Thursday, April 21, 2016

Monthly Wrap-Up

The end of the school year is so close. We're antsy. We're tired of pretty much everything. We just want to hike and hang out with our friends and just relax.

The countdown is on. Just two weeks left of our co-op classes, and another 3 weeks beyond that for Duncan to wrap up a few other things. Unfortunately, he has a looooooooong way to go in algebra 2, so he'll probably be doing that all summer long. Or at least, he'll be doing math when he isn't away at one of his camps.

Just 10 more days until our girl comes home from her first year at college. Comes home for the whole entire summer. She's had such a great year, but I sure have missed her. I can't wait to hang out with her all summer. She says we are going to be vegan for a few weeks while the guys are at camps, so I guess we can't eat ice cream and stuff while we watch Netflix.

Since I last posted, we did a few more hikes. Laurel was home for Easter—her first time all semester!— and we hiked 5 miles to and from the Walkers Sisters' Cabin.

Randy and I went away for our anniversary and hiked the Porter's Creek Trail for another 3.8 miles.

The bear was actually in Cades Cove. We were in our van—not out taking pictures of her!

And most recently, Randy led a wildflower hike for our homeschooling group's hiking club on the Chestnut Top Trail.
Fire pinks and dwarf irises

The big event in our county was that the Blue Angels came for the first time in 16 years to do an airshow. We live a couple short blocks away from the airport, so we had front row free seats. Man, was it every loud around here last week!! Jesse, our oldest,  works at the airport and had to work insane hours during the air show—16 hours each day. I think he's recuperated by now.

Duncan's great accomplishment is that he finished the last three Eagle required badges, so he can begin working on his Eagle Scout project this summer!

And that's what's been happening in our own Small World!

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hike 100: Cucumber Gap Trail

My guys are doing spring break with their Boy Scout troop in the Okefenokee Swamp, and my girl is on a mission trip in Mexico during her spring break, but I at least got to get a good hike in with friends.

I'm working on the Smokies Centennial Challenge, with a goal of hiking 100 miles in the Smokies in 2016. We needed a relatively easy trail, as we had a few younger kids and uncertain moms on the hike. The Cucumber Gap Trail at Elkmont was absolutely perfect. It's one of the few trails in the Smokies that is actually flat. I don't even know how that's possible, but it is—and it follows the river the entire time, which is always a bonus with kids.

The trail is an easy—and I do mean easy—2.4 miles. We turned around at the junction and headed back. I'd like to do this trail again in early June when the rhododendrons are flowering.

My total trial miles now are 9— I have a long way to go but still 9 months ahead, and the best hiking seasons yet to come!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Wrapping up February, Full Throttle into March

I turned 50!

Here's me. I'm 50.

Fancy birthday soufflé in Louisville

So bucket list.

Randy gave me a huge, amazing birthday surprise! He whisked me off to Louisville to see Bruce Springsteen—my last giant bucket list concert! It was a spectacular weekend with a fabulous dinner, the best breakfast I've ever had, and, well, Bruce.

Black and white dance

For many years, I had a bunch of teenage girls getting ready at my house before each dance. And then for a couple of years, I had Laurel getting ready and then picked up by her boyfriend. Now… I have a bunch of boisterous teenage boys with bow ties and suspenders. And they're really fun, too.

Admittedly, picking out a bow tie isn't nearly as much fun as picking out a dress, but they sure are hilarious.

Class field trip

I managed to pull off another major class field trip. I always feel such a sense of success when one of these comes together without any major glitches! This time I arranged for my literature classes to go to Nashville to see The Crucible at Lipscomb University. You know— where my daughter just happens to go! How awesome was it that Lipscomb was the only place within a several hour radius that was putting on The Crucible this year, when we read it in both my lit classes?

The play was fantastic. All the adults were stunned at the quality of the acting; in fact, we all agreed that it was the BEST stage acting we'd ever seen. And we've seen a lot of plays in a lot of places. Astonishing.

Best of all, I got to see my girl, if only for a few hours. I hadn't seen her in about 7 weeks! How did I survive??

About half of the students who went on the trip. The rest hadn't yet arrived or were wandering around campus.

Reunited!! Haley's a senior this year and got to see Laurel and Bess, who she was in my classes with forEVER.

The best part of the trip: seeing my girl and her boyfriend.

National History Day

And today was National History Day!

 Duncan and his partner did a website together. His partner wasn't able to come to the competition, so Duncan had to do the interview by himself. We had an early interview and then had to hang out for a few hours until the awards ceremony. We walked around downtown Knoxville and ate a lot. The boys didn't win, but we had a great day anyway and the experience was fantastic. I'm hoping Duncan will enter again next year.
The opening and closing ceremonies took place at the Tennessee Theatre.

Waiting on our first meal of the day at the Creperie.

Wandering around downtown.

Back to the Tennessee Theatre for the closing ceremony after a day of hanging out downtown.

And that's about it for this month. Just one more week until spring break, and I am ready!

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-up

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up: Snowy February

It's been quiet around here lately. Duncan worked furiously during the last week of January to finish his National History Day project by the Feb. 1 deadline, and then we basically collapsed for a day or so. He and a friend entered a website about the Battle of the Bulge, but what made it really interesting is that both of their grandfathers—now in their 90s— fought in the Battle of the Bulge. They had interviews with them, lots of photos, quotes, etc. It was a fantastic experience: the research, the interviews, and compiling the information into a website.  They'll go in early March to talk about the project and find out if they win anything.

Since then, we've been trying to catch up with everything that got totally ignored during the last couple weeks of January. We were so lucky to have two of our co-op class days canceled because of snow. It isn't that we don't like co-op—we love it, actually—but it's just so lovely to have an unexpected day off.

Yesterday, Duncan and I and my friend Caroline and her son took advantage of a snow day by heading down to North Carolina to ski at Cataloochee for the day. It was super cold (15 degrees) for us, but the snow was great and the slopes were lovely. And we were really proud of ourselves for being so spontaneous!

Duncan's been skiing on Sundays since January. Ober Gatlinburg, our closest ski resort, has a great package deal for homeschoolers. We've taken advantage of it for several years now with all the kids (and Randy and me too). This year, however,  just Duncan and his friend Patrick have been skiing. I think it's Duncan's favorite PE credit.

While Duncan was skiing last week, Randy and I went for an afternoon hike. It was a beautiful day in the 50s. We're both working on the Smokies Centennial Challenge to hike 100 miles in 2016. This was my first this year, so I have about 95 to go!

And not much else is new around here. I'm still adjusting to life with just one child at home, although Jesse stops by once a week or so for dinner and conversation. I miss my daughter fiercely, but I'm so happy that she's having a great college experience.

Next week I turn 50, and that's just weird. But I did laugh heartily when I got my AARP card in the mail.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap Up

Friday, January 22, 2016

American History Personal History Project

Teaching American History at our homeschooling co-op has been an incredible experience for me thus far this year. I'm co-teaching with a friend, and a third friend is teaching the government portion of the class. Since history is a full credit and government is a half credit, we focus on history for the majority of our class time each week (about 50 minutes), and she does government for 30 minutes.

At the beginning of first semester, we handed out the "Personal History Project" assignment to the students. We intended to have them do their presentations before Christmas break; however, we decided mid-semester to move the due date to January.

This past week, we heard the first half of the presentations. Students shared recipes (including biscuits with chocolate gravy--YUM!-- and a fantastic spinach/sausage soup; read interviews; and even shared stories they'd written about relatives. We've had so many messages from parents thanking us for doing this assignment—that they and their kids discovered all kinds of family history they didn't know about.

Below is the actual assignment. We created this largely from combining and reworking a couple of examples that we found on the internet. I am terribly apologetic to those teachers who originally created the assignments, but, as of yet, I haven't relocated the sources. Our students are in high school, but this can easily be used for a younger audience.


American History: Personal History Project

This project will be due on _____. You will be required to present ONE component of the paper to the class. For example, you might choose a recipe to make (from Part 2, option 2D) and share the food and the story with the class, or you might want to share Part 1, option 2A by bringing in the objects. You should plan on sharing for no more than 4 minutes in class.


There are three sections to your project.

1. Cover: Your project must begin with a cover that visually conveys something about you:  a collage, a drawing, a collection of family photos, etc.

2. The Tree (see directions below)

3. The Roots (see directions below

• each component should begin on a new page with the title at the top

• you may use as many illustrations, scanned photos, art work, etc. that you like

• all pages should be neatly stapled together (or otherwise bound) and turned in as one complete booklet.

The Tree

(You must do #1. You can pick one from the options in #2.)

1. The Day I Was Born: Research the day you were born.

A. Describe three significant events that happened on that day (200 words).

B. List:

• the music popular song that day

• the top three books on the New York Times Best Seller list for the date closest to your birthday

2. Choose ONE of these (either A or B):

A. Show and Tell: Choose five objects that reveal who you are, what your place is in your family, and/or that epitomize your family. For example, you might choose a pair of hiking boots if your family enjoys hiking together. You should take a picture of each object and include the photo and an explanation.


B. The Band: Choose a piece of music that could be your personal theme song. Copy down the lyrics (if it has lyrics) give the title, artist and then in two paragraphs explain why this piece of music is meaningful to you and what it says about your personality and beliefs.

The Roots

(You must do #1. You can pick three from the options in #2.)

1. Where I Come From: Complete a family tree. Illustrate, in whatever fashion you like, your family tree. A simple google search for “family tree template” will give you ideas. You can use a template or be creative and design your own tree. Include relatives back to (at a minimum) your grandparents. Include uncles, aunts and cousins. If you like, include significant family friends whom you would describe as being family. If you are adopted, include what you know about your biological parents (if anything) or focus on your adoptive family.  You will need to talk to your parents/others to find out this information.

2. Choose three of the following:

A. Interview your oldest surviving relative. If you can, do this in person. If impossible, you may do this by email, phone, or letter. You must ask at least 20 questions. You can use these questions and/or come up with your own.

Where did you grow up?

What were two highlights of your childhood?

Tell me about your best childhood friend?

Tell me a story about school?

Tell me about your first girlfriend/boyfriend?

 What was your favorite and least favorite subject in school?

Tell me a story about your senior year in high school.

What kind of training or college did you complete?

What has been your favorite job and why?

What has been the most interesting adventure in your life?

What historical event has made the most different in your life?

Explain how a technological invention has changed your life.

Who was most influential in your life as a teen? As an adult?

What do you like best about your family relationships?

Tell me about one of your family relationships.

Tell me about your favorite home.

What would you do differently?

What makes you most proud in your life?

What is your motivation when you get up in the morning?

You can write this as a story/essay or you can write it out in interview format. For example:

Question: Where did you grow up?

Answer: I grew up in Geneva, New York, a small town in upstate New York.

B. Family Trunk: Most families have storage places where old mementos are gathered. Explore your storage area, an old trunk or grandparents’ memory boxes or basements, a china cabinet, etc. and see what stories unfold when you discover and ask about certain objects. Choose two objects of particular interest and discuss what it is and why it’s significant in two paragraphs. Include photos of the objects. (250-300 words)

C. Traditions: Every family has important traditions. Choose a tradition and/or a holiday that is important in your culture and write one page describing all the elements of this custom or holiday. (250-300 words)

D. What’s Cookin’?: Choose a favorite family recipe and prepare it. Copy down the recipe, explain the origins of and/or stories about the recipe (e.g., “This was the only dessert my grandmother knew how to make”) and write a detailed description of your attempts to recreate this family masterpiece in the kitchen.

E. What’s Their Story? Pick a family member from your family tree and either tell a story about that member OR research the time period and write a fictionalized “day-in-the-life” story. This should be someone in a past generation, not you or your siblings/ cousins.


The students were given four minutes each to present some aspect of their project; however, most students took only about 2-3 minutes.

I'm so thrilled with this project Below are a few examples of what was included in their projects:

I enjoyed seeing everyone's family trees; this is Duncan's. One of my favorite projects in college was an extensive family tree for sociology—way back before was around!

These are samples from the "Show and Tell" component in the first section. I love the different ways that the students interpreted this.

Lots of students read interviews that they'd done with an older family member. So interesting!

Nearly every student shared a recipe—we have some great new ones to try!

This is one of my favorites. The page included photos of the tombstone, which had a beautiful poem on it written by his grandfather.

This is a fantastic project for history classes or for families to do! The stories captured within the pages are truly treasures, and having a teen make those connections to the past is invaluable.

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up: Back At It

The middle of the January comes as expected: dreary, chilly, and gray. I am thrilled that I have nowhere I must go today.

Not much has been happening these first couple of weeks of the 2016. We had a retirement party for our longtime Scoutmaster last week. There were loads of families there, including many young men who earned their Eagle rank under Shane.

The top picture is just a sampling of the guys who got their Eagle while Shane was Scoutmaster,  including Jesse on the far left. Most of the guys in the top picture are in college now (or, in Jesse's case, graduated from college). There are several more Eagle Scouts who weren't able to come to the party; our troop has a history of having the majority of boys earn that rank. The bottom picture is of past and current members, as well as past, retiring, and new Scoutmaster (Randy).

Laurel went back to college this past weekend. She had an awesome first semester. She not only adjusted to college life well, but she pulled a 4.0. I'm so proud of her. And I miss her.

Even though she's only three hours away, I'm not sure when I'll see her again. She's going on a mission trip to Mexico over her spring break instead of coming home— but I'm so excited for her to have this experience!

Duncan's back at all his regular school. For the week before Christmas break and the week afterwards, he only did algebra 2. Hours and hours each day of algebra 2. Although he's kind of a math guy, he was actually relieved to begin his co-op classes so that he didn't have to do so much math.

In American literature, we're reading short stories, starting with "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" and "A Jury of Her Peers." In American history, he's working on his personal history project, which is lots of fun, and also studying the Reconstruction. Government, of course, is all about the presidential election right now. We managed to watch the GOP debate for an hour last night before turning off the painful debacle. In biology, he's finally made it out of cells and DNA and into muscles and bones.

Duncan's also going to enter a National History Day project for the first time this year. He's working with a friend on a website. He has a lot of work today between now and the Feb. 1 deadline, but I think it will be a fantastic experience. More on that as he progresses.

I've been crafty lately. Honestly, all I want to do is sit around and be crafty while watching Netflix. I made this embroidery for Laurel's dorm room (I ended up taking out the white diamond in the middle):

And I made some bookmarks for my book club friends:

And I hosted a mother/daughter party in which we made these mixed media collages.

My friend has a business in which she goes to people's houses and leads them in making art.

I could do this kind of stuff all day.

But I can't. There's school to be done, a house to clean, meals to cook, parents to visit, and lots of chauffering to do.

And I don't wish away this time in my life for anything, even endless days of creating.

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The New Year Begins

Christmas is over already; the new year begins. It's cold finally. On Christmas Day we turned the air-conditioning on so we could turn on the fire place and wear warm fuzzy socks, in spite of the heat. It was 75 that day.

This evening sings of where our family is now. Duncan (15) and Laurel (18) are in the kitchen listening to Spotify (Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors right now). Laurel has bargained with Duncan that she'll make brownies if he unloads the dishwasher and puts the dirty dishes in. I hear murmurs from them every now and then, but they mostly work in companionable silence.

I've just returned from delivering a meal to my parents and visiting with them for an hour or so. Randy is still at his mom's. He's taken a meal and a bag of groceries to her. It's just where we are in our lives. Not too long ago, our evenings were devoted to reading to our three, giving baths, playing games, and doing the nightly toy pick up.

I'm OK with where we are now. Sometimes it's hard, like I know it will be in a few more days when Laurel heads back to college. I cry every time I see that little green VW bug pull out of the driveway to head back to Nashville.

But nights like tonight, I can bask in the sounds of brownie batter being stirred and dishes being rinsed. I can enjoy the last days of the Christmas tree, which normally would be taken down by now. (How can I resist her, "Can't you just leave it up for a few more days until I go back to college?") If I let myself think about it really hard, I could miss the smell of freshly washed little boy. I could miss a little girl in a green flannel nightie snuggled up next to me. I could miss my curly-haired eldest, sprawled out by the fireplace, reading.

It's a new year, a moving more solidly into the phase of young adult children who have their own lives. It's another year that I am tremendously grateful that I can visit my parents every day.

Brownies are baking. Everyone joins me in the living room. We're all on our devices—laptops, phones, PS4—and we call out to one another now and then. The dog curls beside us, in utter bliss that we are all here together. Me too, pup. Me too. It's a good place to be.

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!