Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Introducing Luna!

We got a puppy on Saturday!  This seemingly sudden decision was actually a really long time in the making.  The kids have been asking for a dog for a long time now--years, for sure!  I have always said, "Not until I am all done potty training!", and that kept things at bay for quite some time, lol.  But Verity was potty-trained last summer, thus ending over 20 years of diapers, so that criteria was done.

At that point, however, we were contemplating taking a space-a trip over to Germany to visit our friends the C's in February, and I knew we did not want to have to deal with what to do with a dog, especially since we had no idea how much time it would take us to get out or get back.  We did end up making the trip, which was amazing, and I was indeed relieved that we weren't worrying about a dog.  It was bad enough worrying about our bunny Mocha!

By then, however, we knew we were moving to Ohio in the summer, since Bob had actually started working out here in January.  And who wants to deal with a new dog *and* a move??  Not me!  So again, we put it off.  But the thought of getting a dog was a big incentive for the kids to want to move, especially since we ended up giving away Mocha (to a wonderful fellow homeschooling family who are taking fabulous care of him!).  So we have been praying for God to bring the right dog into our life for a long time!

Bob had joined a local area "pet classifieds" facebook group this summer, and he had noticed that someone local was selling a litter of 10 Newfoundland puppies who had been born on July 15.  We talked about it, but we didn't move on it right away.  The girls and I had to go back to VA for a meet, and it just didn't seem like the right timing.  But then last week the guy posted that he still had 3 puppies left, and so Bob and I decided to go see them.  We've always liked big dogs--when we were stationed in Colorado, we had a lab/malamute cross as well as a Great Pyrenees--and we had actually tried to adopt a Newfie from the pound before we got them, but someone else was ahead of us.  I knew that Newfies tend to have a really steady temperament  and are really good with kids, which obviously was important to us. 

So Bob and I went over to this guy's house Friday night without any kids.  The puppies were so cute, and the parents were really nice.  The dad wasn't as big as the Newf that friends of ours in VA have, and neither parent was very barky or jumpy.  The mom didn't bark at all, even when we rang the doorbell and she saw us looking in a window!  We decided to take the plunge, so we came home to order a ton of dog-related stuff on Amazon.  We came back the next day, Saturday, Oct. 6, and we picked out a gray female we named Luna!
She looks black here, but she really is a little lighter than that.  The hair on her head is really neat--it's almost frosted a lighter shade at the tips.  I've never seen anything like it, and I don't know if it will stay that way, but it's really pretty!  She also has a white blaze on her front, and on the front of her 2 back paws.
This girl is about the most chill puppy you can imagine!  She is not the stereotypical "inquisitive puppy looking for mischief and getting into everything" at all.  We haven't let her into the carpeted areas of the house, which means she just stays in our kitchen/dining room area.  We have 2 sets of 70's-era doors that close off this area from the rest of the main level, but even if they aren't closed, she just sticks around in the dining room, mainly.  She's very happy napping under our big table, and so far she has only tried to chew on Micah's croc!

She doesn't jump all over you or nip or anything.  She's been great for Verity, who was definitely the most scared of dogs in general, especially dogs who jump up on her.  The family we got her from had several kids, so she is very used to kids, which is good, lol.  She occasionally will mouth your hand or arm as you pet her, but we're working on that, and she's really gentle.
The only problem so far (other than house training, which she is improving in, but we can't wait until she can go through the night, and she doesn't have any more day time accidents, lol) is that she really is not a fan of walks. She loves our yard and will romp around there quite happily with the kids--but she has no desire to leave it ever!  When we try to walk her around the park behind our house, she is so reluctant.  She pulls backward on her leash, and tries to just flop down and not move.  We've started giving her those little training treats to get her to walk at all!  I've never seen a less curious dog! 
When we actually get to the playground, which is at the opposite end of the park from our house, she enjoys seeing people there and being petted.  But after a little bit, she is pulling on the leash to go back to our house.  She has like a built-in compass, and she always knows which way to go to get to our house!  We've taken her out to the street in front of our house, and she dislikes that even more because of the occasional car.  So far we've made it all the way to the end of our next-door neighbor's house, lol.  I was really looking forward to walks with a dog, so hopefully she will get over this quickly!  Now it is just an exercise in frustration because it takes forever for us to make just one lap around the park (which is only 1/3 mile!)! 

I think part of the problem is that the breeder guy was a little overwhelmed with all the puppies.  He told Bob they weren't expecting to have puppies, although I mean, he had a male and a female, so you'd think he would not have been shocked, lol.  But anyway, they didn't *do* anything with them (other than handle them, which is definitely super important!), like take them anywhere or even take them on any walks or anything.  So I think that is contributing to her timidity in new places.   Also, she's now 12 weeks old, so we did miss a good part of the window where she is open to new experiences.  We are trying to remedy that by doing a lot, like not giving up on walks!  We've also visited Petsmart, and tonight we took her to Sonic with us while we ate.  If you are local and want to meet her, stop by!  Or we'll come visit you, lol.  New experiences!!

So Luna is settling into our family quite well, and the kids are thrilled with her!  She really is such a sweetheart, and I am so glad for a quiet, calm puppy.  Now if we can just get her to like walks . . .

Friday, September 14, 2018

Schooling in a New Place

We started school 4 weeks ago, in the middle of August.  This is the first year since we moved to VA back in the summer of 2004, that we have not been involved in nay co-ops. Now the co-ops we were involved in in VA were amazing, and they benefited my kids so very much.  But I was also so very tired and burned out, and this season of not being involved in any outside thing is actually very refreshing for me.  Our time is our own!  No one else is depending on us!  This is definitely not sustainable long term (Anna especially is missing getting out of the house and doing things with other people), so we will be looking for a co-op or something for next year, but for right now?  Just what I needed.

Not having to go out any morning (or having to teach classes for older kids) has meant that school is getting done more consistently every morning than it has for a long time with the younger kids. This is perfect timing for Micah, since as I mentioned in my last post, he has finally decided that reading is something he would actually like to do and would benefit from.  I am astounded at the progress he has made since early July.  Now he is reading books with no complaints!  He even read our Bible story out loud for Drew and Verity a few nights ago!  When I think about all the frustration and tears from working with him last year . . . ha, I could have just let him play all year long, and he would probably still be right where he is now!  Ironically, I realized his nature when I was potty-training him, and I waited until he was 3, and he decided he wanted to be a "big boy" on his own.  Then he was my easiest to train and had almost no accidents.  I should have used the same gameplan for reading, but I didn't want to reward his bad attitude and lack of cooperation.  It's a fine line, I guess.  I really didn't need any more stress last year though, and I could have saved myself a boatload!  Ah well, I'm just thankful for where he is now.

Verity has been wanting to do her own school for awhile now--all of last year, really--and she would sit with us and "write" in her coloring books.  She has pretty good fine motor skills, so she drew lots of little lines and circles.  It was so cute!  But anyway, I figured she was the opposite of Micah, and she actually was interested (and she is a girl and much more motivated by workbooks, etc., lol), so I got her Saxon 1 math workbooks, and the (Veritas Press Phonics Museum) phonics workbook we have always used (since I started it with Nathan and bought the big kit--we've definitely gotten our money worth out of that investment, lol).  She is happy as a clam!  She loves doing school, and she's actually pretty good at writing "M", B", and "A", which are the letters she's covered so far.  She's not as good at recognizing which of them starts a particular word. because she pretty much just happily answers, "Yes!" to any question you ask.  Such a happy girl!  If I didn't have all this morning time, I probably wouldn't have done anything official with her until next year.

I should mention that Drew is plugging along too with his reading.  He is much more like all the rest of my kids have been with reading--slogging along, until it eventually really clicks and gets faster.  But he's pretty cheerful and motivated, and like I said, that's how everyone else has been, and they are all quite good readers.

Anna would have been going to a junior high co-op if we had stayed in VA, but instead, she's doing everything here with me.  I am teaching her life science, along with Grace, and that's been going really well.  I don't have her in a writing class or a German class because I wasn't sure enough of what the year was going to look like to get her into those before they filled up.  So she's taking a break from German, unfortunately.  Hopefully next year . . .

I have started Latin with Grace on down (and Anna usually is around, listening in).  I haven't done Latin with the kids since I was so frustrated with Caleb and Jonathan the year I had them take the Latin 1 National Latin Exam (2014 maybe?), and neither did as well as I thought they should have, given the amount of Latin we had done, if they had just devoted a tiny bit of their brains to studying. But I really love Latin, and so it's fun to get back to it.  Plus, this is the easy stuff, lol.

I had mentioned that Caleb is taking his math and English classes over at the community college that is close by us, and those are going really well for him.  I am teaching him and Jonathan AP biology and AP psychology.  I've never taught AP psych before, but there is a lot of bio in there, and I have always really enjoyed reading books on neuroscience, so I'm finding it very interesting.  Since it is just us, we can be completely flexible for class times!  We're doing the classes in the afternoons, usually Wednesdays, but we can move it around as needed.  SO nice!  Jonathan is doing literature by himself after I worked up a nice reading list from the Tapestry of Grace Year 1 recommendations, plus some books Nathan and Luke had read that he hadn't.  I'm looking for prompts on these books online for him to write essays with, so that is working out nicely.  They are both doing American history on their own, since they already have had a lot of it through TOG, but not as a particular class.  I had the bright idea of having them take the Am. history CLEP test (either 1 or 2, I haven't decided yet) at the end of the year, so they can have some validation of all they have learned over the past few years.  I took a ton of CLEP tests to get out of pretty much all my gen ed. requirements many moons ago, but I haven't really looked into it recently because AP credits are so more readily accepted in places.  But I don't want to prep APUSH or deal with the reworking of that test, so I think CLEP will be a fine way to go.

As a real answer to prayer, Caleb and Jonathan are taking Spanish 3 with a friend who goes to church with my parents!  She and her husband are from Puerto Rico, so they are native Spanish speakers.  She had been wanting to teach her 2 kids more formally, so the 4 kids are all together, and it's been so very nice.  I think the boys will be a lot more comfortable actually speaking Spanish after this year.  Caleb had said that at WSS, they had a "Spanish table", where everyone only spoke in Spanish, for international night, and he sat there.  He could understand a lot of the conversation, but he never felt comfortable saying anything.  Hopefully that won't be true next summer!

I had been thinking we would put Jonathan in a classical Christian school maybe 2 days a week for a few classes, but after looking into it, I just couldn't see how doing that made my life easier, and it certainly would have complicated things by having one of us drop him off and pick him up even twice a week half an hour away.  He is taking an electronics class that I found out about from a facebook post someone here made.  An older man who worked as an electrician for 44 years and is now retired teaches the class to only 4 boys, and he is so enthusiastic about the subject!  Jonathan is REALLY enjoying this class, and he's learning a lot too.  He's soldering circuits and stuff already, and working with the equations.  It's a highlight of his week!

Hmmm, we're of course doing other subjects, but those are the main points I want to remember when I look back on this year.  We're getting into a good routine, I think, and we're enjoying this break where we are a little more family-focused, instead of doing so much outside with other people.  It's been a long time, and this break has been so needed by me! 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Summer Summary: We Moved

Now, for a few more details, since I haven't seen fit to blog since April, and there were several unanswered questions in my last post that now have been answered . . .

  • I drove down to Alabama to pick up Luke by myself May 12.  I had a fabulous drive listening to a fascinating book on tape called Candy Bombers about the Berlin Airlift by Andrei Chersky, and the miles flew by!  On the way home the next day, it was wonderful to catch up with Luke, who had just gotten back from a Reformed University Fellowship conference down in Florida and was very tan and relaxed.  
  • Nathan came home from VT sick with what turned out to be mono.  He was so miserable!  A steroid injection helped the throat swelling go down, and he recovered quickly, thank God.  
  • Caleb took his first AP exam, microeconomics (got a 5, thanks to Mrs. Mc's pushing, lol)
  • I finished my seventh year of being in charge of testing for our large co-op.  It went off without a hitch, but it was Micah's first time to test, and I knew he was not ready or motivated.  I was right, in that he refused to even try to read anything more than a single word, and the occasional short sentence.  He was in the 26th percentile, and believe me, I was not shocked, but i have never actually seen those numbers in front of me before, lol.  But amazingly, that is in the 4th stanine, so I sent in the results to the county--and then later in the summer, Micah decided reading was something he actually did want to do, and now he's reading his readers like a champ.  Boys!

  •  Anna and Grace finished track season.  They mainly ran the 800 and the 4x400.  I think Anna would be a better mile runner, since she's such a great xc runner, but she was way more interested in the shorter distances, lol.  It was a super fun season--I love track meets!

  • I became a "hurdles coach", of all things at this stage of my life.  At one of the early meets, I mentioned to the coach that I thought Anna would be a good hurdler because she has a lot of core strength and because she is interested, and Coach answered, "Oh, would you be able to coach hurdles?  We have several kids interested, but no one with any experience!"  Never mind that my experience was a good 25 years ago in high school, ha! [ETA:  Okay, I actually thought about it, and it was 30 years ago, seeing as how I was married 25 years ago, and I wasn't married in high school!)  I watched youtube videos and read articles for hurdle coaches to bring it all back.  It was actually really fun, and the interested kids made great strides!  Anna ended up running the 100m hurdles several times, and the 300m hurdles just once, in the last meet, since the other meets didn't have 300m hurdles for middle schoolers.  This picture was from that 300m hurdle race, at one of the last hurdles (which is obvious because the hurdles are in a line at that point, of course . . .), so she was tired and her form has suffered.  But overall she did great, and I am excited for her to keep going in hurdles! Grace had zippo interest, lol.

    •  We went on our annual Memorial Day camping trip with all our homeschooling friends.  Nathan and Luke were both able to come, which we no longer take for granted!  It is always so nice to be all together.  We drove the 2 minivans, and other friends drove our big van with our 5 kayaks, so that was a new fun activity!  
    • The day after camping, Luke left to go up to WSS in PA to work as the co-boys' staff supervisor.  He also had to leave for a weekend in early June to compete with his Space Hardware Club CanSat competition team in Texas.  He had a lot of great stories from the competition, and their rocket did better than they expected when they first got down there, but he was glad to get back to WSS and the rest of the summer!  

    • Jonathan got his wisdom teeth out on May 31, just 2 days before his 15th birthday!  A few weeks later in June, his jaw was all swollen and tender again on the right side, so he had to go back again for them to cut it open again until they found a little sliver of bone that had been missed and was causing all the problems.  Then they cut it even more, to make sure they got it all.  This is not an experience Jonathan ever wants repeated, lol. 

    •  June 4 we drove to Ohio, both to pick up my nieces who had flown in from TX for a month, and to be there for the inspection on a house we had put an offer on without seeing!  An older couple had moved into a new house across from my parents several weeks prior, and it turned out they were moving from the tri-level in the same neighborhood, just a few streets away.  My parents told them we were interested in buying a house in that neighborhood, so a few days before they listed their house, they let my parents know.  Unfortunately, this was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and Bob was in VA as we prepared to go camping.  So my parents went through the house with our realtor facetiming me!  Ah, technology.  So we put an offer in, they accepted it, and we were in business!  

    •  The house was small--2300 sq. ft. compared to the almost 5000 sq. ft we had in VA, but it had a wonderful back yard with nice climbing trees, and this big, leafy tree that shades the really large deck.  It also backs up to a park, which is amazing.  As long as the weather is nice, and the kids can be outside, life is very good!

    •  Emily and Elia flew in, and we had time for a quick trip to Youngs before we headed back to VA with them.  

    •  Most of the time, I was busy packing and trying to declutter, but we did manage to fit in a time at IFly!  The kids all did great, even Verity--except Drew.  Even though he had gone 18 months before, he balked and wouldn't go.  Of course, as soon as we gave his time away and he couldn't go--he threw a big temper tantrum and was super upset.  Ah well, may he remember this lesson later in life, lol.

    •  The girls all went to Camp Caleb at WSS.  First Faith and Elia went.  It was really special because Faith's closest friends Elena and Amber went too.  I was worried about the dynamics, and that maybe they would leave out any other girl, but no, everyone got along wonderfully, and they all became fast friends with the one other girl who was there.
    • Grace and Emily went the next week, and they also had a lovely time with good weather.  Caleb was there working on staff both those weeks, so it was fun to see him during the drop-offs and pick-ups.  He smashed his middle finger with a sledgehammer while splitting wood, and the rest of the summer we all watched with interest as the finger turned different shades, and the nail eventually fell off.  

    •  We made another quick trip back to Ohio to close on our house and to say a sad goodbye to Emily and Elia, who had to fly home.  The van sure was quiet after they left!  They also moved this summer, to Seattle, so we're not sure how much we'll see of them anymore (but you can't say that to the girls because that will bring on immediate tears . . . thank the Lord for Facetime!)

    •  The kids and I drove back to VA so Anna could go to Camp Caleb July 8.  When we picked up on Friday, we went up to Bob's sister Rose's house on the lake in NE PA for the weekend.  We rode in the boat, went tubing, and went fishing!  It was a great weekend! 

    •  We also participated in the 5k to raise money for the volunteer firefighters.  Anna and Rose both won their age divisions!  In the afternoon, there was a parade with tons of fire engines and other emergency equipment for districts all around.  The kids had been looking forward to the parade so eagerly because they knew they would get tons of candy, and they did!

    •  Grace got her braces off July 16!  Our orthodontist had worked to speed up the process since we found out we were moving.  He did a great job, and now she just had to wear her retainer.  The orthodontist's office said how much they would miss all the kids--but maybe they will just miss the rest of our narrow-jawed clan!  Ha!

    •  The moving van finally came on July 17, our 25th wedding anniversary!  What a way to celebrate!  Bob was in Ohio, and I pulled an all-nighter the night before to finish boxing up as much as I could.  Nathan actually worked for this moving company, JK Moving, for the summer, and his experience proved incredibly valuable.  He helped me get the kitchen packed up that night, and I couldn't have done it without his help because I was so mentally done!  I highly recommend JK Moving, if anyone is looking to move from VA.  The estimator was right on, as far as weight, and they did such a good, careful job of wrapping everything and loading it all.  Nothing broke!  Plus the crew was super nice.  Nathan informed me that I should have gatorade and water ready, and not to buy pizza for lunch (because that's what everyone thinks of, but on hot, humid days, you don't want a heavy, greasy meal like pizza!).  It was approximately 1000 degrees, so I bought a sandwich platter from Costco that was well-received.  Christine watched the other kids, which was a relief to have them all out of the way.  Plus, with the doors open all day, I turned off the AC, and it was like 86 degrees in the house.  I was melting, and SOOO tired!  But I survived.  Whew!  Next year will hopefully involve a nicer anniversary celebration!

    •  We drove back to Ohio July 20, and the Mc's were there to wave goodbye.  That was such a sad day!  Words can't express my thankfulness for such faithful friends.  Well, family, really!  So good thing it wasn't goodbye forever!
    • The moving truck delivered our goods Sunday, July 22, and we started trying to figure out how to cram all our stuff in!  We made it mostly work, although it is tight, but our garage is definitely full too!

    • In fact, we were back in VA 2 weeks after we left!  We came to say goodbye to Nathan, pack up more stuff that I just couldn't get to, watch a production of "Beauty and the Beast" that friends were performing in, and greet Luke as he came back from WSS!  Oh, and we made a trip downtown to visit the Museum of the Bible with Bob's sister Ann and her granddaughter Jasmine!  The museum was fantastic--highly recommended!  Unfortunately, I dropped my trusty almost-6-year-old iphone 5 that I got September, 2012, after toddler Micah microwaved my old Motorola one in a hotel in St. Louis.  The glass shattered, but it was time for me to get a new phone anyhow.  The old one was VERY glitchy, wouldn't turn off and on anymore, only stayed charged for a few hours, etc.  Bob and I went to Costco that night and got me an iphone 8! 
    So now we are back in Ohio.  Luke drove back with us so he could pick up all his stuff, and then he drove himself down to Alabama.  We are attempting to settle in, and I at least got all the books unpacked and organized so we could start school last Monday.  We were also able to get Caleb registered for community college classes (just math and English this semester, since we weren't even sure the whole thing would work at all!), and we decided not to do anything else outside with anyone else.  It's actually been kind of a nice change of pace to not have to go anywhere in the mornings, but just focus on school here at our house.  I'm sure that will change as we get more involved over the upcoming years!

    There . . . all caught up!

    Wednesday, May 02, 2018

    Moving . . . Slowly . . .

    People have been asking me how moving is going.  The answer is most definitely, "Slowly".

    In the past month we've had at least 3 donation pick-ups at our house, and many, many bags and boxes of stuff have gone out in those.  Bob has been driving back here to VA most weekends (in fact, his company was so kind of to send him out here for a week's TDY in the middle of April!), and so I have boxed up tons of books (probably literal tons, lol), as well as other random things (like a space heater that has been stepped on in the middle as well as all our sleds, as you can see below), to fill up his car to take back to Ohio where he puts them into my parents' basement.  (Side note:  liquor boxes are so great for books!  I like them way better than "book boxes" from moving companies.  But it does make it look like I have a serious drinking problem!)
    Getting rid of the boxes, plus all the donations, seems like our house would be feeling empty, but that is not the case!  It turns out we have way too much stuff, and me packing away what we won't need for a few months is just a drop in an endless sea of stuff.  Alas!  We do have a few bookcases that seem less full, although I can never fit everything from a bookcase into boxes, so each shelf still has some random books that don't fit.  Now we just look like unorganized book clutterers, lol.  I think it will help once this school year is officially over, and we can pack away all the books we are currently using.  Although I have to somehow figure out what I'll need for next year, and pack that last, or at least in a way that it will be easily found . . .

    I still am not sure exactly how the end game is going to work.  At some point in mid-June, we will have a moving truck move most of our big furniture.  Then we can hopefully do what we need to do to this house to get it ready for the market--paint, refinish hardwood, and re-carpet--that we can't do while all of us are living here.  There's not really very much time between now and mid-June, however, and what time we do have is pretty full!  I have to finish up teaching chemistry and physical science, the girls have a few more track meets, Nathan and Luke are coming home (and I'm driving down to AL to pick up Luke), I'm in charge of standardized testing (but Micah is still not reading where I think he should be, so I can't really slack on his school), we're doing our annual camping trip, and Grace and Faith are going to Camp Caleb two different weeks in June with their cousins.  Whew! 

    Another question is what will we do for a house in Ohio?  That is an excellent question!  I still don't have an answer though, lol.  Our original tentative plan was to buy a cheap house we would squeeze into for a while so we could sell our house here and find a more long-term house there.  But it turns out the housing market for those kinds of houses is, surprisingly, really tight right now, and we don't feel like fighting millenial first-time home buyers with escalation-clause contracts for houses that aren't even our long-term plan.  So we might stay with my parents for a bit, and we are definitely praying our house here sells quickly.  But anyhow, short answer is, we have no idea where we will land as of yet!

     Another popular question is have we figured out what everyone will do for co-ops or whatever for next year in Ohio?  The answer to that is simply, no.  I have had many very helpful contacts give me a great deal of very helpful information.  But it's like I'm stuck in molasses, and I just don't have the mental margin to explore deeper and actually make progress in any one direction.  Ack!  Then I have moments of complete panic, until I make myself not think about it anymore.  And honestly, I'm pretty overwhelmed in a lot of different areas, so I am able to just worry about something more immediate!  So, lots of room to work in that area, ha!   I am praying the Lord will hold open space in whatever places we need, until I get my head back in the game, especially for Caleb and Jonathan.  I think it would help if I was actually there in Ohio, but it may be too late by the time June rolls around.  So, yeah . . . this area is definitely the biggest stress factor weighing on me right now--much greater than moving logistics or where we will live!
    In just a little extra note, we got a new (to us) car in April!  Like I said before, Bob was home for a week, and so we were able to drive to Dover, DE, to buy this used 2006 Honda Pilot on April 14!  The plan is for Nathan to drive this and pass the CR-V down to Luke, but right now, Bob has been really enjoying driving it back and forth to Ohio (well, enjoying how it drives, not necessarily all the driving, lol).  Hopefully it will be a good, faithful car, like the CR-V has been!  And it has been really, really nice for there to be the 2 minivans here at home.  That means that both Caleb and I can drive minivans, instead of me having to take the big van when he needs to go somewhere too.

    So there's an update of where we are.  It turns out it is really hard to uproot and move 12 people when we have lived in a house 14 years!  Who would have thought?!  

    Tuesday, April 03, 2018


    How about a month update at one time?!  It's been a different, and also difficult month, with lots of change.

    The first change was a big one, and actually started back in January--Bob started a new job, and it's not here.  We are finally going to be moving back to Ohio, where my parents live.  In some ways, this is so exciting, and in other ways, it is extremely sad and also overwhelming.  Since Bob has already started the job, he is actually already in Ohio during the week, coming home for weekends.  As he says, he took his week of long commutes here and now he does them all at one time on the weekends!  So that isn't much better, but fortunately it should be temporary.  I've been trying to go through things and declutter, but we have miles and miles to go before we are ready to move.  The house definitely looks like a family of 12 has lived here for almost 14 years.  I'm also trying to get a handle on what we will do for homeschooling next year, which is another overwhelming prospect.  Thankfully friends there have been giving me things to check into and people to contact, which has been very, very helpful.  We are trusting the Lord will lead us to the right things to get involved with!

    Another very sad change was the passing of Bob's mom Ann. I am so glad we were all, including Nathan and Luke, able to see her and Bob's dad over Christmas.
     Here is a picture from October, when she celebrated her 91st birthday!
     Although she was 91 years old, she and Bob's dad have been in honestly amazing good health for people in their early 90's.  Until the end of February when she was taken to the hospital, they were living by themselves in the house Bob and his 5 siblings grew up in--the one with one bathroom which is on the second floor.  Obviously going up and down those stairs for so many years must have kept them young!  But then she got some kind of infection and had to be taken to the ER on Feb. 27.  The next night she actually had a heart attack, but they were able to get her breathing again and intubated her.  She was moved to a rehab center a few days later, and we thought she was improving.  For the past 3 weekends Bob and his siblings have been visiting her, which was really good, but added even extra driving for Bob, as he fit in those visits, plus trying to see us.

    Then, sadly, last week she slept a lot more and just seemed weaker, and then she peacefully passed away on Tuesday, March 20, just a month before her and Frank's 70th wedding anniversary (April 17).  There was a lovely funeral service and mass for her yesterday that Bob, Luke, and I were able to attend.  The timing worked out with Luke flying home for spring break on Friday night, so he drove up with us early Saturday morning.  It was really nice to spend the time with him, and also for him to be able to see his cousins, many of which are his same age.  We ended up leaving the younger kids home with Caleb.  Since we left at 5:00 AM, we knew it would just be a really long day for them, and we wanted to be able to focus on everyone there, not worry about them throwing a temper tantrum or being uncooperative at a bad time.  I think it was the right decision.  We were able to visit with family without interruptions, and the kids here at home took it upon themselves to thoroughly clean the main floor of the house and their rooms.  It took them 5 hours, and the end result looked like the cleaning ladies had been here!  What a huge gift!  We thought we were walking back into the wrong house when we got home!

    What else has been going on this month . . . Anna and Grace are running track this year, and so practices have started.  So far they prefer cross country, but they haven't actually had a meet yet, so that opinion might change.  I ran track in high school, and I always thought track meets were really fun!
     Also, Caleb got his driver's license on March 17!  He was eligible to get it after Feb. 8, but we were in Germany, and when we got back, it took me a few weeks to get him scheduled for the last thing, his 14 hours of behind-the-wheel training.  But finally I got my act together, and he was able to finish up everything.  We are SO excited to have another driver again!  So far Caleb has taken the girls to track practice, and gone to McDonalds with Jonathan.  He also plotted with Anna and Grace to buy donuts Friday morning, March 23, which were very well-received here!  I am definitely looking forward to him being able to drive himself and Jonathan to CAP meetings.
     It also snowed for really the first time this entire winter on Wednesday, March 21.  It's hard to believe this will be the last time we enjoy this beautiful view off our back deck!  The kids played outside all afternoon, making a snow fort at the end of the street and sledding down the hill a zillion times.  Then we broke out the hot chocolate machine.

     Micah, Drew, and Verity were so thrilled with the snow that they even went back outside after dinner onto the deck for a little more playtime, since we knew it wouldn't last long!  They built a few small snowmen and threw a bunch of snowballs (it's all fun and games until someone comes in crying, lol).  I'm so glad we had at least one snow this winter!

    We celebrated Anna's 12th birthday on Wednesday, March 28, with not one, but two cakes!  She made the carrot cake herself.  We had the McC's over for her birthday dinner, which was pulled pork sliders, but we didn't open presents until Friday.  Nathan drove in for the weekend that day, so we were all together, which was so fun!
    On Thursday, March 29, we had this big dead oak tree in our back yard cut down.  I was so worried about it a few weeks ago when we had a big windstorm one night.  I was outside Thursday afternoon checking the mail when a truck drove up and some guy asked if we wanted to have the dead tree cut down.  Fortunately Bob was home to talk to them, because he did computer training all week and was able to do it here and not in Ohio.  So they agreed on terms, and the tree came down.  Hallelujah!  I was so happy and relieved!  When I took the picture, the guy had already cut off higher parts.  We enjoyed watching the show from our family room windows!  The tree was pretty tall, and I was so worried it was going to crash into our house--or one of the neighbors.  We had a fire in our fire pit Friday night, but we could conceivably have a fire every night for years before burning it all up.  We used the 4 large pieces from the trunk to make benches around the fire pit.  And the kids are happy to have a stump to play on!

    So that was March, in a nutshell. A sad month, but also good memories in there too.

    Sunday, March 04, 2018

    C-17 Flight Out

    Sunday morning, Feb. 18, found us once again at the terminal.  This time things looked positive, however--the flight to McGuire was releasing 53 seats, which is all of them on a C-17.  I assumed it must be an empty plane. 

    Roll call was at 9:30, but it took a long time.  They would call off several names, and then have a period of waiting while those people went up and got their luggage weighed and received boarding passes.  Then they would call off more names.  We knew it would be iffy for there to be room for all of us, but still, we were happy so many people were being called, since we knew we would have an excellent shot at getting out on the next flight to Dover that evening.  There were several more flights to Dover the next day, so things were finally looking up!

    FINALLY they called our name.  We were one of the last ones.  We made our cumbersome way up to the check-in desk to get all our bags weighed and our passports/IDs checked.  At the very last minute, I realized Micah was wearing crocs, which is a big no-no on military aircraft--"No open toed or open heeled shoes allowed".  Praise the Lord, I realized it when I did because I was able to grab his tennis shoes out of the suitcase for him to put on.  Whew!

    We also bought 4 box lunches for the flight at the desk.  These cost $5.50 each, making the grand total for this leg of our trip $22.00.  It doesn't cost anything for the actual flight when you are on military aircraft, so we saved a lot of money by not getting on the Rotator!  I think that costs $36.20 per person for the flight from Ramstein to BWI because the airport tax is much higher than when you fly from BWI to Ramstein.

    After we got our boarding passes, it was more waiting.  But at least we were excited about heading back to the US!  We started thinking about what on earth we would do once we got to McGuire, which is a little under 3 hours from where our van was at BWI.  I messaged with Joanna, a friend from Maryland, but we had no idea when we would take off, or when we would land.  In fact, the computer screen at the terminal said the flight was going through Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, so who knew how long that would take?! 

    Finally we got in line to go through security.  It was there that we realized Caleb had packed his full-size tube of toothpaste in his backpack instead of his suitcase.  Oops!  Oh well--plenty  more of that at home!
    This is what a C-17 looks like (although this is not the one we were on).  We had ridden on them before twice--once to Travis and once back to Dover in 2014 on our big Hawaii adventure.  They took us by bus out on the flightline to the aircraft. 
    When we got on, I was surprised to see it was most definitely not empty!  There was a big pallet in the front, then 4 big propellers, then more pallets in the back.  On our previous C-17 flights, we had been able to spread out all over the middle of the plane, but that was not the case here!  It took awhile for people to move around to we could have 10 seats together.  I would have been happy to let someone else sit by Micah, Drew, or Verity, but apparently, no one wanted that opportunity.  Ha!
    Better picture of all the propellers and pallets.  It is definitely a cavernously huge aircraft!
    Verity fell asleep really quickly.  We taxied for approximately forever, and she might have fallen asleep before we even took off, lol.  No, I think she waited a little bit longer.  They provide plastic-wrapped bundles of blankets with pillows, which are nice because it's cold at first.  The door stayed open for a while, so it got pretty chilly.
    We broke open our 4 box lunches fairly soon after take-off, since it was lunchtime.  I think we took off around 2:00 German time.  The lunches are pretty nice, which we remembered from our other trips and was why we didn't buy one for each person!  They included either 2 Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a submarine sandwich or a box of chicken tenders.  We also had the rest of our lunch meat and cheese, which some remaining brotchen, so the rest of us had sandwiches with that.  Then there were also chips, and various snack options like rice krispie treats, granola bars, bags of mini cookies, candy bars, etc (at least 2 options in each box) and a water bottle as well as either a can of pop or a bottle of gatorade.  Plenty of food to go around!
    Faith had her Christmas headphones (a present from Anna and Grace) to listen too.  Everyone else had to wear ear plugs.  I had thought ahead and ordered of amazon squishier, nicer ear plugs than the ones they give out.  They worked great for those of us with more adult sized ear canals, but I still struggled to keep in Micah's, Drew's, and Verity's!  I wished I had thought to bring one of those stretchy hair headband things--something like might have helped the earplugs stay in Verity's ears.  I had even cut in half a bunch of pairs the night before so that I could use skinnier ones, but they still were not a perfect solution!
    I made the little kids wear their hats, since that was all I had, to try to keep the earplugs in, but they were not incredibly successful.  Next time, I'll have a better plan . . .
    Right above the girls' heads was the only set of plugs on our side, so people kept plugging things in there to charge them.  Again, a perk of military flights!  On previous flights, people brought aerobeds and blew them up with the electric outlets!
    There was no room for aerobeds here.  You totally can't see in this picture, but we actually did spread the 2 sleeping bags out in the aisle right by our feet.  The kids liked to lay down there, although no one slept there!  The good thing about the C-17 is plenty of leg room for everyone!  The seats really aren't too uncomfortable, although 9 hours is a little bit long.  When people were in the sleeping bags, that opened up extra seats, so I laid across 2 seats with a pillow in the gap.  I fell asleep a few times, but boy, I must have been interrupted 20 times by various people and various complaints!  Very trivial ones, I might add.  Plus, It was pretty much impossible to hear anyone since the plane is so loud and we all had ear plugs in, so I would be awoken by violent shaking, and then someone would lean over me and move their lips.  Eventually I would sort of understand what they were saying (usually things like, "I need to poop, but I don't want to go to the front of the airplane by myself" or "I can't sleep" or something earth-shattering like that).  I made many trips to the tiny bathroom up front with people because I was the favored escort.  How special, lol. 

    You can see that the lighting is different in the above picture.  At some point (cruising altitude maybe?) they turn off the nice bright lights that run along the sides of the aircraft and just have this green lighting.  I had thought before it was because it was night time, but it turns out that is just what always happens!  It made reading hard for me, but I persevered.  I was able to finish Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, about making good snap decisions.  It was very interesting, as I have found all his books to be, and I really enjoyed it. 
    Verity did fall asleep again, and she stayed asleep until we landed and taxied in.  She had pulled her hat over her eyes in a sort of "do not disturb" sign.  She was not real happy about being woken up!  

    By the time we got into the McGuire terminal, it was 5:15 eastern, which is 11:15 PM Ramstein time.  We got our passports stamped, got our bags, and went through customs (which consisted of a guy standing in the middle of us all and asking us if anyone had anything to declare?  No?  Okay, free to go.)

    So . . . where to go??  Since it was after 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon, all the rental places were closed.  Someone told us we could take a train down to BWI, but that would be very expensive, and we would have to get ourselves to the train station in Trenton.  But Joanna came to our rescue!  She drove up to McGuire, which was 4 hours from her house, to pick us up!  We were SO thankful!  While we waited for her, we had a lovely chat with some of the other retirees that had been waiting with us for the week at the Ramstein terminal.  Space-a travelers are so nice!  

    Finally they left, and we had the terminal to ourselves, except for a few guys who work there.  We were just thankful it is a 24 hour terminal!  We ordered Dominos Pizza, since they were allowed to deliver on base, and they brought it right to us.  It tasted so good!  The kid played in the big kids room, which was really nice.  

    Joanna got there about 10:45, and she drove us to BWI so we could pick up our van.  Words can't express our relief when she drove up!  She is an angel!  She and I had a lovely visit on the way to BWI, and then we each got home around 2:45 AM.  Bob and I had been up for about 26 hours, and we were so tired!  It was so good to be home and in our own beds!

    Funny afterthought--when I was helping Drew write a birthday letter to Luke, I asked him to tell Luke what his favorite thing was about the trip.  Drew said . . . his snack bag.  Yes, the gallon size ziploc bag I filled with snacks (a gallon bag for each person!) was his absolute favorite thing!  I guess they were really amazing snacks . . . even better than palaces and Roman forts!  Haha!  I hope that's not the only thing Drew remembers about this trip!

    Friday, March 02, 2018

    Last Day

    We woke up thinking that Saturday was fairly likely to be our last day in Germany.  There was scheduled on Sunday a flight to McGuire mid-morning, and a flight to Dover in the late afternoon.  There had actually been a flight to Andrews with roll call early Saturday morning (as in 0300).  We had been debating whether we should try for the Andrews flight, but then it came out with 0 seats being released, so we figured we shouldn't even bother.  As it turned out, it ended up releasing 10 seats, but only 2 people were there to get on, and we *might* have been able to get on (sometimes they will release another seat or 2 if there were just a few more needed), but it was a pretty big risk and would have messed up the entire next day if it hadn't worked, so I was glad we didn't worry about it.

    We had been planning to visit the ruins of Nanstein Castle Saturday for one last hoorah of sightseeing, but when we woke up, it was cold, gray and snowing.  So walking around ruins sounded particularly miserable, lol.

    Instead, we decided we should go out to a German restaurant, since we had never actually done that.  It was intimidating with such a big group, which is why we had never done it before.  I got to work googling restaurants in Ramstein, and we decided on "Maxi's".  There wasn't a huge selection right in Ramstein, but neither of us really wanted to drive into Kaiserslautern.  We ate a big breakfast and went for a late lunch--around 1:00.  We figured the restaurant wouldn't be busy then, and we were right.  We were pretty much the only customers, except for a big table of what looked like regulars right by the door!
    We ordered 2 plates of wienerschnitzel and 4 plates of jagerschnitzel.  They all came with salads, so we divided those up among us all.  We got fries with the wienerschnitzal and yummy potato croquettes with the jagerschnitzel.  Everyone tried some of everything, and they were big platters, so we had plenty!  Everyone like the croquettes a lot.  I think it was Jonathan who said they tasted like pierogies with a crunchier outside!  The only bad thing was paying 3.50 euros for each carafe of water.  I had a water bottle in my backpack, which I used to refill glasses so we didn't need to buy anymore carafes.  I love my free water!
    You can see the snowy landscape outside.  The restaurant was all windows--very bright and airy, even on a really cloudy day!

    Afterwards we drove further into the small town of Ramstein to Venezia Eiscafe, which got great reviews on yelp.  And it definitely lived up to the reviews!  One scoop of amazing gelato in a cup or a cone was just 1 euro!  There were lots of different flavors including strawberry (which was SO delicious--like a fresh strawberry but even better!), hazelnut, coconut, cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, and chocolate (and more that I can't remember, lol).  With so many of us, we were able to taste a wide selection of flavors. 
    I personally had chocolate, which was also absolutely delicious.  The older boys went back for another scoop since they had brought their own money!
    That night we went back to a grocery store Bob and I had been to by ourselves--Globus.  It was definitely the biggest grocery store we had been in over there.  It was more like a Super Walmart or something because it had more stuff than just food.  It also had some little shops like Super Walmarts do in front of the cash registers, as well as some food places.  We bought pizzas there, and Bob also bought half of a rotisserie chicken. 
    We also bought a beer!  Since the legal drinking age in Germany is 16, Caleb had been dying to try some.  Here was his big chance!  He was not impressed.  We actually let all the kids try a sip, and none of them liked it.  They were actually astounded that some people struggle with drinking too much it  I guess it is an acquired taste, lol.  I think we left it 3/4 full on the table when we left.  But it was an experience!

    Then we headed back to the TLF to finish packing our stuff up (again)!  Maybe for the last time??