On a Learning Curve

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

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In Memory of a Good Neighbor

I opened my email earlier this week and discovered some unexpected news. Our former neighbor, fondly known to my girls as Mr. Ted, passed away last month. No one outside his family knew he was ill, but he was never one to draw attention to himself.

We lived next door to Ted for five years during our Maryland stint. Ted introduced himself to me while the movers were still unloading our boxes and furniture. “If you ever need to borrow a tool, I have a workshop,” were his words of welcome.

He told me that his wife was no longer able to live in their home and that he would be gone from 10 to 12 every morning to visit her. I informed him that our girls were 3, 5, and 7, and that I hoped that our noise wouldn’t bother him too much.

A few months after we had unpacked, I noticed Ted climbing a ladder to clean out his front gutters. Later that day I walked over to his yard to ask him if he wanted some help from Ryan. Instead I found him on his back porch with a welding torch. He seemed puzzled that I thought he needed help. Touché.

Ted was a devoted husband who actively demonstrated his love for his wife Kay by joining her for a meal every day. After her death, he became even more devoted to his Scottish terrier Piper; he and Piper were regular fixtures in our Sycamore Hollow neighborhood.

Over the years we became friends with Ted. We borrowed tools from his impressive workshop, and he joined us for holiday dinners and Hollow gatherings. He told me how much he enjoyed seeing my children run around outside, and I baked him low-sugar treats. We shoveled his driveway when it snowed, and he tried to pay us. We never even considered taking his money because good neighbors are priceless.


The only picture I have of Ted–at my 4oth birthday

Ted was more than a good neighbor. He was kind to my children when other neighbors weren’t. He complimented our parenting by remarking how he appreciated the amount of time the girls spent outside, and he asked thoughtful questions about our educational choices. He forgave me when I confessed that I lost Piper for an hour one morning when I was supposed to be watching him. He wasn’t bothered by the girls’ constant activity–even when they ignored property lines. And he never minded their inexplicable love for sidewalk chalk–even when they used his driveway. In return, my girls shared his fondness for squirrels–even when no one else in the neighborhood did.

We left Maryland two years ago for a new adventure in Virginia. Ted moved to Florida earlier this year to live with his son and daughter-in-law. In February he emailed to update his address and let everyone know he had successfully unpacked his computer. He also wrote a lengthy thank-you note to the neighborhood for their many acts of kindness over the years.

That email was the last that we heard from Ted. According to his daughter-in-law Carol, Ted was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just two months after he left Maryland. In her words: “It was his choice not to tell anyone–he never wanted anyone to ‘make a fuss over him.’ And as usual he did it his way. Which is what made him so Dad/Ted.”

Ted’s 88 years encompassed so much more than the time we lived next door; he was an electrical engineer, he served in the U.S. Navy, he helped raise three children, and he ran a successful tutoring center with his wife. My tribute to him is an incomplete and imperfect piece of writing, but it’s the least I can do to honor the memory of my neighbor and friend.




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School’s Out, but It’s Not a Vacation Yet

We finally finished our school year last Friday. G actually finished on Thursday after a week that included field day, seven exams, an end-of-the-year ceremony, and her first dance. S and H still need to complete standardized testing because their flustered teacher didn’t realize there would be a two-week lag between ordering and administering those tests. Oops.

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Celebrating the final day of school with H

I have been trying to decompress from the end of the school year and all the craziness that accompanies the month of May. So far that involves paying S and H to dust the interior  of our house–a bargain at $1 per room; finishing a sewing project that I started last November; cleaning out my closet; but mostly planting, weeding, pruning, and digging in my gardens.


My first attempt at embroidery

Unfortunately I’ve been unsuccessful at completely decompressing. G’s principal asked us if we were interested in purchasing tuition insurance for the upcoming school year. G can be a challenging student, but we thought we had hammered out a plan for ninth grade. Needless to say, Ryan and I were slightly unnerved by the inquiry.

In the meantime, we are starting to settle into a summer routine. So far that involves the girls asking if they can use the computer or watch TV and me asking, “Did you brush your teeth and hair? Did you make your bed? Did you pick up the piles of towels/clothing/books/paper on your bedroom floor? Did you clean your bathroom? Have you read for 30 minutes yet?”


Baby tomatoes and blooms appeared this week

G has a stint as a junior swim coach this summer, and this mom is excited that swim practices switch to mornings next Monday. H is counting down the days until cake camp (3!), and S seems content to visit the creek, re-read the Warrior Cats series, and recover from a sprained wrist and knee. She is heading out to her first overnight summer camp in July, and we don’t want to express too much excitement/interest in case we scare her off.

I am happy to report that I have returned to running after almost a full year’s hiatus. Running a sub-10:00 mile is now thrilling to me in the way that it used to be demoralizing. But it’s the endorphins that I’ve missed the most, and it’s so nice to feel endorphins calming down my over-anxious mind.


Lavender is known for its calming properties, and mine is in full bloom

Whether we actually take a real vacation remains to be seen. Actually it mostly depends on the whether the scheduling gods at Delta leave us enough wiggle room to get out of town. In the meantime, we’re making a little headway into summer vacation. A friend and I herded 10 children through strawberry fields yesterday, and I paid $52 less than an hour later for 20-some pounds of delicious berries.


Low-sugar strawberry almond tart with local berries

So we are slowly making headway into summer vacation. We’re just not quite there yet.