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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Summer is in Full Swing

I just finished vacuuming cherry pits and stems from behind the piano. No one knows how they exactly got there, but I suppose it’s the same person who left an apple core behind a living room chair in an experiment to see how long it takes to completely dehydrate it. Or it could be the child who removes strawberry tops wherever she happens to be and then drops them so that it looks like our house has been invaded by an army of green spiders.

Yep, summer is in full swing, and I have the discarded fruit remnants to prove it.

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H’s second swim meet. She only swims backstroke.

Our calendar now revolves around swim practices–2 every weekday morning–and swim meets–every Tuesday and Thursday. In between we manage to accomplish small things like unloading the dishwasher, completing a remedial math lesson, and offering first aid to a field mouse.

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It’s easier to just take the picture the first time the kids ask than to listen to them beg you to take a picture for 30 minutes. This is S and a maimed field mouse. She couldn’t decide if it had a hurt foreleg or hindleg.

Last week G got her first pair of glasses. I would have been horrified to need glasses when I was her age, but she was ridiculously excited after I realized she needed an appointment with the optometrist.

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G–in her new specs–enjoying a cool treat on a warm day.

Today we are waiting for the windshield repairman. He’ll be here any time between 12 noon and 5 P.M., and this gives me an opportunity to enforce a lazy day around the house. Plus we’re packing for a family vacation, which means we’re cleaning out drawers and closets, doing laundry, and fighting over whose turn it is to fold the laundry.

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We pretended to be tourists and posed at the Virginia Welcome Center on I-95.

This weekend the girls and I visited my parents for some much-needed rest. Last week was full of long and difficult days. Our dear friend Sophia went home to Jesus on Saturday, June 21. While she wasn’t my child, I spent much of the day weeping for her parents. Ryan and I decided it was a good time to take the girls to a local beach and then spend the day doing things we don’t normally do. We watched Maleficent and then ate a delicious Chinese dinner.

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S and a horseshoe crab skeleton that she found. Ryan declared it too stinky to come home with us. Boo.

Still my heart aches for Sofia’s parents. Her service last Friday was beautiful but heart-breaking, just like her life. I cried for my babies, too. With some consolation and in total childish honestly, H reminded us that Sofie is now playing with her sister Lucy in heaven. And they’re not just playing; I think they’re dancing together and running around those golden streets. Their bodies are strong and beautiful, and they realize that those of us on earth are the ones experiencing “light and momentary troubles” while they’re enjoying the start of their eternity.

S with her swim teammates at yesterday’s meet.


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Today marks the official beginning of summer in our home. We finished our school work 2 weeks ago, but it hasn’t quite felt like summer until today. Here’s why:

1. We made our first trip to the family doctor for an in-office removal of a deer tick. The tick was a parting gift from a Saturday spent playing outside in thick grass. I removed about 95% of it yesterday, sealed its microscopic body in a Ziploc bag, and then tossed it into the freezer just in case we need it later. It’s only June, and already it’s been a horrible tick season for our area. It took our doctor 20 minutes to remove 4 itty, bitty tick mouth parts. H was a trooper through the entire procedure. (Here’s a really fun interactive tick ID page. Okay, it’s only fun if engorged ticks don’t make you squeamish.)

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S paddling to shore after her very first kayak ride on Saturday. S was all smiles during her adventure.

2. I drove 5 children to Sweet Frog for an afternoon treat. (That was H’s bribe for cooperating with the doctor.) I enjoyed sitting at my own table and listening to their crazy banter. I was impressed that 3 of them voluntarily used napkins, and I withheld comment as they each tasted each others’ “delicious” yogurt creations.

3. Four of those same children are now busily repairing the “broken flippers” on their little friend J, who has decided he is a sick dolphin who needs medical care. Apparently he prefers to be an injured dolphin instead of his usual sick puppy. Either way, he is wrapped tightly in several Ace bandages.

4. The thermometer has passed 90 degrees. Combined with the humidity, the kids need a break from outside play; thus, J has become a sick dolphin. Update: J briefly sustained a dangerous snake bite before asking if he could be a daughter instead of an animal.

5. Swim team practice began this morning at 8 AM. G and S are veteran swimmers and are pleasantly tired from their hour swim. H is new to swim team and swam 100 meters before deciding to take a break. I was okay with that decision since that’s the farthest she’s ever swum in her 7 years. She did another 100 meters with a kick board and then called it a day. She was shocked to learn that she has to go back tomorrow for another swim practice. So far she’s told me that she won’t be diving off the blocks and won’t be swimming in the first meet on Thursday. She was greatly disappointed that she didn’t get to swim the backstroke. This promises to be an interesting season for H.

6. I actually had time to have a lazy conversation with a neighbor today. It’s amazing how a little interaction with other adults throughout the day can recharge and redirect the flow of my day. Thanks, Clair!

7. I was able to spend some time vising Sofie and her parents without feeling rushed. Perhaps that was the most important thing that I accomplished today. Please continue to pray for Sofia. Her body is shutting down, and her parents’ request is that she not suffer any pain.

8. All 3 girls had complete melt-downs during or after dinner tonight. That’s proof positive that they are ridiculously over-tired and in dire need of sleep. Right now they are each quarantined in separate rooms, and I’ve started the washing machine in hopes of drowning out the crying and moaning.

Tomorrow we’re going to get up and do it all over again. I’m hoping my summer cold will be gone, that H will decide that she wants to swim, that I won’t forget to teach S’s math lesson, and that our dentist doesn’t find any cavities or reason to refer us to the orthodontist. That’s not asking for too much, is it?

Happy summer, everyone!

 


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Growing Up

My babies are growing up, and they won’t be my little girls much longer. I don’t write this because we regularly spend $200 on groceries every time we shop. And it’s not the way that G’s legs seem longer each morning she tromps down the stairs. Instead it’s how they’re handling changes in the world around them.

For the past several months, our tightly knit neighborhood has been rocked by cancer. I’ve written about Sofia’s battles, but there is another family nearby with 2 parents who are fighting 2 different cancers. In our own family, my favorite aunt has been undergoing chemotherapy for yet another type of cancer. The hardest one to ignore, however, has been Sofie’s, and the hardest questions to answer have come from S and H. Yesterday they finally understood that they won’t be able to celebrate Christmas or the next round of birthdays with their sweet friend.

As their mother, I want to shield my girls from unnecessary pain, but I can’t shield them from everything. And I see value in allowing them to walk beside their young friend as she faces something so much harder than many of us understand. (If you’re still reading at this point, Daddy, go get the box of tissues. I could use a couple anyway.)

My girls never met their brothers Seth and Owen or their sister Lucy, but they know where they are. They know what heaven is, and they don’t fear the life after this temporal one. They know that Sofie is going to get to play with Lucy and the boys before they do. They also know that there is no pain, illness, sadness, or death in heaven. And they know that this is where Sofie will meet Jesus face to face.

The screen is growing blurry now for some reason, so I’m going to post a picture instead of writing more on the subject.

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This poster is the collaboration of neighborhood kids and moms who gathered yesterday to turn a friend’s craft supplies into something beautiful for Sofie. The children decorated butterflies, and I followed a clever friend’s idea for attaching the butterflies to a foam board. While we hadn’t intended to be symbolic in our artwork, I think a butterfly is entirely appropriate for our little friend.

Meanwhile, S made a monumental decision yesterday: she finally agreed to cut off most of the hair that she’s been growing for the past 3 years. S has thick blond hair with tons of natural wave, but she despises brushing her hair and is not very particular about rinsing shampoo after she applies it. Since swim team practice begins on Monday, we’ve been suggesting coaxing her into donating her hair before 6 weeks’ worth of daily swim practice does its damage. When I told her that a friend’s daughters had recently donated their hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, she was intrigued. She didn’t want to donate the 10 inches that Locks of Love requires, and Pantene will accept 8 inches. I’ll leave you with a few pictures to show you the transformation.

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Before: The shock of what she’s going to do has just registered

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During the cut: Amused and unsure

 

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After the cut: Is there enough left for a ponytail?

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The last picture: Moms are so annoying when they tell you that you’re beautiful.

Yes, my girls are growing up. And yes, I’m not sure their dad and I are ready for them to grow up quite so fast. But they’re doing it well: they’re becoming young ladies.

 

 


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Sprung!

Spring has finally arrived in my corner of the world. Sure, the daffodils bloomed last month and the temperature has been slowly creeping up the thermometer. April was full of showers–mostly on Tuesdays just in time to cancel soccer practice. And we’ve seen several sets of birds pairing off and building nests. But spring didn’t fully unpack her bags until yesterday.

Instead what convinced me is the fine layer of yellow that miraculously appeared just yesterday. Tree pollen is everywhere, tinting my world in shades of yellow. It’s trying to enter my house since it’s already conquered the front porch, back deck, roof, sidewalk, and driveway. As I sit here typing, I’m watching visible grains falling from our collection of trees; it’s spring’s equivalent of snow.

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The Crayola chalk is for size reference.

We also met this little guy yesterday. Or he may have been a she; if so, she’s not very pretty. Though a friend helpfully tried to identify this caterpillar as a misplaced mustache or eyebrow, it turned out to be a wooly bear. Once the girls and I rounded up appropriate food and cage for him/her, s/he had wandered off. At some point this wooly bear will become a not-so-wooly tiger moth. If you decide to raise your very own wooly bear, here’s a helpful fact sheet that I found. Additionally, I counted 31 swallowtail caterpillars on my 5-mile run yesterday. (Since I resorted to counting caterpillars, you can bet that my legs are still feeling last week’s half marathon.)

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Yes, that is a pink zebra wrap.

Today H adopted a swallowtail larva that she’s named Fred. She found him on the back steps of the Leonardtown Art Center; she didn’t want anyone to step on him, and now he’s gorging himself on my parsley. Pictured above is Rumpetta. We met her last Friday in the grass outside the same art center. Rumpetta is a sweet pygmy goat with an injured leg and has been keeping her owner company at work for the past week or so. I wanted to take Rumpetta home with me; instead we have Fred.

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This guy continues to visit our yard from time to time. I did some research after his first appearance, and he is technically a grey squirrel. Though he is mostly white, he is an albino since his eyes are black. Apparently Brevard, NC, is the self-proclaimed white squirrel capital and has its own White Squirrel Research Center.  Who knew?! If you’re in the area later this month, don’t forget to check out the White Squirrel Festival.

???????????????????????????????I also suspect that two blue jays have set up a nest somewhere in our trees. As noisy as these blue things are, their nest is hidden enough that we haven’t spotted it yet. Another family of tufted titmice has set up shop in our nesting box. Because I’ve told the girls not to open the box, I have to obey my rule, too. Instead I like to sneak up and listen for baby bird noises. Nothing so far.

DSCN0943Speaking of noise, this is just part of the parade that rolled up and down our street yesterday. That’s H steering Sofie with J, Pilot, and their father Ed. Sofie was a very good sport since H is not an experienced driver. Pilot, on the other hand, played a game of dodging small feet, fast wheels, and moving wheels. My heart swelled as I watched H include her friend in their old, familiar games.

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The smiles say it all!

As I wrap up this post, we’re preparing for H’s 7th birthday tomorrow. While S and G both decided they were no longer my babies at this age and were way too mature to hold my hand in public, I think H is several years away from this stage. She’s definitely still the baby of this family. So lift a juice box, swallow your Allegra or Zyrtec, and join me in wishing a happy birthday to H!


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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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