Friday, October 31, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up

This week wrapped up our long-anticipated, giant field trip to Atlanta's Shakespeare Tavern. I've been planning this trip to see Macbeth for my two high school English classes since mid-August. It takes a lot of preparation and organization to get 32 students from Knoxville to Atlanta for a 10 a.m. show. We had to find a place to stay overnight, because there was no way we were leaving at 4 a.m. to get there in time!

And this is just one advantage of going to a small, private college: you make lifetime connections. One of my professors—and also a former pastor of mine— in college now lives in Atlanta, and he cheerfully agreed to let us stay in his church overnight.
Our host in Atlanta, Dr. Jim Street

That was one big hurdle out of the way. Next I had to get parents to chaperone who were willing to drive, spend the night on the floor of a church, navigate Atlanta traffic, and keep track of 34 teenagers. I have the most awesome parents ever. And then there was the buying of tickets, ordering lunches, figuring out Atlanta's public transit system (MARTA), and planning a couple free things to do in Atlanta. 

The kids waiting for the MARTA train.

On the train. At least a couple of kids declared this the highlight of the trip.

I've gotta admit, I've been stressing about this trip. But it all came together beautifully.

These are the best kids in the world. I mean, really. The were fun, flexible, and had great attitudes. We ended up being 25 minutes late for the show, but the Shakespeare Tavern folks were kind enough to understand Atlanta traffic and hold the show for us. The play itself was great. We've been studying Macbeth for a few weeks now, so the kids all really knew the play.

After the play we took in a couple of Atlanta must-see sights: The Varsity Grill and Centennial Olympic Park. 

And then it was time to head back for the 4-hour drive home. As soon as we got back, I started hearing, "When can we do this again, Mrs. Small?"

I took an entire day to recuperate—I think we all did. And yep, I'd do it again.

Bur for now, it's back to business as usual.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up

Ah, October. All we really want to do in October is be outside. Summer's are hot and mosquito-laden around here. The real outdoor time is fall.

But this year October is also all about college and senior year. And rain. Lots of rain. Last week we visited the last college on Laurel's list, Lipscomb University in Nashville. It rained the whole way there and most of the time we were there.

Laurel thought she could check this one off her list and that her decision would be easy, with a different college winning out. But she loved it. I loved it, too. So did one of her best friends, although she is a junior and has another year to decide.

Lipscomb's prospective student day was top-notch—I was really impressed. I came away from the day without anything, anything negative to say about it. Well, except for the rain. But that wasn't the college's fault.

Now she's back to filling out college applications and writing essays, as well as studying for the ACT. And then, of course, she has to study for the two college classes she's taking this semester and her regular high school classes. She's kind of mentally exhausted.

Fortunately, there is a little time for fun.

Our support group has such an awesome teen group with around 250 kids ages 13-up. Laurel is on the student council, so she helps plan activities. Here she is at the back-to-school dance with her boyfriend and her best friends. You know. The ones she's been with since she was a teeny little girl. But we're not talking about that right now.

Duncan opted not to go, although, at 13, he could have. Dancing did not sound appealing to him.

Boy Scouts is much more appealing to him. He'd rather tie knots and hike right now, and I'm OK with that. Here he is getting his Life rank in Boy Scouts. If you're not schooled in Scouting, that means he has finished all his ranks but one. All he has left to earn now is his Eagle Scout. We're not in a hurry for that, since he's not quite 14; but I expect he'll have it around age 15.

And speaking of Scouts, we are also busy planning Laurel's American Heritage Girls Stars and Stripes ceremony, which is coming up in November. This is the picture I snapped for her invitations.

And speaking of snapping pictures, Laurel's senior picture photo shoot is coming up this weekend. We're super excited about that! I'm so happy for my sweet girl and all these good things in her life.

Oh, I should talk about school too. Actually, we took fall break all of last week. Or rather, Duncan and I took fall break. Laurel only had one day off from her college classes, and that was the day we went to Lipscomb. It was hard to get back into the swing of things this week. Because, well, we're back where we started: all we really want to do is be outside. And so, Duncan does geometry and then heads outside for a while. Or, while I'm in the shower, leaves me a note like this:

Both the kids are reading Macbeth in my literature classes. I'm taking both my 9th/10th and 11th/12th grade classes to Atlanta to the Shakespeare Tavern at the end of this month to see Macbeth. This is going to be a crazy trip, but lots of fun! I hope it will be a fabulous memory for all of us.

And that's about all that is happening in our small world.

Oh, except for this.

The tarantula molted.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to do life

Sometimes there is a sky so perfectly blue that I just want to wrap up in it, or drink it.

Sometimes the light hits the mountains in such a way that the trees glow, and I think about dreams and fairies and poetry and when my children were little and how sometimes I want to lose myself in those mountains.

Sometimes I walk the graveyard of an old church and think about all those broken hearts and those long lives and the really short ones, and I wish my mother would stop talking about where their burial plots are, and at the same time I'm glad she doesn't mind talking about it.

Because these two.


These two are my link to everything, my past and my future and my now. And every single time I make room for a day like this, I am simultaneously filled with joy and filled with dread, because this could be the last day like this with them. 

And how will that ever work? How will I navigate a world without being able to reach out and hold my mother's sweet, crooked hand and smooth down her beautifully soft hair? And how will I ever, ever, ever go the rest of my life without my father's gentle smile and his freckled knees?

I can't help but think of these things, even on a day like this—or maybe I think of things like this precisely because of a day like this, when my mother sighs a deep, deep sigh of joy and says, "I will always remember this perfect day, even if I don't have long to remember it."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up

Better known as "monthly wrap-up," that is.

I used to be such a good blogger. I'm a much better writer when I follow the writing adage "write every day" and yet…

I'm teaching two high school English classes at our co-op this year, and, honestly, I spend many of my morning hours—the hours when I used to blog—doing lesson plans for the classes. I have taught the 9th/10th grade British Lit before, although I am making a lot of changes this time around; but the class I call Classic Lit (for 11th and 12th graders) is all new. I have 42 students all together—21 in each class. Weeks like this past one, when both classes had an essay due, are killers.

But I love it.

In my British Lit class, we just finished with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. So I made a note last time I taught this to "call Sam." Sam's the chair of the English department at our local private college and a homeschooling father, and  his passion just happens to be medieval literature (which is not mine). I asked him if he would come and do a lecture on Sir Gawain, and he happily obliged with THREE. Yep, for three Wednesdays (our co-op day) in a row, he regaled my 9th and 10th graders with all things medieval and fantastic discussions of the poem. It was fantastic!

We've moved on to Shakespeare's Macbeth now. To begin the Shakespeare unit, I assign each student a topic relating to either the Elizabethan era or Shakespeare himself. They prepare about a 2-minute speech, and this way we manage to cover the basics in class without me lecturing for 45 minutes. And then we got into the really fun stuff: Macbeth.

In late October I'm taking both of my classes to the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta to see Macbeth, so both classes will be reading it first. My 9th/10th grade class had fun doing 60-second Macbeth this week. I told them the story briefly and then assigned them 9 parts with about 2 lines each that give a super quick version of the play. And, no surprise, everyone except the three witches and Macduff gets to die. On the floor, with much drama.

It was awesome. They had fun, and, at home, Duncan began reading Macbeth enthusiastically. That was my goal.

My Classic Lit class just finished reading The Odyssey, we've watched O Brother Where Art Thou?, and now we are also going to move on to Macbeth.  But between larger works this year, I'm having my students take a turn at teaching. I divided the class into 5 groups before we began the semester. Those are the groups that students go into when we do group work in class, and these are also their teaching groups. Each group was assigned a short story, and they are to take the entire 80 minute class to teach this story. They have specific requirements that must be met, but they have a lot of freedom within those requirements.

The first short story group was up this week. You know that particular satisfaction that comes when you have a great idea and then it actually turns out like you imagined it? Yeah, so that happened. These students were absolutely fantastic. They were well-prepared, organized, kept the class on track, moved along smoothly, really discussed the story, and had fun, too.

The teachers, feeling proud and relieved after their class

Their short story was Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge." If you know the story, the hats make sense as the perfect craft to do. (Doing a craft wasn't a requirement, but I loved that they did this.)

Yes, of course we made hats, too


I just love these kids. I love teaching, and I'm so grateful that we have an incredible support group with a large, thriving co-op program. It's interesting for me to look at this picture and see such a wide array of students. About half of them have been homeschooled since the beginning, and most of the others have been pulled out from either private or public school just in the last two years to homeschool. And they just all are so hilarious and really, really smart. I laugh a lot in this class.

So that's what is going on at our weekly co-op classes.

At home, we're falling into a nice weekly pattern. Laurel has dual-enrollment classes at Maryville College, our local  private college, every day except Tuesday, and she also has a full afternoon of co-op classes on Wednesdays. She seems to be adjusting well to college classes and balancing academics with her social life, too. She's just so self-sufficient. She knows what needs to be done, gets appropriately stressed out, does it, and moves on.  It's a busy fall for her with the ACT coming up in a few weeks and then college applications due soon after that. I'm not allowing myself to think too much about next year, though....

Duncan has made huge leaps in these first 6 weeks of school. At first he really struggled, especially in science, getting the main ideas of the text and answering the questions. Because, you know, he's never used a textbook until this year. But it only took a week or so to teach him about highlighting and noting key phrases, etc.  We've gotten into a good routine. I write out his weekly assignments in a simple spiral notebook, and he does most of his work with little input from me. The only class he's actually taking at home this year is history; everything else is done through co-op or in a small group setting.

And that's what has been happening in our home/school in these past few weeks. I'm looking forward to a beautiful October!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Once, she was this 9 lb. 9 oz. baby in a pink and yellow striped onesie who looked me straight in the eyes on the first night she was born. We were alone, the two of us, in my hospital room. She was in her bassinet right next to my bed, and she turned her head and held my gaze. I know she was looking deep into my heart, and sharing her heart with me. And she has held my eyes ever since then.

When she was a baby, I would come in to see if she was sleeping, just to peek at my beautiful baby girl, and she'd be lying there perfectly still, looking up intently at me. When she was older and she was a little anxious in a new situation, she'd catch my eyes across a room and just hold her gaze on me, steadily, willing reassurance.


I hope I have given it to her through the years. It is hard to be a confident, self-assured person, much less a confident, self-assured woman—and much, much less a confident, self-assured teenaged girl.

Reading my diary from 17 is like reading an actual stereotypical novel about teens: "I'm so confused.... I'm kinda bummed but I don't really know why … I'm on a diet …Love sure hurts when it's over … Things aren't going like I expected …I really think it's over between us … I hope things get back to normal … My friends are acting weird … We need to have a serious talk with ___; we've got to straighten her out!… I'm depressed … I'm excited … I'm not depressed anymore … It seems like all I ever think about is {insert boy}."


At 17, you're on the brink of the end of childhood—there is no denying that. At 17 you are thinking about the big things, about college and love and who you are and who you are going to be. You know by now there are some things you are just going to have to take a deep breath and do. But at 17 you're also just a kid, and you're thinking about shopping and having fun and ice cream flavors and about how confusing life is.

I like how Kathryn Stockett says it in The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” We all need to know that—we need to know that we are valuable and that we are doing things the right way and that we'll make it OK, whatever the "it" happens to be.

We need to know that we can catch someone's eyes across the room, and we know that the return gaze means "You're OK. We're in this together."

I'm so glad my daughter has people to be in this together with. Good people. People who love her and make her laugh and share her cake and blow out candles with her. I'm so thankful that she has adults who are invested in her life, friends that adore her, and a level of self-confidence that seems to be growing exponentially.


Seventeen is a good age to be, and it is a terrible age to be. Seventeen is angsty and perplexing, tearful and downright frustrating. But it is also a glorious time: a time of memory, a time when all your senses are incredibly acute. At 17 the smell of autumn and the feel of dry summer grass on bare feet lingers forever in your memory, and scenes begin to shape your life because they are scenes you will carry into adulthood—ones that carry a weight.


That is what I would give to my 17-year-old self that speaks still from the pages of a 30-year-old diary. You are doing OK, I would tell myself. You will make it through really hard stuff—much harder than waiting for that boy to call on a Friday night. You will be really, really happy—much happier than you ever could have imagined. And you will be so incredibly, outrageously blessed to someday have your own 17-year-old daughter, who is more than you ever could have dreamed about in your wildest imaginings.

Now, go forth and laugh a lot, and crinkle leaves in your hands, and wear a pretty dress just because. Go drive in the mountains when the poplars turn yellow, sit out by the lake and watch the sunset, and walk in the moonlight. Snuggle in your blanket and drink hot tea with a kitty purring next to you. Take deep breaths and pray for strength and courage every single day. And go to sleep every night knowing that a life of good things awaits you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Firsts and Lasts

 My last child's first day of high school.

 She and her first best friend and their  first day of senior year.

Their last first-day picture together.

Her first day of college classes (biology and German at our local private college)

My first child's first apartment. 

Not the last time they'll look at me and say "Are you seriously taking a picture of us?"

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Last Week of Summer Break

We've been super busy relaxing these past two weeks, our final weeks of summer break. There was a hike to Spruce Flat Falls with friends and kids. Our "let's do lots of hikes!" ended up being only this one hike, but still—it's one hike in the Smokies, one afternoon that we all got to breathe in the mountains and river.

There was a whole day of tubing on the river with our homeschooling group's teen group. That's Duncan on his third trip and Laurel and her boyfriend, Daniel, finishing up for the day. We moms put our chairs right on the river bank under a big, shady tree and talked. All day.

There was a weekend trip to Charlotte to visit Randy's brother and his wife in their new house—the one with a pool and hot tub. The kids each brought a friend, there was lots of good food (that's Randy and Cindy making pasta), a fabulous afternoon thrift shopping, and, most of all, we got to spend that one last weekend with some of our favorite people.

There was the big event of our oldest son moving into his own apartment.

And Randy and I woke up early on Wednesday morning to bike around Cades Cove. The 11-mile loop is closed off to car traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. It was a beautiful ride, although the fog obscured the views for the first half of it. We saw four bears up in trees, and bear spottings always enrich a trip to the mountains!


And there was a trip to the NASCAR speed park in Pigeon Forge as a final end-of-summer trip for the boys. This is one of those touristy things that we rarely do—Duncan has done it once before as part of a field trip—so this was a big deal to the boys. They had a blast (that's Duncan and Emery below), and Diane and I got to spend a whole day just talking. 

We still have a tubing trip and a camping trip planned for later this month, but our co-op classes start back on Monday, so this is the last official week of break for us. I'm not ready, but I never am.

Still: full steam ahead!

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