We Did It

Proper May wrap-up post coming at the end of the month, but this seemed worth noting in a post all its own …

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May 13, 2017

Eleven years from the time Carl started to teach himself Greek so as to better understand the Bible, the catalyst for this whole journey, four years after actually starting seminary, he has graduated with a dual MA in New Testament and Biblical Languages.

I am always the forward-looker, so it’s easy for me to say, “And now on to the PhD at Cambridge!” but I am trying to curb that tendency this weekend so as to properly enjoy and appreciate this step, the completion of this season, this accomplishment.

It’s been quite the ride.

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September 18, 2013

When we arrived in Boston, Joy was almost six and Grace was four. Now they are nine and a half and almost eight. We still have the summer left before we leave the area, but this graduation really does seem like the ending of this season in our lives. It was with full hearts and the weight of four years worth of memories that we celebrated yesterday. There have been heavy burdens and many struggles along the way, but overall the memories are joyful. I am so thankful for every part of this season, the good and the hard.

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Senior Banquet, 5/5/2017

And OK, yes. I’ m SO excited about the next season, too.

April Showers Bring …

… May showers, apparently. I keep reminding myself of the awful drought last year and how much we needed rain (especially since we didn’t get much snow this winter), but oh, my spirit is longing for sunshine and warm temperatures! Not HOT, mind you, but mid-60s to 70s would be lovely.

April was notable mostly because I did Camp NaNoWriMo again, and accomplished my 30,000 words with a few days to spare! (actually it was 35,000, but I only officially signed up for 30,000) That’s about half of a draft. Not to give too much away, but this is the first draft of the next Whitney & Davies book, and it’s set in Cambridge. I’m hoping to finish the first draft in May and June, in time to finish the edits on the current W&D book and publish that this summer. Whew!

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I even cleaned off my writing desk and organized my miscellaneous bits of inspiration!

The kids finished Classical Conversations in April, which resulted in mixed feelings. They miss their classes and their friends, but it IS nice to have our Tuesdays back and to be able to focus on our own schoolwork that got pushed aside as the CC work got more demanding. Joy presented a research paper on Empress Wu during the closing ceremony, and both girls got up with their classes to demonstrate something they’d learned throughout the year. They had a great two years in CC, and now that chapter of our lives is closed. We’ve been told there’s a fantastic homeschool community in Cambridge, but no CC. Which is ok, because new experiences are good, too. I don’t like to cling too closely to the past.

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Empress Wu, ready to read her paper!

Carl moves ever closer to graduation; he finished his final translations for his Biblical Languages degree a day or so before I finished my 35,000 words for Camp NaNo (we were having a wee bit of a competition), and all he has left for his New Testament degree is his thesis, which he will be completing through the rest of the spring and early summer. Graduation is a week from Saturday!IMG_2197

Our community ladies Bible Study wrapped up in April as well. This was my first and only year as one of the leaders. This semester we looked at the book of Philippians, and it was such a good study, prompting all kinds of discussion and thought. I’ve been part of the study on and off for the last four years; it’s going to seem odd this fall to not have it as part of my life! (But I’m looking forward to getting involved with other studies–see above about not clinging too closely to the past)

We have gotten some sunny days, and have been able to spend some time outside enjoying spring. Each day is one day closer to the end of our time here. It’s exciting and at the same time a little panic-inducing (mostly for me, as I think of all that has to be accomplished in order for us to move to England). With graduation next week, I think we’ll really be able to call this chapter of our lives closed.

In the meantime, I’m off on a date with my husband while the kids bake an apple pie with one of our neighbors! This, I’m most definitely going to miss.

Cambridge

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We went to Cambridge! And made it back again, though if it weren’t for the fact that our girls were still stateside we might not have ever left.

England was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be. I couldn’t believe how much it was like how I’d always imagined it, in fact. I kept bracing myself for it to be different, to not live up to my imaginings, but no. It was exactly as I’d dreamed.

Now, I’m guessing that if I had gone to Yorkshire I wouldn’t have found a secret garden and children playing with wild animals on the moor. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane would not be punting in Oxford. Miss Read would not be bicycling to school in the Cotswolds. I didn’t see any hobbits, nor did any cupboard doors lead me to Narnia. I did pass Platform 9 3/4 at Kings’ Cross, but it was not in between platforms 9 and 10, and was clearly a tourist trap.

I do know the difference between fiction and reality. I just like to ignore it whenever possible.

The essence of England, though, the very Englishness of it … that was there. That was real. And I loved it.

We were only in London long enough to get from plane to train to tube to train (and then the reverse coming back), and the rest of the time we spent in Cambridge. Oh, for more time, to get to Oxford, and see the sights in London, to travel the rest of the island! We made the most of our four and a half days, though. We tramped 40 miles all over Cambridge and got to know that city far better than most tourists can.

It is beautiful.

I could write pages and pages of our adventures there, but as I doubt they’d be as fascinating to others as they were to us (met with university housing! Had a cream tea! Were served tea and toast every morning by our hosts! Explored possible places to live! Walked through an ancient cemetery and saw my first European robin! Were nearly mobbed by swans looking for food! Went to Waterstones and the Cambridge University Press bookshop and couldn’t buy anything either place because I had no room in my bag!), I’ll hold back.

We can’t wait to go back. I can’t believe we’ll actually be living there for three (or maybe more, depending on how long Carl’s PhD takes) years.

It’s going to be a most fantastic adventure.

With lots of tea. And scones.

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February Into March

For such a short month, February sure packed a lot in this year.

February 9th, I received my first short story acceptance! My science fiction story “The Last Defense” will be appearing in the April edition of Empyreome Magazine

I started working on writing and submitting short stories this September, as the school year tends to make the long, sustained effort required for novels tricky. Along with being easier to produce in the midst of homeschooling a fourth-grader and second-grader, short stories have also been a good way to work on improving my writing, most especially to get away from my tendencies toward, uh, wordiness. Also my tendency to give too much explanation and bog the story down.

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.” -Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

So I am so pleased to have a story accepted, and hope that it leads to even more improved writing and more acceptances!

That same day, February 9th, Carl received an acceptance letter of his own: Cambridge University accepted his application for their PhD program. Whether we go or not is still dependent on funding, but it’s still pretty thrilling.

Related to that, on the very last day of February, Tuesday the 28th, we bought two plane tickets for Carl and me to go to Cambridge this month to visit, meet people, and get a feel for what life might be like over there. We woke up in the morning with no thought of visiting, and went to bed with the tickets ordered, the girls set to go to Grandma’s while we’re gone, and our heads whirling with adventure. Neither of us have ever been to Britain–I’ve been dreaming of visiting or living there ever since I was a little kid reading the Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit and The Secret Garden and all the rest of those traditional English children’s books. I am thrilled.

I decided the day after ordering the plane tickets that the next Whitney & Davies book will have to be set in Cambridge! I have no plot yet, but at least the setting will be researched in person for a change.

In between all these happenings, we had snow, and we had seventy degree days, we suffered the usual February doldrums, the kids and I went to the MFA with some of our homeschool group, we rested during February break, the kids started taking piano lessons, and we looked forward to spring.

And now it is March! Hello spring, last-of-winter storms, visit to England, and who knows what else!

First Month

Somehow the second half of January has seemed to last much longer than the first. I look at my last post and think, “wow, was that really only two weeks ago?” And yet … I’m not sure we really did that much. I think more it’s been interior stuff, lots of thinking and pondering and feeling. Life as an HSP can get exhausting sometimes, even when everything seems calm on the surface. Plus, all the turmoil in this country right now is draining. Trying to keep my candle glowing against the darkness gets harder some days than others.

We have had some lovely moments. Carl’s sister came and spent a weekend with us. She spent one afternoon playing games with the kids while he and I snuck off on a date, and the next afternoon the three of them made supper (from the kids’ cookbooks) while Carl and I went for (decaf) coffee. The rest of the time we just hung out and enjoyed being together. A lovely family time.

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Wine tasting date! It was lovely. (The wine was good, too.)

We went to public skating this past Friday, and the kids did great and had a blast. Especially impressive considering Joy hasn’t been on the ice since we lived in Albany, and Grace hated (with a fiery passion) her skating lessons the first winter we lived here. They’ve come a long way. And then, as we were getting ready to leave, another mom and her daughter came to skate, and it took me a few minutes, but then I recognized her from my home club. Back in Canton, NY, when we were both teens. We both live here on the North Shore now and we didn’t even know it! It was great fun to reconnect, especially since it was so unexpected.

It was also fun going out for doughnuts and hot chocolate afterward. Skating is definitely going to be a weekly activity for the rest of the season. (doughnuts, maybe not every single week.) Even Carl is thinking about getting in on the action–for the first time ever he’s contemplating getting skates so we can do this as a whole-family activity! I am delighted.

I got very excited, as usual, over the US Figure Skating Championships. This year there was a little more to get excited about than usual–Nathan Chen made history by landing FIVE QUADS in the men’s free skate. And Karen Chen (no relation) was brilliant in the ladies’. Overall, figure skating looks stronger in the US than it has in at least ten years (except for ice dance, which has been strong all along and is merely continuing the tradition of greatness). In a country racked by division and suspicion, it’s beautiful to me to see the diversity, inclusivity, and joy represented by the world of figure skating.

We had our first Family Meeting this weekend, figuring out chore allotment and allowances and basically cementing the fact that we are so not in the little kid stage of life anymore. It was surprisingly fun.

I have been continuing with my French lessons on Duolingo, finding more things about the app that frustrate me no end, but at the same time I’m progressing and getting better, so it is working. I still would hate to have gone into this without at least some prior knowledge of the language, however far back in my past. And I AM getting a proper French grammar book at some point, because Duolingo never explains the rules. As my mother and any other teacher I ever had could tell you, I need explanations.

My fountain pen arrived and I promptly fell in love and never want to use any other kind of pen, and also want to write all my stories by hand again, like I did in the ancient times of my youth before computers were a thing. Even getting my grandmother’s old electric typewriter was a red-letter day when I was younger! But yes, this pen is a joy to write with, and now Carl wants one too.

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Finished Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season and found it, as usual with her books, a blend of immensely frustrating and immensely uplifting and encouraging. One thing I will say, she always makes me think. Ultimately, it has helped me recognize some of my difficulties with having a still mind, and I was able to come up with a few strategies for minimizing the constant noise in my own head, so very worth it. I’m now in the middle of re-reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (Christmas present from my in-laws), and finding that bracing, encouraging, laugh-out-loud funny, and just wonderful. My fiction reading has been less memorable. I dutifully recorded each book, but none of them are worthy of repeating here.

Oh, and I taught the kids to knit.

And now we see what February has in store. Fingers crossed it will bring some snow …

Two Weeks In

We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?

Here, we’ve had:

Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.

Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.

We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.

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but the sledding was fun while it lasted. as was throwing snowballs at daddy.

Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).

I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).

We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.

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working on their nature journals. sunny but windy today!

I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.

I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.

Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!

The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!

Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!

And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.

Looking Ahead

When your year starts in September and ends in August … or starts in June and ends in May, depending on how you feel about things … it can feel a bit disconcerting to hit December 31. This is my fourth year as a “seminary wife,” and our lives follow the school calendar more than anything. This year has definitely felt like it began in June and will end in May, which makes it hard for me to sum up 2016. Not to mention that we’ve been so busy with everything I never had time to record much of our doings, and so it’s all bit of a blur.

I remember the winter being very un-winter-ish … friends graduating … spraining my ankle … lots of trips to the beach (including sun poisoning on one occasion, ugh, you’d think we’d lived here long enough to not make that mistake) … going to Maine … visiting family … saying goodbye to dear friends … bits and pieces of writing squeezed in when possible … new approach to homeschooling … but really, overshadowing everything has been CARL’S LAST YEAR AT SEMINARY. And its follow-up thought, which is WHERE WILL WE BE NEXT YEAR? Next year being next school year, naturally.

I haven’t made resolutions in ages. I used to do the “one word” idea for a year, but that also sort of petered out. However, this year, I do actually have a few resolutions in mind to make.

For one, I don’t like how all my memories are blurred together (see above). This is a chaotic time in our lives, but it’s also precious, and I don’t want it to be vague in future years when I look back. Plus, I think it’s important to live life aware, not drifting through. So, one of my resolutions is to do better at recording this. Either with an end-of-the-month blog post, where I sum up a few things I learned, accomplished, or experienced that month, or with the same sort of idea in a private journal, or with a weekly gratitude journal (say, three things each week you can look back on and be specifically thankful for), or something like that.

And speaking of journaling AND keeping better track of my life, I also want to get better at recording what I read. So many times I read a book and promptly forget it within a week of finishing it. Or I re-read a book and then can’t remember why I wanted to re-read it or how it struck me differently this time around. I used to keep up with Goodreads, but they don’t have a good system for marking re-reads (at least not one that worked for me), plus I realized I was self-censoring the reviews I wrote based on how other people feel writers should review (always positive! Authors should never leave negative reviews even if they hated a book!), or how other people even felt one should respond to a book (if you liked a book that other people found “problematic” then you’re a big jerk!). So Goodreads became more stress than anything. This year, I’m going to try keeping a personal, private reading journal, both for fresh reads and re-reads, where I can either simply mark something as “read” or can leave a brief line or ramble as much as I want. I even have my eye on a fancy fountain pen to help inspire me.

As usual, I need to figure out a healthy way to manage stress. Last year I did start to learn how to minimize outside stressors (that was tied in to our new approach to homeschooling, actually); this year I need to find better ways of handling the stressors I can’t remove. Like, simply living and being a responsible adult. Daily exercise was working for me for the first half of last year, but spraining my ankle put a crimp in that, and I never really got back to it. Also a time of quietness to start my day, but my ability to get up early enough to have that depends on how I’ve slept the previous night, and that varies so much from night to night … I know there’s solutions out there, I just have to work my way to them. So that’s a plan for this year, to be mindful of ways to live wholly and healthily and not constantly fretting.

As for writing, no specific resolutions there. I’ve learned better than to resolve to “Publish X book” or “Submit so many MSS” or even “Finish writing XYZ.” As soon as I set those sort of solid plans in place, they get derailed faster than I can blink. So, again, my goal for this upcoming year is to write mindfully and well, to focus more on crafting the story well than finishing within a certain timeframe, and when I do sit down to write to actually WRITE instead of frittering time away on social media (oh yeah, less social media in general is a goal, and probably always will be). To be a good steward of this gift, basically.

Hmm. I hadn’t realized it until I sat down and typed these out, but there seems to be a common theme winding through all my resolutions: mindful. I guess I have a word for 2017 after all!img_1903

I shall give life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return. When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes–what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows–what new landscapes–what new beauties–what curves and hills and valleys further on.” -Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery