Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Remembering Papa Alex

Today, we received heartbreaking news that Charlie's Dad, Alex, was killed in an automobile accident this morning.  Papa Alex would have turned 91 on March 17th.

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Three weeks ago, today, Charlie had to travel to southern California for a business trip.  At the last minute, he decided that since he would be in the area - he would fly to Phoenix, instead of San Diego, so that he could enjoy a short visit with his Dad.  It's funny how things happen like that ... a little whisper in your ear that you need to create opportunities to make memories; and less than a month later, Charlie is so grateful that he seized that moment and made a detour to see his father.

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During his brief visit, Charlie saw his Dad and Kathleen's new home which he had just recently, within the past two (?) months moved in to.  It is located in a retirement community, and Alex was so happy to be there, and very excited over the downsize to a simpler life.  Photographic evidence indicates that his library was stocked full, which was no surprise to me: Alex has always been one of the most well-read and articulate, comprehensively persuasive, all-around knowledgeable people I've ever known.  The majority of books in our extensive library, are predominantly from his overflow.

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Father and son went out for lunch.  I'd happened to call Charlie while they were together, and was lamenting that three of our four children were home sick from school after having just tested positive for the flu.  I'm not recalling what in the course of our conversation gave rise to such amusement - but the last time I heard Alex's voice, it was filled with laughter and good cheer - as it always was.  

We're in shock at the moment.

Nothing quite prepares you for losing someone so suddenly.  While he had his share of illnesses and ailments, Alex was never really a sick man.  He was healthy and strong - and vibrant - and cheerful - and the very finest of gentlemen.  When Charlie lost his mother, and I lost my father - we were with them, by their bedsides.  We said our goodbyes and told them that we loved them.  We held their hands and grieved as they passed.  With Alex, even at nearly 91, it just seems surreal that he is gone.

He's gone? 

Last year, the entire family traveled to Santa Barbara to celebrate Alex and Kathleen's 25-year wedding anniversary - and Alex's 90th birthday.   It was a whirlwind weekend trip, but Charlie and his brothers - and Carolyn - went deep sea fishing with Alex, which is Alex's tradition for his big birthday celebrations.  (I'm now kicking myself that I cannot find the picture of Alex on the boat!)

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(But this was the lunch, immediately after!)

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That evening, after naps for everyone, all of Alex's grandchildren (and great-grandchild) gathered together for a wonderful celebration of his life.

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It was a beautiful event.   We took pictures, and told stories.

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And Charlie and his siblings each had an opportunity to get up and tell their father how much he meant to them.

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The past few days, a cold front has hit Texas, with temperatures in the high 30's.  This afternoon, almost immediately after receiving the devastating news, we found ourselves at the Junior High School, where we had signed up to volunteer for the track and field meet.  Because Elizabeth is really in to track and field - she qualified for four separate events, that started at 3:30 PM and continued until 8:30 PM.  For five hours, our entire family stood in the cold, rooting on Elizabeth: who despite the sudden loss of her grandfather, still managed to earn medals - including one first place - in all four of her events.  In between each event she would run back to me and ask, "Is it true? Really? Did Papa Alex really pass away today? Am I dreaming? Please tell me I'm dreaming..." 

(My intent was to keep the news from her until after her meet.  But so much for the best laid plans.  How she knew is a separate issue that involves a cell phone and a homeschool student, who shall at the moment remain nameless.)

Tonight, when we returned from the track meet and the feeling returned to our extremities, we lit a candle and told Papa Alex stories.  I opened up my blog and yet again - am so grateful for this journal of memories.  Tonight, I'm especially grateful for this memory.

George Wellesley was such a good man.  When I think of how much he loved his first wife, Jeanne; and how much he loved his second wife, Kathleen.  How he raised such an amazing family - that yielded the best man I've ever known ... my husband, Charlie.   How he helped us cover rent with our first house while we were in graduate school, and how he attended all of our graduations.  How he traveled in to be with us, in our home, days after all four of our children were born.  How he flew in to visit us in San Diego and talk us OUT of buying an over-priced house when I had two year old triplets, and was nearly seven months pregnant with Henry.  How he flew in to visit with us in Virginia and Texas.  How he saved every single one of the business cards my husband ever had - from every one of his jobs.  How he could talk to you for hours about politics - or the Pythagorean theorem- or the colonization of Mars - and it was FUN.

True to the iconic legend of St. Patrick that shares his birthday, Alex is the embodiment of good luck and celebration.  While I suspect the shock we are now feeling will soon give way to grief, right now I'm just feeling so grateful for his life, and all that he accomplished.  I'm so grateful that my husband saw him three weeks ago, today, and created one last special memory with his father.  And I'm so grateful that he was never really sick a day in his life.

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And yet.

And yet.  

I know we will miss him so much.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

crossing the bridge v2

Yesterday, Henry bridged from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.

I remember the first time I went to a Blue and Gold Banquet, way back in 2013 when William was a Tiger rank and Henry was still in preschool.  With a totally unexpected lump that formed in my throat - and tears that dripped down my cheeks (where did all this sudden emotion come from?  I thought we were just here for dinner and a magic show?!) - I remember watching the fifth grade boys walk from one side of the stage where their Den Leader removed their Cub Scout kerchief and waved them goodbye - to the other side of the stage, where they were met with a firm handshake of the young men of Boy Scouts, and fitted with a new kerchief.   

The symbolism of the kids crossing the stage - and walking across a small bridge - was not lost on me and I remember so clearly thinking that day will be here for William BEFORE I KNOW IT.  And sure enough, it was.  And now Henry has earned his Arrow of Light, and crossed the bridge, too.   

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William was on the other side to meet his little brother with a big smile and handshake and it was epic. 

Charlie baked a cake, for entry in to a Father-Son Cake-Bake contest, to commemorate the event.  Each layer is intended to represent a different level in Cub Scouts, starting with Bobcat (light blue); Tiger (orange); Wolf (red); Bear (green); Webelo (blue) and Boy Scouts (yellow).  

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As he was frosting the multiple layers, I kept asking him, "How in the world do you think you're going to transport that thing to the event?"  And he kept responding, "It'll be no problem. Trust me, Jen, that's the least of my worries."   

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Once finished, Charlie drove and I held the cake on my lap.  And sure enough, it wasn't his problem - it was mine, trying to keep that multi-leveled masterpiece upright for three excruciating miles through stop signs, traffic lights, around corners, and over speed bumps.  You don't realize just how much accelerating - and decelerating - there is on a simple car ride, and the incredible forces of gravity that travel exerts, until you're holding a tiered cake in your lap.  Also, it's safe to say that my anxiety level transporting the cake was on par with transporting newborn triplets home from the hospital: every other car on the road was a dire threat.  

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We arrived in one piece - literally - and set up our cake among some fierce competition. The creativity and artistic expression of people just amazes me.   This tree house cake was one of my favorites (look at the adorable little Cub Scout people sleeping under the graham cracker tent, and actual BRIDGE to the Boy Scout campground!) 

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And this one - with the teddy bear clutching the Pinewood Derby Twinkie totally cracked me up!

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Or this one, with the campfire and Lego scouts on Kit Kat logs?  HA!

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While I haven't been as involved with Cub Scouting in Texas nearly as much I was in Virginia, and from a scheduling perspective - I am looking forward to the boys participating in scouting events together - this change is bittersweet.

It's impossible to comprehend that our little guy is now a bona fide Boy Scout, considering he was an "honowawy Cub Scout" ....

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Just yesterday. 

Monday, January 07, 2019

tiny tim

On Friday night, as I was tucking the kids in to bed, I sat with them and said a prayer as I do every night.  My evening prayer always includes a request for protection, wisdom, patience, and kindness. We pray for family and friends, our sponsored-Compassion children,  and any situations that may be weighing heavy on our minds.

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As I was talking with Carolyn, she informed me that while nighttime prayers are nice and all, and she really loves spending time with me at the close of her day, she's not so sure she believes in anything at the moment and she's quite unsure how praying really helps matters.  "What's the PURPOSE of it all?" she asked.

Of course I understand this!  I'm a scientist and I struggle with data,  proof, and repeatability all the time.  Until it was debunked, I'd always loved the quote from Albert Einstein, "There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle." (Even if he didn't say it, the older I get - the more I know there's some solid truth in those words.) 

Kissing Carolyn goodnight, I told her that it was my most sincere prayer that she would receive some kind of divine gift from above that helped her to not only believe, but also - to illuminate her path for purpose.

If it seems like I'm getting more spiritual these days ... I AM.  I'd like to thank our four rapidly growing children, as we navigate this gloriously beautiful, and gloriously terrifying time in life. Leading my most precious gifts through the dynamics of body changes / social pressure / social media / increasing independence - decision making - and consequences - has promulgated my swan dive right in to the deep end of the search for heavenly guidance.

So this past Saturday, while Elizabeth was out running with girls from her cross-country team; and Henry was at a Cub Scout function with Charlie, I took William and Carolyn on a long walk with the dog.  We were approximately 1-mile from the house - with another 3 miles to go on our 'loop' when William exclaimed, "Look! There's a dead mouse on the sidewalk!"  It took me several moments - with William nearly touching the little critter - before I could actually see it, it was so well camouflaged atop the wet concrete and scattered leaves.

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My instruction to William was to pick up some sticks and gently flick it off the path so it wouldn't be stepped on - or ridden over - or chomped down by another dog out for its morning walk.  As William gingerly tried to scoop it up, he paused, "Mom, I think it's still alive...!"  Carolyn - our resident animal lover - went crazy. "Ohhhh, nooooo! Ohhhh, it's so tiny! Ohhhh, we have to help!"

I went over to inspect, and sure enough, I could see that it was breathing - and it's little heart beat was clearly visible, thumping away within its teeny silky frame.   As I was looking at the little creature, I recognized by the larger shape of its tail that it wasn't a mouse, but more likely a baby squirrel ... so young its eyes hadn't opened up yet. Standing back, the three of us eyed the trees and looked for a tangle of branches and leaves that would indicate a drey.  Surely the little one just got knocked out of the nest?

Not seeing anything obvious, we gently picked the kit up from the dark shady spot on the damp sidewalk, and placed him off the path, and next to the closest tree, which was bathed in sunlight.  We then stood aside for a few minutes and waited to see what would happen.  The baby squirmed in the warmth of the sun, began squeaking and opening it's tiny little mouth.  It must have been a mammalian animal instinct that came over me, because this wasn't what I had in mind for Saturday morning.  We had a lot to do - my mental list was at least two pages of what I'd hoped to accomplish on this day - including walking another 3 miles to close a stubborn ring on my new Apple Watch.

Nonetheless, I decided in that very moment that while I'm NOT a fan of vermin, barring the mother squirrel appearing on the scene for a fast rescue, there was absolutely no way I'd be leaving an extremely helpless and vulnerable infant all alone in nature, while hawks soared over head.  Also, if this wasn't a prime example of a gift literally FROM ABOVE that might be helpful to illuminate my daughter's purpose (and passion), I'm not sure what is.

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After a few more minutes, and much to my daughter's delight, I reached down and scooped up the baby and said, "Yep, it looks like he's coming home with us."   I'm not sure if the kids were more surprised that I actually touched it with my bare hands - or that I scooped it close to my chest and cuddled it for a mile walk back to our house.

When we returned home, we found out that the protocol for rescuing a baby squirrel is to keep it warm, and get it to a wildlife rescue facility.  And so it is, we filled a sock with rice and after microwaving it for 20 seconds, placed the little guy on top of it, which by now we'd named "Tim."  We found the closest facility - fortunately it was less than 10 miles from our house - and we piled in to the car and transported Tiny Tim to his next destination.  On the car ride, Carolyn was rubbing his little belly, and was in tears of absolute joy when he wrapped his entire body around her index finger.

You might imagine, she didn't want to leave him ... and was asking me in hushed whispers if she could PLEASE come back, or call and check on his progress every single day until he was released?

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The people at the sanctuary informed us that Tim is a flying squirrel and as a nocturnal animal, it's very likely his mama wouldn't have found him.  It made our hearts happy to think that we played a part in saving the little guy.

Our Tiny Tim was placed within an incubator, and fed glucose soon after he arrived. We were told he'll be kept with other flying squirrels and they'll be released together, in nature, within the next 2-3 months.  It turns out, the facility is a 100% volunteer run organization and they welcome volunteers as early as 14-years old if a parent is present.

Yep.  I bet you'll never guess what Charlie and Carolyn will be doing as part of their homeschool curriculum this spring?    Gifts from above - conveniently located 15 minutes away.

God Bless us, EVERYONE!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

taking the plunge: love, forgive, and laugh a lot

This morning at the crack of dawn, I was up crafting my list of new year predictions and resolutions.  It's quite lengthy and includes a spreadsheet.  Any time a spreadsheet is involved, it's safe to say that I'm feeling a little overwhelmed - and I rely on Excel to try and restore some semblance of order.

With that, I present Exhibit A, a spreadsheet that I recently found during a purge of my office - dating back to December of 2004 - that time in life when we had three newborns and no more than two hours of consecutive sleep for several weeks in a row.

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Speaking of newborns, one of my numerous new year's resolutions is to be a better mother.  Particularly in regards to my patience threshold and better use of language.  I'm so deeply ashamed to admit it, but raising three (almost four) teenagers can be as challenging as $&% and sometimes, bad words come out. Usually when I'm confronted with a snarky attitude from a child who has a life of such privilege, I don't understand why they're not on their knees giving abundant thanks ALL the time?  

In the normal course of life, I'm really not one to use profanity, but it's a reflexive thing, like when you slice your finger with a knife, or stub your toe so badly the nail comes off.  It erupts with virtually no warning and usually before I even realize it's happened.   I know it's wrong, and I'm working so hard on it.  Dear God, please help me to use better words when I'm frustrated. Perhaps give me a heavenly nudge to take a moment and breathe - or better yet, render me temporarily and divinely mute.

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I've resolved to put away the electronics - particularly my phone just before bedtime and immediately upon awakening.  I'm not on my phone much during the day, but I do immerse myself in the news and world happenings before I doze off to sleep - and when I first wake up - and I seriously think that it has had an adverse impact on my health and overall well being.  It certainly seems that between global warming, gushing political vitriol, and a lack of tolerance and compassion the world over  - I'm feeling quite depleted watching the slow motion train wreck of what the media is portraying as a decay of morale values and human decency.  

I've also resolved to give thanks and practice intense gratitude.  Instead of picking up my phone and firing up a news app, I'll start my day by reading something inspirational. I will light a candle - and reflect on my breath and offer my sincere thanks for life in this moment.

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I'm resolving that 2019 will be a wonderful year for fitness and a renewed focus on health.  Everything is bigger in Texas - including my pant size and I intend to reverse that alarming trend.  Charlie bought me an Apple Watch for Christmas and after a week of sitting in it's package - I fired it up, today.   By June, I expect to be 25 pounds lighter on my feet and have a resting heart rate slower than it is right now.   I also intend to stand for 12 hours a day - or more likely, figure out how to change that absurd setting on my watch.   (Anyone know if that's possible? Charlie tells me no?!)

Lastly, I will be doing my best to look for God's fingerprints every day.  Today, I certainly experienced a situation that cemented this date as the most wonderfully memorable New Year's Day in the history of my lifetime.

Without going in to all of the details: we lost my Dad 3.5 years ago - and one month later - my family was ripped apart in a way that I never would have imagined.  It was quite possibly, one of the worst and most painful times in my entire life.  White was black; light was dark; up was down; right was wrong.  For several weeks, I couldn't sleep - nor eat - nor do much of anything except cry and second guess everything that I once held dear.   In the midst of my grief over losing my father - and during the move from Virginia to Texas when two of our children were recovering from a tonsillectomy and I received a bilateral brain tumor diagnosis .... one of my seven siblings became completely estranged from the rest of us.   It was beyond ugly, an extremely difficult time that created a lot of deep wounds that may never heal.  And yet, the other six of us pulled together in a way I never imagined would have been possible.  It was an extremely poignant time that eventually - and transformationally -  reaffirmed my faith that everything, EVERYTHING, has a purpose and is an opportunity to grow closer to God.  It just takes the right attitude.

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Long story short: the one sibling who isolated themselves from the rest of the family - has a child who was married last night - and several of my family members, despite what they've been through and any resentment they may be harboring, rallied together and attended our nephew's New Year's Eve wedding.  Charlie and I didn't attend because we're 2000 miles away. And, well, I'm still quite hurt over what transpired in 2015-2016.   But some of my siblings - and their children - did show up.  They traveled in from out of state, and showed up BIG and with great LOVE.

Tonight, the children decided that in light of the New Year - they wanted to embark on a Polar Bear Plunge.  Elizabeth was first to go - and she was terrified.  She knew the pool was at least 40 degrees colder than the hot tub, but after several long minutes - she summoned the strength and she jumped. While all of her siblings jeered and challenged her sanity - she took the plunge.

She was invigorated, and she inspired her siblings - one by one - all four of them - to follow suit.  Once they were in the pool, once they got over the fear of jumping - and the shock and discomfort of the icy cold water enveloping their warm bodies - they, too were invigorated.  But more importantly, they were so triumphant in their conquest.

THEY DID IT!

I think that's how it is with forgiveness.  It can be so hard - and so painful - to let go.  It can be terrifying to think of the discomfort, the bitterness and resentment - and hurt.   But once you decide to take the plunge, that discomfort lasts only a moment.  The result is invigorating. And the courage it took to make the leap is contagious.

I'd like to give a shout out to my sister, Eileen, who has inspired us all to love unconditionally and to have as much fun as possible each step of the way.   For her birthday this past year, she sent everyone $20.00 with the request that each of us find someone else to bless. Here she is donning her perspectacles: those magical glasses that give one the power of perspective. 

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To my big brother, Wally, who despite his bravado and comical sense, is one of the most gentle and sensitive souls I know.  I'm so impressed by him, I've been in tears thinking about his motto, "We're here for a good time.... not a long time!"  Mom is so proud of you.  And I know Dad would be so proud of you, too.

To my mother - and my Aunt Grace - who together - Hail Mary, Full of Grace... are the epitome of loyalty and support - and consistently demonstrate for the rest of us, how to forgive and lovingly show up for your family.  As my mother says, "There are NO accidents."  And as my Aunt Grace says, "Anything is possible with chocolate."  Amen. And AMEN.

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This year I will do my best to remember:

Each challenge in life - is an opportunity to grow.

Keep your eyes and hearts open: miracles abound because God's Fingerprints are on everything. 

Seeing isn't believing: believing is seeing.

Take the plunge. Love. Laugh. Breathe.

Stand up - move around - and close those $#*% AWESOME exercise rings.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

giving thanks for the moment - and the memories

Last week, I received an email from a dear friend who asked if I could please send her the address to our new blog, because I'm no longer updating this one.  And then I realized its been more than three months since I've posted an update.  Time is going faster than a gallon of milk around here.

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For the past several years at Christmas, Charlie has given to me "blog books" which are printed and bound blog postings that I've written since this blog's inception in March of 2006.   These books have been one of the most wonderful and thoughtful gifts I've ever received, because as much as I enjoy looking over all of our memories - so many of which I would have otherwise completely forgotten - I especially love watching our children read the stories.  This blog has been such a priceless vault of our family's history and I'm so thankful for it.

When the children were younger, I updated this blog almost every day.  Sometimes, I'd update it more than once a day and I was so grateful for the mental reprieve and friendships I made with people all over the world as I 'navigated' those younger days.  There was a span of time that I posted so frequently, there are a few years we have four blog books for a single year (or one every three months).  Back then, I couldn't imagine going an entire quarter without writing what was happening!

These days, I try to keep an inventory of the things that I want to write about, and sometimes - I'll steal a moment to sit and capture my thoughts only to realize that it's been so long since I've last logged on, I need to reset my passwords, and upload photos and oops, that password needs to be reset too, and suddenly the whole effort is requiring more time than I have and is digging in to important time that I need to spend in this moment with my people.  By the time I figure out what I need to do to log on, and get my thoughts straight - they're standing in front of me, talking about .... something? ... and I lose all focus.

It might help my writing if the children slept like they used to, but the thing is - they're always awake.  They're always around.  They never nap anymore.  They go to bed minutes before I do, and usually wake up at approximately the same time, if not earlier when they fly out of bed and rush the refrigerator because they're always hungry.  They're always growing.  And I'm always trying to maximize my time spent with them.

It's a sight to behold how Carolyn is rapidly closing in on 6'0, while William has grown two inches in less than three months.   At this blessed moment in time, only Elizabeth and Henry are still shorter than me, and as a result, I pull them on to my lap, constantly.  I can't do that with William and Carolyn anymore because I can't breathe.  But I get them other ways, because no one around here escapes the mama cuddles.

We'll sit at our kitchen table and talk (and eat), and play board games (and eat), and read stories (and eat). They tell me about what is happening in their worlds and I soak it up.   Neighborhood kids are coming and going at a constant rate.  One rainy day last weekend, we had 12 children in our home playing an assortment of games.  When there was a break in the weather, they flew outside to play hide-n-seek.  It's so awesome to see their energy and excitement about .... life.

I've got my eye on when they're flying the nest ... and I see it happening.  Carolyn is talking about where she wants to go to college;  Elizabeth was up at the crack of dawn this morning to run with girls from her cross-country team; and yesterday, William informed me he and his friends walked down to the local grocery store to try everything the food demonstrators were offering because as eluded to above, teenagers love to eat. All. The. Time.  Henry is taking a serious interest in his hair and has decided that he wants to let it grow out.  I just snapped off this picture of him as he prepares to make breakfast on this Thanksgiving morning.  (He clearly needs longer pants and/or darker socks and/or boots.)

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Also in this very moment, William is perched over my shoulder in his Spiderman onesie, eating a bowl of yogurt and fruit, and so happy to see I'm updating The Amazing Trips.  "Mom, I love your stories! They're so awesome!"

As I tell our children daily: we make the time for things that are important to us.  This blog is important to me and our family, and I must do a better job keeping it updated. I just wish I didn't require as much sleep as a teenager.

Thank you, Mrs. Dunnigan for the nudge.  Happy Thanksgiving!  xoxo

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

first day of school! first day of school!

Today was a big day for us, as the kids started a whole new school year!

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Here are some pictures of our students - bright eyed and ready for their first day.  There's William and Elizabeth, who are geared up for eighth grade (it's unfathomable that this is already their final year of junior high school)!  And Henry, who is just starting his middle school experience in the fifth grade:

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And then there is our Carolyn - who will be homeschooled this year - HOMESCHOOLED! - and is quite excited about it, as one can clearly see:

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The possibility of homeschooling has always been part of our educational vernacular and is an option that we've told the kids - is available to them, should they want to pursue it.  It's something that I've always thought would be a wonderful thing to do - but it required children who were willing to do it, too - and up until this past school year, we didn't have any takers.   But something really clicked in seventh grade, where Carolyn took an inventory of her learning environment and how well her experience was flanging up with her educational hopes and dreams, and decided maybe she should do something differently.

When she first approached Charlie and I about homeschooling her during her eighth grade year, we were skeptical that she was serious.  So we took a look at her grades and told her that if she was sincere - we wanted her to get all of her languishing grades up to "As" to demonstrate that she truly possessed the motivation to succeed.   Lo and behold, her grades shot up and she began exhibiting an ownership and commitment to her education I hadn't seen before.

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Carolyn is a very sensitive and somewhat shy girl, and she has always been much taller than her siblings and most peers.  (At the moment she's 5'10" and still growing!)  The way I see it, she's had a hard time finding her social groove because it's challenging when you're surrounded by itty bitty bubbly girls that come up to your arm pit and weigh as much as your left foot.   Girls like her sister.   Who - of course she adores - but you couldn't find two more different children in a family.

Recently, she told me that she was treated so badly by girls in her first and second grade elementary school class, that she thinks it actually scarred her, socially.  (Apparently, those incidents were even worse than third grade.) And when we first moved to Texas, there were a group of girls that we met (triplets, nonetheless) who were so aloof and cruel, it caused her to withdraw even more.  Kids can be so mean. Add to that a junior high school with 1300 children in your grade, for a total of 2600 students in the entire school, and its not difficult to see why she might feel overwhelmed. (And why I feel so overprotective!)

From my perspective, the kids were gone from 8:00 every morning until 4:30 every afternoon - and always had an hour or more of homework at night, either before - or after - their extra curricular activities. It felt like we were always rushing to catch up so they could eat dinner - and get to bed before 10:00 each night.   Under Carolyn's new schedule - she'll have all of her school work done within six hours each day and will have no homework at night.  All that extra time will be spent doing things like - taking walks, writing poetry, volunteering, and breathing in life. Ahh!

(My suspicion: it's just a matter of time before one or more of her siblings jumps off the crazy train and gets on the homeschool bus with Carolyn…)

Ultimately, she has made, what I believe to be, the very wise decision to get off the gerbil wheel for at least one year.  Over this next year we hope that while all of her peers continue to grow mentally and physically - she will grow academically and learn all kinds of wonderful new things that will give her the solid foundation she needs before she enters high school.  Earlier this week, and after extensive research - we ordered her an awesome literature-based curriculum that will cover World History, Language Arts, Robotics and Technology, and includes a math program full of hands-on manipulatives.   She'll also be taking private music lessons, and joining a homeschool PE and co-op so she can engage with other homeschooled kids during the week.    It's hard to tell who is more excited - Carolyn - or Charlie - who is taking the lead on working with her at home.

Because her curriculum won't be here until early next week - today while her siblings were all at school, Carolyn asked her father what they would be doing.  He told her that first, she'd need to help wash the dishes and do the laundry.  Then, she'd help do meal planning and shopping for the week.  Later in the afternoon, he taught her how to make lemonade and bake cookies for the first day of school party we've hosted for all the kids in the neighborhood, since and our own children were in Kindergarten.

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Tomorrow, they'll be working in the garden.  Charlie told her, "Carolyn, this learning that you're doing right now - we call this HOME ECONOMICS."  To which she replied, "Are you sure it isn't INDENTURED SERVITUDE?"

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To which I say…  I think she's smarter, already!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Amazing Trip of Summer 2017: Yellowstone National Park (south)

It was a little more than a year ago that we completed our epic month-long road trip that took us throughout some of the most beautiful national parks in North America.

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We just completed another epic month-long road trip, this summer, that took us around the panhandle of Florida and up the eastern seaboard. But before I write about those memories (which at this rate, may not be until the children graduate from high school), I really need to capture what memories remain of last summer - or I fear I'll lose them forever.

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The overwhelming memory that I have of our trip last summer, is that I've never felt such freedom.  While we had the concept of a schedule in mind - and plans to visit specific locations - we had an entire month slated for travel, and the flexibility to pretty much do whatever we wanted - whenever we wanted.  So when we decided that we wanted to stay an extra couple nights in the Grand Tetons because it was just so beautiful: we stayed.

Of course there was a lot of ground that I wanted for us to cover, so before too long - I was anxious to get back on the road because there were some awesome locations to the north waiting for us.  Awesome locations like Yellowstone National Park which is very big and very famous and was just a hop, skip, and jump up the road from the Grand Tetons.

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Because it is so big - and famous - Yellowstone is kinda the Disney of National Parks (translation: it is mobbed with people).   It is also quite diverse with the flora and fauna, and cool geologic features thanks to the active magma chamber just beneath your feet. (Watch where you step! No, seriously, watch where you step because you can easily fall in a geyser or mud volcano and gruesomely die.)

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I'd been there once already and after this most recent visit, can solidly say that Yellowstone isn't one of my "favorite" parks.   While it does have an incredible primitive beauty, and is tremendously vast, for my tastes, it doesn't have the take-your-breath-away grandiose scenery that you see in parks like Zion, the Tetons, or my newest favorite park, Glacier.  (And Jasper.)

We packed up our gear in the Grand Tetons and hit the road by 7:00 AM which, not to brag, is really gold-medal worthy when you're a band of gypsies like us.

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Because we were arriving from the south, and didn't have reservations, we made an immediate stop at the first come/first serve campground we encountered. If there's one thing that we've learned during these nomadic adventures, is that if we know we're going to be in a general vicinity - we need to snag a spot and not take any chances.

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Especially at a place like Yellowstone, being the Disney of NPs - since it books up months in advance.   We arrived early - set up our tent - were swarmed by mosquitos, and then set off to see Old Faithful.  One of the drawbacks with Yellowstone - aside from the vast crowds and mosquito swarms - is that it is so large, the idea of driving to and from a landmark, while in theory sounds good - in reality, can take the better part of a day.  In fact, when you calculate the delay because of the bison herds that are known to block the road, we determined it would've taken less time to drive from Massachusetts to Maine than to drive from our campsite in Lewis Lake to Old Faithful.

Once we arrived at the world-famous geyser, we were happy to see that our arrival coincided with a Ranger Talk on Old Faithful.  As we clustered around the Park Ranger, Charlie and I both shot each other a look and said, "We could so totally do this! How do you feel about living at Yellowstone?!" 

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See, Charlie often talks about pursuing a job as a park ranger. In fact, during our visit to the Grand Canyon in 2016, he talked with National Park Service management personnel who indicated that job opportunities are available for geologists, like us. Not only are there jobs, but a perk includes government-funded housing - for our family - in the park.

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We actually considered it for a whole day.  But that evening, I had a nightmare that the children were playing soccer in the front yard of our Grand Canyon home, and in that split second moment they looked over their shoulder to make sure no one was behind them to steal the ball ….  they didn't see the rim, and yeahhhhh.  No thanks.

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We walked around Old Faithful, and witnessed at least three eruptions during the time we were there.  I'll admit, it was fun getting so close that the water sprinkled my camera.

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While in Yellowstone, we drove out to Firehole Canyon, where we all jumped out of the car and directly in to the water.

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It was crazy fun - like Mother Nature's amusement park - but it could also be a bit sketchy for new (or tired) swimmers, and if we ever make it up that way again, I'd remember life jackets.

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We also rented a boat for a trip around Yellowstone Lake.

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Since the kids were so keen to go fishing, we purchased a rod and tried our luck.  With the first cast, we landed what was probably an 8-pound fish, but as we were pulling it in to the boat, in the moment we realized we didn't have a net - the line snapped - and we lost the fish and our one and only lure.

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So we headed back in to the dock, where we bought another lure, and a net.  We headed back out, as the afternoon winds started to pick up and the waves grew higher and higher. For the next couple of hours we kept trying - and trying - with no luck.  But on our final cast, we caught another fish.

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We'd been given a guide regarding the kinds of fish in the lake, and were told that if we caught any indigenous fish - including a cuttthroat trout - we had to throw it back in the water.  But if it was a brown trout, or rainbow trout - we could keep it.  After we landed this fish, we all poured over the pictures in the guidebook to ensure that it wasn't an indigenous fish.  Since it lacked the obvious red markings of a cutthroat, we'd convinced ourselves it was a rainbow trout and we were in the clear, so put it in our bucket, and returned to the dock with great plans for dinner that evening.

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Once we returned and gleefully showed the dock boy our catch, he grimaced and said, "Looks like a cutthroat."  The harbor master came to inspect and solemnly added, "Yep, looks like a cutthroat to me, too."  They went to get the Park Ranger - and minutes later - came back to tell us that they had just been called out on an emergency and today was our lucky day, because if a Park Ranger had seen us with a dead cutthroat, we'd have received a hefty ($400?) fine.

Charlie immediately hid the lemon and garlic he'd bought in the little general store.

We quickly got in to our car and started the drive back to our campsite while discussing the situation.  We're definitely not experts, but the fish that we'd caught didn't look like the fish in the brochure of indigenous species.  Those fish had vibrant red slashes along their gills...

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And our fish … well, it really looked like a rainbow.  My guess was that it was a hybrid.  But the fact remained that people who were more experienced anglers than us - said it was an indigenous fish, and as much as we wanted fish for dinner - we didn't go too far, before our conscience took the wheel and pulled our car to the side of the road. We said a prayer for the fish that we'd plucked from the lake - that it's spirit was free and that it's body would feed the wild animals of the area - and we gently bid it adieu and tossed it in to a tributary.

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Along with our hopes and dreams of catching and eating a fish from the world-famous  Yellowstone National Park.