Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! Here is our Christmas letter, which I wrote after I sent out 1/4 of the cards without it. {Sorry if you were among that first quarter and received a letterless card!}


It’s December again, and this year Duncan’s riding his skateboard barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt, and we’re hoping the daffodils don’t come too much further out. I think we’ll see the Smokies capped in snow yet, though.

2015 was another year of changes for the Smalls. Laurel graduated from high school, went to college, and turned 18. Putting all those major events into one small sentence seems inadequate. In a family that homeschools, graduating a child is especially exhilarating—and life-changing. Graduation brought all kinds of festivities for Laurel, including a trip to New York City with her boyfriend and a trip to Hilton Head with her girlfriends. {I got to go on both the trips, too.} After a summer of relaxation and preparation, Laurel headed to Lipscomb University in Nashville and then turned 18 a couple weeks later. She loves it there—loves the college, loves her suitemates, loves Nashville. We miss her, but we revel in her happiness.

Jesse, 22, lives across town and is still working for US Air while figuring out what to do with the rest of his life. He’s been volunteering as an ESL teacher to adult students for several months, and right now he’s weighing teaching overseas vs. going to graduate school. We’re all staying tuned. In the meantime, we can expect a weekly text from him asking, “Dinner tonight?”

That leaves Duncan, who is enjoying having his parents, all snack food, and the entire house to himself. Duncan is full of adventure, Doritos, and, as always, candy. This summer he and Randy and over a dozen others from their Scout troop went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, where they backpacked over 80 miles and had 10 days of amazing adventures. Duncan will turn 15 on Christmas Day, and he’s hoping to get his driver’s permit as soon as possible. We think studying the book might be helpful, but he’s pretty sure he can just go in and take it.

Speaking of driving, Dad, at 90, still is. He’s also still experimenting with apple trees, maintaining a prolific garden, and making daily trips to the supermarket. Oh, and he and Mom flew to Ithaca (NY) in June to meet their 11th grandchild, Maxwell, born to Stephen, Jen, and Kollman. Dad and I also had an amazing opportunity in October to fly to Washington, DC as part of HonorAir Knoxville, which takes veterans of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars to see the memorials built in their honor. Spending the day in DC with my Dad and 125 veterans was a truly humbling, exhilarating, and unforgettable experience.

Other experiences have not been quite so exhilarating this year. Randy’s mother’s husband, Ben, had a stroke in June. The next many months brought a steady procession of hospitals, nursing homes, and copious paperwork that kept Randy and his mom, Pat, mired in stress. Ben’s health continued to decline, and he passed away in November. They are still working signing forms and sorting paperwork, but Pat is doing well and breathing a little more freely now, as are we. Christmas break comes perhaps more needed than ever this year.

On a brighter side, Randy made full professor this year, so he’s now Dr. Dr. Dr. Small. He also became Scoutmaster of Duncan’s Boy Scout troop in the fall, so he’s swept up in either filling young minds with biology or with adventures. Either way, he’s pretty great. And while he’s doing all that, I’m teaching four high school classes at our homeschooling co-op program, helping Duncan navigate his high school classes, and sending care packages to Laurel. Also, I really like yoga.

With Laurel and Jesse gone, we have way more rooms in our house than people now. We like visitors. Merry Christmas and a happy 2016. Thank you for being part of our lives.


Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fall Wrap-Up

Ah, the sweet, sweet sounds of the semester wrapping up.

But first, a confession: I am tired. I feel old. I miss having little children. I miss doing crafts with my littles in preparation for Christmas. I miss shopping with my mother. I miss being able to eat anything I want to without gaining weight. I miss blogging cute things that the kids do. I miss the days before I had a laptop and a cellphone to keep me from other things.  I really do.

These adjustments are the hardest, I think: growing from a mommy to a mom to a mother. Figuring out how to keep parts of myself and let other parts go. Remembering how to feel content, to revel in blessings.

I am blessed: there is no doubt about that. I've put up Christmas these past two days: stockings and books and the old choir boys. The Santa teapot and the paper Mary and Jesus. I baked a batch of cookies and switched out pumpkins for holly. I still have Duncan at home to be my taste-tester and my picture hanger. Jesse pops in now and then for a bite to eat and a quick chat. Randy gave his last exam today and has just one week until he can get a little rest and relief from job stress. And just 10 days until my sweet girl comes home for nearly a whole month.

November was a crazy month— I think that is part of my melancholy. My mother fell, and, although she is fine now, the reality of my parents' aging fills me with desperation. How will I navigate when they are gone?

My mother-in-law's husband passed away after a lengthy illness that exhausted everyone. Randy spent countless hours helping his mom with paperwork and all the minutiae of hospitals and the business of dying. It is draining.

There have been good times mixed in, though. Like days off of school for the Veterans Day parade and frolicking with friends in Market Square.

Like a three-hour drive to a Civil War battlefield with 20 exuberant teenagers and a perfectly blue-sky day for the trip.

American history class trip to Stones River Battlefield in Murphreesboro, TN

Like Thanksiving break with all my kiddos home and lots of extras, too. Looking at these faces, I am reminded again of how very lovely my life is, full of laughter and good food and pretty things— and, most of all, filled with people I love.

Only one more co-op class for us, and then one week left for Duncan before break officially starts. He's going to be basically doing Algebra 2 for the entire week after co-op classes end, as that is the one class that he isn't doing at co-op and so, naturally, is behind.

And that's what's happening in our own SmallWorld as we head into winter and look forward to luxuriating in the quiet busyness of December.

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

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wrapping Up October, Beginning November

I always love living in East Tennessee, but October is simply breathtaking here. This has been one of the prettiest falls I can remember. Then again, I think I say that every year. There may be lots of leaf pictures randomly thrown into this post.

{Like this one.}

October brings a semi-annual Court of Honor for our Boy Scout troop. Duncan received several merit badges and two special awards. One is the 50-miler patch, which he received for hiking 50 miles in one trip (Philmont) plus ten hours of service. He also received an Honor Guard patch for volunteering with HonorAir Knoxville, which takes veterans to Washington D.C.

Fall break happened in mid-October, and that just really throws us off. It's so very hard to get back into the swing of things after luxuriating in days without regular activities. I sat on my beautiful sunporch a lot and looked at the leaves.

We have finished reading and discussing The Crucible in American lit. The kids really liked it, and they had fun acting out various scenes. I finally got all the essays graded for my two lit classes and exams graded for my history class. I have to admit: I'm looking forward to the day when I no longer have lesson plans to do! I wholeheartedly adore teaching. But grading? Blech. Like all teachers, I wish I didn't have to.

{On that note, here are some more leaves. Leaves are so much more pleasant than grading.}

The end of October always brings our Soup and Pumpkin Party. We've been doing this for 11 years now, and it's always the highlight of our fall. This year was especially lovely because Laurel and Daniel came home from college for it!

We had a lovely weekend, highlighted by a last-day-of-October hike in the Smokies. The weather was perfect, the leaves were at peak, and I don't think I've ever seen Spruce Flat Falls quite so magical.

Photo cred: Tamyra Parks

Photo cred: Tamyra Parks

It was so lovely to have our girl home for the weekend. I really like this college-only-three-hours-away thing. I was 14 hours away from home when I was in college and only went home at major breaks. I'm happy to get to see my girl a lot more than 3 times a year!

And now we're back to normal this week—whatever that means. I think we're fairly caught up on school work, although I have, as always, a lot of grading to do. Duncan is taking all his classes except for algebra 2 at our co-op. The first few weeks were grueling as we adjusted to a heavy workload, but I think we've figured out a good schedule for the most part. The biggest adjustment has been doing about 6 solid hours of school at least a couple of days each week— but doing it that way allows us a couple of easier days with lighter work to do.

Tomorrow evening my history class is coming over to watch the movie Lincoln, and next week my lit class is coming over to watch The Crucible. The following week our history class is taking a field trip to Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, and then we'll be on Thanksgiving break with only two co-op classes left until Christmas break!

And that's what's happening as we head into the last weeks of this semester. I'm ready for cooler temperatures, warm blankets, and another long break!

Linked up with the Hip Homeschool Hop, the Weekly Wrap Up, and Collage Friday

Friday, October 16, 2015

October Mid-Month Wrap-Up

We're coming into the most beautiful time of year in East Tennessee. The leaves are just barely starting to turn, and next week the Smokies will be a mass of red and yellow and orange.

This week is fall break for us. Duncan and my Dad flew to my brother's orchard in upstate New York for the week. Duncan has been picking apples by day and keeping his three-year-old cousin, Kollman, entertained by night. I think he's having an awfully good time.

Laurel is also on fall break, and she and her suite mates came home for the weekend! I am so grateful for her college experience thus far. These girls are absolutely wonderful. She is so blessed to have made such great friends already!

The girls are from Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin, and I'm so excited that they get to see the Smokies today! They are going to Cades Cove, which is one of the most visited spots in the Smokies. It's so gorgeous and peaceful in the fall—well, peaceful as long as it isn't too full of tourists. We're hoping a Friday will be relatively quiet.

So much has been happening in the month since I last updated. Let's see…

Laurel came home from college for the first time in late September, as her boyfriend (who is at a different college in Nashville) was playing at an event at a local coffee shop. We had a great weekend. It was really lovely to see her doing homework in my newly renovated sunporch, which has become my happy place.

That Saturday afternoon we had just enough time for a quick hike because the mountains do call, after all.

And they headed back to Nashville after church on Sunday.

The following weekend was parents' weekend at Lipscomb, so Randy and I headed over. (Duncan opted to stay behind with friends.)  We took Laurel and Daniel out to dinner on Friday night. We planned a bunch of outside activities for Saturday, but the weather was uncooperative. We spent a few hours thrift shopping and bookstore hopping— and eating, of course. In the evening we had tickets to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman, and she was phenomenal.

The first week of October I had the most amazing experience with my Dad. I had the amazing privilege of being a guardian for the 19th Honor Air Knoxville flight, which takes veterans, free of charge, to Washington DC to view the memorials that were constructed in their honor. The event deserves its own blog post, but here are a few photos. (Jesse was able to meet us in DC for the day.)

Duncan's Boy Scout troop escorted veterans into the airport

Besides my Dad, these other two wonderful veterans, Bill and Boyd, were assigned to me. Here, they are at the Korean War memorial. All three of them are Korean War vets. Dad is also a WWII vet.
At the Vietnam Wall. This is the first time that Honor Air flight has included Vietnam War veterans.

Dad and Jesse at the Vietnam Wall.

Dad and I at the WWII memorial.

Dad at the WWII memorial.

And school. We really do have school around here. Duncan and I have a great schedule, and we're pretty good about getting everything done. Co-op classes are going well, but it's nice to have a break.  Some of my students joined me to see a fabulous production of  Of Mice and Men last week.

Our homeschooling group's teens also worked at Second Harvest Food Bank, packaging cereal and labeling cans. I love our teens! They are such a great bunch of kids.

And that's about all that's going on around here! Today Randy and I are also headed up to the mountains for a short hike while the girls go to Cades Cove, so I'm looking forward to an afternoon of good mountain air. Grading papers and exams can wait another day, right?

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mid-Month Wrap-Up

First, I am flabbergasted that we are already five weeks into the school year. I feel as if we are still just beginning, just finding our rhythm to this new year. I think this is the first week we've had all our activities, so I guess I should be happy that we made it through without too many bumps.

At the beginning of the month, my brother came down to visit with his two little boys, and we got to meet baby Max for the first time. I just still can't believe sometimes that we have Kollman and Max. They are such a gift to our family, which we all assumed was complete with Duncan 14 years ago! These two little guys are bringing so much joy to my parents—their grandparents.

That same weekend, we went to Nashville for Laurel's 18th birthday. It was so amazing to see our girl in her new surroundings! She seemed comfortable, confident, and happy. What more could we ask for? And how awesome that we got to do our traditional birthday shoot with her best friend, Bess, who shares Laurel's birthday—and her life.

The following weekend was our annual Scouting Family Camping at the Big South Fork. We have lost track of how many years we've been doing this with our Boy Scout and American Heritage Girls troops and our Cub Scouts pack, but we think this was our 9th year. It felt emptier this year without our graduates, but it was still wonderful, peaceful, and rejuvenating.

We had the opportunity to attend a flag retirement ceremony at the local VFW last weekend. Several members from our  Boy/Cub Scouts and AHG troops attended. It was a truly memorable experience to see the wide range of the Smoky Mountains in the background, the flag in the foreground, and the boys standing saluting while the military men and women solemnly set the flags in the firepit.

The back-to-school dance happened right after the ceremony. I have to admit to some pangs of melancholy. For so many years, Laurel and her friends got ready for dances at our house. This year, I had a pack of boys. They are awfully sweet and they don't take nearly as long to get ready.

 And besides all of that events above, we are in the thick of high school. This year Duncan is taking nearly all his classes at our co-op: ACT Prep, American history and government, American literature, and biology. (I'm teaching or co-teaching the first three classes.) He does algebra 2 online at home and a Bible study with our youth pastor weekly. He's also doing Boy Scouts and youth group, of course, as well as tennis and swimming. Our days are full, to say the least. But we've been keeping up for the most part. This weekend he heads off for a Boy Scout weekend of canoeing and kayaking, and I plan to catch up on grading and lesson planning. Next weekend our girl comes home for the first time, and I'm excited!

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-up , the Hip Homeschool Hop, and Collage Fridays

Thursday, August 27, 2015

At the End of August

It's been a whirlwind month, with everything leading up to this moment:

Ten days ago, we dropped our daughter off at college.

We spent nearly 18 years preparing for this day. And we spent the whole summer preparing for this day. But you can never really be prepared for this day.

Laurel's dorm room, before and after.

Look at her. She's so happy, and I'm so happy for her.

I did fine when we left. It helps a lot that she is there with her best friend, and that her best friend's mom is one of my best friends, and that we are in this together.

I didn't even sob all the way home, like I did when we dropped off our firstborn. When we got home,  I put photos of our day on Facebook, and Randy and I watched our nightly episode of Friends. And then I went to bed and sobbed.

I woke up and pretty much sobbed on and off all day. Her room was empty. Her place at the table was empty. My little girl, my friend, my companion. My heart was empty. I was a complete basket case. Randy brought me flowers and wine and chocolates, because he is that man. I love him.

And then, the next morning, I was better. The next day was easier, and so on. We've moved easily into our new version of life. There are three of us here now, occasionally four when Jesse comes for dinner or to do his laundry. Three places at the table is quieter. The house seems bigger, and the van seems huge.

But everything is exactly right. She's where she should be, happy and, by all accounts and pictures, having a great time. She loves her classes, loves her suitemates, loves Nashville.

We've started back to school, and Duncan and I have quickly settled into a productive and enjoyable schedule. Co-op classes have started back, and by the second week, I didn't even miss seeing all my favorite seniors (who are now college freshmen) around. Much.

Duncan's first day of sophomore year

Bess and Laurel: first day of high school and first day of college

But this weekend? She turns 18 and we get to go see her. I can't wait!