Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Facebook Memories

I have a love hate relationship with Facebook, especially with the daily memories that pop up in the feed first thing every day. I remember when these first started showing up. I loved how they reminded me of things I had forgotten. These memories were normally something cute or funny about the kids, or maybe a vent about a frustrating farm or parenting day. Most, in hind sight, would make me laugh. Sometimes, they left a bittersweet feeling that the kids were growing up so quickly.

The last year Facebook memories are like walking through a mine field. I tell myself I should turn them off, but I am drawn to them. Some still bring warm fuzzies, but so many are laced with the pain of loss.

Did you realize the memories feature brings up posts your tagged in? Tim used to tag me in posts all the time bragging about something I had cooked or done that day. I really did find it embarrassing for him to put that out publically, but deep down I appreciated his appreciation. With him doing this on a semi regular basis, and Facebook pulling from years of posts, posts he tagged me in show up in my memories almost daily.

And there are the pictures. . . This one showed up recently, and I can't get it out of my mind.

Many of my West Virginia homeschooling friends may recognize this event. It was one of the homeschool dances. We were at the 4-H camp.

What I can't stop thinking about is how young, healthy, and happy we look in this picture. We weren't exactly young and it wasn't exactly an easy time for us. It was taken six years ago, October 2010, a few months after my dad died, but before the weight of that had really settled on our shoulders I think, and a few months before Tim's initial diagnosis.

Six years isn't that long. Kids change a lot in six years. Adults don't, but we did in those years. Well, I guess in less than six years. This was taken a little more than four years after the photo above. Yes, we were still smiling, still so much in love. We were to the end, but those years took their toll on us both. When I look in the mirror now, my face seems so much older than this even.

In the midst of those years I didn't realize how hard they were until we were past them. The stress we created for ourselves trying maintain the farm seems foolish now. The juggling of work, family, sickness, and daily life stuff was incredibly stressful, though I would have never said that. I was too busy trying to keep the balls in the air to even recognize it. But I see it in these pictures. I see it in the mirror.

It is hard to tell what I may find when I open up Facebook memories. I probably should avoid the mine field of memories, but I know I won't.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

And He is Off

Two weeks ago (oh how time files) we dropped Kellen off in New Hampshire to begin his new adventure as a college student. For months I've been looking toward this milestone with mixed emotions.

I am so incredibly proud of Kellen. We all used to mention him attending an Ivy League school tongue in cheek, but it happened. It actually happened for this no town farm boy, who was mostly homeschooled by a mom who was often too busy to know what he was really doing, and who finished school at a small private school that didn't offer all academic bells and whistles many of his current classmates had.

I worry about him. This is going to be a challenge. I remember the rude awakening I had my freshman year of college. It was different. I actually had to work for my grades. I found I really didn't know how to do that. I imagine Kellen is going to have a more intense version of that experience.

I worry about him keeping his focus and his priorities straight. Ivy League or not, school isn't everything. It isn't even the most important thing. College is pretty much synonymous with distraction. I pray he keeps his heart soft and turned to the Lord.

It is hard to let go. Kellen is incredibly responsible and wise for his age, but still a momma doesn't want to let her (18 year old) baby go. He truly is functioning as an adult now. He has to manage his time and his money. He has to make decisions and face challenges that may have long lasting consequences. He is too far away for me to rescue, even if I wanted to. He is on his own with my advice only if he asks me for it. I am entering the empty nest stage, and that transition is hard to swallow.

It is even harder alone. I am sure if Tim was still here we'd still be a little sappy about our first born leaving and our family dynamic changing, but we'd also be cheering a little on the inside. We had big plans for those empty nest days. Maybe not specific plans, but plans to enjoy our job well (we hoped) done. Plans to enjoy each other without the constant interruptions where we could do what we wanted without the input and opinions of four others. We loved our kids and we loved our family time, but we loved being us even more. Tim always said we were raising them to leave us, but we never got to see that side of it.

People have asked me repeatedly if I cried when I dropped off Kellen. I didn't, but I am now.

With Kellen being so far away in a part of the country I have visited little and the other kids not at all, I decided we will make a mini vacation of taking and picking up Kellen from Dartmouth. Driving there will likely happen just twice a year. He will fly back for the shorter breaks. This trip out we went to Niagara before dropping Kellen off. The younger kids and I stopped at the NY Finger Lakes on the way back. We did have fun, and it did break up the very long car ride.

Kellen will be fine. I am confident he will thrive there. I will be fine. It is just another life change that I have no power to stop even if I wanted to. It is just this life.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Moving to West Virginia ala Lydia

The last few weeks have been. . well let's just say intense. New schooling, a mini vacation, and taking a kid far far away to college has been. . . an adjustment. I intend to post about these things sometime when I can get my head wrapped around them, and find a few minutes to compose them into legible sentences. but I just had to share this.

Lydia's first writing assignment was to write a memoir. I love her take on this story, even if she has taken a bit of artistic licence with some details. She is just a gem.

Moving To West Virginia
 “Well, I’ve done it,” my grandfather announced, proudly, during dinner one night.
  “Done what?” Mother replied.
  “Bought land to build a farm, of course,”
  Mom and Dad dropped their fork.  “Did what now?” Dad said in shock.
  “Bought land to build a farm,” Papaw answered, simply, as if he were discussing the weather.

  In the year 2004-2005 my mother’s parents decided to pick up their belongings and move four hours from Akron, Ohio to Wild and Wonderful, West Virginia. This subject had been on the table for mere months, but Papaw, being Papaw, bought it without a second thought. And so began our new adventure.

  I remember one time Mom and Dad took me and my two brothers to visit the new farm. The mini-van had about a fourth of a tank of gas. So poor Mother, having no clue about country life vs. city life, decided to pull into the first gas station she could find. There were, of course, no gas stations unless you went into town as all the locals knew. We, predictably, ran out of gas before reaching the land that was to be our new home. Papaw and the neighbor, John, had to come to our rescue with a can of gas and snacks.   
  Not long after our visit, my father took a job selling music, pushing him to join my grandparents in West Virginia. My mother began packing up our little duplex with the help of Kellen, my eldest brother. Three months later we were settling our lives in a single wide we shared with my grandparents. Soon after that we switched to tents on our new 104 acres of land and finally graduated to our own separate mobile homes. By that time Mother was hugely pregnant.  My baby sister, Vivian and spring had come with them hundreds of oak, maple, and ash trees leaves.

  Our first animal was small mutt puppy, named Pac. Pac was the first of many creatures to join the team. My favorites will always be the ones that ran around in John’s barn and pasture. Papaw had left early one morning to pick up a sofa from some odd town a few hours away. When he came back that afternoon he had twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.
  “Lydia,” he whispered to me, “I have surprise for you, but you must promise to share it with your Mamaw, OK?”
  “OK,” I replied.
  Everyone piled into the car and headed to the barn. Instead of a sofa, Papaw brought home a tall brown horse, who was very pregnant. I was beyond ecstatic. Mamaw named her Sophie to remind Papaw that the horse was not part of the plan.  After Sophie gave birth to Biscuit, Papaw decided that he should have a friend, and so came along Diamond and eventually Diamond gave birth to Ruby.
Years passed and we had acquired piles of junk, that no one had any use for. Cows were constantly escaping the fences that we had no time to fix. The goats were heavy with milk because we had no time to milk them. The sheep were sweating bullets because we had no time to shear them. So we downsized to gardens, pigs, and chickens. We battled them for another four years.

  In late fall of last year we went back to Akron to visit some friends. The day after we got back Kellen and I caught Mom looking at houses in Wadsworth, Ohio. And so began a whole new adventure. By spring we had house and two acres of land.   

 My father always said that “Failure is your friend.” We had failed many times in our years of farming. Small failures such as a cow escaped the pasture, a raccoon hunted a couple of chicks for his dinner, or the mothering sow lost a few piglets after giving birth. There were big failures too like not ever building  proper houses and just living in mobile homes that were way past their prime, not going through our messes that piled up after eleven years of living there, or not being able to keep up with the farm after Papaw and Dad passed away. We may be back where we were in the first place, but we’ve learned and we’ve grown and now we are living the life in front of us.   

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lydia's Little Room

Our house has four bedrooms. I took the only one with an attached full bathroom. It was also my choice because it was separate from all the other bedrooms. Momma needs her space sometimes. I gave the boys the largest bedroom because they will share when Kellen is home from college. Then I braced myself for what I was sure would be a cat fight between the girls about the remaining bedrooms.

One is decent size and attached to a 1/2 bath that is also open to the living area. The other is tiny. I think it will be a perfect laundry room for me when the kids are gone. The previous owners used it as a sitting room. It had a love seat and  TV which was mounted to the wall. It seemed crowded even then. I didn't think either girl would choose that room.

I was wrong. Lydia was quick to grab it up, saying, "I don't even care. I just want my own room. It will be cozy." In West Virginia the girls shared a fairly small room. Lydia likes peace, quiet, and alone time. Vivian wants to talk constantly, ask a million questions, and always be right there. I think it is pretty easy to see the kind of drama we had at a constant simmer in that house.

Lydia's little room does have a couple of nice perks. It has a good sized closet with shelving. It is over a stairwell where previous owners built steps that serve as shelves too.

The room also has a lighted nook. I'm not sure what the original intent of that nook was, but for Lydia it is a reading corner. She put a bean bag there, and can hide away for hours reading. You can't even see her in there when you poke your head in her room.

Lydia and I searched Pinterest for space saving ideas. One you can see by her book nook, floating book shelves. (Oops looks like she needs to fix the back cover on that one.) These are super cool. She chose her "pretty books" to put on these shelves. Functional and decorative, that is how we roll. Of course that wasn't enough book room for her. There is another book shelf in there too.

The other idea we got from Pinterest was to make a platform bed from a dresser. This project cost less than $50. Lydia and Kellen completed this project. We had to buy a sheet of plywood and we got new drawer pulls for the dresser. We used a dresser we already had, paint left from another room we painted before we moved in, and 2x4 and other hardware we had on hand.

Lydia removed two doors from the piece to leave open shelving. She painted the dresser. We hadn't figured out the homemade chalk paint yet, but she lightly sanded the dresser, used Kilz and then two coats of paint on it.

The dresser isn't quite long enough. She used another small set of drawers we've had forever (seriously I had this piece in my room in high school, painted black) to fill the gap. The dresser isn't wide enough for the mattress. Kellen attached a 2x4 to the wall behind, and then ripped the plywood to be twin size. The plywood rests on the dresser and the 2x4, and of course the mattress on top. This creates a gap which Lydia uses as extra storage, and the cats use as a hiding place.

The room is small, but it doesn't feel crowded at all. She has plenty of storage space, a sitting area, and most importantly room for all her books.

She is happy in there. Vivian is happy in her larger room. I am happy that they are happy, that the little room is very functional on the cheap, and that the drama in the house has been knocked down a level. It is a win all the way around.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Good Dirt

Since moving, I've been at a loss with what to do with our food scraps. If you've saved your food scraps for over ten years to feed to chickens, it feels like sacrilege to throw them in the garbage. I hoped to make a nice compost area, you know with a fence and all, but I just wasn't getting to that project. I would cringe every time I threw food scraps away, and finally decided I'd just make a compost pile until I got something better in place. The previous owners piled their fall leaves under some of the large pines. That seemed like a good place to start.

I don't know how long they were piling them there. The yard has roughly a dozen large maples, so I imagine (and will soon experience) the fall leaves are abundant. I just threw the scraps on top. After a few days of this, flies found the pile, and I decided I should turn the pile over some. I got a nice surprise. The top maybe three feet is pretty much leaves that have barely begun to break down, but under that was beautiful rich soil.

I miss my garden. I have enjoyed shopping at our local farmers market, but it just isn't the same (although a lot less work) as putting the seeds into good dirt, tending them, and watching them produce. I relish the fruit of my garden, but I've come to understand that although it is work and sometimes frustrating work, I really do enjoy the process.

In the last few weeks in my reading, in small groups, at the church I attend, and even in one I recently visited the comparison of faith and life in Christ to the gardening process has come up over and over again. Our faith is often referred to as a small seed. It needs good dirt. It needs nurturing. It needs protecting. It will grow. It will produce fruit, but it is a process.

I've been impatient with the process. The verse that has been on my mind the last couple weeks is James 5:7-8.
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Before I probably would have read the "coming of the Lord" as the second coming, but now I am seeing that to be more of the coming of the Lord in my heart. I can't make the tiny seed of faith in my heart grow, but I can nurture it while I wait patiently for it to grow and produce fruit. Like gardening it may be hard, painful, and sometimes frustrating, but it is a beautiful process.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

One Year

One year.  As with so many other life events, it seems like another life time while it seems like yesterday. This life moves on. It doesn't allow us to hold onto what is gone. Kids grow up. Things change. You learn to function in the new and unfamiliar.

But I still miss us.

I wake up many mornings with Tim on my mind. I wish I woke with happy memories, but my mind seems stuck on those last few days. It almost makes me angry. Over twenty years of memories to pull from, but I can't get the worst of our days from the forefront of my thoughts.

Looking back I realize how much denial we were in those last few weeks. I wish we had realized the point we were at much sooner.

I look back on those last days and true to my personality, I was busy taking care of the practical and neglected the things of the heart, Tim's heart, my heart, and the kids. Though I know there is no sense dwelling on any of that, my mind goes there unbidden. It is almost like I dream about it before I wake.

Our life in the last year has changed dramatically, yet in many ways things don't change. Moving to a new place with old friends has been an incredible blessing. I am so thankful for our new home and fellowship. You may remember I did a lot of second guessing about the move. I can say I have no regrets about the move. It has been good for all of us.

There is still laughter. Kids still bicker. We have fun times. Sometimes things are difficult and frustrating. This life moves on, and keeps changing but as a family it seems to move on off balance, sometimes slightly, other times grossly so.  I think we will always feel off balance without Tim.

We have learned to function as a family of five. We are pretty good at the practical things, but I worry that we aren't very good at heart matters. I wonder if I should do more for the kids there, but don't even know how to.

A year later, the grief is less acute. At times it hits me like a wall, but mostly it is just a constant undercurrent to our lives. That undercurrent is what pulls us off balance.

A year without Tim. . .

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Worth It

For the past couple of weeks I've had words swirling in my head. Words I was sure would come out in a blog post titled, "This is the Hardest Time of Parenting." This time is hard. Watching older children become adults struggling with things you can't help with, making decisions you question, and trying to decide when or if you should say anything is so difficult. Mix in Mr. Middle School, Miss Preteen, and of course doing this solo, and yes, this is a very challenging time in the parenting journey.

But aren't they all?

I was reminded of that today at Goodwill of all places. I went alone. (Going places alone is one aspect of this time of parenting that I must say is GLORIOUS!) I was trying on some things and there was a woman next to me with several young children in the fitting room with her. (Later I saw there were four girls roughly 3 to 10.)

It started rather calmly. It sounded like they were all trying things on, but of course every child was talking to mom and each other all at the same time in that tiny room.

I remember the days of shopping with four children. It was simply overwhelming. Sensory overload is the best way I can describe it. You are trying to think, accomplish a task, and manage four little ones who are fighting, asking you to buy things, running away from you, and sometimes just simply talking to you.

You could hear the noise level escalate. The mother's hushes got more annoyed. The oldest child tried to help with the youngest to no avail. The mother's frustration grew until she finally bursts out with, "Will you just shut up for a minute?!" Then the youngest child started crying. Oh, I have been there.

And it made me laugh, to myself of course.

I wasn't laughing at her, and I guess I wasn't laughing with her either. She surely wasn't laughing. I guess I was laughing at myself for forgetting that stage of parenting. It was the hardest time of parenting, in a different way from this time.

I remember fussy babies, non stop nursing, and no sleep. I remember stopping at every public restroom in sight during potty training. I remember trying to teach a kid to read while the toddler tore apart the house. I remember (and am still living) kids going through puberty, hurt feelings, attitudes, and becoming a taxi service for children. You know what? Every last stinking minute of it was the hardest time ever, and it was the most wonderful time ever.

These four, they are the best things Tim and I ever did, and every stage of parenting came with challenges, but it also came with many joys. These four are worth it!

Monday, July 11, 2016

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!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Tomorrow would have been Tim's 40th birthday. It seems like this would be a day to remember how wonderful he was, or how much we miss him. While these things certainly are true, the only thing I can feel about this day is ripped off.

I am angry. I am not sure who I am angry at, but I do know why. He was entirely too young. It is so unfair. I hate that he never got to see any of our kids graduate, get married, or meet our grandchildren. I hate that we didn't have those golden years together, the ones we talked about having when the kids were all grown and gone. I hate that for every special event of the kids' lives, he will be announced as the "late" Timothy Appleton.

And I guess I don't hate these things for his sake. Truly, he is better off. So, I guess I hate these things for myself and for the kids. I hate that I have to be the one to console the children when I don't even know how to console myself.

I hate that Vivian came into my room tonight crying. When I asked her why she was crying she told me because she didn't want to go to college. She is 10. Of course, that wasn't the root of the emotion. The root was a double whammy. She is scared of losing me. That isn't the first time she has expressed that. What can you say to that? How do you reassure a hurting child without making promises she knows all to well that you may not be able to keep?

The other root of the issue was a first. She said she didn't want to move. Previously she has been the most excited about moving. Tonight she said she didn't want to move because this place reminded her of her daddy. Because everywhere she looked she saw something he did or something he worked on. Ironically, these are some of the biggest reasons I want to move.

How is this even fair? I've been ripped off. The kids have been ripped off.

Grief is raw and ugly. It sometimes smacks you in ways you don't expect. I've vented. I've cried. I will feel better about this in the morning.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Essay One - Kellen

This kid, he is pretty special. I remember when he was little how people would gush with comments about his intelligence. Yes, I knew he was smart, but I didn't want to be one of those parents. You know, the kind that go on and on about their kid. Yes, their kid is great at such and such, but their really not all that. Come on, you know what I mean.

I remember his preschool teacher helped to keep that perspective. He was four. All my questions for her were academic in nature. She squashed that by telling me Kellen was fine academically, but she'd seen kids who could do more. She went on to say she wasn't focused on that so much as she was on their social development and interaction, and he needed to work on that. Well!  Hmph! Ok, she was right.

We chose homeschooling from the beginning, partly (alright, largely) because of the area we were living in, but also because he was above average academically. I'd been in the classroom with above average boys, and let me tell you, at the middle school level these boys were bored. They didn't care about being challenged. They were content to sit back, create problems in the classroom, and get their A's and B's without trying. Oh no! Not my son!

I think maybe because we homeschooled and because he was my first, I didn't realize how far above average he was. Truthfully, I am thankful for that. We never pushed him. We never overwhelmed him with activities and enrichments. He was naturally curious. He naturally recalled just about everything he read or heard. He always thought about things a little differently than the rest of us. We simply provided an atmosphere where he could explore his interests. Yes, we had textbooks, but a lot of time was spent at the library, in the woods, at museums, or just at home with a strict screen time limit.

It was around middle school (darn that age!) where Kellen started to discover for himself his relative intelligence, and he was quick to let you know. Apologies to all in our homeschool circle at that time. He did get a little big for his britches. Thankfully, (for all of us) a little maturity and some trips to CTY helped to humble him.  Sadly, difficult life circumstances have also kept him humble and given him perspective.

If you know Kellen, you know he will talk about facts and information until your head is spinning, but he doesn't often talk about personal things. College applications required him to write about some of these things. He wrote some beautiful essays. With his permission, I am going to share some of them here. I'm sharing them because I'm proud of him, but also because this blog often serves as our family scrapbook, and I want those essays to be a part of that.

The question:
We are interested in learning more about you and the context in which you have grown up, formed your aspirations, and accomplished your academic successes. Please describe the factors and challenges that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors helped you to grow?

Kellen's essay:
The weight plummeted to the ground, the arm flew, and the rock whistled through the sky before hitting the gravel with a distant thud. The first thing my family’s farm taught me was to learn by doing. Because of that, I built my trebuchet. Time for the second shot. I pulled the arm to the ground. A quick hand wave signaled my brother to load the rock. I released the arm. The weight plummeted, the arm swung, and the whole trebuchet collapsed into a heap of broken wood. The second thing I learned is that nothing goes as planned. A few weeks of hard work later, and I had reconstructed the trebuchet. The third thing I learned is that failure is just something to learn from.
When I was seven, my family moved to my grandparents’ farm in West Virginia. Everyone had plans. My grandfather planned to run the farm into his seventies and my dad planned to help. My parents planned to homeschool their children. For a while, the plans worked. My grandfather bought a tractor and a bulldozer. My dad took a job selling music, but was able to help out in the evenings and on the weekends. My mom gardened and taught my siblings and I at home. 
Farms are incubators of curiosity. Growing up, I was surrounded by equipment, tools, electricity, and mechanics. Animals constantly lived, grew, reproduced, and died all around me. Every day I asked the questions, “Why, what, and how?” How does this valve control the water flow? What materials stop electricity? Why does this motor spin? If I cut this tree, will it fall on that power line? I found my answers by pure exploration. Valves got taken apart. I touched different tools to the electric fence until I found one that wouldn’t shock me. As I grew older, I discovered that math and physics held the answers to my questions. The motor spins because a current flowing through a coil around a magnet makes the magnet spin. I measured the tree using a sextant and trigonometry. When I applied my learning, I found I could answer the most important question, “How can I do this better?” With learning, I found that I could make the lives of those around me easier. 
Farming is hard. It’s a full-time commitment regardless of the circumstances. There are animals to be fed, gardens to tend, and a constant cycle of maintenance to be tackled every single day. As I said, nothing goes as planned. Just a few years after buying the farm, my grandfather was killed driving his tractor. I was 12 when he died; after that, my dad was in charge of the farm. However, farming isn’t profitable, and he still had to work a full-time job. With my dad at work, most of the day-to-day tasks were my responsibility. I condensed my schoolwork into three or four hours a day, and I spent another three or four hours working. I quickly learned to feed, weedeat, and build fences. When my dad came home from work, we worked together to finish whatever I wasn’t strong enough or skilled enough to do on my own. 
A few years later, my parents both took teaching jobs at a tiny Christian school, and my three siblings and I enrolled in the school. I was fifteen when I began attending school as a sophomore. The school wasn’t ideally equipped. There were few classes more advanced than “honors” classes, but I thrived in the newfound academic structure. The plan seemed to go well. With the extra time in the summers, the farm was more productive than ever before. However, after a year of teaching, my father had a past cancer return. As his condition worsened, I steadily assumed his responsibilities on the farm. His health spiralled downward until he died the August before my senior year. After my father’s death, all the plans we’d made became impossible. 
I’ve followed my parents' plan my entire life. Their plan didn’t work out like they hoped, but that didn’t hinder me from constantly asking questions and finding the answers. I plan to maintain that curiosity for the rest of my life. I plan to learn as much as I can for as long as I can, and to use that learning to help people do things better. Plans are only so much. Plans are imperfect. Plans fail and sometimes that can’t be helped. The only thing to be done is to look forward and keep learning.

Thursday, April 07, 2016


Tuesday I came across a notebook of family mementos my Aunt Nancy, my mother's sister, put together. I wept as I read of the death of their biological father. He died in an auto accident before my mother was born, and from the timing, I had to wonder if my grandmother even knew she was expecting at the time of the accident. I wondered how did she ever manage in that day, alone with three little children.

I read my Aunt Nancy's tribute to her stepfather, the only man my mother ever remembered as father. The man I vaguely remember as Grandpa, whom I mostly remember through repeated family stories. He died when I was 8. I wept for the loss of not knowing him better, for missing what could have been beautiful years growing up on Grandpa's Ohio farm.

I came across some maps of the Appalachian and Colorado Trails. Hiking is one of the many adventures that I associate with my dad. We lost him when three of my four children were no older than I when I lost my Grandpa. They will know their Papaw through vague memories and stories repeated. I am sad for them missing what could have been beautiful years growing up on Papaw's West Virginia farm.

And of course, Tim. I can't find words right now.

Since then, there have been been others lost. Some lived full lives, like my Great Aunt Hazel, but far too many others have been tragically early. Yesterday, as the girls and I were going about our normal day, I got the news that a friend had died.

We knew Liz and Ricky before they were married. They were two kids who played on the worship team with Tim at our church in Akron. They married shortly before we moved to West Virginia. We didn't keep in touch, but a few months ago I saw on Facebook that Ricky was sick. He needed a lung transplant. He was younger than Tim. He left four young children, the baby not yet two.

I tried to go about our day. We were on a field trip when I got the news. We had lunch with friends. We ran errands. In every quiet moment my head and heart ached for Liz and for the family. The drive home from Charleston was long and solemn.

This life is fragile. There things here to enjoy and practical things that must be attended. I implore you to enjoy those you love, to put aside petty differences, and cherish the time you have. Yes, I speak to myself here also. Get life insurance and a will, especially if you have young children or debt. Though these things are important, not so much for ourselves, but for those who are left behind, I also know they are all fleeting. They hold no eternal value. They are not life.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, And look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, The earth will grow old like a garment, And those who dwell in it will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not be abolished. - Isaiah 51:6