Friday, April 28

Flailing Across the Finish Line

So, y'all. Yesterday. Oh, my word. I was out cold on the couch with a good book by eight o'clock and that still wasn't early enough!

We had the pest control company out again yesterday to spray for fleas. Again. Still. Always. I suspect he's feeding them and has begun to think of us as his personal, off-site aquarium. When this contract is up, we're done. One year is ample time to get rid of fleas when you're working with a family that is all about the vacuuming and treating and keeping debris away from the house, setting light traps and not living like animals. Really? If that's not enough support for the flea treatments to get rid of these bad boys, then we need to consider contacting the CDC or just fire bombing the house and moving.

Also, although I do enjoy a clean house, we're all a little tired of stacking all our belongings atop the furniture every couple of weeks. It's to clear the floor so he can get everything, but it feels like a weird religious ritual at this point, and it's clearly not appeasing the blood gods, or whoever its meant to appease.

Ballroom was canceled for the older boys (their instructor had surgery and wasn't quite recovered yet), and that meant that there were seven of us to hustle out of the house instead of five. We decided we'd take the cars to the car wash and give them a thorough debriding. That's always good for an hour and a half, plus it's quite a workout.

We hit Mike's Merchandise, which is sort of a random overstock, discontinued, slightly-damaged things outlet. Also good for another hour and a half. Then we stopped in at John's work for ice cream and to visit with his coworkers. (I don't know if they appreciated that, but they're very kind. It's a good group of kids who work there. And the owner is a joy.) That gave enough time for the boys to head to class and the rest of us to start hauling Jacob to ballet.

Jacob had gotten up early and thrown in a load of wash (which, when you're 13, is pretty danged insightful). Unfortunately, it was a load he neeeeded for ballet that day. And we had to evacuate the house an hour before the wash would be done (which, when you're 13, you just don't think about timing - heck, at forty-something, I still get sideswiped by timing - it happens). We had scrambled a new plan that would allow us to give the treatment the maximum time to dry while allowing us to slip in and grab the clothes from the machine on our way to ballet. It was a brilliant plan.

Except that the water inlet valve on the washing machine died (a hero's death, truly) while we were out of the house. We came home to a washing machine full of water, a flooded basement, and wet clothes for ballet. The machine started spraying water into the hallway when Jacob opened the door.

If you've ever wondered if you can dry clothes on your way somewhere by holding them out the window as you drive, you can. It's a little awkward, particularly as you get into town, but if your drive is long enough it works surprisingly well.

Unfortunately, we were late for his first class. About a mile from the school, he realized that in the upheaval of finding buckets and towels and ringing out the wet clothes, he'd forgotten his bag. Bag has shoes. You can't attend class without your shoes. So we turned around and headed home. He was so sweet about the whole thing, and he really wanted to make his second class (he missed last week because he had a concussion). We decided to see what time it was when we pulled up and make the call from there.

Hey, we can make it! (I may have cried a little. Not from joy. He was joyful. I was tired. It's a 40 minute drive each way.) He grabbed his bag and we headed back out. I tagged Z to pick him up after class, dropped him off, and headed back to the house, where we finished dealing with the washer mess, vacuumed the couch and the rooms, made dinner, and read. *poof* Out cold.

I ordered some Fleabusters RX from Amazon and am considering installing misters filled with it throughout the house at ankle level to keep people from tracking fleas from one room to the next. I ordered a new inlet valve from Amazon and briefly considered checking to see if I could put it on Subscribe and Save. (The earliest we could get it in is May 2. Why is there not overnight shipping available for things like washing machine parts? If you see us at any point over the next week, please remember this is a mechanical failure not a lifestyle choice.)

Today, I've no idea what we're going to do, but I truly hope it doesn't involve driving. Or bugs.

Be encouraged!
~ Dy

Wednesday, April 26

Anniversaries

I've never been good about remembering significant dates. Birthdays, anniversaries, even some of the major holidays... they sneak up on me. It's not that I don't care about people. It's all dates, even mine. A few years ago, Z and I spent an entire day doing our thing - he took the Aunts out visiting museums, I had one of the Littles with me, painting the house. Sometime in the evening, I checked my phone for something and saw the calendar: Happy Anniversary. Oh. Hey Babe, it's our anniversary. Love you.

But it's not just the happy dates that I can't remember. The more somber dates? Oy. No clue. I'm not callous, or uncaring. I remember the sorrow, feel the loss, mourn with those who do remember, who do observe individual days of loss. But the specific days don't linger in my mind. They don't become anchor points or mile stones that point to the passage of time. I don't know, for instance, off the top of my head, when my parents died, when I lost a baby, when bad things happened... I know they did. They were awful. But the dates don't stick. (I recognize that this is different than so many people I love and cherish, and mentioned to Z once that I worried about it. He suggested that it's probably a relatively healthy mechanism that's kept me from losing my mind - there was a lot of death in my life, growing up. I love him for that perspective.)

So it came as a bit of a surprise tonight, as we shared a little of our backstories in a group I'm in (lots of new members, and it's always easier to know how to support or encourage someone if you know where they're coming from and what their goals are, so we did a short introduction thread), and it hit me that it's been almost exactly two years since I first heard the doctor say, It's cancer. And that hit hard, which was weird.

Two years, with 15 months in remission. I give thanks for that every day. But I don't remember the day.

Only six months of chemo. Special thanks for that - that it's available, and that it wasn't longer. But I don't remember the dates.

The port still irritates me and catches on things, but I'm clumsy at the best of times, and I still maintain that is one brilliant invention. But I couldn't tell you when I had it put in.

Getting dressed yesterday, I was taken aback by how easily my body moves and does what I ask it to. I gave thanks. But I don't know when it had stopped, or when it started again.

Tonight, recalling dates as I tried to reconstruct a timeline, it just struck a resonant chord when I realized we are right at the scene of Z and I sitting at the restaurant, quietly eating while we processed the news.

"I don't want cancer. This is stupid," I muttered. Like I'm six and someone has made beans and cornbread, right? But we respond the way we respond. A friend of mine, upon being told she had cancer, replied, "Oh, no. You must be mistaken. In my family, we get heart disease." God love her, I get it. The human brain is one of the most magnificent mysteries in all creation.

And I realize it may come back.

A dear pastor here in town is fighting a recurrence of it right now.

The kids' godmother is fighting it right now.

Friends' kids, nephews, parents, friends... all fighting. Right now.

I won't remember specific dates. But I will be right there, to celebrate, to mourn, to rage, or just be there. Because in the end, that's the part that really matters.

Just as it's the life lived between anniversaries that makes the marriage, more than the mile marker we pass each lap around the sun.

But to someone who lives like this, it's still weird to pass one of the more somber ones and recognize it on the way by.

However you note, or forget, dates, remember to let the ones you love know you love them -- so if you forget an anniversary, they won't think you've forgotten them.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Saturday, April 22

Always With The Tone of Surprise

I am so in love with this house right now.

I am in love with it every time we do a deep clean and a general decluttering.

And I am caught completely off guard every time.

This really is the perfect home for a small family with a few big toys and a ton of books. It's really working hard to hold a medium-sized family with a billion divergent interests and a ton of books. It pulls it off, but with time the debris accumulates higher and higher, eventually eradicating the very things we love about it (the open spaces, the natural light, the outside room to roam). Twice a year, we double down on knocking it back, and twice a year I am in awe of what a truly adorable little place this is.

I kind of hope the kids will one day pool their resources and get me a cleaning service for a year as a Christmas or birthday gift. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm totally putting that in my Amazon wish list. Of course, that'll probably be when they decide to get the "Come Back With A Warrant" mat, which wouldn't be nearly as funny when I'm 80 and no longer homeschooling... Or maybe it would? Hmm.

We all have terrible Spring Fever right now. This is normally when we'd dial back the academics and go play before it gets hot, but they all have outside classes this Spring, and those run on a traditional school schedule... so we're stuck, and getting twitchy. We want to go somewhere and do something! The South is a gorgeous place in the Spring. There's something to love about every place, and at least one season to love about it. Spring and Fall here are pretty fantastic.

And now, I must awaken the Kraken and make them air out their lairs. The last step in the process! (Also, notably, one of my favorites! I love a freshly aired lair!)

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Friday, April 21

Just Like Snow White

Except I'm not cleaning. Or singing.

Jase picked these. No clue what they are, but he had fun putting them in.
But the doors are open, the birds are singing, and it is gorgeous! I could probably whip up some dancing. We're smack in one of my favorite parts of the year - where the days aren't terribly hot, the mornings are still cool and breezy, and the mosquitoes don't come out this early yet.

That cat, however, is not my favorite right now. Several of our screens bear the mark of his wrath (or perhaps general displeasure) and I'm pretty sure the bugs will find those very spots every time we try to open the windows this year.

The Littles (still thinking up a good moniker for them - they've requested something else) and I went to the market yesterday and picked out some plants for the earth boxes. We didn't go in with a plan other than Find Something That Makes You Smile. They did.

Hibiscus! Em was absolutely smitten with the blooms, so we got one that has a ton of buds. I'm guessing it won't be able to live in this box long-term, but it'll be lovely here in the meantime. (We're getting mulch. It's a work in progress.)

Zorak is home today, which means the time-honored plan of Not Doing School. Of course, it's also going to be a day that somewhat violates the spirit of that plan -- they're not going to spend the day "hanging out with Dad", but rather, "working outside with Dad". All time well spent, though, so there is that, right? Plus, they get to sleep in. Nobody really complains. Much.

May is coming! None of us is looking forward to the heat, but the kids are starting to get antsy - finals week at the college is the first week of May, the water park opens the end of May, anatomy class ends in May, kayak weather... more time for hiking... so many good things are coming. They're ready.

I just need to get through this weekend and present a hospitable venue for the cookout. Then I can relax and look forward to the good things, too. If I lose focus between now and Sunday, though, it's likely to turn into a, "Hey, can you help us lug this wood to the bonfire and get the clothes off the line?" party. That wouldn't be fun for anyone.

I hear rustling and ambling. I've camped out near the watering hole (coffee pot) so I'll be sure to catch people as they awake. Time to get my Snow White on and whip this place into inviting shape! (Although, yes, I realize the visual is more reminiscent of Marlon Perkins than Snow White. That's probably a more accurate visualization all the way around, but I don't want to think up a new intro.)

This needs something else, but we're waiting for inspiration. Native, volunteer ferns, though. They look almost intentional!
 Be encouraged!
~ Dy

13 is Hard

It just is. Everything grows at odd angles and nothing works right. The brain is fueled mostly by brilliant ideas and good intentions. There's a lot you don't know yet, but you're pretty sure you do. I get it. It's hard. I have empathy for 13 year olds everywhere.

But I also have a whole lot of sympathy for the mothers of 13 year olds.

Dear heaven, give us peace. 
Block our nostrils and our ears 
so that we may see the beauty in the discovery 
over the stink in the bedroom or the snarl of the reply. 

Help us teach them how to bend without breaking, 
and forgive us for occasionally thinking 
that maybe breaking them wouldn't be such a bad thing. 

Grant us the ability to really hear the jokes they tell, 
and really listen to the things they share. 
Help us remember that our sweet babies are still in there, 
trapped by the hormones and oil, 
wanting to be loved and appreciated. 

Help us appreciate them.

Also, Lord, help me not lose my tihs when he hasn't done his laundry again, slept in, and yet managed to grab coffee and slip down to the basement while I was in the shower. Again. He's a good kid. He's not burying bodies or building bombs down there, and for that, I am truly grateful. But that laundry's gotta get done...

Be encouraged (if only in knowing you're not alone, or that it could be worse, whichever fits)!

~ Dy

Thursday, April 20

More Spring Cleaning, Outdoors

Y'all, take your garlic. It is tick season, and it is yard work and hiking season. (OK, it's always tick season, but that doesn't matter so much when it's too cold and you're inside. But NOW, it's nice out. You want to get out and enjoy it, but you don't want ticks. Nobody wants ticks. Take your garlic.)

Yesterday, it didn't rain so we mowed and weedwhacked and weeded and mulched. (And this morning I realized I haven't been taking my garlic. See? Learn from my mistakes, folks.) This place is really cute when it's tidy! Oh, my gosh!

We cleared off the balcony and cleaned out the earth boxes. Jase asked if we could keep the ferns that have sprouted in one of them... I tried not to be too discomfited by the idea that it took actual airborne spores floating up that way for them to grow there (I could be a real mess if I thought too much about what's in the air most of the time). The ferns are pretty, though, so why not? We're likely not gardening this year, so we'll at least go get some lovely plants for the earth boxes on the balcony and make it look like we decorate once in a while.

I think only two of my Pieris Mountain Snows died! That's so exciting! One died early on in the fall because people kept dropping shovels, buckets, and bicycles on it. Understandable that it didn't survive. But then the other five just up and DIED over the spring. I was crushed. Three cheers for procrastination, though! (Hip, hip, hurrah!) I never got around to pulling them up and taking them to Nick (my plant guy) to find out what happened, and this week four of them greened back up and revived like you wouldn't believe. It's so exciting! I'm going to put a big bushy plant where people drop things - maybe they'll stop, then. (If that doesn't work, I'll try a pokey, mean plant. And if that doesn't work, I'm going to have to put down sand and pavers and just consider it a landing pad - but it's right beside the front steps, so I'll be honest, I don't wanna.)

We really do need to make a new roof happen this year. Eek. That much became painfully obvious once we got the rest of the yard and structures tidied up. (I'm kidding. We knew it was bad, but now it actually looks as bad as it is.) I wonder if the boys will enjoy roofing? Honestly, I do. Not so much the edges, which are terrifying, but it's a very satisfying thing to have a clean, fresh roof, with good underlayment and straight lines.

Our book club finished The Screwtape Letters yesterday. Finally. It's an incredible book, but this was a rough few months for the club -- with illnesses, travel, work schedules, and the insanity of my unpaid long haul gig (how I'm thinking of Jacob's ballet schedule, now), we had very few weeks where everyone could make it. We've picked the next book - The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, Since we have such an ecumenical group, I am really excited about some of the discussions we'll have over this. Do you have people in your life you can disagree with and argue with over a cup of tea? I hope so! It's a beautiful thing!

Z's on a weird one-day jaunt for work. He left before the sun was up, and he'll be back tonight. I want to remember to have dinner ready when he gets home. Of course, that's ten hours from now... should probably set a reminder. What's your favorite Welcome Home meal? Do you have one?

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Tuesday, April 18

*whine* It's SO HOT, but Good News!

Don't tell the kids I said that. When they complain that it's 80, I remind them that in August we'll be begging for an 80-degree day. And it's true. (Also, by October, I won't be able to force them outside if it's 70 because it'll be "too cold". So.) But still... once the humidity starts creeping in, it's just gross.

We've been culling the outgrown winter gear so there's less to stash over the summer. Wow, that's bittersweet. However, the foyer is looking fantastic! Also, now that we've stored all the hats, scarves, and random gloves, we've found a ton of flashlights and headlamps! The foyer also looks vaguely like a staging platform for night raids.

There's a cookout here at the house in the next week, and we want to have it tidied. Spring cleaning, if you will. Or, Spring Hey Let's Finish A Couple of Projects Because 12 Years Is A Bit Long To Be "Renovating" A House Cleaning. Things we did first are about due to be redone, you know? But life... it gets in the way of plans.

Speaking of life... James got notified today that he's been accepted into the Honors College at UAH. That was a huge boost. It's been a long, weird year, and things just kept crumbling at the last minute. He was pretty sure this was another one for the pile. (To be fair, they send the notification in a very nondescript envelope, and he didn't want to open it, thinking it was a "Thanks, but no thanks" letter.) I'm glad he opened it. Better yet, he's glad he opened it! Now we just need to find enough money to cover housing...

John brought his ACT composite up four points! That was huge! I am so proud of him. He's taking a break while he works on his Eagle project and gets his crew ready for Philmont.

Philmont plans are coming along. We need to hike more, and John and I both are looking forward to doing that as soon as we buy a little wiggle room on the house/property work. I'm trying to work more, to cover the various gaping wounds in the checking account. Not so much looking forward to that, but thankful for it, and appreciative of it. Sometimes, that's gotta be enough. Sometimes, it's more than enough.

Be encouraged!

~Dy


Saturday, April 15

Headway!

So, we got the doors in and all was well. Then the blinds just conked out in one of the doors. We followed the instructions on how to fix them if they break, but evidently something... else broke. It didn't work. Today, Z called Jeld-Wen to find out what our options are, and they'll be sending someone out to replace the dorked up bit, themselves. Mad love for Jeld-Wen right now, I've gotta say. (Because if they'd said, "Sure, just bring the whole unit back and we'll replace it," I might have cried, cussed, and curled up in a ball. Bless them for not doing that.)

Meanwhile, the boys and I painted the background for the basement wall.


Then, this afternoon, the kids decorated it up. I haven't been down this evening, but just before I headed up to get ready for church, it was looking pretty fun.


We're definitely going to have to raise the bar on the rest of the decor so the whole place doesn't look like a back alley in the midst of a gang war. (The Russian is a nice touch, though. Heh.) Aaannndd, do something about that couch. The wall isn't doing it any favors. So, projects lined up. That'll give us something to do this summer.

All in all, it's been a fun project. The kids all joined in with their own ideas and experiments. Z and I even put a few tidbits on there. They'll enjoy it for a while, and when they're done (or when we need to sell the house), a layer of Kilz and it's a fresh slate.

Tonight, we attended Good Friday service. The service focused on praying through the stations of the cross. I'm thankful for waterproof mascara, humbled by how little I know, and encouraged by how much there is to learn. Also? My youngest children have no concept of how to be still. Just still. Even the shushing brought noise in reply. What on earth? It was like worshiping between Heckle and Jeckle. So. We've gotta work on that. The congregation is great, and nobody shot us the hairy eyeball or anything, but it's just not good for your spirit if you can't hush up and just contemplate once in a while!

This is the last weekend to prep the house before the cookout for the models and photographers next week. I'm a little nervous, wondering what we were thinking - there's no way this place is going to be Lovely by then - but it is Better, and that's a good thing. Fortunately, the bulk of hospitality is creating a space where guests feel welcome and at ease. I think we don't stink at that, at least. So although, as I told a friend this morning, we aren't good at Martha Stewart style hospitality, we'll play to our strengths and feed them well.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Thursday, April 13

The Push

Well, "the push" turned out to be more driving. Blergh. But all the kids' teeth are now up to snuff, and John's had a consult with a new oral surgeon. I'm not entirely sure how it's Thursday again, but there you have it.

We did get the wall cleaned and rinsed. The kids have decided to paint the load panel, too, since it's proud of the wall and incredibly ugly. Seems sane.

We've peeled another large swath off the basement couch. Our first "real" -- as in, new, not off the classifieds, only ours, bought with cash and straight from the store -- sofa was an Ashley sleeper sofa that we loved and loved... for about two years, until the cushions gave up, the upholstery started cracking and peeling and we realized Ashley doesn't count that as a defect in materials or workmanship. Actually, they seem to think of it as a perk. I don't know. Weird business model, but whatever. We bought a replacement that we love off Craigslist and demoted the poorly made Ashley to the basement. But it was kind of gross, and we weren't sure what to do with a couch that wasn't appealing, and wasn't in particularly "good" shape, but wasn't legitimately trash, either. We are loathe to throw away things that still have utility (which explains so much, really)... In a fit of creative implosion, I decided that we would just peel the rest of the material off and paint it! (Thanks, Pinterest!) That was two years ago. Turns out, it takes a lot of focus and determination to peel bonded fabric completely off a 6' couch... The kids pick at it while they're playing video games. Every once in a while, I'd muster up the umpf to go down there and just work on the couch, but the basement heebed me out and I couldn't stay down there too long without succumbing to the overwhelming urge to toss everything out and set it on fire.

Anyway, it's almost to the point that we can paint it. Probably a summer project. If it doesn't work, then we'll buy a slipcover for it. But if it does work? We'll have a weatherproof party couch! How cool is that? So many of my ideas could be incredibly fun and delightful finished projects, or they could be four cinder blocks away from the neighbors telling their children not to go over onto that property. I never really know until we've tried. But I have to try.

Speaking of neighbors, we have new ones. They've been busy trimming trees and clearing the property of debris. The kids heard someone in the bushes, whistling to the birds. And one of them waved back as we both pulled out of our drives the other morning. So, I'm hopeful they'll be good neighbors and will think of us as good neighbors. We need to make something and go welcome them.

We're in a bit of a lull with the kids' things. Jacob is back to Just Ballet Class, no rehearsals, and we're all appreciative of getting three extra days back during the week. John's waiting on the ACT scores to be released, but we've tweaked the plan for the next test in the meantime (no more prep, lots more reading, more books, more words, and, uh, keep plugging away at the math). James is in a holding pattern on future plans and trying to figure out how to get enough sleep without just sleeping from midnight to noon. (It's tricky. I get it.) And the Littles - they are great. They're biking and making movies, crafting and making food, all with a nonstop background chatter in voice for characters they've made up. We don't get it, but we love it.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Monday, April 10

Oh, my goodness! Memories

We worked in the basement a bit today. We have worked in that basement so many times over the years. We've never gotten it "done". It's a definite If You Give a Mouse a Cookie situation. "Well, if we're going to do this, we'll need to do these things. And if we're going to do these things, we really need to do that Big Thing." Next thing you know, we've cornered ourselves and can't get anything done down there, so we stack it up and go back upstairs. This time, however, we have doors!

Yeah, I know. Doors. Woohoo? Yes, Woo. hoo. Seriously huge progress, and I'm going to drive this donkey cart into the ground now that we have some momentum. Today, we got the industrial junk relegated to a corner that's not right smack as you walk in, and what do you know, it made a huge difference. (Yes, this should have been obvious. We suspected, but it wouldn't have mattered before, so we didn't try it out.) Then we flipped the hanging out area (gaming area? living area?) whatever, we moved the couch and the tv over by the Real Doors. So now, it has a vaguely Legitimate Living Space feel to it. As long as you don't look at the walls, or the rafters, or the floors. But if you keep your eyes firmly between 2' and 5' from the floor, it looks nice down there.

Actually, you can look at the rafters - we vacuumed them this afternoon, and they, too, look nice. That floor, though, is just going to be ugly until next year.

Then we realized the camping shelf, which, for the last ten years, has been THE tidy focal point of the basement, looked horribly shifty and ugly. I could have wept for joy! The pretty bit looks ugly, now! We're making tangible progress! So we moved it, too. Now the industrial bits are locked into a corner by makeshift walls of storage, and there is a clearly defined livable space emerging around it. I can live with that.

We picked up and cleared out so much that we found James' missing Mahabis sole! 😂 (It fell off while he was walking around down there about a month and a half ago. We have looked and looked for that thing and had both given up on ever finding it.) I think he is now certain that ALL the work was worth it, even if we never finished the basement. Happy kid. Maybe his lost tube of thermal paste will show up in the next round of shifting?

Back when we'd painted some of the walls and built the closets down there, we'd painted all the wall we could get to. As of today, there's double the amount of wall now visible, and it needs painting. When we moved a couple of shelves, we found a little spot on the wall where John's been testing spray paint for his projects over the years. It's actually kind of pretty. The more we walked around it, the more it grew on us. Finally, John asked if we could just do that, intentionally, to the wall behind the sofa. Yeah, why not? It won't preclude us from hanging drywall someday, but in the meantime, they'll have a space that's all theirs. That's on tomorrow's docket, and I'm stoked.

I am so close to being able to use the weight machine again! I think after tomorrow's push, it'll be safe to use without fear of knocking over paper piles or cracking someone in the head while they attempt to read in the chair.

We'll devote the remainder of this week to fixing that up as much as possible off this momentum. Then this coming weekend we'll see what we can do about the landscaping. Once things start to green up down here, it's on. You've got to stay ahead of it, and I just know all my local friends are going to shake their heads and point out that we're already behind.

But in the meantime, Be Encouraged!

~ Dy


Home Improvement as Marriage Therapy

There's just nothing quite like doing demolition on a home to bring a couple together. It's a giddy mix of power (we just took out a WALL, people) and creativity (and we're gonna put in our OWN wall) that makes you feel like a celebrity power couple.

Unfortunately, once that wall is out, you've got to keep it together long enough to close the gaping hole in your wall and remove any trace that you've done renovation. (When we were house hunting, I remember coming to a home that looked like it was scabbed together out of Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and salvage brick, held together with Gorilla Glue. Z and I could not make eye contact as the realtor gushed about how the owner had done a lot of work on the house. You don't say? I'm thankful for those experiences, though, because they cemented in our minds the importance of renovations or additions looking both Intentional and Original.) And that's where the fun starts. But it's good fun, because although you're going to run into friction and frustration, if you can keep it together, you'll have built a monument to your teamwork - and that is fantastic.

So we ripped out the nasty basement doors this weekend. These things had worked for all they could. I honor their efforts. I'm not even convinced they were meant to be exterior doors, but they did what they could for four decades. The original threshold was compost, now - rich, dark soil beneath the aluminum, there. The doors themselves had rotted away around the bottom years before we bought the house. We closed the doors mostly out of habit, and in an attempt to keep some of the outside air outside. But snakes, spiders, mice, and a fairly determined toddler could all get through. The sidelights were homemade, and looked it. The years had not been kind to what was probably marginally attractive to begin with. All in all, the doors were the biggest stumbling block to making the basement livable space, and I've been looking forward to this for 12 years!

The rough opening is 112" wide. That doesn't sound terribly big until you're standing in it, four abreast, thinking, "Damn, we should have bought a garage door for this thing." But, no. No, I wanted French doors. I wanted light and an inviting entry. What was I thinking? I'm so lucky Z loves me.

Because working with cinder block and concrete is, evidently, hard, the rough opening was neither square nor plumb. So we had to frame that out to get it to some semblance of squareish and plumbish without having an entire 8x10 protruding from the outer bricks at one corner. Fortunately, we can frame together like pros. There's just no room to argue over whether something is 90 degrees or not. This is a good time for a marriage. You work together. You measure, secure, check. High five. Good, good stuff. If you're married to someone like me, you get to laugh at their attempts to actually hit the nail. If you're married to someone like Z, you get to sigh in awe at their ability to make something out of nothing. I hope at least one of you is like Z.

Then comes the harrowing task of trying to move a door that's big and heavy, without twisting it or scuffing it or dropping it. Without a crew. (We technically have a three-man crew, but one was at work, one was dancing, and one was watching the dance. So it was just the two of us, in the dark, reconsidering whether we think we're old yet.) This is where you think, "Glass? Really? Just had to have glass, didn't I?" But it's OK because your partner is thinking the exact same thing about you... So at least you're still on the same page.

And now, you really get to work on your marriage skills: installing the door. You'd think this would be pretty straightforward and simple, but it's not. There are different philosophies about how to get things done, who holds it up, or what steps are necessary and what steps are mostly just guidelines. You'll both think you're right. You'll both want to forge ahead and do it your way. But unless you're each putting in your own door, that's not going to work. For us, this is usually the longest part of a job - the part where we have to determine a path forward that takes in both our perspectives, both our visions, both our experiences. You're going to unearth a lot of unspoken frustrations, and a lot of deeply seated irritants. But hang in there. Hold your tongue. Take coffee breaks. Eat protein. Breathe deeply and pray. Kiss each other often, and laugh. (But not a maniacal laughter - that's usually not helpful.) For what it's worth, it took us one afternoon to frame in the rough opening. It took us two days to get the doors squared, secured, and sealed.

Still easier on a marriage than running electrical wire. So, there's that.

And now, we have beautiful French doors that allow you to look in on what is, clearly, an abandoned storage shed...

I guess now we have to work on making the basement fit the doors. But we'll do it together.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Friday, April 7

It's Showtime!

Months of preparation, daily rehearsals, so much sweat in one room... And now, it' time!

Huntsville Ballet Company is presenting its Spring Repertory Mix performance this weekend. They will have special guests from Ballet Chicago performing George Balanchine's Stars and Stripes Pas de Deux, as well as Huntsville Ballet Company's performance of Billy the Kid, and a special presentation - for the first time in Huntsville - of Balanchine's choreography of Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.



I'm going for one of the Gunslingers in Billy the Kid, but he assures me that the rest of the performance is going to be OMAZING and totally worth it. (Picture his eyes going wide, there.) From what I've seen in rehearsals, he's not wrong.

If you're in North Alabama this weekend, and are looking for something delightful to do, come with us! You can get more information and tickets here.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Big Doings

Well, this has been an interesting week! Tomorrow is Round 2 of the ACT for John. He's been balancing study, work, test prep, Scouts, and sanity saving downtime like a champ. He's not a strong tester, and has had to work diligently to deal with the anxiety that wells up around it, in addition to any standard preparation. However, the other day, he said he feels a lot more confident going into this round. Still not stoked about it, or looking forward to it, but a lot less anxious and better prepared, overall. That, in itself, is a life skill I'm glad he's developing.

For his brother, standardized testing was an easy means to open opportunities. For John, it's a bar he has to clear to get where he wants to go. He's probably getting more from the process, in terms of personal growth and clear vision forward, because of it. I think the biggest benefit I've seen as we work our way through this is how the kids have encouraged each other, each meeting their siblings where they are. So he's got a goal to hit that will allow him to do what he wants to do, making this more than a routine exercise in hoop jumping. It's personal, and it matters to him. The rest of us are just here for brainstorming and general cheering.

I don't know if you have students taking standardized tests, but thought I'd share a few things we've found helpful:

Reading speed - I kept hearing - from the kids, from their friends - that they run out of time. It's not a matter of being strong readers or not. It's just being able to maintain the pace. We've kept reading, but upped our speed, increased our narrations, and added read alouds to the mix - them reading to me, to their siblings, to anyone who will hold still and listen. Measured in words-per-minute-comprehended, the reading aloud has had the best return on investment. Couple that with discussion, and it seems to be a strong booster to reading speed.

Math - Mine just don't test well with math. One of them is even a mathy-math kind of guy, but he'll groan a little and slink off with his coffee cup if you start talking standardized math tests. Something John has said he's experienced is that a firm familiarity with the concepts helps a lot - so even if you're not a math guy, and you don't love math or plan to pursue it deeply, being familiar with the vocabulary and the themes goes a long way toward quieting the roar in your head when you pop that section open. Go over the concepts you haven't gotten to in your math studies yet, and they're less overwhelming when you hit them on the exam.

ACT online learning - this is $35, you pay when you register for the test, then you can access it any time. They have two learning paths - one goes straight through the material from beginning to end, the other starts with a practice test and then adjusts your study using a combination of your own strengths/weaknesses and the highest return on time invested to help you get the most bang for your buck. You can switch between the two at any time.

There is no predetermined schedule for this study tool. To set up our schedule for this, we took the total number of questions, divided by 7 less than the total days left until test day (this gave us a buffer for getting sick, having to dig new gas lines, random attacks of Can't Even...) and that's your minimum number of questions to hit each day. It's not a good substitute for sitting down with a book, paper, and actual pencils for a practice test, but it's an excellent way to at least touch on every topic you'll be seeing on test day. When test prep is peripheral, rather than the bulk of your academic time, this is a fantastic tool.

What about you? If you've done test prep, what tips would you recommend?

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Thursday, April 6

*poof* It's Thursday

I got a weekly map drawn, but didn't get around to re-configuring anything. That's crazy, and I can't even blame the Instant Gratification Monkey. Perhaps later... maybe.

Adventure Thursday is out today. We've got storms and rain and scary winds. It makes more sense to stay home and watch the tips of the pine trees sway. Philosophically, I love to see them - they are comforting and remind me that we must bend in the storms so we don't break. Pragmatically, I am always thankful I'm not a tree stand hunter (or a ship's boy in the 18th Century British Navy, stuck in the crow's nest). Yes, that's a bit specific, but it makes my knees hurt just thinking about being up there when they're swaying back and forth. So, all in all, much to be thankful for as we watch the trees do their thing.

Jacob's first on stage experience is coming up this weekend. Rehearsals are running full tilt, even among the storms. I appreciate the dedication of the Company, and also that the school itself will cancel classes when the weather's nasty. It did crack me up, though, to get the alert that classes were canceled but rehearsals were still on. The work they're putting in shows, though, and they look amazing. I can't wait to see the performance! I also look forward to having the days between classes back, but that's the mother-chauffeur-chef-and-chief-bottle-washer in me talking.

All in all, things are going well, here. I've lost my train of thought. Jase, of course, got up and started talking a million miles a minute as soon as I started typing. Want to hear about a trap door in Minecraft? I've got a 9yo who will tell you all about it! You don't even have to ask.

So it's taken me an hour to write this, because it's important to stop and listen. It's also important to be still and stop talking occasionally. (I remember my mother sighing and smiling weakly as I bounded down the stairs at five in the morning to sit with her at the table and have coffee - it never dawned on me that she got up that early to have some time to herself. She never said a word. I wish she would have, though.) We're working on balance, on mutual respect for space and time. But I know also that sometimes you just wake up with all the words stored up in your head and have to get them out to make room for your day.

I'll write again when they're in bed and I can make room in my own head.

Be encouraged!
~Dy

Monday, April 3

WooHoo!

It's April! The dogwoods and redbuds are in bloom! All the cars are the same shade of Southern Spring Pollen Green! We got a photographer (and he is fantastic)! We found the perfect space for shooting (*swoon*). Then we walked a bazillion miles (aaannnd that's when I realized I should have changed out of my church clothes before going to the shoot - lesson learned. Again. Whatever.) He wore his Steven Universe shirt for some of the photos. I about died laughing when he brought it out, but he said that's what he wants. Cool. But this photographer's going to have to work pretty hard to make that graphic tee and soft, oversized hoodie look legit.

I've known this was coming. (I have the paperwork to prove it.) However, something about the completely innocuous process of getting Senior photos done kicked me in the head. I had my Velveteen Rabbit moment. It's really real. And yes, I got verklempt, although thankfully it happened at Walgreens while I was buying sugar free Peeps (not the same) and hairspray (didn't expect the wind that day). So the cashier at Walgreens likely had a good end of workday story, and I didn't blubber in the street, in front of everyone, or anything.

Graduation packet is turned in. Cap and gown colors picked (graduates get to pick their own - I love that). College is chosen and settled on (again), and he's starting to get excited. He's just wrapping up the last few outside classes. I... hope he's doing well in them... I don't know. That's kind of weird, really.

He's still looking for work, but that's been an excellent series of lessons. Trial and error stinks in the moment, but it develops keen insights and one heck of an elevator pitch. So that's all good. Hopefully it will soon be He Got A Job good.

The rest of us are all ACT prep, ballet, writing classes, and laundry. It's a wild rumpus of entertainment around here. The house projects have taken a markedly antagonistic turn. I'm not sure how much headway we're going to make on those before the party. Or after. (I'm trying not to think about it.) But we do have propane - hot showers, hot meals, clean floors. That's good stuff. That's enough, really. I'm thankful for the bodies in the house, but I'm also thankful they're clean.

So, three days into April and I'm thinking about reconfiguring my days for the longer daylight hours, the busier schedule, and the need to leave time to think and to write. Hopefully, April will be a more active blogging month. Where do you put your time to do the things that refresh and rejuvenate you?

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Wednesday, March 29

The Search for Senior Photos

Most of my friends already had their kids' Senior Photos done by, um, the start of April.

*sigh*

Of course, most of my friends also took their own Senior Photos. I have very talented friends. And I'm pretty sure they keep me around just to see what ridiculous thing we'll set fire to in the front yard next. And maybe for allergy-friendly snacks. It's definitely not for my photography skills, though. Also, although I can take a decent photo of some of my children, I cannot take a good one of James. Nor he of me. It's like some kind of bizarre grudge match, where we're determined to under-do each other.

So we've hired a photographer. It seemed the wise course of action.

Then the photographer asked us to send a list of outfits...

OK. So. For someone who models, this kid really doesn't care what he's wearing. As long as it's soft and not binding, he is happy. (If you're picturing sweats, an over-sized graphic t-shirt, and a hoodie, you must know my child, or have one like him.) He understands the value of wearing the appropriate apparel to certain venues, and honestly, I am happy with that. He is happy with that. Overall, we're happy. But he has no idea what he's going to wear. Or what he wants from the shoot, other than pictures.

We called on the power of the internet to get some ideas and inspiration. Here's what we discovered:

1. He does not have a football, or a football uniform, or a letterman's jacket. (Or, insert appropriate sport here.)
2. He does not have a favorite automobile (I suggested we use the Volvo and go for a vintage vibe - he snorted at me).
3. Photos for girls in this context do not convert well to photo ideas for boys.
4. Nature. Um, not so much. We're all surprised he stayed in Scouts with all that outdoorsing going on.
5. Random chair. In a road, or a hiking trail. (We just don't understand this one. How does that capture the student? Unless the student actually sits in chairs in meadows, but while we do think some do, we suspect that there aren't nearly as many as Pinterest would have you believe.)
6. Train tracks. (This would explain the recent deaths attributed to selfies. Don't try this at home, kids. Always have a professional photographer make you stand on the tracks for photographs.)
7. Ticks. So much lying in grass. ARGH.
8. Writing on feet. I don't want an 8x10 of the soles of his feet on my wall. I'm sorry, I just don't.

Overall, it wasn't an inspiring experience.

We tried brainstorming some other suggestions. He does like the city, so we thought something in the downtown area, with tall buildings in the background might work. I suggested a coffee shop (that might have been just so I can sit in a comfortable chair that's inside a building and have coffee, but I still maintain that it would work for the photos, too). Or maybe we can go to a park in town (one that gets sprayed regularly and isn't likely to have ticks) and use the laptop and a cup of coffee with the downtown buildings in the background.

He wants to bring the cat. I tried to warn him that those end up on Awkward Family Photographs every time. He remains skeptical.

I'm thinking I'll need to pay the photographer a lot more than he's asking.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Friday, March 24

Well, then.

My week, in pictures. (I thought I had more pictures. This has not been a great week, though, and it makes total sense that I didn't take a lot of pictures of the not-great bits. So, well, there you have it.)

It started out really well...


And then, it all went horribly wrong...


And then, out of nowhere...


As of right now, we have a temporary set up in place until we can get that line fixed. Love that the propane company delivered 100 gallons to the tank before testing the system for a leak, even though it was clear that something was broken  - and then they had to lock it until the leak is fixed (which I totally understand locking it -- but I do hope they, likewise, understand the laughter that ensued when they hit me with the invoice for the gas in the tank that they've locked... because sometimes life is just like that).

We do spend a lot of time just sitting and watching the light through the glass in the new door. I bet it'll look even better once the trim is up and the stickers are off the door, too!

And our Easter Baby is nine. Wow. THE baby. Is... not so much a baby. And I'm okay with that, except when the realization that he's halfway grown hits. Then I'm not. Parenting is weird. But he felt loved and appreciated and welcome on his special day (hopefully he feels that way every day - hopefully, we can all feel that way more often than not), and he's happy to be nine.

Be encouraged!

~Dy

Sunday, March 19

A New Project!

Guys. We've been so busy with raising kids and driving to every corner of three counties lately that we haven't made much headway on the house. Other than the wall we built two years ago, what discernible headway we have made has been in the more mundane realm of picking shoes up from under the coffee table in the living room and shaking off the table cloth in the dining room. Occasionally, we get wild and break out the paper shredder to beat back the drastic piles of college junk mail.

Well, I volunteered the property for a party in April, and that, combined with the wonderful weather, has lit a fire under all of us! Landscaping! Caulking! Debris eradication! Allofit! This past week, Z and I have been researching doors for the basement. (They were ghetto when they were installed 46 years ago. Time, and the elements, have not improved their appearance or function one bit.) We thought it would take a couple of paydays to pull that one off, but really, it needs to happen soon. (We suspect, although we have no reason to think this, that having decent doors on the walk-out will spur us to make the rest of the basement nice. It seems a sound perspective. We may, however, just end up broke, hanging out in a junky basement, staring at the nice doors.)

Yesterday, we got up early to visit Gobble-Fite, a local materials supply - they were great to work with during the bulk of the renovations, and they deliver. Considering the space is 112" wide, delivery options are appealing. Unfortunately, we forgot they aren't open on Saturdays. We brainstormed a few other places we could visit so the day wouldn't be a total wash. (Also, neither of us wanted to work on the landscaping, so we were motivated to get out!)

We stopped at our favorite hardware store and met with one of the guys there. The door options weren't great, but he did have some good ideas. Also, they have the beadboard that I want for the living room ceiling. We made notes and moved on. We checked another couple of places and then realized basement doors would likely have to be ordered and we're going to have to do some framing to alter the rough opening because part of the unique joy of this place is that so many elements are not standard. Or square. So, that's cool. But what shall we do this weekend?

Well, as luck would have it, we ended up at Lowe's. Lowe's has the front entry door I've had my eye on for the last five years. It's lovely, it's solid, and it's usually in stock. What's not to love? They had it in stock today. Oh, yeah...


This may not be exciting to everyone, but for me it is right up there with the day after we pulled the carpet out and were able to get all the way through the foyer before the weird Abandoned Shack smell hit us. I have hated our current front door for years (11.5 years, to be exact). It was oddly stained and never sealed, so the wood was rough and blotchy and hard to clean. The panels had split over the years, and you could see daylight through the door in places where you shouldn't have been able to see through. (Seriously, the paper boy from Better Off Dead could totally have kicked in this door.) The glass was hard to clean and there wasn't enough of it.

But this beauty? She's solid! She's sealed! She'll let light into the foyer! I'M SO EXCITED!!!

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Thursday, March 16

The New Mop and The Thick of It

There are days that I feel like I've gained no discernible skills in the last twenty years. I really don't. Sure, I've managed not to misplace any of the children for more than a few minutes at a time. And it's true that as far as educating the children goes, they're able to function on a level that's in line with their cognitive and physical abilities. However, laundry routines stymie me. My floors have never been so gross, nor have I ever had to work so hard to keep them from getting gross. (What IS that? I don't have toddlers anymore! This should not be a thing.) Schedules and juggling and remembering to call the dentist to tell him we're switching to another dentist... (which I just remembered, and yet, I am not going to do it right now, because I'm writing)...

Last year, while visiting with a friend, admiring all the lovely decor she has in her home, and how she was so calm and centered, she snorfled at me, cocked her head and said, "Oh, you're in the thick of it right now. It gets easier. I'm a much better housekeeper than I thought I was, and you are, too. You just can't tell yet."

There are days I cling to this like I cling to the promises of Jesus. I am thankful every day for her friendship and words of wisdom. (And I say this in no way to disparage my faith, but to say that sometimes it's the practical shoulder punch and attaboy that keep me from losing my s%@# by cocktail hour. That's just how it is.)

So this morning, as I sit feeling glad I remembered to top off my coffee before I mopped the floor (and also very glad I'm not having to do a round of American Ninja Mom to get to the pot without touching the wet floor... again), I'm feeling OK. (By the way, I like my new mop. I got this one. It isn't a great mop, and it doesn't do a particularly splendid job of cleaning the floor, but it's easy to use - and thus, gets used more often, which hopefully offsets the overall lack of industrial strength aspect - because negligence makes for a nasty floor, no matter what mop you have). I feel like maybe I don't just suck at this whole gig. Maybe. Jury's still mostly out, but it's looking good.

I guess it's time to consider graduation announcements. And invitations. And plan a cookout. And clean the property. Maybe finish the basement. Do some landscaping. Honestly, all I want to do is hang out with him, reading books, telling stories, and laughing over social media posts. Maybe make some sushi together. I don't want to spend the last few months doing Other Things.

Balance? Probably. But then we're back to that lack of discernible skill development. Thankfully, I'm not in it alone. We'll figure it out. We'll likely get a few things wrong. The house definitely won't look any better in the meantime. Maybe I can get someone to mop?

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Tuesday, March 14

From 0 to 60 in 3 years!

Thankfully, we are not sports cars.

Jacob just realized that if he really wants to apply to the US Naval Academy or the Air Force Academy, he probably better get on it with Scouting and earn his Eagle. The thing is, between ballet, school, and that random year of cancer, we have no idea where he is right now with Scouts.

I emailed his Advancement Coordinator and asked her for a copy of his Individual History Report (which she emailed to me, instead of telling me I had to come to a meeting, because she is awesome and kind and goes out of her way to help people who can't get to meetings until after May). He and I compared that with his Scout Book (which, honestly, it seems nobody even bothers to read, let alone use - and I don't know why! It's a wonderfully done book, with helpful information, useful logs, and handy charts. The Boy Scout Handbook is a list-maker's dream!)

As of right now, he's been in Scouts for three years. He's been an active Scout in an active Troop. He is... Second Class. I can't help but wonder... how hard one has to work to do that. We're going to chalk it up to being spread a little thin. Or something. The thing is, he's got a ton of stuff done, just not signed off. So that's good. And he's got a lot of stuff Very Nearly Done. Also good, although a bit frustrating.

I told a friend that I'm really glad he's not my first Scout, or I'd worry that there was something wrong. There's not, though. This is just pretty much how boys figure it out - by not figuring it out at first and letting it get really good and challenging. Then one day, *poof*. They up and figure it out. (I cannot tell you how much I wish I could go back ten years and tell my old self this.)

Then, as if to highlight just how OK things are, when I asked James to keep an eye toward actively encouraging Jacob, he laughed and said, "Just as soon as I'm done encouraging John, I'll get right on it." I had to laugh. He's had so much on his plate lately that I guess he's finally learned not to put more on until he's cleared a little room. But then he sighed a contented sigh and said that he feels for John, right now, because he knows exactly how it feels to have Senior year looming, college visits, ACT prep, and Eagle project all just hovering right there in your face. He was quiet a moment before he said, "But it's good."

If my time on earth were due to end soon, that would have been the perfect time to go. "But it's good." Ah, yes, it is.

And that, my friends, will likely be what gives me the encouragement I need to keep going, to give it my all, to know that it's good. It matters.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Monday, March 13

So it could be demonic possession...

... Or it could be the alternator. I'm surprised how similar the symptoms are for the two problems when you're talking about a vehicle. Especially a really old vehicle that already has a lot of, shall we say, personality.

For the second night this week, John's been stranded when he got off work and the Volvo wouldn't start. Both times, a jump start did the trick. After the first one, they ran by an auto parts place and asked them to check the battery and the alternator. Both checked out fine.

Then James took it out one night. It started right up, ran fine. He let it sit for hours while he was at an event, and drove it home. No problems.

Last night, it wouldn't start for John. He's frustrated that it's only doing it to him, of course. He got another jump, but when he got home he started telling us about the weird behavior of the Volvo on the drive home. Headlights dimmed and brightened, dash lights also behaved oddly... add in the radio cutting in and out (probably a loose wire), and what we suspect may be slightly fouled fuel injectors affecting acceleration, and the whole ride sounds like a scene from Supernatural.

It would be hard not to take that a little personally when the thing drives fine for everyone else and you're pretty sure you're not crazy. After a good night's sleep, I'm able to chuckle a bit. (It's likely an intermittent failure on the alternator, which won't show up unless you've got an hour to spare and can ask the parts place to do the long test. He's not crazy. And the car's not likely possessed.)

So today the boys will get to learn how to switch out the alternator. That's good stuff to know. I'm excited for them to do it again (three cars, all old - this isn't their first walk through). They don't particularly appreciate it at the moment, but one day, they will. You may get to the end of your life and think, "Whew, some of that was challenging," but you don't get to the end of your life and think, "I wish I hadn't been so capable!"

😉

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Sunday, March 12

A Sleepy Day of Worship

We awoke this morning, bright and early. Oh, so, early. Fortunately, it's been so cloudy and overcast this winter that we've stopped relying on how light it is outside to gauge the time. We just had to believe the clocks when they told us it was 6:30 *yawn*...

Somehow, Em and I both got slated to serve in this morning's worship service. I maintain that it was part brilliance (as we might not have made it with the time change), and part evil plan (as helpers have to show up half an hour earlier to get squared away) that they put two of us in on this Sunday. But we made it. On time, even. And nobody fell asleep in their seat. The drive up and the drive back? We lost several, there. But we held our own in the pews.

Yesterday, we had a Philmont training hike, so John and I were out the door at 6 in the morning. The high was something like 39 degrees, and it rained on us nonstop after the first mile. It was a really great opportunity to identify weak points in our gear and training. My gear is basically composed of weak points held together by gravity. My training is essentially at the whim of gravity. But it's good to know.

The Vibram Five Fingers, however, held up admirably, and today, my feet are about the only part of me that is not sore and tight. No blisters, either, in spite of doing the entire 12 miles in wet feet. The thighs, I can blame on the hills we did. (So many hills!) The back and shoulders on not having adjusted the internal frame of my pack before I loaded it up (d'oh!) Also, 400mg magnesium is not near enough to stave off DOMS. See? We learned a lot! Never stop learning!

I'm getting a handle on what food to take for the trail. Blessedly, pre-cooked bacon is shelf stable and fairly light. Guess what I'm eating on the trail? Oh, yeah! The Oberto original jerky trail mix is also nice, although it won't make a full meal substitute. The carbs are a little high for regular consumption (within the context of nutritional ketosis). I pitched the idea today to Z of making jerky from an entire roast before we head out. We'll do a practice roast, first. I'm thinking if we salt it and dry it properly, we can vacuum seal it and it should hold up OK. Will keep you updated on how that goes.

After the hike, John and I split and headed to a bonfire for their ballroom dance class. That was hosted by a family that just started this year, and it was a delightful opportunity for the kids to visit and get to know each other outside the formal setting of the dance floor. They had a blast. I had a blast, too. We got in a lot later than we'd anticipated, but it was worth it. Even at 6:30 this morning.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Saturday, March 11

Didn't see that coming.

James had picked his school. It was The One,  a perfect fit, a fantastic student body. It had the tone, the feel, the sense of purpose that he wanted in a school. "Here, I will thrive." He's been dealing mostly with how to earn the difference between scholarships and cost, with a motivated spirit and a can-do attitude. He even missed a deadline for scholarship applications for one of his back up schools because he'd been accepted to this one, offered scholarship money, and he was mentally committed to it. (I was a little tense about it, but I'm like that, regardless.)

Then today, I got a text from a friend. "Did you get the email from them?" Uh... no... what email?

She couldn't tell me, just sent me the link to the official news page for the college. The One announced today that they are shutting down all degree programs except Education (which James is not in), closing their on-campus housing, and circling the wagons... effective this August.

Well, then.

James is a little stunned. God love him, he took a deep breath, put in more job applications, reached out to network for work options, and is now redoubling his efforts to develop A New Plan. We're a little panicky, but we're not mad. We get it. It's hard to run a school, and if endowments and other donations shrink or disappear, you've got to work within the budget you have. We've visited with these people: they aren't making decisions lightly, or without prayerful consideration of all the outcomes. It can't have been an easy decision to make.

I am supremely thankful they said something before April 1st (not just for the April Fool's awkwardness of it, but because so many additional options go away after that date). As a First-time Freshman, he can change his trajectory pretty quickly. But my heart aches for the students who are already there, mid-way through a program, trying to figure out what to do in the fall. All the application deadlines are months gone. All the funding time is running out. I guess a surprise enforced gap year mid-program could make for an interesting story in a few years, but right now, they've got to be scrambling hard and trying to breathe. I hope the school is using its resources to help them transition.

*whew* I wish I had some wisdom or insight to offer everyone who is affected so strongly by this. And I'm going to stop wishing for things to be set in concrete - because if they are, then you can't move when you need to. Good reminder.

Beyond that, though, I'm just a little stunned by the suddenness of the change. By tonight, I've also mustered a little excitement about the possibilities that we haven't delved into, yet.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Friday, March 10

A Nice Thursday

We had half a beef to pick up today, and Jacob opted not to go to ballet. That left us with one adult to make a run to pick up beef, and nobody needing to drive the gauntlet to make all-the-dance-things. The Littles and I were actually early to sign language, and Z took Jacob into town for me. What a lovely reprieve! Also, this is the first year I can keep track of Spring break - solely because the ballet school observes it, and that means a full week off! WOOHOO! (I'm far more excited about that than he is.)

Otherwise, things are kicking along, here. Everyone is busy and productive. If anyone would like to sign a male model or hire an IT intern, shoot me a message. I can hook you up!

John was glad to get home yesterday, and is even more glad that the college search is behind us. (I might cry if he changes his mind on that in a year, though. I mean, he can do that if he needs to. It's all good. But... yeah, I'm crossing my fingers that he doesn't.)

I've been spending a lot of time picking the brains of the parents who are a few klicks ahead, and it seems that the various quirks and foibles of this particular stage are all... nice and normal. That's encouraging. I'm still losing my mind, but at least I'm in good company, right?

And really, that's about all that's happening here. Quiet. Lovely. Kids are being kids. Weather's being weird. It doesn't make for particularly gripping writing, but man, is it nice to experience!

Be encouraged!
~ Dy

Thursday, March 9

We got it.

Well, I got it. We drove and talked. We listened to Tolstoy's How Much Land Does A Man Need. (Good story. I see what Martin means when he explains why he thinks Tolstoy is better than Dostoyevsky. I get it. I'm just not... sold, and just can't... love him. But it's all good, now.) We talked.

We stopped at a neat little place in Cookeville to meet up with friends and enjoy lunch and company. Our waitress was a delightful woman working her way through her PhD in Reading and Literacy. We squealed (we being my friend and I - John doesn't squeal over PhD plans just yet). But it was so very lovely.

And then... you know how you spend all of your parenting effort in trying to make sure you give your child exactly what he needs, or exactly what you would have wanted when you were a child (because let's face it, that's all we actually know for certain)? And you work really, really hard at being The Best Parent and nailing all the things all the time?

Yeah. And you know how that doesn't really work? And sometimes, to draw an illustration, you're pedaling along, thinking you're knocking out 22mph on your parenting bike, with the wind in your hair and the trees whizzing by on your glorious trek, only to find out you're on a stationary bike and not even actually outside, let alone making any legit progress.

I had one of those moments. Turns out, this one would rather have someone understand how not-fun a situation is than have someone brainstorm ways to make it better. That space gives him time to breathe and think it through on his own. That is totally foreign to me, because if something's bothering me and I say, "This is bothering me," I want some action on it, please and thank you. But the whole point of being supportive is that you want to do it in a way that has the outcome of supporting the person, not just the way that seems supportive to you.

So.

But I'm hopeful, because we talked. Or rather, because he talked. I listened. And then he asked me not to think up solutions - just be still and give him my empathy - that that's what he really needed. And I, being wired for fixing things that aren't working, choked back explaining that I am so very empathetic! SO empathetic that I really do feel his anguish and frustration and I WANT TO FIX IT RIGHT NOW AND I CAN THINK OF AT LEAST FOUR REALLY HELPFUL IDEAS RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE... but I'm not saying that because we could both die of irony, right here in the car. (I did tell him a little later how hard it was not to do that, and we laughed.)

I guess I'm hopeful because of the laughter more than the talking. But also because if he hadn't said, "Yeah, that's not working for me," I wouldn't have known. But now I do, and that's encouraging. (It's also hard, and it's not going to be a cake walk trying to make changes, but they are worth making. He is worth making them for.)

Be encouraged!
~ Dy

Wednesday, March 8

Kentucky is Beautiful and Life is Weird

So, John and I are in Kentucky to visit the University of Kentucky. Since it's a full day's drive and the tour starts before we usually even get around to making breakfast, we decided to come up the day before and spend the night. The little bohemian in my head started chanting, "Road trip! Road trip!" It is so beautiful here. Wow! Go, Kentucky!

He, however, was not so keen. Turns out, he doesn't have a little bohemian in his head. He has a homebody and someone who bakes... a comedian, and a pretty competent first responder. And that's about it. I don't get it, but he's happy, so I don't have to get it. He is also a very good sport, and he agreed to stop at the Hidden River Cave for a tour and some rappelling yesterday. So that was cool.

We were about three hours into our drive when he told me that he's actually pretty committed to going to one college, in particular. He'd only agreed to come on this because he has made the reservation before he'd toured the other one. By the time he'd made his decision, it was too late to cancel with any decency, and he didn't want to just be a no-show.

Thus begins, and ends, our Spring College Tour of '17. *moment of silence*

Jacob's already making noise about the Naval Academy. So, probably not gonna get a lot of travel time out of that one, either.

If this keeps up, I may just drag the Littles to see every school on every continent. I've been looking forward to week-long road trips with fledgling kids ever since I learned that was A Thing. I pictured unplanned segues into neat little shops, eating at small diners, walking the streets of cities we hadn't seen before. I envisioned mad dashes to get from one place to another because this next one might just be The One. I hadn't honestly expected that it wouldn't be Our Thing. So far, it's not. Both of them hit a couple mandatory tours that I'd set up to help them get a feel for it, then promptly poked around, picked the school they wanted, and said, "Found it." Done. (None were on the Mandatory Tours list, so at least I know they weren't just picking something to shut me up. That's good.)

Yet another reminder that it's all OK - however it shakes down, whatever it looks like, it is all OK. Also, it's about them. Enjoy them. Let them lead. Follow where they want to explore. If you can get a road trip out of it, savor it. If not, enjoy hanging out at home. Whatever works, works. And that's good stuff.

We're off to breakfast at the hotel. Checked the weather, and it doesn't look like we'll need to stop for rain jackets, so we're set for the day!

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Sunday, March 5

Sleep

It is 9:40 this morning. Everyone is asleep except for me, and the one who wakes up talking nonstop. So we're hanging out, chatting and doing things. It's a lovely way to start the day.

The show last night was fantastic. I did not know what to expect, but it did not disappoint. We had four incredible designers showcasing their looks, several local boutiques and stores, and a millinery show that absolutely blew the crowd away. I can see why this is a passion for so many -- when you can see that in your head, how can you not work to make it a reality?

I think that's something we can all take from the art communities - Go For It. If you've got a vision, if you've got an idea, don't let excuses get in your way. Make it a reality. The work is going to be hard, long, complex, and challenging, but in the end it will be more satisfying than words can describe. We should all tackle the ideas in our heads with such vigor.

That said, I've got to tackle the Calendar Vikings and the Budget Broadcast today, or the inside of my head is going to resemble nothing but the kitchen of a poorly run restaurant. We've got a campus visit this week, and I have no idea what else...

Be encouraged!
~ Dy

Saturday, March 4

Today is the Finale

I guess Z let the Littles wash their Pusheen plush toys yesterday when he threw in a load of sheets. That was very cool of him. The little cretins (I say that lovingly), however, opened the wash and retrieved their soft toys before the load had finished drying, but didn't think to mention it to anyone. So we had damp bedding after last night's show. We reset the dryer and then settled in on the couch last night to wait for them to dry. We awoke this morning, on the couch, piled up like kittens, still dressed in party garb and feeling faintly like we hadn't had quite enough fun to be waking up in that condition. Clearly, we had not planned that out well. Thankfully, we have a comfy couch, so we're not dragging today.

This morning, though, the house looked a little like a circus. Some of the crew was up and loading up for a competition down south, balancing awkward loads and tossing things back and forth. The Littles scrambled around trying to cobble together some semblance of winter wear (we really haven't had "Winter" yet). I think I saw someone wearing mismatched gloves, and I was glad they'd found one for each hand. Someone threw in a load of wash - that's gonna hurt when it's time to go, because I'm pretty sure it was something they needed for the show today... There are people doing homework, people reading books, people running through skin care routines, people making breakfast, people packing bags. Many are the same people doing multiple things. If I were clever, I'd have Chromecast some calliope music to set the mood. Instead, I made coffee. Probably more supportive that way.

In a little bit, we will head into town for one long, long day. I can't even pretend that I know what it's going to look like other than long. And good. I'm excited. And tired. It's the final day of Fashion Week Alabama. There's still time to buy a ticket and come enjoy the spectacular show and entertainment tonight - we'll be at Lowe Mill.



Enjoy your circus today. Love on those monkeys!

Be encouraged!
~ Dy

Friday, March 3

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

One good thing has come of the boys' foray into the fashion industry: I get to model (heh) how to step outside your comfort zone and still function.

This has been so good for me. Not because it's oodles of fun to stand in a crowd of 5'10" size zeroes and a dozen photographers. Not because I will ever have any clue about fashion or how it works. But because it's easy to just accept that the entirety of parenting is being shoved repeatedly out of your comfort zone and call it good. (As soon as you figure out how to not stress about toddlers, the game changes and you're in the preschool years. Shortly after you get the hang of that, here comes 6. And then pre-adolescence. Then, God help us, 13. It will keep you on your toes, for sure.) It's easy to stop trying things that make you uncomfortable because you know in the blink of an eye you're going to be discussing genitalia and executive function on a damn-near daily basis, so why go looking for trouble?

Because it stretches us. It lengthens us. It strengthens us. Because if yoga is good for your body, then this is yoga for your mind. For your spirit. For your outlook.

Some of what I've learned, I already knew and just needed to be reminded of: those lovely girls are just girls - they have the capacity to be kind, to be catty, to be anxious, and to be bold. You know, just like everyone else. Those photographers? They just love what they do. They see beauty in everything - every nook and cranny, every twinkling eye and every somber moment.

Some of what I've learned is new: what happens behind the scenes, how all this *flaps hands wildly* works, what goes into it, what makes a show (or a photo shoot, or a look book) happen. I've learned what the process looks like, and how it's different for each person involved (going back to that whole people-are-people thing, above). It's been fascinating. And exhausting. And for my ENTJ brain, a little bit frustrating. I'm not going to lie. But overall, it's been good.

Mostly, though, I appreciate being able to show the boys, first hand, how one goes about wading into a world that is absolutely not your world, and how the same things we've taught them about our world apply.

Be kind.
Be honest.
Look people in the eye.
Smile.
Offer to help.
Appreciate what others do.
Offer to do what you can, and be willing to learn new things.
Wear it like you meant it.*

Plus, my posture's improving. 😄 So I guess even standing in a room of 5'10" size zeroes is beneficial in and of itself.

Be encouraged!
~ Dy

* OK, that last one comes from the many, many times we've gotten to wherever we're going only to discover one of us was wearing mis-matched socks, or shoes, or the wrong pants. Just hold your head up and wear it like you meant it. That works on the runway, too.

Thursday, March 2

Dumb and ...

Sometimes, while going over how best to approach something, We Who Live Here and up having conversations that go like this:

"You want to get up and get ready for the day as if you have an interview."

"But I don't have an interview."

"But you could."

"But I don't."

"But you could!"

"I think I'd know if I had an interview."

"OK, that's true. But it could be a surprise interview."

*awkward pause*

"So you're saying there's a chance?"

*Insert another awkward pause as we try to figure out which of us is Jim Carrey in this discussion.*

via GIPHY

And yeah, life is weird. No, we're not always going to have an interview. Or a surprise interview. But I can say that the few times I've slipped out of the house in my generation's equivalent of a Steven Universe shirt and a pair of sweats when I was actively looking for work, I've run into someone who was poised to advance or hinder my forward progress to my goals. (Not the goals that involve wearing that, either.) It's just the cruel irony of life.

When you add in the fact that we're a good 40 minutes from anyone who might want to interview any of Us Who Live Here, well, you're going want that extra time to make the drive when someone does call at 11 in the morning and says, "Hey, we got your resume and would love to speak with you. Can you come in this afternoon?"

Worse yet, you want to be able to say yes if you're already in town when they call to invite you in and there isn't time to go home, shower, change, and get back into town. (True story.) Or just muster the moxie to show up in your con shirt and cut off shorts and hope for the best. But honestly, that level of muster is exhausting and not sustainable.

Thankfully, the kids get that I'm not just making this stuff up. It's real. It's pertinent to them. This is not just Mom Talking To Hear Herself Make Words. Most of the time. Sometimes they need to experience their own True Story for it to come together. But that's OK. Life is really quite complex and nuanced, and we have many more odd conversations to have before they're ready to leave.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the phone calls and texts that will come in the future. Hopefully we'll be able to laugh and say, "Ah, so there was a chance!"

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Wednesday, March 1

It's Go Time!

While James has been writing essays, researching scholarships, pounding the pavement looking for work, he's also been working towards this week: It's Fashion Week in North Alabama!


Photography by Mannon Giovanni
Suit by Dionicio's Closet
Styled by Shauntana Buchannan
Hair by Hair of Essence 

The Kick-Off is tonight, with runway looks by designer LeJeune, a special presentation from Belk styled by Shauntana Buchannan (who is available to help you put your look together - just stop by the Belk in Bridge Street, Madison, and ask for her), a formal wear show, as well as pop-up boutiques, art, and more.

There will be shows each night, from tonight through Saturday's Finale.

If you would like to come, please consider purchasing your ticket through this link and help support the AFA, as well as James. (He does not receive proceeds from the sale of tickets. He only helps move Fashion Week Alabama forward.)

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Sunday, February 26

Stress. It's so stressy.

The other day, James brought up an idea in an article that he'd read. I'm going to try to find it, but the gist was that one of the biggest stressors in life is Unmade Decisions. While it seems silly that opportunity is stressful, it also makes sense. There's that level of uncertainty - if you don't know what you want to do, what are you going to do? If you can't make a decision, opportunities dissolve (and they may not be ones you wanted to take in the end, but you'll never know, now), communications dwindle (we all know the discomfort of realizing you didn't communicate something, and now it's awkward, so you keep putting it off, and it keeps getting more awkward... but the need is still very much present), the pressure of deadlines and expectations and disappointments pile up. It's all very paralyzing.

You may have plenty of options in front of you: gap year, wander the earth like Cain, work, intern, university, community college for a bit with an eye to transfer, community college with an eye toward certifications, apprenticeship. But where you're going to be in a year, in two years, is going to look very different if you take the wandering route than if you take the work route. So there's that high-level, intrinsic uncertainty that erodes as any attempts to make plans or decisions when there are Unmade Decisions - especially the ones that hinge on an Unmade Decision.

Some of this seems unavoidable, and I default to rest, hydration, nutrition, and spiritual care. Then just suck it up beyond that. But I did find this article at Psychology Today, which doesn't address the stress of Unmade Decisions directly, but is very thoughtfully presented input on making sound decisions.

This discussion came up in the context of James' stress, specifically. He is so stressed. Honestly, he's doing fine. He's on track-ish. (There's always room for improvement when your parents aren't doing the paperwork and planning. It's harder in the short term, but so much better in the long run. Hence, the -ish. It's said with love, and a nod at reality.) He's got ideas and plans, and they're good, but the stress in his head is impacting his ability to think, or to plan. It hit me the other night that he really needs to make the decision as to which college he will commit to attending. I suspect that having that uncertainty no longer floating in his head will smooth out the chaos in there a bit and let him get to working on the immediate tasks with a little more confidence. (And, honestly, I pitched that half expecting it to be blown off as Crazed Mumbo Jumbo Mom Spouts, but it wasn't. He gets that that is contributing to a certain inability to make other plans, to engage and get excited about something concrete and attainable. So, whew. I'm glad he pulled something helpful from what I put out there. I'm even more appreciative that he shared the information he had on Unmade Decisions - it was like connecting two dangling thoughts into one coherent concept, for both of us.)

I need to keep reminding myself that it's best to have the mind of a beginner, even as the parent. We don't really have to have all the answers - we just have to be willing to wend our way toward finding them.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

Saturday, February 25

First Visit Without Me, Still Don't Know What I'm Doing

It's John's turn to visit colleges he's picked this Spring. He's at his first visit without his brother, which I think is going to be really great for him. They get along well, but they are so different, and they operate on different frequencies. So it'll be good for John to explore at his pace and see what resonates with him.

He's also there without me, and while it's fantastic for him to have time with Z, and all that ... This is weird. So I'm up, doing paperwork, paying bills, quieting the Calendar Vikings.

And texting with a friend who is about the same distance down this path as I am. (She's got one fledging, and one running the system check to get on deck next year.) She, too, sounds like she's being held hostage in a game show where you have to figure out the rules as you play and they throw wet things at your head when you get a question wrong. I had no idea this was what we sounded like, but there's been a lot of, "You, too!" and "I'm so glad it's not just me!" flying back and forth this morning. So, yeah. There's that.

So, to those of you fledging your first this year, we raise a toast. Yes, it's before 5. Yes, it's a stout one. We salute you. You are not alone.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy


Friday, February 24

Understanding

Last night, when the boys returned from class, James said, "Wow. Now I understand how hard what you do really is."

I truly appreciated that. He wasn't talking about the teaching, planning, guiding, or feeding aspects, but that's OK. Because what's really killing me this semester is Thursday's driving.

Z and I have a car sharing arrangement that allows whoever is driving more miles to take the most fuel efficient vehicle. So, two days a week I get his commuter car. (We're not quite where we can sell the Suburban, but we are very, very close.) It's a great arrangement and it's run smoothly for the most part. Yesterday, however, on his way out the door, James snagged the keychain with the one and only key to Z's car. I didn't realize it when he grabbed the keys, because we keep all the keys on the same shelf. We have copies of most keys, and he just didn't think about it being an issue.

But when the rest of us got ready to head out to run errands, hit the book store, get shoes, and head to class (all things I'd planned because Jacob had opted to skip ballroom to buy us an extra two hours), I couldn't find the key (obviously, with it not being home). Eventually, I called James to ask where he'd set it when he'd gotten in the previous night. (This is the one time I hated that he's so good about putting his phone on vibrate while he's in class. I had to keep calling and just hope it was in his pants pocket.)

"Well, I have one here, in my pocket."

"That's the only one. I need it!"

So, bless him, James drove up from Ballroom to bring me the key. And I tasked him with getting Jacob to ballet so I could take the Littles straight to sign language because the delay had made it likely that no one would get to the right place in time if I had to do both (there is no time to detour to the house, really, and we hit rush hour traffic). He did (because he's awesome). And then he had to drive back down for class, and to pick up his brother who'd waited for him at a coffee shop, then drive home. When he got home, he'd logged 192 miles. Or, as we like to call it, A Full Thursday.

He was beat. I sympathized and suggested a hot cup of tea and an early lights out. He probably slept like the dead.

And as much as I hated for him to have to run the gauntlet of a Thursday, I'm actually glad he did it. It's good for him to understand that sometimes the schedule is a high wire act and we all have to do our parts in order for us not to keep falling off the wire and having to scramble across the net, back up the ladder, and out onto the wire again. But it was also very good for him to have first-hand experience of the way you scramble across the net, back up the ladder, and out onto the wire again. Ta-da! It can be done. And it's OK.

I mean, I wouldn't ever shove a kid off a bike just so they could learn to get back on, but it is good to fall off and see that it's not the end of the world. I guess we'll just call those the happy accidents in life. (One more, and then I'll stop. Promise.) Things come apart at the seams and you learn how to use double-sided tape or a stapler to keep it together until you can get home and redo the seams, right?

As a parent, it was a huge win, if only because I didn't yell (well, outside my head). It was an accident. It wasn't malicious or indicative of any massive character failing. It was just a goof up, and although it made SO many things hard for the rest of the day, it didn't do an actual harm. Plus, the Littles got to class on time, and that was fantastic for them.

Happy accidents, none on the actual highway. I'm a happy camper. And today, we get a spare key made for Z's commuter car...

Be encouraged!

~ Dy