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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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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A Season to Give Thanks

Another catastrophic disaster has claimed the front pages. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island nation of the Philippines. As of today, the Filipino government has listed 2,275  fatalities but others have suggested that 10,000 might be a truer figure for Tacloban, the city that took a direct hit. More than 600,000 residents have been displaced from their home, and 2.5 million need food.

Those are hard numbers to swallow. Marine Corps KC-130s and Ospreys are already assisting evacuation efforts, and the USS George Washington group is on its way. So what can individuals do to help? Consider donating money to credible relief organizations who already have a presence in the country. Compassion uses donations to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs of its enrolled children and their families. Samaritan’s Purse is already working with local churches and on Friday will send a 747 loaded with relief supplies. The American Red Cross is partnering with the Philippine Red Cross and has activated its family tracing services.

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A not-so-subtle reminder hangs next to our breakfast table.

You can also adopt the practice of thankfulness. Be thankful for the roof over your head, the clothing on your back, and the food on your table. Be thankful for heat as the air temperature drops. Be thankful for safe, clean drinking water. Thankfulness is a popular attribute to espouse in November, since Thanksgiving is just 3 weeks away. But true thanksgiving isn’t a trend; it’s a heart attitude. Facebook is full of thankful posts these days. Here’s a personal favorite of mine. If it steps on your toes, then ouch!

True thankfulness is not solely limited to the month of November. It’s a year-round character trait that requires daily practice. I recommend reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts in which a homeschooling farmer’s wife challenges readers to live grateful lives.

H and her Thankful Tree

H and her Thankful Tree

In our home, H and I are on our second week of a Thanksgiving unit study. Last week was devoted to Cranberry Thanksgiving, which is one of our most favorite titles from the Five in a Row curriculum we use. This week we’re branching out into other books but still continuing to study Thanksgiving. Yesterday we started a thankful tree. Here is H adding to her leaves this morning. If you have good eyesight, you’ll notice that she has listed her cousins, Aunt Martha, Uncle Brian, both sets of grandparents, all current and former hamsters, and our Compassion children. We’re still working on being thankful for sisters and parents.

Lots of leaves left. Maybe I'll earn a coveted spot?

Lots of leaves left. Maybe I’ll earn a coveted spot?


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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.