"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Monday, October 26, 2015

In the Details

If you could be a little mouse in our wall observing our new family “norm,” you’d see me in one chair busily writing product descriptions on my laptop, Ryan across the room (red pen in hand) grading his ninth graders’ essays on heroism as portrayed in Homer’s The Iliad, and Ryley pouncing about doing her typical Ryley-thing…homework, kissing her dog, reading, leaving a trail of snack crumbs wherever she goes. There might be music playing; the TV might be on. It might be silent, with the quiet only occasionally interrupted by one of us sharing an anecdote from our work. But we’re together, and we’re content.

The first quarter is already done and in the (grade)books, and yet Ryan’s new teaching position constantly amazes us with how perfect of a fit it is for him. Of course he was good at being a restaurant manager too, but he secretly hated the monotonous stress of his days…trying to fill shifts, running around short-handed, bending over backwards to please snotty customers, being on his feet constantly, fighting debilitating headaches, and always feeling like his life was going nowhere -- that his gifts, dreams, and education were going to waste. When we took our vacation in February, I worried aloud about using so much of Ryan’s vacation time so early in the year; what about saving some for holidays? But he was adamant that he would not be working at Noodles come fall. Even with nothing on the horizon, he was certain we were on the brink of a change. Thanks to some insurance claims and needed remodeling and repairs, our house had appraised for more than we expected, which allowed us to pay down some bills when we refinanced our home. So even the excess  in our budget seemed to be setting us up for something. But what?

When I look back at everything in hind sight, it’s incredible to see God’s hand at work, even years in advance. Even the decision to send Ryley to this particular school back in kindergarten seems like it was all a part of the plan, aside from the obvious good it’s been for her. The school was only one year old then, but we believed that it was where Ryley was supposed to be. I remember thinking that her heart would be safest there — that the school and its classical philosophy was the one that fell most in line with our values and expectations for education. When she was in sixth grade, the school’s success and demand was so high that it expanded to a second campus just two miles from our house, and this one included plans for building a high school, grade by grade. Possessing a yet unused English Literature degree, Ryan applied for the high school English position, but he never got a response. A year passed, and seeing an open English position on their web site for the second time, he applied again. Two months passed, and we’d all but forgotten he’d applied for it when the phone call came on a Thursday night in late July. His resume had risen to the top of the stack, and they wanted to see him for an interview. He was hired less than a day later.

The job was a significant pay cut, as we expected. After all, three out of four of our parents are/were teachers. But sometimes difficult leaps of faith are required, and after running the numbers numerous times, we realized that it was actually do-able, due to the recently acquired financial breathing room. If he had been offered the job a year ago, we couldn’t have made it work; it would have been ludicrous to accept the job knowing there wouldn’t be enough money to pay our bills, and he would have continued in the restaurant industry feeling hopeless and depressed about the inability to ever develop an exit strategy. But this year, the pay cut was feasible, landing us right back in the tight spot we’ve long been familiar with…which, though tough to swallow, is always enough.

And so he began. The school requires three weeks of in-service and training before students arrive, and Ryan soaked up all the knowledge and advice he could. Now, two months into the school year, our lives are falling into a new rhythm. For one, he’s home every weekend and every evening, which has never been the case in almost 17 years of marriage (he might be grading papers, but he’s home!). He wears a dress shirt and tie every day, so suddenly our laundry piles have taken on a different shape (way more lights than darks; few jeans). He’s reawakened all the philosophical and literary sections of his brain which have had to take a backseat for so long. Sure his job is stressful, but it’s more mentally stressful than physically. He finds joy in challenging his students, in helping to shape their character, in introducing them to great literature, in teaching them to think critically, and in reiterating grammar and writing rules. It’s definitely no picnic; many of his kids have learning disabilities, and many come from rough backgrounds. Reading The Iliad isn’t easy for anyone. And he is responsible for coming up with his lesson plans and much of his own grammar and composition curriculum from scratch. It is simultaneously the hardest and best thing he’s ever done, but he is giving it everything he’s got. I am so proud.

“My worst day teaching is 10 times better than my best day at Noodles,” Ryan said recently, and my heart soared. Don’t get me wrong; we are very thankful for that season in our lives. But this is what he is meant to be doing. This is what he was born to do.

And his mysterious headaches? Significantly better! They’re not completely gone, but they are definitely fewer and less intense.

He has a student whose name rhymes with Zacchaeus, and I always know when he’s grading that student’s paper because he begins to hum “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man”! He had one student plagiarize an entire essay, which he discovered using the infinite powers of Google. When he went to the administration about it, they said that though the girl would definitely receive a referral, Ryan should first discuss plagiarism in class, giving her a chance to come forward on her own and thus “build her character.” There aren’t words for how much I love that philosophy…for how much wisdom I see there.

So, in a nutshell, :-)…. Fifteen years after being hired by a school and then let go three days later because they found a candidate with decades of experience, Ryan has been given a second chance…and at a position that seems tailor-made for his personality. In my opinion, his students could never have a better English teacher. He is a clear, concise communicator, an avid proponent of the Socratic method, and the most passionate person when it comes to literature and writing. We’ve taught Sunday School together several times over the years, and I’ve watched him teach Ryley throughout her lifetime, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ryan was born to be a teacher.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep up by reading “The Iliad,” myself, though without the daily classroom input from Mr. Moore.

“Is Zeus on the Trojans’ side?” I asked one day, early on.

“It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it?” he answered in his trademark “answer a question with a question” method. “Why do you think that?”

And so we sit on these lovely fall evenings, carving out a new and wonderful “normal.” It isn’t easy, and it has required work on all of our parts as we’ve adjusted as a family, but I am so happy that my husband finally feels fulfilled in his career. The important thing to understand is that it’s nothing he’s done or we’ve done…God Himself orchestrated this entire opportunity from the very beginning. And when we think of it that way, it feels overwhelming. With all of the problems going on in this great big world, He cared about us, and He set up all these minute details over the course of years, literally.

He cares about you too, and I am confident He will do the same. He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, and he can handle it. If he can handle the details for Joe Blow in Haiti, Suzie Q in China, and Ryan Moore in Colorado, he can handle the details for you too (Romans 8:28).

Take my word for it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Secret to Raising a Girl

“I think I figured out your parents’ secret,” someone said to me one time. “They kept you busy. They kept you so busy that you didn’t have time to get into trouble.” The comments were based on observations of the teenaged version of myself and that I had somehow managed to make it through high school without any major crises.

I’ve thought a lot about that comment over the years. And I’ve thought about how, unbeknownst to many, I often struggled with dark, depressive thoughts during the summer months when I wasn’t as busy as I usually was. An idle mind is indeed the devil’s playground. My mom and dad were aware of my struggles and encouraged me to keep my mind busy…to read more, and to specifically read the Bible more, to fill those empty gaps when my mind had nothing to do but sit idle and let the darkness seep in. That always helped, as long as I kept at it. And then, of course, when school started up again, I was thrust back into classes, symphony, sports, student government, and music lessons, and the darkness would soon be trampled into non-existence by default.

Ryley is 12. She is at that awkward age where she’s too old for daycare, but too young to stay at home by herself for eight hours every day. If she had younger siblings, she could certainly be trusted to babysit. But being alone for hours on end? That’s no fun for anybody.

Plus, summer is her growing and stretching time. She seems more herself in the summer months, without the limitations of the school schedule and commitments.

She spreads out and stretches the muscles of her personality, becoming gangly both physically and mentally. Her personality is a liquid; she fills and molds herself to whatever container she’s given. And if there’s no container? Well, then, she spills over into everything!

In my mind, she will forever be a mess of blonde pigtails, tanktops, freckles, and sticky popsicle stains on pink cheeks. :-) A summer girl to the core.

This past spring, I started stressing out over my annual question of “What Shall We Do with Ryley This Summer?” And I felt like God was telling me to trust Him…that it would all work out, like it always does. I never want Ryley to feel like she’s in the way…like juggling her is a pain. I want her to enjoy her time off. But we need to keep her busy too, while spending the least amount of money possible. ;-)

We have a wonderful library in our area, and I jokingly mentioned to my mom that if I dropped Ryley off in the morning on my way to work and picked her up in the afternoon, nobody would even notice. She could read all day, get herself a snack at the cafĂ©, and just hang out in her happy place. It’s a spacious, cheerful two-story building, with abundant nooks and crannies for hunkering down with a good book.

“You should see if she can volunteer there!” my mom suggested.

Imagine how thrilled we were when we learned that the minimum grade level for volunteers is 7th grade! Ryley was super excited, and once she was approved and had completed the orientation, we scheduled her for as many shifts as we could.


“I might have read the backs of a few books,” she said slyly, after she spent her first shift shelving all the holds. She found it fascinating to see what kinds of books people put on hold; some patrons had reserved multiple books on parrots; others had reserved a bunch on a certain time in history.

After that, her primary responsibility was to sit at the Summer Reading table and sign kids up for the reading program, and later, give them a stamp/sticker or a prize when they returned their completed reading log. She regularly brought home multiple books after her shift and read them in time to return them at her next shift a couple of days later. :-) Throughout the summer, she met lots of interesting kids, played chess and other board games, learned how to greet parents with their little ones, and became very serious about her responsibilities. It was amazing to watch her growth and development.

But we needed more than just the library to keep her occupied.

My mom came up at the end of May and took her to my grandma’s house in Nebraska for a few days.  Lots of fun ensued, and Ryley loved the idea of being a part of four generations of women.


“Mom, it’s like I’m a miniature version of you, and you’re a miniature version of Mammaw, and Mammaw’s a miniature version of Honey! And I see where I get my talking…All four of us talk a lot!”


In mid-June, we sent her to a church camp in Lexington, Nebraska, which had been a goal of ours for several years. My cousin is the director of the camp, and she got to stay with the girls from their youth group.



She absolutely loved it and came home with a suitcase filled with wet, smelly clothes and tons of fun experiences and stories to share. :-) The evening services were really life-changing for her, too! She seems much more sure of her faith than she did before!

At the end of June, we enrolled her in a week-long cooking day camp. Cooking has become a fun hobby for Ryley in recent months, and she is constantly on the lookout for new recipes we can try.





The camp was a success. She was the oldest kid, which wasn’t a bad thing because the instructor trusted her to do some of the tasks that the smaller kids weren’t ready for. The hardest thing about it was arranging for her to arrive at 9:30 (awkward time for work schedules), then picking her up at 12:00, grabbing her a bite to eat, getting her over to the library in time for her 1:00 shift, then back to work for me! But it all worked out.



An exhausting week of volleyball camp followed,


then Yellowstone,


then her birthday week.


And now she’s preparing for a week in Dallas with my family before the summer wraps up.

In the midst of all this, we’ve had some rough waters to navigate.

Of course, there’s the normal parenting stuff, like the fact that we’ve had to cut out video games. I have a pretty decent theory for why video games cause attitude problems: we let our kids control a world and a character for hours on end, and then, when we need them to come back to Earth, they have to suddenly relinquish control. They were king, and now they’re reduced to a nobody. Suddenly they have to answer to us again instead of being the boss of their own universe. That would make anybody cranky!

One of the biggest challenges this summer came by way of text message, when one of Ryley’s best friends decided to come out as “bi-sexual.” My sweet pre-teen didn’t even know what that was. I had to help translate a bunch of confusing, befuddling text messages in which the girl was frustrated that Ryley wasn’t understanding what she was saying.

“I mean, I knew there were gay people, and I knew there were straight people. It never occurred to me that there was something in between!” poor Ryley lamented.

But her maturity in handling the situation floored us: “Mom, I think it’s really sad that she is so desperate for love that she feels like she needs to expand her options to the same gender. If anything, I think she needs my friendship more than ever. She needs to be shown Jesus’ love more than ever.”

My shock and horror at the overall situation melted into troubled concern, which finally gave way to acceptance after a week or so, as we discussed with Ryley how to handle the issue and her very precious friendship. Our consensus was that it’s really none of our business what the girl thinks she is and Ryley should do her best to forget about it and not encourage conversation about it. But that’s easier said than done. The text messages just kept coming.

The drama deepened when the girl expressed attraction for one of their mutual best friends. Then, it got worse when she asked the fellow 12-year-old “out” and was rejected. Oy! The world is a different place.

Twelve-year-olds should not be thinking about sexuality at all, let alone which “way” they go. I am so disgusted with society’s obsession with sex becoming a part of one’s identity. Each person is an individual masterpiece created by God with so much more purpose to offer the world. Sexuality is just one small aspect of who we are. As I read recently, “sex was created for us; we weren’t created for sex.”

So we have 12-year-old girls sitting around all summer with nothing better to do than to think about whether or not they like boys or girls or both? Give me a break. Girls need to stay busy, both physically and mentally. They need an outlet and a purpose…one that allows them to still be kids but also helps to confine and shape their liquid personalities.

I can’t pretend to know it all, because this journey is certainly just beginning for us. We have made countless parental mistakes this summer, and we are destined to make many more. All we can ask is that God gives us wisdom and creative answers for how to keep raising a young woman who is a light in the darkness. This summer, God gave us the activities. Next summer, it may be something else. All I know is that every summer – every chapter in our lives – is an evolving, ever-changing quest to discover the secret to raising a girl.


Having lunch with me at my work…pickles and soup. Of course!





Wednesday, July 22, 2015

They Call Her Ryles

I know my entire blog must seem like an ode to my daughter sometimes. And maybe it is. ;-) But tomorrow she turns “a dozen” (her words, not mine!). And in honor of her twelfth birthday, I want to offer up 12 little-known quirks that make up our Ryley Elisabeth.

1. She is a sucker for “As Seen on TV” items, the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, and any other odd invention she comes across. Years ago, she told us, “I am always on the lookout for things that will improve our home!” When I’m waiting in line at our grocery store pharmacy, Ryley will often round the corner, her arms filled with gadgets she picked off the “As Seen on TV” rack. Then she shows me each item in grand detail before I tell her to go put them all back where she found them.

2. You will never meet someone more enthusiastic about the last movie she saw. “That’s my new favorite movie!” she announced after “Frozen.” “That’s my new favorite movie!” she announced after “The Lego Movie.” Then “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Then “Inside Out.” Then “Jurassic World.” She’s constantly revising her list of favorites, based on whatever she saw most recently.

3. She loves pickled foods…pickles, artichokes, sauerkraut. Basically, anything that’s been soaked in vinegar for long periods of time! When we go to Five Guys, we even soak our fries in malt vinegar.

4. She has a compassionate heart for all animals, but especially dogs. She will befriend pretty much any puppy she sees. She can’t wait until she’s old enough to volunteer at the animal shelter or the zoo.

5. Antique stores and thrift stores are treasure troves for our girl. She could spend hours in one. She once fell in love with a piggy bank with the words “Dad’s Boat Fund” painted on it. Of course she had to get it for the sheer irony! She has also started a “small bottle collection,” for which she saves my old perfume bottles, vanilla extract bottles, etc.

6. On that note, our recent hotel stays unearthed a new issue…a love for freebies. “Mom, are these shampoo bottles for us to keep? How about the pen and notepad?” We stayed in three hotels, and at each place, Ryley collected all the free things that she could.

7.  She runs everywhere. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve gotten on her case. She runs through the grocery store, her arms and legs flailing. There’s no patience for the journey…She must be at her destination now!

8. She has a soft spot for blankets and cuddly things. It could be 85 degrees in our house, but Ryley will still want a blanket while she watches TV. We recently had to help her find other places for her stuffed animals because she wasn’t sleeping well in her bed. She was hanging on to the edge for dear life while her plethora of stuffed puppies took up all the prime mattress real estate.

9. Soup is one of her favorite foods. Once again, it doesn’t matter how hot it is outside…She’ll take a bowl of minestrone or broccoli cheddar any day!

10. Whether it be a comic book about the Fantastic Four or an episode of Doctor Who, Ryley comes by her nerdiness honestly. To her daddy’s great pride, she loves all things super-hero and sci-fi!

11. She enjoys musicals (“Sound of Music,” “Fiddler,” “West Side Story,” “Into the Woods,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” etc.), and she belts out the tunes in a strong, beautiful voice! She’s always trying to sing the harmony part, too, and finds pure joy in hearing different parts.

12. As she gets older, we look forward to introducing her to more and more good comedy. She has a gorgeous laugh, and we love hearing it when something genuinely tickles her. She has a tremendous sense of humor and keeps us laughing too!



Her group of friends started calling her “Ryles” this past school year – a nickname I think is so cute I wish I would have thought of it myself!!

Happy birthday, Ryley! Daddy and I love you more than you will ever understand. You are a ray of sunshine in a very dark world, and we are thankful to God for entrusting us with your very precious life.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Yellowstone, Days 2 and 3 (MORE bears!)

We got a later start than we intended Saturday morning. After we tracked down a coffee shop and a gas station, we waited in the long line of cars at the west entrance of the park. I was driving, so Ryley and Ryan popped out for this quick picture:


When Ryan and I first visited Yellowstone in 2002, the park had recently recovered from a wildfire a couple of years before. At that time, much of the west entrance was bare, with a sea of dead trees as far as the eye could see. There was a strange sense of beauty in that, however. I had never seen anything like it, and the hills and hills of tree skeletons with the beginnings of new life poking up from beneath is fixed in my memory.

What we discovered this time around is that the landscape of a forest can change a lot in 13 years. Ryan read somewhere that forest fires open the pinecones, releasing them to re-seed the ground.  The flora has indeed made a gigantic comeback, and the new generation of small- and medium-sized pine trees is thick along the sides of the roads and deep into the woods.  Because of the new growth, we couldn’t see as far from the road as we could last time. But it was okay because it was so incredible to be witnessing the circle of life firsthand, the constant ebb and flow of nature. From death comes new life.



I am a sucker for waterfalls. They might just be my favorite thing in the world.


It was a little too cold to swim at Firehole Falls, though some people were. Ryley was content to get her feet wet.




It was actually quite chilly out, so I feel like the steam from the thermal pools was a little thicker than usual. We couldn’t see the colors as clearly. It was still so beautiful, though.




We arrived at Old Faithful at lunch time. We ate lunch, did a little shopping, and watched the eruption around 2:45.



Ryley took a selfie with Old Faithful. :-)

We got back on the road, knowing we were running out of time to finish the southern loop in daylight. It was so peaceful and relaxing to drive through the forest and alongside the lake, accompanied by worship music, Sufjan Stevens, and Radical Face.



We came upon some elk grazing in a field…They’re so majestic!



And now for the best part of our trip!!!!!!!!

We entered the Hayden Valley and were immediately smitten with the gorgeous views.


The combination of the sunlight and green fields under plump clouds was simply breathtaking.


Add the mountains in the distance and the Yellowstone River, and it’s heavenly.


The animals thought so, too, and we found ourselves pulling over along the side of the road with a bunch of other people to take pictures of…birds.


“There has to be something else,” Ryan said, scouring the valley for signs of life. “These people have to be looking at more than just birds.”

And then, there was movement.


One beautiful black bear came into view.


Then, there was more movement. And two babies came into view!!!



They were so playful, romping around the meadow as a threesome. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed.


About a half mile down the road, we spotted another bear…this one seemed bigger and browner, but it was also harder to see.



We continued down the road and found yet another group of people camped out. We parked and after failing to see anything, asked them what they were looking at.


A wolf working on a kill down by the water!

And a few yards away, a bald eagle…


Ryley was absolutely thrilled!!! The Hayden Valley had held so much wildlife…more than we could have imagined!

And we can’t forget this lonely bison. :-)


At last, we moved on.


Daylight was waning. We had forgotten how nice it is that the sun stays up later in the north. It was nearing 8:00 by this point, and we still had to cross the park to get back to our hotel.



Just before we left the park, we came across these lovely elk…


Mommy and baby. Be still my heart!


By the time we made it back to West Yellowstone, it was 9:30. We found a place to eat and pretty much crashed as soon as we got to the hotel!

Sunday morning, we knew we had a long way to go, so we packed the van and got out much earlier. We stopped by the same coffee shop, and when I told the owner we had seen five bears over our two-day visit, he confirmed that it is extremely rare to see that kind of activity in July! Ryley’s souvenir is a stuffed black bear, and she is determined to make it a little t-shirt that says “Yellowstone 2015: The Year of 5 Bears.” :-)

We drove south through the park without stopping until we got to the dramatically gorgeous Grand Tetons.





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A guy from China offered to take this picture of our family below.


And off we went, meandering through Jackson Hole and down through the picturesque wilderness of Wyoming to our lovely Colorado.


The getaway may have been short and quick, but it was extremely satisfying to reconnect with God’s vast creation and enjoy His handiwork. I am still reeling with overwhelming gratitude.

Ryan’s headaches were constant throughout the trip, some days worse than others. He didn’t take any powerful painkillers because he didn’t want to take the chance of being too sedated to enjoy anything. His body is pretty susceptible to drugs. Instead, he powered through. Like a boss!

This afternoon, Ryley was reunited with Juliet, and I don’t think there has ever been such a sweet reunion in the history of girls and their dogs!


Juliet has not stopped licking Ryley’s freckles all night long. ;-)

So that was our trip (aka “Yellowstone 2015: The Year of 5 Bears”). Hopefully I will have more writing ready to post soon. In the meantime, Happy Summer!