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Vignette 43/52. No is a complete sentence.

It’s Christmas Eve and the five kids put on their running shoes about ten minutes ago. As they headed out door, Chris asked, “Where are you guys going?”

They look at us and say, “We booked the tennis courts for a friendly sibling king or queen of the court. See you later!”

We are in a hotel room in San Jose. They are excited to exchange their Secret Santa Sibling gifts tonight. Parent gifts are for Christmas morning. The kids started this new tradition last year which was our first Christmas all together in Costa Rica.

Here is a screenshot from one of my old blog posts from December 2009:

We still get asked this question a lot.

A big secret is that I say “no” a lot without much explanation. In addition to that, I have solid boundaries complete with a crocodile-infested moat and high castle walls manned by snipers which in the past have appeared to seem aggressive to people on the outside.

After having Q, I have been protective of our family time and of our rhythm. I know what makes me have an abundance of energy and I know what sucks it. It’s a simple formula. We need time for ourselves and we need time together.

We have also had to say NO to events, get-togethers, parties, talks, and all sorts of interesting gatherings to preserve my sanity, my energy, and to work on our relationships. As I set boundaries and priorities with my time, the kids learn how to do it themselves.

One of our biggest priorities was to provide an environment and several opportunities for our kids to become close. We envisioned a time when they would be best friends and be there for each other instead of bickering about who gets to sit by the window in the car.

This meant creating traditions, family activities, resolving conflict slowly and with consideration, and paying attention to each other’s needs. It’s as though each of us is an instrument and we learn how to harmonize together while also celebrating our unique sounds.

We spent the last three days tucked away in a rented house on a hill overlooking the ocean on the other side of Costa Rica. It was a very intentional decision: a Christmas gift for our family to dedicate time together, just the seven of us.

It is the same formula I have used since Q was born – time to tune our own instruments while rediscovering how to play together. This was scheduled time to recharge in a different location and to relax without the obligation of doing anything. I can blog if I want to. I can read. I can lie in the pool. I can do walking lunges. I can eat ice cream for breakfast. I can sit with each child. I can watch them be together. I can appreciate that these moments are what every parent wishes for their family.

As they head out to the tennis courts and Chris and I watch them walk away together – laughing, arms around each other, chatting. We look at each other and we shake our heads thinking the same thing:

We did it.


Vignette 42/52. Hills.

I still hate running hills.

We have a hill near our house. And of course, my husband felt it was perfect for hill running.

There is minimal talking when we run hills. It’s not fun. The sun is hot. Looking up at the hill, you know how your legs and butt will burn. You savour every breath as you slowly walk down the hill, already prepping mentally for the next hill.

I remember the first time AJ and I ran up the hill back in March. We were huffing and puffing. We had to take our time to bring our heart rate down before attempting another one. I dreaded each hill session for that first month. It sucked.

It took some adjustment for AJ to live with us again at that time. And a lot of patience. She not only had to grow accustomed to living with her parents again but also living in the jungle. There are bugs. AJ does not like bugs. More specifically, AJ’s legs do not like bugs.

One night, after a few weeks with us, she burst into my room and had a mini-meltdown. It was night time and a big bug flew into her hair. I tried to hold back but I just couldn’t . I asked her, “What lesson do you think the universe is trying to teach you?” She screamed in frustration and I howled in laughter.

After awhile, I watched her settle into a routine. The foundation of her routine was the same foundation that her siblings and Chris and I established during the lockdown. I remember how Chris and I purposely avoided consuming too much outside information. I remember how we decided to focus on the one thing that we knew would enhance our quality of life no matter what.

We focused on moving our bodies. Chris and I adhered to a training practice six times a week. The rest of the kids worked out and moved together at regularly scheduled times.

Twice a week, Chris, AJ, and I ran hills together. (Eventually, Joey and Frankie would join us.).

We started with only five sets in March with ample rest in between. We kept it up for the next seven months together. By late summer, we were at 9-10 sets with less rest but still comfortable in breathing.

Incrementally, showing up to the hill each week and adding a set slowly, we made progress. Our bodies became stronger. Our endurance increased. Our mental discipline was sharper. There were days when we didn’t feel like it but as soon as we put on our running shoes, we knew we had to go and get it done.

Running hills teaches patience and perseverance. Instead of staying at the top, you deliberately go back down to do it all over again. We all start to not only accept the challenges but learn to embrace them eventually – the hills, the change in lifestyle, living with parents.

In the end, they help us become more resilient so that we can face anything the universe and flying cockroaches decide to teach us.


Vignette 41/52. About.

I FINALLY updated my about page. I wrote a little vignette about me.

I take you on a little roundabout journey. There are references to dolphins, spatial awareness, and Alice in Wonderland. It’s very, well, me.

There is also an uncomfortably large selfie that I took today.

I am not sure I did it right but I wanted you to know what’s important to me and what I want to do for the rest of my life.

If you have been following this blog since the beginning, thanks for being on this wild journey with me.


Vignette 40/52. Words.

“Mom, what’s an adverb again?”

“A word that describes a verb – how something is done. For example, he walked ‘lazily’ is different than he walked ‘briskly.’”

“What’s a good adverb for pooing?

“I need to think about that one.”

As a homeschooler, most people assume everything I plan for the kids has an educational component. But anyone who encourages self-directed learning at home, knows that if the kids even receive a whiff of a contrived activity, they cross their arms and look bored. They would rather be presented with a lesson without any sneakiness. They deserve that respect. But I get a pass with stories. They actually love to try to find lessons embedded in my stories as they get older. They love metaphor.

They also love mad libs.

Mad libs are one of our favourite activities. They all know it’s a teaching tactic. My kids normally hate anything intentionally “educational” like flash cards unless they come up with the idea for “flashy” flash cards like my son created. With mad libs, they don’t mind because they are allowed to use booger and hairy armpits in the same paragraph as writing practice.

I let them download the mad lib app that could be played offline after we ran out of the physical paper pads of mad libs. We have many mad lib nights at home, and especially during the early days of the pandemic. We played with the meaning and context of words. I banned words like “quickly,” “dog,” and eventually, “poo” because of overuse. They were ok when I placed parameters because they knew I was trying to teach them, I really wanted to hear witty writing.

Could we make a whole mad lib paragraph written in metaphor? Could we be completely sarcastic? Could we write in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan terms? And fine, make it gross, but could you make it gross AND clever?

Sometimes Q, Mikey and I would be howling with laughter because we managed to be inventive and use “hairy upper lip” in just the right way. And an educational side effect that I didn’t foresee? Q’s willingness to read and write for the first time.

Because I didn’t intend to “educate” – in that meaning of forcing and coercion – but insisted on playing with them and was interested myself, it paradoxically turned into quite the lesson.

It was a lesson in finding the right words at the right moment; being clear with definitions; introducing metaphor and double-entendre; allowing curiosity and creativity to become more than buzzwords; and finding humour in the most unexpected combination of words even when the rest of the world fell into panic.

When my children look back on reading and writing, they won’t remember phonics books or painful tests, they will remember how they learned the magic and power of words creating through an “enthusiastic burrito” and “pooing thunderously.”


Vignette 39/52. Part Three: WOW.

“When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we’re finally starting to get somewhere. It is so much more comfortable to think that we know what it all means, what to expect and how it all hangs together. When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is “Wow,” that’s a prayer.”
― Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers

We closed the learning center for two weeks on Friday. These two weeks will represent the longest break I have had in two years. It won’t be a real break of course. There are emails to write, lessons to plan, research to record, and of course, meetings.

But before all that, I pause to say this one small word about this inaugural year that contained a world of multitudes – a world of patience, emotion, and stamina.


I am utterly astonished we made it and in awe of how I am still standing ready to commit to what seems like a repeating Sisyphus-type feat.

How many times does that godforsaken boulder keep rolling down the hill? Just when I think I can rest or pause to take a breath, something goes wrong and I find myself at the bottom.


It’s amazing how many ways I can disappoint and offend people especially when I create boundaries that force people to take responsibility for what they want and to communicate it clearly.

As the people on the outside of my safety circle pick me a part because I am deciding to risk and put myself out there, carrying a lot of responsibility, I wonder if they remember I have five children who need me too. I wonder if they think about how my children are handling this situation where their mom no longer is devoted only to them, when she has to explain that there are others who need her too, and when she asks them to be patient and that she will spend time with them soon.


But it’s also amazing how many ways people can show me their support and understand that I am doing the best that I can. The beautiful testimonials from families who have witnessed this year of zigging and zagging and who have stood by me in the worst of times even when I barely had time to say hello, were what helped me endure.

My own children and my husband have been beside as I receive harsh criticism from the outside world but they see what I do and who I am all day. They are the ones both reassuring me and rolling up their sleeves for another collective push of the boulder.


And it is a different type of awe when I look back on both the fragility and the resilience of human beings. How delicate yet determined is this one wild and precious life. This life where we get to choose how to create and ask for what we want. When we do that, we are always stunned by the miracles that appear and all we can do is say,



Vignette 38/52. Part Two: THANKS.

“Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”

Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

The second prayer is “Thanks.”

Not even “Thank you.” Sometimes that seems loaded. Who is this ‘you’? Sometimes I just need to give thanks.

Yesterday a family donated some money to our little learning center project. I hugged the mom and whispered, “Thanks.” As I whispered this one word, I broke down in tears. I sobbed and she held me. I cried because of all that I felt about THIS year broke me open with this one word as I recognized this generous gesture. She cried too because she knew. She had been there since the beginning.

Just when I think this is all too hard – trying to preserve childhood, trying to show how beautiful this world is to kids who are forgetting, trying to carry it all – the miracles hold me steady.

This is the miracle of this word ‘thanks.’ It is the already received, of understanding the true gift. This family represented all the families that supported us this year, supported me and the staff of Casa Morpho who tried to keep the love of learning, and loving the world, alive. Despite all the closures and lockdowns, the virtual learning experiments, the part-time social distanced outdoor lessons with erratic schedules, these families did not leave. They gave what they could when they could even when sometimes it was a text saying that they were still with us.

While everyone stayed at home, my family drove to find internet every day so I could facilitate classes on zoom to keep the connection. We locked down and I had an emergency meeting with my guides. I told them, “We go on zoom tomorrow. I will show you how to do it and then set up your google classrooms asap. We don’t stop. We need to keep tethered.”

And they did. These guides who took a huge reduction in pay but put in the same hours of preparation and commitment kept going. Families left and we pushed on. I told them that it all mattered. The texts to parents. Telling jokes or drawing on the virtual whiteboard together instead of a formal lesson on a zoom call. Asking each student to please come on video and share what you feel. The frustrations of bad internet and lack of in-person social interaction made us become creative.

One day, my younger teen class surprised the kindergarten class on their zoom call and the little ones squealed with delight seeing their “best friends” again. They had a dance party and had show and tell – the kindy kids all had tadpoles that they were raising and would update the changes on their zoom calls.

It was rough. We all wanted to go and be with all of the kids. We wanted to high-five and hug. We wanted to quit. It was so hard to engage some days. I didn’t have answers or certainty. All I had were the families, my students, and the guides to pull me through. I also had Chris and the kids. AJ was here and she would put her arms around me and tell me what I was doing was amazing and to keep going. I gave up pay so my staff could put food on the table. My prayers alternate between help and thanks as my prayers feel like that they are heard and answered. Small miracles begin to accumulate. Outdoor learning alternatives. Collaborative neighbours. More families who believe in a different way to educate.

As I stood in her arms and sobbed, I felt the weight of my thanks. A year’s worth of gratitude. I felt my gratitude for the support, the love, and the loyalty especially when I had no idea where the money would come from as we all struggled in the uncertainty of the future. All I knew is that we had to maintain the relationships with the children, the families, and with each other. Casa Morpho is not a place. It is the community of people – in the most raw form, the form of tough conversations and giving before receiving.

Thank you all for your trust. Thank you for the words of encouragement. Thank you for the gifts of sparkling water, chocolate, and belief in me. Thank you for walking beside me every step of the way.


Vignette 37/52. Part One: HELP.

“But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.”

― Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

Anne Lamott is one of my favourite writers. She wrote a book about her three types of prayers – help, thanks, and wow.

When I am so mad at the people I love, I try to force one of these as a stopper to the volcanic lava flow projecting at anyone in a 100 metre radius.

I relied on these prayers this year to give me strength as I carried the weight of supporting multiple families, my exhausted yet persistent guides I worked alongside with, and my own family’s feelings of safety and love.

As I prayed “help,” I would often think of the beginnings of my journey in homeschooling.

Today I want to specifically acknowledge key people on this epic voyage for the last decade. My allies and mentors. My comrades and cohorts. My people who helped me slay dragons of doubt and who through tea and knitting, helped me stay the course. My gang of rebels and royalty, who like Glenda the Good Witch, pointed out that I always had the treasure within me.

Homeschooling never crossed my mind until two good friends jumped our collective ship – the alternative school we all worked so hard to help start.


In the beginning, I had no idea if I wanted to do this but there is a short list of people who took me by the hand to cross the threshold into this supernatural world of homeschooling. My own hero’s journey of sorts.

Two people in particular were Junyee and Lara. Their kids had been in the same alternative school as two of my kids. There was something mystical about this decision. Their disappearance made me wonder what magical world did they travel to?

Junyee was the first to walk me through her decision and the philosophy behind it. She led me to many resources and books to read for myself. Lara also was instrumental in guiding me through the process. She shared with everything with me. I secretly wanted to be her best friend before we officially met and then my wish came true.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I joined all the Yahoo groups – Unschooling Canada, Ms Marsha’s Waldorf Group, Toronto Homeschoolers.

Help also came with the following blogs:
Simple Homeschool
Rhythm of the Home – (the website shut down a long time…there are others out there with this name but not the one that carried me.)

Homeschool groups helped sustain this journey. The value of our group that met consistently, over six years, was beyond my expectations. We became accountable to each other in the most difficult and most rewarding ways.

A huge thanks to Lara, Brooke, Lynn, Falon, Ama, and Lorraine. Without these ladies, my children would not have had the magical childhood that they did – not because of what we did, but because of how they contributed to my own growth.

When we moved to Costa Rica, it was one of the most difficult goodbyes that our family had to make, just as difficult as saying goodbye to our family because they were our family.

We raised our children together. We laughed and cried. We encouraged one another. We disagreed. We made amends. We went on field trips and camping trips. Our group of kids ranged from baby to teen and they all hung out together. We taught each other’s children. We hugged each other’s children. We disciplined each other’s children.

As I sit in the position of building relationships again in a completely different community model, I think of our old picnic blanket days. I think of the emergency texts requesting a phone call. I think of them holding my hand as I was the first to have a teenager.

Growing up with a mother who did everything on her own, I had trouble asking for help so these women showered it on me whether I liked it or not. I learned to trust this circle of women before I even knew how to trust myself.

Now I am better at asking for help – from God, from my husband, from my kids, from my friends and my family, and even from the stranger that helps me carry the groceries.

When I ask for help, I receive “the grace of a second wind” as Anne Lamott says. And my kids watch as I learn to lean into the gift of being human.


Vignette 35/52. Home.

No I did not put the vignettes out of order because I am in a fasted state.

(Today is Day 10 – we break tomorrow!)

Vignette 35 was started on the one day of the week that I get to stay home all day. Staying home is my magic time.

I wrote about my home. I wrote about falling in love with sitting and watching. I wrote about the details of my sofa pillow that makes me happy. I wrote about the ease of our day – the relaxed morning as the kids join us one by one on the couch for their own morning rituals. I wrote about sleeping straight through the night and waking naturally with my big Rottweiler and German Shepherd howling with the Howler Monkeys.

Every day feels like a cherry on top only because I know how delicate my life is which is like a cloth I have woven slowly with the finest of threads. At any point, they can easily be snagged or a stray thread unwound.

I am not going to share what I wrote because this is the vignette I want to cherish – the one where I couldn’t post because we live without internet. The one I didn’t plan.

It’s my private sigh of relief and the thing I am most scared to lose.


Vignette 36/52. Michael Jordan.

“I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

In 1994, Chris called me on the phone for the first time. After some initial awkward small talk, we talked for 3 1/2 hours. What finally broke the ice, and what sustained this conversation, was our love of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Putting aside his personal flaws which all great achievers and innovators have, I was in awe of his athletic ability, his dedication to practice, his need for challenge, and most of all, his mental discipline.

Our oldest daughter’s middle name is Jordan.

I can’t accept not trying became one of our family mottoes.

When the Netflix series came out, The Last Dance, we were stuck at home wondering how we would be able to download it so we could watch it on the bigger screen. We can only download Netflix to our devices. Chris was fortunate enough to work with an NBA player who was able to connect us with some links to the episodes.

As a family, we watched them as a weekly treat. We savoured each episode. As we sat together to watch the doc, Chris and I explained to the kids why we cared about it so much, why sports matter, and why greatness matters.

Not everyone understands sports and competition. They see the surface. The big money for entertaining the masses. The aggression. The questionable benefit to civilization. No war that is being fought. There is no winning at the expense of millions of lives.

But I remember when the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1994 and in 1995. I remember the collective joy of a whole city and feeling that energy. I remember high-fiving strangers and hugging random people. It’s a beautiful feeling to connect with normal people who have jobs and families and who suffer and who laugh just like me. For that moment, we were all connected.

When I watch Michael Jordan, I am inspired to push my mental edge. We watch the work ethic and the physical and emotional toll of achieving difficult goals, goals that no one else has achieved while millions watch.

Many philosophical questions arise around the dinner table:
When is it enough?
Are some people hard-wired to never be satisfied without challenges?
Why are people complacent and others driven?
How do you cultivate a work ethic and a disciplined mind?
Can we accept not trying? What is the cost?

Chris and I watch with nostalgia because of the basketball highlights we relive through the documentary and because we relive our own highlights in our early years. We watched games on TV, talked statistics, and finally watched him play live against the Raptors – we were the only ones in Bulls jerseys. Today we still go to sleep listening to a podcast on basketball. It is part of our own identity as a couple.

The kids watch intensely at this man who is neither a hero or a villain. He is human with human frailties and weaknesses. They see the cost of this type of journey. We often don’t talk about these costs – the isolation, the solitary choice, and the loneliness. The cost of being the best and the cost of trying to stay that way.

There is a flip side to everything, good and bad, but we won’t know unless we try.


Vignette 34/52. Consistency.

Warning: This blog post may put you to sleep.

I am in love with this word.

A friend said that she read somewhere that the source of happiness is consistency.


Consistency is an endangered species at this time. And of course, we like to zag when everyone zigs so Chris and I have become the king and queen of the kingdom of Consistency.

The same dear friend who is also a guide at our learning center said that she had never been a part of a project that put relationships first until she joined this project. For me, I remain consistent with this belief especially at this time.

I have not missed a day of work this year. In fact, other than travel days, I have not missed a day of work in two years. Maintaining relationships is important to me because continuity strengthens the connection.

I can only hold this consistency in this realm of my life because of the consistency that exists in everything else that I do.

My routines are the same. I rise before first light at 4:00am and I go to bed shortly after 8:00pm. I have morning coffee with Chris while we do our morning pages, meditate, write, plan, train, and then we walk the dogs. Before bed we listen to a podcast together, most likely one on sports, and then I fall asleep before he does and he takes the air pod out of my ear.

I train 6 days a week – 4 days with kettlebells and 2 days of hills.

When I am not in the middle of a 10 Day fast, I fast two days a week: Tuesdays and Fridays.

I teach from 9:00-2:00pm and then I take the kids to their programs after while I sit and catch up on internet or have meetings.

At this moment in my life, I limit social outings. Any free time is spent at the beach relaxing or at home reading everything other than books on education.

Consistency also shows up in the way I parent. Every night, during dinner, the kids talk profusely about their days and experiences. We talk about our words and actions that day, how we feel about them, and how they may have done better. They always share an act of kindness they were able to perform. I give honest feedback to them and hold them accountable for mistakes and also give them chances to try again. I share my own failures and frustrations and they also give me chances to try again.

I am consistent with my marriage. Chris and I talk in the mornings and we are silent with each other at bed time. After 26 years, we both have found that this is the healthiest routine for our marriage. There are a lot less arguments and we sleep better.

Being consistent is harder than it seems. We tell ourselves FOMO stories or that this type of life is boring. Remaining steadfast with equanimity regardless of what is happening around me has been one of the most challenging things of my life as I adapt to changing laws, anxious children, emotional families, and guides that need to be supported as they walk this road of consistency beside me.

Chris has run a beach volleyball program for the last four years and a strength club for young men and women for a year and a half.

We show up. We show up even when we are tired and even when there are things in our life that rock our world. When people ask me how I do it, it’s hard to explain how consistency is like a soothing balm. It is our saving grace when others need to retreat. When we face difficulty, we do the opposite.

We show up to our routine and we heal in the evenness and ease of it all.