On a Learning Curve

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

Leave a comment


In a word, the title describes our last week. We started our school year on Monday, squeezed in 2 biofeedback sessions, a 6-year-old well check, 2 haircuts, art lessons, and a soccer practice where we didn’t actually play any soccer. Yesterday Ryan shuttled 2 children off to a friend’s house so that he could go to work while I dragged S to my mandatory coaches’ clinic before we left for a Scrimmage Fest. Fast forward through four 25-minute soccer scrimmages, and all 5 of us joined up again at our church’s annual summer picnic. Whew! What a week!

None of that includes my Ragnar training either. I totaled 31 miles over 4 days and 5 runs this week. That’s the most I’ve run in one week ever, and that also includes the 13.1 that I ran this morning with my friend Tracy. Our fearless team leader revealed our leg assignments this week. While I’m a little bummed about my low total mileage, I’m a little apprehensive about my first leg. At just 4.1 miles, it comes with a Very Hard description. Perhaps the graph can shed some light on the reason.

Those brown ridges are also known as the Appalachian Mountains!

My next leg looks more promising and much greener. I’ll be running the rolling hills of the Antietam Battlefield.

Green on a map is good, right?

My last leg is an easy, flat 3.7 mile run on Rock Creek Trail in Bethesda. Since that should occur at some point nearing 24 hours, I’m thinking that leg will be a blessing.

So much is going on right now, and the girls have been taking turns complaining about their school days. Somehow they believe that life would be perfect if I just packed their lunches in brown bags and marched them to the bus stop in the morning. Sure it would. And public schools don’t make students learn math, science, reading, or history. I shudder as I imagine what would happen if G or S gave a classroom teacher the same dirty looks that they shoot at me. Sigh. Tomorrow’s the start of a new week, and I’m hoping for happier pupils.

On the science side, we’re on another butterfly watch. I sacrificed my 2 enormous parsley plants to a group of black swallowtail caterpillars last week. In exchange, we now have 2.5 chrysallises waiting to becomes butterflies. Tomorrow there should be 3 fully formed chrysallises.

I’m going to end this post on a humorous note. H and I read The Story about Ping last week as we completed a unit study on China, ducks, and water. On Tuesday we were doing a language arts lesson about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. We read a series of books that began with “Once upon a time,” and I was trying to get H to say the answer without me telling her. On my third attempt, I asked her what she would call a book that was not real and contained a story that someone made up. She already had 2 strikes, so she looked at me and replied, “A false religion.” I love H, and I told her that her answer was very close since it started with the same letter. Then we all collapsed into laughter, and I gave her a big hug.



1 Comment

You Just Have to Know Where to Look

Or at least that’s what my wise mother says. I phoned her yesterday after pulling a butternut squash out of the microwave, cutting it in half, and finding this:


Those are butternut squash sprouts attached to the seeds inside my cooked squash. Weird! Not dangerous or poisonous though. I snapped a quick picture–since my children love to examine all things weird and abnormal–and scooped out the mess. I will admit that it is somewhat creepy to pull out the sprouts; they are rather worm-like.

My mom’s advice came after I told her about the girls’ latest finds this week: a ginormous, horned beetle and a dead hummingbird. G has a particular fascination with insects so we stopped to examine this prehistoric-looking creature outside of the dermatologist’s office. S spotted the hummingbird in the mulch outside a Starbucks just a few minutes later. “Mom, it’s a female, and I’m fairly sure she died of natural causes,” S pronounced. No arguing there. What is fast enough to snag a hummer? “How do they always find such interesting things,” I asked my mom. (Seriously. It’s like we’re on a never-ending field trip. I never know what we’ll find when we leave the house.) “Oh, Laura, it’s because your girls are always looking down and digging around for things, and you’re looking straight ahead,” was her pithy reply. Then she added that some day they’d probably find a $20 bill. (They’ve already found a $5 bill.)

She’s right though. Aren’t moms good at that quality?! My girls don’t worry about looking ahead–and they have the scars to prove it–or thinking through the consequences of their actions. My job is to look ahead for them and steer them onto the correct paths. In time, they’ll learn to pick up their heads, too, but I hope they never stop looking down for the hidden and unexpected.

1 Comment

It’s That Time Again

The start of another school year is fast approaching; in fact, we are at T minus 7 days. The girls couldn’t care any less, and I’m mostly ready to go. Okay, physically I’m ready. We have new pencils (with actual erasers), fresh reams of drawing paper and card stock, new curricula, and replacement workbooks for the older stuff. Here’s what we’ll be tackling this year.

H is the only one using Five in a Row this year. That’s something new for us. FIAR, unit studies designed around award-winning children’s picture books, has been the core of our curriculum for the past six years, so it will be a special time to share The Story about Ping, Madeline, and Night of the Moonjellies with my littlest student.

Big sisters G and S will be using Total Language Plus as their language arts program since G did very well last year. G has chosen King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry as her first unit. (It’s a horse book, go figure.) S is starting with The Courage of Sarah Noble, a lighter unit for somebody who is just starting novel-centered language arts. I like that I don’t have to pull separate literature, vocabulary, spelling, and writing programs together. For a fun twist on grammar, I bought Grammar Ace for the two older girls. Anything that requires viewing School House Rock episodes has to be fun, right? If you’re already singing “Conjunction Junction” in your head, maybe you should ignore the clip below.

We’re moving on to Volume 2 of Story of the World. This year we’ll be learning medieval history. Volume 1 was a big hit with everyone last year, and I bought Famous Figures of Medieval Times because the girls will want to assemble Joan of Arc while they read about her. At least this year we won’t have to mummify another chicken….

We’ll be starting our third year of Apologia elementary science, too. After learning about astronomy and flying creatures, the girls chose human anatomy and physiology for this year. I’m excited because we’ll be knocking out science and health at the same time. I really love the notebooking journals that come along with the series. These are huge time-savers for me, and the girls end up with a finished notebook that they can use for future reference.

Math is still Alpha Omega Horizons, and we’re covering 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, and 6th grades. Who says you don’t use math after you get out of high school?!

Lastly, I’ll be teaching music this year. Despite having taken five years of piano myself, music has never been a particular strength of mine. Since we’re not participating in a co-op this year and since the Great State of Maryland mandates “progress” in music each year, it should be an adventure for H, S, and me. (G continues to take lessons with a super patient piano teacher each week.) I bought Story of the Orchestra to get us started. Orchestra Bob and I will not be teaching theory or voice; I think appreciation is a better goal. And in case we start to take school too seriously, then it will be time for Beethoven’s Wig.

Leave a comment

Down on the Farm

As promised, here are a few pictures of how we spent yesterday morning. We set off for Fisher Farm in La Plata after discovering that they had pick-your-own peaches for $1/pound. I took no pictures of the peach-picking process, and that’s probably because we quickly abandoned our picking and left the dirty work to Ryan after the farm owner offered us a tour. We admired his pear, apple, pecan, and cherry trees; asked if the raspberries would be open for picking; and sympathized with his squirrel woes. (Apparently his squirrels are susceptible to lead poisoning; fortunately, the girls don’t understand how squirrels get lead poisoning.) Then we met Tom, Tom’s hens, and six coops of chicks.

Below is Tom, our newest friend. He’s very proud of appearance, as you can tell by his ruffled feathers. And he’s quite friendly, too.


Here I am with Tom. This is as close as I wanted to get to him. Apparently if you get down on his level, he’s very, um, affectionate. (Ragnar friends, this is how I wear my latest Ragnar Swag. I love my new blue Saucony Mirage 3s.)


This is as close as S was willing to get to any turkey. While she admitted that turkeys are soft, “Hamsters are softer.” She has a serious love for hamsters, and very few creatures can compare.


Ryan was a better sport about the turkeys, but he told me that I needed to stop taking pictures of the turkeys and finish picking peaches.

ImageIn all, we picked 32 pounds of peaches and spent just $32. Okay, we picked about two pounds, and Ryan picked another 30 pounds. I dropped off 10 pounds with a friend, and later this week I’ll put up jam and make one of my great-grandmother’s peach cobblers. I also have another reason to enjoy living in southern Maryland.


Off to the Market

There’s a lot that I like about living in southern Maryland: rolling hills, an abundance of shade trees, a slower-paced lifestyle, the abundance of roadside farm markets, and a wide variety of residents. We have Amish and Mennonites, test pilots and astronauts, government contractors and farmers. In fact, these things generally outweigh the parts I dislike: the ridiculous number of taxes, a state government that caters to the central counties and cities, and the dearth of health-care specialists in our community. Oh, and for a county that had the 14th highest median income in 2010, we have no bookstore, no retailer that sells professional clothing, nothing comparable to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, and just one Starbucks–without a drive-thru window. Before you feel truly sorry for me, Sweet Frog did just open a franchise.

Yesterday I discovered something new to like: the Loveville Produce Auction. I had wanted to go for at least a year now and got my first opportunity yesterday. Even from the parking lot, I knew I was in for a treat! Fresh summer veggies, watermelons, cut flowers, and flats of tomatoes abounded. The large auction was already under way, and the small auction was getting ready to begin. And I felt like I had stepped back in time 100 years. Amish and Mennonite farmers and children were everywhere: some were wearing shoes; most were wearing straw hats. My friend and I ignored the large auction because the bidding was on entire wagon-loads of produce. Yes, wagons. As in the things that teams of horses pull.

I marveled at the bounty of the fields, and I quickly figured out how to bid. I even got a small round of applause when I won my first auction: a pint of mixed cherry tomatoes for $1. At auction’s end, I wrote a check for $27.18 to cover my six purchases; the $0.18 covers the tax on the sunflowers that I had to have! Below is a picture of my haul. Much of my vegetables are hidden by my impulse buy: a half-bushel of red bell peppers (that I split with my friend) for $8.50. What does $27 buy? A flat of yellow beans; the bell peppers; one enormous cantaloupe; a quart of red potatoes; a pint of cherry tomatoes; a mixed flat of zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, field tomatoes, jalapenos, and cubanelle peppers; and the gorgeous sunflowers. Will I go back again? Definitely. The Loveville Produce Auction is now another reason why I like living in southern Maryland.


After the produce auction and before the cleaning, chopping, and cooking.

Coming soon are pictures and a post about our peach-picking expedition this morning. Spoiler alert: There were lots of turkeys involved.

1 Comment

Running with My Dad: A Tribute

On Saturday, my dad and I set out for a 10-mile run. We left when the temperature was in the 70s and looked promising.  But the humidity was evil: it was hovering around 90%, and I was ready to quit the run at Mile 7. My splits show I was fading, too. 9:00 gradually became 10:00. And I’ll admit to an 11:00 mile when I decided I needed to walk. My dad only “needed” to run 6 miles to make his weekly average of 40, but he gamely agreed to steer me through 10. I decided that 9.3 miles was close enough to 10, and he did not object.

2013 Charlottesville 10 Miler. This is probably around Mile 8.

2013 Charlottesville 10 Miler. This is probably around Mile 8.

But that’s the ugly side of our run. The beauty of it is that we’ve come full-circle. My dad won’t mind me telling you that he’s 64 years old; in fact, he’s quite proud that most people can’t guess his age accurately. He played football and ran track through college but took up running with my mom when we were living in Hawaii around 1980. Almost 35 years later, he still runs 6 miles a day. He no longer runs marathons, and my mom has given up running. On the other hand, I was the child who ran but complained the whole way. I whined through the first 5k I ever ran at the age of 7, and my 5-year-old brother beat me. He pointed out how grossly unfair it was that I won a plaque and he didn’t. I ran high school cross country but only because it kept me in shape for soccer–not because my heart was truly in the sport, right, Mr. Upton? I continued to run in college; again, that was for soccer. Coach Glaeser’s rule was that you couldn’t start unless you could run 5 (hilly) miles in 45 minutes or less.

After college and soccer ended, I had no more reason to run. And since I had blown out both knees playing so much soccer, running wasn’t really a priority. Instead I discovered the elliptical machine, walking, and Pilates; oh, and I also got married and had a whole bunch of babies in rapid succession. It wasn’t until our youngest was 18 months that I tried running again. That was nearly 5 years ago. In that time, I’ve progressed from running 5ks to half marathons. I’ve gone from a couple of casual weekly runs as part of my sanity fitness regime to following training plans and purposefully planning my runs.

One of my first ever races required that I be dressed as a centipede. Yes, a centipede. My dad was the head, our neighbor Mrs. Campbell was the tail, and I was one of 4 children in the middle. I ran behind my dad the whole way wearing antennae and connected to the other centipede runners. Now I run next to my dad. Even when I’m ready to drop back and I tell him to finish without me, he always stays with me.

My parents, both wearing race t-shirts, circa 1981. I'm the little face peeking out from behind my mom.

My parents, both wearing race t-shirts, circa 1981. I’m the little face peeking out from behind my mom.

We ran the Charlottesville 10 Miler together this past March. It rained for the first 4 miles, and we went out too fast because the first 2 miles were mismarked. Still, we finished together in 1:25:00. Just like last Saturday. He only “needed” to run 6, but we finished those 9.3 miles together.