The Perseverance of Sarah

One of the virtues I admire most in my youngest daughter is perseverance. Determined, resolute, indefatigable — these are not the characteristics you might expect in a 9-year-old; yet Sarah seems to be well on her way in gaining these qualities.

Sarah and her friends

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. — 2 Peter 1:5-7

In February, Kathy and I were a little discouraged with our abilities as Math teachers, and we adopted IXL as a supplementary math resource. I wrote about our adoption of IXL in IXL Blues toward the end of February. As of that writing, I was hopeful but was half-bracing myself for IXL to fizzle out. To help keep incentives high, I promised $100 to each of the children if they would finish a year’s worth of IXL ($200 if they applied it toward a Christian camp or conference).

The payoff

It has really paid off. All four of the kids using IXL saw significant improvement in their annual test math scores, and Sarah (awesome math girl that she is) managed to finish an entire grade level in just over four months.

“Sure,” you might sneer, “an entire grade level — those online courses are notoriously easy.”

Not so. The grade level that Sarah just completed featured 215 distinct math skills, each with a full complement of problems. Sarah completed 8,282 problems in just under 97 hours, all done in addition to her normal work load as a student.

$100 richer

I am so very proud of Sarah, and I hope that her example is an encouragement to David, Daniel and Rachel, who are not far behind. As much as they may grumble about IXL, I am firmly convinced that the math disciplines they acquire will result in substantially higher confidence and scores on the PSAT and SAT.


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Just Another Day in Paradise

It is hard to believe that it is already Saturday — and yet we have already enjoyed three-and-a-half full days of tropical sun, water and glorious beach. If today was our last day, we could easily come home fully satisfied with having experienced ‘A Caribbean Vacation’.

We haven't actually used it yet, but the tennis court is pristine, and (of course) has a view of the beach.

But it is not our last day. We aren’t leaving until Wednesday afternoon — four more incredible days await us. As Kathy and I sit with our laptops, side-by-side at the kitchen counter, looking out at the water, we continue to be amazed at God’s grace and goodness to us, that we can enjoy this. Just this morning, I was thinking about how incredible it is to have eyes that can see all the contrasts of colors and shades within colors — even though I have to squint sometimes, I almost want to drink in the scenery with my eyes.

The pool is as warm as bathwater, and useful for snorkeling practice, or just to rinse off the salt, sand and coral at the end of the day.

Yesterday we drove around the island and saw many of the poorer parts. For all its lush vegetation, the island is mostly coral and rock — we didn’t see a lot of arable farm or garden land. It seems evident that many homes have been abandoned or are unused, most of the time — sad to think of the lost opportunities bound up in those properties.

Kathy enjoyed a delicious Mexican salad at the Seaside Cafe, at Ocean Club West. I had a very tasty blackened-fish sandwich, with a mountain o' fries.

It is a little weird driving here — very strange when you come over a hill, around a corner and there is a car in the lane to your right, coming towards you. There’s a moment when you grip the wheel in panic, ready to swerve out of the way, before your brain kicks in: “It’s OK, you’re supposed to be on the left side, he isn’t going to hit you!” Sure enough, no one has hit us yet — the drivers here have actually been quite kind and courteous, with only an occasional luxury SUV careening at double the legal speed limit.

As we step out our door, these flowers greet us each morning.

We visited several of the other resorts, including the Ocean Club West, the Royal West Indies Resort, the Paradise Caribbean Inn, and the Seven Stars Resort. We decided to limit our stay here at the Aquamarine Beach Houses to a mere seven nights, and to spend our last night on the island at one of the other resorts. I must admit, I’m leaning toward the Seven Stars as the culmination of our visit — it was very swanky.

Breakfast on our own little beach side patio -- and of course, you can't go wrong with a good biscuit or two.

We’ve mostly been cooking our own food, partly for economy and partly because of the norovirus that struck some of the all-inclusive resorts just before we arrived. Still, dining at the beach, on food that someone else has prepared, has a definite charm.

There was this one lady in a pink hat that kept staring at me, all through lunch -- I suppose this is the sort of adventure you must expect, in the tropics. Maybe she is Mrs. Pollifax's beautiful niece?

One question we’ve been asking people who live on the island, is whether the beauty of the beaches has become routine or mundane to them. No one has yet admitted to this, but a few have seemed startled by the question — I can imagine that after a few years, you might become inured to the beauty, just as we have come to take our mountains and rivers for granted, where we live.

This morning, Kathy asked me, “What is one thing you would like to change, when you get back home?”

“I’d like to make better use of our mountains,” I told her. “There are people here on this island who will never see a mountain, all their lives, and we sit at home, not really exploring them or getting the most out of them.”

Maybe this year I’ll actually take the kids camping or something.


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Paradise Found

“Somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must’ve done something good!”

So goes the song in the Sound of Music movie, in which Maria reflects on the undeserved blessing of winning the love of Captain von Trapp. And so goes the song in our hearts as we reflect on the joy of spending a day on this glorious island — how can it be possible that we are allowed to stay here? Surely the Deserving Police ™ will burst into our apartment and haul us back to the airport, stuffing us on the nearest outbound plane, amidst outraged cries in thick islander accents: “You do not deserve to be here! You must go! Close your eyes, it is not proper for you to see our island!”

Don’t get me wrong. We paid good money to be here, thanks in part to the generosity of our parents. But as we soak in the tropical sun, or float in the body-temperature water, we feast our eyes on the cornflower-blue horizon and the many shades of coral-blue in the water as they contrast with the white of the sands. Every few minutes, our minds circle ’round to this question: “How can it be that God has blessed us to be able to see and experience such beauty?”

I didn't know God made this many shades of blue.

Kathy and I have been married twenty years — and they have been some pretty wonderful years. We have some fights and disagreements, but on the whole we have greatly enjoyed growing closer to each other and to our God. As we learned a few years ago, one of the main reasons for marriage is for God to make us holy, as we are continually offered opportunities to serve and love each other, even in adversity.

But we aren’t holy yet, and we feel it keenly, at a place like this. Turks and Caicos should be reserved for those who have arrived at holiness, or at least can see it on a clear day. It just seems wrong for people like us to enjoy a place like this.

The view from our front porch is nearly enough, all by itself.

Yet somehow we are managing, with only the occasional guilty look over our shoulders. We wallowed in bed until 10:45 am this morning, an accomplishment I have almost never achieved since I was in college.

Kathy rolled over and said to me in a muffled voice, “We should really get up.”

“What time is it?” I asked, mustering almost a microgram of interest in the answer.

“It’s about ten a.m.,” she told me. “Shouldn’t we get up?”

“Yeah, any minute,” I assured her, and promptly went back to sleep.

Eventually, we did get up, and I called the Avis office while Kathy went down to the water to make sure it was still there. Our apartment is at ground level, and our front windows look out onto a ‘yard’ of white sand. Beyond that yard is a path through the tall grasses, and some 40 yards from the house is the beach. And what a beach it is! Stretching miles left and right, there’s nothing but turquoise blue water, white sand, and blue sky as far as the eye can see.

The Seabreeze villa (where we are staying) has rooms above and at ground level.

We got our rental car (a stick-shift, but with the wheel on the proper left side) and practiced driving around town on the left side of the road without any major hazards. We found the grocery store and stocked up on food (we plan to cook much of our own food this week) and made it home in one piece. We made lunch and ate on our shaded porch facing the sea.

Spending the afternoon on the beach, Kathy coasted in the water on a float while I read my book in the portable cabana (I’ve been trying to avoid excessive sun, after my skin-cancer diagnosis last winter). We sat and talked in the beach chairs, reading each other snippets from our respective books and reveling in each others’ company.

Because of the strong westward wind, Kathy had to work hard to stay in front of my position on the beach.

By 6:30 pm, we were hungry, so we walked the miles and miles 40 yards back to our villa. Kathy made a salad and a delicious vinaigrette, with some sauteed cauliflower and carrots and chicken breast over her salad. I cooked some smoked pork chop with penne noodles and we both settled in to enjoy our meal in our living room.

It gets pretty hot here, during the day, and our hostess has asked us not to run the air conditioner in the day time, but with the windows open, we get a nice breeze, and it isn’t unbearable. Once the sun went down, we felt free to close up the windows and turn on the A/C — and now we’re quite comfortable, sitting together in the kitchen, side-by-side with our respective laptops.

Our beach is blessedly empty, most of the time -- an unexpected treat from the hand of our God.

We’ll be here 8 nights altogether, and I’m sure the time will slip away more quickly than we can imagine. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy this preview of Paradise.


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Fantastic Fifteen

Some bloggers write about events as they actually happen, or soon thereafter. Coincidentally, their posts are often timely and relevant.

Here at the Duckabush Blog, we are bound by no such constraints.

Some 45 days ago, our middle son (Daniel) celebrated his 15th birthday. Birthday parties often pose a certain challenge, especially with a large family living on a single income. Each child typically wants their party to surpass all previous parties, including those of siblings or friends. All it takes is one friend with a doting or wealthy parent, and the bar can be set impossibly high.

Nothing says '"happy birthday" like a wrestling match on the climbing wall.

We try all kinds of subterfuges and schemes to limit the cost of the party.

“Remember, every dollar we spend on your party is a dollar less that we spend on your gifts.”

“No, you had your big party last year — this year it is your turn to have a modest, family-only party.”

“As it turns out, we recently discovered that you were switched at birth, at the hospital. If we can find out who your real parents are, maybe they will throw you a party.”

OK, maybe we haven’t actually used that last one, but it is certainly worth a try.

We tried, with some success, to stop them from using the climbing wall as a tool to achieve escape-velocity.

Anyway, this year we were blessed with a cost-saving alternative. One of my good friends works at a nearby company that provides lavish recreational facilities for the workers, and makes them available to employee families and friends. He graciously invited us to join him for a morning of mini-golf, pickle ball, basketball, darts, air hockey, rock-climbing and massage chairs, to celebrate Daniel’s big day.

Daniel really seemed to enjoy the event, pictured here with Noah.

Afterwards, we enjoyed pizza and ice cream pies at home — definitely a fun and joyous way to celebrate Daniel’s big day.

Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like a photo-shopped, history-revisionist sign.

Happy birthday, beloved son!

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Our First Homeschool Graduate

Several weeks ago we celebrated the culmination of our efforts in homeschooling one of our children — his graduation ceremony. After twelve long years of careful instruction and effort, Joshua stood on the dais and received his diploma as a homeschool graduate.

Proud Parents of the Graduate

Joshua is a fine young man, thoroughly ready to take the next step in his education, godly and thoroughly equipped for every good work. I’d like to take the credit, but it is mostly Kathy who has made him the man that he is. She has crafted his learning plan throughout the years and has guided his mind in loving knowledge and preferring godly instruction. Truly a graduation ceremony is as much about the teachers as the students; as Joshua’s primary instructors, we are very proud of what he has become, and excited about what God will do in him, in the future.

This year's crop of H.O.P.E. graduates sit, listening to the Commencement Speaker.

The graduation ceremony was early this year, due to availability issues with the church where our Homeschool Co-operative meets. Seven other graduates shared the stage, with Ken Sartain presiding and Washington State Representative Jim McCune as Commencement Speaker. McCune, an unprepossessing, soft-spoken and casually-dressed man in his early sixties, gave the most powerful Commencement speech I have ever heard — strongly advocating homeschooling and charging the graduates to be spiritual leaders in their generation.

Stuart, Tim and Joshua have been friends since sixth grade.

Our family has attended H.O.P.E. Co-op for the last seven years, gathering each Friday with like-minded homeschool families, to pool teaching talent and to build friendships with other students. Joshua was blessed to find clever and quirky friends at H.O.P.E. — friendships which persisted throughout his high school years.

Joshua's Grandparents were able sneak away from their responsibilities as hosts at the Refuge, to attend the ceremony.

Obviously we were not the only ones to invest in Joshua and to disciple him. Many others deserve to be recognized, including:

  • Bill and Cindy Moore, grandparents
  • Jim and Robbie Edgren, grandparents
  • Jody Weed, Wilderness Northwest Camp
  • Kevin Klas, youth leader
  • Carl DeyArmin, youth leader
  • Jamie Davis, discipler
  • Jesse Roberge, boss
  • Dee Duke and Bill Jack, inspirational instructors
  • Many other small group and youth group leaders, over the years

Joshua with his beloved Mamie.

We wish that Kathy’s Dad could have been there to see Joshua’s graduation. With his deep love of learning and ability to celebrate joyfully, I can just imagine him avidly browsing the student displays or button-holing the Commencement Speaker for a quick chat. He is greatly missed by us all. We were thrilled to have Cindy with us to mark this momentous occasion.

It was inspiring to view so many of Joshua's accomplishments and honors, all in one place.

Kathy and the kids put together the ‘Student Display’, highlighting many of Joshua’s achievements as a student. It was a lot of fun to remember the stories that went along with many of these keepsakes, and to reflect on the rich tapestry of God’s work in his life. Indeed, God has been very good to Joshua, gifting him with a great number of opportunities and experiences far beyond those of most high school students.

A few weeks before Joshua’s graduation, I was asked to write a statement ‘from the parents of the graduate’ to be included in the program. As I thought about how to express our heart, one of my favorite verses from Proverbs came to my mind:

“Joshua, what a privilege it has been to watch you grow in grace as a mighty, young man of God. Laughing with you through the years, we have deeply enjoyed the adventure of teaching you and sharing our love for Jesus with you. Your godly character and deep convictions are a shining example and encouragement to those who know you. Your bold leadership, tempered with kindness toward your younger siblings, has profoundly impacted our family. Truly, you exemplify Proverbs 23:24: “The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.” We love you and rejoice in you, beloved son.


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