• on putting up a BLM sign

    Two days after we put up that yard sign, someone climbed our fence and stole it. So we put up another one.

    damaged fence, new sign

    Then that afternoon when we were all outside getting ready for the wedding, a man we didn’t know walked by shouting that all lives mattered. His aggressiveness was so startling — so utterly bizarre — that I almost laughed. Some people.

    A little later, my older son left to run an errand. Almost immediately, he called us. The man was walking back, my son said, and when he’d driven by him, the man had yelled, flinging his arms wide and then lunging towards the car.

    It was like he wanted to hit me, my son said.

    We could hear the man bellowing all lives matter before he even reached our house. Without thinking, I walked into the yard to meet him. I had no idea what I’d say, but I knew I couldn’t cower in the shadows while he yelled us. I needed to see him, and I needed him to see me.

    As I approached the fence, I called out a greeting and asked his name.

    “It don’t matter what my name is,” the man blared. “You read your Bible!” He stepped closer and jabbed his finger at the sign. “Read your Bible! Quit being a hypocrite. All lives matter, not just freakin’ Blacks!”

    “Of course they do,” I said quietly.

    “You’re damn right they do! So quit supportin’ ‘em. Stand up for your damn self!”

    He turned abruptly and I, unwilling to let him walk away without some sort of rebuttal, called after him, “I hope you learn to let other people talk, too —”

    “No, I’m not!” he said, cutting me off. “I’m tired of this bullshit!”

    He flapped his hand at me in disgust and stormed off, and I headed back to the house.

    I’d almost reached the porch when, suddenly overwhelmed and short of breath, I sat down in the yard. What had just happened? What kind of a person screams at complete strangers?

    My older son pulled into the drive then — after he’d called us, he’d circled back — and my older daughter held up her phone. She’d recorded the whole thing.

    Within minutes our collective flabbergasted silence soon gave way to incredulity and indignation and, with emotions soaring sky high, we turned on each other.

    Someone should follow him.
    No, let it go.
    But we need to know where he lives!
    No. He could have a gun.
    That’s crazy.
    You saw how he acted!
    He’s not going to do anything.
    You don’t know that.

    In the end no one went anywhere, but I was reminded of the Beautiful Trouble seminar the two older kids and I had taken a couple years back where we’d learned tools to effect change through nonviolent means.

    “We put that sign in our yard because there’s a problem,” I said. “What just happened proves it. Of course there’s going to be trouble. It doesn’t feel good, but racism doesn’t feel good either.”

    I was shaken and unmoored. What was the right way to respond in this situation? How should we proceed? I had no idea, but one thing was clear: For this sort of backlash, we were entirely unprepared.


    The next morning I woke early, my mind racing. Should we have reported the incident? Was our family in danger? Was it safe for me to go running by myself? And then—

    Oh no! That man had been standing only inches from my face and I hadn’t been wearing a mask!

    Aw, heck.

    Downstairs, I opened Facebook and shot a message to a friend who’s been active in the BLM protests. I needed some coaching. How were we supposed to respond to this sort of aggression? When should we engage? When should we hide?

    It felt a little nervous, sharing what had happened. Would he, like my husband, think me foolish for getting so close to an irate stranger? Would he tell me I’d worsened an already volatile situation?

    I needn’t have worried. My friend wrote back without even a hint of reprimand. Instead, he took what happened seriously — more seriously than I even had. There’d been a few cases of harassment (even death threats) since the protests and he named specific trends to watch for. He pointed out that tampering with a sign is not just a minor inconvenience (as I’d framed it in my mind) but an actual crime. He parsed the video, pointing out the ways in which the man’s language reflected the ideology of white nationalists.

    And as to how we should respond? Take down license plate numbers, he said. Figure out where people lived, if possible. Film all interactions, and do so openly since being filmed tended to keep people from doing anything too stupid.

    It was basic information, really, but just knowing what sorts of things to look for, and how to collect the necessary information, reduced my anxiety tremendously. If this happened again, at least I’d have a plan.


    When that man yelled at me, part of me felt stricken. Raised in the Mennonite peace tradition, it’s been hammered into me that the correct way to solve conflicts is through peaceful means. We dialogue. We speak calmly. We listen. We reconcile and forgive. We are supposed to make peace, not goad complete strangers into apoplectic fits. Clearly, I’d done something wrong.

    In the moment, my immediate gut reaction was to de-escalate the situation and find a way to have a productive, rational conversation. And afterward, I felt ashamed. It was all my fault. If I’d been better prepared with the right words — the right logic, the right expressions, the right tone, the right body language — maybe there could’ve been a better, more constructive, outcome.

    And yet why should I expect anything different? Since when does speaking out against an injustice go over well?

    Having that man’s rage trained on me was transformative. The fear and bewildering confusion I felt in that moment were both illuminating and galvanizing. I’ve never doubted there is racism, but discussing it in measured tones — in my Sunday school classes, writing groups, anti-oppression equity task force meetings, and blog posts — is one thing.

    Feeling it is another thing entirely.


    This story has no tidy ending. I’m still conflicted. I worry that putting up a sign worsens our country’s deepening divide. I worry that things are already too fargone. I worry about what may happen if we don’t take a stand.

    So to close, here are a few gems that have helped ground me….

    *Bryon Stevenson on how America can heal. (The Ezra Klein Show) I’ve listened to this podcast twice, once by myself and then a second time with the rest of the family. If you can only pick one thing from this list, let it be this. It’s long but it’s so good that I wish it was longer.

    listening while snapping

    *The documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble is well worth it. We watched it as a family the other night, with lots of stops and starts so we could explain and discuss. (And today the NYTimes published his last writing: Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.)

    *Rednecks for Black Lives (NPR) gives me hope.

    *Regarding the Portland BLM protests, here’s a short documentary about the Wall of Moms and their switch to Black leadership.

    *This is a local report on the deepening divide in our area: A Valley Between Them. (The Harrisonburg Citizen)

    *And, oh hey! Sign solidarity! (The Harrisonburg Citizen)


    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.30.18), iced café con leche, the quotidian (7.31.17), injera and beef wat, my deficiency, a pie story, joy, blueberry torn-biscuit cobbler, a quick pop-in, Indian pilaf of rice and split peas.

  • the coronavirus diaries: week whatever

    Monday morning, my older son woke up not feeling well. He had a sore throat and headache. I slapped a mask on him and called MedExpress.

    Yes, we have tests, the woman said, but only a limited number so come in as soon as possible.

    At the doctor’s office, they ruled out strep and ran a Covid test. We should get the results in two to five days, they said. However, based on all the firsthand accounts of testing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s closer to two weeks.

    Back home, we banished my son to the clubhouse — he’s been sleeping there, but he avoids being out there during the day because of the heat — and I borrowed an AC window unit from a friend. My younger son helped him prop it in the doorway and nailed up a heavy blanket as a makeshift door. Now we’ve renamed the clubhouse “The Refrigerator.”

    I spent the morning rearranging my week: canceling a dentist appointment and a pool playdate, letting the bakery know, and emailing everyone he’s been around.

    It’s two days later now, and he’s almost completely normal. He had a fever at the doctor’s office but, even though I make him check throughout the day, he’s never had one since. No one he’d been in contact with has had any symptoms. Probably it’s just a cold.

    I’m sort of kicking myself for reacting so swiftly. I had to miss Magpie’s opening day — I was so excited to be there, too! — and now we’re doomed to waiting, at the mercy of the sluggish testing system. Even then, he could have a false negative. I can’t help thinking: when so many covid-positive people are asymptomatic, or with symptoms so mild they don’t even notice them, isn’t physical distancing and mask-wearing our only real defense anyway?

    On the other hand, if it is covid and I hadn’t reacted responsibly, I’d feel terrible.

    So there you have it. Thanks to Coronavirus, I’ve turned into the sort of mother who freaks out over a stupid little cold. Next up, I’ll probably do something equally uncharacteristic, like dye my hair platinum, mount a flatscreen TV above the woodstove, or put my kids in school.

    Oh wait — can’t do that.

    Damn coronavirus.

    Update: He got the test back: it’s negative!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.29.19), hill of the martyrs, in the kitchen, dance party, the story of a trusty skirt, do you strew?, heading north, the boy and the bike ride, July evening.

  • magpie

    Back in the spring, a few weeks before the coronavirus struck, I was invited to consider a part-time baking position at a new, soon-to-be-open bakery. I interviewed, said yes, and then everything went on hold for a few months while they finished renovations on the building, the old, triangular Big L Tire garage.

    It’s a pretty cool place. Magpie Diner — the main attraction — is on the first floor, along with the inhouse bakery and a coffee roaster business, and then the second floor (and part of the first) is coworking space. (Remember The Hub? Now it’s The Perch.) Basically, the entire building is a funky one-stop dream spot for writing and other office-y work: fabulous coffee, fresh bread, and lots of quiet space to create.

    Last Monday was my first day of work.

    The two full-time bakers had already been working round the clock for several months, first in a rented space and then in the actual bakery, so they had a good rhythm going.

    The other part-time baker and I have been taking turns shadowing them, learning to program the ovens, laminate pastry, pound butter, monitor the proofing box, grind grain, shape croissants, roll the cinnamon swirl loaves, and so on.

    assessment and documentation, always

    Next week, we’ll switch roles: the part-time bakers take charge and the full-time bakers shadow us. Right now I’m working three shifts a week, but once things settle down, I’ll cut back to one or two per week — just enough to feed my extrovert soul but not enough (hopefully) to detract from my writing.

    One of my favorite things about the bakery is the windows. There are huge glass windows at the front that let me keep tabs on the outside world, and there’s a large window between the bakery and the diner which lets us feel part of the diner hubbub and allows customers see how their bread gets made.

    from the bakery window into the diner: servers in training

    The bakery specializes in sourdough, several kinds of daily bread (milk, multigrain, seed and nut), croissants, and pies, most of which goes directly to the diner. But until the diner opens, we’ve been selling our test bakes out the front door. (When we briefly opened Tuesday morning, a line of customers stretched down the sidewalk for about forty-five minutes, at which point we sold out!)

    Magpie Diner officially opens Tuesday, July 28. Stop by for a coffee and fresh croissant (my children like the vanilla braids; I’m partial to the ham and cheese) and say hi!

    This same time, years previous: happenings, the best one yet, the quotidian (7.24.17), all practicality, on his own, curry potato salad, we’re back!, pumpkin seed pesto, how to beat the heat.

  • the quotidian (7.20.20)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Things don’t always go according to plan.

    When Puerto Ricans cook.

     Chicken and waffles: it really is a good combo.

    A friend had a birthday! 

    Pickle time!
    19 going on 5.

    I made her make her own cake (because wedding).

    Gift hungry.

    We like pretzels.

    When you catch the Krispy Kreme guy tossing out a truckload of donuts and convince him to share.

    The day before the wedding, the washing machine broke, of course.
    Also, I threw my camera lens on the floor and shattered it. 

    A day’s start. 

    This book is making him mad, he says.

    93 degrees outside and 92 degrees inside but still doesn’t feel as bad as Puerto Rico.

    This same time, years previous: Italian meringue buttercream, sweet sixteen, lemony cream cheese frosting, in the kitchen, the quotidian (7.20.15), this new season, roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, whole wheat zucchini bread.

  • a beautiful backyard wedding

    When our friends Leryann and William got engaged back at Christmas, they’d planned to have a beach wedding in Puerto Rico. But then covid happened, and they had to pivot: this time to a stateside wedding. This past Sunday morning, they married … in our backyard!

    The wedding was a delightful mix of homemade and traditional, formal and relaxed.

    Leryann’s parents, Chiro and Lery, were able to come from Puerto Rico, and a few, local friends rounded out the small gathering.

    Ellie was the flower pony. My older son’s friend took photos. My older son filmed the wedding, which was live-streamed to all their friends and family in Puerto Rico: this took a bit of technology gymnastics, especially when it came time for the toasts and blessings and we had to jump back and forth between listening and speaking, but it all worked out. My niece made the waffles for the brunch, and my younger daughter’s friend was in charge of serving the food. And I officiated.

    Back in the spring they were remaking their wedding plans — and struggling with the strain of dashed dreams and the stress of planning a wedding far from home in the midst of a pandemic — we’d offered our place for the wedding and then I added, “And I could probably marry you, if you want.” A friend of mine had gotten a one-time license to officiate a wedding awhile back, so why not me? They’d jumped at the idea.

    A quick online search revealed that in order to be a one-time civil celebrant all I needed to do was fill out a basic form (name, address, intended date of wedding), provide a copy of my driver’s license, and write a check for 61 dollars. There was a trip to the courthouse to drop off the paperwork, and then a second trip to pick up the official documents and take the oath, and that was it.

    I had no idea marrying someone was so easy! And so much fun!!

    William and Leryann planned and organized the whole wedding themselves, from choosing the menu for the waffle bar brunch and buying all the ingredients, to bringing the blankets for people to sit on, to making all the signs and decorations, to writing the wedding ceremony.

    Leryann was able to include the moments that were so important to her: her father gave her away, they had their first dance on the clubhouse porch, the wedding godparents were able to give the first toast over Zoom, and her mother sang a song.

    And there were other moments, unplanned ones, that made the wedding feel all the more relaxed and fun-loving. My younger son had to run inside to fetch the forgotten jars of sand mid-ceremony. I dismissed Ellie as planned (we were worried she’d cause a distraction by rearing or pooping) and then immediately changed my mind because she was being so good. People waited patiently while we worked out the technology glitches, reminded me when I forgot to pause so the servers could hand out the flutes pre-toast, ran over to silence the dogs when they barked, and laughed when the flower “girl” nibbled the back of my dress.

    A backyard wedding might not have been their original plan, but Leryann and William handled the challenges with tenacity and grace, turning it into the sweetest, most joyful little wedding you ever did see.

    Congratulations, you two. We love you!!!

    All photos, except the one of people milling about and the last, were taken by Theo Yoder

    This same time, years previous: three shining dragon eggs, Sunday, putting up walls, four weeks down, three to go, in which a pit bull bites my butt, zucchini fritters, the quotidian (7.14.14)Saturday nights.

  • movement

    Last week three of my kids and I went to a local, youth-led Black Lives Matter protest. Driving down the small town’s mainstreet, we were greeted with a disturbing sight: armed men, their semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders or cradled in their arms, clustered together in parking lots and lining the streets.

    photo credit: my older son

    As the line of cars crept towards the park where the protest was to be held, my kids stared, horrified.

    “Is this even legal?” my younger daughter asked.

    I wasn’t entirely surprised. Another student protest, held a few weeks before and at the opposite end of the county, had been greeted with a similar show of force. The day after that protest when I’d seen the photos on social media of the masked men — members of actual organized militias, I learned — some of them lining the perimeter of the gathering and others lurking in the treeline, I’d felt physically ill.  

    Still, I’d kind of hoped that sort of craziness was specific to just the other side of the county, not my side.

    I was wrong.


    Over the last few weeks, I’ve been debating whether or not to put a Black Lives Matter sign in our yard.

    I’m not a sign person — or rather, my husband’s not. He finds signs — in yards, on bumpers, printed on clothing — too in-your-face aggressive. Why the need to announce everything you think and believe? he asks. And my mediator friend says that yard signs heighten differences, pitting people against each other.

    They both have a point. At a time when the political divide in our country is getting dangerously deep — in our rural county, Trump signs are around every corner, dangling from fences and flag poles, affixed to swimming pools and porch railings — is it pointless, or worse, counterproductive, to take a stand here?

    On the other hand, maybe it’s all the more necessary?

    At a seminar on bullying a few years back, I learned that it’s most productive to align yourself with the person being attacked, ignoring the bully entirely. This doesn’t mean that the bully is never held accountable; rather, in the heat of the moment it draws focus from the one inflicting harm to the one who is most vulnerable, providing that person the necessary support and connection.

    Perhaps we need to quit tiptoeing around those who are clinging, white-knuckled, to biggoted ideology and instead focus squarely on this fact: Racism is so prevalent in our culture that when Black children (at the first protest, some of them even wore bullet-proof vests because of death threats) organize a peaceful protest against systemic racial oppression, white men run for their guns. 

    I knew full well that whether or not I put a sign in my yard was inconsequential — a sign wouldn’t make me more anti-racist, and it probably wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind. The issue is endlessly complex — there is no right answer — so round and round I went, unable to let it go because, at its core, my little sign conundrum stood for a much deeper question: For a white woman in a politically conservative, rural Virginian community, what did it look like to try to be anti-racist?


    A couple months back when I learned about our town’s silent march for Black Lives Matter, I wasn’t sure I should attend. Would it be safe? What did Black Lives Matter really mean? I didn’t have any close personal connections to Blacks, so was it even my place to participate? Would I show myself for what I am: a bumbling, awkward white woman?

    Finally I decided I’d go. To learn, I told myself. If I felt uncomfortable, oh well — new things often were.

    At the march, I was relieved to see lots of people I knew (if they were there, then maybe it was okay that I was, too?) and the whole march unfolded easily, peacefully. I was glad I’d come. I could do this.

    But then at the closing gathering, the speaker asked everyone to show their support of Black lives by raising their right fist, and I panicked. I don’t wave my hands in the air at church. I don’t dance. I don’t put my hand over my heart for the pledge of allegiance (and I don’t recite it either). Self-contained, respectful standing is the extent of my physical symbolic gesturing, and now I was supposed to raise a clenched fist into the air?

    Not wanting to stand out, I put my fist up. And then I stood there, inwardly cringing and trying to make sense of what I was doing.

    “If putting my hand in the air is what they need,” I told myself, “then I need to get over myself and follow their lead.”

    It still felt weird, though.


    At last week’s protest, when we were kneeling in silence for nearly nine minutes, the same amount of time the then-police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck, one of the counterprotesters standing on the road at the back of the park started yelling, “Don’t steal for criminals!”

    Don’t steal? I thought. But we weren’t stealing anything.

    And then I realized, Oh, not steal, kneel. Don’t kneel for criminals.

    As his angry shouts continued, his voice cracking under the strain, I noticed people one by one silently — proudly, calmly, courageously — raising their fists.

    This time, I didn’t hesitate.

    Just two rallys in, and suddenly I was a person who does these things: I am here; my body is here.

    It feels so good to finally be moving.


    The other day, my brother sent out an email to our family group. “I’m placing an order for BLM signs. Let me know if you want one.” And my older son immediately responded, “Yeah! Thanks. Get one for me!”

    That day at lunch we all took turns going around the table, each person sharing their opinion about putting up the sign. It didn’t take long to reach a consensus, and after lunch my son stuck the sign in our yard.

    It felt right to have the sign up, but I was still conflicted. A sign didn’t solve anything. Was I doing more harm than good? Was it my place to speak up?

    And then the next day when I was up in my room working on this post and the rest of the family was outside doing yardwork, a pick-up drove by and a male voice bellowed “White lives matter!” and all my doubts vanished.

    Clearly, it’s high time I speak up.

    P.S. We’re already on our second sign: last night someone climbed our fence, came into our yard, and took the first one.

    This same time, years previous: all things Thursday, the quotidian (7.9.19), the quotidian (7.10.17), one weekend only, let’s talk, what my refrigerator told me, soft and chewy breadsticks.

  • mushroom burgers with cheese

    Normally I toss the Costco membership magazine in the trash with barely a second glance, but this time, bored and looking for something bright and shiny to entertain me, I idly flipped through the glossy pages, slowing to study the ones that had food photos. Which is how I discovered this recipe for mushroom burgers with cheese.

    Since some of my family members adamantly despise mushrooms, I wouldn’t normally pay this sort of recipe any attention, but it just so happened that I had a half of a costco-sized box of mushrooms in the fridge from the other evening when we’d had friends over for supper and I, excited at the prospect of catering to more sophisticated palates, had grilled up a bunch of mushrooms with the other veggies.

    I made four regular burgers to appease the mushroom haters and a batch of the mushroom burgers. This way, no one could be mad at me for springing a new recipe on them (my older son agreed ahead of time to eat a mushroom burger), yet I knew there was a good chance that, still hungry, a few of them might venture to try something new.

    The burgers were fantastic. The added mushrooms gave them heft (read: made them enormous!), yet at the same time, they felt incredibly light and tender. My older son thoroughly enjoyed his mushroom burger, and my husband and younger son each had a half and declared them tasty(!). Maybe there’s hope for them yet?

    (A day or so later, I had a leftover half burger, this time in a warmed flour tortilla and topped with curtido. So good!)

    Mushroom Burgers with Cheese 
    Adapted from Jennifer Pallian’s recipe in the July 2020 issue of the Costco Connection.

    The original recipe calls for topping the burger with Swiss cheese. Not having any, I used a mixture of sharp cheddar, Muenster, and fresh mozzarella.

    8 ounces white button mushrooms, rough chopped
    1 small onion, rough chopped
    2-3 tablespoons bacon grease (or canola or olive oil)
    1 teaspoon salt, maybe a little more
    1 pound ground beef
    black pepper
    2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
    sliced cheese: Swiss, Muenster, Colby, Blue (!), etc.
    4 buns, split, buttered, and toasted/grilled
    mayonnaise (and ketchup and mustard, if that’s your thing)
    leafy greens and bacon, optional

    Put the mushrooms and onion in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but stop before it turns into a paste). Melt the bacon grease in a skillet and add the mushrooms, onions, and a couple shakes of salt. Cook until the moisture has evaporated and the veggies are starting to brown, 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

    In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, mushroom and onions, worcestershire sauce, teaspoon of salt, and black pepper. Shape into four, gloriously fat patties.

    Grill on one side for about 4 minutes before flipping, topping with lots of cheese, and grilling another 3-4 minutes.

    Spread the toasted buns, both top and bottom, with mayonnaise. Add a burger (and lettuce and bacon, if desired). Devour.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.8.19), fresh strawberry cake, three things about writing, the puppy post, the quotidian (7.8.13), the quotidian (7.9.12), grilled flatbread.

  • the quotidian (7.6.20)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace 


    July Pride!

    Simple pleasures. 

    Inspirational: Black Espresso Cake with Bittersweet Spiked Glaze. 

    Also: Roasted Sweet Potato with Rum-Soaked Currants and Rum Caramel Glaze.

    Thawing station.

    Testing the limits.

    And then a minute later. (It was raining.) 

    Seconds before calling everyone to eat. 

    We keep telling him he’s the most annoying child so he gave himself an award.
    Francie: a paint-by-number from her great aunt.

    He likes this sort of stuff.

    New sofa: At first I hated it; now I LOVE it. 

    Four kids, an instructor, and a wall of rock.
    photo credit: my older daughter

    Sunset gardening.
    photo credit: my older daughter
  • cucumber mint cooler

    It’s been hot all week and it’ll be even hotter this weekend so naturally I spent the morning baking. My default philosophy: if I’m going to be miserable, I might as well be really miserable. (It actually wasn’t too bad, though, thanks to the breeze and lower humidity.)

    I made granola and caramel popcorn. I washed and chopped a bunch of kale. I rolled out a pie crust. I strained a half gallon of iced coffee. I chopped leftover grilled veggies from last night’s supper and cooked a pot of farro to go with them (along with a can of Costco chicken and chopped fresh parsley and basil from the garden) for lunch. And I made a cucumber mint cooler concentrate. 

    Watering the garden this morning, I’d discovered a ripe cucumber — I had no idea they were close to being ready! — and ended up picking a big bowlful. And then I remembered that David had just posted a recipe for cucumber cooler.

    When my husband came home for lunch, I gave him a sample. “It’s really good,” he said, sounding surprised. (The man has a knack for making compliments sound like criticisms.)

    Tonight we’re watching Hamilton (HAMILTON!!!!). I made the caramel popcorn specifically for our viewing party, and we’ll have giant bowls of chilled watermelon, too. And now there’s this cooler to go with.

    Happy weekending!

    Cucumber Mint Cooler 
    Adapted from David Lebovitz

    2-3 garden cucumbers OR 1 large English seedless cucumber
    2 limes, zest and juice
    ¾ cup fresh mint leaves, packed
    ½ cup sugar
    pinch of salt

    optional: triple sec, vodka, gin, tequila, seltzer, etc.

    Wash and peel the cucumbers. Cut them lengthwise into quarters and cut out the seeds. (If using the English cucumber, there’s no need to peel or seed it.) Rough chopped, you’ll have about 2-3 cups of cucumber.

    Put the cucumber chunks into a blender, along with the zest and juice from both limes, mint, salt, and sugar. Blend until smooth, about a minute or so. Store the concentrate in the fridge until ready to drink.

    To serve, mix the concentrate with equal parts water, stir well, and pour over ice. Add boozes, if desired. (Triple sec for me, please.)

    This same time, years previous: Vieques!, the quotidian (7.3.17), the quotidian (7.4.16), creamy cauliflower sauce, our 48-hour date, linguine with shrimp and cilantro-lime pesto, spaghetti with swiss chard, raisins, and almonds.

  • so you’re thinking of homeschooling…

    Word on the street-slash-Facebook is that, what with covid and all, lots of parents are considering homeschooling their kids for this upcoming school year.

    I see posts with all sorts of questions, from notices of intent to curriculum to how to hire in-home tutors. I don’t know the answers to many of the questions — we’re a pretty laid back bunch over here — but considering that I’ve been homeschooling for the last fifteen years, I figured I could at least share the barebones of how to get started.

    Or rather, how not to send your kids to school.

    Disclaimer: States have different homeschooling laws; I live in Virginia and I write of what I know, nothing more (and sometimes not even that), so doublecheck everything I say and correct me if I’m wrong. Thanks.

    Now, there are two main steps to homeschooling: 1) notifying the school system of your intent to homeschool, and 2) evaluating the child’s progress at the end of the year.

    Let’s break it down.

    Getting Started 
    Delay, delay, delay! 
    You don’t have to declare intent to homeschool for kindergarteners! In Virginia, kids are expected to go to kindergarten if they’ll be age five by September 30 (I think?), but legally, they aren’t required to attend school until age six. So if you’re homeschooling a kindergartener, a simple letter to the school district superintendent (if in VA, find your superintendent here) stating that you’ll be delaying your child’s entrance to school is sufficient. 

    Here’s a sample of one that I wrote: We have decided to delay our daughter’s entry into school because we feel that she is not yet ready. Her birthdate is February 29, 2004. And that’s it!

    Notice of Intent 
    Once kids are legally required to be in school, you must send in your notice of intent to homeschool. This is a simple, one-page form asking the child’s name, age and grade, and your address. The form is due by August 15 (though last year I forgot to send it in and they had to send me a reminder letter a couple months later — they were quite friendly about my mess-up, too) and you can print it off here.

    Regarding parental qualifications, a copy of your high school diploma is sufficient; send it in the first time and they’ll keep it on file so you don’t have to resubmit each year. (If you’re a certified teacher, you get a little more autonomy but since I’m not certified, I’m not exactly sure what that means…)

    Along with your notice of intent, submit a curriculum. I’ve heard that it’s better to provide as few details as possible — the less information the parents supply, the more flexibility and freedom all homeschoolers have — so that’s what I’ve done.

    Here’s a sample of this year’s curriculum for my rising ninth grade son:

    Reading and writing skills will be developed by reading, and listening to, a wide variety of literature and working with assorted reading books. 

    Math skills will be developed by participating in a variety of everyday activities such as cooking, shopping, singing, carpentry, problem solving, etc. 

    I’ve used the same lines year after year, only editing to account for the changing year. (And according to a reader’s comment — see below — I’ve been providing even more information than necessary!)

    So all you need to do to start homeschooling is mail in a single envelope with three papers — notice of intent form, curriculum, and a copy of your high school or college diploma — by August 15 to your superintendent.

    Then you proceed to live together for a year at the end of which you have to submit proof of progress…

    Evaluating Progress 
    In Virginia, the only homeschooling requirement is evidence of progress. In other words, the child doesn’t have to be at any particular grade level — just, they have to be improving, learning, and growing. Since children do this naturally, it’s not hard to prove.

    There are four ways to show evidence of this progress: testing (CAT tests, available to order online and protored by parents, or some such thing), creating and submitting a portfolio, being evaluated by a licensed teacher, or claiming religious exemption (this requires a lot of paperwork up front, but no year-end evaluation). We’ve always opted for the home evaluation.

    Each spring, a teacher/friend pops over (this year it was via zoom) to chat for about an hour with me and the kids. We talk about books they’ve read, trips they’ve taken, their projects and interests. I show the evaluator the textbooks we’ve used, and I print out a copy of the year’s informal log: a loose list of each of the kid’s activities. For example, last year my younger daughter’s list included children’s concert choir, regular babysitting jobs, started job at farm and did yard work for friends, prealgebra, physical science lessons with Granddaddy, went to Puerto Rico for two weeks over Christmas, piano lesson from her aunt in exchange for babysitting, got her driver’s permit, and so on.

    Our current evaluator (we’ve had several and they’ve each had different, but similarly relaxed, styles) comes with the “I’ve evaluated this child and she shows adequate progress” letter that I then mail to our superintendent by August 1. She keeps a file on our family in case problems ever arise and she would be called on to provide specifics, and she also offers the option of doing a more detailed write-up should we want one for our personal files (we don’t). Cost of this entirely painless and fun little evaluation is about 50 dollars per child.

    To summarize!
    Each year, mid-summer, I send in my intent to homeschool form for the upcoming school year, along with a copy of our curriculum, and the superintendent responds with a letter saying, Okay, fine, whatever. (It’s a little more official than that — something to the effect of “we wash our hands of you and good luck” — but it’s a form letter so I only bother to read it every five years or so.)

    Then in the spring, April or May, usually (and no later than August 1), I send in the evaluator’s letter saying the kids have shown evidence of progress, and then I get another “okay, fine, whatever” letter.

    Actually, I was so on the ball this year that I sent both the evaluation letters and info for the upcoming school year all in one go back in April!

    And that, my friends, is all you need to know about how to start homeschooling, okay, fine, whatever. 

    And good luck!

    This same time, years previous: day trip, weekending, the summer’s first trip, smash hit, when the wind blew, the big apple, berry almond baked oatmeal.