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Adventures in Ashburn

What began in France moved to Washington, DC and then the suburbs. Let the adventures in Ashburn continue.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Summer To-Do List

As I sit here on this gorgeous Saturday avoiding the sun (details on that in a moment), it occurs to me that summer is quickly slipping through my fingers and I have only accomplished one of my big ticket items for the summer! To prioritize my time, I thought I'd make a list of the remaining things I'd like to accomplish.


  • Clean out the two spare room closets to get everything into one closet (with room to spare). Goodness knows I do not need probably more than a quarter of the items in there.
  • Sell the random items that are actually still worth something at a garage sale or online to earn $1750. That's a random numeric goal, but I think it is fairly attainable.
  • Finish putting pictures in all the frames on the stairwell.
  • Clean out my bedroom closet so as to no longer have a wide assortment of clothing that doesn't fit or I don't wear clogging it up.
  • Use the VHS to DVD converter to complete the transition to DVD home videos.
  • Donate as much of the clothing, old VHS tapes, books, and sundries as possible.
  • Complete the first of two blog-to-book projects.
  • Spend five minutes each day with God alone.
  • Actually learn physics in a respectable enough way that I know some level of higher physics than what I teach my 8th graders.
  • Lose 20 pounds. I lost over 50 pounds between last June and last October, only gaining about ten back during surgery recovery in March, so feeling confident about this fitness goal.
  • Be able to keep up with the girls on core workouts. I'm restricting myself to the core here, because last summer I truly had to face the fact that despite whatever brilliant plans I had, I am almost or literally double some of their ages. They can keep sprinting faster than me; it's respectable that I finish at all.
  • Read two books a week; including some nonfiction.
  • Sleep 8 hours a night or until I wake up naturally, whichever is more appropriate for the day's itinerary.
  • Save up the gas and eating out money associated with my full-time job to pad the savings account to a respectable amount.
  • Enjoy planned vacations with no guilt about the fact that some of these things aren't finished yet.


I'll make my goal end-date Labor Day weekend, though I officially go back to work before then for professional development, coaching responsibilities, and other training. I think these goals are going to help me stay physically, mentally, financially, intellectually, and spiritually healthy this summer.

Why the sudden slide into being a total-self health nut? Well, the same reason I'm avoiding the sun. Last June, I went to the doctor for a little help losing weight - knowing it was important for my long term well-being. During a scan, they spotted some suspicious nodules in my thyroid that after a few months of biopsies and a surgery at Johns Hopkins turned out to be - incredibly small - cancer masses. I had the rest of my thyroid taken out at the end of June this year as a prophylactic measure to make sure the cancer could not recur and potentially spread.

After getting the all clear from the surgeon with tons of encouragement that it was really over, and it hadn't spread and really couldn't (since it is in a medical waste center somewhere, and not my neck); I am relieved. I am grateful for the prayers and love everyone has given me. I am so lucky that my doctor decided to be aggressive about such small spots instead of just letting it go for another year until I might get another scan. I feel blessed by God to have survived this with the help of my incredible husband and the few others I told. And I also feel like staying healthy. I am motivated to be as healthy as is reasonably possible for someone who truly hates running for the sake of running and loves cake.

I am happy - elated! - and blessed to be as healthy as I am today. If all I do this summer is maintain that, I'll have done my job.

Love always, ~Heather


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Friday, May 30, 2014

Note to Future Self

Dear Future Self,

Hello there! Do you still remember when you had crazy curly hair, drove an adorable Focus, and were making an inordinate amount of rice noodle dinners? Anyway, that's the time frame we're talking about from here.

This is also roughly the end of your third year teaching in the States. You just got your SOL test results back and they were pretty good. Some of the classes even earned fun prizes! Here's where I want you to take note....

If you ever feel like, as a parent, you have the right to undermine a teacher and the overall school test results by having your sweet, little spawn not take the SOL then you darn well better be ready to deal with the consequences. Especially if your child is sort of prickish (which, if a teacher or series of other adults tell you, you'd do well to believe) and has been boasting about how he doesn't have to take the tests to anyone and everyone who will listen. When the teacher says they don't get to enjoy the class prize, suck it up and realize you did something super stupid.

That's right, Future Self, as a parent you will have the right to do a LOT of things. However, they will NOT all be in the best interest of your children. Think things through. Recognize potential consequences. Forgive yourself if you miss one or two and make a mistake, but don't make the same mistake twice.

Your kid(s) are resilient. They are strong. They are in some (many?) ways like you and RJ. They will survive some stress, disappointment, or other unpleasant events. Be there for them. Understand when they go to another reasonable adult instead of you (they are teenagers). Try desperately to not under or over estimate them.

You're probably doing just fine; but a little reminder from Current Me is sitting here waiting just in case. Good luck. I have no idea how splendid or rough it is for you right now, but don't forget you've always wanted to change the world and revolutionize education. Oh, and make more rice noodles. So good. :)

Love always, (2014) Heather

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Reading List

More for me than all of you, I am drawn to share my most recent reading list.

Identical by Ellen Hopkins - Written entirely in free verse poetry, this book wins the award for thoroughly surprising me at the climax. I haven't been blown away by a book on both an emotional and intellectual level in a long time; it makes me really respect the author and how she approached this book.

Looking for Alaska by John Green - I wasn't surprised by this book as much as I was entranced. Having previously read An Abundance of Katherines, I was expecting it to be much funnier; but I enjoyed it anyway.

Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead - I will be the first to admit this isn't classic literature, but for reasons beyond me I find one or two of the characters captivating enough to keep me reading into book four of this six part series. It is definitely teenage melodrama, but fun and fast to read with some interesting twists.

Speaker of the Dead by Orson Scott Card - I rarely read more than a page of a prologue because I would much rather read the book and am afraid of spoilers or hints; but when this one said it was meant to be the first book in the Ender series, I read it with different eyes. I enjoyed and was challenged by Ender's Game a week or two ago and so sought this out to see what else happened in this universe. I was pleased to see both renewed and fresh themes. It reminded me of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, but less graphic and more invested in building multiple characters.

The Giver by Lois Lowry - I avoided this book from the time it first came out and was touted at my elementary school book fairs because of the creepy looking guy on the cover and because I kept confusing it with Gary Paulsen's The Winter Room; which I read maybe one or two chapters of and could never continue. As the book went on the author seemed to either have run out of time or lost their voice ... I can't explain how I feel about this one yet except to say that it is bewildering. Tone and structure are well employed and then ... nevermind. I can't say anything else without giving it away. It's considered dystopian (which I learned tonight is apparently the opposite of utopian) but to me it just seems like a more bearable version of postmodern literature. Am going to try the next book in the "series" (same time frame, different place and characters) to see if my theory about the actual writing pans out when compared to other pieces by the same author.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green just became available for me through the digital library and then I've got more to read about vampires to wrap up that series (though killing off one of my two favorite characters is only forcing my hand with one more book ... five and six depend on good writing).

After reading four books in five days, you'd think I'd be burnt out - but I'm finding that I like escaping into these stories and trying out other worlds. In some ways, the surgery recovery time brought me back to the reading I love. I just need to find a good source for book recommendations. Our school librarian told me the other day how she secretly disliked kids just picking books in a series and reading straight through and only reading those books (she loves all reading, as a note, she just wants them to diversify). However, as I mostly enjoy doing that same thing, I'm not sure I can ask for her book suggestions for awhile.

Do you have any good novels I should read? Obviously, I lean towards young adult fiction, but as long as it reads well, I'll read just about anything. :)

Love always, ~Heather

Afternote: That was my 500th published post! It seems like both a lot and so few at the same time.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dear 2014, Consider the bar set. Love, 2013

2013 was a pretty big year for us.

January. We packed up what seemed like 90% of our stuff (but later we realized was only about 70%) and staged our house in Landsdowne to sell.
Yeah, we have WAY too much stuff.
 February. Lorien and Steve got married in Hawaii! In addition to exploring Oahu we took a side-trip to the Big Island and visited Volcano National Park, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Our house sold (for more than asking price!) and the builders broke ground on this house in Ashburn.

Dinner cruise! We saw a whale and fireworks over Honolulu.

Overlook on our first morning.

Sunset on the Big Island.

Who knows where? It's all a windblown paradise!

Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

This was also pretty much everywhere.


Plane ride home, very relaxed.
March. Spring break found us driving to south Florida to visit our grandparents; and then rushing back because my commitment to coaching club volleyball insanely involved most of our weekends - including Easter. Oh yeah, and we celebrated our first wedding anniversary!
Grandma & PopPop looking good!

Framing is done for our condo!

This is Easter at Capitol Classic volleyball tournament. I made my players (14s) an Easter Bunny paw prints scavenger hunt that was taped all over the conference center of the Gaylord conference center at National Harbor. They gave me rabbit ears.

April. We closed on the Lansdowne house and moved into a basement in South Riding. Upside: I could walk to work. Downside: we lived near my students and I couldn't go anywhere in my pajamas.
At least it was spacious; even if every inch of the place smelled like curry.

We spent as much time as we could visiting the "dirty house."

Can you name that field?
Hand on Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. Be jealous.
In the locker room. Do NOT step on the logo.

Awesome girls chilling on a statue.
My team helping me with the countdown for days until Travis comes home.

As the days went by, the numbers appeared everywhere.

Even the family got in on the action at A & J's baby shower in Pennsylvania.
 May. Travis got back from Afghanistan! Took my first trip to Pittsburgh with the NVPremier Extreme team. Our house got walls and brick and siding! And we kept living in a basement.
Reunion with Eowyn in Fayetteville.
June. Another month in the basement. I went to my first professional conference (on education) and RJ survived the first month of my really extreme diet.
The Little War Twins play at the Velvet Lounge. Such entertainers!
July. Fourth of July on top of the theater and then we finally got to move in to our new house! It was a busy month of moving everything in and then heading up to Ocean City, New Jersey for a family reunion.

August. Our first family came to visit (which got things put together a bit faster) and we made it possible to park in the garage the night before the new school year (goal accomplished!). RJ also got a giant piece of HD art for the family room wall in celebration of his birthday.

September. School starts and Freedom volleyball season takes off. We make our first mortgage payment on the house and decide it is still worth every penny.

October. I reach the 2/3 mark on the weight-loss mission when I officially hit 50 pounds less than I was in June. RJ discovers the newest member of our family, so in ....

November. Raleigh joins our family! He is introduced to his first bit of extended family as we host Thanksgiving. We see the Little War Twins in concert on Black Friday and then enjoy the rest of the long weekend admiring our house, which thanks to guests is finally "finished" (only 2 boxes in the house!).

December. RJ took me to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra to start off our holiday season. We celebrate together by sharing an awesome advent, slowly opening our presents each week, Christmas Eve with RJ's side, Christmas in our pajamas and then making dinner for our neighbors (despite a serious altercation between Raleigh and their youngest daughter).

Altogether, we have a LOT to be thankful for in 2013. Also, we can definitively say that 2014 has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Love and wishes for a great new year in 2014,

~Heather

P.S. Yes, I will upload pictures from the second half of the year soon. :)

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Traditions

For all of the holidays Richard and I have spent together, this past Thanksgiving (and now Christmas) have really seemed like the first.* I think a huge part of it is finally being in our own home and getting to prepare together. However, I think the larger part is that we are starting to make our own traditions.

This year, I loved opening presents a little each week of advent and just saving Christmas day to relax and enjoy each others' company. I loved hosting neighbors for our prime rib feast on Christmas day, connecting with the family on video chat, and going to candlelight services on Christmas Eve. But most of all, I loved how Christmas felt like Christmas again.

In the hustle and bustle of moving or coordinating sharing a kitchen with roommates or making plans to split time between "mine" and "his" traditions, it stopped feeling like Christmas. That feeling in your heart like you want to laugh or cry - and maybe you do - because you are just so happy you could burst; that is what was missing. This year, instead of being relieved that the stress is over, I am just looking forward to seeing my house back in order. It's like this holiday season was the launching point for the rest of our lives.

I had my first Christmas Eve since I could eat real food without seafood this year. It was startling to me both that it happened (unexpectedly), and that it did not ruin the day. While I don't intend to turn my back on family traditions, there is some peace in knowing that I'm less attached to the act than to the people I am with.

As a note, not everything went swimmingly (because it seems like I'm bragging a bit!, and it wouldn't be a holiday with me without some calamity): the chocolate pie got left until much too late and didn't set, so it was like a weird pudding with crust; the smoke alarms started going off just after our company arrived and they all had to be disconnected because we couldn't cool the house down with the roast in the oven; the dog had three accidents in the house and has so far eaten a dozen snickerdoodles and a full loaf of italian bread off of the counter; and I got the wrong size pajamas for RJ to wear on Christmas so he had to wear pajamas from last year (or more?).

For all that, the things I'll remember are: the generosity of my husband to me and to perfect strangers, the kindness of neighbors who forgave our dog biting their four year old in the face four days before Christmas, and the love and warmth that it feels like to feel like a family (and not be the kid or niece, etc.).

It's still Christmas for a few more days and even as I take down the decorations a little earlier than Epiphany, I know it's going to feel like Christmas in our house for a long time yet.

Here's to wishing you and yours a fabulous Christmas season.

Love always, ~Heather


*The only exception being the 4th of July which is always special to us. First time meeting his mother, getting engaged, celebrating with my parents, and this year on the roof at the theater ... have we really been together 4 Fourth of July's?!?

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