Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 in Status Updates


  • In our 14.5 years of marriage, we have hardly ever bought new furniture. We've hardly ever bought furniture *period*, even used. But my couch has been driving me crazy for 3 years now, and so we've been looking... Tonight we found a discounted one at Ikea and decided to buy it. I'll finally enjoy sitting on the sofa again! Happy.
  • My kids are enamored with their tadpoles. And a couple of the little guys now have both pairs of legs and are looking like miniscule frogs. Naomi has spent hours watching them and squealing over their cuteness. The small things in life...


  • We saw a water snake at the creek today. It was tiny and struggled to pull itself up onto a rock, presumably to warm up! I have no idea what kind it was... Water was delightful, weather was perfect, and trees were so green!
  • Ethan is making up his own words to "Mary, Did You Know?" using Lord of the Rings as his topic. "Gollum did you know that your precious ring would one day fall in lava? Gollum did you know that your precious ring would someday be stolen?"
  • Tired of dealing with tadpoles and froglets. As happy as they make my kids, trying to figure out food and new habitats is stressing me out.


  • Re-started "Couch to 5K" today due to our lapse when we were away for 9 days. Have to say, though, the same regimen was easier today than the first time. Naomi called me "cruel" for making her run and getting her hot and sweaty. Ha! I hope it's not too late to change her attitude so she can spend the rest of her life pursuing health, even when it's uncomfortable!
  • Drank hot tea (British-style) and read picture books aloud ("Bread and Jam for Frances" and more), on this 'cool' Spring day. Now going to go run/walk the creek trail in our continued "Couch to 5K" effort. Froglets are still alive and keeping the kids tickled pink with their cute hops and climbs...


  • Ethan walked downstairs joyfully declaring, "This is the heaviest hour of my life!!" Huh? "I've never weighed 65 pounds until now!" he clarified, having just taken a bath and weighed himself on the bathroom scales.
  • I've been encouraged to be Ethan's advocate, and not take "no more therapy" as an easy answer. He'll see his therapist today and I'd appreciate prayers. I'm really a coward inside and don't like the idea of fighting for him, but I know that as his mom, that's what I need to do.


  • Oh.My.Goodness. Just saw "Belle" in the cinema tonight and loved, loved, loved it!! Complex, beautiful, inspiring ... I would add it to any curriculum on abolition, and will even likely have my (young) kids see it (though there's one scene I'd skip for kids younger than high-schoolers). Hard to believe I've seen no conversation about this amazing film...
  • If you know what a sedentary night owl I am, you'll know I'm serious about exercise when I was up at 8 on a Saturday morning to jog/walk the creek trail. Took Josiah this time, and the same regimen that had my legs hurting and my face red and dripping, didn't even break a sweat on him.


  • Realizing it's kind of confusing to read/listen to TWO mysteries by the same author at the same time (i.e. back and forth). I'm enjoying Connelly's crime novels a lot, but sometimes get the characters and facts mixed up when I listen to one only in the car and read the other at bedtime!


  • Since I'm new to jogging, is it normal that my shins hurt?
  • Love it that my older kids still enjoy reading new picture books when I get them from the library. Despite their advanced abilities, they still like the magic of clear and simple stories combined with beautiful illustrations!
  • Pursuing a second opinion regarding Ethan's speech. Hopefully talking to a private therapist today or tomorrow about an evaluation...
  • So cute to hear Ethan singing "A Thousand Years" (Christina Perri) around the house. We discovered it when we watched a youtube video about a family who adopted a boy with Down's Syndrome, and have loved the song ever since. (The song starts at about 3:40, but the first part is good too!)
  • Jogged/walked by myself today, even though the creek was swollen with rainwater and I had to go back and forth on the small stretch that was dry between two crossing points. Can't believe how much my legs hurt while I'm jogging, but so happy to keep pressing on. I've never been good about long-term follow-through or self-discipline. Praying this time is different...


  • Happy that our townhouse association is finally dealing with the lack-of-drainage issue in our communal backyard. Slightly annoyed that it means our front yard is now full of tire tracks and clods of mud. Oh well. All for a good cause. Hope the new drainage system works so we can get out our back gate without walking through a mud puddle!
  • No way. Just discovered that one of my new homeschool friends is a speech pathologist, and to top it off, she lives only 10 minutes away from me. Going to try to get her input before I have Ethan seen at a private center. How cool is that?!
  • Please pray for my mom-in-law ... she had outpatient surgery this morning, but then bled for hours at home. At the E.R. tonight, found out she had an arterial bleed and finally got it cauterized. She's staying overnight and hoping that the spot doesn't re-open and start bleeding again.
  • I don't know whether to laugh at Ethan's self-confidence or fall over in amazement that he knew to use "I" in this sentence... from a phonics worksheet he did this afternoon. 


  • Absolutely livid at the response my MIL received yesterday when she hemorrhaged after outpatient sinus surgery but was told to stay at home for hours (trying to stop the bleeding herself), then ignored for hours at the ER, and then treated with un-sterile instruments. It was failure upon failure, and I think her story should get reported online and in print. Any ideas for how best to do that?
  • School today: took the kids to the National Speech Championship of NCFCA. Wow, it doesn't get any better than hearing the finalists give their incredible, hilarious, well-polished humor pieces. The kids and I were laughing so hard! Wish we could have gotten a dvd of them -- they were that good!


  • Not sure I can handle being a National Speech Championship quarterfinal judge again ... just about broke my heart to have to rank eight amazing pieces, knowing that some might not go on because of my choices, even though every single one was absolutely stellar.
  • After months of being "stuck in a rut" with my cooking, I finally got a 'new' cookbook (used, at a bookswap), did some actual menu planning for this week, and have been making some different dishes. What fun to try new things! Most of the family is happy ... all except for Ethan.


  • Going to the speech finals one more time today ... next year the national championship won't be happening in the D.C. area so this is might be our last chance to hear such amazing presentations for quite a while. (Won't be judging today -- phew!)


  • Just introduced my family to "Regarding Henry" ... and cried --*again*! Every time I see that movie, I blubber!
  • Came upstairs to discover Naomi at our computer reading this article and asking me to explain it to her. Love that my kids care about what's happening in the world...
  • My parents have now been back in America for a full year, working on Luke's adoption and trying to figure out employment that whole time. A week ago, my dad finally got word that the state of Virginia will honor his California medical license and let him practice medicine here. Georgia, on the other hand, is requiring lots of remediation, which would take both time and money. Praying for them to find just the right job and home...


  • Happy Father's Day to my Dad who raised me to love the world's diversity; to enjoy math, science, music and literature; to have an arsenal of happy camping memories; and to know that I am loved ... and to my husband who is Dad to my own children, who reads to them daily, sings to them each night, shares his love of history with them, wrestles, speaks Arabic, and plays strategy games with them. I love you both more than I can say...
  • Signed up to do a survey for our local Christan radio station, as they're trying to figure out what to play more and what to play less. Didn't realize there were going to be 390 songs to evaluate, though -- that's a LOT!! Glad it's fun and pretty quick work. Naomi's amazed at how many songs she's learned...
  • Have been attending our local church for the past 4 months, but have remained uncertain about it for the long-term. Today decided to go back to one of the churches we'd tried a few times back in the fall, and feel so refreshed! The teaching was great, and deep conversations afterward were like water to our spirits. Sure wish the church search was an easier process...


  • You know, if someone had decided (how many hundreds of years ago) to make "to lie" and "to lay" SO different that they never intersected (i.e. no form of "to lie" was ever written "lay"), there would have been so many fewer problems with the two words. I know: really deep thought for the evening (But on my mind since I'm trying to teach my children grammar!!)
  • Watching our first World Cup 2014 game: Iran v. Nigeria. Too bad the commentary is all in Spanish!


  • Today has been a day of pain -- not major and not mine, but troublesome nonetheless. Naomi's had a kinked neck; Josiah's had an upset stomach, headache and the trauma of allergy eye drops; Ethan fell forward off his chair and hit his lower jaw on the table, cutting his tongue and bruising his chin in the process. Pain-free though my own day was, I had to hear a lot of bellyaching!
  • We've been planning a camping trip for August, but hear that the mosquitoes are really bad where we'd thought of going. Since mosquitoes find me from miles around and feast on me and the kids like you wouldn't believe, I now feel like switching gears and doing something else. Or I could just daily bathe in a deet solution.


  • My nephew is visiting, and since it's in the high 90's, I've got the kids inside 'til the worst of the sun is past. I love it: they're not playing the Wii or watching a video ... they're playing a rip-roaring game of Dominion!! (strategy board game)
  • Being the hottest day yet (98), I'd planned to take my nephew and kids to a "splash park" and also invited my 5-year-old neighbor last-minute. Only to get there and discover that because the public schools are STILL in session, the splash park is closed. Pity the preschoolers, toddlers, home-schoolers and mamas who wanted a place to cool off today! Never mind: we came home, got out our hose, bucket, and bowls and had a massively fun time cooling off homemade-style! I think the kids loved pouring water on me and hearing me shriek
  • Making a youtube playlist for Naomi based on our recent Christan radio survey. Back in my day, the equivalent was sitting with a blank tape in a recorder and pressing "play/record" every time the right song came on the radio.


  • Found this oldie tonight... Seemed relevant given that today my recycling didn't get picked up as it should have. I had a conversation with my kids & nephew about the fact that I could have just put it out with my trash, but didn't. I'm trying to convince my more rural relatives that it's worth it for them to recycle, too, even though it's a bit more work since it means a trip to the recycling center. Talked with the kids about how each person on our planet saying "I'm just one person -- what I do doesn't matter" makes for a lot of pollution!
  • 'Tis the season of cold drinks! Making jugs of iced coffee and mint iced tea, instead of mugs of hot coffee and tea. If it weren't for mosquitoes and excessive sweat while exercising, I might actually enjoy summer (more)!


  • So lovely that Ethan got to spend one-on-one time with Mimi (Steve's mom) tonight ... he loves to talk and read aloud but doesn't usually get much attention without his siblings' interference or competition. Grown-up and child both relished the time together!
  • Finally saw the Lego Movie ... laughed a lot, enjoyed a few good messages in it, questioned a lot of other messages in it and discussed them with my older two on the half hour drive home ...


  • Saturday = Hands-on Real-life Education. Steve and his dad have torn out our dilapidated lower deck and are re-doing our upper deck. Kids are helping!
  • Our backyard used to have a wooden deck right outside our door, and a lower wooden deck beyond that. The lower deck is now gone; the joists of the upper deck have been strengthened; and the wood from the upper deck has been flipped so that the whole thing is in better shape. Now to stain the wood and deal with the mess left behind from the lower deck. Great job, Dad, Steve, Josiah and Ethan!!

  • Enjoyed having Meredith Omland over for dinner and Apples to Apples today So nice to have company, to hear what God's doing in her life, and to learn more about Mexico (her adopted home).

  •  Reading an amazing book called "Show Them Jesus" -- after all I've done with education and children's ministry, this is still blowing me away. Will write more when I finish the book... Also enjoyed another Sunday at United Wesleyan Church, and feeling more & more like it could be the right place for us...

  • Going cherry-picking today ... it's about time, as it's been four years since the kids have picked any fruit in a farm/orchard, and even longer since I've been fruit-picking!
  • I taught our 5-year-old neighbor how to play Othello and now Naomi is patiently playing a game with him. I need to take care of cherries!
  • Pitting cherries!!!! Now I'm glad I stopped at thirteen pounds, instead of getting even more. Thank goodness for extra hands (though some are less willing than others)...


  • Reading quality literature out loud to older kids = great opportunity to learn vocabulary! With the help of our trusty dictionary, just today we've worked on the words genteel, aplomb, malediction (using Latin roots!), and besom.
  • Weeding and pruning with the kiddoes ... my, how the warm weather and wet rains grow everything! The day started out cool enough to do such work outside, but we're heading in now because it's hot and we need a break! Thankful I have three kids who help with such tasks...


  • Ecuador's goalie was AMAZING! Too bad they didn't make any goals themselves, though...
  • Kids and I just finished "The Land" (by Mildred Taylor). Wow, her books are so good. It's really helped the kids understand more of what life was like in the South, around the turn of the century. Highly recommend for upper elementary or middle school (and adults!!)
  • Math puzzles for breakfast today ... my kids are solving them way faster than I did!


  • Amazing goal by Germany!!!
  • Special brunch with hand-picked cherries! The kids say "it's worth it" but they're not the ones who spent hours pitting... Still, it was VERY yummy. Probably worth it!
  • Most Delinquent Parent of the Year Award goes to ... ME! Finally getting around to giving Ethan a "half birthday" party this weekend because I never gave him a party in December and then failed to make up for it in January or February. Sigh... He's pretty excited about it and doing it now means we can play outside games and water activities!
  • Thinking about starting a tiny children's vocal ensemble in the Fall ... So far everything I can find regarding existing children's choirs in the area are either A) associated with a church (and thus presenting only on Sunday mornings), B) costing $550-1200 (no I am not joking!!!), or C) over an hour away. Not sure I'm capable of leading a vocal group myself but my daughter is getting desperate!


  • Went on a twilight walk with Naomi and she saw her very first flying bats (vs. hanging in a cave). I wish I could have recorded her reactions -- she was super excited and squealed the whole time about how much she loves bats and aren't they cute and she 'just couldn't believe' she was seeing BATS!
  • Finally getting some summer business ... two new students today!
  • Ethan's tongue is having a hard time wrapping around the words "Knick knack paddy whack" in "This Old Man" ... Kind of funny, but trying to slow it down for him so he can actually learn them. It's working!
  • Facebook themes for June: anniversaries, end-of-school pictures, and VBS. None of which apply to me. Feeling a bit 'out of it'!


  • Organizing two birthday parties within 3 days of each other -- Yikes! Being very low-key about food and decorations, though, since games is really my forte, and I usually over-worry about the unimportant stuff. Letting it go this time!
  • So glad we have a neighbor our age (actually a bit younger, and actually two neighbors since they're a couple), who's fun to talk to and who's done the PhD thing ... it's good for Steve to have someone to chat with, who can understand a tiny bit of what he faces.


  • Showed the kids "Radio" tonight. Such a great movie, full of redemption and encouragement.
  • Kids coming in 20 minutes. Think we're ready. Happy half-birthday, Ethan, my little extrovert!!
  • Another great morning at United Wesleyan Church ... so nice to actually look forward to Sundays again!


  • So cute to hear Josiah and Ethan making up scenarios together with Ethan's new "story cubes." I thought they'd sleep in this morning after all the excitement of yesterday and our late night, but no, they were up early playing with new things!!
  • Had a bucket and a pile of all my five biggest mixing bowls sitting on my front step yesterday as we were winding down the party ... STOLEN. Not cool. I used those mixing bowls ALL the time since I cook and bake from scratch for my family of 5. Really ticked off.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Billion to the Fourth Power

I don't know why, but I tend to teach math in the car. Which sometimes is really tricky when I'd like to be using my hands to draw an example or write down a list of numbers, and instead I've got them on the wheel (as I should!). Some of my kids appreciate this habit of mine, as they love math so much, it doesn't matter where we are or how I'm presenting it. Others of my kids have a harder time without a visual aid. Nonetheless, I found myself last week in the car with five youngsters, ranging in age from five to eleven years old, and we talked about all kinds of fun math.

I had recently been introduced to this website and at night had been working on some of its featured math puzzles. A few days later, the kids (including a nephew and a neighbor) and I were in the car longer than we thought we'd be, since an attempted outing came to naught. I decided to mention the puzzles to them so they could try finding some solutions. This led quickly to discussions about the Fibonacci sequence (which the 5-year-old could explain to us!!), Pascal's triangle, exponents, and how to multiply quickly by elevens.

I loved it. I loved that math could be so normal that we'd be discussing it the way we discuss movies or stories. I loved that every single kid in the car was engaged and interested. I loved that repeated, early exposures of 'difficult' concepts ends up making them easier down the road. I loved that everyone was actually being challenged to think in new ways, including myself!

The five-year-old was so interested in exponents that he asked me what a billion to the fourth power is. (Kids love to 'challenge' adults by asking them questions involving really big numbers.) I told him that I could show him a really fast way of solving that, but that it would have to wait until we got home so I could write on paper! When we got home, I showed him the fast way to write one billion (using 10^9) and then showed him how multiplying that by itself four times is easy as well, by multiplying the nine times four. He didn't know 9x4 off the top of his head, but he knew 9x2 and could double it to make the right answer. Smart cookie!

I hope that math can become even more fun and everyday for my kids and other children in my life. And I hope that when they think of me, they think of fun puzzles and discussions -- not dry lessons!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Almost Free Fun in Northern Virginia: Mini-Golf

A year ago, I only knew of local miniature golf courses that cost $7 (adults) or $6 (kids) for a single game. We used coupons from the summer reading program to reduce the cost a bit, but still paid a pretty penny for six of us to golf at Jefferson Falls Mini-Golf in Falls Church, Virginia.

Now I know better. I've discovered that the regional parks in Fairfax County have much cheaper mini-golf courses. Our family has enjoyed two of them in the past few months, so can compare and contrast them for you. One is Fountainhead Regional Park (in Fairfax Station) and the other is Pohick Bay Regional Park (in Lorton).

Fountainhead is a lovely park along the Occoquan River. It includes many amenities, including mountain bike trails, boat docks, and hiking. We were pleased to find that it also has a mini-golf course that only costs $2 per person! This price is for ball and club rental, and is good for as many games as you care to play during their hours of operation (the park closes at dusk). The course is right in the woods, so has the benefit of being shady. A potential drawback, though, is that tree debris falls onto the course, so if you care about perfectly clean greens, you might be annoyed.

If you care about aesthetics, you'll want to know that there aren't any cute structures built on the course and it is a bit run-down looking. The holes are still creative and fun, challenging us with their bridges and turns, and making us figure out proper angles for success. We cried out in frustration and squealed in glory, as one should in any good mini-golf course. We did not find the pine needles a hindrance in any way and the cheap cost was totally worth the lack of beauty. Another bonus is that a bathroom is close by. It will be my go-to place from now on!

Pohick Bay is a similar park in many regards. It also is on water, located at the bay where the Pohick Creek joins up with the Potomac River. It also has boat docks, hiking trails and additionally features a campground, frisbee golf course, and water park. Its miniature golf course is similar in price to Fountainhead's, but not quite as good: games cost $3 per person at Pohick Bay (again: play as much as you like during open hours, which are likewise 'til dusk).

The course at Pohick is better maintained and nicer looking. While still simple compared to commercial sites, it does have a few structures built on the course and has cleaner greens. The paths and holes are all in good repair, and my daughter especially appreciated the beauty of it. The bathroom is farther away, though, and is not obvious as one has to hike a short trail through woods to get to it. We had a great time playing at Pohick Bay, but I don't think the slightly better condition and looks were worth the extra money. To most people the extra $1 is not a big deal, but it adds up when you pay for many players.

So if you're looking for family fun in the D.C. suburbs, give these regional parks a try! I'm so glad we did. We love the memories we're making with our kids, the laughter we enjoy together, and even the improved skills the more we play! It's not quite free, but worth every dollar.

Monday, June 16, 2014

May 2014 in Status Updates

The beaches of North Carolina, May 31

5/1 Made a new dinner last night (Mexicana Veggie Bake) and it was a winner! Thankful for the friend who passed on her used cookbook to me (Speedy Suppers by Gooseberry Patch), and thankful for cheerful responses from my family. Music to a cook's ears!!

5/2 While weeding in our front garden (bordering on communal land, with no fence between), I came across a gold ring that has a fancy E engraved on it. I'm trying to figure out how to find its owner, but in the meantime, Ethan has gained much pleasure from wearing it (it says E after all) and pretending to be invisible. Can you tell he's currently reading Lord of the Rings?

5/5 Simultaneously proud of and happy for my husband Steve getting accepted into a funded PhD program in Islamic studies at Georgetown University, and wondering what the next few years will look like...

My heart's been breaking for those who loved the 2000+ people who died in Friday's landslides...  (in Afghanistan)

5/6 I have two new students today -- both in geometry -- yay! Thankful for Wyzant Tutoring connecting me with students who need help. Don't like giving away the commission, but at least I'm getting work! (later...) Wonderful students!!! Fun material!! What an awesome job I have!

5/7 Josiah discovered the 'voice recorder' function on my new cell phone today, and saw that I'd used it a month ago (while in IL) to record my piano dabbling. He got inspired and used it to record HIS piano playing (while I wasn't around) and even made it my new ringtone.

It just gets worse and worse. Possibly hundreds killed in another horrible attack by Boko Haram.   

5/9 My kids are thrilled with their consignment sale treasures ... stuffed animals, novels, and plastic soldiers all bought with their own money. I'm happy with my "new" books and games too, some of which will help me teach, and many of which will keep the kids happy while challenging their minds! They've already been playing Taboo Jr. this evening.

5/10 Coats, duvets and all winter apparel are now in the attic; windows have been open everyday; meals are being enjoyed on the back porch; guinea pigs are getting lots of outdoor time -- so are we I love Spring!! 

Hard to believe that my child who has struggled so much with speech difficulties is about to be in a short homeschool drama, which will include many individual lines for him to say ... I have the feeling that he might even outdo his brother and sister, since he has such a naturally loud and dramatic personality.

Scraping a deer hide in the Powhatan village at Historic Jamestown, May 11

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg, May 12

5/13 My kids just had the Best.Time.Ever. They got to take friends of theirs to the creek that they so love, AND it was hot enough (and the Moms were lenient enough) for all the kids to get to swim and enjoy natural water 'slides.' AND they found tadpoles, a frog, and a newt. Thankful!!!

5/15 The kids' drama teacher was so sweet to compliment each child individually at the end of today's final rehearsal for next week's skit. When she got to Ethan, she said she'd never heard him speak better and more clearly than today, and she and all the children clapped for him in particular. Made my mama heart proud and brought tears to my eyes.

5/16 Steve's helping with Georgetown's graduation this morning ... I presume their outdoor ceremony will be moved into the gym due to rain. He can't figure out why their Plan B is a gym instead of their nice hall, but oh well. At least he won't be standing in the sun!

Oh my goodness. Josiah's just discovered Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books and he is *tearing* through them!! So fun to see the kids get excited about good books! (I haven't read Le Guin myself, but she got raving reviews. I might just give her a try now!)

After torrential rain this morning, the beautiful sun has come out, allowing the kids to cheerfully look for worms and the guinea pigs to enjoy fresh grass. Think we'll take a creek walk to check out the water level and get some natural water for our tadpoles...      

5/18 Why did I decide to "Spring Clean" my closets and bookcases today? Bit off more than I could chew and now just want to collapse in bed early (like I did last night). Maybe the piles will just have to stay overnight... 

Progress made; job unfinished; going to bed anyway. Oh, and hoping that our troublesome guinea pig, who escapes every chance he gets and is currently 'missing' under our back deck, survives the night despite cool temps. I wouldn't miss him at all, but the kids would be heartbroken...

5/19 "I’m angry that some of the most genetically gifted women in the world – actresses and models – are still considered not good enough. I’m angry about what that means for the rest of us." Some good thoughts. I was just sitting in church yesterday looking at all the dyed hair of middle-aged women sitting next to their grey-haired husbands, thinking along similar lines. 

TIRED. Horrible night of sleep, followed by *long* day of errands and work. At least dinner was fun as we laughed over memories as we ate hamburgers at our picnic table. Love laughing with my family!!

Why do my children complain about going to library events? Today's program featured a local nature center, and despite Ethan's bellyaching all the way there, they had fun once it all started. They used nets to catch various pond creatures and then heard a naturalist share interesting facts about each critter. They saw a ghost shrimp, a pregnant mosquito fish, a baby snapping turtle, and baby clams, among others. Our world is an amazing place!

5/21 First day of "Couch to 5K" ... not totally successful, but anything active is more success than failure right now! Enlisting my daughter to be my partner, since we're equally out of shape. Now to hang on and keep going ... Jogging/walking the creek path was highly motivating!!     

So looking forward to seeing my mom's side of the family in just two days, as we gather for my cousin's wedding!! It will only be my second cousin wedding to attend despite the fact that I have 20 cousins.

5/22 Homeschool co-op end-of-the-year field games and picnic this morning, followed by final drama rehearsal and skit performance to a small audience of parents and friends. At home, trying to fit in teaching my neighbor how to care for our guinea pigs while also tutoring two students and packing for our trip. I'm tired Think I'll lie down 'til the next student comes...

My cousin Kelly and our grandma at Kelly's wedding May 24

Mom, cousin Alyssa, sister Saralynn, uncles Bob & Brian, me, in Georgia for my cousin's wedding, May 25

5/26 Getting mosquito bites INSIDE the condo (in Kitty Hawk, NC). Was only here 15-30 minutes and I had at least 5 or 6 new ones. My kids say that the mosquito is the one animal they'd be happy to see extinct.

5/27 Beach: best way to spend a vacation. Today saw dolphins, pelicans, a fish, and my three happy children, building in sand and trying a bogie board for the first time. Water was only 55*F -- so cold I could only take one-minute dips at a time -- but it was nice to cool us off on this warm day!

Josiah tries out a bogie board in Kitty Hawk, NC

5/28 Falling in love with the Outer Banks (North Carolina). So much less commercial than Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. Spent a total of an hour in the freezing ocean yesterday -- perfect for me, who hates hot temps. Visited the beach in the dark, too, and saw big crabs scuttling across the sand in the light of someone else's flashlight. Went right out to buy my own flashlight so I can take the kids to see the crabs another night...  

Visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial today, and saw the spot where Orville and Wilbur made the first controlled engine-powered airplane flights. Interesting history!

Success today: getting all my family INTO the ocean! Naomi and Steve joined me in the chest-high cold water, and Josiah was out there too, but mostly on his bogie board. Ethan got as wet as he could, but didn't come out to the same depth. The cold water was totally refreshing, and the squeals of glee from my children made my week!

5/29 Josiah seems to have gotten sick, and Ethan might be ill too. Bummer way to spend a vacation...

5/30 To prolong our beach vacation by one more day, we're camping tomorrow night -- for the first time in 3 years! Here's hoping we figure out our tents okay, that the boys feel better and that we stay warm enough to not be miserable. Oh, and it would be *really* nice if we spotted some wild horses -- would thrill Naomi's 11-year-old heart if we did! (6/1 Well, the only "wild horses" we saw in Ocracoke were the penned descendants of a wild herd. At least it was something! We also saw rabbits, something resembling a woodchuck, and a cool crab that buried itself in sand when frightened (Naomi even pet it!) (But the boys felt better and we were warm enough -- yay!) 

 Visited the location of the "lost colony" of Roanoke (1587) today ... not much to see but still fun to walk in their footsteps! Unfortunately the boys are still under the weather. You know when they choose a nap over swimming in the pool that something's not quite right!!      

We visit the first English (unsuccessful) colony in America.

6/1 Such a fun weekend!! It was the vacation we didn't want to ever end. Very hard to say goodbye to the ocean this afternoon, but we'll cherish the memories of falling asleep to crashing waves (while camping), star-gazing in a very black sky, seeing the sunrise over the shore today (though sand was blowing in our faces the whole time!!), and riding the kids' (and Steve's) first ferry (for cars). The boys have felt great and everyone liked camping (despite we adults not sleeping the greatest). Thankful!!

Love the lighthouses in North Carolina!
Highlights of today: waking up to melodic birdsong (we camped right next to a stand of bushes and trees to protect us from the strong winds), seeing the sunrise (which this night owl hardly *ever* gets to do), and eating Carolina BBQ (pulled pork sandwich) & fried okra -- DELICIOUS!!! Enjoyed every bite...  
The kids took their first ferry ride. May 31

We love the sand dunes of North Carolina! May 31

June 1

Looking for a Church ... Again

Why is finding a church such a difficult process?

When we first moved to the D.C. area, almost three years ago, we spent eight months looking for a home church. We tried every single one that people recommended to us (which were mostly way too big), plus ones we found online (which were mostly too small). In June 2012, we chose a church that was thirty minutes away from us (by car), and called it home for a year. It was a sweet place for us in many regards. After a few months, however, we realized there were some pressing issues that weren't being resolved no matter how hard we tried, and though we hated the idea of 'church-hopping', when we moved house, it made sense to find a new church closer to home.

In July of last year, we began looking for a church within a 15-minute drive from our house, trying all kinds and denominations. We visited Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Bible churches. We tried Wesleyan and Vineyard, Presbyterian and Anglican churches. We even tried an 'artsy' church that only had about 20 people at their Taizé service. Despite the uncertainty we faced each Saturday night -- "Where are we going tomorrow?" -- I actually enjoyed and appreciated the diversity of the Church. God's world is so big, and He's made us to be creative and unique people. I'm glad that churches aren't all the same! I found beauty in liturgy, and refreshment in spontaneity; richness in old hymns, and excitement in contemporary music; peace in sharing Communion with a Body I didn't know, and joy in celebrating the world's diversity with a parade of nations.

Ultimately, though, we're called to be part of a particular community, where we can grow our roots and become family with other members. And now a year later, that's what we're still lacking. Six months ago, we had narrowed our choices down to three churches, but in February, decided to try our local church for the first time. Amazingly, it fit many of our criteria and the fact that it was in our own neighborhood was a huge bonus. We attended almost weekly for the past four months, and even got involved in ESL ministry. We really thought and hoped it would be the right fit for us.

Unfortunately we're encountering a few roadblocks and wondering if we've been in the wrong place. 1) They are looking for a new pastor, and in the meantime, other staff members are preaching. We're struggling with the quality of teaching. 2) Even though we've done more than just 'show up' each Sunday morning, people have not been terribly friendly to us. Especially given Steve's time and energy that he's put into ESL classes, we're surprised that no one has wanted to get to know us. It's just expected that he'll keep teaching! 3) We really don't agree with Reformed theology and especially the conservative brand of it (PCA). Personally (more for me than Steve) the traditional format of worship and never getting to hear from women up front will (I think) really wear on me. Since both of us are more Arminian than Calvinist in our theology, Presbyterian churches aren't the greatest fit for us.

So.... last night we decided to try one of our previous "top three" again. This morning we attended United Wesleyan Church, and felt refreshed by the great sermon, enthusiastic worship singing, and amazing conversations afterward. The teaching was vulnerable, relevant and even grabbed our children's attention. How sad we were to hear that their pastor is resigning, though -- yet another church which will be in transition right when we're trying to get *more* settled, not less! It is a small church, (and we were hoping to avoid one quite that small, mostly because our home-schooled kids could really use a good source of friendship) but we'd already decided that small is better for us than big.

Despite its problems, we are wondering if this might have been the right fit for us after all. I remember the very first time we'd tried United, and the tears that had trickled down my cheeks as I'd watched half the pews fill with Africans. I've often longed for a touch of Nigeria here in America; the ladies' vibrantly colored dresses, and all of their dark skin made me think, "I've come home." Just as importantly, the church staff have international experience and hearts that beat for the world. These are folks with whom we feel a real connection (even though we barely know them) and with whom we've had remarkable conversations. This has been hard to find, given Steve's Islamic studies and our interest in true dialogue and friendship with Muslims. Most Christians we've encountered, especially pastoral staff, just don't understand where we're coming from and have a completely different view of how to act towards people of other faiths.

We continue to ponder all these things ... trying to balance theology and teaching and children's ministry and relationships and worship style. Many have said to me, "No church is perfect -- just pick one! You're taking too long!" And yet, we feel like we are choosing a spouse, patiently and prayerfully waiting on God's guidance for the right one. We want to be committed. We want this decision to be "for keeps" if at all possible. We will be here for five more years, Lord willing, and while we know that no church is perfect, we also believe God has a good fit for us. Hoping to settle on it soon....

Monday, June 9, 2014

On Being Fat

I never thought I'd be fat.

I confess that I used to look at overweight people and think, "How did they get like that?" or "Thank goodness that's not me!" The problem of weight seemed so removed from my own life. As a child, I was never skinny, but I think it's safe to say that I was very average-sized. I wasn't the most active kid on the block, but I liked to bike and skate, and even took pleasure from running the mile in 8 min. 48 sec. in fifth grade -- four whole seconds faster than my secret love at the time! For my entire childhood, my mom cooked amazing homemade dishes for us: international dinners, delicious breakfasts, and brown-bag lunches that included her handwritten notes. But over-eating was not an issue, nor was junk food (since it wasn't ever in my home).

College was the first time I remember struggling a little bit with self-control and food. My school had an amazing all-you-can-eat cafeteria with high quality, delicious food. Plus I was "on my own" and could make my own decisions about what I ate, without parents giving me limits or keeping things out of the house. I know I must have gained weight during those four years, but it wasn't a big deal to me, and didn't change how I thought of myself. By the time I got married and then pregnant for the first time, I was back to my average weight. Even after giving birth to my first, I was able to lose my pregnancy pounds not too long after.

But for the past 7 years or so, weight has been an increasing struggle, and I'm not sure why. I know I've been less self-controlled in my eating, even turning to food for comfort now, which I never used to do. Maybe it's also the fact that I'm getting older and my metabolism is changing. I've lived 3 of those years overseas, with no car, so I certainly did lots of walking and cycling. But exercise for the sake of exercise has always been difficult for me, and I'm sure that's a component as well. Along the way, I've learned some things I never expected to.

1) Being overweight is both all-consuming and no big deal. 
This is a strange paradox for me. On the one hand, being fat has become my identity. It means I hate to look in mirrors and I hate to have my picture taken. It makes it hard to hear my husband say I'm beautiful and probably even affects my relationship with God. I find it hard to choose clothes that look good on me, and every morning, I come to the same conclusion: I'm ugly.

But in some bizarre way, a lot of the time, it's very much not my identity. If I am engrossed in what brings me joy, I'm likely to forget that other people are looking at me and surely thinking how overweight I am. When I'm running with the kids at a gym night I've organized, or jumping in the waves at the beach; when I'm singing harmony in church, or reading aloud on a park bench and getting surrounded by more and more curious children ... these are my moments of bliss. And in those times, I feel normal. I forget my obesity.

2) It's a heck of a lot harder to lose weight than I ever thought.  
In my momentary choices to eat a third or fourth cookie because they tasted so darn good and made me so happy at the time, it didn't cross my mind how hard it would be to eventually get back to "average weight." Thankfully, I'm not still at my all-time high. I'm at least ten pounds lighter than that; nonetheless, I never envisioned that losing pounds would be such an uphill battle.

3) I have no idea what other overweight people are facing and am in no place to judge. 
I used to feel proud of my size and grateful that obesity wasn't one of my issues. Now my heart is softened. I look at others and think, "I don't know them and their own situation, but I do know they're a precious, valued person no matter what. And golly, they are beautiful!" Who am I to judge, when we all have different genes, different struggles, different medical conditions?

4) Every bit of encouragement helps. 
These days I really take it to heart when someone tells me what a nice smile I have, or how nice my singing is, or what sweet letters I write. I've never considered myself beautiful anyway, but certainly now, if I receive any encouraging word from someone, my spirit is lifted and I feel new hope. Maybe I am still lovable. Maybe people can see past my weight and to the heart inside me. Maybe I'm not completely ugly after all.

I desperately want to become healthy. I want to acquire the precarious balance of being content with who I am and striving for something more. I want my body to be healthy, my heart to be strong, my figure to be slimmer. But I also want to love myself and feel confident in the love of God and others. What a struggle. I never thought it would be mine. But it is.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Speech for Ethan -- a Parent's Quandary

Since the time Ethan was a baby, and he didn't babble as normal babies do, we've been concerned about his difficulty with speech. People tried to reassure us that he'd "just start talking in sentences" once he "decided" to talk, but that was not the case. It wasn't until he got one-on-one therapy in Oxford, at age 3, that he even spoke his first words. And when I say "words" I mean things like "bee" to mean "tea" and "toe" to mean "toast" (very important first words in Britain!)

After just a few months of therapy in Oxford, we moved to Amman, Jordan. We actually only agreed to that relocation upon hearing that there was a private special education school in the city that offered speech therapy services. Even though we were receiving no income at the time (Steve was a full-time Arabic language student), we 'invested' our money in private therapy for Ethan and he blossomed under his therapist Maha's direction. He could finally produce some of the tricky sounds that had previously eluded him.

Despite the impressive improvement, most people still couldn't understand Ethan, and when we moved to the U.S. in 2011, he easily qualified for speech therapy through the preschool program in Rockbridge County, Virginia. In fact, the evaluating therapist was frankly baffled by Ethan's speech problems, and said he'd never seen a student quite like him before. Ethan's intelligibility was low in conversational speech but much better in single words. Some of his sounds were so strange, the therapist was tempted to say he had 'speech dyspraxia,' but since Ethan didn't really fit the criteria of that diagnosis, no official label was given.

Within days of having Ethan's IEP in hand, we moved to Washington, D.C. where we'd been told he could receive therapy at our local Maryland school, even as a homeschooler. Sadly, this was misinformation: it turned out that every school district has the choice of whether or not to help unenrolled students with special needs. And Prince George's County most decidedly does NOT help. So Ethan spent his first two of three eligible years *not* receiving any services. His intelligibility steadily improved, which we were thankful for, but when the time came to move and we looked for a new house, a primary concern was finding a school district that would help him.

Here in Fairfax County, Virginia, the local school has indeed acknowledged Ethan's IEP, and been willing to give him therapy despite the fact that we homeschool. We are grateful. The school is a ten-minute walk away, and he's gotten 1-2 hours per month of help there. But compared to the other three therapists Ethan had in the past, this one has been the least effective, concerned, and thorough. It's been disappointing. She has focused solely on his ability to read aloud and produce sounds when given those visual cues. She has noticed new problems but never put them in an official IEP update. She claims that he's reached 90% accuracy without hearing him talk for long stretches and using a ticker to keep track of his errors. And now, near the end of his eligibility window, she's firmly saying that he no longer needs services and will not get a new IEP.

Ethan's sounds certainly have improved, and some people who hear him talk have no problem understanding him. But I still hear many problems in his speech: final consonants dropped ("God" is pronounced "Gah" routinely), indistinguishable medial vowel sounds (short i and short e sounding the same, for example), a very indistinct /er/ sound in the middle of words and weak /r/ in general, to name a few. Additionally, his multisyllabic speech, especially in conversation, is difficult to understand. 

So now I'm stuck, not knowing whether I'm just being over-anxious or whether I'm justified in my concern (especially given his dad's speech difficulties and other family history). I'm stuck not knowing whether I should pursue the possibility of further eligibility by going to the head of Fairfax County Special Services, or whether I should take the therapist at her word that there's nothing more to be done. Maybe Ethan's continuing maturity *will* straighten everything out in the end. Maybe there's nothing more that professionals can do. Maybe it's all up to me and him now. I just know that when professionals told Steve's mom to not worry about his speech issues, assuring her he'd grow out of them, they were wrong. Steve did need more help, and I even wish he'd gotten more than he did. 

What will help Ethan most in the long run? Do I keep pushing 'til the head person finally says "yea or nay"? My son loves to talk, loves little more than chatting even to strangers. My hope and prayer is that his speech becomes as 'normal' as possible, so that he can maintain his verbal confidence and be understood as he shares his voice with the world.