on my reading glasses (yup, need 'em at the end of the day now, after reading over 4,000 pages this summer out loud!), and Winston has on our science safety glasses. Happy silliness.  Doesn't Winston look like The Invisible Man?  Hee, hee...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Birthday Celebration

We've moved, lately, from birthday gatherings to celebratory family outings, which cost less and resonate better in this family of (mostly) introverts.  G gave great thought to what she wanted to do for her bday - she's been talking about it since April! - and ended up deciding to pick blackberries, which was wonderful fun, capturing for me the very essence of summer and of childhood.  The birthday mom proved the biggest child of all, picking happily after the others lost interest and the birthday girl was happy all day having simple fun together, eating burritos for dinner, and choosing to go to bed early to read the fabulous book we are almost done with.  

Up next?  Baking marathons, then freezing pies for the holidays....

Awesome bday girl!  Love her so much!

Fun in the pool.  Her specific request - to swim with me, so I had to overcome my dislike of cold, over-chlorinated water.  Worth it; we had a blast!

It is "big sister day" too.  And the bday girl only wanted to go if we could take Puck, who was happy to oblige.

S'mores around the campfire; does life get any better?

Blackberry mess = joy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

St. Dominic's Young Adult Group's Silver Jubilee

A lovely mass and celebration; wonderful to see old friends and glad so many could come.  Letters of congratulations came from many sources, but it was this paragraph in one from Father Mark Padrez of the Province of the Holy Name (a former YAG member) that captured most what I miss in my life and value about this community:

"... it is the collective Catholic witness that the Young Adult Group offers that is most needed in our society.  Today more young adults [and people of all ages!] need to see that the Church is alive and joyful with people who believe in Christ and the Church.  The Church gives value and direction in life at a time when so many are searching for meaning.  The Young Adult Group by their example as a community powerfully demonstrates that we need community and that community confirms and uplifts each individual to answer the Lord's call to love and be loved and to serve others."


Saturday, August 9, 2014

San Francisco Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

Free Shakespeare in the park... in style! First "Shrew School," a fun introduction that explained the historical context of this difficult theme. It is rather fascinating to contemplate why it is still performed, given the seemingly outdated theme.  This intro was fun and interesting; a mini play before the play that introduced historic, feminist, comic, and literary themes. Then, we enjoyed the play in style with a gourmet picnic (la de da!) that I had packed at home. Several of the girls' Shakespeare coaches were part of the production and seeing them in action was really awesome; we laughed and laughed.  A wonderful evening!

Friday, August 8, 2014

CA History: Redwood City

Redwood City was part of a Spanish land grant; who knew that we'd stumble across some CA history while doing errands! Great little historic tour.

OK, lego isn't CA history, but she was very excited by this!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More Wildlife: Kittens and Fauns

It feels urban/suburban here, but the wild baby mammals were out in droves this week, or so it seems. We caught one of the feral kittens and held it until it relaxed in our arms; so sweet. His wild mama watched us from nearby, napping... she's never really let us pet her, but must trust us with her kiddo.

This faun I saw just a few blocks away... and right in front of me.  The next day, we spotted a dead faun that looked like it had its neck broken just across the creek from our back porch.  Not sure what happened.  Likely, it was the course of nature, but still we were sad.  I was going to call Animal Care and Control to have it picked up, but found out that our neighbor wants to take it herself and dry the bones for her collection.  As homeschoolers with our on unique projects, I appreciate having weird neighbors (and I truly mean that as a compliment, even if the decapitated deer head she brought over one day a year or so ago was a little much.  :-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Real Adventure: Backpacking for Six Days in the Sierras

The girls and I did a six day backpack in the Sierras and, for a combination of reasons, it was one of the hardest things I've done. And I've done a lot of hard things! This was the longest trip we've done together by about four days, which was significant. We were over 10,000' for a big part of it, which affected our physical performance. The weather did not cooperate at all at the beginning of the trip, which created challenges, quite scary for a while.

Beyond the physical, our relationship was different in these situations. Normally, I can fix problems, find solutions, help... but on many of these days, I was at my absolute physical limit with no ability to help carry weight or shorten our route. We became more of a team, with me changing "you can do it" to "we can do it." That carried implications I am just beginning to process.

As an experienced backpacker, I got lazy when I shouldn't have.  With kids depending on me, I really should have planned better! I carried too much of some things, too little of others, and didn't check to see what was working and what was not. Being in a remote part of the mountains without a stove was one result; a definite challenge with nothing much but dehydrated food with us. But we made it....

I was also reminded - something I forget every time - that backpacking is painful. All the time. From the moment that weight hits your shoulders in the morning through the long nights on a narrow (or no) sleeping pad. Kids don't let you forget that, either!  They are used to having parents alleviate pain, not say, "yep, I hurt too." Lots of life analogies to reflect upon, but their relevance to a six and nine year old may or may not resonate. I am still considering that.

All that said, it was a magnificent trip! To see such deeply beautiful sights, close and far, to be where virtually no one goes, to experience sunrises and sunsets reflecting against incredible granite features, to share my passion for the backpacking experience with two lovely daughters whom I so adore and wonderful family friends, whom we all appreciate and love; all of these made the experience wonderful, unforgettable....

I have so much to say about the experience and yet am still relatively wordless, still processing the experience.   I had spiritual insights. And thoughts about the value of the experience educationally. And so many thoughts about those with whom I shared trips in the past - Mom, Jill, Brian, Darryl, Beth, Lynn, Tracey, Vivian, and more. More to come on all of these various layers of meaning.

But now the photos: Such beauty, hard to capture when being there in person is so much more vivid, but still stunning.

DAY ONE: Twin Pines Lake to Barney Lake in the Hoover Wilderness - a half day once we took care of vehicle logistics, got our permits, and made a quick stop to buy rain ponchos.  As usual, I threw that pack on and thought, "how the heck am I going to do this?"  But I've had enough experience to know that somehow I keep trudging on, though in retrospect that experience worked against me and I should have given more thought to the food, which I had a bit too much of.  But I didn't know whether the girls would be more or less hungry after backpacking all day and so erred on the side of making sure they had enough.  A reasonable mom-mistake, I suppose.  We camped on the west side of the lake, a tiny spot nestled amongst granite boulders.  The first of six nights, we didn't have enough space in the bear canister for all of the assorted smelly stuff (sunscreen, etc.) and hung the rest from an excellent (if I do say so myself) bag balanced in a tree.  Since the tree was on a slope, it was virtually inaccessible.  Our route was beautiful... hot, but then we got a mild afternoon thundershower, perfect for cooling us off.

DAY TWO: Barney Lake to just over Mule Pass.  The hardest day: mostly all uphill, plus we had horrific weather.  We started the long uphill trudge diligently and welcomed the rain initially as it cooled us off.  But soon we heard thunder and had to take shelter away from our packs in a hail storm because the lightening was so close.  That was scary and uncomfortable (I brought no waterproof clothes, one of several revelations that I had packed for two, not three).  Still, the longer trudge uphill after the thundershowers themselves abated was worse, for it continued to storm on us and we were wet, tired, and uncomfortable.  I did find a very cool arrowhead, leading us to reflect, about our route, "more artifacts than people!"  (Not quite, but....)  We made less progress than expected and the final pass seemed to be endlessly always higher.  Finally we made it over Mule pass, which is the Yosemite border, and camped in a gorgeous spot by a small stream, just about at tree level.  I was very glad to stop that day, very grateful that the rain had stopped, and very amazed to see two "exhausted" girls scamper off playing as I set up camp.  Few pictures, unfortunately, the storm just didn't inspire me to try with the camera; this one is first thing in the morning, headed into the mountains just behind K.

DAY THREE: Just over Mule Pass to the Matterhorn Canyon.
Up with the sun and watching a quail and her chicks scamper on the granite above us.  We began with a steep downhill through perfect alpine meadows, trickling streams and tons of gorgeous wildflowers.  We descended into a forest, walking along a river, also gorgeous.  I was intrigued by a view of a similar canyon filled with rockfall and with no trails, but we stuck to our trail as it ascended toward Burro Pass.  The ascent mimicked our earlier descent as the forest faded and we rose above tree level, but this time we were shadowed by the dramatic Sawtooth Ridge, which had seemed so far away when we got our permits but which now towered just above us.  G staged a sit-in this day, refusing to move.  My mothering skills plunged to a new low when she left her backpack on the trail behind her and after a lot of bad behavior from both of us, I ended up just hugging her until she decided to keep going.  This was the day my physical limitations were revealed fully, for I did try to carry her pack for her, but just couldn't manage it.   The final ascent was particularly steep and hard, but we were rewarded with dramatic views in both directions of the Sawtooth Ridge and the Matterhorn Canyon.  Our descent was pretty all the way and we camped in a lovely wooded site near the river.

DAY FOUR:  Matterhorn Canyon into the Virginia Canyon.  Up early to see two large bucks carefully stepping around camp, then a large rabbit staring at us.  Have I seen rabbits high in the Sierras before?  I don't think so... at lunch we saw frogs, equally unusual (or did I notice less before kids?)  We began with a nice walk, slightly downhill, through the rest of the Matterhorn Canyon, which was through the forest and just delightful.  Unfortunately, our route then called for a massive ascent to Miller Lake.   As soon as we started up, both girls slowed with excuses.  I wasn't looking forward to it either, so the challenge of keeping them moving was truly difficult.  I had been bribing with hard candy for the first three and half days, but this ascent took more and I ended up with a super-power solution in the form of my rosary, which resulted in a surprisingly spiritual experience as G prayed out loud for the majority of the ascent, creating a contemplative mantra that truly helped us to complete the long trudge up the hill.  I was so grateful!  Miller Lake was our first real lunch break of the trip, a stunningly beautiful lake that should have had a more romantic name; it reminded me of a gorgeous lake I encountered on a trek through Switzerland once, though that one was surrounded by picnicking day hikers and here we had just the frogs and a mule team leader who came over to tell us how impressed he was with the kids.  (Hey, what about me?  :-)  Actually, this stretch of trail was part of the Pacific Crest Trail and so we met a fair number of through-hikers, which is an inspiring experience... people doing 3,000 miles on foot!

From Miller Lake we headed on down (and some more ups) into the Virginia Canyon, past stunning cascades at one point.  We met our one and only ranger on the trip, who startled me by catching up and merely saying "hello!"  She was enthusiastic and friendly, offering the kids stickers, to which they replied, "but that will add to our pack weight."  Spoken like true backpackers.  Our trail took longer than expected, but we camped where our ranger had recommended, near the next trail head.  It was a spectacular site near a creek crossing and near two other backpackers who took photos of us crossing the creek.  Paparazzi!  It was at dinner this night that my stove unexpectedly stopped working.  Sigh!  I must have been too tired for photos, as I seem to just have this one of Miller Lake and another of the three of us by the gorgeous cascades.  Incidentally, all of the water we are now passing is part of the Hetchy Hetchy watershed, making our CA history studies perhaps more detailed in our experience of this system than anyone else concerned about a fourth grade curriculum in the state of California.  :-)

DAY FIVE:  Virginia Canyon to East Lake
Woke up after the second night of having given up my sleeping pad to K.  We only brought one, intended for me, but when she asked, I felt like she'd earned it given her general lack of complaining, especially after the first couple of days (when I heard, "I despise and loathe you" at least ten times.  An hour.)  It wasn't the most comfortable sleep, but I could do it, which means in the future I may forgo the weight.  I dreamed that I was flying above all of my current concerns as they flowed like a river beneath me, which is probably the best gift of backpacking.

We followed the canyon slowly up and out of the Virginia Canyon over Summit Pass.  Our terrain changed dramatically from high alpine to volcanic as we left Yosemite at the pass.  I did carry G's pack up that last ascent, which was hard, but the gorgeous views helped.  Summit Lake, where we had lunch, was also dramatic and gorgeous and we identified mountain lion prints and later scat near the lake.

The hike down was intensely different.  We passed lake after lake, often surrounded by red peaks covered with scree and punctuated with grassy meadows and creeks bordered by unfamiliar wildflowers, some that looked like yellow violets.  We camped at East Lake at a site overlooking the north side of the lake.   It was windy but gorgeous.

Looking back down the Virginia Canyon

G headed up (packless)

Not too tired for gymnastics competitions during lunch

DAY SIX:  East Lake to Green Creek
Up again at the crack of dawn, savoring this beauty.  The slope of the surrounding mountains came down to the lake almost symmetrically, framing a gorgeous volcanic red peak in the background.  We were the only people at the lake, which was large and gorgeous.  I sat over the lake and contemplated the trip, eager to be home and clean and yet already missing waking up to this.  Such a beautiful gift of morning.

G woke up to a bloody nose after arguing in her sleep all night, complaining that her sister wouldn't give her any water.  It was cold when I woke (zipper on my sleeping bag broke too) and got colder as the wind rose.  I climbed back into the tent with the two girls and made up "Mean 'Ole King" stories as my mom, uncle, and their dad did generations ago.  I am not a particularly good story teller and I am surprised that they like the stories, especially with all the really good literature we read.

Our final (half) day was an easy downhill that lasted too long as we anticipated seeing the car; it was made longer by a nasty fall that G made coming down and her terror when I made the mistake of cautioning her to be careful when stepping over rocks in case there were rattlesnakes.  Sigh!  And then we were done, dusty, thirsty, and tired, but proud, super proud, of these tough and delightful kids.

K at Ostrander Point on our drive home
I am still processing additional parenting, educational, practical, and spiritual reflections   .  I am so proud of these girls.  In my life, when I have met challenges, I have been able to say, "I did [fill in the blank with an adventure]; I can certainly do this.  Now they can too... and the memory of their strong legs on the trail above and ahead of me fills me with joy, knowing that I have been able to share this love of beauty and of adventure with them.

At one point, with all of the "I loathe you" threats, I wondered whether I was making a mistake, pushing too hard, making them hate what I most love.  But at the end of the day, I think I'd regret more having them grow up wondering why I kept something I love so much from them.  Already, a few weeks later, they are grinning with pride as they share their adventures.  My hope is that this fuels their confidence so that they fully realize that they can accomplish anything they desire, that they make life choices with no thought to limitations and especially not any driven by the expectations of others.