Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Miscellany

* I am on vacation! In order for me to be on vacation, I have to be away from my house. Even with being on break at home, I still work all the time, whether it's doing lesson plans, AHG plans, organizing, cleaning, cooking, etc. But I'm actually away from home in luxury accommodations with the most gracious hosts, and I am forced to take naps, eat amazing food, and read books. All day.

* I've also been catching up on all the blog posts in my Google reader today. Henry Cate at Why Homeschool announced that the Carnival of Homeschooling will celebrate its 5-year anniversary with this next edition. Do you have something you've been wanting to share with other homeschoolers? I'm always amazed at the abundance of great posts out there with very few readers. Participating in a carnival is a great way to get more readers—and share your insights.
I am working on two articles, one for Simple Homeschool and one for The Homeschool Classroom, but with all this extra time, I hope to get a post up for the Carnival of Homeschooling, too.

* We are celebrating my brother-in-law's 50th birthday this evening, and they (my in-laws, husband, and daughter) are all busy preparing tonight's outrageous feast, which will feature prime rib, crab-stuffed twice-baked potatoes, bacon-wrapped green beans, and chocolate oatmeal cake. They totally don't need my help. I just like to sit here, blogging and reading blogs, and watch them from my spot overlooking the golf course and the hot tub, which I see in this evening's future. Every few minutes, my husband comes over and kisses me on the forehead.

* I feel tremendously blessed and well rested. My heart goes out to Edie at Life in Grace, whose life has changed forever when her house burned to the ground last week. Her blog is one I read faithfully and never delete when I'm behind on my reading. Here is what she says: "My heart is full and grateful. I am overwhelmingly sad and yet unable to stop rejoicing. My mother is amazing. My husband is my rock. My children are so incredibly brave. I am blessed beyond measure. It’s as if our friends and family have become the hands and feet of Christ, bringing love and help and healing." Read her story at the link above, and you will be blessed by this woman.

* Hope you're enjoying some peace and quiet at the end of 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow in the Mountains


We've lived in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains for 10 years, and this is the first time I've ever gone into the park after a big snow. The roads had been closed for the past few days, but we decided yesterday to chance it and see if we could get anywhere. We wanted to see Cades Cove in the snow and figured this would be a very un-touristy time to go.

We were excited to see that Laurel Creek Road, which heads up to Cades Cove, was open. The drive along the Little River was breathtaking.



We were wrong about the tourists, though. Traffic was fairly heavy and going very slowly, which was smart. The road were terrible and we were surprised it was even open. Eventually we decided to turn around because there appeared to be an accident ahead of us. We slid off the road enough during our U-turn that we had to get pushed out. Fortunately, there are always plenty of nice guys in pick-up trucks ready to help people out of ditches.

We came down the road s-l-o-w-l-y and passed another accident on the way. The park rangers had closed the Laurel Fork road by this time. We decided just to hike along the river for a bit. Duncan desperately wanted to walk out on the ice, and Laurel kept wishing for ice skates.







We took a short hike on the Chestnut Top Trail right across from the Wye. The trail was pretty slick on the way down, but it sure was beautiful.



The whole afternoon was absolutely gorgeous. Sometimes I still can't believe we live in this beautiful place! We're expecting temperatures back in the 50s and 60s by this weekend, so I'm glad we ventured out before the snow melts.

"He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains."
~Habakkuk 3:19

Monday, December 27, 2010

Skating on the Frozen Pond

Untitled from stephen cummins on Vimeo.



My fourth brother—the one who is just two years older than I am—went to the wrong airport and thus missed coming to see us for Christmas. He felt very silly, so he made us this video of him and his wife skating. I love this video so much. It brings back for me so many of the things I miss about living in upstate New York and growing up with orchards: skating on a frozen pond, cross country skiing, and an orchard in the winter's sunset.

Someday, someday we're going to make it to New York for Christmas. Someday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

At Ten


This is my Christmas baby. He'll be 10 in just a few days, on Christmas day. This is what people generally say about him: he is always smiling. As his mother, of course, I know that's not exactly true. But he really is an unusually sweet, kind, and happy person. He's also full of mischief. Mischief wrapped in kindness and sheer joy, all tied up with dimples and a big smile. He's exactly like his father.

Duncan turning 10 made me nostalgic about my older two. I had to hunt down photos of them on their 10th birthdays.

Here's my beautiful girl at 10 and now at 13…


And our firstborn at 10 and at 17…


Yes, it's astonishing how much they grow in just a few short years. They always told us that, didn't they? All those older women who'd stop us in the store and say, "Oh, they grow so fast! Enjoy them while you can!" And we'd inwardly roll our eyes because we were already tired of diapers and potty chairs and washing little hands.

Yes. They grow fast, and yet it all takes a very, very long time. And: you can still enjoy them at 10 and 13 and 17. I promise.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Miscellany

* Today started with me really wanting to whine on Facebook: "Having to set the alarm clock to wake up during Christmas week is pure evil!" Or something like that. But I realized quickly how ridiculously blessed I am that I rarely have to wake up by an alarm. Most mornings, I have the luxury of staying in bed as long as I wish. I hardly ever manage to sleep past 7:30 a.m., but still, I could if I wanted to.

* I read three complete People magazines while I waited for my daughter at the orthodontist's office today. I am totally up to date with every single thing that is happening in Hollywood.

* Do you think celebrities are actual people? I mean, do you ever think it's weird that we go about our normal lives, cleaning the toilet and paying the electric bill, and all of these celebrities make their living off of entertaining us? Isn't that just weird?

* I love getting Christmas cards. We have been getting several each day, including one today from my only aunt, who lives in Friday Harbor, Washington. She is an artist, and the card is of her painting "Snow Falling on Firs." The text inside the card was written by her husband, whom I have never met but who I know I would like very much. He has a poet's heart. Here's what the writes in first part of their Christmas card: "It is time again for the wild swans to come honking down from their summer homes in the far north to settle in for the winter on our ponds and lakes on San Juan Island. This is red sweater and hearty soup time, Christmas in Friday Harbor." Red sweater and hearty soup time. Yes.

* Christmas was the same for so long here in SmallWorld, and this year I am feeling some of those traditions losing their allure a bit. It's the kids aging, I suppose, as well as my parents aging. I can't get terribly enthused about baking Christmas cookies, and yet I miss being enthused about baking Christmas cookies. Although the house is nicely decorated and festive, I haven't made anything crafty. We are behind on our countdown stockings, and no one seems to be terribly traumatized.

* I have a lot of shopping yet to do.

* I began this post hours ago, when my two oldest were out Christmas shopping and Duncan was playing the Wii. The house was quiet and peaceful. Since then, I've burned 24 cupcakes, ironed a bunch of shirts, cooked dinner, chatted on the phone, hurt for my son, ironed more clothes, cleaned up the dinner dishes, done two loads of laundry, put yesterday's laundry away, and wrapped some presents. At last, I return to the post.

* And then posting was interrupted again so we could catch up on our Christmas countdown stockings. (See picture here.) I love the verse I got to read tonight: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." I needed that.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

Aaah. Christmas break is here at last. I think that for perhaps the first time in 11 years of homeschooling, we actually maintained focus during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually we just kind of drop everything and make cookies and crafts.

We finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader just in time for the movie release. Have you seen the movie yet? My kids enjoyed it very much, even though we just finished the book and they were very in tune with the differences between book and movie. Randy and I were trying not to twitch and bang our heads against the wall. Here's the thing: we are madly in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and have been all our lives. Deviations from the book, which include outrageous additions and deletions, are unacceptable. The end. (Although, I will say that I continue to think that the actors portraying Lucy and Edmund and in this one, Eustace, are well chosen.)

Besides all our regular stuff, we spent last week reading Christmas stories. We read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and then several short stories in an anthology that I have. (Here's a post I have about Favorite Christmas Books in case you didn't see it.) It's been a couple of years since we read The Gift of the Magi, so we read that one again. I found a movie version of it on Netflix instant streaming that I highly recommend. The language is verbatim with just a couple of additions. If you have Netflix, this is the one with Rosemary Deleonardis and David A. Silverstein. It gets terrible ratings, but I think the reviewers all seem to criticize the language. Perhaps they don't realize that these are O Henry's exact words. I guess I didn't really care about the acting. After watching the total destruction of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I suppose I was just happy to have an accurate version of a story! Anyway, it's only about 20 minutes long, so it's perfect for after reading the story (linked above).

Our oldest arrived home from college on Monday afternoon—he left right after his last final. It's so awesome to have him home for a few weeks! He got his grades on Friday, and I'm happy to report that his cumulative GPA thus far is a 3.7! That includes his 14 hours from dual enrollment at the local community college during his last two years of high school as well as his first semester (16 hours) at Belmont University. I'm very proud of him, especially since he is only 17 years old. He has a fantastic work ethic. He's always realized that school is his work at this point in his life, and he has fully devoted himself to studying. I am happy that he loves learning so much. He does actually want to get a job next semester. We didn't want him to get one first semester just to make sure he wasn't overloaded, but he says he misses working (plus his spending money has run out!) and is sure he'll have no problem balancing work and school.

I am so happy for these next two weeks of vacation! We do have all kinds of parties, commitments and appointments for the next three days, but Thursday and Friday look blissfully empty. So far, anyway…

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-Up on Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snow Day


We don't get much snow ever, so even a little is exciting. The high reached about 20 degrees that day, and my kids don't even own winter boots or anything resembling snow pants. We couldn't even find a hat for Duncan. When we got home, I saw that Duncan had holes in his socks. Really big holes. Ill-prepared parent that I am, you'd never know I grew up in snow country, would you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Favorite Christmas Books


One of my favorite parts of the season is opening the box of Christmas books and putting them on the book rack right by the Christmas tree. They are, truly, old friends. For me, the mark of a good Christmas book is that it makes me cry.

We have a good number of children’s books for Christmas, and I try to add a new book each year. We have some of the popular ones like The Polar Express and some silly but sentimental ones like Mercer Mayer’s Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, starring Little Critter. I love to hear my Dad read Twas the Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve. Some of the books we give the obligatory seasonal read and then put back on the rack.

But I have my favorites. These are the books that, without fail, make me cry at some point. My voice catches, a child’s head pops up and looks at me and says, “Mama! Are you crying again?” I can’t help it. … {Want to see some of my favorites? Head on over to The Homeschool Classroom for the rest of this article!}

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas in SmallWorld

If you were to pull in my driveway, you'd see early American tacky. The outside Christmas lights are crooked and/or partially burned out, mounds of leaves are sticking up through the shallow snow, and I'm pretty sure I saw a smashed pumpkin by the pear tree. But we're warm and cozy inside, surrounded by our favorite old Christmas things and some new ones, too.

This was a flash of brilliance for us this year. This frame usually has seasonal photographs in it, but my daughter and I realized that the favorite Christmas cards we had saved from last year looked perfect in the frame.

Our countdown-to-Christmas stockings/mittens. Each one has a Bible verse and candy in it, and we open one each night beginning December 1st. We started doing this several years ago, and back then I bought the stockings at Walgreens for 25 cents each. This year I've seen bloggers make these out of burlap or other material, which is very cute, but buying them sure was simple!



We made the ragamuffin garland and the Noel hanging last year. You can find the directions at Life in Grace.


We love our collection of Christmas books. We really need to box some of them up—like the Sandra Boynton Bob book—but somehow I just can't part with any of them. They are part of our Christmas family.

I love our Dickens Village, too. This is the first Christmas decoration we put up each year, and the houses and people are all old friends to the kids. We have just enough of a village to cover the top of our piano.


Mr. and Mrs. Clause, the choir boys , and the books behind them are all part of my childhood. Mr. and Mrs. Clause are actually hard-boiled egg holders. The choir boys I always imagined were my four older brothers. The Christmas Carols songbook is one that my mother and I played and sang out of all throughout my childhood. I need to go play some carols as soon as I finish this post.

I love having some of my own childhood decorations in our home. My parents don't get out their big box of tree decorations anymore, and one of these years I'm going to find that big box and be reunited with all my childhood tree decorations.

But for these years, I'm enjoying reminiscing with our own family ornaments, many of them sweetly homemade, like these three snowflakes above with my own treasures inside them.


We are looking forward to the arrival of our oldest sometime this afternoon. His last final is today, and then he'll drive the three hours home from college and our house will truly be full.

That's just a brief tour of some of my favorites in our house. Want to share your Christmas favorites and take a peek into other homes? Both Kelly's Korner and The Nester have a bazillion links to look at!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Menu

I'm trying to get back to regular meal planning. Most of our activities are over for the month, so I'm hoping we can enjoy many family meals together while Jesse is home from college. Since he is no longer a vegetarian, he says he wants beef. Hilarious. We don't really eat that much red meat here ourselves, but I found a couple of things to put on the menu for the upcoming week.

Pioneer Woman's Beef with Snow Peas
Meatloaf (I make this up as I go along but it's a lot like Pioneer Woman's without the bacon)
General Tso's Chicken (I double the sauce on this)
Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes
Baked Potato Soup

We're also going to start out baking frenzy this week. We'll be making chocolate truffle cookies, sugar cookies, and oatmeal cranberry-white chocolate cookies. We may get to some others by the end of the week.

I'm going recipe hunting this week. I haven't been in a while, and I'm beginning to tire of our same old menu items.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up


Friday marked the end of all of our regular outside activities and classes for the next few weeks. The kids each had their last last last co-op class of the session on Monday, and we signed up for new classes for next session. Tuesday and Wednesday we had very productive bookwork days. Duncan's been working hard to memorize his multiplication tables. He knows them all, but he isn't quite as fluent as I'd like him to be. We are moving ahead with his math book, but I've been drilling him like crazy every day.

Wednesday afternoon we got our Christmas tree. Here's Dr. H. and I standing by our final choice:

Getting the tree on Wednesday meant that Thursday morning was devoted to decorating.

We seriously need to get a second tree one of these years. All those sweet, homemade ornaments weigh a ton.

Thursday afternoon we had our annual American Heritage Girls Mother/Daughter/ Grandmother Christmas tea. It's always a beautiful event. We had a little over 150 people there. I was sad that my own mother didn't come this year for the first time. Some day I'll blog about watching my parents age, but usually I just can't. It is too heavy on my heart to think that my parents are in their mid-80s.

Friday was a wonderfully relaxing day. We finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I'd like to say we got to go see the movie on opening day, but that didn't work out. Dr. H. had a Boy Scout camping trip scheduled for this weekend, and we wanted to wait until we could all go together. Hopefully we'll get to go in the next few days.

Next week we'll read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, bake cookies, and do a bunch of math, spelling, and grammar. Jesse has his last final of the first semester of his freshman year on Monday, so he'll be home for a whole month on Monday evening. He's studied a lot this semester and loved just about every minute of it, from what I can tell. I'm so proud of him, and so thankful that the freshman year adjustment was fairly painless on both sides!

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

50 Best Homeschooling Blogs

I got notification today that SmallWorld at Home has been included on the list of 50 Best Homeschooling Blogs on the Guide to Online Schools. That is so nice of them! Here's what they have to say about my blog:
"This blog depicts a very positive view of homeschooled teenagers. The older kids participate in co-op classes, attend dances and bonfires through the local homeschool support community, and live a full, well-adjusted life."
I love it. I really do think my kids live a "full, well-adjusted life." So do I.

The other part I love is that I haven't heard of most of the other 50 blogs! Why Homeschool and A Familiar Path are long-time, daily reads, but I've got my work cut out visiting many of the others. Good thing Christmas break is almost here!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Facebook and Your Teens


When my son was 13, Facebook was just becoming a thing, and MySpace was all the rage. But several years later, Facebook is the thing and no one really talks about MySpace much anymore. My daughter and her friends are all 13 or just turning 13, the magic Facebook age. Some of their moms are asking, "What should I know about Facebook now that my teen is on it?"

First of all and most obviously, if you are a parent of a young teen who has a Facebook page, you need to have a Facebook account. But you don't need to just have a Facebook account, you need to be aware of what is going on in your teen's Facebook world.

Teen. Yes, I said teen. I know a lot of people allow their tweens to be on Facebook, even though the minimum age is clearly 13.

(My daughter had a friend request from a nine-year-old yesterday. I'm guessing his mom lives in the blissful state of Oblivion.)

But let's assume you are teaching your kids that such rules apply to them and have allowed your 13-year-old to participate in the Facebook rite of passage. What do you need to know? I'd suggest learning and sharing techniques for both safety and etiquette.

Staying Safe

1. Have your own account before you allow your child to get one. Obviously, you need to be Friends with your child on Facebook; therefore, you need a Facebook account. And get on Facebook as regularly as your teen does.

2. Guide your child through the opening account process. Yes, that means you need to be savvy enough to navigate Facebook; but since you already have a Facebook page (see #1), this should be no problem for you. That also means that you should know his/her password. Make it very clear to your teen that you have the right to log onto his Facebook page to check up on him/her. I'm not advocating being an overbearing, controlling parent. I'm advocating guiding your young teen and keeping him/her safe. For example, one time our daughter, new to Facebook, put on her status that "I am so bored all home alone." Her Dad saw this while he was at work and immediately called her to tell her to delete that status. But if he had not been able to reach her, he could have logged onto her account to remove this status himself.

3. Profile page. Make sure your child does not list his/her city, year of birth, or contact information.

4. Privacy settings. Under "account" there is a very important link for privacy settings. Read this page carefully. Check out all the links and make sure your teen's privacy settings are as private as you can make them. On the "connecting on Facebook" link, you can set all your child's basic information so that no one sees any of it except "friends." On the "sharing on Facebook" link, you can customize various components so that "friends only" can view them. This includes statuses, videos, photos, etc. Be sure to set these so that "friends only" can view these components.

5. Friends. You should know or be aware of every single person that your young teen adds to his/her Friends list. My daughter has had requests from people with the same last name as ours and absolutely no other reason. My son had a request from someone we did not know. We googled him and saw that he lived close by and was a registered sex offender.
—This also means that you should be aware of people in your kid's life.
There are a few teens that my daughter is not allowed to be FB friends with, although we love them in real life, because their statuses are frequently vulgar and totally inappropriate.

6. Don't advertise being alone. See #2. Make sure your teen doesn't advertise the fact that he/she is home alone. It's like answering the phone and saying, "My mom isn't here right now." In other words, make sure he/she knows that his status should never say, "I'm all alone at home and really bored right now" or "I'm out walking the neighborhood all by myself."


Etiquette Rules to Teach to Your Teen


Navigating the social rules of Facebook can be very, very tricky. But one rule should trump all the others: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Play nice. Don't pick fights. Don't hurt anyone's feelings. Here are some more specific ways to put this into action:

1. Your wall is not private.
In other words, everything that you put on your wall or someone's wall is fair game for anyone to read and comment upon. This leads to…

2. Be thoughtful, courteous, and sensitive. This is especially true with teenagers, and generally even more so with teenage girls. Remember, everything you post on your wall or a friend's wall is public. So if you post on Friend A's wall, "Hey, I had a great time at your slumber party last night," well, you maybe just spilled the beans that Friend A had a slumber party. And then Friends B and C comment and say, "That was so fun!" And guess what Friends D and E are doing? Feeling like losers. Send a private message instead. You don't need to broadcast your social life. Here are some other ways to avoid hurting tender hearts:
• Don't engage in any of the "BFF" or "Top Friends" applications. What a lot of hurt that can all create! Imagine being 13 years old and being the #1 spot on Friend A's "Top Friends" list on Monday but getting shoved down to #5 on Thursday—or worse, eliminated from the list or never being on the list! Just don't even start with those kinds of applications.
• Don't list your 3 best friends du jour on your "siblings" page on your profile. That's just silly. They aren't your siblings, and if you have some kind of conflict with them or they with you, well, it just becomes awkward. Plus, all of your other friends feel undervalued.
• Stay out of Facebook drama. Avoid making comments that you know will hurt someone's feelings. Don't be snarky.

3. Be careful with photographs.
• Don't post unattractive photos of friends, even if you look great in the photo. Remember, do unto others…
• Avoid posting pictures of fun things you and your friends did together when other people were clearly left out. In other words, if you had a private party, keep it private.
• Do not post seductive photographs. It's terribly disturbing to see photos of young girls in bikinis or pursing their lips and making that "come hither" look. Please.

4. Spell correctly and use proper grammar. Why should kids have to spell correctly on their schoolwork but then get to slaughter sentences in the most public place at all? Along those lines:
• Review the uses of "your" and "you're"
• Review the uses of "their" "they're" and "there"
• Figure out how to use "its" and "it's" correctly
• Don't think for a second that it is cute to misspell words on purpose.
• Do not post in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Unless, of course, you are shouting.

5. You don't have to share everything on Facebook. Don't use profanity. Don't spout off an angry status because you're mad at your parents, your brother, or your friend. That doesn't mean that you always have to be fake happy, but you also don't need to broadcast your problems all over the neighborhood. As your own mother probably said to you, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."


I love Facebook. I'm all in favor of social networking. Being an aware Facebook parent not only will help keep your child safe, but it will help you to know what your teen and her friends are interested in. What makes them laugh? What "likes" do they have? Facebook can be quite revealing.

Finally, be sure that your teen understands that she will have to delete her Facebook page if she abuses it. And make sure that you follow through with the consequences if that happens.

We lifted Facebook rules as our son got older and of course when he went to college. I mean, really, we have to. (His friends steal his phone routinely and give him statuses that make me blush. But at least his grammar is excellent.) Hopefully, the guidance you provided at a younger age will make a difference as they get older.

Does your young teen have a Facebook account? Am I missing "danger" areas that you've encountered?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Transitioning into the Big Kid Years

studying

Let’s face it. Very few of us are completely untouched by public opinion, whether it’s barely beneath the surface or just an occasional niggling feeling. Even the most die-hard unschooler must wonder at some point: Are we on the right track? Am I doing enough?

If your students are under 11 or 12, keep relaxing. Please, oh please, enjoy these days. Snuggle together reading, spend hours doing crafts, take long walks and bend down to examine every insect. Bake a cake and call it science. Go to a museum and call it history. Go grocery shopping and call it math.

I have now graduated one student, who is in his first year of college, and I can say with assurance: I do not regret one single day that we spent decorating cookies instead of doing a math worksheet.

But the time does come to transition. … {Want to find out more? I'm a contributor at Simple Homeschool today. Come on over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest of the post!}

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More Christmas

I have my new Christmas header up. Today was one of those "If you give a mouse a cookie" kind of days. I started to look for Christmas photos, which of course made me nostalgic. While looking for specific Christmas photos, I came across a bunch of old photos. I had to post a couple of those to Facebook. Then that made me think of some other photos, so I had to go to the other computer and look through photos there. And post more to Facebook. That made me think of photos I need to scan, so I thought about getting out photo albums. BUT just in time, I got control of myself and managed to pick out a few photos and make a new header.

I make my headers on Picnik, which offers a lot for free but is totally worth the $25/year fee for premium membership. It's one of my few internet splurges. OK, actually, it's my only one. Like I said, I did spend quite a bit of time choosing the perfect photos. Here's why I picked these:
1. The first is our Christmas tree, which I love. Not this year's tree, but still. Also, there are pink lights on it, which makes me laugh.
2. That's Dr. H. and me, looking blissful at the Christmas tree farm. The reason we look blissful is because, well, we are. (Also, there's a good chance that he's squeezing my butt.)
3. Christmas sugar cookies—a very serious tradition in our house. A tradition that is not to be tampered with in any way, shape or form.
4. My three little sweeties. That little guy in the middle is Duncan, who will be 10 on Christmas day. Yes. He is the very best Christmas gift I have ever received, so don't even try to top me at a Christmas party. You can't, unless you've also given birth on Christmas day. That picture is actually on New Year's Eve because he was in the NICU for the first six days of his life. That is how precious that picture is to me. My little (OK, big, actually, as he was 10 lbs.) miracle came home that night, and our family was complete.

Yes. I do have a blessed, amazing life. And never once do I forget who is the Giver of all good gifts.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Ramblings

* Little by little, the kids and I have been putting up all of our Christmas decorations. You know what was really fun? Finding things in the giant storage tub that I bought last year during the great post-holiday sales. I found new lights, candles, a cookie platter, a tree topper, and lots of plates, napkins, cups and cookie tins. That was so smart of me! I need to remember to surprise myself again next year.

* Also, Laurel took pictures last year of where we had all our decorations. She is so smart. So this year, instead of wondering where we put this candle and that teapot, we just looked at iPhoto. We're so savvy around here. Does everyone do that? Did it just take me 20 years to figure that one out?

* I made my first batch of Christmas cookies last night: jam diagonals, our absolute favorite.

* One more Christmas-related item. I love what we did with our big collage frame in the dining room. Normally it has my own seasonal nature photographs in it, but yesterday we put Christmas cards in it and it looks fabulous. A few of the cards are ones my Aunt Ann painted and the others are just ones we've liked and kept around. And my smart girl already took a picture of the, um, picture so that we know what to do next year.

* I figured out our annual "how much debt did we pay off this year" accounting a few nights ago. We always do it on Nov. 30 since we began Dave Ramsey a few years ago. We were happy to see that, in spite of college tuition kicking in this year, we paid off over $11K in debt!

* And that's about all I have to say. I am on a mission to finish cleaning and decorating today. I have one of those days ahead that involves watching friends' kids, shuttling my own kids here and there, and hopefully getting to spend a little time with my parents. I'm not seeing too much book-learning in today's forecast.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Having Fun with Grammar


No, the title is not an oxymoron: you really can have fun with grammar. Admittedly, I love grammar, but I realize that most people don’t share my strange affinity for prepositional phrases, pronouns, and punctuation. That’s no reason for torturing your kids with dry grammar worksheets and tedious sessions of circling, underlining, and crossing out. …

The Homeschool Classrom
{I'm at The Homeschool Classroom today. Come on over and read the rest of the article there!}

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Looking for Some Great Reads?

After a few mostly mediocre months of reading, I've had a great November. I'll be posting my Top 10 List in early January over at my SmallWorld Reads blog, but I thought I'd give a little preview here in case you are looking for a good book, either for yourself or for a gift. Here are a few of my favorite books so far this year. Clicking on the title will take you to my review of the book:

New Literary Fiction
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Tougher Reads (as in, maybe not such happy endings and with difficult subject matter)
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Denticatt
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Buffalo Solider by Chris Bohjalian

Nonfiction/Memoir (tend to be emotionally difficult but well written and fascinating)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Annie Fadiman
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
Heartbreaking Word of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I'm always looking for book suggestions, even though I have more than 200 books on my current To Be Read list. Do you have any books on your Christmas list?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving


O My God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow. When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness
.
~A Puritan prayer of thanksgiving, from The Valley of Vision



It was a quiet Thanksgiving at my third brother's home, except for the sounds of the wind and my incessant sneezing. We were missing over a third of our clan, including all of the great-grandchildren. Duncan, nearly 10, was the youngest. There were no toys to step over, no high chairs, no babies needing held. We did Skype with one missing niece and her little guy, so at least we heard some toddler chatter.

We ate, played a few games, sat outside on the deck and chatted. By early evening I was too miserable to be sociable anymore, and we came home. I was in bed by 10 p.m., which is early for me. Today is another quiet day. No Black Friday shopping here; instead, we are enjoying a morning of utter laziness. I've stopped sneezing and blowing my nose. Bacon and eggs have been devoured. My Dad brought over the morning paper and all the ads, which I might scan later. Just in case I'm missing anything really amazing.

But I'm thinking all the amazing I need is right here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christmas Cards

Those 3.5 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas happen fast. I've been thinking for the past week or so about our Christmas cards. For the past few years we've used Shutterfly for our photo cards. I love being able to make a collage of photos, like in this card or this card. There are just so many choices now for fabulous looking cards! I like this Top Ten card, too, but Laurel and I said that it would all be about Jesse: Jesse got his Eagle Scout, Jesse graduated, Jesse went to college. Everything else seems kind of…small.

I love to make books and calendars from Shutterfly, too. If I could get on the ball over Thanksgiving weekend, I could get all kinds of Christmas shopping done—and make one for myself, too. We have several Shutterfly books on our coffee table, and we never get tired of looking at them. If you have never made a book, please do! They are sooo easy to do and look amazing.

If you've got a blog, Shutterfly is offering the opportunity to get 50 free holiday cards, so head over & see how you can score some awesome cards of your own.

November Morning


"There is music in the meadows, in the air --

Autumn is here;
Skies are gray, but hearts are mellow,
Leaves are crimson, brown, and yellow…"
William Stanley Braithwaite




(And that pumpkin is one gnarly-looking fellow.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Full House

My 13-year-old has recently discovered the old 80s sitcom, Full House. She watches an episode each day on Hulu or some other viewing site. I don't know what exactly she likes about Full House. I wasn't in a television-watching phase of life when the show was on originally. But this is what I do know: I like my full house. Our firstborn came home from college last night, predictably at 8 p.m. It takes him exactly 3 hours to drive here from his college, and he left as soon as his last class was over. You know what I love? He's excited to come home. He's not homesick—he absolutely loves college. But he likes us. He likes his family. He likes to hang out with us.

Also, he likes my cooking. The second he walked in the door, he was ready to eat. I heated up a plate of macaroni and cheese (homemade, of course) and twice-baked potatoes. We all sat around and watched him eat, soaking him in. His little brother showed him the duct-tape wallet he'd just made. "I can make you one, too," he said. Just minutes before he came home, I'd finished making the warm vanilla butter sauce to go over the cranberry cake. We all had big slices and finished catching up on what's been going on in his life.

Within an hour, his two best friends were here. We all sat around in the living room talking, although to say "talking" seems bland. Those three are dramatic and burst out yelling at each other frequently. "You're so stupid!" "You are such an idiot!" "You are such a liar!" Boys are like that. It's some kind of twisted love language.

We stayed up a little later than usual, reluctant to go even though we know, by 11 p.m., that they are ready to talk without parents around. At 3 a.m. I awakened to hear them opening and closing the refrigerator, looking for "something good," and getting drinks of water. This morning I find empty glasses and plates on the counter. The cranberry cake is completely gone.

This is new and old for me, this holiday returning. I remember the feeling from my childhood. Being the youngest of five and with 16 years between oldest and youngest, I anticipated comings-home all my life. The house was full when they were home and so empty after they left. I see things differently now, though, as a mother. My life is full when he's not here, although quieter. But him coming home adds a party atmosphere, an irrepressible urge to bake cakes and make Chex mix.

I am thankful for so many things all the time. But here is a specific one today: I am thankful that the separation has not been painful on either side, and that coming home is a celebration all around. What more could we have asked for?

Linked up with Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the Menu

Such excitement! Our oldest will be coming home from college for nearly a week on Monday, and he isn't a vegetarian anymore! Oh, simmer down, vegetarians. I have nothing against vegetarians; I'm just not one, and I've found it somewhat challenging to cook for one these past few years.

Also, I'd love for him to put on 20 lbs or so, and that's difficult to do when one eats lots of veggie burgers and lettuce. So tomorrow I'm going shopping and stocking up the cabinets with all kinds of stuff to cook.

And of course Thanksgiving is this week, and my third brother and his wife are hosting. All I have to do is make the pies! The bad end of the deal is that we won't have any leftover turkey, but Christmas is only a few weeks away.

So coming up this week, we'll be having:
Randy's Fettucine Alfredo
Lasagna
Tortellini Chowder
Slow Cooker Cuban Pork
Randy's Chicken Piccata
and, while we're at it, let's add Randy's Famous Sunday Night Fried Rice

It occurred to me, as I was making out the menu, that Dr. H. will be off most of this week. And he does love to cook…

Besides baking pies for Thanksgiving Day, I'll be making cookies and a cake, for sure. I'm thinking about Pioneer Woman's Tres Leches cake. The only problem with this cake is that there is no chocolate or icing—but it's not about me, right? It's really fun to have a grateful college student for whom to cook.

Linked up at Menu Plan Mondays

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

On Friday and Saturday I see Weekly Wrap-Ups appearing in my Google Reader, and I invariably think, "What did we do all week? I have no idea." I forget by Saturday what we did on Tuesday, especially on weeks like this when we have one or two outside activities every single day.

The week started with our citrus order being delivered, and thus a semi-truck of fruit from Florida unloaded, on Sunday afternoon. Our AHG troop sold nearly $10K worth of fruit, which nets right at $6000 for our troop—a fantastic fundraiser! When the truck was unloaded we had a Family Game Night at church, which was lots of fun.

Monday we had our second-to-last co-op class of the fall, and then we headed over to church to help with fruit pick-up. About half of our girls picked up their orders, so I knew I'd have to head back over on Tuesday so the other half could pick up their orders. On Monday evening Laurel's girls' small group worked for a couple hours on a service project. They are going to be distributing boxes around town to collect pajamas for the local women's shelter. She had a great time doing this, and a photographer from the newspaper came and took their pictures. The article is supposed to be in Sunday's paper.

Tuesday and Thursday we did our regular bookwork: math, spelling, grammar, writing, science. We're halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Duncan is getting a big dose of boat this week, which is greatly enriching the book for him. Randy's going to be reading Carry On, Mr. Bowditch to him in the evenings. This was one of Jesse's favorite books when he was Duncan's age, but I knew Laurel wouldn't like it, so we skipped it last year.

On Wednesday our homeschooling group toured the Nina and Pinta replicas, which were docked in Knoxville. Again, this was perfect for Duncan's impromptu boat unit study.



The weather was absolutely perfect. I'm not sure the kids heard that much of the presentation, but they had a great time nonetheless.

Wednesday evening our church held a community Thanksgiving meal, open to anyone who needed a meal. We had about 150 people come to it from our community. It was a really awesome opportunity for service and sharing. By Wednesday of this week, Laurel had already logged 7 hours of community service!

Thursday afternoon Duncan had Cub Scouts, and our middle- and high-school AHG girls did a teamwork/leadership building course through Maryville College's Mountain Challenge. They did all kinds of exercises that required cooperation and leadership skills. We like to do this every two years for that age group, not only to promote teamwork but to help them with their own confidence issues.



I think the girls really enjoyed this—Laurel did, for sure. I love this age group! That evening our homeschooling group had a game night for teens, so we headed back out again for that. We had a great turn out and the kids seemed to have a great time.

Friday finally brought a bit of relief into our crazy schedule. Randy and Duncan left at 11 a.m. for a Boy Scout/Cub Scout trip to the USS Yorktown in Charleston. They'll spend 2 nights on the aircraft carrier, doing all kinds of activities. Again, the whole boat theme comes into play this week! Laurel and I just took the day to get caught up on housework and miscellaneous school work, and then she had yet another service project in the late afternoon/evening.

And now we're halfway through a quiet Saturday. My goal today is to get the living room cleaned, dead flowers taken away, surface dusted, and the carpet prepared: tonight, I'm getting out the steam vac. A weekend with the boys away seems to be the perfect time to shampoo the carpets, and as much as I dread doing it, I'm looking forward to getting rid of all the nasties.

Jesse comes home from college Monday evening for a full six days with us! I'm going to spend some time today and tomorrow preparing a menu and doing the grocery shopping so that I can be perfectly lazy next week.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mystery Folders



One of our best devices for encouraging independent work for our kids has been our "mystery folders." Each child has a colored file folder of his/her own, decorated in his/her own style. Each night I put a "mystery" assignment in each folder (usually different according to age level of child). These are almost always sheets I have downloaded from the internet and have been quite varied. One important aspect is to keep the material fresh and enticing; I rarely use regular math or grammar worksheets, for example, unless there is something exciting and unusual about them. While I consider this folder as learning time, I also strive to keep it disguised as pure fun!

A normal week will include brain teasers, coloring pages, directions and supplies for simple crafts, crossword puzzles, mazes, and connect-the-dots. We have covered many of the 50 states by coloring state flags (www.enchantedlearning.com) and have become familiar with many artists by coloring famous paintings. The children are not allowed to look at their mystery folders until it is time for independent work. At that time, one child will do his/her mystery folder while I spend 15-20 minutes working with another child. It is amazing how much I can get done with this one child while the other is occupied with the mystery folder! And at the same time, the "mystery folder child" is learning to work independently.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Sunrise


I'm not always up early enough to see the sunrise, especially now that we have been manipulated into believing that what was once 7:30 a.m. is now 6:30 a.m., or maybe this is the real time, or something.

All I know for sure is that I love waking up, going out to get the newspaper, and seeing the sun rising over the mountains. It never fails to thrill me that I have a house, a family, a yard, a view of the mountains.

When I was a girl, I woke every morning to the sound of the lake. Every morning I'd pull the curtains and greet the lake. Lakes are moodier than mountains, less dependable but more knowable.

I've lived in places without morning views. Sometimes you have to create your own definition of view: bare feet on cool concrete with a mug of coffee, a sweet baby's face, your neighbor's maple tree. What's your morning view?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up


This was a fabulous week. The weather was lovely, everyone is nearly recovered from being sick, and at least two Big Events were marked off the list. That's always a good thing.

On Monday Laurel had her poster presentation for poetry class at our co-op:


In this class (16 middle-schoolers) we have each student randomly pick a poet on whom to do a presentation. Students must do a 2-3 minute talk to introduce the poem and make a poster which is to include at least two poems by that author. We do three presentations each week. Laurel did a great job on her poster and talk. She has such a good eye for design. I had nothing at all to do with this poster besides buying the board itself.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday were great school days. Besides our regular studies, we watched Prince Caspian, having finished the book last week. I actually really enjoyed the movie when it first came out a couple of years ago, but I hadn't read the book in 10 years or so at that point. This time around with the book fresh in our minds, we were all astonished at the ridiculous changes made in the movie. I am hoping that upcoming The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie will be more true to the book!

Tuesday night we had Cub Scout Pack meeting, which was extra entertaining because Dr. H., the Cubmaster, had nine whipped-cream pies smashed in his face. (Pictures, any local yokels?) He had promised the boys that anyone who sold over $200 worth of popcorn would be able to smear a pie in his face. He is the best Cubmaster ever.

Thursday—Veterans' Day— was a l-o-n-g but well spent day. Our Boy & Cub Scouts and American Heritage Girls troops participated in the Knoxville Veterans' Day Parade. The weather was unbelievably perfect. We actually had to shed our jackets and roll up our sleeves. My only regret is that my parents weren't there to watch it. They find Knoxville traffic daunting, but next year I'm going to get them there somehow.

After the parade we had just enough time to drive back into town and eat a quick lunch, and then our AHG girls headed out for a short presentation at a local assisted living facility. The girls had made cards and tissue-paper poppies to hand out, and after they sang and read some poems, they visited with the residents a bit. It was a lovely afternoon, and although we were exhausted, I'm so glad we did this.

Saturday stretches out before us with relaxation, catch-up, a bit of shopping, and, for Dr. H., grading exams. And less than two weeks before Jesse comes home from college for Thanksgiving break!

PS I've been nominated for Best Homeschool Mom, Best Encourager, Best Photos and Artistic Content, and Best Homemaking Blog at the Homeschool Blog Awards. I'd love your vote in any of these categories if you haven't voted yet!

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, November 11, 2010

He Was a Soldier Once


My father was a soldier once, and his father too. My father served in WW2 and in Korea. He wrote this poem about a year ago. Every time I read it, I get weepy.

ONCE A SOLDIER

I was a soldier once,
When I was young.

I was once a soldier,
Long ago, when I was very young.

I was a young soldier once,
And then one noonday I
became an old soldier.

I was an old soldier
For what seemed then a very long time.

I have been old for a very long time,

But I remember when I was young once,
And a soldier,
A very young soldier,
Once upon a time.


Thank you, Dad, for being a soldier once, and for giving me the gift of your words, in more ways that one.