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  1. New House Love
  2. Beneath the Busy Surface
  3. Things I Learned on Vacation
  4. What a Month (or two!)
  5. Ivy League
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

New House Love

The days are a blur of friends, family, boxes, and driving a moving truck up I-77. What day is it anyway? Oh yes, Monday, of course. Friday so many showed up in WV to help us load our entire house into a 20 foot truck. It was quite the puzzle, but they got it done in about an hour and a half. Amazing.

The next morning, another group of wonderful friends and family unloaded the truck in what seemed like no time at all. Then they stayed. They put furniture back together, unpacked boxes, cleaned, and made this house functional. I can't thank all the helpers in both states enough.

Since then mom, the kids, and I have been busy unpacking, organizing, running for supplies, and turning this house into our home. We still have a lot of details to finish, but we have made a lot of progress. Here are some of my favorite things so far.

Today my mom helped Vivian organize her room. Awhile later mom found Vivian had tweaked the room a bit, including this scene.

One thing I've always wished my house had was a laundry room/mud room. This house doesn't exactly have my dream, but with the help of a friend, it is pretty close. The laundry room is in the basement, but is easily accessible from the garage, and has a utility sink and shower. Close, but I was still longing for a space for kids to organize coats and shoes in such a way that we aren't all tripping over everything at the entrance. I showed a friend a picture on Pinterest, and he built me this.

I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am for this! This is in the garage. The door to the right goes to the back yard. The door to the left goes into the house. The steps there go down to the laundry room. I plan to put some bins on the top too for hats, gloves, ect.

Turning left through that door takes you into the dining room. I love my dining room. I love the original hardwood, the natural light, and the fireplace. We were a little concerned about how all that wood and brown would be with all the wooden furniture we have, but Kellen and Lydia helped me pick out a rug that we think just is perfect for the room and furniture. I love this room.

The living room is very comfy cozy. Again there is a bunch of natural light. Funny thing about the living room, the couch, love seat, and coffee table were given to us right before we moved. All of the rest of the furniture (except one thing) came from Aunt Hazel's and was never in WV. I had no idea if all this would work together, but it does very well.

The main bathroom is beautiful. It has a fancy shower, a tub, and a hands free toilet. The walls however, were a very vibrant blue. I assume the previous owners liked that color, but no one else who saw that bathroom did. The blue wasn't a bad blue, but it didn't work with all the brown tile. We got probably half a dozen paint samples trying to find the right color for that room. Then a friend suggested a burnt orange. I never in a million years thought I would like a burnt orange, but I really do. Another friend painted this room for me too. I have some amazing friends!

One of my favorite things about this house when we saw it was the basement. It is a walkout basement set up as a mother in law suite. In fact, the first time we saw the house we had in mind my mom living with us. The walkout basement adds so much to the house, but the green paint was the topic of many discussions. Truthfully, I just couldn't decide if I liked it or not. It really came down to the fact that it would be a huge space to paint that we didn't want to paint. We decided to stick with it.

The previous owners had black furniture down there, and I think I didn't like the green and black together. In the many discussions about the green paint in the basement, we decided earth tones would work well with the green. Again Kellen and Lydia helped me pick out a rug that helps pull it together, and it looks very nice with our recliners. I need to get more furniture for down there, but I am pretty sure we are going to love that space.

So that is mini tour of some of the places I love in the new house. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped us get there and make this home!


Beneath the Busy Surface

We are quickly approaching a year without Tim. I guess in this time we've found our new normal. We are still in the process of some major changes (moving, Kellen leaving for school, new school for the other kids) but we are functioning. Life is busy and it pushes you along. Life with four kids at home is nonstop and drags you whether you want to come or not. We have found a new normal, but I am finding it is not a normal I like.

The kids and I have had some good times. We've made some special memories. It isn't like we are all miserable, yet it feels so hollow sometimes. If you knew us, you might say I was the nuts and bolts of this family while Tim was soul of it. He was the one who could hang out with the kids (or anyone for that matter,) and kept those communication lines open. He was the one that brought the pizzazz to my practical efficient way of thinking. We brought balance to each other, and this family feels horribly out of balance now.

I miss family meals. They still happen, but on your own meals are much more frequent. I hate that the older kids have had to step into so many more adult responsibilities, including listening to me try to weigh decisions. I feel like most of our structure and discipline has gone out the window. I miss the togetherness we had. It seems like we are all in our own little worlds doing our own things a lot of the time. I got a strange look when I expressed this to one of the kids. They said it is the same as it was before. Then I realized they were probably right, but before when they were off doing their own thing was when Tim and I were talking. I don't know what to do with myself in that time now.

And I have to admit that the undercurrent of dissatisfaction I've been feeling simply is loneliness.

I have amazing friends and family. I have four kids at home. I am rarely alone. Sometimes I wish I were alone more, but I am not talking about being around people. I am talking about intimacy, and I realize I've been looking to the wrong things to fill the gaping hole left by the loss of my best friend.

When my pain was fresh, sharp, and constant, it was easy to turn to the Lord. I was at my end. He was always there. Not that the pain was taken away, but under that pain there was a solid peace and joy.

The pain now is duller. It is easier to push away even when it is trying to stab me. I'm back on my feet a little again. And it is easier to fill my time with entertainment than to turn my heart to the Lord. That entertainment doesn't satisfy though, only numbs, a bit.

So many times the Bible talks about providing for widows, and I have been well provided for. Then it occurred to me a few weeks ago that in Christ that provision for widows means more than food on our table and a roof over our heads. That peace and the joy is still there. He doesn't change. I did.

I am like the Israelites in the wilderness forgetting the wonderful things He has done, turning my heart away, only to turn back when I "needed" Him. Then Psalm 78 was part of my reading today.

When He slew them, then they sought Him;
And they returned and sought earnestly for God.
35 Then they remembered that God was their rock,
And the Most High God their Redeemer.
36 Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth,
And they lied to Him with their tongue;
37 For their heart was not steadfast with Him,
Nor were they faithful in His covenant.
38 But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity,
And did not destroy them.
Yes, many a time He turned His anger away,
And did not stir up all His wrath;
39 For He remembered that they were but flesh,
A breath that passes away and does not come again.
Psalm 78:34-39

Yep. Me. Thankfully He is compassionate and patient. He doesn't change.

This new normal may not be what I'd like it to be, but I do know where to turn to find that peace, rest, and joy. 

Things I Learned on Vacation

My nephew Miles is quite a remarkable young man. He and Kellen are very close in age and growing up spent a lot of time together. Miles has been in Florida for the last five years, and we haven't seen him much. He moved there with family, but chose to stay a couple of years ago when the rest of the family he lived with left Florida.

Though the details are different, his story is an echo of my dad's story. My dad also supported himself (with the help of friends) while finishing high school. The two even look alike.

My parents. I think dad was 20 here.
Miles and his girlfriend Danielle. He is 17 here I think.

Miles graduated June 3rd in the top 10% of his class. He is headed to Appalachian State to start classes this summer.

Sarasota High School class of 2016

Miles and Ashley after graduation was postponed for rain.
There is a state park not far from Sarasota called Cayo Costa.  My parents went camping there many times with foster children. My family and my brother Jake's family went with them a few times too, but Miles and Ashley never got to go. When my mom asked Miles what he wanted for graduation, he said he wanted to go to Cayo Costa.
So last week the kids and I, Mamaw, Ashley, and Ashley's boyfriend, Jarett loaded ourselves and a lot of stuff into two vehicles and headed toward Sarasota. We spent two nights there and attended Miles' outdoor graduation where we got completely soaked in a downpour. Then Miles and Danielle joined the caravan headed toward Cayo Costa.

The park is on a barrier island. It is beautiful and quiet. Accommodations are primitive, either in tents or in very basic cottages. No electric. Shared bath house. I always loved being there, but all our previous visits were in March. We learned a few things on this trip.

1. A 14 hour car ride with the family can be very relaxing and enjoyable when you have a teenager who likes to drive and the family dynamic is changed slightly by one family member riding with Mamaw.

2. When your family leans toward being food snobs, the cost of feeding them on the way could pay for a couple of plane tickets.

3. Florida in June is very different from Florida in March. The heat is oppressive, the storms severe, the bugs brutal, and the sun stronger than the sunscreen generously applied to our pale West Virginian skin.

4. I never want to camp in Florida in June again, or July, or August. Actually, I don't want to step foot in the state during the summer ever again.

5. It is possible to find a bit of fun and relaxation even when it is oppressively hot and the no swim flag is flying at the beach.

6. Time with family is worth it even if it isn't exactly what you hoped for.

I am glad we went and spent time with Miles. I am sure someday we will look back and laugh about the vacation where we sweat buckets while dodging rain and hostile bugs. Today is not that day, but someday, maybe.

Congratulations Miles! We are proud of you.


What a Month (or two!)

It is over. The crazy month of May has come and gone. What? You're telling me where almost half way through June now. How can that be?!

The whirlwind began mid April when Kellen visited three colleges on the East Coast in two weeks. Early May brought the closing on our new house, a sale at Aunt Hazels, and Nolan's sixth grade trip while Mamaw and the girls visited Aunt Nancy in Tennessee. Nolan and I had  a great time seeing some of the most beautiful and interesting places in West Virginia.

Nolan participated in The Bridge Designer Challenge, and won a 3D printer. Lydia attended homeschool prom. Kellen's class went on their senior trip and graduation was May 21st with a party the next day.

Graduation was a beautiful event. With a small class, Cross Lanes Christian is able to make graduation very personal. One tradition during the ceremony is a picture slide show. Students (or parents) pick a few pictures to show. During the slide show students present a rose to their parents in the crowd. Students record a personal statement that is played during their photos. I wish I had thought to take video, but I did get pictures, and have Kellen's written version of his statement.

First off, there’s no way my life would be anything close to what it is now without Cross Lanes. The people at Cross Lanes really helped me and my family over the last few years in more ways and more significantly than I can even begin to possibly say in the time allotted. Thank you. That being said, there are some things that need said. I want to thank Mrs. Hourani for offering an excess of sagely advice and indulging my love for math. Also, Mrs. Monk for being incredibly excited for me in everything I do.  Mrs. Keller for always laughing at my terrible puns in the morning announcements. The validation is important. And outside of school I really want to thank my Dad for being a wealth of life lessons, fun stories, musical trivia, and the best role model I could have possibly asked for. Also, I want to thank my Mom for you know, everything. You’ve been so ridiculously incredibly strong over the last year, managing to raise four children, change incomes, homeschool two kids, run a farm, move a house, deal with my insane amount of college papers and trips and costs and still manage to be a functional human being.

Kellen was also one of four valedictorians. Again, I failed to get video.

We made it. We the class of 2016 have finally, at last, made it through. Made it through our innocuous elementary years, our awkward middle school emo phases, and our final years high school. Our 4 years of preparation and building, our 4 years of culmination., it’s over. Now if you ask any of us right now, “Do you want to do all again?” We’d all say no. “We’re done, why would we want to go back to high school? You can ask our teachers,” They’d say, “We’ve been ready to finish for months now.”
    But let’s be honest, was it that bad? Not really. Not really at all. We’re sarcastic about it, cynical about it. I’m cynical about it. But I, and I can’t speak for anyone else on this stage, but I myself have come through my last four years undeniably better for my time at here at Cross Lanes. In one really striking example, I dress a lot better than I used to. No more fedoras and cargo shorts for me, thanks.
    But it all seriousness, my time here has been a positive one. It’s a human organization; it’s not perfect. But it is, in fact the people that made my last three years what it was. It’s the influences and the support. It’s teachers like Mrs. Hourani who work tirelessly and put forth an incredible amount of effort to not only teach, but to love and support every single student that passes through their classrooms. Take Mrs. Hourani specifically. She’s entirely positive in the face of discouragement. Last year, for instance, she single handedly secured AP accreditation for the school so we could take AP tests. Did she need to do that? Not at all. Was that her job? Hardly. But she still spent a ridiculously long time getting this accreditation just because she thought it was be the best for her students for her to get it. You know I once was 20 minutes late to class because I went to her room to give her a paper, and she spent half an hour talking to me and giving me advice about my math class, the school, her work, my work, my future, even my girlfriend. It’s stuff like that makes Cross Lanes worth it.
    It’s stuff like the incredible godly community of people that make up the parents and volunteers that work without urging, but just because they want to make things as good as they can be. It’s people like Dr. Ghareb, a one man marketing machine. It’s people like Mrs. and Mr. Brown who just took us on our senior trip. Do they have a senior graduating this year? Nope. It’s people like Mrs. Legg, who is basically what would happen if the terminator took up organizing school events.
    I’m sure most of you know that the last two years or so have been pretty yikes for my family. My Dad--his treatments, traveling, the reduced income, eventually his funeral, and all the complications that came with that-- was probably one of the hardest things that a family could go through. But when that happened, there was an awesome outflow of support and love and help and anything that could possibly be asked for from the community of Cross Lanes. People we barely knew gave incredibly and offered so much support. I’ll never forget that and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
    So my years here are done. They’re over with and it’s time to move on. I’m ready for that. But looking to the future I would hope that any of us, of this class, and especially me, would strive to meet and exceed the examples that we’ve been given. That we would examine ourselves, our school, and our futures and try to be a Mrs. Hourani, a Mrs. Legg, a Dr. Ghareeb, a Mrs. Monk, a Mr. Brown, a Jon Hoover, a Mrs. Estep, a Mr. Cooke, Mrs. Walker, a Billy Reynolds, a Ms. Wertz or any one of the prime examples we’ve been given. Let’s do this.

And all that (and more I didn't mention) still left us with a full week in May. We spent Memorial Day weekend getting things ready at the new house and the remaining days (I think there were two) packing for another graduation and trip, but that is June, and that the subject is for another post.


Ivy League

When Kellen got to the age that he started considering college, the one nugget of advice we constantly gave was don't go into debt. You see Tim and I were extremely unwise with our use of college debt. In fact, I just recently paid off the last of that debt. We had been burned, and as parents tend to do, we swung the pendulum way to the other side insisting that college debt should never happen.

In Kellen's high school years it became clear that he would qualify for the Promise  Scholarship. We always told him he could go wherever he wanted while encouraging him to avoid student loans like the plague and not pass on what would could be a debt free education. He seemed to buy into this theory, and I looked forward to having him closer to home for college. Little did I know.

Turns out Kellen had the scores to qualify for Ivy League schools. Turns out Ivy League schools have very generous need based scholarships. Turns out Kellen was accepted to three, and today he committed to go to Dartmouth with a financial package that includes work study, but no loans and an expected family contribution about equal to what he can earn in a summer. Um ok. . .

Of course, I am thrilled for him, and sad that his dad isn't here to see this all play out, and sad that I am entering the empty nest, and excited to watch the man he is becoming, and . . . well name an emotion. I probably am feeling it, but I am awfully proud of this kid.

People often want to give a lot of credit to the way Tim and I raised him, and while I appreciate that, I can't really take credit. The most I can say about that is our natural tendency to be kind of hands off free range parents fit well with his natural curiosity and love of learning. I can assure you that has not worked as well with all the kids.

Kellen always loved books. His vocabulary was large. He talked and read maybe just a tad later than the average, but once he started, he never stopped. One of his college essay topic was "Give a recent example of a time when you embodied intellectual curiosity." I can give you a not so recent example.

He was in the first grade I think. His older cousin came to visit, and she had multiplication homework to do. Kellen wanted me to teach him multiplication. I refused. He was still mastering addition. I didn't want to confuse him. He figured it out anyway. He didn't have the tables memorized, but he understood how it worked. These are the more recent examples he gave in his essay.

Canadian winters are cold, and once they get cold, they stay cold. In Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, the city’s canal system is rebrushed daily, making it the world’s largest resurfaced ice skating rink. The members of parliament can skate into work. Or, so I’ve been told; I’ve never been to Canada in the winter. Yet, somehow, I’m considered my school’s resident expert on the country, and the only real reason is curiosity.

My interest was first sparked in the summer of 2014, by my summer camp RA. He was a
student at the University of Toronto. For the rest of the camp, I pestered him for details on Canada. Being a proud citizen, he happily obliged, even hosting a mock ­lecture on Canadian culture.

That fall in her geography class, my sister was given a large, nine week project on the
Yukon Territories, and I was given the task of helping her. However, in the process of helping her research, our knowledge of obscure Canadian trivia increased exponentially. Did you know the official mineral of Alberta is petrified wood? It is.

941,161. It’s not really a special number. It’s odd. Its prime factorization is 13x13x5569.
It’s the hypotenuse of the right triangle with legs 315480 and 886711. It’s not a perfect square, and it’s not prime. It’s really not a significant number at all except for one thing. 941,161 is the number of points I’ve accrued over four years on the Khan Academy.

Honestly the points don’t mean anything. They’re not something I walk around bragging
about, but they are a point of personal pride to me. Those points are a representation of the time I’ve spent learning things on my own without any outside prompting.
The pinnacle of my time on Khan Academy came in the winter of 2014. In school, I was
stuck in the dredges of Algebra II. The concept of imaginary numbers intrigued me, but an introduction to “i” wasn’t scheduled for several more months. At home, I watched a few videos on complex numbers, but they didn’t satisfy my mathematical cravings. Feeling ambitious, I decided to teach myself calculus. I did it, too. Not completely, and definitely not with complete understanding, but using Khan Academy I taught myself basic derivatives.
Over four years, I used the Khan Academy quite a bit. I never took a full math course on
it or used it to do anything except alleviate boredom, but throughout the last few years it has been my constant companion for indulging my academic curiosity.

I can't tell you the number of times Kellen has shared some random fact with me, and I've asked, "Where did you learn that?" His response is always something along the lines of he saw something about it on such and such, went to research it, read an article, and that is why he knows it.

When he was little it was from books. Now it is from the internet, but the kid has always been interested in learning about a wide variety of topics. He reads about it, and then he knows it. I had nothing to do with that except providing him with frequent library trips and internet access.

He was born with this gift of intellectual curiosity and understanding. It has opened the doors to a debt free Ivy League education. I am simply thankful and a little amazed.

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