Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: A Year of Living Well

December 31, 2006


Scrolling through my archives for my entry one year ago, I was amazed to see that I actually managed to record a month-by-month summary of the year. I don't have it in me this year. To go back and piece together the days and activities seems like too much work. Instead, I will call this simply a year of living well--a year of healing, freedom, and joy.

The healing comes mostly in our church life. Previous years, especially 2005, were tumultuous, usually gut-wrenching and extremely painful. And yet it's amazing how even a tiny bit of expectation can keep one coming back. All of our years of struggle have finally settled into something good. A year ago this week, we were introduced to our potential new minister, and shortly thereafter, he was voted in with 100% agreement by our congregation. Unity itself was a word that, until then, was foreign to our congregation. With our new minister came healing. The day that Jesse was baptized, March 26, brought it all together: our new minister's first day, our interim minister's last Sunday, and the day that our former minister and his family--precious friends of ours--moved to Indiana. Randy baptized Jesse; my father presided over his first communion; and old became new in so many ways. Throughout the months since then, the healing has continued. In the summer, a prayer was answered nearly immediately. I began to pray that a family would come into our church that would be good friends for Randy and me, and I continued my prayer that the Lord would send a friend for Laurel at church. Who knew that the answer was right in front of me? As I told my friend Tammy of this one hot day while we watched our children play, she said, "We are looking for a new church." They've been coming ever since, and we are still amazed every week when we look at the pew next to us and see our sweet friends. So the healing continues, as does the sense of expectation. Beauty from ashes.

The freedom comes in two parts: finances and responsibilities. A year ago we began Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover in earnest, and the freedom that comes from being financially responsible is amazing. No longer do we nervously write checks or pull out the credit cards with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Taking control of our finances is the most freeing action we've ever taken. The second part of the freedom comes from giving up so many responsibilities this year. For years we've taught Sunday School and been Small Group leaders, and I've been in double leadership in our support group: as part of the council and as part of the enrichment team. In the summer I turned in all my badges except for American Heritage Girls--and I've been relishing this shedding of skins.

And the joy seeps through the whole year. Joy in my sweet children in so many ways. Joy in my marriage. Joy with friendships that just keep getting better and better. Joy in my parents, and in the deep blue of the mountains in the mornings. Joy in this season of life, when sweetness is tangible and prolific, when one child still needs his bruises kissed, when another wakes you with the smell of coffee she's learned to brew, and when one joins the adult table for conversation, crossing easily from child to young man. Joy in simply living this good life.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Waiting

December 30, 2006


It is the vigil you keep as you wait for death. The family alternates between moments of silence and longer moments of storytelling. The memories fly fast, son (Uncle Rich) and grandsons (Randy and Greg) adding different dimensions to the stories, fleshing them out. Grandpa mostly sleeps, but awakens every now and then at some of the louder laughter, chuckling himself and falling back asleep with a smile. Sometimes he wakes and his eyes search, unfocused but still so blue. He sees you and holds out a hand, smiling. His son holds a cup of steaming coffee to his father's lips, and the memory of Grandpa and his nightly coffee mixes with the reality of this last coffee held with such love to these old lips. It is almost too much to bear. When you kiss him goodbye and brush the lush white hair from his forehead, you think, "This is the last time."

Still, there is tomorrow. He is waiting now--we all are. At some perfect moment, the time will come and he will go peacefully with a smile. And it will feel as if the whole world should stop in memory of this one monumental man.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Duncan's Read-Aloud Chapter Books, 2006

December 26, 2006


• Ramona the Pest
• The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
• Pirates Past Noon
• Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
• Several Boxcar Children books
• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
• Charlotte's Web
• Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims
• The Wizard of Oz
• The Hundred Dresses
• Peter Pan
• My Father's Dragon
• Mummies in the Morning
• Five True Dog Stories
• Dolphin Adventure
• The Apple and the Arrow
• Mr. Popper's Penguins
• Cricket in Times Square
• Pippi Longstocking

Laurel's Reading List, 2006

December 26, 2006


• The Kidnapped Prince
• Escape Across the Wide Sea
• A Murder for Her Majesty
• The House Without a Christmas Tree
• Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims
• Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing
• Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
• Double Fudge
• Christy (series), Books 1 and 2
• The Hundred Dresses
• The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
• Jess
• Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
• Happy Birthday Felicity
• Hitty: The First Hundred Years
• Kirsten Saves the Day
• The House Without a Christmas Tree
• Voyage of the Dawn Treader
• The Last Battle
• The Silver Chair
• The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
• Phoebe the Spy
• Changes for Molly
• Molly Saves the Day
• Best Friends Get Better (Ballet One series)
• Ellen Tebbits
• Molly's Surprise
• Molly Learns a Lesson
• The Happy Hollisters
• Dozens and dozens of Babysitter's Little Sister series
• Kids in Mrs. Coleman's Class (2 books)
• Felicity's Surprise
• Ramona and Her Mother
• Meet Felicity
• Felicity Learns a Lesson

Jesse's Reading list, 2006

December 26, 2006

Here's a lot of what Jesse read in 2006. I know I missed loads of books he's read because he reads them so fast, but this certainly hits the bulk of them. He says his favorites were Into Thin Air, The Broken Blade, and Inside Intel but that most of them were good.

• The Climb
• Into Thin Air
• The Sherwood Ring
• The Kidnapped Prince
• Escape Across the Wide Sea
A Murder for Her Majesty
• The Broken Blade
• In Search of Honor
• The Arrow Over the Door (he didn't like this)
• The Outsiders
• Escape (Houdini biography)
• Geronimo (biography)
• Armageddon's Children (Terry Brooks)
• Inside Intel
• Stow-away
• The Iron Peacock
• Julie of the Wolves
• The King's Fifth
• Going to the Sun
• Flame Over Tara
• The Last Battle
• The Silver Chair
• Augustus Caesar's World
• The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
• The Trojan War

• The Visitation
• The Shakespeare Stealer
• Nightmare Academy
• Monster
• Luther (he didn't like this)
• The Second Mrs. Giaconda
• Shadow of a Bull
• I, Juan de Pareja
• Catherine, Called Birdy (he didn't like this)
• Adam of the Road
• The Great and Terrible Quest
• 1984 (re-read)
• The Samurai's Tale
• Otto of the Silver Hand
• Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass
• The Beduin's Gazelle
• Through the Desert Gates
• Bill Gates: Biography
• Black Horses for the King
• The Bronze Bow
• The Last Battle (re-read)
• The Silver Chair (re-read)
• Prince Caspian (re-read)
• Eldest (re-read)

December 26, 2006: Lordy, Lordy, Dr. H. is 40!


And in honor of your monumental milestone day, here are 40 reasons why I love you, Dr. H....

1. You wear Hawaiian shirts to work.
2. You are the nicest person I’ve ever known.
3. You do the crossword puzzle every night.
4. You play guitar in the bathroom while Duncan has his bath
5. Not only do you have your own blog, but you take your daily journey through all our friends’ blogs.
6. You yell at the football players on TV as if you really believe they can hear you.
7. You wave to people in parades and yell greetings to the participants (e.g., “Merry Christmas” or “Happy 4th of July!”
8. You are brilliant.
9. You abide by the maxim: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
10. You are adept at using all kinds of colloquialisms, such as “Don’t take long to look at a horseshoe,” “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” and “Looks like they opened up a new box.”
11. You are gifted with knowing how to do small talk.
12. You always make people feel at ease.
13. You can talk about U.T. football one minute and genetic coding the next.
14. You’ve been wearing our engagement earring for 18 years.
15. You fold laundry every night.
16. You make the best guacamole.
17. You read The Lord of the Rings trilogy every couple of years.
18. You listen to whiny chick music even though your grad students make fun of you.
19. The right snack food makes you so happy.
20. You are kind to animals.
21. You love to read.
22. You are an amazing discussion leader/teacher.
23. You cook Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for my entire extended family with a smile on your face.
24. You take the dog out every night.
25. You learned how to play my family’s traditional card game.
26. You think homeschooling is awesome.
27. You do the grocery shopping when I need it most.
28. You know what food is in what aisle at Walmart.
29. You’ve taken over algebra with Jesse.
30. You treat our daughter like a princess.
31. You treat me like a princess.
32. You sometimes enter commitments reluctantly (e.g., being a deacon), but once you’re there, you take the situation seriously and do your best.
33. You fill up my van with gas.
34. You want to go to a hockey game on your birthday because it’s an adventure.
35. There is almost nothing you love more than to be in the mountains.
36. You worked your butt off in graduate school so that you could get us a job here.
37. You joined the Dave Ramsay bandwagon.
38. You’ve taught me more about what it means to be Christ-like simply by your actions than I’ve learned in 40 years’ worth of Sunday School, VBS, sermons, Christian college, and Bible study groups.
39. You are a spectacular father, and you are always willing to learn more and evaluate, and adjust your parenting skills.
40. You love me with all your heart and soul.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Dec. 25: Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!



Happy 6th Birthday to Duncan James (you can read his birth story here)! The bad thing about having your birthday on Christmas Day is that you get a slice of pumpkin pie with a few candles for your birthday "cake," squeezed in between Christmas dinner and evening games. The great thing about having your birthday on Christmas Day is that 1) you get to share your birthday celebration with the Greatest Gift of all; 2) there is no way that YOU can ever be topped as the best earthly Christmas present ever to your parents and siblings and 3) you get to have your whole extended family there to celebrate. So here are the folks that helped us celebrate Christmas--and Duncan--today:

The matriarch and patriarch: my Mom and Dad, Cindy and Jim



Brother #2, John, and his wife Sharon



Their oldest daughter, Esther (26) and her boyfriend, Jimmy



Their younger daughter, April (23) and her husband, Jeremy



Brother #3, Peter (his wife Nancy didn't make the photos, but she was there!)



Their daughter, Ellen (24) and husband Justus



Their first son, Owen (20)





Their middle son, Isaac (14)




Their youngest, Seth (10)




And of course Jesse





and Laurel



Randy and I were also present and indeed hosted this grand celebration, but it seems we always forget to take pictures of each other. Missing in action are brothers #1 (James) and #4 (Stephen), who are both in New York, and--much to the dismay of Laurel and Duncan--Jeremy's kids, Carena (8) and Xavier (5).



My parents gave my kids this air hockey table for Christmas....


and it was occupied every single minute of the day by some combination of cousins, uncles, aunts, or even grandparents. (And no, we're not leaving it permanently in the middle of the living room.)


Other festivities (besides eating) included our annual Family Bunko Extravaganza, basketball games, and marshmallow gun fights in the driveway. At long last, the company is gone and children are in bed-- Duncan with a fistful of new action figures, Laurel in her new jammies with her new pillow, and Jesse with his new iPod docking station. Randy's settled down to football and I'm about to put my feet up and read a good book. It's been a good day in SmallWorld.

Dec. 25, 2006: Merry Christmas!



For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)


May your Christmas be filled with joy and blessings!

From the residents of SmallWorld

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ed's Applesauce Cake

December 23, 2006

For the past 5 years in the days preceding Christmas, I've enjoyed a cup of coffee and a slice of Ed's Applesauce Cake for my breakfast. Ed was a post-doc in Randy's lab several years ago when he began presenting Randy with an applesauce cake as a Christmas/birthday gift. Unfortunately for Ed, he's still a post-doc (although now in a different lab), but fortunately for us, he still gifts us with the annual cake. This is one of those great, dense cakes--dare I say that it somewhat resembles a fruitcake, but without those creepy candied fruits? It's truly fabulous with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. Also makes a great last minute gift!

Ed's Applesauce Cake

1 box light brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
2 cups raisins
2 cups chopped nuts (pecans and/or walnuts)
1 can applesauce, heated

Cream sugar and butter until light and creamy. Beat in eggs. Sift dry ingredients together (set aside a little flour and add to nuts and raisins to keep them separated), and gradually add into butter mix. You may need to add the applesauce partway through. Finally add nuts and raisins. Bake in greased tube pan at 300 for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dec. 19, 2006: Party Boy


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This past Saturday was Duncan's 6th Birthday Bash. This year he wanted to have a soldier party. After distributing dog tags and hats and painting camoflauge faces, Captain Opa and Sergeant Randy let the recruits through basic training. Learning how which is RIGHT and which is LEFT was the hardest lesson. Other events included an obstacle course, tug of war, and trench jumping. We were blessed with the perfect day: 70 degrees and sunny in the middle of December.

As always, Duncan thinks that, because he has had his birthday party, he is now 6 years old. He's always so surprised when we celebrate yet again on Christmas Day evening!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dec. 18, 2006: Monday Memory: First Christmases

Because next Monday I'll presumably be too occupied to sort through photos and find the right ones, I've dedicated this Monday Memory to the kids' first Christmases. It was fun to go through the albums and visit each of their firsts and to see how we've all changed...

memory2

Jesse's first was in 1993, when we were living in Oxford, Ohio. Randy was nearly done with his master's degree from Miami University. In this photo, we are at Randy's parents' house over the border in Greensburg, Indiana. Jesse was the first grandchild on that side of the family and received 121,492 gifts. A few days after this, we travelled down to Tennessee to spend Christmas with my family. Jesse got an ear infection.

memory3

Laurel was not quite 4 months old for her first Christmas in 1997, and Jesse was 4 1/2. We were all by ourselves in Ames, Iowa, 10 hours from our nearest family. In some ways those were very precious days, just the four of us, all covered in Iowa snow.

memory1

Duncan's first Christmas was quite literally his birthday. He was born Christmas Day, 2000. Laurel was 3 and Jesse was 7 1/2. This photo is actually taken on December 31--the first day that the kids actually got to meet their baby brother. Duncan had been in the NICU (meconium aspiration) until the 31st, when we got to take home this amazing Christmas gift.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Dec. 8: Today's the Day

I've been saying this all week, but I really mean it: today is the day we are getting out the Christmas decorations. I've been doing it in dribs and drabs all week, but now I'm ready to really delve in. I just haven't felt ready yet. It is difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit sometimes living in the South, when the skies are blue and sunny and the roses still linger on the bushes. (Granted, after a cold spell this week, the roses are frozen on the bushes and quickly turning brown, but still...) A flake or two of snow would certainly help. The kids are certainly ready, though. Duncan's been playing with the Playmobil nativity set this morning, and Laurel created this amazing gingerbread house at a birthday party last week:

l-house1 l-house

I'm going to get down the big box of decorations now; I really am... (and yes, that is a black eye that Laurel is sporting in the photo. Little girl + spinning on kitchen floor + corner of counter=BAM!)

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Dec. 7, 2006: On Christmas Programs and Shell Shedding

I love to see a whole sanctuary filled with homeschooling families. Our support group had its annual Christmas program on Monday. Laurel performed with her Hebrew dance class (below). I missed the colorful costumes they have always worn in the past, but it was still beautiful.

bhea7
(Photo by Lynn Freeny)

Her second performance was in a play put on by her drama class. She had a long passage from Luke to speak, which she did in her angelic little voice. Here's the cast at the end, singing "Joy to the World."

bhea12
(Photo by Lynn Freeny)

It's amazing to see my daughter--who was once so shy that she literally hid behind me--who couldn't even raise her eyes to say "hello" to people--stand calmly in front of over 100 people and confidently recite her piece. Although this isn't the first time she's done this--even two years ago we recited as a family at church and at the Christmas program--it still delights me to see her tossing away her shell and stretching.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

December 5, 2006: Sharing Childhood


I love the part of parenthood that allows one to re-live certain childhood favorites. For Laurel and me this past week, it's been reading the book and then watching that long-ago perennial favorite, The House Without a Christmas Tree. This was probably my favorite Christmas special, although I did love the tragedy of The Little Match Girl. It's probably been close to 30 years since I last saw this story of determined and fiesty Addie Mills and her struggle to get a Christmas tree and understand her father , but I remembered it clearly. I was also amazed that the movie--scenes and dialogue--follows the book verbatim almost 100% of the time. We borrowed this movie from our library, but I think we might have to add it to our collection of Christmas movies. Next, I'm hoping to re-read Elvira Woodruff's The Christmas Doll to Laurel. There's nothing like a good orphans-turn-happy story to get one in the Christmas spirit!

Monday, December 4, 2006

Dec. 4, 2006: Monday Memory: Our First Dog

danddaisy

This isn't a very old memory today. One year ago I read on Gena's blog that she had a bunch of pig-like puppies that she needed to get rid of, and this just happened to coincide with Christmas and with us being finally ready for a dog of our own. Daisy was too young to actually have on Christmas Day, so we gave a picture of her to the kids. We brought her home the second week in January. In the picture above, Duncan is holding her that first day. Back then, the cat looked huge compared to her. Now she is somewhere around 50 lbs. (That's Daisy and Laurel today in the photos below.) She is an incredibly sweet dog, although she does have a piercing bark at times. I'm very glad that we took the plunge. Seems like our family menagerie is complete now, with three kids, a dog, a cat, a hamster, and a tarantula. Too bad we lost Goth, the-fish-who-just-wouldn't-die, sometime this past year... (and no, Sarah K., we do not need a snake!)

l-daisy l-daisy2

Friday, December 1, 2006

How Many Events Can We Cram into the Next 24 Days?

December 1, 2006

This is just a small selection out of the tremendous number of events that are presented in the Knoxville/Blount County area in the month before Christmas. My mom and I love Christmas events. She and my Dad are probably doing all of these things with us plus more, because they have to factor in my brother and his kids and their various performances, as well. We're missing a couple of my favorite events this year: The Festival of Joy at Johnson Bible College and....Dollywood. For the first time in a few years, we don't have season passes. I don't mind a year without freezing feet, though!

We've already done the first two events, and the rest are yet to come. Throw in a few birthday parties (including our Christmas Boy's!), a couple of dinners, the excursion to the Christmas tree farm and ensuing decorating, and three Boy Scout events, and our December is looking pleasantly celebratory. Dr. H. is probably feeling twinges of stress as he reads this. He would prefer to sit at home and drink wassail, but he's almost always a good sport when it comes right down to it...
• The Nutcracker. We went for the somewhat abbreviated version in Oak Ridge this year. The cast was loaded with homeschoolers, including some good friends. Very enjoyable and not as long as the Appalachian Ballet Company’s performance.
• Pioneer Christmas at the Thompson-Brown House. Dec. 1, 11-2. This was an open house at this 200-year old log house. Lots of food and nice old-fashioned decorations. We were inspired to decorate with strings of popcorn/cranberry/sliced oranges. FREE.
• Maryville Christmas Parade. Dec. 2, 11 a.m. This is probably the kids’ favorite because of all the candy that parade participants toss at the bystanders. They end up with sacks of candy. Is this a Southern thing? We never got candy at parades in New York. We particularly enjoy the Shriners in their midget cars. FREE.
• Christmas at Ft. Loudoun. This is a "Living History/Garrison Weekend" featuring an authentic 18th Century Christmas. We’ve been meaning to go to this for six years. Saturday evening is highlighted with a candlelight tour of the Fort (weather permitting) and concludes with a night firing of the cannon. Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. - 7 p.m.( for candlelight tour) and Sunday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Fort Loudoun State Historic Area. FREE.
• Live Nativity at Maryville Greenbelt Pavilion, presented by First Baptist Church. December 2 & 3 at Presentation starts every 30 minutes from 6:00 pm-8:30pm (lasts approx. 20-minutes). Refreshments served. FREE.
• BHEA Christmas Program, Dec. 4, 7 p.m. Laurel will be performing in a play and with her Hebrew dance class.
• Happy Birthday Jesus party at church, 10 a.m. Duncan’s the only one left who is in the right age group for this, and I think this is his last year...
• The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at Pellissippi State’s Performing Arts Center. Dec. 8, 9, 10, 7:30 p.m. If only I could figure out just how to get tickets for this. The number in the paper appears to be wrong…
• The Living Christmas Tree at Thompson-Boling Arena, presented by Sevier Heights Baptist Church, the Dad2Three family, and the BrownSugar family. This is Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Dec. 9, 10, and 11), but we’re going on Sunday afternoon. FREE. (And am I ever going to be glad when my friends are done with all those durn rehearsals!! They are really cutting into our social time!)
• American Heritage Girls Fall Awards Ceremony, Tuesday, Dec. 12.
• AHG Mother/Daugther/Grandmother Christmas Tea, Thursday, Dec. 14.
• BHEA Christmas ornament/cookie exchange, Thursday. Dec. 21. Hopefully Dad2Three will resist coming in drag. We know how much he enjoys such events.

Today we put up our new advent countdown. I'd post a picture but SOMEONE used up all the battery power in the digital camera. So, we bought 25 little stockings and mittens from the Dollar Store (they were 50 cents each), and strung them up. They will be filled with a Scripture reading as well as a little treat for each child. The kids get to take turns taking down the stocking, reading the verse, and distributing the treat. And now I must return to my baking. The day is still bright and sunny, but yesterday's winds blew in the cold weather, so I'm baking batch #2 of Christmas cookies.




Your Christmas is Most Like: A Very Brady Christmas



For you, it's all about sharing times with family.

Even if you all get a bit cheesy at times.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy Dave Ramsey Anniversary to Us!

decal_no_debt_lg

It’s been one year since we began actively implementing Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover program. In this past year we have completely and radically changed how we handle money. The result: in one year we have paid off a whopping $11,113. We have a long way to go (7 years of student loans will do that to you), but we are one year closer to calling Dave and yelling, “WE’RE DEBT FREE!” That is going to be one awesome day in SmallWorld.


So what have we done? First of all, we both read Total Money Makeover. Then we began with Baby Step #1:
• $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund.
And during this past year, we have used that emergency fund for car repairs (twice), a new dryer when the old one finally bit the dust, a new dishwasher (ditto), and oven repair. For all of those things, we paid CASH (which means that we had to replenish the Emergency Fund on several occasions).

Next, we began tracking all of our expenses and created a budget a la Dave Ramsey. After tracking our expenses for a few months, we began using the envelope system for everything except for those bills we pay by mail. This has helped us with Baby Step #2:
• Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball.
Dave’s system is to pay off the smallest debts first so that you feel successful. It really does work. We paid off several small debts and our van. We have two more debts slated to be paid off in the next few months, and then we can tackle the Biggie (AKA, the student loan). It may be a long time until we get to the next several steps (although we do have some college funding going for the kids):
• Three to six months of expenses in savings
• Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
• College funding for children
• Pay off home early
• Build wealth and give!

So while we still have a long way to go, we have absolutely gotten a taste of the financial freedom—and it so, so delicious. We are about to celebrate our second CASH ONLY Christmas. We have not put anything on a credit card in a year. We planned and budgeted for all of our travels this past year. Randy taught a class this past summer to earn extra money, and, besides my regular teaching at our support group’s enrichment classes, I have been blessed with a regular proofreading job (thanks, Ang!) that satisfies my yearning for a little something extra every now and then. We did not squander away our income tax refund or Randy’s summer salary. Most of all, we have not accumulated any new debt. We changed our behavior, and the fruit has been abundant. I am looking forward to this time next year, when we are even closer to knocking out that nasty debt.

The Clock and the Calendar

November 29, 2006

“We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.”
—H. G. Wells (1866–1946), English author

I love this quote. I wish I could make it one of my life mantras. I'm a pretty laid-back person, but I certainly can't deny that sometimes (OK, frequently) I hurry through certain activities to get to the next activity. I don't take enough time to just sit--with my younger two, especially--and just breathe. As December approaches, our calendar actually slows down as normal activities take a break. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks, taking time to revel in the small moments.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday Memory: Milligan College

ariel

I spent four years at Milligan College, but it seemed like a lifetime. How can so much life happen in just a few years? Why is it that I can remember all kinds of details about events or just daily life from my college years, but I can't even remember how we spent New Year's just last year? Why can I remember an outfit that some random person wore in the cafeteria in 1987, but I couldn't even tell you what my kids are wearing today or what I wore to church yesterday? Why can I remember exact conversations in the lobby of our dorm but can't remember if I told Randy about what's coming up this weekend?

It's as if those college years were in slow motion and in brilliantly colored, intricate detail. I loved my college years. I loved my college--a small, liberal arts college nestled in the hills of Upper East Tennessee (now known as Northeast Tennessee). People always wonder how I ended up in Tennessee, having been raised in upstate New York. Milligan brought me here. It is one of the largest colleges that is supported by the our particular church, and one of the few that is specifically a liberal arts college rather than just a Bible college. Three of my four brothers attended Milligan, and for me it was basically a matter of attending Milligan or attending Cornell University, where my Dad was a professor. Because I wanted out of New York State, Milligan was the obvious choice.

Many of the best things in my life happened at Milligan. I met a group of incredible friends, and we shared countless adventures and growing experiences. We are still all close friends today, although we see each other rarely. I had amazing professors, who showed me a much bigger world. I fell in love with Tennessee and the mountains. I discovered that God is much bigger than one-dimension. And, most of all, I met the love of my life.

Would I send my kids there? In a heartbeat. If they could take away from their college years nothing but solid, lifetime relationships, then I'd consider that four years well spent.

The Thieving Child, Part 2

November 27, 2006

So here's how we handled our lying, stealing, etc. child. We enjoyed reading responses and were reassured that our parenting techniques fall into line with so many others'. (Yes, I really do think there should be an apostrophe there, because it should be others' parenting techniques.) ANYWAY. Duncan spent about 3 hours cleaning his room on a beautiful Saturday. (This included time spent cleaning out the register/duct.) He is not allowed to have candy or gum for 2 weeks, and he has to pay for the items that he took for the reward bag. This totals less than $4, but for a child who gets 50 cents/week in allowance, that's a lot of money. He spent the rest of the day helping his Daddy with chores. Probably more than anything, he endured a day of being emotionally separated from us. He knew we were angry and disappointed, and I hope that will be more of a lesson than anything else.

So hopefully Dad2Three won't be writing an article entitled "Where will Duncan pee next...."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What to do with a Lying, Cheating, Stealing, Vandalizing Child?

November 25, 2006

Yes, Dad2Three, it's Duncan again, back with crimes more heinous than ever. I'm really not joking here, although I imagine that some day--far, far in the future--we will indeed chuckle over this. The crimes, all discovered in the past hour, are as follows:
Stealing: Entered our bedroom at some point Thanksgiving afternoon and took 2 toys from the "reward bag." Lying: Told his brother and sister that his cousin gave these to him.
Stealing: Entered our bedroom Friday night while we were gone (my parents were babysitting) and stole several packs of candy from the same reward bag. (Yes, he ate all the candy before bed last night.) Lying: Told his brother and sister that someone gave these to him. .) Cheating: In both cases above, he cheated by taking rewards that were not due to him.
Vandalism: Peed in the heat register in his room last night while we were gone. This is the discovery that led to figuring out all of the above crimes. When the heat kicked on and the smell emanated through his room, I realized what had happened. At that point, I started noticing candy wrappers and toy boxes, and all his crimes were revealed. (To his slight credit, he did confess to everything when asked by me.)

And so, wise parents, what would YOU do if your nearly six-year-old had committed the above acts of lying, stealing, cheating, and harming property? Tell me what would be your course of action, and perhaps we'll integrate some of your ideas into our own punishment-in-progress.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November 21, 2006: Family Season Begins


Friends, take heed. When you call me, you'll be answered with a deep, gruff, "This is Jim." The holiday season has officially started: my parents have arrived from New York. Dinner conversation tonight is only a foretaste of things to come: we talked of New Zealand, apartheid, scarab beetle tie clasps, cryogenics, germplasm maintenance, 60s ties, and noninstrumental churches. Forget the kids reporting on various daily events. When my parents are here, dinner conversations take surprising twists, and it's not unusual for Randy and my father--both scientists by trade--to spend a solid hour at the dinner table discussing history or all of us listening to my father's stories. With 81 years behind him, he has a lot of stories.

I am unspeakably blessed in so many ways to have my parents live in here 5 months of each year. Not only are my children growing up with their grandparents right next door, but I get to spend precious time with my parents. And how many spouses would delight in their in-laws living next door, sharing the supper table, for half the year? I love my husband even more for his utter generousity of spirit. He simply loves having them here. Funny how the similarities between Randy and my father grow stronger every year...

And so the family season begins. Tomorrow we bake pies, roll out noodles, and thaw a turkey. My brothers and their families, who live less than an hour away but whom we rarely see during the "off season," will start popping in. My kids will be reminded that they have cousins. There will be evening card games and trips to Dollywood, lots of raking and yard maintenance, and my mother's fabulous side dishes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nov. 20, 2006: Monday Memory: First House, First Car

house

Randy and I were married at the end of March. In February, I was living at home in NY with my parents, and he was living with a friend in Johnson City, TN, where we would be married. In that month before our wedding, he was charged with finding us a place to live. This is what he found: a 3-bedroom house on Johnson City's Tree Streets (we would never have looked anywhere else) for a whopping $175/month. The oven didn't work, the pipes burst, the back porch was falling off, it needed paint everywhere, and the roof leaked, but we loved it. It had definite potential. He was very nervous about showing this house to my parents, imagining that they would be appalled that their daughter would be living in such squalor. But my parents were undaunted and in fact were all smiles, remembering their own first house, not unlike this one.

We used to fantasize about what we could do with that house if we had money and if we were owners rather than renters. We'd shine up the hardwood floors, knock out a couple of walls, and fix the fireplaces. The best part of the house was its huge front porch, which was a gathering place for all sorts of people. The Tree Streets were the place to live back then: six streets of old family houses with big front porches interspersed with fraternities and apartment houses, just a few blocks away from the university where Randy was finishing his bachelor's degree. All our friends either lived there on the Tree Streets or were still in college 5 miles away at Milligan, so our house was always hopping. We never knew who we might find in our living room when we came home from work or school, and that's how we liked it.

But when our 6-month lease was up, we moved a few blocks down Poplar Street to a nicer apartment. Six months is long enough to use a toaster-over for baking, and we longed for showers instead of baths. The house remained unrented, though not vacant. A year or so later, it suffered fire damage when a homeless person tried to use the fireplace. A couple of years after that, that house and its twin sister next door sold and have been renovated. We drive past every time we go to Johnson City. Maybe someday we'll work up the courage to ask if we can see the inside.

The car was given to us by Randy's grandfather. I used to drive that giant Impala to work every day, fearing for my life and feeling like a midget in a submarine. Like the house, the car had a leaky roof and a broken heater.

I'm not sure I ever imagined the day would come when we'd have a van and our own house, but starting from scratch sure does make today's treasures sweeter.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November 18, 2006: Discoveries and Ensuing Deep Thoughts While Cleaning


You have to really wonder: what would possess a five-year-old to remove the toilet bowl scrubbing brush from its receptacle, pee into the receptacle, and replace the brush? And how, exactly, does one find and eliminate that underlying odor of little boy pee in said little boy's room?

Friday, November 17, 2006

November 17, 2006: What's for Supper: Chicken Roll-ups

As someone famous once said, "When Bloggers' Block strikes, post a recipe." Plus, who doesn't want a recipe that has actually passed the all-family-members-like-it test? My friend Kris in Iowa brought these to me when Laurel was born. I like the idea of people bringing me dinner. I think that my friends should bring me dinner more often, even if I'm not having a baby. Random, meaningless occasions would be fine. Also, I think that we should all get bridal showers again, like after 15 or 20 years, especially those of us who got married young when we and all our friends were penniless...
But I digress. Onto the recipe....

Chicken Roll-ups
4 oz. cream cheese
3 T. melted margarine
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 T. milk
2 1/2-3 chicken breasts (cooked and shredded)
2 pkg. crescent rolls
3/4 c. seasoned bread crumbs (fine)

Cook your chicken however you like to do this. I boil this for 20 minutes and then shred when cool. Blend cream cheese, margarine, milk, salt and pepper until smooth. Add chicken. (I leave out 1/2 breast, since I have one child that doesn't like the cream cheese mixture. If you use all 3 breasts, you'll need a little more cream cheese mixture.) Mix well. Separate rolls into 8 rectangles. Seal seams on rectangles. Spoon about 1/4 cup mixture into center of each, pull 4 corners to center, and seal each. (At this point, I put the plain chicken into the last 2 rectangles for the child-who-doesn't-like-cream-cheese.) Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet or pizza stone for 20 minutes at 375. Makes 8.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

November 15, 2006: Whatever happened to Fine Arts Fridays and Other Fun Stuff?

The first 2-3 years of homeschooling, I was dedicated to having Fine Arts Fridays. Each week we would listen to classical music while we learned about the artist-of-the-week. I would print out paintings from various time periods of an artist, say Picasso. We would all try our hand at painting/drawing in that artist's style, and then I'd display the artist's work as well as the kids' work until the next Fine Arts Friday. Sometimes we worked on a style rather than a particular artist--Impressionism, Modern, etc. This was a wonderful way to introduce the kids to artists and classical music and to incorporate the fine arts into our lives.

Sigh. I think it's been 2 or 3 years since we had our last Fine Arts Friday. I don't even remember Duncan being part of the scenario, so he must have been napping or in a highchair.

And mystery folders! Jesse and Laurel each had a folder, labeled "Mystery Folder." I'd put something new in the folder each day: a brain teaser or crossword puzzle for Jesse, a paper doll or coloring sheet for Laurel. When I needed alone time with Jesse, I'd tell Laurel that it was time to do her Mystery Folder, and vice-versa. They loved their folders, and this definitely helped them to be more indepedent. But I haven't stuffed those folders once this year, and I don't think I ever did it last year....

And "Order of the Queen" edicts! Occasionally I would surprise the kids by typing up an official notice, such as: By Order of the Queen! Today has been officially decreed a Day of Games! No workbook shall be opened! There shall be no math, no grammar, and no spelling allowed! All citizens of the estate must participate in Board Games and other such frivolity!

I think that the main reason I've let all these creative moments slip is because Jesse has entered the more serious academic years. Devoting a whole day to board games makes me slightly nervous, thinking about all the algebra and grammar that Jesse should be doing. Those are the times when I feel that balance wavering. It's those voices in my head saying: "We're homeschooling! We have the freedom to play Yahtzee all day if we want!" vs. "What would possess you to play Scrabble when he should be doing algebra?" And yet the younger children need that kind of unstructured structure. They need some of those non-academic learning opportunities--the ones that involve lots of "This is school?" moments. And Jesse may not need those kinds of activities, but I'm sure he'd appreciate a break now and then.

Another reason that I've let these slip is sheer laziness...and forgetfulness. It takes time to download and print out paintings and research artists...a little time...and, well, I forget my good intentions. And then I reassure myself that my children are gifted with a totally amazing art teacher, who has introduced them to dozens of artists over the past six years, and I do feel better. But it sure would be fun to have a Fine Arts Friday every now and then. And I do know exactly where the empty Mystery Folders are. And maybe the Queen needs to issue a few decrees.

Monday, November 13, 2006

November 13, 2006: Monday Memory: Gramma

My grandmother, had she been alive today, would turn 106 on her birthday tomorrow, November 14. Gramma--Gladys May--was born to James and Aretha Riley in 1900 in southern Illinois. In the town of Dix, Illinois, over half the 400 or so residents are Rileys. My family. Gladys was one of ten Riley children, whose grandfather, Andrew O'Reilley, and his brother came from Ireland as young men, dropped the tell-tale "O," and settled in southern Illinois sometime in the mid-1800s. The Riley clan was prolific, until Dix nearly burst with Rileys.

I was forever fascinated with the Riley clan as a child. To think that I had hundreds of 2nd and 3rd cousins, who ran back and forth to each other's houses, ate at each other's supper tables, played games of ghost-in-the-graveyard in the fields. My father grew up in a swarm of them. He had so many first cousins he could barely count them, must less name them, 75 years and eight hundred miles away from his childhood.

When I was a baby, my father moved us all from southern Illinois to upstate New York, worlds that have nothing to do with each other. Summers we would drive the 18 hours back to Illinois. We'd stay at my maternal grandmother's air-conditioned house in city of Mt. Vernon. In the afternoons my father would drive my brothers and me out to Dix to visit relatives. Rileys were everywhere. Every few feet, it seemed, my father would pull off the road. "Here's where Grandmother Riley used to live," he'd say. "Here's the house your mother and I lived in when we were first married. Here's Jack Riley's house. Here's John Carl's shop." Later my father would sit on front porches with his aunts and uncles while my brother and I drooped in the hot Midwestern sun, longing for carpet instead of the scratchy brown grass beneath our feet. I would hear my father slip into his native drawl and feel an ache in my heart even then. I wanted to lay some claim to this clan my father had left behind. But what do I know about the Riley clan, really, other than a few afternoons spent decades ago watching distant cousins, whose names I soon forgot, play free-tag in the short grass? They could have been anyone's children.

Gramma, though, I knew in a youngest grandchild kind of way. She and Granddad wintered in St. Petersburg, and I spent happy vacations there, riding in the baskets of their old people tricycles and eating delicacies like Frosted Flakes and store-bought packs of chocolate pudding. Eventually, after Granddad died, Gramma moved into a nursing home, and then another and another. She got mean and cranky and could make up a whopper of a story. She lived long enough to meet Randy (or "Andy," as she insisted on calling him). The last time I remember seeing her, she pointed at my dad across the lobby of the nursing home and shouted, "ISN'T HE HANDSOME?" Gramma died in 1988, my senior year of college. I remember my father telling me that when he was a boy in Dix, funerals were important social events. Everyone was practiced in the art of mourning, and he and his Riley cousins, dressed in their best clothes, would carry baskets of flowers in the funeral processions with the other mourners.

Being the last of 5 children with 16 years between me and my oldest brother, I never had the luxury of really knowing my grandparents. My brothers all have memories that include living near them in Illinois; I remember a handful of week-long vacations as a child and nursing-home visits as a teen and young woman. I wish I had longer with them. I never got to hear their stories. If I try hard, I can remember the sound of Gramma's voice and her laugh, and her particular smell. I wish I had more than that and am tremendously thankful that my own children have their grandparents living next door half the year. I can't think of many better gifts than that.

grandma
(Gramma and me, 1985, Florida. No comments on the hair, please--it was the 80s!)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11, 2006: Veterans' Day: In Honor of My Father and Grandfather


Opa3

My father, James Nelson Cummins, enlisted in 1943 at age 18. When the troop hit the beaches in France, he was a PFC (private first class) in Ft. Sill, OK at The Artillery School, assigned to a "flash-ranging" platoon (forward observers—FO). Back to Georgia, promoted to buck sergeant and headed out that September on what was once the luxury liner USS Manhattan, stripped down to hold 20, 000 troops. They crossed the Atlantic without escort (the story was that they were so fast that no U-boats could find them) and landed at Liverpool. Eventually they crossed the English Channel and landed on Omaha Beach. There was all kinds of wreckage there from 3 months earlier.

His battalion found out that their equipment has been on a different ship, which had been sunk, so they pitched tents in Normandy and waited for replacement equipment. When it arrived in early December, they headed for Belgium and the front. Almost there they got word of the Bulge fighting and that their sister battalion, 287 FA Ob, had been captured at Malmedy and butchered—which didn't help their morale.

My father writes: “We were not a bunch of heroes. Mostly did counter-battery work—locating German artillery, heavy mortars, rockets and tanks and directing fire on them. Wound up on the Elbe, north of Magdeburg. Crossed the Elbe to finish things off at Berlin; called back to the west bank orders of Ike; sat there and watched from about 30 miles out the fires of Berlin; watched the remnants of the Wehrmacht coming west, flowing south east of the Elbe. Watched the Russians chasing them. Finally, surrender.”

The war wasn’t over for my father, though. Because he had joined the fighting late, he was earmarked for continuing service by going to Japan. He was sent home in July with orders for 30 days leave, then to report to west coast and passage to the Far East. I have often imagined —but can’t possibly—how he felt when they landed in Boston harbor to the cries of newsboys hawking papers with headlines "Second Atom Bomb Dropped on Japan!" I imagine all those days crossing the ocean, knowing that, though he was done battling in one continent, he must barely take a breath and then head off to another. And then, to have the atom bombs be his saving grace. It has always been hard for me to read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, because on one hand I am horrified and terribly sad, but on the other hand….my father.

Opa2

In 1947 my father finished his degree at Cornell University on the GI Bill. That semester he and some friends decided that Stalin was “getting really nasty,” so they enlisted in the Army Reserve. After graduation he headed back to Southern Illinois and joined his Dad on the farm, got married, and had my oldest brother in July of 1950. Two weeks later he received orders to report to Ft. Lewis, Washington, for immediate shipping to 16th Field Artillery in Korea. It was nearly a year before he went to Korea, having received a commission in the Quartermaster Corps that first took him to Ft. Lee, Virginia. But ultimately he landed in Pusan where he was shipped trainloads of groceries to troops in the north and promoted to 1st Lt. He was offered a offered captaincy but instead came home to help his Dad on the farm in 1952.

Back in Illinois he continued in active Army Reserves, usually as infantry officer. Changed to Medical Service Corps and had three more sons. In middle of his doctoral studies at Southern Illinois University, he received ultimatum from Army -- either take command of a reserve Ambulance Company at Belleville (60 miles away) or retire. So he reluctantly retired about 1965. My father writes: “I could be negative about military service. I'm not. The Army made a man of me; gave me an education through GI Bill; gave me a strong sense of having served my country.”


Opa4

My Granddad, Nelson Andrews Cummins, went into navy in 1942, an apprentice seaman at age 41. He went to Great Lakes for his boot camp; aptitude tests pointed him toward mechanical. Stayed there for motor mechanics school, then went to advanced diesel engine school. He was promoted to MMM 1st class and assigned to a destroyer escort (DE) -- essentially a small destroyer, but powered with huge diesel engines rather than steam turbines (standard on destroyers, DD). He was promoted to Chief MMM, in charge of the engine room under the Engineering Officer. His ship went to far Pacific as support for the Okinawa landing. On the second day of the invasion, Granddad was ordered to go ashore where he had charge of diesel-powered generators that supported the fleet admiral's radio commo. His DE was sunk by kamikaze. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer and returned to his orchards in Dix, Illinois.

And so my father and his father and thousands of other fathers returned home after wars, and thousands did not. My father is 81 years old now, and my Granddad died over 30 years ago. And there is this huge part of my father's life that he remembers in all its details: the exquisite taste of hot cocoa made from bars of chocolate shaved into cups
while camped above the Elbe, the Jewish clerk from NYC and his "an-coy-vees," card games on the ship, seasickness crossing the English Channel. Missing his first child's first steps and first words. Battling moral conflict. What war takes from and adds to one man's life, we who have not, can never know.

Monday, November 6, 2006

November 6, 2006: Monday Memory: Go Vols!


go vols

When we first moved to Knoxville in 1999, we were astounded by the enormous fan base here for the U.T. Vols. Knoxville is a sea of orange in the fall. Orange clothing, orange flags, orange vehicles, orange coffee cups and book bags. When Jesse was in public school for first grade, the children were all encourage to wear Vols t-shirts on Fridays (and no, that is not one of the reasons that we decided to homeschool)! It is a phenomenon that you just have to see to believe. I remember one time at a nearby gas station, a cashier refused to sell to a customer sporting a Georgia Bulldogs tattoo. (In the cashier's defense, it is very bold to be walking around with such a thing during the Tennessee/Georgia game weekend.)

But it didn't take us long to join the craze. Randy does have a large assortment of UT paraphernalia, and he buys Laurel a UT cheerleading outfit every couple of years. In the picture above, she is three years old, and she'd received UT Barbie from a friend that year for her birthday. (Unfortunately, Jesse popped her head off a year later. Fortunately, a fellow homeschooling mom happened to have a couple of extra and gave a new one to Laurel.)

We still don't have flags and pom-poms dangling from our house and car, but I was thinking about planting marigolds in the shape of a big U.T. out in the front yard next year...

Saturday, November 4, 2006

November 4, 2006: Free Weekend and French Onion Soup


Wow. I am soaking in this day. This is the first time in 10 weeks that we've had a completely free weekend. Soccer is over. Our annual Soup and Pumpkin party has come and gone. Trunk or Treat, AHG/Cub Scout Hayride and Campfire, dentist appointments, John Notgrass seminar....all over. It's the flurry of activities that always come before we settle in for the winter, and while I'm not ready to get out the Christmas decorations yet, I am excited to spend evenings wrapped in the afghan in our blue chair (the one that has seen much better days in its first life with Randy's dad).

Speaking of being free, I read a great line in a homeschooling magazine at the library today. The author of the article was described as having been a homeschooled family "since they were liberated from public school." I loved that line. It's been seven years since we were liberated, but I still feel that powerful sense of freedom each and every day.

We've been terribly productive around here today. Randy and Jesse finished with Stage 1 of the tree house: The Platform. I've been mostly catching up on paperwork and emails, tying up those odds and ends of duties that get lost in the daily shuffle (often literally). The kids and I spent a relaxing hour at the library, and now they're all watching the big game while supper cooks. French Onion Soup and smoked turkey sandwiches are on tonight's menu. The soup recipe is below. I found a fabulous addition to our sandwiches: Mario's Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade. It's not as fabulous as roasting your own red peppers and using marinated artichokes, but it keeps a long time in the fridge, and it's quick.

French Onion Soup
Serves 4

2 TBS. butter
4 large yellow onions, sliced thin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard
dash of thyme or Italian seasoning
6 cups water
3 TBS. soy sauce
2-3 TBS. dry white wine or red wine (opt.)
few dashes of pepper
******************
Croutons (recipe below)
Grated Mozzerella or thin slices of provolone or swiss cheese

1. Melt butter in a kettle or Dutch oven. Add onions and salt. Cook over medium about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add mustard and thyme. Cover. Continue to cook very slowly for about 35 minutes. The onions will be so soft and will simmer in their own liquid.
3. Add everything else except the toppings. Simmer 15 minutes more. Dish into overproof bowls and top with croutons and cheese (in that order). Put under broiler briefly to brown the cheese. Serve with smoked turkey sandwiches or just crusty bread.

Croutons
Cube some old hoagies, hamburger buns, stale bread, or whatever you have handy. Saute in garlic butter and then toast at 300 for a few minutes.

November 4, 2006: Driving Up Unaka Mountain


This has been--and still is--the most beautiful autumn I seen in probably 20 years. While East Tennessee is always amazing this time of year, this year the colors are simply astounding. The poem below, which was published a couple of years ago, reflects on an October day 20 years ago in upper East Tennessee, when I was in college.

Driving Up Unaka Mountain

That October the wild roses wove
their way through the barbed wire
fence. Your first time in the mountains.
You stood on the edge for so long I stopped
breathing, thinking you would stretch out
your arms and dive into the green and yellow
and orange below. Or maybe I would
try it myself, not for death but for the sheer joy
of being part of something so absolute,
catching your hand as I leapt,
leaving you

laughing gap-toothed and loud.
Instead we found a warm rock
and read the books we'd brought along.
I studied the tiny freckles of your skin,
and thought about ways
to make you stay.

I was never hungry
then. Now I would pack a basket
of baguettes and brie and grapes.
Now I would be a tourist. The old people
on their porches would see my out-of-state
license plates and turn their heads, blinking

away my wave. At the top I would raise
a glass of wine and photograph the view,
everything edged and cornered.

(Sarah Cummins Small, published in Breathing the Same Air, 2001.)

Friday, November 3, 2006

November 3, 2006: Hot Toddy

I need a hot toddy right now. I don't even know what one is, but it sounds all buttery and warm and British, and I really need a giant mug of hot toddy and a crackling fire, as well as some sheepskin clothing and perhaps furs. Lots of them.

For a native New Yorker, having lived through 5 brutal Iowa winters, I have turned into a pathetic cold weather wimp. We had our annual American Heritage Girls/Cub Scouts Campfire/Hayride at Milne Farm this evening. The thermometer on Laurie's baby stroller registered 27 degrees. The spilled drinks on the tables froze, and my feet felt like stumps. I was even wearing my Iowa-purchased down coat.

But it was a beautiful moonlit night, and over 100 souls braved what is frigid for a November evening in Tennessee. Good friends, a bonfire, a beautiful farm, and a safe trip home. Now if I just had a butler to bring me a hot toddy and one of those warming bricks, I'd be all set.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

November 2, 2006: Trunk or Treat

We had a great turn-out this year at our church's annual Trunk or Treat. While it was reportedly pouring up in Knoxville, we had a beautiful evening with a crescent moon. We started doing this many years ago as a community outreach project. I have to confess that I am a reluctant trunk-or-treater. Last year we skipped it and went trick-or-treating in an actual neighborhood instead. We all loved it! Back in Iowa, we'd have snow flurries by October 31, and we'd always have to make sure that Jesse's parka could fit under his costume (or be part of it). Most halloween's here have been warm enough for just long sleeves, and the leaves are still falling off the trees and swirling around the sidewalks.

But I had fun this year. I got to spend a long time talking to our new minister's wife, a fellow homeschooling mom, while Randy and Jesse manned our trunk across the parking lot. The neatest thing about the evening was that our minister's trunk was filled with both candy and Bibles. And nearly every single kid took a Bible. Several took Bibles and gave them to their parents, saying, "Here, Mommy, this is for you!" For me, that made the whole event a tremendous success.

Below is our soldier, wearing his Grandpa's WWII hat, and our angel, being her angelic self. (Photos courtesy of our favorite photographer, Lynn Freeny.)

DSC_0028

DSC_0096


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

November 1, 2006: What can I do to serve you?

My kids have been horrible little selfish beasts lately--to each other, that is. Among friends, my daughter is known for her kindness, my youngest is known for his friendliness, and my oldest is, well, funny. But at home, they've been bickering, quarreling, and complaining. So we have declared this to be What Can I Do to Serve You Week at SmallWorld.

The goal: to help them toward developing a true servant's heart, not just a public servant's heart.
The method: each day, before 6 p.m., each member of our family must ask every other member this question: "what can I do to help you?"
The rules: the servant must ask pleasantly and the one-to-be-served must reply graciously and within reason. (In other words, "clean my entire room" is not an option, but "help me pick up these Legos" is acceptable.) Each person must keep a written record of their daily acts of service, and we will share them at the dinner table each evening. Randy and I are included in this, of course, as both servants and recipients.

So far, Laurel diverted one big fight by using, "What can I do to help you?" to Duncan instead "Get out of my chair!" Jesse helped Duncan by retrieving the dog from outside, a job which Duncan particularly dislikes. We'll see in a week how our grand experiment worked.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Have you hugged your support group leader today?

I want to market a bumper sticker in the homeschooling community that says, "Have you hugged your support group leader today?" Of course, no one would get it except the people that need the hugs and a few others. I do a little random blogging now and then, and I'm always dismayed with the number of times that I run across blogs where people are complaining about their support group. And it's just as bad in real life. Now I'm not saying that members can't have a voice in how things go, or that their opinions aren't worth hearing. It just irks me how divisive and hurtful we can be in a community that should be working together (hmmm, sounds like the church, doesn't it?). As Dr. H. says, "Homeschoolers are certainly not immune to being narrow-minded and petty."


It's hard to be a support group leader. Now that I am out of 4 years of leadership and just a regular Joe in our group, I can say that I am just amazed, truly, at how self-absorbed we can be. Phone calls at all times of the day, irritated members whose emails were not returned promptly, complaints about the cost of every single thing, grumbling about having to put in volunteer hours, reports of a dress-code violation, the never-ending grapevine--to name just a few of the most common plagues of a support group leader.

One thing I've realized and tried to impart to our current leadership team is that some people will always complain. No matter where you are--in a church, in a group, in a business--there will always be someone who likes to complain and who can rally a few people to join her. There are people who will never be happy unless they are in control and doing things exactly their way. But most people I know are happy and appreciate tremendously all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on, although few have any idea of the tremendous amount of mental, physical, and emotional energy that goes into support group leadership.

I have a file on my computer where I keep all the nice emails that I received over the years. I really did receive a lot. There are some really, really kind people out there who made a big difference to me on those days when the grumbling seemed overwhelming. I cannot express how much it meant to me everytime someone took a minute to say to me, "Thank you so much for all you do!" It is a little thing to add the word, "thanks" at the end of an email.

What I'd like to say, if you are a member of a support group, is that next time you feel the urge to pass on some negative information to your leadership or launch into a tirade about so-and-so's outfit: count to ten. Ask yourself: what kind of burden am I placing on this person with my words, and is it really necessary? Remember, before you let a complaint fly, that support group leaders are just homeschooling parents who volunteer their time and energy at tremendous expense of time and energy because, well, they want to help homeschooling families. So swallow your grumbling, and just say, "thanks."

Monday, October 30, 2006

October 30, 2006: Monday Memory: Sailing, Sailing

sailing

My brother Peter and his son spent last week at my parents' home in upstate New York. My parents live on Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, and it is mandatory in our family that we sail while we are visiting them. Last week was cold, but Peter and Owen had to sail anyway. About 25 years ago, my brothers and dad made the front page of the local newspaper when they took a Christmas Day sail. (My mother and I watched from the snow-covered dock.)

Sailing was a big part of my childhood. When we first moved from southern Illinois to New York, my parents--pure, land-locked midwesterners--joined the Yacht Club and took sailing lessons. They were hooked, and they bought what we called the K-boat--a big, red, wooden sailboat. Later they also bought the Sunfish, a smaller sailboat that could be managed by one person. I took sailing lessons at the Yacht Club for years and learned practically nothing except that big, old heavy boats can sink. By this time we had moved from town to our newly built home on the lake. One day when I was about 13, Peter came home from college and taught me how to sail in 2 hours. Maybe I was old enough by then to understand the subtle changes in the wind--to feel the tension of the sails and recognize the patterns of the waves. My friends and I spent countless hours over the next years of summers, sailing in the Sunfish. We'd set a straight and easy course and steer with our feet while we splayed out on the boat, begging the sun to bake us a little more. When we got too hot, we'd dive in or capsize the boat.

I miss sailing, but there's no place for it here in the mountain waters. The speedboats here rule without regard to their wind-powered distant cousins, and I'm spoiled by a natural lake 2 miles across, 35 miles long, and 750 feet deep dotted by white sails, any time of the year.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oct. 26, 2006: Cades Cove Day

Today was our annual Autumn Cades Cove Day. The kids and I have been doing this for years--maybe since we've lived here. We missed peak color a few days ago, but of course everything was still breaktaking. Last year we went on Nov. 8, so the winter is definitely coming faster this year.

Create Your Own!

The Mountain to the Pine
By Clarence Hawkes

Thou tall, majestic monarch of the wood,
That standeth where no wild vines dare to creep,
Men call thee old, and say that thou hast stood
A century upon my rugged steep;
Yet unto me thy life is but a day,
When I recall the things that I have seen, --
The forest monarchs that have passed away
Upon the spot where first I saw thy green;
For I am older than the age of man,
Or all the living things that crawl or creep,
Or birds or air, or creatures of the deep;
I was the first dim outline of God's plan:
Only the waters of the restless sea
And the infinite stars in heaven are old to me.

Monday, October 23, 2006

October 23, 2006: Monday Memory: Fire Engine Park, 1994


From August 1994-July 1999, we lived in Ames, Iowa. During those five years, Randy earned his PhD, I earned my master's degree, and Laurel was born. Jesse was not quite 18 months when we moved to Ames. Lots of other stuff happened, too, but those are the main events.

Iowa was always temporary for us. It was a necessary stepping stone to the next stage of our life. Iowa itself was far away from everything and everyone we'd ever known. The climate was hideous, and the endless fields of corn and beans mocked our desire for Tennessee's mountains. But we were happy in Ames. We had good friends and a great church and lived in the city that was ranked #2 nationwide in a list of "family friendly" cities (circa 1997).

One of the best qualities of Ames was its tremendous park system. There were 23 parks in a city with a population of 50,000. At least 4 parks were within walking or biking distance of our house. These were parks with two or three playgrounds each, plus swings, walking trails, etc. Most of the playgrounds were the fabulous wooden structures, shaped like pirate ships or castles. Probably our favorite park was one we called "Fire Engine Park." The centerpiece of this one was an old fire engine. I can't even imagine how many hours Jesse spent driving this old fire engine. It was here that we met the family that was to become one of our best friends in Iowa. I remember watching older kids jump off of the fire engine, thinking how impossible it seemed that one day Jesse would be old enough to do that (and before we moved, he was certainly old enough to do that). Around 1996, Iowa had a huge flood (not as big as the one in 1993 that got so much publicity), and the entire park was under water--including the fire engine. And so, without further adieu, I present scenes from Fire Engine Park (please be sure to notice Randy's awesome purple Chucks). Jesse is about 19 months old in these photos, taken in October 1994.

randy-fire eng

jesse swing


Friday, October 20, 2006

October 21, 2006: Pondering the New Faces of Homeschooling and Otherness


Every year that I’ve been homeschooling I’ve heard someone refer to “the new breed of homeschoolers” or the “other homeschoolers” or something to that effect. The definition of this varies widely, but it has to do with homeschoolers who perhaps aren’t bona fide homeschoolers. People who are homeschooling because their kid got kicked out of school for disciplinary issues. People who are just “trying out” homeschooling for a year. People whose kids needed to go on homebound for sickness and who decided to homeschool instead. (I remember several years ago, a mom brought her two middle-school aged kids to our enrichment class program and asked the then-director, “Is this the place where you homeschool?”

But the truth is…sometimes when I hit the “random blog” button or read articles in homeschooling magazines, I start feeling like, well, the “other” homeschoolers. Don’t get me wrong: we are a homeschooling family to the core. I advocate homeschooling 100% and quite frankly am sad when friends who were contemplating homeschooling choose public/private schools instead. But I feel like the “other” kind of homeschooler when, for example, I read one of the letters in the most recent issue of TOS. The writer was chastising TOS for including an interview with BarlowGirl. I, on the other hand, remember thinking, “Cool! TOS has an interview with BarlowGirl!” In such instances, I am hit with a wave of “otherness.”

Or when I read about a day-in-the-life of a homeschooling family and think, “Geez! I am such a slacker! My kids hate narration, I don’t make my own fresh bread every day, I don’t use the King James Version (except on the occasional Sunday when I forget my Bible and have to use the pew Bible), and—to top it all off—my 4th grader doesn’t have her multiplication tables memorized.” “Otherness” has to do with anyone who does things, well, differently than “we” do: from wild, unruly unschoolers; to middle-of-the-road eclectic folks; to straight A Beka advocates; to tight-lipped tomato-stakers (important note: stereotypes listed here to make a point, not necessary a personal viewpoint!!). Pick whatever category you fall into, and the rest are “others.”

“Otherness” hits me only now and then. I am blessed with a healthy dose of self-confidence (thanks to my wonderfully affirming parents who brought me up to live with great expectation). But I worry about homeschoolers who are mired in a self-doubt that is accentuated by that feeling of being, well, atypical.

One of the things I love about TOS magazine is its column that highlights various homeschooling families. There are two purposes to these articles: first, to take a peek into the lives of homeschooling families; and second, to make it clear to readers that no two homeschooling families are alike. Unfortunately, in real life, we just don’t always get it. We look at other families and think to ourselves—hmmm. They’re a different kind of homeschooler.

Ironically, as we all know, one of the greatest beauties of homeschooling is that it is flexible education at its finest. Any educational buzzword can be actively defined within the context of a handful of homeschooling families. Multiple intelligences? Accountability? Team teaching? Educational technology? Restructuring? Teacher empowerment (gotta love that one!)? Integrated learning? No Child Left Behind? Most of us can put a checkmark by all of those (although I do know one or two who have literally left a child behind on occasion…).

Shouldn’t we be happy that people are homeschooling, period? Shouldn’t we embrace and encourage any kind of homeschoolers, regardless of their motivation, rationale, or modus operundi? Shouldn’t we take time to answer the questions of a homeschooling mom, even if she is only homeschooling for a year to get her middle-schooler “caught up”? Because after all, aren’t we all, at some time, put in the uncomfortable position of being an “other’? And for those of us homeschooling 15 years or less, aren’t we all a “new breed of homeschoolers” to those pioneers in the 1970s and 80s?

Enough deep thoughts for tonight. Maybe next week I’ll find a new homeschooler whose face I don’t know and make sure she doesn’t feel like an “other.”

October 20, 2006: Friday Feast

One of my favorite things about fall is that we get to start eating soup again! I understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating soup in the summer--and I even know some truly nice and normal (well, sort of) people who do so--but we just don't. For us, soup is one of the ways to hearken the onset of autumn. On tonight's menu is probably our all-around favorite: Rainy Monday Beef Stew. This was a trial and error recipe, perfected long ago on a rainy Monday in Iowa. Tonight's will be even better because I have time to make a loaf of focaccia.

Rainy Monday Beef Stew
2 slices bacon, cut up
4 T. flour
1/4 tsp. pepper
1-1 11/2 lbs. stew beef or chuck roast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lg. onion, chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, chooped
2 c. beef broth
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
1 pinch thyme
2 carrots, sliced
2 large potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
10 mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or less to taste)
1/2 tsp. chili powder

In large pot, cook bacon until light brown. Combine flour and pepper in a bowl. Dip meat in flour mixture to coat. Brown in bacon fat (add oil if it sticks). Add onion and garlice; brown a bit. Add broth, wine, and thyme. Cover and cook slowly 1-2 hours. Add spices and vegetables. Cook another half hour to hour, or until vegetables are tender. Adjust spices to taste. You can make this is the crockpot but you need to brown the meat first and use less liquid.


Focaccia

1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
about 3 1/2 c. flour
2-3 tbs. dried rosemary
olive oil (for the bowl)

1) Place the water in a medium-sized bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved.
2) Add flour, one cup at a time, mixing with a fork or whatever you like. Eventually, you can mix with your hand. Add more flour as needed to combat stickiness. Knead on a floured surface for 5-8 minutes--until it's smooth. Form into a ball. Put in a bowl that's been oiled, turn over to get it all oiled, and cover with a tea towel (preferably one without dog hair on it). Let rest for and hour or so in a warm place. Preheat oven to 400.
3) Punch down and roll dough into a circle, about 10-12 inches in diameter and put on lightly oiled tray or on pizza stone. Brush surface with olive oil. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned or however you like it. Serve with olive oil and pepper for dipping or just dip into your stew.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

October 18, 2006: October at Its Finest


We’re all about the fall here at SmallWorld. In the summer we tend to be sluggish, preferring the comfort of air-conditioning to the mosquitoes and humidity. I think one of the reasons we love camping so much in the summer is because the mountains remember autumn and give us a little taste of October in the middle of a July night.

Today was pumpkin picking day for BHEA. Well, it was sort of pumpkin picking, in that the kids got to pick their pumpkins off of the grass. Strangely, this farm does not grow its own pumpkins but rather purchases them elsewhere and scatters them about the land. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day. The farm had a few goats and kittens to pet and hay bales on which to jump, and no one really cared much that the pumpkins probably came from Wal-mart.

pumpkindjs

pumpkinlrs

pumpkinfield

This evening we walked down to an empty field nearby so that Jesse could have some target practice with his bow and arrow. The sunset was exquisite, and we had hot blueberry cobbler and ice cream waiting for us when we returned home. I love knowing that we have another full month of autumn before the winter brown sets in.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oct. 17, 2006: One Lord, One Faith, One Party?

We have a great little magazine provided at our church each week. The Christian Standard is always packed with excellent, thought-provoking articles pertaining to issues of Christianity and the local church. I am always surprised about how few people at our church pick up and read this excellent publication. Reading it frequently gets me all fired up about our role as Christians in the local congregation, community, country, and world. The issues usually address the tough issues that a church faces, from discipline to worship wars and everything in between. The issue from last week was titled One Lord, One Faith, One Party? and deals with an issue in many congregations (or among Christians) that I find particularly irksome: the assumption that Christian=Republican, and vice versa, period.

Darrel Rowland's article asks: "Is the Church Getting Too Involved in Politics?" Rowland says, "I feel strongly about the danger to the church from political entanglement, especially when we develop uncompromising litmus tests in areas of opinion." (You can read the whole article through the link above.) Below are a couple of paragraphs that I'd love to be printed in church bulletins:

How welcome in your church are those who oppose the war in Iraq? What about Democrats? How about people who believe feeding the poor and caring for the sick are at least as scriptural as opposing abortion and gay marriage?
Thomas Campbell [the "founder" of the Restoration Movement churches] fled the burdensome denominational world that labeled him part of the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church. Are we replacing that with the Republican Anti-Gay Rights Lower Taxes Christian Church, "a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear" (Acts 15:10)?
Shall we change the old song to say, "And they'll know we are Christians by our...right-wing politics?"


Rowland doesn't advocate one party over another is this article. His point is that Christians should be called to a higher standard than either the Democratic or Republican platform. He closes by saying, "I hope we always remember that while new laws and prohibitions may direct behavior from the outside in, the power of Jesus Christ will transform people from the inside out." Good stuff.