A Bostonian Birthday

winter Boston It’s been cold around here… cold for Pennsylvania, that is. It’s no secret that the schools in our area have had modified schedules due to the arctic temperatures. According to weather.com, there have been several days recently when central PA has been shockingly colder than Anchorage, AK. Apparently one could head south… or (ironically) north… in order to escape our down-right frigid temps.

it's cold

more ice
Are you feeling it yet?

So that’s what we did. Daniel and I decided to head north, to the great city of Boston, sans kids, to celebrate my birthday and to warm up(?).

Ok… I’ll be honest. We didn’t travel to Boston in order to warm up a mere four degrees or to escape the 6+ inches of snow that got dumped on us less than 24 hours before we were to leave. Daniel needed to go for business, and I tagged along, using my birthday celebration as an excuse to leave the kids behind—a total of 72+ hours of not cooking, not cleaning up after little people, uninterrupted reading time, and getting to eat my food while it was still warm (heaven).

We spent two days in Boston (plus two half days of traveling), and the first day Daniel was with business associates, while my brother-in-law, Eldon, a permanent Bostonian, was my tour guide for the day.

Since it was so cold (a brisk 10 degrees… 15 if we were lucky, minus whatever the windchill was), we decided the best way to keep warm would be to… drum roll please!.


frog pond

go ice skating on Frog Pond in Boston Common.

Shockingly, we were the only clever ones who thought this was an intelligent way to stay warm, which made it all the more fun as we had the entire pond to ourselves… plus two other skaters who braved the elements for a few minutes.

(This also proved favorable because it had been at least eight years since the last time I was on the ice… wibble wobble. And even though it was quite a challenge to keep my legs responding to my brain signals telling them how to move through their semi-frozen state, I managed not to have any major accidents.)

ice skating
Never been so jealous of a beard before!

Once we were almost frozen solid, we decided to go find lunch. While on the quest for food, we stumbled into Restoration Hardware on Newbury Street. (Again, I’ll be honest, it was cold… we were seeking warmth. This store was on our list of places to go, but we bumped it to top priority because we were now walking ice cubes and hunger was no longer our most pressing need.)

Of course we’re on Newbury Street, so if you’ve never been to Restoration Hardware, you can imagine this store isn’t your neighborhood Lowe’s. I don’t think you’ll find one of these beauties at the big hardware chains.


As we wandered around the store, my feet began to thaw a bit; and Eldon and I planned our houses for when we become fantastically! rich (uumm – never). I thought about buying a picture frame as a birthday present since I keep forgetting to buy one for the family portrait we had taken in August, but the $50 price tag on the simple (but elegant) 8×10 frame deterred me from getting out my wallet.

We left the plans for our houses at Restoration Hardware, found lunch at the Parish Cafe – yum! and then headed back to Eldon’s apartment to wait for Daniel to finish out his day so that we could eat another amazing meal at Central Kitchen along with Eldon’s girlfriend and one of our friends who recently moved to Boston.

After ingesting the chocolate molten cake, I was pretty much worthless for the rest of the evening. Stuck in my sugar stupor and still feeling the effects of the morning of bone-chilling skating, my brain was absolute mush.

Bright and early the next morning (10am—because that’s how we roll without kids to wake us up before 7am), we headed to the Museum of Fine Arts,


where we spent a considerable amount of time exploring the Egyptian artifacts. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen artifacts as mind-blowing as these, and I totally forgot about taking any pictures. But if you get the chance to visit the MFA, be sure to check out “The Ancient World” because it’s incredibly amazing.

So is the rotunda…


And the Monets…


And these two lovely paintings which reminded me that somewhere in the world, it is hot and humid, and flowers are blooming—beautiful color!

painting 2

painting 1

We closed the day with a lovely game of Ticket to Ride, Haagen Daz ice cream and profiteroles—think cream puffs covered with fluffy, but rich, chocolate mousse—courtesy of Eldon in honor of my birthday.


The next morning, it was time to pack up the crayons I had removed from my purse when we had arrived.


And even though I was the “lucky” one who had the honor of navigating this mess during my driving leg of the trip home

on the road

(and the heavens parted almost as soon as Daniel jumped behind the wheel so that he could drive the rest of the way in much better conditions),

Daniel's drive

my 34th birthday will definitely go in my history book as one to remember. (Thanks Eldon, E, & Daniel)


And thus ends my “rapid-fire” blogging since I’m now back to… (you guessed it)… painting that darn bookcase.

UMS Continued: Pros and Cons

So I painted a pretty rosy picture of UMS in my previous post. There have to be some cons, you’re thinking. After lots of pondering, I came up with a couple—but it took me a while.

1. Cost – Of course we pay for private education, but since it’s only two days of schooling, the cost is proportionately lower to five days of traditional private schooling.

2. Added Work for Me – I get frustrated since I have “lost” three mornings of the week. No longer having those big chunks of time to get housework done, I can tell I get less accomplished around the house this year. BUT if I stop and think about it, I no longer have a raging child to deal with after school, or the most unpleasant hour of the day in which I had to sit with Alice while forcing her to do homework. Even if I’ve lost housework time, we’ve all gained a less stressful afternoon/evening routine.

3. Graded Work – If I had my druthers, elementary work would not be “graded,”  but that is a debate for a different time. Anywho, unless we’re going to go the homeschool or Montessori($$$) routes, we’ll have to deal with grades wherever we are, so I chalk this up to “unavoidable” for the time being.

(Bus Ride – I used to think Alice’s hour long bus ride was a con, but I’ve come to realize this is time for her to unwind before she gets home. Unlike last year when she had to sit three to a seat and complained of the noise and commotion, this year she sits with one friend for part of the trip. After that friend gets off the bus, Alice reads for the rest of the time in a calm, quiet, nearly empty bus. I guess this atmosphere could change next year.)


So I listed the cons, but just in case I wasn’t clear on the pros from the first post, I thought I’d spell them out here too.

1. “More” Time – Three days of school at home allows for more time spent playing (don’t! get me started on the paramount importance of more play!), being creative, learning life skills. We have “extended weekends” – leaving for trips early Friday (doing school work in the car) or staying out later on Sunday evenings. The school schedule doesn’t run our lives like it did last year.

2. The Perfect Blend for Alice – Alice likes structure. She also likes the social element and “belonging” to a school. Although she likes these things about traditional schooling, it seemed that too much of it threw her into a state of overload. She also needs time alone, time to just “be,” time to do what she wants… I completely understand! UMS offers the ability to have both the structured/social traditional school time and also the alone, down time where expectations aren’t quite as high.

traditional school
Just had to put this one in again. After a tough year, it’s good to see her excited about school-related things again.

3. I’m Not the Teacher – Alice has a teacher I can “blame.” If she doesn’t want to do an assignment, I simply say, “This isn’t what I’m telling you to do. This is your teacher’s instructions. If you have a problem, talk to her.” This usually ends the conversation.

4. Less Busy Work – Last year, Alice used to come home with a large stack of worksheets that she had completed during the school day, and she had a folder full of more worksheets at school just waiting to be completed. This year, she no longer does random cross word puzzles or “guided coloring” exercises (example: Color the balloons with the answer “18” blue, and color the balloons with the answer “20” purple). I understand these types of papers are good for expanding vocabulary and following directions, but so is reading a book or following a recipe.

5. Learning Happens at Its Own Pace – If there is a day Alice isn’t feeling the best or seems antsy, we go slower, take more breaks, or I may send her outside for a while. Alice can sit or stand or do anything in between while working. Many times, she’s on the couch or bean bag while reading textbooks. We can concentrate on the concepts she’s struggling with and not dwell on concepts she has mastered.

Chairs are optional.

6. I’m Learning Too – This year, I’ve learned quite a bit about Abraham Lincoln’s life as well as Benjamin Franklin. I’ve watched youtube videos on how canals work and beavers building dams. We’ve done the science experiments I’ve always wanted to show Alice, but never took the time to do. I’ve read one of “The Littles” books for the first time and highly enjoyed it. We find ourselves googling questions on the Internet far more than we ever did before. (And it appears that Ian is learning too.)

more learning


learning together


So far, this experience has been immensely positive for our family. I know it’s not the right fit for every family (I’m not convinced it’s the best fit for Ian either); we’ve got a few things going for us to make this work so well. Alice is 99% “into” UMS. She does ask about friends from her old school, but she rarely tells me she wants to go back. She and I have a decent working relationship, generally having very few battles about school work. Daniel and I were very concerned about this relationship before we began the school year, but have been pleasantly surprised with how receptive she is to my being “in charge” of homeschool days, probably because she knows she needs to answer to her teacher, not just me.

As I think back to last year at this time, when we knew something needed to change but we had no idea what that would look like, I am so thankful for the UMS program. I count it a true privilege and God-send to be part of this program.




So… What is “UMS”?

I had had it up to my eyeballs. We’d been arguing ever since Alice got off the bus two hours earlier. I didn’t know what to do. By some crazy impulse, I grabbed her and squeezed her tight in a bear hug, afraid if I didn’t, I might do something I’d have to apologize for later.

I hadn’t seen such troubling behavior from Alice since last year, although it was 20 times worse last year. Then I realized that she had been out “late” with friends at church the night before. Today was a “central” school day, and she was wearing thin after a long evening followed by all day school activity.

I could tell she was surprised by the bear hug; I was too. But afterwards, she walked over to my desk and grabbed a tissue to blow her nose… the very thing we had been fighting about for the past five minutes. (I try to pick my battles carefully and normally wouldn’t “make” Alice blow her nose, but this particular time it was a must!)

I don’t remember what else we had been arguing about since she departed the bus, but what I still carry with me from that afternoon is the reassurance that the change in Alice’s schooling from last year to this year was exactly what she needed.

traditional school
So much excitement about school this year… awesome!

Some of you have been asking me about Alice’s schooling for this year – University Model Schooling (“UMS” for short) which is a big title for a combination of homeschooling and traditional schooling. So as February rolls around and we begin to decide what next year will bring for Alice’s education, it seems a good time to evaluate the year so far.

Let me explain our current school year. Two days during the week, Alice rides the bus to a school building, complete with administration, licensed teachers, gym, library, music, art, cafeteria/hot lunch, recess, and graded work. (In the coming years, she’ll have opportunities to be involved in instruments lessons, orchestra, band, hand bell ensemble, choir, sports, musicals, plays, etc.)

The other three days of the school week, Alice is at home, and I facilitate learning. Generally, I do not “teach” as a teacher or homeschooling mom would “teach.” I view myself as a teacher’s aide. New concepts are introduced in the classroom by the teacher on the “central” school days. The teacher sends home worksheets and projects with instructions for completion during the “homeschool” days.


Work at home begins around 8:40am, although this can be shifted if there are other morning opportunities, such as library programs or time with friends/grandparents. Alice works for 45-60 minutes, doing the work for two of the six subjects during each block of time, and then takes a 10-20 minute break. School usually finishes around lunch with practicing math facts after lunch. The rest of the day is spent as she wishes along with some chores.

What does this look like for me? In the beginning, I spent a lot of time with Alice one-on-one. To be quite honest, it was taxing and laborious, not what I was expecting. As we get into the swing of things, she is more and more independent (i.e. I make her do more without me).

Currently, I am generally close by, explaining the next subject, available to answer questions, checking work, encouraging her to stay on task, and occasionally writing down her answers to questions/brainstorming sessions as her teacher allows. In order for me to be somewhat productive during this time, I usually work in the kitchen or fold laundry, but I’ve also started getting creative with other projects too.

Painting in the kitchen while facilitating school

Generally, we’re all very excited about this set up. Gone are the days of tantrums from 4pm to 8pm, busy-work-worksheets of seasonal word finds or coloring 100 little hearts, mornings when she refuses to get out of bed, and an hour’s worth of homework in the evenings. (There’s no homework on at-school days… glorious!)

We’re welcoming back our “little” girl, along with additional time for her to be creative, time to play more, time to learn life skills, time for games, time to sit and read… and read… and read. Alice is super excited to go to school on central days, and equally excited to be at home on satellite days. I’m not sure that we could be happier with this arrangement.

For those of you who are interested, stay tuned for UMS pros and cons.


I wore a piece of you today, carried you close to my… uummm, feet. (I wanted to be “poetic” and say “heart,” but I wore a pair of shoes you gave to me—not exactly near my heart.) It was the kind of day when I wanted to be close to you, wanted to remember you without everyone knowing what kind of day it was.

Every once in a while you’d bring me clothing from Barely Used, or you’d offer me your own miscellaneous hand-me-downs. I still have most of the items you gave me over the years…. several shirts, a pair of high heels, some flip flops, even a now-very-tattered-sweatshirt you gave me one Christmas Eve years ago.

Most people don’t know which items were yours, not even Daniel much less other family members. The items are worn without any fanfare on my end; but somehow they help me feel closer to you.

In my senior year of high school into my college years, I had a sweatshirt you absolutely loved. You would rub the lining of that sweatshirt with your hands and rave about how soft it was. That’s just the kind of person you were… happiness from a sweatshirt lining. When the lining from that sweatshirt began to wear off (maybe from incessant rubbing), you gifted me with another sweatshirt on Christmas Eve. We had a sweatshirt affair.

Recently, I almost demoted your gifted sweatshirt to painting-attire; but in the end, I couldn’t, even though the cuffs are threadbare and it’s stretched out of shape from many washings. No longer fit to wear in public, I still put it on to work around the house and think of you. It will remain part of my working-at-home-attire until one day it will simply fall to pieces.

A couple years ago, you commented that you couldn’t believe I still had it. Well I still have it. In its own way, it’s a piece of you; and when I put it on, I feel closer.

* * *

I thought I heard you singing today. While enduring the mind-numbing hours of brush painting a bookcase, one tends to imagine things that aren’t actually happening.

Maybe it is because my memories of you singing are so vivid; but as I was painting, I’m positive I actually heard your voice…

Baby dry your eyes
There’s no need to cry
Cause I’ll see you again
It might be a while
Before you understand

I’m just away down the river
A hundred miles or more
Crossing over Jordan
To the other shore
I’ll be standing waiting
With all who’ve gone before
I’m just away down the river
A hundred miles or more

Now the pictures on the wall
Will help you to recall
They’re not there
To make you sad
But to remember 
All the good times we had


When it’s time to leave
You’re gonna feel the mountain breeze
And the snow will fill the stream
And carry you to me


And I saw you in my mind’s eye, walking on the beach, wind blowing through your hair with the most peaceful look on your face.

You looked directly at me with searing eyes and promised me you’re just away down the river, just a hundred miles or more. I felt so close to you; the Jordan River must be down the road and around the bend… so close… if only I could find it.

* * *

Alice and Ian have been talking about heaven recently. As many little kids do, they wonder where heaven is and how we get there. I have no answers for them; but they believe with childlike innocence that you’re waiting for us… and won’t it be fun! to see you.

Their questions have turned my thoughts back to the book “Heaven is for Real,” which I read shortly after you left us… and I remember.

 I remember the hope I experienced after I read that book. I remember thinking about things differently afterward. And today I feel it again… indeed I am convinced you are closer than we think. (Aren’t you?)