On a Learning Curve

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


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2014 in Review

I didn’t get around to typing up a Christmas newsletter to accompany our annual card. It’s difficult to walk that fine line between highlighting the wonderful parts of family life and bragging about the children’s accomplishment in a plastic way. Here is my attempt at remembering what we did in 2014.

In January we said good-bye to Ryan, who was activated for the first time since joining the Reserves. He joined his squadron for all those necessary pre-deployment activities and then headed to Bahrain for three months. I pretended like it wasn’t a big deal to homeschool three children all by myself in a state where we have no family–for about one week. Then I called my newly-retired father and asked him to come keep us company. He arrived just in time for our biggest snow of the season and helped me shovel out three driveways. Did I mention this was the year that I learned how to shovel snow for the first time? Yes, there’s a first time for everything. (Note to Ryan: I’m just now remembering that I broke the snow shovel. Apparently you shouldn’t break up sheets of ice with the side of the shovel.)

Daddy and I shoveled snow, and the girls made tunnels.

Daddy and I shoveled snow, and the girls made tunnels.

In February we celebrated my dad’s 65th birthday in great style. My mom watched the girls while he and I joined a bunch of other crazy runners and ran almost 11 miles up and down partially frozen, mostly slushy trails at a nearby state park. I’d like to say that we had a good time on our two-hour run, but that wouldn’t be what actually happened. The nicest thing my dad said was that he had a memorable birthday and will never forget it.

Still dry and smiling before Frozen Heart 2014.

Still dry and smiling before Frozen Heart 2014.

March brought some much-needed warmth after a cold winter. Spring soccer started up again, and S’s coach grudgingly allowed her to try playing goalkeeper. After all, it’s a scary thing to watch your accident-prone child place herself purposely in harm’s way. I got my own scare in March when I was attacked by a German shepherd during a long run with Ann and Tracy, two friends who patched me up and still continue to run with me.

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Too bad there isn’t a locking door on this cage of dangerous animals.

Later that month the girls and I took an extended visit to Norfolk, and I got a weekend reprieve. I drove to Greenville, SC, to meet half a dozen wonderful homeschooling friends for a Five in a Row staff retreat. (Five in a Row has been the core curriculum for our elementary homeschooling, and I help moderate the discussion boards.) Publisher Steve Lambert and author Jane Lambert treated us like queens for the weekend, and I easily recovered from the embarrassment of receiving my very first speeding ticket.

April began with a huge sigh of relief: Ryan arrived safely back on U.S. soil. The girls and I had a great plan to surprise him at his plane. Our plan worked quite well; we got lost more than once, failed to coordinate our bathroom breaks, and missed the plane’s landing by a solid 20 minutes. Later that month I turned 40 and celebrated my new age group by running my third half marathon with one of my favorite running friends Tracy.

Surprise!

Surprise!

May is a big birthday month in our extended families. On the day that H turned 7, it was Ryan’s turn to surprise me. While he was deployed overseas, he and my sister had been planning a beautiful afternoon at a local winery. Spring soccer came to an end in May, and it turns out that S is a fantastic, aggressive goalie. Who knew?! At the end of the month, we wrapped up our seventh year of homeschooling with a field trip to the National Cathedral, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam and Korean War Memorial sites.

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G and H with our favorite field trip chaperone

Also during May, Oreo (aka Hamster #4) joined his three predecessors in our small animal burial ground. Jelly Bean (Hamster #5) soon joined the family.

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S and H with Oreo during a tender moment.

In June I joined my crazy mother runner friends and ran 200 miles from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago for our second Ragnar Relay adventure. Once I returned home and caught up on my sleep, we settled into our summer swim routine: Everyone up by 7 AM to wiggle into suits and spend two hours at the neighborhood pool for swim team practice. Tuesday and Thursday evenings belonged to swim meets. This year all three girls swam for the Marlins. G has definitely discovered a love for swim, S has discovered that her athletic talents are better suited to soccer, and H decided that she loved to swim backstroke.

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Ragnar mother runners on the shores of Lake Michigan after sleeping for 2 hours at the Racine, WI, YMCA.

June also brought great sadness to our neighborhood and family. H’s best friend, our next-door neighbor Sofia, lost her brave three-month battle with brain cancer. Sofie went home to Jesus, and we mourned for her. Our girls all grew up quite a bit this spring, but H impressed us with her devotion to her friend and the gentle way she adapted to Sofie’s illness. June was a sad month.

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S donated 9 inches of hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths. She was inspired by Sofie.

July brought some much-needed distraction as we flew to Oregon to celebrate my father-in-law’s 75th birthday in grand style. Ryan’s siblings, their spouses and significant others, and a slew of nieces spent five days crammed together into two vacation homes before caravaning to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to watch Ryan’s brother Dan perform in two plays. It was a fantastic, exhausting trip. We returned home to Maryland to finish up the swim season. G excelled in breaststroke, and H held fast to her decision to only swim backstroke.

Beautiful backdrop in Ashland, OR.

Beautiful backdrop in Ashland, Oregon

August is our transition month between the last lazy days of summer and the beginning of a new school year. H left for a week of Grandparent Camp, which has become a tradition for her and her cousin O. S and H spent the same week at a local horse camp.

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Some tiny superheroes pose after a week of camp.

Meanwhile, we swam just for fun, tried to ignore the awful heat, and then picked up our school books. H started 2nd grade, S began the second half of 4th grade, and G became a 7th grader. S and I started a new soccer season with a mostly-new team, and I started to suspect that something was awry with our school year.

A little homeschooling humor.

A little homeschooling humor

September brought more heat, more swim team practice (for G), more soccer headaches (for me), and more county fair ribbons. All three girls earned ribbons and tidy little prize checks for their art entries. Where they get their artistic abilities continues to be a great mystery to Ryan and me!

Practicing paddling skills

Practicing paddling skills

In October it was my turn to earn a little prize money. I earned my first cash prize for finishing third in the Lower Potomac River 10 Miler. I also logged my 1000th mile of the year with a little assistance from my sometime running partner H.

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I earned $75, and my dad placed 1st in the Grand Master category.

The rest of the month went by in a blur of G’s 12th birthday, soccer games, swim practices, long school days, and the various medical, dental, and extracurricular appointments that require me to drive the girls around the  tri-county area of southern Maryland. (Actually this description truthfully describes the entirety of September, October, and November.)

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Neighborhood trick-or-treaters before their haul of sugary treats.

In November I resigned from coaching S’s soccer team for the second time in one season. Bad behavior still manages to blindside me, especially when it comes from adults. Apparently my resignations mean little to our soccer league, however, and I ended up agreeing to finish up the spring season. Taking the advice of a wise friend–Jen, that’s you!–I’ve put a plan into place to keep the spring season from making me crazier than I already am.

If we owned an anteater, of course it would let the girls ride on its back.

The girls riding an anteater at the National Zoo in November.

If our family had a motto, it would be “Change is our constant,” and December stuck to this theme. S and H started attending a new homeschool co-op; we made the decision to place G in a private school after Christmas break; and Ryan scheduled a job interview. Oh, and all three things happened in the same week. I can’t begin to guess what 2015 holds for our family, but I’m fervently praying that God grants us stability and peace in the areas of job, home, and education.

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Uncle Matt took the girls and Cousin O out for a spin on an unseasonably warm Christmas Day.

My specific prayer is that Ryan finds the best job for our family so that we’ll be able to move closer to grandparents and cousins. As our children grow older, we find that we don’t need our family to help us so much with babysitting; instead we need their support and guidance to help us navigate the teen and ‘tween years.

Happy 2015, everyone!

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Complete

After 9 hours on the road yesterday, our family is complete again. The girls and I missed the plane’s arrival by almost 20 minutes, but that’s what happens when Mom makes one wrong turn and the girls can’t coordinate their bathroom breaks.

DSCN0800We still managed to sneak onto the flight line and all the way up to the plane with Ryan unaware.

DSCN0801That’s H in the purple shirt, and G behind her. Ryan is the Marine on the right.

DSCN0803Here’s a group shot of the girls with their daddy. It’s a candid, and I have no idea what’s going on here. S looks like she is being (happily) choked, another Marine is in the shot, and there’s a very large bag of something. I just love the look on S’s face. And yes, this is how she gives hugs.

DSCN0804This is the most polished shot from yesterday’s homecoming. We’re not a very polished family, and homecomings are never perfect. Sometimes Mom misses the plane; sometimes Mom says a bad word when she makes a wrong turn; sometimes children fight over Rainbow looms, pinch each other, and kick the backs of the car seats. But we love each other. Nothing fills me with more joy than this final picture. My girls adore their daddy (and so do I), and that’s exactly the way it should be.

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Just 2 More Days

2 days. That’s it. That’s how much longer I have to hold our family together all by myself. (Can you hear my sigh of relief?) It’s officially been 3 months since we said good-bye to Ryan. Here’s a recap of how we spent the time.

G can also use her powers for good. Here she is demonstrating her snow tunnel!

January went by in a blur of temper tantrums. Most of those were H’s; in total disclosure, a few were mine. The weather turned colder than usual, and I shoveled my first driveway. S started 4th grade, and Ryan came home for 2 weekends on breaks from training.

Frozen Heart

February brought an end (mostly) to the tantrums, and the snow piled up. I’ve lost count of how many driveways I shoveled in February. We celebrated my father’s 65th birthday with a not-so-enjoyable-but-totally-memorable 11-mile trail run through snow, hills, and mud. I started training for a half-marathon, and the girls helped me celebrate the 13th birthday of their brothers.

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March marked the beginning of soccer season, but it continued to snow on a weekly basis. We visited my sister’s family for my nephew O’s 6th birthday. The girls also spent a long weekend with my parents, while I escaped to South Carolina for a retreat with the amazing staff of Five in a Row.

Everyone loves the adorable meerkats.

More disclosure: I got my very first speeding ticket in 24 years of driving. On a serious note, H’s dear friend was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain cancer. The shock of this situation has caused all of us to re-examine our priorities and spend more time on our knees.

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April finally brought some sunshine–and flowers! A few daffodils have poked their faces toward the sun, and warmer days appear to be coming. Just in time for Ryan’s homecoming.

 

 


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Tying up Loose Ends

I have not written anything in more than a week. That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to write. It’s just that I am emotionally spent. Life has been very difficult these past two or so weeks: Sofie’s diagnosis is heartbreaking, a dear friend’s brother succumbed to a two-year battle with leukemia, a friend texted last night that she was hospitalized for heart irregularities, and my own heart is a little raw. Writing about anything trivial just seems so…well, trivial.

I do need to tie up some loose ends though. Sofia came home from the hospital last Friday to an impromptu neighborhood welcome-home party. She is a strong little girl whose perseverance and determination to live her life normally are a testament to the parents who love her fiercely. Below is a picture I snapped of Sofie with her father Ed.

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Sofie has a long, expensive medical road ahead of her. If you want to read more of her story and help her family with medical and traveling expenses, follow this link.

On the deployment front, Ryan will be back on U.S. soil in 8 days! The countdown is on in our house! Look for pictures of his homecoming towards the end of next week. It’s been a long three months, and we are all looking forward to having an intact family again.

S and H have some happy news to share: Both won trophies in the speed division of our church’s Awana Grand Prix last Saturday. I was as shocked as they were, and the girls owe their speedy little pine cars to the skill of our neighbor Jim. He insisted that wheel alignment was the crucial step for winning cars, and it turns out he was right.

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H’s rabbit car set a new track record for speed!

H took 1st place in the K-2nd division, and S took 3rd place in the 3rd-6th group; she narrowly lost to a pair of brothers.

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S’s “car” is the blue Olympic bobsled second from the left.

Before I sign off, I wanted to share a sweet little photo of H. This is how I found her this morning while her sisters were eating their breakfasts. The furry little black head belongs to Oreo. I love this little girl, and her toothless smile is the perfect start to a new week. I’m praying that it is a week with less drama and emotion than last week. But whatever comes our way, I’m standing firm in the knowledge that God is with me all the time and that His grace is sufficient for whatever trials and sorrows lie ahead.

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Signs of the Times

Yes, I am bad at regularly updating my blog. I wrote half of a post last week, and you can guess that I never finished that one. Instead of knocking myself out to write something meaningful, I thought I’d share a few pictures with you. As my title suggests, I am surrounded by signs.

Want to take a guess who created this thought-provoking beauty?

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This one is courtesy of H, my 6-year-old budding philosopher. I have no idea what inspired this deep thought today, and I love that the meaning changes depending on where you decide to place punctuation.

I am surrounded by H’s signs these days. To the back of the front door, she taped a birthday card for the brothers she has yet to meet. On the refrigerator is a Valentine’s sign that she made me; she gets big Brownie points for that since her big sisters told me that they “forgot.” Next to the downstairs bathroom is a giant thermometer. She used two full pieces of paper and colored most of the thermometer blue on Monday morning when S was having a sick day.

Speaking of sick days, that is another reason that I haven’t been writing. S woke up on Monday with a blood glucose of 407. That’s an all-time high for a pre-breakfast number. (Usually she has to sneak a handful of dried raisins and “forget” to tell me or to bolus for them.) She also was spilling large ketones and told me she was going to vomit. I thought we were going to have a repeat of her trip to the ER three months ago. Instead, we loaded her up with insulin, gave her half a Zofran, and filled her up with fluids once her nausea subsided. We said a lot of prayers, too. Miraculously–I’m really not overusing the word–we flushed out those ketones in three hours. I believe in prayer. And now I believe in Zofran, too.

Soccer season started this week, too, so that’s another distraction to add to the list. I made it through the first clinic of the season, ordered uniforms for new players, scheduled a last-minute scrimmage, and wrote out a few practice plans. So what if tomorrow’s high is 40° colder than today, right?

That’s why I think this next sign is a perfect reminder for how to approach hectic, harried days.

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Again, I cannot explain the origin of this sign. I’m going to assume that this is not a comment on my driving skills.

Ryan called last week, too. I love that I still am thrilled to hear my husband’s voice after 15 years of doing his laundry. I’m thankful, too, that’s he was safely out of country last week during a violent incident. I’m really looking forward to his return. We’ve made it past the halfway mark of this deployment, and we’re almost ready to start the countdown to his return. When we figure out the exact date, we’ll let H make a few more signs to help us pass the days.


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Turning a Corner

We’ve made it to Day 28 of this deployment, and as my title suggests, we’ve turned a corner. Life seems to have settled into a manageable routine for the girls and for me. Of course, I had a little lots of help last week. My dad spent nearly four days with us, and that seems to have made a huge difference in my outlook and the girls’ behavior.

Last Monday, I had my semi-annual homeschooling review. Our county schedules reviews at the local public libraries, and I usually bring the girls with me. Last school year, two of the girls decided to have their very first fistfight during my review. Can I just say that it was one of my most embarrassing moments as a mom? I had just finished explaining that G was singing in our church choir–because that fulfills a music requirement–when H rushed over to tell me that G punched S. Let’s just say that I needed a few minutes to find different time-out spots for the girls before I could continue the review. This week I went to my review solo, and it was so relaxing not to be interrupted by a child asking questions or contradicting one of my statements.

On Tuesday, we prepared for Round 2 of snow and sub-freezing temperatures. And Wednesday did not disappoint: four more inches of snow arrived! As has become our snow day routine, we complete math and language arts and then head outside for P.E. (i.e. sledding). My dad and I shoveled snow instead of sledding. While I managed to shovel out one neighbor’s driveway, he shoveled two driveways. He’s an overachiever.

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Wednesday evening brought H’s biggest meltdown of the week. On the previous day, she had a long sob over the fact that both pairs of favorite leggings were in the washing machine at the same time, and then she remembered that her daddy was gone, and it took a long time to stop her tears. But on Wednesday, she discovered that her two big sisters had destroyed her only Barbie doll. By destroyed, I mean that S tattooed a skull and crossbones (in Sharpie) on Barbie’s thigh. G finished her off by removing every. last. piece. of. her. hair. No kidding. Somehow my dad and I managed not to laugh or crack a smile while G cleaned up the bathroom and I doled out the appropriate punishment.

G can also use her powers for good. Here she is demonstrating her snow tunnel!

G can also use her powers for good. Here she is demonstrating her snow tunnel!

By Friday, life seemed to be approaching normal. We worked through the morning without taking a break to play outside, and we ventured out for afternoon art lessons.

Today was not-so-exciting. Dragging three children along for an oil change is nobody’s idea of Saturday fun. Nor is grocery shopping. On the plus side, one of my neighbors kept an eye on the girls while I managed an 8-mile training run. I’ve decided to celebrate my next birthday–and new age group–by running the Iron Girl Half Marathon in Columbia, MD, so it’s time to hit the road again. And yes, we did visit our local Target so that H could pick out a replacement for the maimed Barbie. As she stood in the Barbie aisle pondering the many choices, G kept telling me that Barbies were ridiculously expensive and that she didn’t want to spend all of her money. As I calmly explained to her, I hope this is the first and last Barbie she ever buys for her sister.

And that brings us to 28 days. 4 weeks. A full lunar month. I think we’re going to survive.

[Note: I’m not being callous or self-centered when I omit my husband from our family’s activities. I can’t give details on his location, and I’ve learned not to ask how he spends his days. In good time, he’ll share what he can. For now, I simply pray that he does his job well and returns home healthy and whole.]


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I’ll Fly Away…

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Yesterday a small flock of goldfinches discovered that our porch feeder was full of sunflower seeds. Conveniently, H also started a winter nature study yesterday, and we were mesmerized by the pretty yellowish birds who decided to join the cardinals, titmice, and chickadees who live year-round in the adjacent woods.

I snapped this photo through the glass of our front door this morning. We awoke to another four inches of snow covering our world, and the goldfinches ate a noisy breakfast before disappearing for the day.

Today is also the day that my husband is flying far, far away to a land that is not covered in snow. Between the goldfinches’ visit and my love’s departure, I have the lyrics to “I’ll Fly Away” stuck in my head today–the Alison Krauss/Gillian Welch duet version. Sing with me:

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).
Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)