On a Learning Curve

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


Got an Empty Shoe Box? Fill It Up!

It’s that time of the year. Shoe box time.

When we arrived (almost on time) at church yesterday, I noticed a familiar sight in the foyer. On a table sat two shoe boxes overflowing with school supplies, toys, candy, and personal hygiene items. Operation Christmas Child brochures, stickers, and prayer cards surrounded the boxes. I made a mental note that I needed to go through my pantry, round up empty shoe boxes, and make a shopping list when we returned home.

After lunch, the girls and I pulled out the stockpile that we had amassed over the past year: markers, colored pencils, and crayons bought during the back-to-school summer sales; a 6-pack of socks found on clearance; a tiny Beanie Baby bear, two elastic bracelets, several notepads, and a mini Etch-a-Sketch all stashed and forgotten at some point earlier this year.

We pulled out 4 empty shoe boxes, hunted for 2 more, and then got to work separating, filling, and evenly distributing our stash. Then we made a shopping list: wrapped candy, Hot Wheels for the 2 boys’ boxes, 6 tubes of toothpaste, and 6 bars of wrapped soap.

After a quick trip to Target, we finished our packing. How easy was that? We like to wrap our shoe boxes, but that task remains for a later date–mostly because the 4 of us don’t wrap boxes very well together. (I’m just being honest here.)

A boy's box: same art supplies, hygiene items, and candy + toys.

A boy’s box: art supplies, hygiene items, socks and candy + Hot Wheels!


One of the girls’ boxes: same art supplies & hygiene items with purple socks, Play Doh and hair goodies.

If you still have no idea why we filled up 6 shoe boxes yesterday, watch this video below. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, the international relief outreach headed by Franklin Graham. (It gets a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.)

See how simple that is? If you have kids–or if the voices of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber don’t make you cringe–watch this how-to video. Don’t forget to attach your label and include the $7 shipping fee. Or you can follow your box around the world by paying online and downloading a special tracking label.

I think I packed my first box more than 10 years ago. Now we routinely pack 6 boxes each year. (That’s one box for each of our children.) In past years, our boxes have reached Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Ukraine, and Zambia. What an amazing way to share the love of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas with children all over the world. I can’t think of a better way to spend $7.

National Collection Week is November 18-25, so that gives you about 2-3 weeks to pack your boxes. So go pack one or two…or even more. What’s stopping you?







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Brought to You by the Letter H

Fall has finally reached our home and decided to stay for a while. We had a brief preview last month and were tricked into thinking we could turn off the AC and open the windows for 2 weeks. Then summer returned over the same weekend that I was running Ragnar DC. The temperature hit 90 degrees, and the humidity hovered in the 80s. So we fired up the AC for another week before deciding it was safe to open the windows again.

This week we fired up the heat. Yep, that’s the official sign. Not falling leaves–those come all year long–or earlier sunsets or migrating geese. We let the heat pump make that call.

Other signs that fall is here to stay:
1. Pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks. (Just kidding! Those things are full of sugar, and you can’t believe every ad you see!)
2. The final five tomatoes on my two surviving tomato plants just won’t ripen on the vine when it plummets to 39 degrees at night.
3. Ryan and the girls spend hours collecting sticks, yard waste, and old bank statements to burn in the chiminea. Children love to play with fire.
4. I can’t decide whether I should wear long sleeves with running shorts or short sleeves with capris. Hard decisions!

Summer's final harvest will have to ripen on the kitchen windowsill.

Summer’s final harvest will have to ripen on the kitchen windowsill.

Fall’s arrival also means that we’ve finished a full quarter of our school year and settled into our routine. G is tackling geometry and 5-paragraph essays, S has completed 75% of third grade, and H is reading like a champ. Proud mom brag: she just memorized the 23rd Psalm! And she finally earned her super-hero cape. See pictures below.


Yes, those are pink and purple butterflies. A girl needs her butterflies.

You see, I’m all about bribing children to teach good behavior. Sure, you could call it positive reinforcement, but let’s be honest: there’s not a huge difference. Plus, I was raised by a master briber, and I think I turned out fairly well-behaved. H had to stop throwing temper tantrums to earn this cape. She picked out the fabric and chose the monogram design, and I insisted that she not throw a tantrum for one entire week. It took her a full month, but now the cape is hers.


The cape in action. Look how Super H can scale the playground in it!

Lest you think we’ve forgotten our other children, G and H have had their own struggles. G has turned 11 with a vengeance. Ryan and I spent last Sunday afternoon removing the extra bed from her room. Then we removed all her art supplies, books, food wrappers, Rainbow loom bands, and other contraband. We sorted through her clothing and showed her very specifically how she would keep her room. It was an unpleasant afternoon for everyone involved, but we needed to follow through on the warnings we’d been doling out in the previous days. Though her bedroom looks rather spartan at the moment, she is actually happy that she can easily keep her room clean.

S is following a third program. (Do you know how hard it is to keep all of these things straight?!) She desperately wants a new hamster. She has finished mourning Brownie and would like to add another rodent to her menagerie. She is a very good pet keeper, but she is not a good listener. Actually, her hearing is perfect, but her follow-through needs serious work. She needs to demonstrate that she can consistently obey Mom and Dad for a full week before we’re taking her down to the pet store.

Parenting is hard work, isn’t it? One size does not fit all, but I think that’s why Proverbs 22:6 tells us to train up a child in the way (s)he should go. It’s different for each child, and our family is proof.

It’s time for me to return to school. We have a science lesson to tackle, and our topic is carbohydrates. (I think we’re going to nail this lesson.)

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The Week in Review

I have writer’s block. I start to write about a topic and then lose interest or get distracted after a paragraph or so. There are all sorts of small people reasons for my distractions. For instance, we don’t have house guests often, but we’ve had 3 sets of overnight visitors for the past 2 weekends. If I tell you that I’ve changed more sheets in the past month than I typically do, you might figure out that I don’t change the kids’ sheets every week. Oops, my secret is out.

Speaking of house guests, we survived our first slumber party for G’s 11th birthday. I have officially switched my position on owning a home with a basement. I have decided that yes, a basement sounds like a lovely idea. Especially if my children want to have future slumber parties.

My father stayed with us the night after the slumber party. He and I got up during an unpleasant downpour last Sunday morning so that we could run the Lower Potomac River 10 Miler together. This year we actually ran through the Potomac River. Okay, that’s not true. It just felt like we did. The course had to be rerouted minutes before it was scheduled to start, and we had to run through about 6 inches of water–twice–near the course turn-around. On the plus side, I earned a new 10-mile PR. I finished in 1:21:51 and ran four sub-8 miles. That was the good part of last weekend.

The not-so-good part was the lesson I learned about resting my body after a hard run. After Ragnar, I took a very easy week and only ran 3 short runs of 4 miles each. I took 3 rest days and my legs felt fine before Sunday. My right knee wasn’t feeling fine, so I kept taking ibuprofen and icing it. The day after the 10-miler, my right knee was definitely puffy, and I had some trouble bending it. I decided not to run so that it could heal.

So what does a mother runner do when she cannot run? On Tuesday, she goes to CCR, the Cardio Core Resistance class that she’s been taking for 2 years. She wonders why every lower body exercise pairing include lunges, steps, or squats. Her instructor gives her ab exercises to do in place of legs. On Wednesday, her abs are killing her, and the stairs become her enemy. She finds an orthopedist who is taking her insurance and new patients and desperately schedules the first-available appointment, even though she has already booked a dental appointment for the same day in a different county. She also increases her ice time and decides that a calming Body Flow class will recharge her mood. She goes to Body Flow and can’t bend her body into child’s pose or half lotus or a dozen other poses. She isn’t feeling recharged. By Friday she is downright grumpy and moody. She needs an endorphin rush, but her knee is still swollen. On her sixth day of not running, she decides to follow the C of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) before heading out to coach a soccer game. On Day 8, she calls the orthopedist’s office and asks to be added to the cancellation list.

In short, this mother runner learned her lesson. I violated the rule that says for each mile you race, take off 1 day before your next hard run or race. I raced 15 miles during Ragnar DC and raced another 10 just 8 days later. Now I get the reasoning behind the rule. I also got to see the orthopedist today! After a set of x-rays and exam, she pronounced that my injury was due to overuse. I told my sister that I felt like the little girl who cried wolf.

Speaking of my sister, we had a lovely weekend with her family. Her two boys are ridiculously cute. O, who is 5, is best buddies with my H, and they LOVE spending time with each other. G, who is 3, has turned into quite the instigator. He knows how to bother his big brother O in ways that remind me of growing up with my siblings. (Except that I never got in trouble for petting my brother’s hair after bedtime so that he couldn’t fall asleep. We preferred to touch each other and cross the invisible borders of the car backseat.) He also defies his mother by asserting his love for our surviving hamster Oreo. One of our conversations went like this:

G: “Aunt Laura, I want to see that boy.” He points to the hamster cage.
Me: “Do you mean Oreo? The hamster?”
G: “Yes, the hamster. He is cute.”
Me: “Yes, he is cute. He is watching you.”
G: “I want to hold him. He is funny.”
Me: “Yes, he is cute and funny.”

If you’re still reading, you may be wondering what my original topic was. Distraction. Writer’s block. Sometimes the best way to conquer those monsters is to simply write something. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. It just has to happen. And if you’re still with me, I’ll leave you with a little distraction for you. It’s a video montage of my Ragnar experience. Another Mother Runner sent 2 teams of mother runners. Team Dimity is sporting the light pink tutus, and Team Sarah is in the dark pink. One of my talented teammates is the voice behind the pictures. You can find me in a pink tutu. I’m wearing number 493.

By the way, I’m going for a run tomorrow.

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A Sad Day for a Good Hamster

I’ve written before about S’s beloved hamster Brownie. He was the hamster who mistakenly thought he was a dog and acted like one: He begged to be picked up from his cage, happily went wherever the girls toted him, and loved to snuggle under the covers–often when this writer had no idea he was in bed. He never bit or hissed. All in all, he was probably the world’s nicest hamster–unless you’re my sister Martha and have an intense dislike of rodents.

So yesterday was a sad day. It started with S notifying me that Brownie was very cold. Yes, he was. She snuggled him but just couldn’t get him warm. H brought him food, and he ignored it all. (That’s atypical hamster behavior since hamster means hoarder.) The day progressed, and his breathing slowed. S spent hours holding him wrapped up in a kitchen towel for warmth.


S and her beloved Brownie

In the meantime, the girls screamed for Ryan at 15 minute intervals to check Brownie’s vital signs. This is one of those jobs that no one tells you is going to be yours before you become a dad. Ryan dutifully checked for breathing and leg movement each time.

This morning we woke up to find that Brownie was no longer with us. S bravely asked if she could wrap him up and put him in a box for burial. G wants to decorate a gravestone. All of them want to know when we can bring home the next hamster, and they spent time debating the merits of two dwarf hamsters versus one Syrian hamster.

In case you’re interested, they’ve decided on another Syrian. Despite their tears, their little hearts have the capacity to love another animal, and for that this mom is very glad.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

Yesterday we embarked on a rare shopping trip with all five of us. I say rare because Ryan is not a fan of shopping in general. (He once told me he thought he was growing an ovary because we had spent too much time in Bed Bath and Beyond.) Anyway, we were looking for a birthday present for our oldest daughter G, who has outgrown her current bike and needs a taller one. She’s turning 11 and has an opinion on everything under the sun, so we took her with us and let her browse the spartan bicycle selection in St. Mary’s County.

After she was done looking at bikes, she quickly reverted back to her pre-teenaged outlook on life: “Oh my gosh, Mom, please stop dancing. You embarrass me every time we go out in public.” Just because I happened to like a Steely Dan song that came through the speaker system at the Navy Exchange. I kept right on dancing.

H snuggled up to me this morning and gave me one of her sweet 6-year-old hugs. I rocked her for a minute–she is my last baby, after all–and then she looked at me with her gorgeous brown eyes and asked, “Mom, do you wish you had tiny buns like me?”

I am not kidding. Then I stupidly followed up by saying, “What’s wrong with my buns?”

H never misses a beat. She told me, “They’re big and wiggly.” Hug over.

After dinner tonight, our family was in a silly mood. I was still sitting at the table, and Ryan had started the process of loading the dishwasher. All of a sudden, I realized that all three girls were circling me–and not in a good way.

“Hey, Dad! Look at this! Mom has hair on her face!” (I completely missed the opportunity to remind the girls that this is the very definition of a mammal.)

Ryan and I both have good senses of humor so we laughed; however, I reminded H that her hair is darker than mine and that she might actually have a real mustache one day when she is old.

Yes, in the span of 24 hours, I became a hairy, jiggly embarrassment. It’s a good thing my girls love me. Can you imagine what they would say if they didn’t?!


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Ragnar Recap

I think my quads have finally recovered from my Ragnar DC weekend since I can now successfully descend any flight of stairs. But I know any future race experiences have been completely ruined by winning a spot on the First Annual Ultimate Mother Runner Showdown. Pay an entry fee to run? You’re not sending me clothing, shoes, hydration, nutrition, and assorted swag? Seriously?

My smile was genuine after climbing straight up the Appalachians for 2 miles!

Instead of writing my own recap, I’m going to send you to to the words of my 12 teammates. Look at the pictures, read each mom’s favorite memories, and let you know what you think.

Team Dimity (aka Are Our Kids Still Chasing Us?) at National Harbor after 36 legs across Maryland.

Since all good things must come to an end, I need to conduct math and science lessons. Polygons and the digestive system may not be as fun as Ragnar, but it’s time to come down from my cloud.


A Thank-You Note

I met some wonderful mother runners this past weekend as we gathered in Cumberland, Maryland, for the start of Ragnar Relay DC. 25 of them, to be exact. While everyone was like-minded in her love for running and dedication to family, some of them were extraordinarily creative. The ladies from Another Mother Runner had already showered us with swag from their sponsors (Saucony, Nuun, 110%, Hyland’s, SofSole, Skinfare, Nuttzo, and Ultimate Direction) throughout the summer and fall, but several moms gifted us with fruits from their own hands on Thursday evening. In lieu of my usual handwritten thank-you notes, I want to publicly thank the following moms:

Aimee shared her gorgeous bluegrassy, folk album Dirt Road Dreams. Listen to a few tracks. “Lullaby for Flint” is my favorite.

Dirt Road Dreamer by Aimee Hoyt

Schuy gave each of us a soft cotton tank and hand towel with the logo from her women’s active wear shop. My sweaty tank is still in the laundry basket, but here’s a quick picture of my new spinning towel!

I'm shopping at Indigo Schuy if I ever make it to Chesnut Hill, PA.

I’m shopping at Indigo Schuy if I ever make it to Chesnut Hill, PA.

Nikki is also known as The Girl Who Quilts. She somehow found time to whip up two dozen quilted clutches for the mother runners. She must not sleep.

That's the Ragnar logo with my name embroidered. There's a zipper, too!

That’s the Ragnar logo with my name embroidered. There’s a zipper, too!

Bethany contributed a piece to a hilarious book on motherhood and brought copies for everyone. Buy a copy of Bethany’s book if you need a good laugh!

Bethany’s contribution is “Parenting is Taboo.”

Rebecca baked cookies for us. And these weren’t just any cookies. These were professionally crafted cookies that were delicious, uniform in size, and tiny works of art. I ate three of my cookies during my Ragnar adventure because they were full of carbs, and carbs are good for runners. Don’t judge Rebecca’s talent by the one surviving cookie I brought home. If you ignore the cracks, you can see the amazing detail that she put into my race bib cookie. Oh, and did I mention that Rebecca bakes for fun?

I think Rebecca has found her calling. Open a shop!

I think Rebecca has found her calling. Open a shop!

Thank you, ladies. Thank you also to Laura and Terri who created custom stickers so that we’ll remember our Ragnar experience long after our muscles have repaired themselves. And thank you to the wonderful mother runners who gave me the weekend of a lifetime.

I promise to post more later this week. My camera battery died in the hotel lobby, and I am starting to rethink my refusal to own a smart phone. (Just thinking, not willing to give in to the peer pressure yet.) I will eventually post pictures, but for now you’ll have to settle for a picture of me pre-race in my pink tutu. No, I wasn’t the only one wearing one. Yes, it was surprisingly comfortable and served as a race belt and an easy way to identify teammates.

Ready to run Ragnar in my Tuff Girl tutu!

Ready to run Ragnar in my Tuff Girl tutu!

P.S. I would be seriously remiss–and seriously in danger of never being allowed to leave the house again–if I didn’t thank my husband Ryan for making this weekend happen. Thank you for stepping into my size 8.5 shoes for three days and keeping the kids alive and the house in working order. I love you.