Thursday, August 31, 2017

Back-to-School Wrap-Up

The last day of August seems to be the last day of summer, even though I know we still have a few more weeks until the autumn equinox. This has been an incredibly full summer, packed with camps and classes and lots of fun excursions. Our biggest excursion was our two-week trip to five national parks—but I'm planning to blog about that separately. For now, I'll just say it was a phenomenal trip!

Laurel left for Nashville a couple of weeks ago for her junior year at Lipscomb University, and she turned 20 there a couple of days ago. Fortunately, she came home over the weekend, so we were able to celebrate with her a few days early.

Twenty! Not a day goes by that I am not overflowing with utter gratitude that I have this daughter. She is truly a lovely human being. I love to see her as she becomes more and more confident in who she is as she navigates the world. And since her birthday a year ago and a semester in Europe, she has done a lot of world navigating—literally!

Yesterday was our first day of co-op. Duncan, who is a junior, is only taking two classes at co-op this year: my Classic Literature and Art Appreciation/Art History, which I'm co-teaching. Here he is with two of his best friends at co-op:

Duncan is focusing this week on finishing his Eagle Scout project, and we'll add in precal, plant science, and computer science next week.

Jesse also started back to school this week! He's beginning a master's in public policy administration at the University of Tennessee. He's still working full time for American Airlines and just taking one class this semester, but he's excited to get back into academics. It's hard to believe that he graduated from college three years ago!

And I start something new this week, too. I am now a writing coach for Brave Writer, and I'll be coaching my first class of The Writer's Jungle Online for the next six weeks. I'm thrilled to be a coach for this incredible writing program but even more excited to be part of the Brave Writer world!

This weekend will be our last traditional outing of summer: our  Scouting family camping adventure at  the Big South Fork. We've been doing this for around 12 years now—and this year is looking chilly and rainy, but we wouldn't miss it for anything!

And oh! The eclipse! That was truly amazing. My brother and his little boys just happened to be visiting from New York during that week; he had no idea until a few days ahead of time that the eclipse would be total here.

My brother: "Act like it's the end of the world!"

We were right in the path of totality and WOW. I mean, it's just impossible to explain how eerie and otherworldly our little patch of life became during the hours before and the two minutes of totality. It was strangely peaceful and yet wildly charged. We're hooked and agreed to head up to our hometown in New York for 2024.

And that's what's been happening in our own small world.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, July 14, 2017


I can't even comprehend that this is the middle of July already. One of my FB friends posted that her daughter headed back to school today-- a private school, but still. Ahhh! I feel like summer is just getting started. I've been in the South for 17 straight years, and I still can't get used to mid-July being nearly the end of summer.

Duncan was at church camp for a week, and then Randy and Duncan were at Boy Scout camp for another week. We managed to squeeze in some fun days when they returned: hiking, kayaking, disc golfing.

Quick hike to Spruce Flat Falls

Afternoon kayaking

Disc golf on a Sunday afternoon

While they were gone, Laurel painted her bedroom, and I've been packing up our guest apartment. We plan to get new carpet and flooring put in in preparation for my parents' inevitable transition from their own home to our apartment. We're thinking that it will be within the next 6 months, but it could be longer than that.  The apartment used to be our schoolroom, and w-o-w. Do we ever have a lot of books! I sold a bunch of curriculum but there are just those books (OK, eight tubs of books) that I just cannot get rid of. The memories!

We had a huge red oak tree taken down. Now we have a backyard full of, well, dead wood. I look forward to getting that all cleared away and reclaiming our yard! Feels like a lot of physical things are changing around here. Old tree gone, young girl room paint gone, maps and posters and books gone. My little family is growing up.

So, we made a big decision a couple of months ago: Duncan is going to do 5 years of high school. It's a weird new thing that's gaining popularity around here. He was set to graduate and go to college at age 17 (2018), and we just started second-guessing that decision for various reasons. From a financial standpoint, it would be really difficult for us to have two kids in college at the same time. If he waits another year, Laurel will have graduated from college. Another huge reason is that he just doesn't seem quite ready to go to college. He's having fun-- he's 16! Nearly all his friends are graduating in 2019, the year he really would have graduated had we not skipped 7th grade. Ultimately, we all felt that waiting until 2019 to graduate is the best course of action.

His next couple of years, we'll be able to spread out his last requirements so that he won't have to be overwhelmed with school. He'll be able to pursue some interests that otherwise would have been pushed aside for required classes and college applications. We'll be able to travel a little without worrying about getting behind. OK, OK. And I get to have two more years with him at home. I admit, I'm happy about that.

Right now we're just all acutely aware of how precious time is together. This week our older son lost one of his best friends in a motorcycle accident. Halden (on the left) and Jesse have known each other since they were little guys. They've had countless adventures together and have lived together in an apartment for the past year or so. Halden's dad was president of our support group for years, and we just love their family. Halden was full of adventure and creativity. He could fix anything and was always ready to try the next thing. To say he will be so deeply missed seems inadequate.

Halden and Jesse, heading out on the quintessential road trip to California, 2013

"He goes free of the earth.
The sun of his last day sets
clear in the sweetness of his liberty.
The earth recovers from his dying,
the hallow of his life remaining
in all his death leaves.
Radiances know him. Grown lighter
than breath, he is set free
in our remembering. Grown brighter
than vision, he goes dark
into the life of the hill
that holds his peace.
He is hidden among all that is,
and cannot be lost."
(Wendell Berry)

Rest in peace, sweet Halden.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, June 23, 2017

Oh, June

Oh, June! What a month. Wild weather, brand new things, project finishing, and space to breathe. It's been a fast but fabulous month. Well, except for that wild weather.

Oh, stormy weather! We've had some crazy weather this month. Some kind of "microburst" hit our county, and our neighborhood had trees down all over the place. We amazingly didn't have any down, but my parents had a couple. That's my Dad with the chainsaw while Duncan and Randy clear branches away. {Don't tell him he's 92.} Did I mention our internet was out for 10 LONG DAYS? Ten.

 Oh, so lovely! Laurel's best friend, the daughter of one of my best friends, got married at the beginning of the month. Laurel was, of course, her maid of honor and a spectacular one at that.

These two girls, best friends since kindergarten.
Laurel and her boyfriend, Hunter

All of us moms with the mother-of-the-bride, our Caroline, next to me

First dance

It was a beautiful wedding, and I didn't even cry until I hugged Bess. Laurel gave a spectacular maid-of-honor speech, with is no small feat to a crowd of 250 people. Sometimes it's hard to absorb that this next phase of our life is here: the marrying years. I try not to think about it too much, about little girls dressing up and playing baby dolls and then just getting married. It's too much.

Ah, June brings, after weddings and weather, some space to breathe. While Laurel was taking a summer college algebra class at the local community college and Duncan was spending his days finishing data entry for his Eagle Scout project, Randy and I enjoyed some hiking days. He did a couple of overnighters (his hiking blog tells all) and I had a fabulous 8.2 miler with a friend.

We made it to Indian Flats Falls! Victory!

Algebra and Eagle, Algebra and Eagle. That's been our mantra during the weekdays of June, but we've had some fun weekends. We had a pop-up party with lots of lovely friends one weekend, and Father's Day weekend was highlighted by paddleboarding at the nice cold quarry on a hot, hot day.

That's me. All my yoga balance work pays off in paddleboarding!

I love this man. And what an amazing father he is to our kids!

Laurel and Hunter at the swimming area

The inevitable push-each-other-off-the-paddleboards war

And now here we are at the end of June, or nearly. Laurel has her algebra final today, and Duncan has finished the bulk of his Eagle Scout project. Camps for him are next: first church camp and then Boy Scout camp. Laurel's headed to Nashville this weekend to see her people, and that weather left a calling card again today:

Yep. Branch, meet Duncan's windshield.


June: in with a bang, out with a bang, and all softness in between.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

Just a perfect Sunday afternoon in the Smokies.

Just a quick and easy bucket of chicken and a couple hours of nothing but simple conversation and swatting away of gnats. 

 Just a beautiful daughter who indulges me as I learn to use the "real" camera.


Just the simple joy of hammocks and a favorite book and no cell phone service.


   Just an evening of strawberry shortcake, a game of Sequence, and a walk around the yard with these ones I love.

It's all I could ever want. It's more than I would ever have dreamed.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Semester Wrap-Up

W-o-w! I have no idea how I let so much time elapsed since my last post.

OK, I really do know. It's been busy around here.

Sad news first. We lost our old cat Hamlet. He was an old, old man in cat years, and he was a good, loving cat for our kids. We were sad to see him go.

Randy and I enjoyed a weekend away at a cabin in the mountains for our 28th anniversary, although the 8.2 mile hike almost killed me.

We went on two college visits with Duncan and friends: one to Milligan College, my alma mater, in upper East TN, and the other to Lipscomb University in Nashville, where Laurel goes. The kids loved them both and wanted to go to college immediately. Pro tip: visiting colleges with friends is so much more fun than going solo!

Mom turned 90! A bunch of the family was able to come over and help her celebrate. I love my beautiful mother so much and am so incredibly blessed to have her and my Dad live just down the road.

Speaking of Dad, he was presented with this beautiful quilt by Quilts of Valor for his service in WWII and the Korean War. Several teens in our support group's 4-H Club made this for him and had a wonderful ceremony.

And then there was prom. Duncan and his friends thought it would be a good idea to take pineapples as dates. Don't ask.  Really. (Homeschoolers are weird. See? I wrote about it here.)

I went to Nashville three times in April: once to see Laurel in this big college production called Singarama (that's her in the middle, dressed in 70s clothes for her group's dance), once for that college visit with Duncan and crew, and once to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman. I'm so lucky to get to see my girl so much!

And besides all those extra things, all our regular happenings keep going on, too. There have been Eagle Scout ceremonies and family visits and all kinds of classes and seminars and on and on and on. Life is full.

But as always, the bustle of the school year winds down in May. I've been able to sneak in a few hours sprucing up the flower beds. Laurel arrived home this week for the summer; I can hardly believe she's halfway through college already! She'll be taking a math class at the local college this summer to get that over with—and getting ready for her best friend's wedding.

How can my daughter's constant companion since age 4 be getting married in a month? I don't know how it happens so fast.

Our co-op classes ended this past week.  As always, I am sad to see them go but happy to have a break. The top four are most of my seniors; the ones on the end I've had in classes since they were in preschool. Sniff.

 I have stacks of essays, research papers, and journals still to grade, so I'm a long way from done!

That's a bit of what's been happening in our own small world the past couple of months. Next up: graduation for several of my friends' kids and Bess's wedding. And, if I'm diligent, more regular blogging!

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up and the Hip Homeschool Hop

Friday, March 3, 2017

10 Things I've Learned This Winter

I'm chiming in with Emily Freeman for What We've Learned This Winter—something I've been meaning to do for a few seasons. I've been intentional this year so far with paying attention, to listening, to finding meaning in the pauses and lessons in the small things. And so, here are a few things I've discovered this season:

1. A winter without snow doesn't seem tragic when you don't have little kids.  I mean, we did have snow one day—the day we drove to Nashville to take Laurel back to college. See it there in the picture? A little bit?

Duncan didn't even get to use all of his ski passes this year; Ober Gatlinburg closed the slopes in late February. For most of the 18 years I've lived in the South (except maybe the first few years after moving here straight from 5 years in Iowa), I've mourned that my children will never know the glory of northern winters— the fat flakes piling up in satisfying drifts, the sweat of snowsuits, the agony of frozen ears thawing, the midnight skate on a frozen pond. But somehow, this year when my kids are 16, 19, and 23, I'm fine with a snowless winter. Just fine.

2. As one of my friends commented, "You can't take the homeschooler out of them." Look at this kid.

 He's 23-year-old college graduate, and he still find delight in the weirdest things, just like he did when he collected sap and sold it to his siblings for a a quarter. I hope his passion for seeing potential in all the nooks and crannies continues throughout his life.

*In case you were wondering, this is a ramp loader, used at the airport to load luggage into airplanes. The airline for which he works needed to get rid of this one to make room for a new one. Yes, he drove this from the airport 15 miles away into the heart of Knoxville, where he lives. It is now in the parking lot of his apartment complex, its new life TBA.

3. This.

While my daughter is away at college, her room becomes my laundry folding and clothes ironing room. The first day that she went back after Christmas break, I walked in and saw this propped up in her window, and it took my breath away. I felt like she had left me a little message, knowing that I would miss her and that I think about her all the time. Be still, Mama. Know that He has me in the palm of His hands. Sometimes when I wake up at 4 a.m. and Randy is snoring so loudly that I can't get back to sleep, I walk into her room and am doubly reminded, first by this in her window, and second by the shadow— created by the streetlight outside her window— of the words on the wall. Be still. Know Him. Trust Him who holds our past and our present and our future.

4. My Dad is incredible. I haven't really learned that this winter, but I keep being amazed by my him.

My parents had a house on Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, for 30 years, and my father never fished. Ever. Sure, he did the requisite fishing as a kid, but right there on the "Lake Trout Capital of the World," he never fished. But my brother, who has recently taken up this sport, called and said, "Wanna go fishing?" And, at 92, my Dad caught the biggest fish of his life.

5. Pedicures are kind of addictive. 

My daughter and I had our first pedicure together over Christmas break. Yes! My first! I don't know why I've never had a pedicure before; in general, I'm just not that kind of a girl—people invading my personal space and all that. Feet. Nail polish. But yeah—we loved our pedicures, and we already have one booked for when she's home over spring break.

6. I'd rather have crème brulée than chocolate cake. 

[Also, while I'm well versed in the German umlaut and the l'accent aigu, I just learned how to do the l'accent grave (merci to my high school French teacher, Madame Baroody, for knowing those terms), so I'm pretty proud of that.]

7. The bullet journal truly is life changing. And washi tape is cool.

I've been intrigued by this concept for several months, but all the Pinterest ideas make my head spin. My bullet journal is simple but oh, so effective. I've kept it up for two solid months, and my productivity in all aspects of my life has increased tremendously. And, most importantly, that internal chaos has quieted, and I'm being so much more intentional. Bravo, bullet journal advocates!

8. My life is full of ordinary moments that would not make a captivating 4 minute video. I've been using the 1 Second Everyday app. The idea is to video one second each day to stitch together a year in 365 seconds of video clips. You'd think it would be easy to just record those ordinary moments in video, but, honestly, these moments I treasure are, for the most part, more still life than action shots: quiet dinners, the dog sleeping in square of sun, my boys standing next to each other—the younger taller than the older now, my daughter nestled next to me watching a movie, my husband stretching before his morning run, my parents and I playing our near daily game of cards.

The rhythm of our ordinary days won't make for captivating video, but that's doesn't make life any less of an adventure.

9. Sometimes things are worth trying again and again and again. Like Stitch Fix— an online fashion retail service. I've been doing Stitch Fix on and off for a couple of years, and every now and then I get things I really like. I've had one or two packages that were so not me—like the black leather pants— that I sent everything back. But this past month, I ordered one for my birthday, and I absolutely loved every single item in the box. {Insert cute picture here of me standing against an exposed brick wall, looking casual yet sophisticated in my burgundy skinny jeans and black-and-white striped sweater} The difference? I was completely detailed and transparent with my stylist (e.g., I only want clothes in the following colors, I really like this outfit, etc.)—and she listened. There is something so satisfying about being heard. And that in itself brings me to another thing I'm being reminded of this winter— to listen more carefully. All the time, to everyone.

10. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, when something pops up again and again, I need to pay attention.

Like this verse from Ezekiel 36:26: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

Within the first 11 days of January, this verse came at me four different times. Four times in 11 days: you'd better believe I'm paying attention. I've read through the entire Bible probably a dozen times in my life, perhaps more, and I am quite sure I have never seen this verse. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

The first time I heard it, I thought, "Wow! I've never heard that before!" The next time, and this time was at church, I sat up straight and wrote a little about it the next day. I wrote about the walls of protection I have around my own heart. I pondered transparency and brokenness and being compassionate.  Just a few days later, I stumbled across this again, accompanied by this quote:
Let’s not waste precious time holding grudges or withholding friendship or affection from the people in our lives."

And then on my first day back teaching after winter break, I looked up on the wall of my classroom and saw this piece of paper, tucked into a canvas. Do you see that, above? That's the verse, randomly placed there. I've been teaching in that classroom for 4 years, and I've never seen anything stuck in that canvas. What a strange place to see it, and yet I shouldn't have been surprised.
--> I love hearing God’s voice so clearly, so insistently. I feel honored, to be honest, even if I don't have a full understanding of what he is saying to me.
 A new heart. A new spirit. A heart of flesh.

As I head into spring, I'm paying attention.

I'm being still and trusting.

And— I'm waiting and listening.

{Also linked to the Weekly Wrap Up}