Category Archives: Twin Cities

Brussels Sprouts Surprise; or, Not the End of Homeschooling

My 15yo (16 in two weeks!) passes through the kitchen while I am trimming Brussels sprouts—chopping off browning ends, halving them to roast.

“What are we having for dinner?” she asks, grabbing a glass for water, the better to wash down all that Easter chocolate.

“Kung Pao Brussels sprouts,” I say. “Oooh,” she responds. We’ve had them before, and everyone liked them, even though I couldn’t find the peanuts I had Just Bought for the recipe. (I saw them several days later at the bottom of a crisper drawer. Huh?) Everyone also agreed: add tofu next time. So I am.

As I keep slicing, I recall that when I was 15 I would have said “Ooooh” very differently – more of an “Ew!” – when offered Brussels sprouts. Though my kids annoy me sometimes when they get “full” of vegetables and then pile on the bagels and candy, I can’t deny that they are much more flexible, adventurous eaters than I was as a kid. I would not have been suggesting that we eat Brussels sprouts again soon, but next time with tofu. When I was 15 I would never have foreseen cooking Kung Pao Brussels sprouts with tofu for my own pleasure, let alone for the pleasure of children related to me.

In the last 15 (16!) years a lot of unexpected things have happened, after this weekend I’m ruminating on two of the big ones. I attended the Easter vigil last Saturday, the first one since my own baptism in 2002 (the vigil is not a child-friendly event IMHO). For all kinds of reasons, I’m still surprised to wake up and find myself Catholic, which was not a destination I had ever considered until I wound up there.

As for the other thing: On Good Friday, we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a family outing, to see the incredible Habsburg exhibit currently visiting. I was in Vienna just over two years ago, touring the museum from which most of the exhibition’s pieces were taken, and to connect with that again was to wonder anew at the opportunities have fallen totally unmerited into my lap.

But that’s not the other thing. We came home from the museum, my 11yo begging me to take her to Vienna ASAP, and gathered the mail. There we found my 15yo’s acceptance letter to our state arts high school: a two-year program designed to let artistically driven, academically strong students develop their skills in an arts area they are truly passionate about. I was thinking of it as a good test drive for a full-on 4-year arts school.

This was not unexpected. Admission is little competitive: about 60% get in, which seemed safe. Still, it was confirmation that she’d be enrolling full-time in a brick and mortar school in the fall, marking the end of an era that—possibly more than being a Catholic Christian—remains one of my most unlikely detours.

Obviously, that’s homeschooling. The 11yo is already attending a very loosey goosey brick and mortar charter school, and the 15yo is taking half her classes at a community college, so I’ve had a year to ease into the not-a-homeschooling-parent lifestyle. I won’t lie to you: the quiet is nice. And so very very sorely missed.

Homeschooling: the first month

Homeschooling: the first month

Still, homeschooling has so far been the most wild and wonderful adventure I could have taken while staying on the sofa in my pajamas. As I reach the end of this phase, there are so many things I could (and probably will!) say about the transformations and lessons of the past decade, but right now I am just drinking in the last days of this time of life. Sitting with my daughter today watching a video about famous Renaissance thinkers and artists—while the Brussels sprouts roasted in the oven—I could not have been happier. When the lecturer mentioned Petrarch – “pause it!” – Leonardo DaVinci – “pause it!” – or Savonarola – “pause it!” – I was so excited to take the conversation further with her. And she indulges me, because I get pretty passionate myself sometimes, and we all deserve a chance to indulge our passions.

So my time as a homeschooling parent is coming to an end—at least, that’s the plan. But my time as a homeschooler is not. I have a few helps-for-homeschoolers I hope I’ll finally have time to type up and make available: homemade curricula, dos and don’ts, admonitions and encouragements.

Homeschooling -- the end times?

Homeschooling — the end times?

Truly, that Brussels-sprouts-shunning 15-year-old me would be astonished by all of this: the vegetables, the church, the kids, the travel, the homeschooling. The Internet, for Pete’s sake.

And speaking of the Internet: I’m also going to start teaching at Online G3, which was about the biggest homeschooling help we ever found. Jaime Smith introduced me to the idea that homeschoolers are disruptive consumers, and over my years learning about education I believe that is true. Families taking part in innovative or experimental types of education are a small, grassroots market now, but the ideas and tools they generate will have the potential to improve education for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of that, and to find out what surprising turns we all might take in the next 15 years.

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Filed under gifted education, grown up life, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, Twin Cities, writing life

Setting Up

It’s always my hope that homeschooling — contrary to expectations — brings us closer to the “real world” and gives the kids more chances to do “real work.”

Of course the world of visiting grandparents or spending hours drawing is real, at least as real as the world of the desk. But what I look for is opportunities to participate in the wider world in some meaningful, uncanned way — something that hasn’t been cooked up “for kids.”

This is harder than you’d think — most people just don’t know what to do with a teenager who’s available in the middle of the day, other than ask them to babysit. (Which mine does, BTW . . .)

This was basically the overflow of the massive collection of crates.

In any case, we got a chance yesterday. Our parish has a commitment to “sacred arts,” meaning that we host multiple exhibits throughout the year. Next week the biggest one we’ve ever hosted will begin. There were crates on crates on crates to unpack, display hardware to assemble, and lots of signage to set up.

A man said “I have job for you” with some kind of European accent, handed us a screwdriver and a hex key, and put us to work. We spent two hours at the back of the church putting together signs, while a team of workmen hung giant paintings from iron bars along the sides of the sanctuary and the artist herself moved among us, giving further instructions. My daughter, who balks at unloading the dishwasher Every.Single.Day despite it being her job for the last several years, approached this fiddly task with delight and a surprising level of focus.

Sweet rewards.

I wish I had time to write the essays in my head about the impact of getting a behind the scenes look at the world of a working artist, not just for the aspiring teen artist but for non-artists who think that art just happens without skill or labor. I’d like to talk more about homeschooling as life, not just preparing for life.

But in reality I really want to avoid letting weeks go by before I post again, so that will have to keep percolating. Just take my word for it — we had an inspiring afternoon that made homeschool a teen seem a little less crazy. We fell into this little gig almost accidentally — surely there are more. I was so delighted with our good fortune and her good work that I only laughed when she told me that she “forgot” to order her massive Mint Condition Cooler as decaf. (And she bought it with her babysitting money.)

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Filed under art, Homeschooling, Twin Cities

Photo-a-day, I Love My Town version

I’m doing a photo-a-day challenge with some friends on Facebook. I think the “challenge” is daily posting my crappy-ass snaps when they are posting their MoMA-worthy shots and not giving up in despair and humiliation.

I can’t make it an exercise in improving my photographic craft, which is nonexistent, but I have been trying to make it a mindfulness exercise, looking for interesting moments of each day and not try too hard to stage them. (Except the self-portrait. That gets a few do-overs before going public.)

It was in fact so bright on our ride to the lake that I was sure we’d get into an accident with a car, but we made it anyway.

Yesterday’s theme was “bright.”

After being quarantined in the house because of whooping cough and excessive heat, a bike ride in the cool of the evening was a like a dream. We stopped and took that photo before going around our lake, so we wouldn’t have to stop along the way.

I have terrible balance, or else I would have loved to snap pics of our trip, which is comfortingly predictable.

We hit the lake by walking our bikes past several large houses, some of them the most expensive real estate in the metro.But soon we’re biking past scruffy shoeless families fishing on the pier and the weird characters who hang out in their lawn chairs next to them. As we start around the south side of the lake, there’s a tiny beach where the windsurfers take off. Someone is always hauling a board off his or her car, and someone’s always sitting on the beach next to a board, staring out at the water.

We pass the parking lot for the south swimming beach, not really visible from the bike path, and soon we’re with the slackliners, ubiquitous at every park in the metro. Always there are about 4 guys and 1 girl, each of them looking like a model from an REI catalog. Always 1 girl, no matter how many guys. I like to think that she could drop kick their asses across the lake if needed, and she’s never ever slept with any of them, despite many opportunities, because, you know, eww. How do you slackline with the guys after that?

Then it’s the beach volleyball pits, with grills and lots of groups of young people practicing their setups in the grass while they wait for a court. If the slackliners are REI, the volleyball kids are Abercrombie. In high summer, the log rollers will be somewhere down there too, not far from the old mansion turned into a museum of electricity and magnets–how cool is that?

Coming up the east side there’s a soccer field, and as we round the corner towards the north beach I always think that the playground equipment looks like that cool, old equipment that’s fun but likely to lead to both tetanus and a severed femur. Across the street is one of the oldest social clubs in the city, Then the canoes, and then you can see the paddleboarders moving meditatively through the channel between the lakes. A man had a dog sitting at the end of his paddleboard. The dog looked mighty unhappy to be there, and I wondered how far from shore they’d be when the dog decided to take his chances and jump off.

The hill is next. It doesn’t look like a hill when you’re walking. I’ve learned to count how long I feel I’m really making an effort in order to get past it. 20 seconds maybe? And yet it’s 20 seconds of “oh god my lungs my legs oh crap a baby stroller is about to break any momentum I’ve gained oh am I gonna make it,” and then of course I make it because it’s 20 seconds. There has to be a metaphor about life in there, but I’m not going to reach for it right now.

After that we head back south, past the pavilion with the restaurant, which makes me feel like I live in Disneyworld because my lake is full of happy, smiling people relaxing, staring at the lake, and enjoying life with a fish taco or ice cream cone.

From there it’s the sailboat launch, our favorite swimming beach, the little kids’ playground, and the we’re watching for our exit. We stop and drink water, squint out at the sailboats and windsurfers, then push our bikes up the hill in front of the Zen center before riding home. I feel like I’ve experienced nearly everything I love about our state, town, and neighborhood in a few miles’ ride.

As we rode the last few blocks last night I was trying to calculate how much longer an evening bike ride will be feasible – not much, I know. But then the ice skating starts.

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