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}

Friday, February 3, 2017

January in Review

1. Laurel went back to college: second semester of her sophomore year. It was hard for me to leave her there, but we had a lovely, long Christmas break. This semester will be an exercise in adjusting to life-after-studying-abroad. She's decided to add a second major (psychology) to her family relations major. It's a natural fit. She's taking 3 psychology/family classes this semester (lifespan, family, and social) plus a couple of her gen ed requirements. She also works 12 hours/week at an elementary school.

2. Dad turned 92. I am so blessed to be able to celebrate yet another birthday with my Dad. I love him so much. Here is is blowing out the candles with great-grandsons Rory and Soren, who shared his birthday cake. And the picture below is of our family's newest ping pong tournament champs: my Randy and my oldest nephew, Owen.

3. Duncan began his Eagle Scout project. His project involves mapping out all the veterans' graves at a large local cemetery. Over the course of two work days, he directed his fellow Scouts (several of them are in the second picture) to find, record, and mark on a map about 500 sites. The next step will be for him to put all of this into a database—and then to write up his project. So, step 1 is done!

4. Speaking of Eagle Scouts, this one submitted his application to graduate school today. He's been working for American Airlines for close to three years now, and he's ready to move on and back into academia for awhile. Don't ask about the large piece of equipment that he brought home. As one of my friends said, "They can graduate the boy out of homeschooling, but they can't take the homeschooler out of a man!" AKA: why let a perfectly good belt loader to to the junkyard when you can have it for free?

5. Bullet journal. Wow. The bullet journal is changing my life! Mine isn't as complex or as detailed as most of the ones I see on Pinterest, but it is working wonderfully for me. I got this blank calendar/journal in my Fair Trade Friday box several months ago, and it is perfect for the bullet journal concept. I have areas for exercises, notes, projects, movies to see, quotes, things I've learned, and, of course, to-do lists and calendar items. I love it.

 6. The Book Thief. Wow, I love teaching The Book Thief in literature class. I'm so excited that my class will get to do my Repurposed Pages project in just a couple of weeks. This is one of my favorite class projects ever, and I can't wait to see what this new crop of students creates!

7. Gatlinburg Fire Recovery Center. Our Appalachian Studies class volunteered at this huge warehouse in January. The place is overflowing with donations for families who lost their homes and businesses in the Gatlinburg wildfire. We had a group of about 30 and did everything from sorting clothes to helping shoppers. It was an amazing set-up, and seeing our community come together in this way is truly inspiring and affirming.

8. Winter campout. Duncan's Scout troop had its annual "winter" campout. Some years it really is cold; this year, not so much. Duncan's wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt in the photo below. Yep.

9. Book Club. We had our annual Book Club Getaway weekend and chose the books for 2017. Lots of good food and laughter with these wonderful friends of mine. Here's our book list!
February: Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
March: Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris
April: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
May: Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent
June: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
July: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
August:  Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
September: Mink River by Brian Doyle
October: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
November: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
December:  Ordinary Grace by William Krueger 
I had read the first one and the last three previously, but that's OK! I don't mind re-reading books if they are worth re-reading!

And... that's January all wrapped up. How was your month?

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

To-Be-Read {Updated for 2017}

*Indicates books added in 2017

41 False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm
Alena by Rachel Pastan
*All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
Americanah by Adichie.
Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg.
Aprons on a Clothesline by T. DePree
Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
*At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider  
At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told by Jody M. Roy, Ph.D.
*Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy 
Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Bastards by Mary Anna King
*Becoming Curious by Casey Tygrett
Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala (reviewed by Semicolon)
Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield.
*Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Blood of Flowers
by A. Amirrezvani
Blood Work
by M Connelly
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior.
Book of a Thousand Days by S. Hale
Book of Lost Things by J. Connelly
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Bootletter’s Daughter by M. Maron
Born on a Blue Day by D. Tammet
*Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
China Dolls by Lisa See
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. 
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eye Ward
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry
Commoner by J.B. Schwarz
Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
A Country Doctor’s Casebook by R. MacDonald
*The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale by Haim Sabato
Departed, The by K. Mackel
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by D. Gregory
Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter (reviewed by Lisa at 5 Minutes for Books)
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (The World As Home) by Janisse Ray.
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Executioner's Song by Mailer
Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Darie (reviewed at Maw Books)
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)
Family Nobody Wanted by Doss
Fatal Vision by J. McGinnis
Father, Mother, God: My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse
*Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah
First Wife by Emily Barr (recommended by Fleur Fisher)
Flowers by D. Gilb
Fortune Cookie Chronicles by J. Lee
Franklin and Lucy by Joseph Persico
Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith (reviewed by Leah at Good Reads)
Ghost Map
by S. Jackson
Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes 
Ghost Writer, The by J. Harwood
The Girl in the Italian Bakery by Kenneth Tingle
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hava: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (reviewed by Gautami at Reading Room)
High House, The
by James Stoddard
by John Hershey
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan C. Bartoletti (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
Hot Zone by R. Preston (reviewed by Semicolon)
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
*The House We Grew Up in by  Lisa Jewell
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (mentioned by The Magic Lasso)
Human Cargo by C. Moorehead
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams.
*The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (reviewed by Becky)
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab 
*Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh
The Invention of Wings by  Sue Monk Kidd
Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas
by E. Southwark
Keeping the House by E. Baker
*The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewed by Bookeywookey)
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (reviewed at Thoughts of Joy)
Last Storyteller by D. Noble
Leave it to Claire
by T. Bateman
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (reviewed by Literary Feline)
Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (reviewed at Maw Books and Just a Reading Fool)
Liar’s Diary by P. Francis (reviewed by Semicolon)
Life Among Savages
by Shirley Jackson (reviewed at Dwell in Possibility)
Life Is So Good
by R. Glaubman
* The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian. 
Lila by Marianne Robinson
Little Altars Everywhere by R. Wells
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher
Living End by L. Samson
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (reviewed at The Lost Entwife)
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Loving Frank by N. Horan
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Many Sleepless Nights
by Lee Gutkind
Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy 
Mariner's Compass by E. Fowler
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Mercy Falls by WK Krueger
*Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Minding the South by J. Reed
Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
Murder in the Name of Honor by Rana Husseini (Reviewed at Reading Through Life)
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
*The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
*The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
* The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
The Plague of Doves  by Louise Erdrich.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (reviewed at Reader Buzz)
A Pool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor
Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon (reviewed at Missy's Book Nook)
Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
Property by Valerie Martin (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Quaker Summer
by Lisa Samson
Quilter’s Apprentice
by J. Chiaverini
A Quilt for Christmas  by Sandra Dallas
The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
Reading Lolita in Tehran by
Azar Nafisi
Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson (Reviewed at Reading to Know)
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
The Rest of the Story by Phan Thi Kim Phuc.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Rises the Night
by C. Gleason
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books by Lynne Schwartz (reviewed on Shelf Life)
by Shactman
Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens
Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (reviewed by Just a Reading Fool)
Same Kind of Different As Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (recommended by Stray Thoughts)
*Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
Saving Levi Left to Die
by Lisa Bently
 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (Reviewed by Word Lily)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
*The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
Slaves, Women andHomosexuals by William J. Webb
 So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (reviewed at Polishing Mud Balls)
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf (reviewed at Maw Books)
Some Girls by Jillian Lauren (reviewed by Book Club Classics)
Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi
Song Yet Sung
by James McBride
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Donna Partow
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner:
Stillwater by William Weld
by John Williams (suggested by JoAnn at Every Day Matters)
The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump by Sandra Hempel
Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (reviewed by CaribousMom)
by M. Cabon
Teahouse Fire, The
by Ellis Avery
Stones Cry Out
by M Szymusiak
*Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittain (recommended at Musings)
There Are No Children Here
by A. Kotlowitz
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
by Alan Alda
Thousand Years of Good Prayers
by Yiyun Li
The Threadbare Heart
by Jenny Nash (reviewed at Maw Books)
Three Cups of Tea
by G. Mortenson
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
A Thousand Mornings: Poems by Mary Oliver
*Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Time Between by Mary Duenas
To My Senses by A. Weis (reviewed by J. Kaye)
Tomorrow, the River by D. Gray
Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
by D. Hari (reviewed by CaribousMom and Maw Books)
Trauma and Ghost Town by P. McGrath
*Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera
Uprising by Margaret Haddix (reviewed by Semicolon)
Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman (reviewed by Book Zombie)
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Well and the Mine, The by Gin Phillips (reviewed by Semicolon)
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
What I Though I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
What Is What by D. Eggers (reviewed at Maw Books)
What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
What Peace There May Be by Susanna Brarlow
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Reviewed at Big A, Little A)
When I Lay My Isaac Down by C. Kent
When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewalt
Wherever you Go by Joan Leegant (reviewed by Bibliophiliac)
Whistling in the Dark by L. Kagen
Who Killed My Daughter by Lois Duncan (Reviewed at Nonfiction Lover)
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
*Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Winter Seeking by V. Wright
Winter Walk
by L. Cox
Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (recommended at Rebecca Reads)
Women of the Silk by G. Tsuriyama
Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs (reviewed by Andi Lit)
Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes  

Friday, January 6, 2017

December in Review

I can't believe this is our last day of winter break! It seems like so much has happened in the past month. The holiday spirit started at the beginning of December when Laurel came home from her semester in Vienna! She had such an incredible experience, and it's been soooooo wonderful to have her home!
Laurel and her roommate, Madelyn, arriving at the Nashville airport from Austria!

Sadly for Laurel, her Christmas break began with getting her wisdom teeth removed. Our oldest decided he needed some sympathy, too, so he got 12 stitches as a result of a sword fight with his roommate. Don't ask. They're 20-somethings.

We had all kinds of fun with friends and family before Christmas, including a "60-16-50" party (right corner) to celebrate a friend turning 60 on Dec. 24, Duncan turning 16 on Dec. 15, and Randy turning 50 on Dec. 26. It seemed essential to mark this occasion with friends!

Christmas itself was wonderful. I just sometimes can't even believe I get to have all these wonderful human beings in my life. Laurel brought us all kinds of amazing gifts from her travels, which was kind of the highlight of our gifts.

A few examples of Laurel's travel gifts: pasta bowl from Italy, Opa and Oma mugs from Berlin, scarf from Prague

My kids were extremely cooperative, letting me do a photo shoot even though Jesse had been at work since 4 a.m. and really just wanted a nap.

In our family, Christmas lasts until 5 p.m.— and then it's Duncan's birthday. He turned 16, got his license a couple days later, and then inherited Laurel's car. The bottom pic shows him driving off on his first solo errand!

A few days after Christmas, we headed down to Charlotte for our annual Christmas/New Year's celebration with Randy's brother and sister-in-law. This time, however, we made a stop at the Biltmore in Asheville. We all gifted Randy's mom with a Christmas-at-Biltmore tour. It was beautifully decorated!

Randy's brother and his wife are the most wonderful, gracious people. We love to celebrate together, and this year was especially momentous because Randy, the little brother, turned 50. In his honor, Greg prepared an all-black meal.

Well, the potatoes came out lavender, but you get the idea! We always have a relaxing few days filled with lots of good food and laughter in Charlotte. It's a great way to end the year and bring in a new one.

And so 2017 is here and our lovely winter break is nearly over. Laurel heads back to college in Nashville tomorrow. We splurged today and got pedicures. It's lovely to have pretty feet on a cold and dreary day!

She's packing, and Duncan is enjoying his last day of freedom before all his classes begin again. He's taking all the same things as last semester: chemistry, world literature, world geography, trig, and Appalachian studies. We've also added in a world cultures class, which will fit nicely with his literature and geography classes. And probably the two biggest things for Duncan this semester will be taking the ACT for the first time AND… doing his Eagle Scout project. He's had his project plan approved and is now gearing up to actually schedule work days. His project will be creating a map of the veterans' graves and a large cemetery where his troop always places flags on the graves on Memorial Day. I'm exited for him as he begins!

And now… let the new year begin!

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016: Reads and Reviews

From my SmallWorld Reads blog:

I read 48 books in 2016—17 more than I did in 2015! I feel like I'm back on track with my reading. This was a terrific year in books. I probably have way more than 10 favorites, but I'll try to narrow the list down:

Top 10 Books Read in 2016

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
Inside the O'Briens (Lisa Genova)*****
Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Rachel Joyce)
Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)
Nightingale, The (Kristen Hannah)
Ordinary Grace (William Kent Krueger)
Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce)
Burgess Boys (Elizabeth Strout)
Commonwealth (Ann Patchett)

I'm having a lot of trouble picking my favorite book of the year, but I think I'm going to have to go with All the Light We Cannot See. But really, all the books in my Top 10 were incredible!

Book Club Review

One of the books on my Top 10 list was a book club book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), and four of them were books that didn't make this year's book club list! Other book club reads this year were:
Day the World Came to Town (Jim DeFede)***
Death at Wentwater Court (Carola Dunn)*
Geography of Genius (Eric Weiner)****
Lake House (Kate Morton)****
Learning to Swim (Sarah Henry)***
Me Before You (JoJo Moyes)****
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)**
War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Bradley(***)
Wild (Cheryl Strayed)****
World War Z (Max Brooks)**

TBR List 
I apparently only crossed off 11 books on my TBR list… although I probably didn't add very many this year. I've been adding more in Goodreads and forgetting to add to my blog's TBR. I also pin a lot of new titles on my "I Cannot Live Without Books" board on Pinterest. I have a huge stack of books that I bought over Christmas break at used book stores/thrift stores, but I've mostly been reading on my Kindle whatever TBR books are available on the E-Reads program from our library.

I liked how I reviewed books each month in 2016 rather than reviewing each book. I felt less stressed about getting reviews done. I set a goal of reading 50 books this year, and I'd like to add a few more nonfiction titles in this year. I think I only read a couple of nonfiction last year.

The Whole List
Below are all the books I read this year. My star-ranking system is as follows: 5 stars--absolutely must read; 4 stars--highly recommended; 3 stars--enjoyable; 2 stars--ick; 1 star--no, no, no.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Left

Facebook has that wonderful, terrible "On This Day" feature, and so I think a lot about how things used to be. "Nine years ago today" and I read about a hilarious discussion between my youngest, then six, and his friend. "Six years ago" and there is a photograph of my daughter, a new teenager. "Two years ago" and I'm reminded of when I took my literature class to see "Macbeth" in Atlanta.

And every day, "On This Day" remind me of life in a homeschooling family: co-op classes, exhaustion (those two were really paired together 99.9% of the time), projects, activities, and lots and lots of sweet, beautiful moments. {I'm a poet, remember?}

Those days seem long ago. My house is so quiet now, most of the time, anyway. Long gone are the sounds of Legos being dumped on the floor, shrieks of "STOP IT!!" and calls of "MOMMY!" Today, the dog stretches in the sunlight, cars swoosh by on the busy road, and my One Left turns a page in his chemistry book.

Here's what homeschooling looks like with One Left at home—and that one a fairly self-sufficient nearly 16-year-old.

He wakes up at 9:15 and watches an episode of something on Netflix while checking Instagram and Facebook.
I fix him an omelet. {NOTE: this is extremely unusual; however, necessity required me to be a good mom and fix breakfast because we're out of milk and he can't have his usual bowl of cereal.}
He gets out his spiral notebook, which lists his assignments for the week.
He reads today's chemistry assignment.
He reads a chapter of The Good Earth for literature.
He then says, "Can I take a 5-minute break?" {Note: only 50 minutes of school have elapsed so far.}
He gets dressed, and we go (he drives) to pick up his Eagle Scout project papers. While we're out driving, we decide to drive down to the Smokies to see what's going on with the wildfires. Also, Duncan still has 20 more hours to drive before he can get his license, so this seems like a great thing to do on a sunny day. There is a terrible fire spreading about 10 miles away.

We drove past it and then decide to take a hike up to the tower on the Foothills Parkway to see what we can see. And while we're there, I remember that just today, this picture (on the left) taken on up on the tower showed up on my "On This Day" from nine years ago. He was six. SIX. He's still just as sweet and not nearly as mischievous. I don't have to worry anymore about him climbing over the edge of the tower or sneaking onto the ladder that goes all the way up.

And so, a little drive turned into two hours, including a hike, a drive, and a talk about ecology. And some pictures, of course.

 These are my favorite kinds of days: the ones that start normal and take some out-of-the-ordinary turns.

And so we're back home now, and Duncan is back to reading. I have dinner cooking in the crockpot, and I've canceled my run, since we took a hike. In a little while, we'll go over his latest ACT practice test and then go visit my parents—probably play some cards with them. We'll eat supper with Randy and then head out to watch a movie (October Sky) with Duncan's Appalachian Studies class.

It's mostly a quiet life, these days.  I do miss the boisterous little people that once filled this house, but I enjoy this, too, and am so grateful for the one who's still left at home.

{And, although I know she's very sad to be leaving Vienna, I am pretty excited that my girl comes home from her study abroad in just 10 days! But here she is in Venice, because what's a blog update without a European picture?}

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Your Kids Should Study Abroad

The beautiful city of Vienna from the top of St. Stephen's Cathedral

OK, this post isn't really about why your kids should study abroad other than this: because if your kids are studying abroad, you should probably go visit them.

That's where I've been for the past month or so. No, I haven't physically been away that long, but mentally I've been preparing for our 12-day trip for weeks ahead of time.

Laurel is studying in Vienna with nearly 30 other students—including her best friend since childhood (Bess) and her roommate from college (Madelyn)— from Lipscomb University this fall. So... it seemed appropriate that Bess's mom, my dear friend Caroline, and I should visit them there. We've been planning this for six months, but we really started making our reservations just since August. We've had fun planning our trips, packing, getting our boys (who are both high schoolers) all set to make sure they did school while we were gone, etc. And then October 23 finally arrived, and we headed off to Europe.

We spent a total of four days in Vienna, two days in Salzburg, two days in Budapest, one day in Melk, one day traveling from Salzburg to Vienna to Budapest, and two days traveling to Vienna and back home again. I could easily devote a dozen blog posts to the trip, but here are just a few highlights.

First, here are the girls at the u-bahn (subway) stop which they use many times each day. This is the closest one to their house.

Add caption

Here are the girls at the American Institute, where they have most of their classes. They share this building with a dozen or so other universities.

And here we are eating käsekrainer (sausage stuffed with cheese) right from the stand right outside of their school, which is right by the Vienna Opera House.

The girls live 10 minutes away from the city center in a house with the other Lipscomb students as well as a dozen other students from a different university. Here are several of them cooking in the kitchen that they share.

So that's a look at their daily life: school, u-bahn, sausages, and their living quarters. We loved getting to peek into their lives a little bit, although for them, each day is different. They have classes generally Monday-Thursday and have weekends to travel.

Now… here is a short tour of what Caroline and I did in on our trip. Since the girls had classes most of the days we were there, we did a lot on our own. We toured the major sites in Vienna:

Inside the Vienna Opera House
Vienna Opera House

Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Hapsburgs

St.  Stephen's Cathedral

Top of St. Stephen's Cathedral

Albertina Art Museum

Walking back to their house via the Danube        

Sigmund Freud Museum (the girls live in this neighborhood)
We joined the college group and visited Vienna's Central Cemetery on Nov. 1, All Saints Day

Central Cemetery

 Besides spending several days in Vienna, we took a weekend trip with the girls to Budapest! Wow! Budapest was so interesting! We enjoyed the famous thermal baths, ate some interesting food, took the subway past the last stop, shopped at a gigantic indoor market, saw lots of beautiful buildings, and ended with a trip to the Terror House Museum— a history of communism in Hungary.

Budapest at night -- the building to the right of the Danube is parliament

On the famous chain bridge

Szechenyi baths in Budapest

Entering the Terror House museum

Caroline and I also spent two days on our on in beautiful little Salzburg. We did the 4-hour Sound of Music Tour (well worth it!), saw a stringed quartet at Mirabelle Palace, hiked to the fortress, saw lots of churches, and ate a lot of delicious food!

No caption necessary. Fabulous tour!
Yep, this is THE gazebo from the movie!
Love locks on the Salzsach River. The fortress we climbed to is in the background.

View of Salzburg from the fortress

And for our very last day, Caroline and I took a quick day trip to Melk to see the famous Melk Abbey, founded in 1089. It was beautiful, and we only got on the wrong train once!

Melk Abbey is still an active monastery today

Pretty little town of Melk
And that's a quick view of our trip. I have, of course, hundreds of photos from each and every day, and I'd like to think that someday in the future, I would write a post for each day. But until then…

When you still have your kids at home, read to them about the world. I highly recommend Jamie Martin's Give Your Child the World. When they are older, encourage your kids to study abroad. And then… visit them.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up