On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.


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Back to School

Our first week of school ended on a somewhat sour note. I canceled classes mid-morning Thursday, sent my absent husband an SOS, and gratefully accepted my sister’s offer to keep me company until Ryan finished his reserve duty. I was outnumbered and needed a second adult in the house. This photo accurately describes how I felt about a week ago–from the toad’s perspective.

DSCN1442My mental and emotional well-being are much healthier one week later. Ryan is home, I’ve caught up on some missing sleep, and I am ridiculously grateful that my sister and nephews drove three hours to rescue me. The children now seem to understand that they are legally required to do their schoolwork. Our second week of school went much smoother–thank you, Jesus.

Actually this nature scene took place in our neighbor’s backyard a few days ago. During our lunch break, H strolled through a few yards to see if any of her friends’ younger brothers wanted to play for a bit. Instead she was delighted to deliver the news that 4-year-old M had just spotted a snake! Eating a frog! In the backyard! We extended lunch to watch this garter snake eat his meal (who turned out to be a toad). The entire process took at least 30 minutes and captivated three adults and six children. It was fascinating in a rather disgusting way.

DSCN1456G and S were then inspired to round up some toads of their own for a terrarium we’d made previously. I’m surprised that the girls haven’t named these guys, but they have been good about watering them daily and providing them with fresh earthworms. (We found the instructions for layering a proper toad habitat in Pets in a Jar.)

My girls thrive academically when we link learning to the great outdoors; in fact, we had at least one outdoor activity each day last week. We learned about radiant energy with white and black trash bags; we used a magnifying glass to show how radiant energy creates thermal energy, which is a fancy term for fire. And here is how H and Granddad spent part of Friday morning.

DSCN1454H is just over 4 feet tall, so we carefully traced her body in chalk; we then drew a “small” 11-foot giraffe to demonstrate the difference in their heights. Granddad helped with the giraffe’s markings, and H laboriously colored in everything. I vetoed G’s idea to ask our neighbor if we could trace her two-month-old baby girl in between the giraffe and H.

I’m trying to scale back my expectations for the beginning of our school year. The first days back are notoriously unpredictable, and my month’s worth of lesson plans didn’t take into account two children’s particularly bad attitudes. As our new routine becomes, well, routine to the girls, I’m anticipating that they’ll become more compliant. I’m also hoping that our PE choices will tire them out in all the right ways, too: G starts year-round swim team in two weeks, S has her first soccer game next Saturday, and H has decided to become a runner. Art lessons and choir practice will also fill some of the afternoon void and give me some breathing room, too. I, on the other hand, am learning the art of saying no, thank you to others’ requests for my time.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

 

 


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First Day of School

I haven’t been writing because we’ve been getting ready to start another school year. Actually, I would have preferred working on this blog to writing lesson plans. I am an expert procrastinator, but I opted to be a responsible grown-up last week. My final language arts order arrived last Friday, and I hauled all the new workbooks and textbooks out of their hiding places. (Seriously, I hide new books; if I didn’t, the girls would haul them off to secret hiding places to read them. I know that doesn’t sound like a terrible problem, but it makes it inconvenient to find things.)

H bounded out of bed this morning and asked when she could start her math and handwriting. Being the great mom that I am, I told her I was still drinking coffee and needed to take a shower first. She took the hint and completed two subjects on her own just by reading the assignment board. Here’s H after we finally finished up this afternoon.

H finally has all of her front teeth!

H finally has all of her front teeth!

We took an ill-timed break this morning to head to the dermatologist. One of the downsides to living in a small rural community is that practitioners from specialty practices visit their satellite offices infrequently. S and I got our moles checked out, and we ran by the library on our way home.

S thinks she’s funny. She’s really halfway through 4th grade.

G actually had homework on her very first day of 7th grade. What kind of teacher does that?! Of course, that may be related to her complaining that the first two chapters of  The Hobbit were boring, which led me to re-read the first chapter aloud to her. S and H listened as well, and everyone agreed that The Hobbit seems like a pretty good book. By the way, that’s a long first chapter!

My stylish 7th grader. No, it's not cold outside yet.

My stylish 7th grader. No, it’s not cold outside; the hat is a fashion statement.

I survived my first day back, too. The funny thing is that I’ve been having classroom anxiety dreams lately. Sheesh! I haven’t received a paycheck for teaching in 11 years; surely I shouldn’t be dreaming about naughty students stealing test papers and carrying them out of the classroom under their shirts.

H took my picture. S took my board and wrote "no."

H took my picture. S took my board and wrote “no.”

Today marks the beginning of our eighth year of homeschooling. That’s exactly six years longer than Ryan and I originally decided we’d try this experiment with G. Since much of our married life has been filled with unplanned challenges, I really don’t know why we thought that homeschooling would be quick and easy. It definitely hasn’t been. The past seven years have been filled with messiness, struggles, and frustration, but they’ve also been equally amazing. All of our children can read; in fact, they love to read and visit the library on a weekly basis. One of them even loves math! They are each curious and talented in many ways, and it’s been a privilege–and a blessing–to spend my days with them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Ryan sacrifices an equal amount so that I can stay home with the girls. He holds down two jobs–in two different states, no less–to make sure this happens. What an awesome husband I have!

 


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Out of My Hands

I like being in control. There. I wrote that sentence.

There is only so much in my life, however, that I can control. I can run a household, but I can’t decide when it’s a convenient time for my husband to deploy. (Nope, the Marine Corps is completely uninterested in my opinion.) I can make the best lesson plans and order exciting curricula, but I can’t rewire the way that G’s brain pays attention. I can log 100 miles a month and swallow my Zoloft, but anxiety still rears its ugly head from time to time.

I also have no control over S’s insulin pump. I learned that yesterday morning when S came home from swim practice and announced that she had an alarm message on her pump. After two attempts to rewind and reload the insulin cartridge, I concluded that the pump had broken and that S needed to go back to injections while Animas shipped us a new pump.

Let me rewind for a minute. S was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 3 years old. She spent Easter weekend in a children’s hospital while Ryan and I learned how to inject insulin, check blood sugar, count carbohydrates, and do the job that her pancreas was supposed to do. For a full year we administered three types of insulin at three different times a day; we carefully counted and fed her the same number of carbs at the same time each day. It was exhausting and scary. On top of this, I was in my first year of homeschooling G, and H was still nursing. By the grace of God, we all survived that first year with diabetes.

I forgot to mention, however, that S was always hungry and that she was still struggling to gain weight. We made the decision to put S on an insulin pump. Of course, it had to be a pink insulin pump, and she had to agree to wear it. We found a pink pump, and I ordered a pump waistpack in zebra fabric so that my little horse lover could safely carry her pump. A month after starting pump therapy, S had gained three pounds and grown a full inch; her hemoglobin A1c also dropped a full point. The best part was that she could eat whenever she wanted. We still followed a diabetic diet, but she was thriving again at the age of 4.

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S on her very first day with her insulin pump. So little and so much pink!

She’s been wearing a pump for five years now. While this isn’t the first time that something on the pump has malfunctioned, this is the first time that we’ve had to remove her completely from the pump. Guess what. I’m totally out of practice when it comes to remembering how to give injections and how Lantus, a slow-acting insulin, and Novolog, a fast-acting insulin, interplay. It turns out that I’m not a good substitute pancreas when I can’t use a pump.

Until yesterday, I failed to realize just how important S’s insulin pump is. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this pump literally keeps our daughter alive. (That’s another scary sentence to write.) Did I feel out of control? Yes. Did I try to shove my anxiety back to a dark corner? Yes again. Was I thankful that Ryan was home from water survival training? Absolutely. Did this unexpected experience drive me to my knees? You bet it did.

This morning S woke up with a blood sugar of 352. That’s after spending a good chunk of yesterday in the 40s and 50s. As an added bonus, she was spilling ketones this morning, so I made my third phone call to the emergency operator at Georgetown University Hospital. But here’s what I did first: I prayed over S. I asked that God would protect her from these crazy numbers and that He would grant me wisdom in knowing how to take care of her. I asked a faithful group of friends to pray with me, too. Right before I took H to swim practice, we prayed that her new insulin pump would arrive this morning instead of later today. I said those prayers in faith because I had exhausted everything I knew how to do on my own. I said those prayers because crying in frustration and snapping at Ryan wasn’t making me feel any better. I prayed because God always hears our prayers, and faith means believing that God will accomplish what we cannot.

An hour later G and S arrived for the second swim practice, and they brought good news with them. S had drunk enough water to flush out her ketones and a big brown UPS truck had delivered a new pump. Amazing. The whole experience lasted 24 hours. S survived, God is still in control, and I have to admit that He is much better at being in charge than I am.

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S knows how to accessorize: goggles, swim cap, and pump!

Speaking of situations that are beyond my control, I’d like to ask a favor of my readers. I have a niece and nephew whom I have not met. I have not met them because they are currently living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My brother- and sister-in-law have completed all the necessary steps to bring home their children; however, the DRC’s government has suspended exit permits for legally adopted children. Nearly 800 children are waiting to join permanent families; tragically 10 children have died from malaria and malnutrition–preventable diseases–while waiting for their exit permits. I realize that 800 children is not a large number, but each of these children is special to their families. Would you sign this petition to request that the Obama administration contacts DRC President Kabila before the African Leaders Summit in early August? It’s a small act, but it just might be enough to bring two children home.


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She Loves Me…

20140722_112738This artistic masterpiece is the reason that H interrupted my morning shower. She loves me. She thinks I’m awesome. And she thinks I’m cool. She commandeered the rose from a neighbor, and she wrote two of the nicest words that she knows how to spell.

Just 60 minutes before she professed her love for me, I parked her bicycle in the garage and ordered her onto the porch for a cool down. It seems that I was “ruining her life” by insisting that she stop whining and play nicely with her sisters and our neighbor. She didn’t find it funny that I threatened to spray her with the hose in my hand if she didn’t stop fighting. She was angry when I did spray her because she continued to say ugly things. She even threw her bike helmet onto the grass to show me how angry she was, which is why I parked her bike.

In full disclosure, I hit her with fewer than 10 drops of water and she could find no evidence of water on her clothing. I even apologized, but she was still grumpy with me.

I suppose H either has a terrible short-term memory or that she’s forgiven me. Either way I’m thrilled with my gift. It’s better than a paycheck or a full vase of roses with the stems attached.


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Lessons from the Swimming Pool

Summer swim season comes to an end next week. (Phew!) All 3 girls have spent countless hours in our neighborhood pool over the past 6 weeks. So have I.

This is H’s first swim team experience; actually, this is her first experience with organized sports. It’s been a bumpy introduction for her. On her very first day of practice she proudly swam 200 meters and then threw an enormous tantrum when she learned that she would have to come back to the pool every weekday morning. Once we bypassed that hurdle, she declared she would never, ever dive off the blocks. (Guess who is an accomplished diver now.) Alas, she is holding tight to her preference for backstroke. I can always spot H when her teammates are swimming their laps; she is the lone swimmer on her back. On the bright side, she has shaved 8 seconds off her PR and recently won the second heat for 7- and 8-year-old girls. Next year’s goal: Swimming on her belly.

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H found this H during our trip to Oregon.

S’s swim season has been more about her blood sugar and less about her actual swimming. Swimming is notorious for making blood sugar numbers wacky, but her numbers this summer have been crazy low: 37, 36, 35, 34, 33. She’s drunk more juice boxes and eaten more fruit strips in the past two months than I can remember. Type 1 diabetes continues to make our lives unpredictable.

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S (in the center) occasionally tolerates photographs.

G loves swim team and has asked to start swimming year-round. She’s moved up an age group this summer, and the competition against year-round swimmers is stiff. Still she continues to excel in breaststroke. On Thursday we watched her cruise to a second-place finish. Of course I’m proud of her accomplishment in the chlorine, but I’m equally–if not more–proud of the way she handled a recent swim meet situation.

Swim meets are super fun for swimmers. They swim for 30-60 seconds at a time and then have several hours to hang out with their friends and eat all sorts of delicious foods. Parents generally don’t have the same view of meets. We get to provide those delicious foods, and we have assigned jobs that take way longer than 30-60 seconds. I typically spend 2 or more hours lining up swimmers on their way to the starting blocks. During pre-meet warmups, someone often plays music over the loudspeakers. It’s mostly innocuous pop meant to help pass the time before Event 1 starts.

At the last meet I was sitting with several moms and children at a table; we were just digging into our dinners when I heard the opening bars to “Sexy and I Know It,” last year’s hit from the group known as LMFAO. That’s when I jumped up from the table and race-walked (because you can’t run at the pool) across the concrete to the source of the music. I hope I was polite, but I was less than thrilled to be asking another parent (of young girls, no less) to fast forward to the next song. The father who was acting as DJ and meet announcer complied with my request; however, that’s not the end of this story.

If you’re unfamiliar with the lyrics to “Sexy and I Know It,” you can read them here. If you can’t figure out what LMFAO stands for, I suggest that you NOT look up the term. The more I think about what happened the other night, the more upset I get. It is hard to raise little girls in today’s culture. It is harder still to keep them appropriately innocent. I want our daughters to grow into young ladies; therefore, I resent anyone who uses the word sexy around or to describe children. Children aren’t sexy at all, and I resent having to defend what should be a basic tenet of parenthood. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

I cooled down after chatting with a few moms who had appreciated my request, but I was utterly floored by the conversation I had with G yesterday. We were in the car when G told me about the conversation she and another friend had with the same parent just moments after my request. It seems that several of G’s friends didn’t like the next song and went to ask if they could pick out a song. They asked this parent why he hadn’t finished playing “Sexy and I Know It.” His response was that “some lady” had asked him not to play it. Her response? “That was my mom. She probably didn’t think it was appropriate for 3-year-old kids to listen to that song.” What floored me is that this parent tried to convince her that it wasn’t a big deal since these same kids would probably hear the song on the radio anyway.

WHAT?!!! This is what a grown man of approximately 40 years says to 11-year-old girls? This is exactly the kind of argument I would expect to hear from someone who is not old enough to drive a car or vote. And by the way, G is smart enough to know that she’s not going to hear this song on any of our radios.

Yes, I know I’m on my soapbox again. But I am also ridiculously proud of G. I guess she’s actually been listening to me all these years, and I think she is growing into exactly the kind of young lady that her father and I want her to be.

G (on the left) and one of her favorite friends.

G (on the left) and one of her favorite friends.

 


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75 Years

6 siblings,

1 birthday boy,

1 Nunu.

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8 granddaughters.

084

3 spouses,

1 girlfriend,

2 boyfriends.

1 long-haired Banjo.

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Not enough beds,

Not enough forks,

Too much hummus.

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75 years celebrated by 22 people

with 7 different surnames.

0485 days together in 2 houses.

Too much laughter to count,

Too much love to measure,

Too many dishes to wash.

???????????????????????????????2 play performances,

Endless bike rides,

Marathon rounds of Phase 10.

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28 miles in 6 runs,

0% humidity.

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12 hours by car and plane,

4 suitcases in tow,

3 time zones to cross.

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From Maryland to Oregon and back,

One person is worth all this fuss.

Happy birthday, Michael.

049

 


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Summer is in Full Swing

I just finished vacuuming cherry pits and stems from behind the piano. No one knows how they exactly got there, but I suppose it’s the same person who left an apple core behind a living room chair in an experiment to see how long it takes to completely dehydrate it. Or it could be the child who removes strawberry tops wherever she happens to be and then drops them so that it looks like our house has been invaded by an army of green spiders.

Yep, summer is in full swing, and I have the discarded fruit remnants to prove it.

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H’s second swim meet. She only swims backstroke.

Our calendar now revolves around swim practices–2 every weekday morning–and swim meets–every Tuesday and Thursday. In between we manage to accomplish small things like unloading the dishwasher, completing a remedial math lesson, and offering first aid to a field mouse.

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It’s easier to just take the picture the first time the kids ask than to listen to them beg you to take a picture for 30 minutes. This is S and a maimed field mouse. She couldn’t decide if it had a hurt foreleg or hindleg.

Last week G got her first pair of glasses. I would have been horrified to need glasses when I was her age, but she was ridiculously excited after I realized she needed an appointment with the optometrist.

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G–in her new specs–enjoying a cool treat on a warm day.

Today we are waiting for the windshield repairman. He’ll be here any time between 12 noon and 5 P.M., and this gives me an opportunity to enforce a lazy day around the house. Plus we’re packing for a family vacation, which means we’re cleaning out drawers and closets, doing laundry, and fighting over whose turn it is to fold the laundry.

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We pretended to be tourists and posed at the Virginia Welcome Center on I-95.

This weekend the girls and I visited my parents for some much-needed rest. Last week was full of long and difficult days. Our dear friend Sophia went home to Jesus on Saturday, June 21. While she wasn’t my child, I spent much of the day weeping for her parents. Ryan and I decided it was a good time to take the girls to a local beach and then spend the day doing things we don’t normally do. We watched Maleficent and then ate a delicious Chinese dinner.

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S and a horseshoe crab skeleton that she found. Ryan declared it too stinky to come home with us. Boo.

Still my heart aches for Sofia’s parents. Her service last Friday was beautiful but heart-breaking, just like her life. I cried for my babies, too. With some consolation and in total childish honestly, H reminded us that Sofie is now playing with her sister Lucy in heaven. And they’re not just playing; I think they’re dancing together and running around those golden streets. Their bodies are strong and beautiful, and they realize that those of us on earth are the ones experiencing “light and momentary troubles” while they’re enjoying the start of their eternity.

S with her swim teammates at yesterday’s meet.

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