Saturday, December 31, 2011

Please, No Pictures

Today started with me mourning hard for Christmas. I'm fairly pathetic over the passing of the holiday season every year. And I'm a world champion moper--it's hard to outdo me for melancholy and melodrama. So I did what every weepy mama does when she is trying not to dwell on the ending of another chapter in the lives of her children--I went birdwatching. It's hard to beat a New Year's Eve pizza picnic at the wildlife refuge on a sunny 60 degree day.

We enjoyed the company of the usual suspects--harriers, eagles, herons, coots, pintails. The sky was amazing with dark clouds on one side and the sun on the other. Naturally we found ourselves without a usable camera (long, frustrating, and boring story). And then, what did we spot, but a red fox sitting right in the middle of the road. All of a sudden we went from being all alone to being surrounded by people with cameras that had lenses on them the size of my two-year-old. It was like the wildlife paparazzi. They were literally just a few feet away from this poor fox with their giant lenses, while it tried to get a drink of water. I can't imagine what they were trying to photograph--fleas?

Anyway, it struck me that sometimes it's better to leave the camera at home and just enjoy the moment. Perhaps that will be my mantra for the new year.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's been a wild month for me. Two birthdays, seven doctor visits (five of them for me), three Percocet, and one retirement. I'm hoping tonight marks the end of the madness for awhile and that Christmas week is peaceful. Twelve years ago today I brought my second child home from the hospital. He was born on the 23rd and they offered to let me stay an extra day, but there was no way I was going to be in the hospital for Christmas. Because he was just over a week early, I was caught unawares and unprepared. The birth I was ready for, but Christmas day--not so much. Being a serial procrastinator, I had counted on those last couple days as being my get-it-done time. As a result, I was still trying to wrap presents moments before they were opened. Austin, then 5, was sick with a fever, cough, and stomach upset, I was an emotional wreck with postpartum hormone collapse, and I still was determined to cook Christmas dinner for my parents (which they permitted--at that point it was probably wise to not challenge me--though they did help a good deal). By comparison, this Christmas feels calm. At least I managed to wrap everything with a day to spare this year. Just a few last minute gifts to set up and I'll be on my way to dreamland.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happiness Is . . .

. . . warm sugar cookies.
. . . a two-year-old playing the piano and singing while greeting any attention one pays to this activity with, "Mom, stop!"
. . . leftover Chinese food.
. . . bird watching in the freezing cold and seeing two swans fly over.
. . . seeing an 11-year-old get emotional with joy over picking out a gift he wants for the sole purpose of giving it away to an unknown boy in need.
. . . a fire in the woodstove.
. . . watching my 17-year-old grow in his social skills and reach out with real interest to others (preferably those outside his family--he is 17, after all).
. . . playing Christmas music.
. . . having my shopping done and nothing left to focus on except feeling the Christmas spirit.
. . . my husband coming home from work for the last time and feeling like a newlywed after 20 years of marriage because I get to keep him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Santa's Mixed Bag

Christmas shopping for my youngest has been unexpectedly complicated for me this year. This is my third time shopping for a 2-year-old boy, so you'd think I'd be up to the task. This is supposed to be the easy age--interests are simple, expectations are low. But I forgot to account for the big-brother factor. The day-to-day reality is that my little one is continually exposed to toys outside the preschool realm. He loves to play Angry Birds (and is quite capable of scoring 3 stars, I might add), watch Dinosaur Planet (we were trying to watch a nice Christmas movie and every commercial break had him exclaiming, "Now dinosaur video!"), race hotwheels cars, and play with our vast collection of wild animals figures. All of which leaves me standing completely befuddled in the toy store trying to choose between toys that seem too babyish and toys that are clearly too sophisticated. I'm seriously considering wrapping up some big brother hand-me-downs and sticking them under the tree. If that doesn't work, there's always Play-doh.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where's My . . . What?

When children are very young, it is fun to play with them because they are just so adorable about everything. Their pure delight in the smallest discovery is addictively enchanting. The older they become, the less there is of that innocent wonder and the more they become, well, like us. This can be a sad transition, as any mother knows. The magic of babyhood is unmatched.

The good news, though, is that there is an up side to the move from toddler to teen. The games they like to play get, well, cooler. I know, I know, it is hard to beat Duck, Duck, Goose. But when your preteen gets you hooked on Where's My Water?, you'll know what I mean.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Very eBay Christmas

Ah, the magic of the season! There is nothing to match the joy of finding just the right gift for that special someone only to discover that it's just the right gift for many other special someones out there. What to do when that perfect gift is sold out everywhere? Why, head to eBay, of course, where--after the adrenaline rush that can only be found as you watch the final seconds tick by at the end of an auction, setting your bid to that strategic number, timing the entry of that bid that allows the page to load but no one to outbid you--you can pay twice as much for the item as you would have paid for it in the store had you made the decision to buy it just a week sooner. But even after all that, you're going to feel so happy that you will actually feel grateful to the opportunist who bought the item from the store even though they didn't want it (!) for the sole purpose of selling it back to you at an exorbitant profit.

By the way, if anyone sees a green Leappad Explorer in a store somewhere, call me. Ho ho ho!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Learn From Me

Awakenings. It's a compelling and inspiring, though somewhat disturbing, film. To watch these characters whose lives have been stolen by illness miraculously emerge from vegetative states, only to slip away again as the experimental treatment ultimately fails, is a harrowing experience. As Leonard, played by Robert DeNiro, begins regressing, he begs Dr. Sayer, played by Robin Williams, to "Learn from me!" When Dr. Sayer sinks into despair and can't bear to watch the suffering of the man who has become his friend, Leonard insists that he watch him, study him, and film him, in the hope that a solution can be found that will be able to help not just him, but others like him.

This scene jumped to my mind as I read Ashley Sullenger's blog today. I don't know her, but I've followed her blog since her daughter died from an accidental drowning a year and a half ago. There are many women out there who, like Ashley, are bravely opening up about their private struggles to navigate the unthinkable, allowing others to learn from them. I am a better mother and a better person because of these women. I want to thank them and encourage you to check out the blogs in the list to the right.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mind the Gap

If you've looked to the side of my blog lately, you know that I am currently counting down the days until I have a full-time house husband at my disposal. For all those who made funny faces or scathing remarks when I married above my age bracket, this is my big chance to have the last laugh. Here I am with a house full of kids, still a relatively young woman with what I hope is at least half of my life before me, and I get to enter the retiree phase of life. You are welcome to envy me.

While I never set out to marry someone much older, it can hardly have been a surprise to anyone who knew me. When I was 15, I had a crush on a 52-year-old friend of my parents. When I was 17, I took a 22-year-old to my junior prom. The truth is, I never really felt at ease with many people of my own age. So, when I found myself falling for the wonderful man who became my husband, discovering the 20-year gap in our ages only gave me the briefest pause. Why, I asked myself, does that need to matter?

My husband, bless him, worried that it would matter. He wasted a portion of our courtship in trying to convince me of this, to no avail. It is true that there are some generational differences. My children's cousins were mostly grown up by the time they were just entering the scene. And I have been mistaken for my husband's daughter a handful of times--though I might just attribute that to my deceptively youthful appearance and count it as a compliment to me.

The thing is, it has never mattered. The age issue has never been a part of our relationship. We have grown up together just as surely as any same-age couple. When I look at him, I see nothing more or less than the sweet companion of my life. It is only through others' eyes that I am reminded that there is anything out of the common way in our situation. Which makes me realize that they are right--I am uncommonly blessed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up

There's not much to say about Thanksgiving except that it was glorious. It was an easy, breezy day full of yummy food, courtesy of Cracker Barrel and the lovely Petya--waitress extraordinaire. Seriously, if you're going to eat away from home on a major holiday, why not make it someplace where you can rock on the porch and play checkers.

So then it was over the boardwalk to bask in the sunshine and salt air. I fell in love with a little white goldendoodle puppy, but managed to keep from running off with the little nipping furball. What a lovely day it was!

After a literal kicking and screaming departure from the scene, we had a peaceful drive home. Traditional football watching was replaced by a stirring episode of Dinosaur Planet followed by a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Cookies and pie were eaten, a Christmas tree was hauled up from the basement and decorated, and a happy, tired family snuggled in front of the fire.

Next stop . . . Christmas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


While my husband was off helping a friend assemble a table and chairs this evening, a bat made its way into my house. This happens sometimes. It's one of the occupational hazards of living in the woods. We have developed a number of strategies that we use for removing such intruders, all of which involve my husband, welding gloves, and a broom. Tonight, being in possession of only the gloves and broom, I had to contemplate new strategies, like the huddle-in-the-corner-with-a-large-stick-until-my-husband-came-home strategy or the pack-the-kids-into-the-car-and-leave-home strategy. But I am proud to say I faced my fear and grabbed that tiny flying mammal (wearing the welding gloves, of course) and so saved my entire family.

I was reminded today of the fear component that goes along with autism. When my oldest was 5, he saw a commercial in which a woman grabs a paper towel and her arm becomes huge and muscled and yanks her around the room, cleaning everything in her path. I didn't realize at the time how frightening this was to him. He's still not hugely communicative when it comes to his anxieties, but back then he was a completely closed book. It wasn't until we were grocery shopping with his baby brother in the cart and I made an attempt to go down the paper goods aisle that the problem revealed itself. Austin bolted like he was being charged down by a pack of ravenous wolves and I, being a loving and protective parent unwilling to leave an infant to go off in pursuit, grabbed him and wrestled him right to the floor. Such a proud moment in my history as a mother. I have this image of the store security camera footage of the event being kept on file in some dark warehouse somewhere.

While we were able to get to the bottom of that one, and eventually move past it, irrational fears like this have plagued Austin all his life. His fears are inconsistent, rarely based on anything in reality, entirely random, and almost completely paralyzing to him. He faced one fear today, venturing into the basement while the dryer was on, trembling in mortal terror that the buzzer would go off while he was down there. The buzzer remained silent, he emerged intact, and he was very proud of himself that he bested his emotions.

All of which puts me in mind of the motto for HANDLE, one of the therapies we utilize for Austin--"Helping extraordinary people do ordinary things." That's really what it all comes down to. Autism makes it so difficult to do the ordinary things. And it always feels that as soon as one obstacle is removed, another springs up to take its place. But I am thankful (gratuitous Thanksgiving tie-in) at how far we have come and at how long it's been since I've had to tackle my son (especially since he's now bigger than me). And so pleased that he's doing some of his own tackling these days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Gratitude

First, I would like to thank all the people who invited my family to Thanksgiving dinner after my last post. You are all too kind!

And now, because--as everyone who's ever stuffed themselves silly on this fine holiday knows--there is a gluttonous side to Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks for my most valuable material indulgences. Those things I could live without, but can't--you know what I mean.

1. My DVR. How life changing it was when I could suddenly pause and/or rewind my television! Once I'd experienced it, I could never go back. *sigh*

2. My computer. My life is on this sleek little machine (Toshiba, not Apple, thank-you-very-much). Anything I can get done by using it is always the first thing completed on my to-do list. If I could ever figure out a way to clean my house via software it would be a perfect world.

3. My tablet. We actually have three in our family--and iPad, a Galaxy Tab, and a Toshiba Thrive. They are flashy, fun, practical, and frivolous. But the best part is how any one of them will thoroughly occupy a restless toddler in a pinch. I never leave home without one.

4. My PurePro Water Ionizer. Because I'm not all about the tech gadgets, here's one toy that's about being healthier. If you want to get in on the hexagonal water craze, this is about as cheap as you can do it and still have top quality. My favorite thing about this machine is the way it acidified the water I put in my fish tank, clearing up a long-fought algae problem in one day.

5. My Chevy Traverse. We saved, we scrimped, we shopped, and 3 months ago we brought this beauty home. I love everything about this car. Someday it will be towing a camper, but for now it's just toting my family around town in fine style.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Non-Traditional Traditions

Ever since I met my husband twenty years ago, we have spent Thanksgiving with his family. It was already a long-standing tradition with them that I stepped into--hesitantly at first, but then with anticipation as it became my tradition, too. But time has a way of evolving old traditions into new ones and, as my niece and nephews grew up and moved away to start families of their own, the old custom began to lose its shape a bit. Last year, it came to a final end, with each of my husband's siblings moving on to new traditions.

And so it was that we found ourselves unexpectedly on our own for the holiday. After the requisite moping over the situation, it struck us that we were free for the first time to shape our own new tradition. What we ended up with was something I never thought I'd do. It may shock you to hear, but there will be no turkey in my oven this Thursday, nor will I be slaving away in any part of my kitchen.

The cold, hard truth is that we are eating our Thanksgiving meal in a restaurant. So fun! We will be in front of a roaring fire at Cracker Barrel where my kids can have burgers and fries or pancakes and bacon or anything else they desire for Thanksgiving. I won't have to clean, cook, or clean up from cooking. When the meal is over, there is nothing to do but leave a big tip. And remember to pay. That's right, last year we left without paying. Well, we didn't fully leave. My husband thought I had grabbed the check and I thought he had. We were at the car when I asked him how much he tipped our server. At this point the restaurant was very crowded. I went charging through the mob to find our waitress standing by our table with the check crumpled in her hand. What a proud moment that was. How much should you tip someone who is working on Thanksgiving so that you can be decadent and self-indulgent after you leave her to think you were a thieving ingrate? And that's not even going into the piece of pie we left on the roof of our car as we drove away . . .

Clearly our new tradition needs some refining.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Turkey Trot

Carter leading the cheering section

Austin has been running for P.E. this year. He's always loved to run, but getting him to do it in a straight line and with a purpose has been a little challenging. He's still inclined to give in to the sensory delight of the wind rushing by him, but he's gotten better at putting those long legs to good use. Today was his first venture into racing. He was very nervous, which, of course, manifested itself in a little less control of his breathing and stride. In the end, though, he did quite well for his first time. Our good friend Donna, an experienced runner, partnered with Austin to help show him the ropes. Thanks goodness for her, because none of us can run to save our lives. 

 Waiting for the race to start

Coming to the finish line


Austin didn't place in his age group this time around, but he showed plenty of great potential. We're betting he does great in the spring races. He did, however, win the drawing for a free turkey--the perfect prize for a boy driven by his stomach.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Giving Thanks

In honor of Thanksgiving next week, I thought I would share some of the things I am most thankful for in my life. From the sublime to the ridiculous, it's a diverse list, so I'll tackle it in sections. Today I present five challenges for which I am (at least in part) grateful.

1. Autism tops this list. When my oldest was diagnosed almost 14 years ago, I crumbled into a million dysfunctional pieces. I had to say goodbye to nearly all the plans I had laid for my adult life. I had to mourn the loss of the life I dreamed my child would have. But the person that arose from that rubble is living a happier life today than she ever thought possible. I was forced to rebuild and reshape everything and while I hate autism dearly, I am sincerely thankful for the new path I was compelled to find for myself. The rebuilding process was not pretty, however, which brings me to . . .

2. The fallout from the first post-diagnosis year. I went from denial to self-destruct mode, withdrawing from my family and careening around like an adolescent with no boundaries or responsibilities. I have been to the brink of wrecking my life and I still remember the view from the precipice. What I learned from that experience was the single most powerful and sacred lesson of my life. Not only did I return to God and family, I found myself in a very fundamental way.

3. Not having a daughter was a crushing blow that now seems laughable to me. The bitterness I felt when I discovered our last child would be a third son instead of the wished for girl is, well, embarrassing. I can't even remember why I wished for such a thing. I am grateful for the lesson of humility that came from this spell of childishness and call upon it regularly to remind myself to not question why I have received some blessings and not others.

4. While I'm on the topic of that third cherubic now 2-year-old, I have to give thanks for the many, many sleepless nights and napless days he has put me through. For all the times I had to endure other moms gushing over babies who napped for 3 hours and slept for 12 every night; for all the nights I woke up for the 5th time; for all the times I got him settled in his crib only to have him wake 10 minutes later, I have struggled, but never despaired. Even at 3 am I have given thanks for this child who makes my life difficult all while batting those big blue eyes at me. There are so many mothers in the world in real pain--mothers whose children are severely impaired, mothers whose children are sick or suffering, mothers whose children have died. I give thanks to those mothers for sharing that perspective with me.

5. Last, but not least, I must express my gratitude for the unending piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and clutter that I battle on a daily basis. Perhaps I will one day conquer them, but for now they are constant reminders of a home full of life and a life of plenty.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One More Try

So, I had pretty much decided to give up on the whole blogging venture. I got seriously derailed back in May when I stumbled across the blog of a young woman who lost her 4-month-old baby to a horrible disease. After reading her story and those of others like her, talking about my ordinary little life seemed trite. I just couldn't think there was anything meaningful I could say when there were people out there struggling through such horrific experiences.

However, trite though it may sometimes be, my life is my life. I am struggling through my own issues to be sure and, just as my perspective is altered by reading the accounts of others, perhaps someone may benefit from peeking into my corner of earth. If not, at least it can serve as my little venture in self-indulgence.

Today's lesson: the tyrannosaurus rex was actually a scavenger not a hunter. This is life-altering information. The sub-text to this lesson is that we've decided we would run from one anyway.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

No Words

I cannot begin to fathom the sorrow. Please consider supporting this organization. To read one family's account of their experience with this disease, visit Living Our Love Song.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gone to Seed

There is nothing like growing lovely flowers in your garden. Unless, of course, those flowers are meant to be broccoli. This was my first attempt at growing broccoli and I can't say it has been much of a success. Each plant produced just one floret and while I naively waited for something impressive to happen (like a head of broccoli to appear from nowhere) those single florets opened into these very cute little yellow flowers. Don't worry, though--they did not go to waste. I snipped them off and had a charming Mother's Day centerpiece for my table. My children have decided this is how they like broccoli best.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Worth It

Though I have become, over the years, a zealot when it comes to home schooling, occasionally I have to confess a challenging aspect or two. The challenge of the moment for me is certainly not unique to home schoolers. It is the question of finding self worth.

Ever one of the brainy girls during my public school days, I struggled socially for most of my formative years. My validation came in the form of grades and praise from teachers. I became quite addicted to it and was very competitive--not a trait that helped in the social department, incidentally. This pattern continued into college to some extent, though I did make an effort to curb the competitive side. And so it can be particularly difficult for me to now be in a position of having to determine my own worth from within the confines of my lifestyle. My children certainly aren't heaping me with praise on a daily basis. To be fair, they do sometimes say very nice things, but mainly my efforts are met with complaints, sighs, and often negative attitudes. My husband is extremely supportive and encouraging, and will lavish me with accolades at the slightest hint. Unfortunately, it is too easy for me to dismiss his opinions on the matter. After all, he is contractually obligated to love me, making him not the most objective judge of my performance.

I applied for a job a couple of weeks ago. It was a teaching position with an online school. I don't think I really wanted it, so much as I was giving in to that old craving for external kudos. When I was informed that I lacked the qualifications to even warrant an interview, I started to spiral into a feeling of having no value or merit. I have taken the past week to do a little soul-searching and I have realized that it is simply time to change the tools with which I take my personal measurements. If I want to have that feeling of self worth, than I must value what I do. It's not up to the world to do that for me anymore.

How fitting to be deep in these thoughts during Mother's Day. What a common plight for women to worry over what the world thinks of us, especially when we choose to stay home with our children rather than pursue careers. We so readily buy into the notion that work for pay is the only work of real value. We dwell on what we have "given up" to be full time mothers and forget that motherhood is the ultimate promotion and we deserve to wear the role as proudly as any academic credentials or job title.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 25 - April 29

Spring break! This has been a very renewing week, full of turning my attention to non-school related projects. Of course, as nice as it was to have a break from actual teaching, my inner school geek couldn't fully abandon scholarly pursuits. April is my traditional month for selecting curriculum for the coming year. For one thing, many of the companies I like have big sales going on during this time. I also like to have all my decisions made and materials in hand by the beginning of our summer break so that I can use that time to work on lesson plans and schedules. It all makes me sound so much more organized than I feel. Anyway, I am often asked what curricula I use. For those of you who have wondered, here is the nitty-gritty (at least for next year).

Carter (grade 8/9)
Algebra - Switched-on Schoolhouse
English - The Writer's Jungle by Brave Writer
Paleontology - This is a self-designed course, meaning I choose the materials and design my own lesson plans. This is really fun when you have a child who wants to study something outside of the mainstream, like Austin did this year with ornithology.
The Constitution and US Presidents - The first semester will be using the Constitution course from Switched-on Schoolhouse and the second will be a self-designed study of the presidents using Beyond the Cherry Tree by Anne E. Schraff
Spanish 1 - Tell Me More by Auralog
Typing - Garfield's Typing Pal
PE - Local gymnastics and swimming classes

Austin (grade 11)
Shakespeare - A self-designed course based on Shakespeare in film
Bible as Literature 1 - I admit, I haven't totally nailed this one down yet--I'll update it when I have. We will cover Old Testament this year and New Testament his senior year.
US Geography - Another self-designed course, using materials from the History Channel, National Geographic, and a great company called Geography Matters
Art - Lifepac by Alpha Omega Publications
PE - Cross-country running
French 2 - Rosetta Stone

I'm all giddy! Feel free to ask any questions. I am happy to share lesson plans or more specific info on the materials I'm using for the self-designed courses. Meanwhile, break is ending and it's time to wrap up this year's work. Here's hoping my week off was enough to energize me (and my kids) for the final month.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bee Gone

 Living in a log house in the woods brings with it a whole host of complications, most of which can be attributed to the fact that the insects, birds, and small gliding rodents, do not see any appreciable differences between said house and any other tree in the forest. During the 16 years we have lived here, we have dealt with infestations of carpenter bees, termites, carpenter ants, and flying squirrels, along with occasional indoor visits from birds, bats, lizards, and snakes. It's a very lively existence we lead, and we've come to develop fairly effective strategies for dealing with our wild interlopers. And when I say effective, I am completely disregarding the two bullet holes I still have in my bedroom ceiling as a result of one of my husband's last ditch attempts to tackle the flying squirrel problem that plagued us for years.

Happily, those flying squirrels are gone, as are the termites and ants. The carpenter bees are another story. As soon as the weather turns warm in the spring, the outside of my house turns into a war zone. Just getting to our front door requires us to run the gauntlet among dive-bombing bees about the size of a large grape. These fuzzy little monsters bore holes into the walls of our house where they lay their eggs. This, in turn, attracts woodpeckers, who turn those half-inch diameter holes (bad enough) into enormous gashes many inches long. Did I mention woodpeckers start feeding at first light--say 5:30 a.m.--and make a sound like someone hammering and most prefer the wall right outside my bedroom?

Anyway, for some reason, our only approach to this insidious problem in years past has been a badminton racket. While there is something satisfying about striking a large, home-wrecking insect with a piece of sports equipment, it has not proven very effective when considering the big picture. So, last year, for the first time, we called an exterminator. In one hour, he was able to eradicate a huge percentage of our bees. This year, they returned in full force, of course, but our trusty bug-man returned today and worked his magic. It is truly amazing to go from swarms of buzzing, swooping bees everywhere you turn, to complete peace and quiet in such a short amount of time. Lovely!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just Say No to Grass

During the early part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in the suburbs. We had a nice two story house with an average-sized yard. We had a vegetable garden and some very pretty flower beds, but the bulk of the landscape was devoted to lawn. Then, when I was around 8 years old, my parents began the great project that became the home I now live in with my family today. For a blissful few years, we had the most fascinating (especially for a child) yard full of tree stumps, dirt/stone piles, and leaves. But gradually all that wildness gave way to the more civilized lawn of grass. 

I don't completely hate grass. In certain contexts it can be quite appealing, especially when it is perfectly maintained. But in the particular context of my yard, I can unequivocally state that I hate grass. I confess that mine is far from immaculate. It is full of crabgrass, clover, wild strawberries, and other assorted weeds. But it's grass enough to require mowing.

Now this is a fine example of what I would love my yard to be. Beautiful moss--never needs mowing. I do have some moss in my yard, but there is not enough shade for it to really spread like this. Even though we are in the woods, the clearing around our house is pretty large, so we don't have much wooded landscape up close.

A yard full of ivy like this is another little fantasy I cherish. Notice the continuing no-mowing theme. It's not as nice for walking on as moss, I suppose, but it's more durable and will tolerate the full sun better. I do have some nice ivies; I'm just not sure how to turn them into this kind of a solid mass.

And while mowing is a big turnoff for me, avoiding it is not my only motivation in my dreams of a grass-free yard. Primarily I'm simply drawn to the look of something a little more untamed--a little less cultivated looking--in my surroundings. Not that anyone could accuse me of having a cultivated looking yard. I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't be surprised if you see me in front of my house with a large bottle of Round-Up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 18 - April 22

How could it not be the best homeschooling week ever when it ended on Thursday (Easter break finally!) and Austin finished that nastiest of geometry units that has been making us all crazy for the past 2+ weeks. He passed it, too, meaning we never have to deal with it again. (Insert huge sigh of relief here.)

But life is always full of that glorious opposition. While Austin's eyes were glazing over at every attempt to teach him how to calculate the volume of solids of various shapes, Carter was digging the 7th grade version of the concept. I mean, he was seriously entertained by the whole idea. He actually got up from the desk after finishing a math assignment this week, sat down on the floor with Oliver, and proceeded to calculate the volume of each of Oliver's shape-sorting blocks. He was so dedicated to the task, that Oliver had to come tug on me to intervene so that he could have his blocks back. Maybe I should have enlisted Carter's assistance in teaching his big brother, though that might not have done great things for the sibling relationship.

Looking forward to the week off, catching up on ornithology labs and finalizing curriculum decisions for next year.

Growing Pains

Easter weekend is here, bringing with it our long awaited break from school and work. But in the midst of the fun and festivity that goes along with a major holiday, I am nursing a little secret. I don't know how many other moms out there share this particular neurosis or if I'm alone in my sadistic wallowing. The sad truth is that I tend to mar every traditionally joyful event by mourning the passing of my children's childhood. Each year marks such a new level of their development and I, for some reason, measure the passage of time from holiday to holiday. There's always a part of my mind that is occupied with wondering how long our child-centered traditions will endure as my children move closer to adulthood. Having a toddler in the house doesn't stop me moping, either. With such a large age gap between my two oldest and my sweet youngest, it's like living under a constant reminder of how quickly that time of pure innocence passes.

Before you go thinking I'm a spoiled brat who ruins every celebration with wistful melancholy, I have made great progress in shoving those thoughts aside. After all, I love and enjoy my children more and more as they grow. I am also keenly aware of the genuine pain experienced by mothers who have lost their children and do not get to watch them age. Taken in that light, I can more easily recognize my secret suffering for the selfish and indulgent inclination it really is. But then, I think we can probably categorize most of our neuroses that way, which is why getting out of our own heads and serving others is such a powerful antidote for our personal complaints.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go color eggs with my kids while they still want to.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Winter Leaves

Living in the woods, as I have for most of my life, the emerging of the new leaves is as beautiful a sight to me as any spring flowers. The woods is so altered by winter and always seems so barren and bleak to me. The first glimpse of that soft green spray over everything feels almost miraculous every year. It is such a sweet transformation. My whole world changes. Imagine the walls of your house being perfectly transparent for a season. That is fall and winter for me. Suddenly, I can see my neighbors, the street, the sunset. It's eerie and strange. Those little spring leaves mark the return to normalcy. My walls are solid again and I no longer feel exposed and vulnerable. If that means saying goodbye to the glimpse of the sunset through naked tree trunks, I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hatching Day

We had our first quail hatch Sunday evening. There were eight more by Monday morning. The bulk of the day yesterday was taken up by monitoring eggs, checking humidity levels, and moving the dry chicks to the brooder box. Opening an incubator full of quail chicks is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. They are all legs; designed to jump and run virtually from birth. I closed the incubator after one check and was all the way across the room when I heard a loud peeping. I turned around to see a chick sitting on the edge of the table. Luckily I got it before it could fall to the floor.

Other dramas of the day included breaking the cardinal rule of not helping the chick out of the egg (it had been hatching for more than 12 hours and was not progressing) and discovering that the brooder lamp had fallen into the box and the bulb had broken. Both situations turned out fine. The chick looked like it might not make it--it was very weak and stayed curled up in its egg position--but by morning it was standing up and ready to join the others. The lamp managed to not crush any chicks and none of them were injured by the glass. They were a little cold, but otherwise intact.

The grand total only made it to 29 chicks. It's hard to be disappointed when they are all so cute, but considering we started with 53 eggs, that's a pretty poor hatching percentage. Thirteen eggs never developed, eight developed but never made it to the hatching point, and three began hatching but died before they could emerge from the eggs. Just the circle of life and all that, I guess. But all in all, our 2011 quail adventure is off to a fun start.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 10 - April 15

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the spontaneity. If you wake up in the mood for a field trip--off you can go. No advanced planning necessary. This past Monday was a gorgeous day--all sunshine and heat--and there was no way we were staying at our desks. (Although we often go outside to do schoolwork once the weather turns nice.) So it was a picnic at the beach for us. We also managed to squeeze in a little outlet shopping while we were at it (very educational).

Another thing I love about homeschooling is the flexibility I have to change course in midstream when the needs of my children dictates it. For the past two weeks, Austin's geometry course has been giving us both headaches. A math headache is not something I'm used to, since it was hands-down my favorite subject when I was in school. But I have become very displeased with the way the Monarch geometry course we are using is set up. There are too many complex or trick questions and not enough basic questions in each assignment. As a result, Austin does not get enough chance to have a concept reinforced before he is expected to deal with all sorts of complicating factors that confuse his fragile understanding of what he's learning. It's almost as if each question is an extra-credit style challenge for the student who wants to push himself. This late in the year, I'm not interested in jumping ship to a new math course if I can avoid it. But I can create new questions to accompany the lessons. The best part is, there are so many free resources on the internet, that I won't even have to create the questions myself. This way, Austin can still complete the course to get his geometry credit and I won't have to be stressed out everyday trying to teach him how to solve overly convoluted problems. Insert victory dance here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Let It Snow

One of the (few) things I love about winter is how beautiful snow looks in the woods. Being more of a warm weather fan, though, I have to say I'm quite fond of the spring version.

Every April, hundreds of shadblow (also known as serviceberry) trees explode in little white flowers. Pictures don't do it justice, but I took a bunch anyway.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Years ago, I read a book called The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. It's a fantastic book and I highly recommend it to anyone, which is not something I readily do when it comes to tales of the Holocaust. But this book was, for me, so much more than a story of oppression and suffering, though it is full of both. More than that, it was a lesson in humility and gratitude. The way Corrie and her sister were able to endure so well was a clear result of their decision to choose an attitude that would seem impossible in such dire circumstances. They constantly searched each situation for God's hand and always came away with something to feel grateful for. It was not easy for them, but they succeeded because they were so determined in the effort. At one point in the book, they decided to be grateful for the fleas that tormented them in the barracks of the concentration camp, because the presence of the fleas kept the guards out. With the guards keeping this distance, they were free to hold Bible studies with their fellow prisoners, a practice that brought all of them great comfort and a sense of purpose.

It is so easy to feel frustrated with the many little inconveniences or difficulties of our lives day to day, but when we make a decision to look for a source of gratitude, we can bring a swift halt not only to our grumblings, but to all our negative feelings. Sometimes those negative feelings seem so powerful and overwhelming, yet a simple step in the direction of feeling thankful for something--no matter how small--can melt them away so quickly. It really is true that you just can't hold on to both feelings at once. So, with that in mind, here are a few things I am grateful for:

1. fatigue
2. a messy house
3. sore feet
4. sunburn
5. many unfinished projects
6. a big grocery bill
7. too much laundry to do
8. finding sticky spots on my just-mopped kitchen floor
9. not having enough down time
10. spending all day shopping and not getting anything for myself

These are the trappings of motherhood. How can I be truly grateful for my children if I do not allow myself to approach all these things with a wink and a nod? There are many women out there who would gladly endure much more than this for the blessings of being surrounded by the glorious, messy, chaotic joy that only children can bring. So bring it on. There will come a time all too soon when that list will shrink, and I will have to find new things to be grateful for.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 4 - April 8

Getting in the mood for Easter, we were all about eggs this week. Last week was human reproduction, this  week it was the birds' turn. Austin's current ornithology unit is all about the structure of the egg and what birds must go through to produce, protect, and hatch them. With only 9 days left until quail-hatching day, we have been getting a taste of the work that goes into that process--humidifying the incubator, rotating eggs to aid in the chicks' development, and candling the eggs to observe the progress of the embryos.

We rounded out the week by dissecting a chicken egg. My father thought this was hugely funny. He had many guffaws at my expense, imagining me cracking an egg into a bowl and calling it a science project. Let me assure you skeptics out there, that we very scientifically removed the shell from the membrane, leaving us with a see-through egg. It was highly educational. And it's the only dissection project you can eat when you're finished.

In other news, I'm officially tired of teaching geometry. It was my least favorite math when I was in school, and it's no different now. It's taking all my energy to press on. To make matters worse, Carter is doing a geometry unit in pre-algebra right now, too. There's no escape. I wish pi had never been discovered.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Being a one income family who is saving for an approaching retirement (December, yay!), budgeting is a high priority. To avoid cutting too much into things I love, I have tried cutting deep into things I don't care about. Take trash, for instance. It's trash. As long as I get it out of my house, I'm not especially particular about the whole business. Living in the country means we have to contract with a private company if we want our trash collected. Our trash collection rates recently increased. I don't know what this service goes for in town, but the service here now goes for $32/month. I know that doesn't sound like a huge amount, but it comes out to $384 for the year. However, did you know that you can drop off a 33-gallon bag of trash at a collection station for $1? Because we recycle, we only fill one of those each week. That's $52 for the year if we are willing to drop it off ourselves instead of having the truck come to our house, saving us $332 for the year.

My cell phone is my next big save. As I've said, I get no real signal where I live, so the cell phone is simply something to use when I'm out. I was paying $34/month for the cheapest plan I could get. I downgraded that to a pay-as-you-go plan which charges me $2 for each day I use the phone. That $2 gets me unlimited calling and texting. Since I'm only really out 2 days a week and don't need to use my phone everytime I'm out, this has turned out very well. Instead of that $34, my phone is now costing me about $10/month. That's $288 for the year.

And just to show that I'm crazy (and because this post could not get more boring), I have to throw in my doggie savings. We have a goldendoodle. Goldendoodles are great because they don't shed, but their coats do require a lot more maintenance than the lab we used to have. To have a full grooming on my dog costs over $100 and has to be done 2 or 3 times each year. So I got myself a $40 electric dog clipper and did it myself. I'm not putting up a picture of the results, because my technique could use some . . . er . . .  refinement. But my neighbors are too far away to see him, he's happy, and my $40 investment is going to save me around $300/year.

For just a few cuts that do not affect my life in any profound way, I am putting over $900 in my pocket every year. That's more than enough to buy a very nice doggie sweater, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Conjoined Twins

Two flowers fused together. This goes along well with the five-leaf clover I found last year. I love nature's little oddities--and they make for great science lessons.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Bird in the Hand

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, what is the value of one you pull from the bush with your hands? Five years ago, we brought home four mallard ducklings. They grew, multiplied, were eaten by foxes, raccoons, snakes, snapping turtles, and hawks, flew away, were given away, and, in the end, were reduced to the one lone duck we have today. He's a very nice duck and I figure he must have some rock solid survival skills to have made it this far in what is clearly a hostile environment for waterfowl.

So today, I was walking back home from our garden and I noticed this stalwart duck struggling in some brush at the edge of the woods. Rushing to his rescue, I discovered that he had gotten his foot caught in a briar bush. The thorns had completely pierced through the webbing of his foot and he could not get free. He held perfectly still and let me free him. I hate to think that he might have ended up as dinner for a fox if I hadn't happened to be out there when I was. I guess his luck continues.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever - March 28-April 1

Really. What could be more fun than a week in which one's 11-year-old has lessons on human reproduction in both health and science? If you said nothing, you're so right! There is a toddler in our home, of course, which means that a little over a year ago we got to answer the "how is the baby actually made" question. And me, I'm the luckiest girl in the world, because I married a nurse. He's not just a nurse, either; he's a certified labor and delivery nurse. So my wonderful husband broke out the textbooks and gave the subject the full scientific treatment. Case closed, I thought. But no. Out come the diagrams, with eggs, sperm, and other unmentionables. All with my ace-in-the-hole husband off at work. After some giggling (mostly mine) and much groaning and exclamations of disgust (the tween), we got through it. Phew!

Looking ahead . . . it's April! The month of big curriculum sales! It's a little embarrassing how exciting that is to me. But I'm not about to let a little embarrassment interfere with my unrestrained giddiness. More on that next week.

Living on the Moon

I live, obviously, in the country. When I first moved here as a child, the road was a barely paved, unnamed stretch of ignored gravel. Now we have a name and even one of those new-fangled yellow lines down the middle. What we don't have? Cell phone reception or high speed internet. My house is probably the last cell dead zone in Delaware. It's true. I can get reception in my yard, but inside we get just enough signal to make the phone ring, but not enough to take the call.

Internet is even more fun. Here I am, 5 miles from a town that, though small, has DSL, cable, Fios, every technology you would care to choose from, and my only choices are dial-up or satellite. Comcast likes to tease me by sending me offers of cable internet service for about half what I pay for satellite. And, like Charlie Brown running to kick Lucy's football, I'll call them up, ever hopeful that this will be the time they mean it. At first they'll tell me they can provide service at my address, but it always ends up the same. My address isn't in the service area, I'm too far off the road, they can do it but installation will cost $5000, etc. So I continue to limp along with my over-priced satellite internet because it is, after all, faster than dial-up (as long as it doesn't rain hard).

The whole thing makes me rather grumpy. What's a girl need to do to get a little technology? I'm really not out in the middle of nowhere--more like the edge of somewhere. I am smack in the middle of the great urban centers of the east coast, but I might as well live on a 500-acre ranch in Montana or the moon, for all the notice these companies take of me and my neighbors (yes, there are other people out here). Come to think of it, I think the astronauts on the space station have better connection speeds than I do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We're Expecting . . .

What the stork brought

In less than three weeks, we will be the proud parents of as many as 53 bobwhite quail chicks. This will be our second time hatching quail. Last time, though, we only incubated 15 eggs and ended up with just 11 chicks. I may be going a little octo-mom on the program, but I'm really hoping to establish a sizable enough flock that they will be able to survive introduction into the habitat. But if you see me with my own reality show or as a guest on Animal Hoarders, you'll know things got out of hand.

So tiny!
Marked and placed in the incubator--where am I going to put all these birds?
The goal--aren't they cute?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The "D" Word

There comes a time in the life of every parent of a special needs child when you have to decide how to approach the topic of diagnosis with your child. For us, we chose to approach Austin's issues on a symptom-by-symptom basis. We felt that saddling him with the label of his autism diagnosis would discourage him too much and provide a too-ready excuse for not rising above his challenges. For the longest time, one of those challenges was a lack of initiative and motivation, so we had a real fear that a full knowledge of his developmental disorder would derail the progress he was making. With that in mind, we had always explained his interventions to him in vague terms.

But now, after so much growth and so many giant steps made, we decided that our sweet son, now 16 years old, was ready to know his own story. The facts-of-life talk was nothing to this hurdle for me. Even after making this decision, we delayed the actual discussion for three months. Yesterday, though, we pushed aside our excuses for delaying and plunged in. Austin seemed a little distressed over the news, but it opened the door for more open dialogue and he seemed comfortable in the end. We tried hard to stress the fact that all people have weaknesses and strengths and he is different only in the specific nature of his weaknesses. We also let him know that we will continue to stand with him and support him in his efforts to achieve a full, independent, and happy life.

I know a lot of parents choose to address these issues at a much earlier age, and I will be the first to say that I don't think there is a "right" time to do it, but I'm very pleased with the road we've taken and where it has led us. That doesn't stop me from feeling uncertain about where to step next, but there is a definite sense of hope when I look a little farther into the future. I truly believe in my son.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever

So, I'm completely ripping this idea off of CJane, who does a weekly "Best Blogging Week Ever". But since she ripped the idea off of VH1's "Best Week Ever", I felt that the concept was fair game.

This week saw me tearing my hair out repeatedly over Austin's geometry lessons. I'm having a very hard time impressing upon him the importance of learning math and why he will need it in life. His lack of interest could not be made more clear than by the fact that he has started randomly squeaking in the middle of my fascinating explanations of topics like "How to Find the Area of a Parallelogram" and "What Math Has to Do With French Fries". But I don't suppose this supports the premise of it being the best homeschooling week ever, so I'll just take a deep breath and let it go (which needs to happen a lot when you teach your own children).

Tuesday we blew school off early and packed off for a picnic at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. It was great! We hiked the boardwalk trail and ate our lunch on the new observation platform overlooking the water. I could have done without the (freezing!) wind, but seeing the dozens of fiddler crabs popping in and out of the mud below us was completely (almost) worth it. We saw hundreds of northern shovelers (a small duck with a flat, wide bill) and four bald eagles. Oliver was really into it, pointing at everything and babbling a mile a minute. And, since Austin is studying ornithology this year, we could legitimately call it a field trip. Good times.

Northern Shoveler Pair

Friday, March 25, 2011

'Tis the Season

This is that magical time of year when my heart turns to thoughts of plants, mulch, and landscaping books. Spring gardening is my favorite, and not just because the weeds are still small enough that I can see my plants (though that is a real plus). It's also not just because of the relief it brings to my winter-induced cabin fever. I think the best thing about spring gardening is the boundless potential of it all. I haven't killed any plants yet or failed at my newest yard renovation project. It's also the time when I get to set the stage for the season of outdoor living that awaits. It's that feeling that this year everything will be perfect.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I have a love-hate relationship with sleep. I really wish I could do without it entirely. For the longest time I thought I was a night owl. Back in my college days, I would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning. The thing is, I would never sleep later than 8 or 8:30. I was the same way at slumber parties when I was a kid. I would always be the first one up. Even then I think I had a notion that sleep was a waste of time. It's very hard for me to have patience with my family members who want to sleep in. It's not that I'm driven to be up and productive, just to be up. I should probably work on that productive part. And napping is out of the question. I will prop my eyes open with toothpicks rather than go to sleep during the day. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the feeling of climbing into my bed at the end of the day, and I do aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, it's just that there are so many things I'd rather be doing.

I guess I can't blame anyone but myself for the fact that my little one seems to have inherited my anti-sleep philosophy. That won't stop me from whining about it a little, though.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poached Eggs

Homeschooling is the ultimate thrill ride. When it's good--when your child spontaneously says amazingly intelligent sounding things--you feel like the best mom ever. At least a part of you is in there taking all the credit for it. "I, being the most dedicated and insightful parent, have created a richly educational environment for my child and look how he has flourished!" But when it's bad--when your child spontaneously decides that guessing the answers to algebraic equations is simpler than solving them and so scores a grade too horrible to be mentioned in a public forum--you feel like throwing a good old-fashioned fit. If you're really lucky though, your toddler will wake you up at 4am and spend an hour poking you in the eyes, nose, and mouth, so that you will be not only too tired to throw that fit, you will lack the energy even to think about it for too long, leaving you free to finally score three stars on that pesky level of Angry Birds.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Fresh Start

In honor of the first day of spring, I am starting fresh with this blogging thing. I really love blogging. The problem is, I spend so much time loving other people's blogging that I forget to leave time for my own. So, in keeping with the optimism that spring always lures me into, I decided to recommit.

I first became a country mouse when I was 9 and my family (my parents, me, and our yellow lab) moved into a log house in the woods. Coming from suburbia, the rural life was something of a culture shock. Years of raising chickens and goats--complete with heading out to the barn for milking chores before school each morning--farmerized me just enough to be a country girl to the urbanites I was around at college, but was never enough to completely chase the city girl core out of me. For a long time, I tried hard to purge the country mouse out of my system, but it was no use. I'd like to say I claim dual citizenship, but now, over 16 years after moving my own family into my childhood home, I realize it's time to embrace my inner country mousiness.

I was going to include a list of the top five things I love about the rural life, but they all were pretty much variations on the same theme--epitomized by the fact that my children can relieve themselves outdoors (a practice I STRONGLY discourage, and one of the reasons I wanted girls, but that's another story) without being photographed by the neighbors. But most of the time we put all that privacy to much more respectable uses.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Anatomy of a Homeschool Snow Day

I'm such a mean mother that I tend to make my children do schoolwork even on their sick days, so you can bet that I don't let them off the hook just because it snows. Actually, I don't always make them do work when they're sick, but I do try to get them through some material if they aren't feeling too rotten. That said, there is still something about a good substantial snowfall that calls for bending the rules a little.

7:30 - Sleeping in is one of the first concessions to the weather. Starting late is no big deal, especially after getting a phone call at five in the morning from John's work, telling him to not come in before noon.

9:30 - Sitting snug on Mom and Dad's bed, watching the snow blowing around out the window, Carter and I discuss run-on sentences while Austin does a little Rosetta Stone French.

10:15 - We watch the bird feeding frenzy around the four stations of the bird seed taste test experiment we set up for Austin's ornithology course. Highlights include two blue jays sparring over the suet and a bald eagle flying over.

11-12 - We get down to honest to goodness schoolwork. We're even in the classroom!

12:00 - Lunch accompanied by a lively discussion about which Pixar characters we are each most like when we lose our tempers.

1:30 - Austin finishes up geometry while Carter suits up and heads out in the snow with Grandpop (I highly recommend everyone have grandparents as neighbors).

Next on the agenda is reading an excerpt from Moby Dick, a group dance-off Wii-style, and shuffling around the schedule to accommodate the lessons we missed (of which there are only two!). I love my life.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Coming Clean

One of the blogs I frequent is written by a woman whose little girl died two and half years ago. I was introduced to her blog by the friend of a friend and found the brave way she told her story and continued to live her life after such tragedy to be so compelling that I began reading her on a regular basis. Last week she wrote a post that was so poignant I haven't been able to get it out of my head. Her honesty struck a real chord with me and took me back to the days when my oldest son was diagnosed with autism--thirteen years ago this month.

Autism is like a death in some ways. I remember the time I spent watching my sleeping little boy, crying over the loss of the life I dreamed he would have. I did a lot of grieving in those days. At an age when most children are opening up and their lucky parents are getting to know them more and more, our son was retreating farther away from us. He wouldn't talk to us or look at us. He wouldn't hug and kiss us. It was years before he could bring himself to say "Mom" or "Dad". And while the years that have passed since then have been full of many victories, I wanted to let you know that I still grieve.

I have heard many parents of special needs children vow that they wouldn't change a thing about their children. In an effort to push societal acceptance, it has become trendy to declare that disabilities do not need a "cure". Let me just say that I would love a cure for my son. I do not relish the suffering and isolation that he must endure and it is the dearest wish of my heart for all the obstacles in his path to be removed. I know that our family has been blessed by the trials this has brought into our life; I don't sit around wallowing in self pity. However, I have had moments where resentment has washed over me. Mostly I focus my anger at my son's disease, but I've also leveled it at innocent women whose only crimes have been to produce non-autistic offspring.

So, to all of you women out there who fall into that category, I'm sorry if I sometimes hate you. I'm sorry if I'm not sympathetic when it comes to the challenges you face in raising your children because I'm too busy thinking that I have it harder than you. I'm sorry if I don't show enough appreciation for the support you show my son when it doesn't come in the form I think it should. I'm sorry for sometimes blaming you for not understanding how it feels to be me.

The vast majority of the time, I don't feel those feelings. I certainly feel them less these days than I did when my grief was new. I just want you and all the mothers that are parenting special needs children to know that my grief is still there, despite all my progress in coming to terms with it. I also want you to know--and this is the most important thing my grief has taught me--to celebrate the little normalcies of your children. They may seem as automatic as breathing, but they are truly miraculous.