How To Homeschool On The Fly In The Age Of The Coronavirus

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Late last night our school district outside of Seattle became the first school district in the nation to close due to concerns about the Coronavirus. Effective immediately, and for an indefinite period of time, all schools are closed and shifting to a remote learning model “on the cloud”. Translation: ready or or not, we’re all about to homeschool!

While I 100% support our district’s decision to move to this model, I know from experience how daunting the task ahead will be for families. I used to be a classroom teacher, and I’ve homeschooled before. Teaching is my jam, but helping my own children learn at home was a totally different league.  Let’s just say there’s a very good reason why I’m not still homeschooling.

My kids were only 3- and 5-year olds the last time I attempted homeschooling, so I’m definitely a bit out of practice (And I’ve never done this with a 1st grader, a 3rd grader, and a preschooler, as I’m about to attempt.). While I am by no means a homeschooling (or “cloud schooling”) expert, I did pick up a few tips and tricks during our oh-so-fun year of “Mommy School” that I want to pass along. Just remember: we’re all in this (separately) together!

Set Expectations
Make sure the kids know that this isn’t just a never-ending weekend. These days at home will be a learning time that they will be expected to participate in the same as if they were away at school. Attendance will be taken, they will need to check in for certain online classes, and they will have assignments to complete within specific time frames. Bonus: They can do it all in their pajamas with their dog curled up underfoot.

Gather Supplies
For our particular scenario, students will need a computer, internet access, and a few  physical supplies in order to attend Coronavirus School.

Our school district has come up with a plan to move all learning “outside the four walls of the school and onto the cloud”, which basically means kids will be completing and/or submitting their school work online. Each physical class in the real world now has a virtual Google Classroom where students and teachers can interact with each other virtually. It’s actually really cool! And, since we had a bit of warning that this was coming, teachers spent the school day yesterday as a bridge day. They trained students how to use these new-to-them online tools and had time to practice using them under teacher guidance. In addition, our school district has made available computing devices and WiFi hotspots for any students that need them in order to complete their “cloud learning” at home. Really, I can’t believe how well-planned this whole thing is on such short notice and in such an unprecedented circumstance!

Each of my kids also came home yesterday with a backpack full of physical tools (textbooks, workbooks writing journals, books) to use at home. In addition to these supplies, it will probably be a good idea to have basic school supplies on hand. This is what I’m going to have available in our homeschool space (More on that in the next section!):
-Pencils
-Pencil Sharpener (At the beginning of the school year I bought this fancy sharpener and it’s been a great tool to have at home!)
-Crayons/markers/colored pencils
-White printer paper
-Lined notebook paper
-Headphones (so my kids can work on their computers simultaneously with minimal disruptions to each other).
-Computer microphone (we had to get one for my third grader because his PC doesn’t have a built-in microphone)
-Small dry erase boards with markers and erasers
-Ibuprofen (for Teacher-Mom)

Since we are yet to put any of this into practice, I’m sure this list will evolve over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you want to stock up you can find most of these items in the Dollar store (Or, if you don’t want to even set foot in the world of viral outbreak, just have them delivered from Amazon).

Set up Your Space
It’s important for you (Teacher-Mom or Teacher-Dad) and for the kids to have a dedicated space for school at home. This can be the kitchen table (This is a great choice because it’s central and you can spread out a lot of junk learning tools on it at once) or a home office with tables  set up for the kids. Or, really, just sitting on the floor in a hallway. For the love, do NOT set up school near a TV/XBox/Switch/Pokemon card collection that will be more enticing than the schoolwork that lies ahead!

Schedule Your Day
You need a plan some structure for your day or you will all go crazy and quite possibly end up in a mental institute (Which is probably quite clean and Coronavirus-free, actually, so that might not be a terrible back-up plan).

As you make your “School Day on The Cloud” schedule, think about what will work best for your family, and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go. Set a time in your day when schoolwork will get done–maybe this is first thing in the morning when everyone is fresh, or maybe it’s in the evening after Mom and Dad get home from work. Agree on an amount of work and/or an amount of time that you will dedicate to schoolwork during the first chunk of work time, then take a break (this is when you kick your kids outside for 30 minutes to roll around in the mud puddles). If your kid usually eats snack at school, eat a snack at the same time. Try to have lunch at the same time every day…again, consistency is key. Plan a block of time for independent or shared reading somewhere in there, then schedule a second chunk of work time later in the day (if you can muster it) and call it a day.

A typical homeschool day usually lasts only 2-4 hours, compared to 6.5 in a regular school day. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO 6 HOURS OF SCHOOL “ON THE CLOUD” (Sorry to my childrens’ teachers who are probably reading this, but I’m just telling it how it is in the real world!). Just do what you need to do, and don’t burn yourselves out.

I’m using a checklist with my kids so they know what needs to be accomplished each day and can move at their own pace. Here is the checklist I’ve made for my kids to follow:
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What About Younger Siblings?
Great question! I have a preschooler who will be joining us on this grand learning adventure, so I will also be curious to see how this aspect all plays out in practice. Some tactics I’ve tried before to help minimize the distraction of a younger sibling with marginal success:
-Having simple activities prepped and available that the younger sibling can work on independently while I assist the older sibling(s). Think: coloring pages, simple puzzles, Play-Doh, building with blocks, Duplos, or an iPad with noise cancelling headphones (#kiddingnotkidding).
-Do “school time” during the younger sibling’s nap time
-Childcare swap with a neighbor or trusted friend so you can take turns playing with younger siblings and helping your school-aged kids complete their schoolwork.
-Hire a teenage babysitter (They’re all out of school right now, too!) to come entertain one or more children while you help your school-aged child.
-(Weather permitting) move school outside–younger siblings can play outside while you sit in the grass or at a picnic table to do schoolwork with your child
-Let your school-aged child work independently while you care for the younger sibling.
-Involve the younger sibling in the learning. Have your school-aged child read to them or teach them a concept they’re learning about (Teaching is the best tool for testing comprehension!).
-Turn on Frozen 2 in another room and walk away.

Use Bribery Liberally
Please don’t judge me, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and bribes work wonders. Maybe the kids earn screen time for finishing assignments. Or a trip to the drive-thru for ice cream after they’ve chosen to read rather than squabble with their siblings for __ minutes. We’re only trying to make it through a few weeks here, so no long-term habits are going to have time to fully grab root–I say bribe away!

Plan Enrichment
School is all well and good, but we all need a break from the rigor every now and then. Consider both academic and non-academic enrichment you can offer your children while they’re at home to help keep everyone’s minds and bodies moving. And since we’re trying to maintain social distancing, here are some ideas you can implement from the comfort of your own home.

Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Learning games such as Uno, Cribbage, Chess, Scrabble, and Bananarams
-Do a puzzle
-Read! You can even ask Alexa to tell you a story and “she” will comply
-Play academic games on a website like Starfallor ABCMouse (subscription required)
-Write a letter to someone–they would probably love to hear how you’re doing in Ground Zero of the Coronavirus Apocalypse!
Do a science experiment 

Non-Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Get moving with an app like Go Noodle! or Cosmic Kids Yoga
-Bake (Math, Literacy, and Science all wrapped up in one!)
-Arts and crafts (You can literally just pull stuff out of your recycling bin and tell your kids to get creative with it!)
-Make homemade Play-Doh or Slime
-Create a song in Chrome Music Lab

Give Yourself Grace and Space
School-at-home can be stressful. There is a different dynamic when the environment and the people involved in school change, and this is a process that can take a very long time to feel comfortable. Give yourself (And your kids! And the teachers!) grace–this is a big learning curve!

Also, give yourself physical space to decompress. If things in the living room-schoolroom start to get rowdy or out of control or just feel off, take a break.  Maybe this means taking your kids outside for a walk around the neighborhood or banishing everyone to their bedrooms for “silent reading” so you can take a shower and eat the chocolate you have hidden in the laundry room. After everyone catches their breath, come back together and begin again–I promise, you’ll all feel better!

And if all else fails, just remember: This, too, shall pass.

Stay healthy out there, friends!

Diary From Ground Zero: A Day In The Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Apocalypse

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So, you may have heard of this little thing called the Coronavirus. Like an Instagram darling, Coronavirus is this little-known “virus next door” that made a big stage debut a couple of months ago and now, overnight, it’s famous. And like any good Influencer, Coronavirus is changing the way the world acts and thinks and eats and shops and dresses.

Unfortunately for me, I happen to be living right smack dab in the center of the USA Coronavirus Special. In the past week, our community became the host of not only the first confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the United States, but also the first fatalities. Not exactly the kind of bragging rights you want for your hometown (Who’s doing the PR for this thing, anyway?!).

It’s been a wild ride so far, and I have a feeling things are going to get even crazier before this whole thing packs up and moves on (It will pack up and move on eventually, won’t it?). And just in case you’re so lucky as to not be living in Coronavirus Ground Zero, here’s a little glimpse into what a day in the epicenter is actually like:

2:00 AM 
Startle awake because you hear your child coughing. Lie in bed intently listening to her coughs and try to decipher if they sound “wheezy” or “wet”. Determine that the coughs are most certainly wet, and thank the stars for the first time that something is moist.

5:00 AM 
Wake up early so you can get a head start on the day before your kids are up. Open a fresh tube of Lysol wipes and wipe down every hard surface in your home. And, since she’s constantly touched by your children, wipe down the dog for good measure.

7:00 AM
Your children wake up and come downstairs. After you feed them a hearty breakfast, draw up their morning baths. Just to be safe, replace the water with Purell hand sanitizer. Hey, good clean fun!

8:30 AM
Get shoes and backpacks for school. Wrap the children in Saran Wrap and cover the exposed skin on their faces with N95 masks.

9:00 AM
After dropping off the children at school, drive to the grocery store to stock up for…something. Everyone else is doing it, so this definitely seems like the next right choice.

9:10 AM
Get stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into the grocery store parking lot. Listen to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It while your car idles.

9:40 AM
Finally find a parking space after driving in circles, arcs, and even rhombuses through the parking lot. Congratulate yourself because you haven’t practiced this much Geometry since 8th grade math!

9:45 AM
Enter the grocery store and get to work shopping. Well, at least you would get to work shopping if there was anything left to shop for. Go down the bread aisle: empty. Go down the bottled water aisle: empty. Go down the hand sanitizer/disinfectant/soap aisle: empty. Go down the toilet paper aisle: empty (WHY?!?! What is this virus doing to our bowels that I don’t know about?! I blame #fakenews. Or maybe we need all the toilet paper so we can collect toilet paper rolls to do crafts when we’re all locked down in quarantine? Or maybe if I wrap myself up in toilet paper like a mummy the virus will take one look at me and take a hike? Whatever the non-reason, decide that you definitely need more TP in your life.).

10:45 AM
Leave the grocery store empty-handed and defeated…well, mostly defeated (they still had wine).

11:00 AM
Contemplate your options for the afternoon. Do you A) Risk going out into public again and possibly catching/carrying/transferring a disease of mass destruction, or B) Go home and start digging your safety bunker in the backyard. Decide it’s not worth the risk and head home to open that first bottle of wine.

12:30 PM
Get a robo-call from your kids’ school informing you that all day tomorrow the entire school district is shutting down for a staff training on how to “conduct learning outside the four walls of the school building”. Translation: For an extended period of time and with an unknown end-date, I’m going to have my constantly bickering kids darling children home with me wreaking havoc learning under the abundant patience of my love.

1:00 PM
Scan your only reliable news resource (Facebook) for the latest updates on the spread of Coronavirus in your community. Based on the plethora of information, decide that you are most certainly going to die and/or be totally fine.

2:00 PM
Wash your hands for the 2,378th time today. Notice that your skin is red and dry and about to fall off your body in a burning pile of over-scrubbed detritus. Scrub them harder.

3:00 PM
Go to the school to pick up your children. Avoid these moms in the school pick-up area: The Prepper (and her flippant “I told you so!” comments), The Hypochodirac (you’ll know her because she’ll be wearing microporous coveralls and a gas mask), The Hippie (she’ll smell like patchouli and be slinging essential oils and elderberry syrup out of the back of her Subaru), and The Politician (at least she’ll know which political party is responsible for this whole mess).

4:00 PM
Get the kids home from school and unpack their backpacks. Find a pile of used tissue, two half-eaten sandwiches, and a wad of already-chewed gum. Marvel at how no children under the age of 15 have contracted Coronavirus yet.

5:00 PM
Cook dinner. Choose between frozen foods and non-perishables from the pantry since the grocery store was out of literally everything. Decide on freshly breaded chicken cutlets hand-shaped into whimsical shapes (frozen dino nuggets) and organic pasta with a rich, creamy cheese sauce (mac ‘n cheese). Arrange a plate of crudité (carrot sticks) to round out your gourmet Apocalyptic meal.

6:30 PM
For your post-dinner entertainment, have a friendly family competition with “minute to win it” games. Include classics like Who Can Wash Their Hands The Longest and How Do We Unlock Mommy’s Cellphone To Call 911 If You Find Her Unresponsive. The prize is a nice, big squirt of hand sanitizer (Spoiler alert: everyone wins!!!).

7:30 PM
Put the kids to bed early so you can collect yourself and plan for a previously unscheduled day off of school. Do the calculations and realize that–between holidays and snow days and flood days and teacher grading days and school conferences–your children have actually only gone to school 3.2 days thus far in the school year.

8:00 PM
Pour yourself a glass of wine. After all, alcohol is a disinfectant.

9:00 PM
Update your will on lastminutelawyers.com. Make sure to equally distribute your treasure trove of toilet paper and hand sanitizer among your children.

10:00 PM
Congratulate yourself, because YOU MADE IT! You have survived another day in the Coronavirus Hot Zone without so much as a sniffle. Reward yourself by going to Amazon and ordering yourself a trophy (manufactured in a virus-free factory in China). Scroll past the $200 bottles of hand sanitizer and $500 disposable paper masks before you checkout. Upon checkout, note that your order is estimated to arrive on March 5…2022. Give yourself a mental trophy instead.

10:30 PM
Call it a night…and don’t let the Coronavirus bugs bite!

Whether you live here in Ground Zero or you have your day coming… may the odds be ever in our favor!

 

 

My Seattle Spring Bucket List

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Now that Hannah is 2, she seems to be learning new words every day. The cutest by far, though, has to be the fact that she has learned how to sing her first “song”: Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun. Whenever she catches a glimpse of the sun (which is quite rare during a Seattle winter), Hannah breaks into song: “Sun! Sun! Goooooooolden SUN!”(P.S. It’s absolutely adorable. P.P.S. We’ve missed you, Sun. –Yours Kindly, every Seattleite who has been Vitamin-D deficient since September).

And now that the glimpses of sun are becoming less infrequent, I’ve been longing for the longer, warmer days of spring. So as I sit here daydreaming of the next season, I’ll share a few of my “Seattle Spring Bucket List” longings with you:

  • Visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I haven’t been to this since Jacob was a baby, and I can’t wait to go back! The endless sea of blooming flowers, the equally endless rows of mud puddles and mud-covered children, the obligatory stop at Snowgoose Produce for a giant scoop of ice cream–I want it all!
  • Easter. Easter is my favorite holiday of the year, and I can’t wait to do all of the fun Easter-y activities with my kids. On the short list: Opening resurrection eggs, baking resurrection rolls while acting out the Easter story, painting eggs (Pro tip: Place your egg inside a wire whisk and dip into a bowl of dye–even a 2 year old can handle this without making a mess!), a neighborhood Easter egg hunt, and making a table-top Easter garden.
  • Plant a garden. I’ve never really done this before, and the only times I’ve tried have been epic failures. After all, I have enough to worry about keeping a husband, three children and a dog alive–adding plants onto that list is a bit too much for me. But I have empty garden beds in my new yard and they’re mocking me, so I think I’ll give it a go. Wish me luck.
  • See all the baby animals. I want to pet baby bunnies. I want to hold baby chicks. I want to see a baby lamb frolick in a field. Give me the farms, the spring fair, the neighborhood horse ranch–just give me all the cute baby animals, please!
  • Go puddle jumping. We have plenty of puddles in the winter, but they’re cold and I won’t let my kids play in them for too long because, well, pneumonia. But spring puddles are fun because you can jump and splash and soak your little brother and it’s not the end of the world (Unless you ask the little brother. Then it is definitely the end of the world.). Bonus if there’s a rainbow in the sky on puddle jumping day.
  • Find some frogs. We have a pond behind our house that is chock-full of frogs at this time of year, but we are yet to catch any of our amphibian friends for further observation. Jacob cries every night that he hears the frogs croaking outside his bedroom window because he wants to hold one of them. So basically, this is just so we can all get better sleep at night.
  • Ride bikes. So, none of my kids can ride bikes without training wheels. Hannah’s off the hook because she just learned how to walk 9 months ago, but the almost-6 year old and the almost-8 year old have no excuses. I’ve already made up my mind that THIS IS THE SUMMER. Yes, this is the summer that they will learn how to ride a bike. And I guess that means we need to start practicing. Pray for me.
  • Go outside after 3 PM. For the past few months it has been dark by the time David is getting off the school bus, and I can’t WAIT to get my afternoons back! Kids arguing? Send them outside! Too much energy? Outside! Need a change of scenery from our living room with the same pile of books and board games? GO OUTSIDE!!!!
  • BBQ. Speaking of going outside, I’m ready to revive the BBQ. Winter is for crockpots, but warmer weather calls for the grill. I’m ready to say goodbye to soups and stews and hello to burgers and brats. Yummmmmmm….
  • And speaking of yummmmmmm…I will be eating asparagus. Fesh, local, in-season asparagus. And lots of it. Yummmmm….
  • Run outdoors. I did most of my training for my last race on a teadmill at the gym because it was too cold and wet and miserable to go outside. I’m ready to just open my front door and say, “Yeah, this will do!” and then do it!
  • Buy shoes, not boots. With the exception of my running shoes, I have literally worn the same 3 pairs of boots on repeat every day for the past 5 months. I don’t even remember what “shoes” feel like on my feet. I would like to get a new pair of shoes to remind myself.

And now it’s your turn! There’s still time for me to add on to my list, so what are your must-do spring activities?

WE’RE MOVING!!! (Yes, Again.)

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Well, friends, it’s spring time, which means that it’s time for our family to pick up and move. It seems like every year during this season we seem to move…and, quite frankly, it seems that way because it’s true! Not to brag or anything, but this will be our 11th move in 11 years. I’m pretty sure I should earn a badge or something for this level of expertise. Or at least a pedicure when this is all over.

Now, the question you’re all wondering: WHERE IN THE WORLD WILL YOU BE MOVING TO THIS TIME?!

Drumroll, please…

Answer: Washington state!

What the what?! You’re coming back to Washington?! Yes, yes it’s true. We’re going back to where it all began, good ‘ol Washington. And SOON. Actually, we’re moving THIS WEEK (Saturday to be exact). WHAAAAAAAT?!?! I know. What can I say, we do crazy well around here.

So, that’s the short answer. The long answer, however, is a bit…well…longer. Taking the advice of my pal Maria in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start…”

Jon and I both grew up in western Washington, just south of Seattle. Our childhood homes were only a few miles apart, but we didn’t meet each other until we were in undergrad at Western Washington University in Bellingham. We met and fell in love in Washington (read the whole story here, but bring your Kleenex cuz it’s a real tear-jerker). We started our family in Washington: David and Jacob were both born in Seattle and, although they don’t remember any of it because they were so itty-bitty, we became a family there.

We’ve moved several times over the years–some moves have been small (a mile across town), some have been big (Ireland). Through it all, though, Washington has always been our home base. For the past 3 years we’ve been living in the San Francisco Bay Area which, interestingly enough,  is the longest period of time that Jon and I have remained in one geographic region since we’ve been married.

California has been so, so good to us. We love our community, our friends, our church, our kids’ schools, Jon’s job, his co-workers, THE SUNSHINE. And we will miss all of those. Dearly. So why, then, would we abandon it all? Why would we leave the people, the places and THE SUNSHINE that we love?

Quite simply, we will be leaving because that’s God’s plan for us. I recently heard a quote that summarized my perspective on this pretty perfectly:

“Go where you are sent, stay where you are put, and you give what you’ve got until you are done.” –Jill Briscoe (If you haven’t heard or read Jill Briscoe’s work, stop what you’re doing right now and go look her up. She’s chock full of gems like that). This quote sums up so well why we are moving right now–and why we have always moved, and likely will continue to move–throughout our lives.  Go where you are sent, stay where you are put, and give what you’ve got until you are done.

We went where we were sent, we have stayed where we were put, we’ve given what we’ve got, and now we are done (at least right here, right now). God is sending us somewhere new, so “Go” is our next step in the cycle. That being said, as our kids enter their school years we also want to set down roots. Somewhere.

For about a year now we have been intentionally looking for a more permanent house–we currently rent, and we’re kind of over it. We are at the point in our lives where we want the permanence of ownership, not the transitory nature of renting. We want to unpack all of the picture boxes and hang everything up on the walls. We want to get away from the mentality of “I’m not going to buy that because I don’t want to have to move it in a few months or a year.” I want to set up a nursery for my baby before she’s no longer a baby.

Last summer we started praying for direction about what this feeling of needing some permanence would look like for us. Our prayer was that God would open doors where He wanted us, and close them where He did not want us. That, and that we would have the wisdom to listen to Him when He opened and closed those doors. And patience. Lots of patience.

Last summer we began searching for a house here in Silicon Valley and it was…interesting. We’d spend our weekends going to open houses for million dollar homes that were built in the 1950’s (“mid-century architecture”) and falling apart (“charming”) and tiny (“cozy”). And we tried to find one that we liked–we even got a very nice local real estate agent to help us–but in the end, we couldn’t stomach giving all of our money, blood, sweat, tears, and sanity to a million dollar piece of junk, even if it was a charmingly cozy piece of mid-century architecture.

So we went back to praying. And waiting. And right about when my patience for waiting was wearing out (approximately 5 minutes later) we were presented with an incredible opportunity. The opportunity was born out of a tragedy, but it was an opportunity nonetheless. Some dear friends of ours from Washington had a family member pass away, and they needed to sell her house. Her house happened to be about 10 minutes down the road from us.

We spent a couple of months working with our friends to see if the logistics would pan out for us to move forward with the purchase. I started dreaming about what life would be like in that house once I unpacked the pictures and hung them on the walls and painted my baby’s nursery. I was certain that this was God’s answer to our prayer.

In the end, however, we couldn’t find a way to make it work. It was no fault of anyone’s, it just didn’t work out. I was heartbroken at first, but then I remembered our prayer: Open doors where You want us, and CLOSE DOORS where you do not.

Ugggh. Why do you always have to answer our prayers, God?

So, that door was closed. We went back to praying. And waiting.

And, again, when my waiting-patience was starting to wear out, God presented another opportunity. Another door to knock on, if you will.

Throughout this whole process we had never once considered the possibility of leaving the Bay Area. Yet the next door that God presented was exactly that: leaving. One day Jon was casually looking at some job stuff (he likes to keep up to date on what’s happening in his industry…kind of like how I keep track of when new Starbucks locations are opening up near parks and library play groups for purposes of my own career advancement.) He noticed that there was an incredible job that quite literally described him and his skill set (a skill set, by the way, that is quite unusual and even more unique). As we has reading the job description he kept muttering under his breath, “This is me…this is me!”

So we decided to see if it was him, if this job was the right fit. That night Jon applied for the job, a few days later he did a phone interview, and the following week he flew up to Seattle for the in-person interview. By Friday of that week he had the job. The whole process was insanely fast and smooth and perfect. When God opens a door, he opens it WIDE.

There was no question that this was the open door we’d been waiting for, so here we are. Jon’s new job will be working with a company called Oculus in Redmond, Washington. (Side note: The change of companies is why we couldn’t tell anyone we were moving until today. Apple, if you haven’t noticed, is super-secretive and they don’t exactly want their employees sticking around after they give their leave notices…so we had to wait until now to spill the beans).

Jon’s new job will be leading an engineering team working on cutting-edge virtual reality research. Cool, huh? Oculus is a smaller company, but it is a subsidiary of Facebook–this means he gets to work in a startup-type environment with the backing of one of the largest tech companies in the world. Kind of a “best of both worlds” scenario.

And the part I’m most excited about is that this job should give Jon a more sane work-life balance.  As incredible as Apple is, that level of expectation and perfection comes at a price. Jon loves his work, but it comes with a lot of long nights, after-hours conference calls, and business trips to the other side of the globe. This new job is in research–not getting hot new products to an insatiable market–so the timeline should be more manageable and his schedule should be more normal. We are hoping that this shift will allow Jon more time at home during our kids’ waking hours…and hopefully a bit of a reduction in the ‘ol stress department.

Then, on top of all this, we get to be home.

No matter where we go in this great big world, Washington has always felt like home to us. All of our family lives in Washington–our Grammy and Grandpa and Nana and Papa and Aunties and Uncles and dear friends who are like family are there.  We are so excited to once again be physically close to the ones we have held close in our hearts all of these years away.

And, as excited as we are to be moving home and on to the next adventure in this crazy life, there is also some mourning. We have invested ourselves here in California, we have made incredible friends, we have truly enjoyed our work and the little life that we’ve carved out for our family here. We have “given what we’ve got”, and that makes leaving incredibly difficult. I think that means we’ve done it right, though. If we’ve truly given of ourselves, then it should hurt to leave that part of us behind. It’s a painful goodbye, but we are better for it.

So, in a not so little nutshell, there is the “why” to the question of what the heck we’re doing. There’s another whole amazing part to this story about where we will be living once we arrive in Washington, but that’s going to warrant a separate blog post. For now, we are facing the bittersweet reality that we will be trading one home for another, one life for a new one.

Today we choose to walk courageously through this open door, following the One who opened it for us. Catch you on the other side, friends!

October Visitors

October has been a busy month for us: it was our first full month in our house, our boy turned four, and we celebrated our first Halloween in California. And, to make the month already sweeter (not that we needed any help with sweets after Halloween…) we had some very special visitors come to stay.

First up was Jon’s mom–better known around here as Grammy–who flew down from Leavenworth, WA for a quick birthday surprise. David came with me to the airport to pick up his “present” and he was ecstatic to see Grammy walking out to greet him. Grammy stayed with us for a long weekend. In usual Peterson style, we crammed as much into that long weekend as we could.

We went to our new church’s annual Trunk-or-Treat (where the kids go from car-to-car rather than house-to-house begging for candy. It was a good pre-funk to the actual holiday):
IMG_0070 We visited the Winchester Mystery House, a very beautiful–and even more unusual– landmark in the area. You see, Mrs. Winchester’s late husband created the Winchester rifle in the late-1800’s and the guns were used as the primary battle weapons through two world wars. After Mr. Winchester died, Mrs. Winchester was left with loads of money…and a very unhealthy fear of the ghosts of those killed by her husband’s rifles. Fueled by her fear and financed by her riches, she spent the remainder of her life constructing the most insane house that has ever been built. In order to confuse the “spirits” she built rooms with no doors, windows at strange heights, uneven stairways, secret passageways…and she just never stopped. Her house was under construction 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for nearly two decades. Eventually poor Mrs. Winchester passed away and construction on her house finally ceased. Today you can pay a cool $40 to tour the inside of the house (bah!) or tour the extensive gardens for free (that’s more like it):IMG_0144 Grammy helped us bring David to preschool on his birthday so he could celebrate with his classmates. To the teacher’s delight, we even brought neon blue cupcakes to share (in this photo you can even see the blue mustache lingering on David’s face):IMG_0147 After school we had a little birthday dinner for David at home, then invited our neighbors over for cake and ice cream. The adults enjoyed wearing birthday hats, but the kids, not so much:IMG_0158 On Grammy’s last day in town we visited Jon at work. We got a small tour of the Apple campus and brought a picnic lunch to eat on the lawn outside of Tim Cook’s office:IMG_0168 And, just like that, the weekend was over and it was time to say goodbye to Grammy. We made one last stop at the San Jose rose gardens before dropping Grammy off at the airport:IMG_0183 After Grammy left, we had a day to clean the house and stock up at the grocery store, because our next visitors were already on their way! Next up: Aunt Jessica (my sister) and Uncle Chris from Seattle!IMG_0232Again, this was a quick long-weekend visit, so we didn’t waste any time getting the fun started. As soon as we’d picked Jessica and Chris up from the airport, we headed out to Santa Cruz for some beach time. We watched what few surfers there were (apparently we had just missed a huge surfing competition that wrapped up an hour before we arrived. Dang!) and then walked down to the beach. The boys had a great time building sand castles (read: throwing sand at people) and wading in the water (read: getting knocked over by waves as they broke on the shore). This is one of the only G-rated photos I got at the beach because it literally took about 15 minutes before both boys decided it would be best to run around stark naked. Gotta love October in California!
IMG_0256 The next day was Halloween. We spent the morning at David’s preschool Halloween party where all the kids played games, ate loads of food, and marched around in a costume parade:IMG_0289 Later in the day, we got our next group of visitors who had driven up from southern California: Aunt Erin (my other sister), Uncle Toph, and cousin Noah!IMG_0304The boys had a great time playing together and dressing up in their Halloween costumes. They were the cutest Wolverine, giraffe, and pirate I’d ever seen:IMG_0320 We all went over to our neighbors’ house for a pizza dinner before it was time to hit the streets:IMG_0344 Then it was time for what is probably the most unusual American tradition: Sending our children to strangers’ houses in the dead of night to beg for candy. This was Jacob’s first time trick-or-treating, and he handled the event like a pro. After about 45 minutes everyone’s treat bags were overflowing and we decided to call it a night.IMG_0352 The next morning after we’d all recovered from our candy comas, we moved on to our next great adventure: San Francisco! Here I am with my sisters at the end of Pier 39 with the infamous Alcatraz Island in the background:IMG_0396 We spent our day in “The City” wandering around the waterfront, eating soup from sourdough breadbowls, and taking in the beautiful views (if you look closely, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the background here):IMG_0406 We went to the Ghiradelli chocolate factory where we saw how chocolate is made and sampled their offerings:IMG_0412 We wanted to ride on the cable cars, but they were really expensive and the line was massive and we had tired children…so we just hopped onboard a parked trolley and snapped a photo instead. Good enough.IMG_0422 We made our way down to the marina where we boarded a boat for a short tour of the bay:IMG_0429 Our captain was awesome and he even let all the kids take turns steering the boat. David was having so much fun that he started spinning donuts and nearly steered us right into a pier:IMG_0450 From the boat, we got some incredible views looking back at the city skyline:IMG_0455 And we even drove up to the docks where hundreds of sea lions were basking in the sun:IMG_0461
Thus concluded our epic day in San Francisco.

The next day we decided to head south for one last adventure before Erin, Toph and Noah had to drive back home to L.A. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was right off the road they would be taking home, so we all went along for some fun:IMG_0487 The aquarium is incredible, and we liked it so much that our family bought an annual membership so we can return. There were massive tanks filled with every imaginable sea creature:IMG_0490 Our favorite spot, though, had to be this room where you got to stand inside a “wave” as the “tide” came in. IMG_0506 The kids were fascinated by the water running over their heads and splashing down by their feet.IMG_0510 We spent a bit of time wandering around Cannery Row outside of the museum so we could find some lunch. Monterey is such a cute little town, and I’m excited that we live close enough to visit again soon.

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Then, after an amazing couple of weeks, it was all over. Everyone went back home and we were left with a house that was a lot more empty, yet full of so much more joy. We made wonderful memories with our even more wonderful visitors–and hopefully we’ll get to host and explore and memory-make again soon!

Seattle Mom vs. Silicon Valley Mom

Photo credit: SeattleTimes.com

Photo credit: SeattleTimes.com

In my nearly-four years of motherhood I have had the unique privilege of “momming” in several cities around the world. And you know what I’ve noticed? Moms, and how they do the whole Mom-Thing, are as distinct as the cities they inhabit. Now I am no expert in sociology, but I do like to secretly judge people based on my biased observations of their behavior. Moms happen to make the perfect target for my not-so-scientific evaluations.

This week I went to my first official Silicon Valley playgroup. It was terrifying and fascinating. The people, the conversations, the baby gear–it was all so new and compelling. But mostly, it was different. So very different from our last gig in Ireland, and so very different from my intro-to-motherhood years in Seattle (in fact, I am finding more differences between Silicon Valley and Seattle than I did between Seattle and Ireland). Here’s the breakdown:

Seattle Mom’s family consists of…her husband (an engineer at Boeing), three kids, and the family dog.
Silicon Valley Mom’s family consists of…her husband (an entrepreneur/tech mogul), two children (and she wouldn’t even DREAM of having more), and her childrens’ au pair who lives in the backyard guesthouse.

Seattle Mom is originally from…somewhere in the greater Puget Sound area. Maybe Sequim or Puyallup.
Silicon Valley Mom is originally from…Not-Silicon-Valley, most likely Not-California, and quite likely Not-America. She can’t fathom how you would pronounce “Sequim” or “Puyallup”.

Seattle Mom spends her day…going to Baby Bootcamp in the morning followed by a park play date. While her baby naps in the afternoon she prepares dinner, using mostly fresh and local ingredients.
Silicon Valley Mom spends her day…managing a tech startup. She uses an app on her iPhone to order food from The French Laundry or Coi so she can pick up dinner on her way home.

Seattle Mom lives in…a split-level home in the suburbs with a nice big yard for their organic vegetable garden.
Silicon Valley Mom lives in…a $1 Million rambler built in the 1950’s (but she’s working with an architect now on design plans to tear down the rambler and rebuild a $2.6 Million “cottage” on the property).

Seattle Mom wears…a Gore Tex jacket over her North Face puffy vest, jeans, and a pair of Chucks or rain boots.
Silicon Valley Mom wears…a fully coordinated Lululemon outfit (from this season), wedge sandals (so you can see her perfectly pedicured toesies), and a Coach purse.

Seattle Mom drives…a minivan (she just traded in her Subaru Outback).
Silicon Valley Mom drives…a Tesla Model S (she just traded in her BMW X6 so she could get the coveted “Clean Air Decal” and use the carpool lane when she’s solo-driving to her Friday morning spin class at Equinox).

Seattle Mom commutes…on I-5. There is no other option.
Silicon Vally Mom commutes…on “The Five”. Or 101. Or 280. Or 880. Or 85. Or 87. Or 17. Or CalTrain. Or BART.

Seattle Mom washes her car…in the rain. Why would you ever wash a car?
Silicon Valley Mom washes her car…at any of the thousands of “hand touch” car washes that line every street everywhere. Her car is washed and detailed at least once a week.

Seattle Mom spends her weekends…taking family bike rides along the Burke-Gilman, shopping at the Ballard Farmer’s Market, and walking her dog at Greenlake.
Silicon Valley Mom spends her weekends…shuttling her children between lacrosse games, karate belt tests, ballet recitals, Chinese school, engineering daycamp, violin lessons and water polo practice.

Seattle Mom’s preschool choice for her children…was based upon which school would nurture her child’s individuality. It’s affordable and there’s a good community of parents at the school.
Silicon Valley Mom’s preschool choice for her children…was already applied for before she left the maternity wing of Stanford Hospital. The preschool is nationally ranked for it’s strong emphasis on the Arts and college prep. There is daily instruction in foreign language and advanced circuit design. The Annual tuition is equivalent to the cost of a new home in Seattle.

Seattle Mom’s grass…is mowed by her, or her husband (if she’s lucky) or the neighbor boy (if she’s really lucky), or by nobody at all (during the months of October-April when the grass doesn’t grow because it’s just too dang cold outside).
Silicon Valley Mom’s grass…is mowed by The Gardener who comes every Tuesday morning like clockwork.

Seattle Mom’s favorite grocery store…Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market (but she actually does most of her shopping in the bulk section at WinCo).
Silicon Valley Mom’s favorite grocery store…Nob Hill Foods and Google Shopping Express.

In regard to weather, Seattle Mom dreams of…the sun. That is all.
In regard to weather, Silicon Valley Mom dreams of…just a touch of rain to get rid of this drought. As long as the rain doesn’t stick around long enough to force her under an umbrella.

Seattle Mom loves…her kids more than anything else in the world.
Silicon Valley Mom loves…her kids more than anything else in the world.

So, differences aside, maybe that’s all that really matters anyway. No matter where we’re from or where we find ourselves, this Mom Thing all boils down to one thing: loving our kids. Rain or shine, here or there, just loving those kids. And that will never change–even if you do decide to trade out your rain boots for some flip flops.

 

85 Things To Do In A Seattle Summer

Well, folks, it’s actually happening: we’re finally moving to California! Tomorrow morning I’m boarding a plane with the boys and, two hours later, we’ll arrive in San Jose ready to begin this next adventure.

Before we leave Seattle, however, I thought I’d give you a little (and by little, I mean massive) recap of what we’ve been up to here for the last month. It has been a very busy, action-packed summer for us in Seattle (which, by the way, is literally the most amazing place to spend a summer. It’s true. I looked it up on Wikipedia). So, just in case any of you want to visit Seattle some time, here is a not-so-brief rundown of what you could look forward to doing while you’re in town:

1. Squirt water guns
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2. Shop at Costco (interesting factoid: Costco was founded in 1983–the same year I was born–right here in Seattle)IMG_7954 3. Visit the house that you own but never seem to actually live inIMG_7982 4. Go for a waterfront walk and marvel at the majestic beauty of Mount Rainier in the distanceIMG_8006 5. Make Trader Joe’s “Fudge”: Combine in a food processor one whole box of Trader Joe’s unsweetened cocoa powder, one whole jar of Trader Joe’s coconut oil and one whole tub of Trader Joe’s creamed honey. Spread the mixture in a pan and fridge it until hard. Try to stop yourself from consuming the entire pan in one sitting.IMG_8007 6. Make yourself a breakfast of scones and Barry’s tea to remind you of IrelandIMG_8010 7. Visit Northwest Trek to get up-close and personal with some Northwest-native wildlifeIMG_8029 8. Be so busy that your kids literally take all of their naps in the car while you are driving between activitiesIMG_8057 9. Run around GreenlakeIMG_8073 10. Go on a private tour at Starbucks headquarters with an insider, and be jealous of the employees who get to use the do-it-yourself espresso stations located on every floorIMG_8083 11. Meet up with your mommy friends and cuddle all of their new babies that have been born in the past yearIMG_8084 12. Watch the Blue Angels doing practice flights over I-5 during Seafair WeekendIMG_8089 13. Build sandcastles at Alki BeachIMG_8098 14. Take in a stunning view of the Seattle skyline with your even more stunning sister 🙂IMG_8104 15. Take your dog for a walk at 9:00 PM and revel in the fact that there’s still another hour of daylight left.IMG_8122 16. Decorate your own 100% recycled organic fully biodegradable Seattle placematIMG_8125 17. Refuse to look at the camera or smile for a photo with your 91-year old great grandmotherIMG_8139 18. Complete your first engineering project with Daddy: an LED flashlight!IMG_8176 19. Play in your friends’ awesome backyard IMG_8177 20. BBQ every dayIMG_8184 21. Eat Dairy Queen Blizzards (you may get the idea of a DQ Blizzard stuck in your head, and you may have to drive to 5 different locations in 2 different cities before you find one that is still open, but it will be worth it)IMG_8204 22. Light sparklers, and always remember: safety firstIMG_8244 23. Watch The Sound of Music at an amphitheater and get misty eyed when Maria literally walks down a mountain signing “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”IMG_8261 24. Play with Grammy in your secret hideoutIMG_8264 25. Swim in a riverIMG_8303 26. Spend the weekend with your grandparents who live over the river and through the woodsIMG_8311 27. Play at your favorite place in the world: McDonald’s IMG_8316 28. Make a “Countdown Caterpillar” to count down the days until you move to California (!)IMG_8317 29. Visit awesome fruit standsIMG_8319 30. Bake treatsIMG_8323 31. Find a book of your mom’s childhood books and spend hours reading them togetherIMG_8324 32. Jump down sand dunes at Pacific Ocean beachesIMG_8344 33. Play mini golfIMG_8376 34. Fly a kite with your grandpaIMG_8383 35. Strip down to your skivvies so you can swim in a lake on a hot dayIMG_8385 36. Try–and fail–to capture the “Super Moon” with your iPhone cameraIMG_8390 37. Spend way too much time spent in Seattle traffic. Seriously, folks, this is a problem.IMG_8395 38. Meet up with some awesome moms for a workout in the parkIMG_8399 39. Get wet at a splash padIMG_8415 40. Eat a picnicIMG_8418 41. Buy an entire family of Potato Heads off Craigslist. Sit back and relax with a magazine while your children entertain themselves for the rest of the summer.IMG_8424 42. Husk fresh local corn and grill it up for dinnerIMG_8428 43. Get a pedicure with your mom on her birthday (Happy birthday, Mom!)IMG_8434 44. Pose as a Giant Pacific OctopusIMG_8438 45. Go for a walk at Chambers Bay. Well, try to go for a walk at Chambers Bay, but get a flat tire on your stroller and spend your time on the playground instead (and vow to always bring a patch and a tire pump with you from this point forward)IMG_8441

Go to iconic Seattle restaurants and wait in ridiculously long lines at 46. Dicks 47. Ivar’s 48. Red Mill 49. Salumi 50. Ezell’s and 51. Paseo. Consider it time very well spent.
IMG_8457 52. Spend a day in the park catching up with dear friendsIMG_8476 53. Jump on rocks. Why not.IMG_8494 54. Tend to your backyard garden. Sit in the dirt and eat kale straight off the stalk.IMG_8508 55. Pick apples, eat apples, throw apples for your dog like they’re tennis balls. Apples, apples, apples.IMG_8510 56. Pick wild blackberries and 57. Bake blackberry slumpIMG_8511 58. Play on millions of playgroundsIMG_8512 59. Go to a U-pick organic blueberry farm. Pick berries until your buckets or your tummies are full, whichever comes first.IMG_851460. Hike to the bottom of Snoqualmie FallsIMG_851661. Drive a tractorIMG_853062. Go on an alpine hike to Lake ColchuckIMG_857163. Use a loo with a viewIMG_860364. Watch “Frozen” with your grandma and 65. Make paper snowflakes (who cares if it’s the middle of August and 90 degrees outside!)IMG_860465. Visit the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth. While you’re there 66. eat a bratwurst, 67. dance to the oompa-band playing on the stage in the center of town, 68. sip a brew in a beer garden (extra points if you wear lederhosen or a dirndl), and 69. rent a giant inner tube or an inflatable raft and float down the Icicle RiverIMG_861070. Maintain a 27 year-old tradition and go out on a (belated) birthday date with your dadIMG_868171. Jump on your friends’ trampoline
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72. Get a Chinese Foot Massage (it will be the best 20 bucks you’ve ever spent, trust me.)IMG_868773. Wander through a rose garden IMG_868874. Reconnect with your college roommateIMG_873175. Spend a day meeting the animals at Woodland Park Zoo
IMG_872076. FaceTime with Daddy every night because you all miss each other like crazy when you’re living two states apartIMG_873577. Drive down to Longview so you can get 4 generations together for lunch at Grandma’s favorite restaurant in the whole wide world: SizzlerIMG_874178. Run out of gas on I-5 (I wasn’t driving, so we’ll just chalk this one up to another adventure on the road) and 79. Call 911 for roadside assistance (according to Google, this is what you’re actually supposed to do). Get a recorded message that all lines are busy, so please try your call again later. 80. Call 911 again and get the same recorded message 81. Call 911 for a third time and get the same recorded message. 82. Call 911 for a fourth time and actually speak to a person. Be thankful you didn’t have a REAL emergency. 83. Read running magazines in the car while you wait for roadside assistance and pray that a passing semi truck doesn’t knock your car over. 84. Thank the nice Incidence Response man who comes and gives you free gas so you can drive to the next gas station.
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85. Watch the sun set over Puget Sound
IMG_8684…and just soak it all in, because there really is no better place than Seattle in the summertime. To all of the people and places that made this month amazing, thank you.

Until next time, Seattle! XxX