On a Learning Curve

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


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Thankful

Me: “S, did you take a rat into my bathroom while you were feeding the gerbils?”
S: “Why, Mom?”
Me: “Because I think I just wiped up rat pee from my bathroom counter.”
S: Silence.

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One of the possible culprits

Of course the gerbil cage is in my bathroom. We’re dog-sitting my sister’s poodle, so the gerbils need a sanctuary while Perry visits. Since the rats already take up a sizeable amount of space in S’s room and the gerbils are too messy and too loud to bring into the other girls’ bedrooms, my bathroom is the natural choice.

This is my life. I’m surrounded by a zoo: three children, two rats, two gerbils, and a large white poodle. And I’m thankful for every last one of them–most of the time.

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Perry doesn’t mind being a pillow for S and H

Ryan is flying the friendly skies this weekend because that’s what he does on national holidays. While we’d rather have him home with us, I realize that this is the life we chose; and this is the life we’ve grown accustomed to. Ultimately, this is the life for which we are profoundly grateful.

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Ryan’s inconvenient schedule is what allows me to stay home with the girls, homeschool them, and have access to world-class healthcare. And, as I was lecturing a certain 14-year-old just yesterday, it’s the reason that we have food, clothing, and tuition money. I may have phrased it a little differently though.

 

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Our 14 year old has a new hobby: forensic science.

As I sit here reflecting on the blessings of my life, I realize that there are far too many to list in this small piece of writing. But for now, while the girls are still asleep and though Ryan is three time zones away, these are the people who ground my days. These are the people–and their beloved animals–who are my world.

 

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A Little Scare

If you heard random screams from our backyard on Sunday afternoon, the first two belonged to me. The extended hysterics belonged to H. Want to see why?

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She claims that this preying mantis purposely jumped at her. I’ll admit that I screamed in surprise. After all, there is something sinister about a 6-inch bright green carnivorous beast who sneaks up on you while you’re weeding and removing leaves from garden beds. Right?

H also claims that the PM was trying to sneak into our house. As proof, she showed me how he was at the back door. And she was right. My photo clearly shows that it had four of its legs on the threshold.

In its defense, the PM had probably heard how warm and wonderful our house is–from the ants, lady bugs, and silverfish who happily reside inside despite our best attempts to remove them.

Sigh. Wait until H grows up and gets to drive morning carpool for teenage girls–or has to choose a presidential candidate. That’s way more scary than any preying mantis.


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Dig Out Your Shoeboxes…. It’s that time again!

Are you weary of political talk, political polls, and political speculation? Are you tired of reports of scandalous behavior and FBI investigations? Have any of your Facebook friends threatened to “un-friend” you if you vote for the wrong candidate?

I’m done with this election, and we still have another week to go.

So I’m going to suggest that you ignore the political arena for just a bit and do something that will truly impact someone’s life for good: Go fill a shoebox for a child in need.

Forget about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for just a minute. Forget about yourself, too. Instead think about someone who won’t be getting a Christmas present and forget about our American first-world problems. In short, do something to change the life of a child forever.

In countries all over the world, little children–and their parents–need to know that they are loved. A shoebox filled with gifts of clothing, school supplies, toys, and toiletries communicates that love in a concrete way. But it does more than that, too. It comes with the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the assurance that God loves them no matter where they live, what color their skin, if they have running water, or whether their government is corrupt. That’s why a shoebox is so life-changing; it can have an eternal impact on a child’s life.

H is modeling 2 of this year's shoeboxes. Isn't she cute?!

H is modeling 2 of this year’s shoeboxes. Isn’t she cute?!

Filling a shoebox is simple, and I promise that it will take your mind off our American election woes.

First, find an empty shoebox. You get bonus points if you wrap or decorate your box, but it’s okay if you leave it emblazoned with Saucony or Sperry.

Next, decide if your box will go to a boy or a girl. Choose from 3 age groups, too. If you’re indecisive, pack multiple shoeboxes.

This step is the best part: go shopping and fill your box with thoughtful gifts. Or if you don’t want to leave the house, build your box online.

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Action shot!

Don’t forget to label your gift  and to enclose $7 for shipping and handling. Find a drop-off site near you, and that’s it.

A few pointers on the gifts:

  • Start with a big item like a soccer ball, doll, or stuffed animal. Remember to deflate the ball and include a pump.
  • School and art supplies are great.
  • Accessorize with socks, mittens, a tee shirt, hair bows, or a flashlight with batteries.
  • Add non-liquid hygiene items like a bar of soap, toothbrush, or comb–the same things that your grandmother put in your Christmas stocking.
  • Hard candy is a nice gift; melted chocolate is not.
  • Fill as much of the box as possible, but don’t include war-related toys, knives, or toy guns. Duh.

The possibilities are endless. You can make something or include a kit if you’re crafty; write a letter if you have a few minutes extra; or even include a family photo. But the best thing you can do is to pray for the child who will receive your box.

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We found Mickey and friends for $5 at Target

Visit Samaritan’s Purse to find drop-off locations in your area. Don’t wait too long though. The national collection week is November 14-21.

P.S. Consider purchasing a tracking label online here. It’s an easy way to pay for shipping, and you get a label that lets you follow your shoebox’s journey. We do this in our home, and we’ve had the excitement of discovering that our shoeboxes have gone to Central America, Africa, and Asia.

 


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Another One of Those Back to School Posts

Today I might lose my mind.

It’s the first day of school for G, but we didn’t get any pictures. That’s because someone “forgot” to set her alarm and decided that applying makeup was more important than eating breakfast, getting dressed, or being nice to her parents. Today was also the first day of carpooling to a new campus. At least we were on time to meet our ride.

After dropping off G, I headed to the local YMCA. I have permission to start pool running again. Just three times a week for 30 minutes at a steady state. It’s been 5 weeks since I had surgery to remove my torn ACL, and I’m excited to move past the tedium of front leg lifts, side leg lifts, and back leg lifts. So of course the pool was closed for electrical problems today.

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It wasn’t a pretty ACL. And now it’s gone. ACL #3 should arrive in November.

Back at home, H accidentally spilled half a box of Rice Krispies. Right after I finished cleaning the floor. And our vacuum is out of service until a new shipment of bags arrives tomorrow.

So I started school with S and H. All was going fine until science. We have been using a fabulous, hands-on curriculum for the past two years. There’s an experiment for every single lesson, and we’ve been learning scientific principles according to their chronological context. The downside to all this great hands-on learning? It’s the perfect opportunity for H to start a fight with S. Today H decided that S was not holding two yardsticks at arms’ length properly; therefore, she wouldn’t participate and needed to storm out of the lesson.

Today the girls were supposed to continue learning about Copernicus and the scientific community’s shift to a heliocentric view of the universe. Instead I learned that an 11 year old can tick off her little sister by holding two yardsticks off to the right instead of holding them off to the left like the illustration in the book shows. Does any of this make sense to you either?!

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Ignore the missing punctuation. This is my back-to-school gift from my father-in-law.

It’s our lunch break now. S and H have mended hurt feelings and are fixing themselves of nutritious organic mac and cheese from a blue box. I’m going back to the Y. If I can’t pretend I’m running in the water, I’m going to sit on a bike and ride to nowhere for 30 minutes instead.

Maybe we’ll take back-to-school pictures this week. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll make it through a school day without tears or tantrums. And if comes down to a choice between pictures or good behavior, I’ll choose the latter every time.


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Summer Plans

Tomorrow is July 1. That means that we have officially used up four weeks of our summer vacation. And so far, this summer has not gone according to plan.

It started with my right knee. I felt a little slower than normal on a couple of runs, and I had to stop twice to rest on a long run with friends one Saturday in May. I took three days off, tried again, took a full week off, and finally called for an appointment at the runner’s clinic. I was hoping I had strained my hamstring where it connects to the knee. After all, the pain was at the back of the knee, and that was a new source of knee pain for me. Instead, an x-ray and MRI confirmed that my hamstring was just fine.

I go all out when I injure something, and I even had a CT scan to add to confirm the exceptional state of my knee. I have a complex tear to my medial meniscus and an ACL that is so lax it makes the ligament more of a decorative accessory than a functional part of my knee. Additionally my right femur has a tunnel that is 14 mm in diameter because of the titanium screws holding my useless ACL in place.

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ACL = anterior cruciate ligament

I’m going to need two rounds of surgery this year. Neither of those was on my radar this spring. No, I had plans to take the girls to Washington state to visit their grandparents, beat last year’s time at a local women’s 4-miler in September, and nail a PR at the Richmond Half Marathon in November.

The good news is that my meniscus is going to look and feel a whole lot better in a couple of months. Also I’m getting a bone graft to fill in that huge tunnel. Once my femur is less hole-y, I’ll be having a third ACL reconstruction. The bad news? I’ve already had three knee surgeries and two rounds of extensive physical therapy. Oh, and I don’t really have time want to do all this.

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See my shiny new AC unit? It’s the one on the left!

While I’m waiting for my next appointment, Ryan has been busy flying, flying, and flying some more. He’s been pulling double duty for the reserves as well as his regular gig so that we can make the second payment on G’s tuition in August and put some money back into savings. We had a nice chunk of money in savings; in fact, we were planning to look for a new car to replace our 11-year-old kidmobile that prefers not to drive in snow or ice. Now we have a new air conditioning system upstairs. To be fair, Ryan did ask me if I was okay with not replacing the upstairs unit until next summer, but I selfishly insisted that the girls and I couldn’t continue to camp out in the living room and that we might want some heat in the winter.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
             but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
                                                                             ∼Proverbs 19:21

Sigh. That’s life, isn’t  it? We make our plans, and then the air conditioning breaks, or my knee falls apart. If I were more optimistic, I’d say that’s what makes every day so exciting: you just never know what’s really going to happen. Some days are disappointing and some seasons are hard, and sometimes life is just full of inconveniences.

Did I mention that I had two biopsies last week at my regular dermatology check-up? The spot next to my nose turned out to be  a funny looking mole, and I don’t really mind that it’s gone, thank you. That other spot on my left thigh turned out to be skin cancer–a squamous cell carcinoma that won’t require additional cutting, just six weeks of topical ointment and more frequent dermatology visits.

Life goes on though. Wednesday night swim meets still last a billion hours, G still has all sorts of testing and tutoring to get to the bottom of her math woes, H still refuses to read novels on any kind, and S is still in love with rodents. Better yet, we still have the love, support, and childcare services of our local family. But best of all, none of my summer’s woes are a surprise to the God who formed my knees many years ago. His strength has always been sufficient to me in times of weakness, and this summer is no different.

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S and Suki enjoying a lunch of mac and cheese last week.


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Two Heartfelt Words

When we lived in North Carolina, we were blessed to be a part of an amazing church. The building itself wasn’t anything special, but the people were. They rallied around us during the biggest crises of our lives and were literally the hands and feet of Jesus. We’re talking meals, childcare, gifts of time and friendship, and even lawn care.

We first started attending Faith Evangelical Bible Church in Newport because a friend had gotten married there and insisted there was a wonderful pastor who had recently been hired. And she was correct. Pastor Norm, his wife Laura, and their young family arrived in the fall of 1999 and were a great fit. Norm is an engaging pastor who has the gift of teaching, and he knows how to preach the Word of God. Laura ministers to the women, and I always looked forward to Tuesday morning Bible studies with her.

Norm is the minister who presided over the two memorial services that we held for our children. He has a tender place in my heart for other reasons, too. He came to the hospital while I was laboring with Lucy just to pray with us and keep us company. A month later when Ryan was in and out of various hospitals, we never had to ask him to visit. He simply showed up.

I know that Laura was a big part of his ministry to us. After all, someone had to keep an eye on their children! Being a pastor’s wife means that other people’s emergencies sometimes take precedence over your own plans. Thank you, Laura, for giving up time with your husband for our benefit.

After we left North Carolina for Texas, and then Maryland for Virginia, we continued to exchange Christmas cards with Norm and Laura. We’ve watched their family grow up and expand on Facebook, too. When I first started blogging, Laura sent me a real, hand-written letter that was so sweet that I saved it–until the great clean-out before last year’s move.

But last Saturday Laura blew me away with her thoughtfulness. There was a box marked Sonlight on the front porch. We don’t use Sonlight’s curriculum and I hadn’t ordered any books recently, so I was intrigued. Inside many layers of bubble wrap I found this hand-painted plate:

Read the bottom rim!

Read the bottom rim!

There was another hand-written note inside the box, too. Like the first one, it contained tender words of encouragement to persevere through our current woes. Apparently we aren’t the only parents who struggle and grow weary.

Today I mailed my thank-you note to Laura, but it didn’t seem quite adequate to me. I know that Laura didn’t reach out to me so that others would notice, and perhaps she won’t like any of this attention. But her painted words are true for others, too. Dear friends who have also let go of your children before you were ready, your babies are also alive in Christ, and you will see them again, too.

And Laura, thank you.

 


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How to spend your pre-birthday weekend if you’re over 40

Yesterday was another busy Saturday. I got up before 6 and met a few others for 7-mile run. I came home, harvested another five gallons of dandelions from the front yard, and then rounded up the girls. I dropped G at swim practice and then delivered S and H to a friend’s home. (Younger readers, this is why your parents tell you to enjoy your childhood and not to be in such a hurry to grow up.)

About a month ago, Amy, a spectacularly kind friend who’s taken a liking to my girls, had a conversation with the girls about birthdays. She wiggled my birth date out of them, and the three of them hatched a plan to bake me a birthday cake. Yesterday was baking day even though my birthday is still half a week away.

They spent two hours making a carrot cake from scratch. S grated the carrots and ground the walnuts; H supervised the rest. Together they added cream cheese icing and decorated the top with the age they think I’m turning and little rodent faces. While I’m happy to remain 41, the rodent faces were an interesting choice.

I spent my two hours of freedom at Trader Joe’s because that’s the kind of exciting thing you do when you have two hours to yourself and you’re about to turn 42. Then we proceeded with the rest of our day: swim pick-up, two soccer games, dinner with my dad, and a couple of hours with Harry, the world’s most adorable schnauzer-lab puppy. We capped our meal with slices of Amy’s delicious birthday cake.

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Harry and G

 

This morning the girls let me sleep until 8 AM this morning, and as soon as I walked downstairs, I discovered why: They were eating the remnants of my birthday cake.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” G told me, “we left you some,” and I glanced at the quarter cake still on the platter. All of the icing on the cake plate and dome had been carefully removed by small fingers, as had even more of the icing–and the remaining rodent face–on the remaining cake.

“Why would you do that?” I stupidly heard myself ask.

That’s when they offered to bring me a piece with a glass of milk–even if, they assured me, the cake hadn’t really been their favorite flavor. It was still good enough to eat, mind you, but they don’t really like carrot cake with cream cheese icing all that much.

“Coffee,” I replied. “Could you at least make the coffee?” And I walked out of the kitchen.

“Mom!” yelled G. “Do you want regular or decaf?”

“Not decaf!” was my response. I didn’t eat my cake either. I’m saving it for later–it will taste perfect with a glass of red wine after the girls are in bed tonight. Then I can think about how much I love my children, how thankful I am for a friend who gave me the gift of two hours to myself, and that my parents who bought a puppy so that we don’t have to.