On a Learning Curve

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


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Hobbling but Grateful

Let’s say you’re a mom and you’ve just had knee surgery–your second surgery in four months. Let’s also say you have a thoughtful friend who sends you a bouquet from Edible Arrangements. What do you think your children will do?

If you guessed that they will immediately fight over who gets to eat the chocolate-covered fruit and suck the helium out of the balloons, then you must also be a parent.

There are definitely more serious problems to have than my example. And Schuyler, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The chocolate-covered salted caramel slices are definitely aiding my recovery.

Instead I would like to acknowledge that I am forever indebted to three families who graciously made tissue donations in their times of grief. To each of them I would like to offer my profound gratitude.

In July of this year, I received two donor bone grafts to close up significant holes in my right femur and tibia. When I had my ACL repaired at the age of 18, my surgeon used titanium screws that loosened over time and created tunnels that couldn’t hold a new graft.

Yesterday my surgeon used two pieces of my own hamstrings plus an additional piece of donor tissue to construct a new ACL for my right knee. Apparently I have dainty hamstrings that aren’t large enough to create a graft on their own.

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I wasn’t awake to hear the explanation of why there’s purple thread in my knee, but you can see the dissolving screw on the left side of my ACL graft.

As my knee heals and strengthens over the next year, this graft will allow me to return to running, coaching soccer, and being an active participant in my children’s shenanigans. I know this may sound trivial to those of you who think running is bad for one’s knees or who don’t wonder why I just don’t give up running.

If, however, you understand that regular physical exercise is an important component of emotional health, then you probably understand why I’m not ready to retire at the age of 42. If you’ve also ever experienced the frustration and helplessness that comes from anxiety and/or depression, then you know that exercise is a tool to combat these afflictions.

While I wish that I weren’t intimately acquainted with anxiety, I refuse to let it rule my life. Running is just one of the ways that I find calm and balance. Returning to running shape, therefore, is important to me, and I am thankful that there are kind-hearted people who are willing to help me reach my goal.

And for a lack of anything more profound to write, I hope that I am honoring the lives of these three individuals by being a good steward of their gracious gifts to me.

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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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Stupid Things I Did Last Week

Catchy title, eh?

Life has gotten calmer in our household, but we still have our crazy moments. Rather, I still do stupid things that become learning opportunities for me. Here are some of the not-so-bright things I did just last week:

1. Perhaps the hugest mistake of all was arguing with my oldest child. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m reading Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy by Michael Bradley. At times, however, I forget the basic premise of his book–that teenagers are brain-damaged–and decide to engage in some verbal combat. I can’t even remember what we argued about, but I do remember it had something to do with the amount of clothing that was spewing from her dresser drawers and closet to cover the entire length of one wall.

On the plus side, we did decide that G would start washing her own laundry. I think that’s a victory for both of us!

My new favorite read!

 

2. As a homeschooling parent who is trying to tread the waters of private school with the same, aforementioned child, I’m wary of overstepping my bounds with G’s new teachers. In doing so, I didn’t advocate for my child’s learning needs. Last Thursday, I attended my first parent-teacher conference. Things mostly went well. I got an incredulous stare from the grammar teacher after I explained that I hadn’t taught G to diagram sentences and that she would need some help in that department. But I was unprepared for her progress (?) in math.

In 6 weeks I hadn’t seen a test grade, but her homework and quizzes seemed to be on par with her general ability/dislike for pre-algebra. It turns out that out of four tests, G failed one and didn’t complete two others. I was shocked to learn that the reason for this was that her teacher had fallen behind in grading. I was even more shocked–and rather bewildered–when the same teacher wanted to discuss spiritual victory over math struggles instead of following G’s 504 Plan. I got through the conference, asked G some general questions at home, and then fired off some emails asking for clarification on testing, grading, and student/teacher responsibility for incomplete work. Yes, I should have done all of this at the conference, and I shouldn’t have worried about making a nuisance of myself. And I will be checking frequently on whether G finishes her tests in the future. She needs me to be her squeaky wheel.

3. Ryan would like me to admit that I shouldn’t have promised S a rat. I made the promise in order to get her to start rotating where she places the sites for her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Currently she refuses to wear them anywhere except her belly. Unfortunately she has little real estate in that department, and her skin has scarring from the constant poking. We want her to use the backs of her upper arms or her backside; she wants us to buy her a rat–a fancy rat, nonetheless. So I struck a deal with her. She hasn’t held up her end of the bargain, but Ryan has enough faith in her that he’s upset with me. While I think my idea has flashes of brilliance, Ryan thinks it belongs on this list. Hamster #4 (aka Pepper) joined his predecessors in our pet cemetery last week, so there’s an empty cage in our house. We’ll see how long it takes S to cooperate.

This is what S wants: a fancy dumbo rat. If a rat can be cute, this one is.

4. Remember last year when I wrote about running the Frozen Heart 50k with my dad on his birthday? It was a painfully cold, wet, miserable experience for both of us as well as being a uniquely memorable way to celebrate a 65th birthday. This year my mother banned my dad from running a second time, but I decided I’d give it a try. Yep, running a trail race in 19 degrees with 6 to 8 inches of unpacked snow was another not-so-brilliant decision I made last week.

The hint of a smile is because there's less than a mile to the finish!

The hint of a smile is because there’s less than a mile to the finish!

I managed to finish one loop of the course–a mere 17 k–in 2 hours and 17 minutes, which is a PR for me. That’s officially my slowest time ever running that distance. I also set a PR for most walk breaks. When I was somewhere near the 6-mile mark, several of us were startled by an unexpected gunshot that sounded much too close to our trail. Yes, we were out in the woods, but St. Mary’s Lake is a state park; there shouldn’t be hunting during a trail race. My legs were so dead that my mind instantly ran through the worst-case scenario, and I decided that I didn’t have the energy or the desire to outrun a lunatic with a shotgun. Yes, I decided I would just like down in the snow and wait to be shot. I get sort of selfish and lazy when I’m in pain, and that’s when I also decided I wouldn’t be running the Frozen Heart in 2016.

That’s it for now. Here’s hoping that this week is less eventful in this category!


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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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Journey of a Thousand Miles

Does a journey of a thousand miles start with a step? Or is a thousand steps? Who knows. What I do know is that I logged my 1000th mile of 2014 today.

I finally have something to share via blog post. I’ve meant to write numerous things over the past two months; in fact, two of my loyal readers have commented on my online absence. (Yes, that’s you, Jen, and Daddy, too.) The days just seem to be extra full, and writing is the thing that gets pushed to the side. I’d love it if housework, cooking, or diabetes could be pushed to the side and forgotten for a few days, but they take precedence. Running does, too.

If you aren’t a runner, you’ll think that last sentence certifies me as crazy. To the contrary, it’s how I ensure that I don’t lose my mental grasp. I crave the endorphin release that comes after five or six miles of sweating and breathing heavily. It’s how I take care of myself physically and mentally.

All smiles after our miles.

All smiles after our miles.

And here is photographic evidence of H and me after today’s run. I ran 4.5 solo and then stopped home to pick up H for some PE time. She said she thought she could go a half mile today. I trotted along behind her and encouraged her to slow down and see if she could make it to the stop sign (or 1/4 mile) before needing a walk break. Instead she made it twice as far before declaring it was time to walk. We plodded home, and I checked the GPS one more time: One mile in just under 11 minutes.


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For These Things…

I’m in a pensive mood these days. My birthday celebration lasted a full week, and I’ve decided that being 40 feels absolutely no different from 39. (Of course, that was my opinion when I moved from 29 to 30, and somehow I no longer feel 29.) As Mother’s Day approaches, I’ve also been thinking about all the things for which I am truly grateful. For these things I give thanks:

1. I kicked off my actual birthday with a half marathon. Though the organization and start of the race was a mess, the time I spent with my BAMR friends from last year’s Ragnar DC was sweet. Running with my friend Tracy, who paced me the entire race, was a bonus. Realizing that I ran the course 5 seconds off my half PR was disappointing; however, my PR was on a super-flat course and this course was hilly with a capital H.

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The 4 of us made up 1/3 of Team Dimity in last year’s Ragnar Relay DC. Zoom in on Joan’s shirt (1102) if you need help decoding BAMR.

2. My amazing husband threw me a 40th birthday party that blew me away. Ryan stepped way out of his comfort zone and organized a surprise party at a local winery last Saturday afternoon. All of my family came, and I spent a gorgeous afternoon with dear friends and family. We enjoyed the delicious wine from Running Hare Vineyard and–this is something I have been asking for several years–ate birthday cake that someone else baked for me.

DSCN1000 (2)3. Friendship. The word in itself is a complete sentence. Three of the above women–and one more who missed my bash to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary–above have known me since we were 18 years old; that’s more than half our lives! We’ve walked with each other through two decades of life–first through our grueling academic years and later through careers, marriages, children. We’ve cried during times of loss, comforted in times of hardship and struggle, and celebrated each other’s victories. I love these women.

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Silly, I know, but I love this group of people.

4. My family is awesome. H shared her actual birthday with me last Saturday; my sister took care of the catering; my parents brought flowers and rented a nearby cabin so that our house wasn’t overrun with small children; and my brother and sister-in-law flew in from Chicago just for the weekend.

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Best parents in the world plus the newest 7-year-old in our family.

5. The decision to homeschool continues to be a blessing to our family. What began as a two-year experiment for one child seven years ago has morphed into something far bigger than we ever envisioned. This week we were able to spend time with our sweet neighbor Sofie on two mornings when her mom needed to be elsewhere. I love that we can pick up our math books and language arts, walk next door, and help a neighbor. I love, too, that we scheduled an impromptu field trip to a nearby berry farm yesterday. We met some friends who are new to the area, enjoyed a picnic lunch, and brought home 11 pounds of berries.  Did I mention that we only have 14 more school days this year?!

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H with Sofie and her family on a warm afternoon last week.

And while I began this post by giving thanks, I also recognize that these are the very same things by which I am blessed.

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day to 3 of the most important mothers in my life: my own mother Jane, my mother-in-law Donna, and my substitute mother Sharon.

 


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The Numbers Game

I haven’t been posting lately. As soon as Ryan arrived home, he left again. School, lessons, and soccer fill our days, and we were blessed–but exhausted–to take part in our neighborhood’s version of Extreme Home Makeover. Instead of a lengthy post, I thought I’d share a few numbers.

40-44: My new racing age group. I’m at the low end of the spectrum.

5: How many seconds I missed beating my half marathon PR yesterday.

5.5: How many hours I slept the night before my half marathon yesterday.

62: The number of minutes that the start of yesterday’s Iron Girl Half was delayed.

26: S’s new all-time lowest blood glucose reading.

39: The amount of carbohydrates in grams that it took to raise S’s blood glucose to a safe level.

40: The number of $1 bills my mother-in-law sent me as a birthday gift.

35: The number of $1 bills I paid a massage therapist to work out my post-race kinks today.

23: The number of school days we have left in this school year.

19: The number of math lessons left in this school year.

5: The number of times I sent naughty children to their rooms today.

30: The number of days that Ryan just announced he would be gone this summer.

38: The number of days until I leave for Ragnar Chicago.

18.1: The number of miles I will run during Ragnar Chicago.

1000: The number of words this picture is worth. This selfie is of me and my favorite running friend Tracy, who selflessly paced me through yesterday’s run. Even the 2 hills that I could not climb without walking. And over the finish line as I tried to tell her that my legs could not move any faster. Here we are in our post-race, no make-up, sweaty glory.

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