Friday, June 30, 2006

June 30, 2006: Country Girl

I always feel very peaceful when I come back from my friend Caroline's house. Peaceful and wistful. I always pictured myself living at such a place as Milne Farm. I'm not unhappy where I am. In reality I love to be in the middle of things. I love to hop in the car and be anywhere in 10 minutes. I love to have friends drop by on their way to Walmart. But there is this heritage I am missing, this 120 years or so of Cummins farmers. Tractors chug in my veins. I miss the smells of barn, rootstock cellar, hot tractor.

When I was a girl, we were always working on trees. Weekends in the greenhouse, my father had us digging in dirt or recording data. My father (cool glasses, I know) spent much of his life breeding fruit tree rootstocks and researching fruit tree virus effects. Before that part of his life (and before me) he owned Cummins Shawnee Orchards in Cobden, Illinois. This was the childhood of my three oldest brothers, who drove tractors before kindergarten. We didn't have our own orchards when I was growing up, but my father was a research scientist for Cornell University's NY State Agricultural Experiment Station; thus, we had access to acres of fruit trees and berries. My oldest brother began Littletree Orchards in the early 1970s, so we spent weekends helping him get started: sprinkling deer repellent into bundles of cheesecloth, tying bands on buds recently grafted, weeding, mowing, planting. Winter evenings, my father would bring home envelopes of apple seeds to count. Always on the counter were tiny green apples with numbers written on them in Sharpie. Springtime brought pollen counting and afternoons under the apple blossoms. It was a good life. Boring sometimes when Mom and Dad were wrapped up in data collecting and the day turned hot, but then there were the picnics in the wildflower-laden woods and my mother exclaiming over trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Solomon's Seal, Wake Robin.

I thought I would live in a big white house in the country, where the kids could spend their days playing in a creek and building tunnels in the hayloft. I thought I'd can and make jam and stack wood for the winter. I thought I'd wear an apron. Richard Bach's book One explores the possibilities of those "other" lives: the "what-if" we had gone this direction....or bought this house...or taken this job instead of that one... What if we lived in a big white house in the country instead of a cozy brick house with a distant view of the mountains? Someday, maybe, there will be a time for apple trees and tractors. For now, I'm happy right where I am. But I sure am glad I have a friend with a big farmhouse in the country.

Monday, June 26, 2006

June 26, 2006: Perfect Weekend

You know those weekends that are just so filled with good things? This past was one of them. We cancelled our Saturday trip to Nashville at kind of the last minute, so we had this whole nearly empty day stretched out before us. Duncan and Laurel got to go to a birthday party and Jesse got to hang out with Bryant. Saturday evening became a spontaneous dinner party with Our Favorite Redheads and the Dad2Three and Blogless Leigh family. (One of these days she's going to pound me for calling her that!) Midway through the evening, Tia confessed that it was actually her birthday, so the spontaneous blueberry crumble became her birthday cake.Recipe for a perfect Saturday night in June: good conversation, home-made ice cream, kids on bikes, jump-roping girls, and little boys in costume.

b-day cobbler rick and baby
Birthday Cobbler and Rick with Phat Baby

Sunday was awesome. Our good friends came to church with us, and we all went out to eat at our favorite Mexican Restaurant afterwards. The afternoon was completely relaxing. A little gardening and outdoor play, naps, and a family movie, March of the Penguins.

And Monday morning brings a much needed rain. Our friends from Iowa will visit later this week, so perhaps they really will see Tennessee when it's green!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

June 24, 2006: What We Used in 2006

Jesse
• Sonlight 6 Core: World History
• Daily Grams: Jr./Sr. High
• Various science
• Houghton-Mifflin Mathematical Concepts: Bridge to Algebra and Geometry
• Vocab: Working With Words, Grade 8
• Spelling Power
• Geography: State Studies
• Enrichment Classes: Art; Creative Writing; Critical Thinking; Speech, Debate, and Drama; Geography (Around the World in 180 Days); Essay Writing

Laurel
• Sonlight 6 Core: World History (Bible and Story of the World; doesn't listen to read-alouds)
• Daily Grams 3rd Grade
• Various Science, including Singapore
• Singapore Math 2B
• Spelling Power
• Geography: State Studies
• Variety of Language Arts: Explode the Code 5, McGraw-Hill Enrichment Reading Grade 3, Phonics Connection Grade 3, I Love Reading Grade 3
• A Reason for Writing
• Draw, Write, Now
• Enrichment Classes: Crafts; American Girl History (Felicity and Kirsten); Scrapbooking; Hebrew Dance; Narnia Book Club; Art

Friday, June 23, 2006

June 23, 2006: Fruit Snob

I am a fruit snob. I am reminded of that frequently, especially on mornings like this when I am face-to-face with putrid fruit. Duncan wanted oatmeal and peaches for breakfast. What he got was oatmeal and a few tasteless, mushy pinkish chunks of something labeled "California White Flesh Peach" on his oatmeal. What is really sad is that he didn't even complain! He is used to tasteless fruit, except when his Uncle John's peaches are ready in August.

It took me years to be able to buy fruit at the supermarket. I knew it was inferior. For the first 18 years of my life, I was privvy only to fresh fruit from the orchards. Even in the dead of winter we ate "fresh" fruit that had been picked in the summer and frozen for winter. Not those tasteless bags of Birds-eye, but the real stuff. Apples came from cold storage. Not my favorite fruit by February when the skins were wrinkled. I'd turn up my nose at a March cold-storage apple back then. Little did I know the tasteless things disguised as apples I'd face in my adult years!

This is what comes from the product of 7 generations of orchardists: a bona fide fruit snob. But I break down and buy mealy plums, anemic apricots, rotten peaches, and cardboard apples because my children beg me to--and because they must have fruit. Every now and then we get a good one, a fresh Georgia peach or a decent New Zealand apple. Sometimes we get good bags of Empire apples in the fall. I still refuse to buy those oh-so-deceptively luscious-looking Red Delicious. My kids don't even ask me. (My father has been known to approach people in supermarkets and advise them to choose the Gala over the insidious Red Delicious.)

So now, friends, you know yet something else about me: the sight of a California peach, picked green and shipped to Tennessee, makes me cringe. Washington Red Delicious should be banned. And by the way, pears are not ripe until the are yellow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

June 21, 2006: Savoring the Season

Nights like last night are just what parenthood should be about. This is a perfect scene: sitting with a group of friends with picnic baskets making the rounds. All the kids feel perfectly free to grab from any open bag of snacks. It's swim meet night, so we're in for the long haul. It's organized chaos on the pool deck. Dozens of swimmers of all ages are milling about, parents are doing their volunteer work, and coaches are everywhere. Our kids check in with us every now and then and then are off again, getting ready for their next race or just playing tag while they wait. The little ones somehow sneak into the irresistible and oh-so-disgusting creek and are reprimanded with us squealing, "Eww! That is NASTY water! Don't ever get in there again!"

Dusk, and the fireflies come out. The pool lights kick on, and it's really dark. And late. 9:45 and our swimmers have their last race. We pack up and are home by 10:15, a deliciously late summer night. The kind of night that will be etched in the very hearts of our children, so that when they are grown, they will remember swimming on hot June nights: the frenzied races, the comfort of parents close by, a huddle of friends on a single towel, a game of tag, and handful of fireflies.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

June 20, 2006: Weekend in the Smokies




There is nothing that could make Dr. H. happier than camping, so we spent Father’s Day weekend wrapped in the Smokies at the Cosby Campground . This actually began as a trip with Our Favorite Redheads but morphed into a Small Family camp with a Saturday visit by the Dad2Three & BloglessLeigh Family .

We had reserved a group campsite but opted to move to a smaller, quieter site when we realized that we would be right up against two groups of Cub Scouts. As Scouting families, we know that large groups of boys make noise—lots and lots of noise. Moving seemed to be a good idea.

In the morning visited an old cemetery—so old that the dates were long worn away. I love those mountain plots. The kids splashed around in the river for quite awhile. There’s not much I can think of that’s more peaceful than sitting on the edge of a river in the mountains.

rocks

In the afternoon the Laneys arrived, and we enjoyed several hours of good conversation and a gentle hike. Funny how things changed when the teen-age girls arrived. Suddenly our group was stalked by a couple of pre-teen boys, who apparently thought that it was perfectly acceptable to follow the girls around. Bryant and the Dads eventually shooed them away.

Back at our campsite, the ranger informed us that bear activity was high and that a bear trap was set nearby. He advised us not to let the kids play in the trap. More good conversation and then the Laneys had to head back to civilization.

Laurel had too many s’mores and got sick the middle of the night. I dreamed of bears. We headed home around noon, satisfied and refreshed. Camping is good for the soul. Regardless of bears, stalkers, vomit, and loads of laundry, we return always refreshed and excited about our next trip.

river rocks

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 19, 2006: A Year in Retrospect: Duncan

Duncan's collage

And now it’s Duncan’s turn. Duncan’s main goal in life at this point is to get to “see someone” every day. Like Laurel, he always want to know who will be “there” to play with—wherever “there” happens to be. Duncan loves people. He has spent most of his five-and-a-half years tagging along to wherever Jesse and Laurel need to be. This year he played Upward Soccer for the first time. His good friends Wheaton and Gideon were on his team, and he especially enjoyed digging in the dirt during games. He also looked forward to the snacks that came after the game. Our dog, Daisy, has become Duncan’s dog. He absolutely loves her, and she can usually be found wherever he is.

Duncan enjoyed his preschool year very much. At home we did loads of puzzles, games, and learning skills workbooks. At enrichment classes he had Book Cooks, Bible, ABCs, Science, and Explorations. He loved his classes but loved lunch-time the best, when he could run around with his friends.

We’ll begin “formal” kindergarten in August. We’ll go through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, some Sonlight books, and unit studies. Duncan has decided he wants to do a study of plants first, much to his father’s delight. I’m looking forward to getting started!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

June 15, 2006: A Year in Retrospect: Laurel

Laurel collage 06

My husband is very irritated that I haven’t blogged in several days, but it is really his fault. He has taught me the value of symmetry through the years, and now it is difficult for me to be asymmetrical. Therefore, it is necessary that I complete my collage retrospectives on each of the children before I blog about anything else. He said, half-heartedly, that I could just add “blog snippets” between retrospectives, but he knew even in saying so, deep-down, that the symmetry would be broken.

But I digress! This is about Laurel’s third-grade year, not about the need for order. Look at that girl’s beautiful smile! She has fun just about wherever she goes. She would definitely get high marks in “plays well with others.” Laurel loves to be wherever her friends will be. Every time we head out the door, she says, “Who will be there?” Chances are, “someone” is there. I love that Laurel is such good friend. I’ve never heard her being catty or making fun of anyone. She just wants to play dolls and have a good time; she’s not interested in all the drama involved in being a girl. That is so awesome, and my prayer is that she will continue to nurture her good heart and always be a supportive friend.

Laurel kicked off the year again with Upward soccer. Her good friends Caitlin F., Caitlin B., and Celia were on her team, and the four of them had a blast. There’s nothing quite like a crisp fall morning, good friends, and the smiling faces of four beautiful girls. She opted not to do Upward cheerleading this year in the winter, for which we were thankful. It was nice to have the winter off from weekday practices and Saturday morning games. (She’s already decided that this was just a temporary break, however; she has grand plans to cheer again next winter….) After taking a hiatus from Hebrew Dance in the fall, Laurel started back up again in January. She had a great time. It always thrills me to watch them dance at the finale. Their faces are just so perfectly jubilant.

And of course American Heritage Girls plays a huge part in Laurel’s life. This was her last year as a Tenderfoot, and she earned her Sacagewea Award in May and is now an Explorer. She was very excited to get to shed her red vest for the blue one. We did all sorts of fun activities outside of troop time as well this year: a family sunset hike on the Foothills Parkway, a family cook-out/campfire at Milne Farm, a Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Tea, and our traditional Mother/Daughter sleepover, Troop All-Skate, and Father/Daughter camp-out. She also got to ride a horse for the first time at our Horsemanship Camp. Laurel is my little sidekick, always there an hour or two early, helping us set-up and staying to help us clean. I am blessed that she’s such a content child.

This was Laurel’s first year of “official” piano lessons (i.e., with a teacher other than me), and I think she is fabulous. She really loves playing, and often drives her brothers crazy by hopping up and practicing while they’re in the middle of a movie. She had her first recital this spring at a nursing home, and we were so amazed and proud that our once-shy girl just hopped up there and played so confidently.

In the world of academia, Laurel made huge strides this year. She has been so different than Jesse, who was a voracious reader at age 7. She’s mostly just enjoyed flipping through magazines or scanning short books until this spring. And then suddenly: whoosh! She’s started flying through books! She’s been heard to beg, “Just one more chapter!” about every night, and she even carries a book with her to read in the car now. Phew! I was getting a little worried that I gave birth to an alien creature who does not consider books one of the main food groups! She was involved in two clubs that involved a lot of reading (although I read nearly all the books to her): American Girl and Chronicles of Narnia. I was so glad to get to read Narnia again, as it’s been a few years since we read them to Jesse. At home we studied World History (Story of the World, Volumes 1 and 2). Laurel’s basic comment to sum up the first several thousand years of history is: “Why are there always all these wars and fighting?” She was much more interested in hearing about some royal baby being born than about the Crusades. But she was soaking it all in, just the same. She breezed through math—Singapore 2a and 2b—although she often attempted a dramatic “I can’t do this!” Her spelling improved tremendously this year, as did her writing skills, correspondingly. I saw a huge leap in her skills this year, in every single area. She had a full schedule at our enrichment class program, as well: art, Hebrew dance, American Girl history, scrapbooking (she LOVED this!!), creative writing, and U.S. geography.

And so summer is upon us, and Laurel can do what she enjoys most of all: play. We are blessed to have a girl next door who is Laurel’s age, and they spend as much time together as possible. We are also doing Around the World camp here and Art camp with Miss Jennifer each Wednesday, and she’s just finishing up a week of chemistry camp at the Discovery Center. She’s swimming with the Flying Dolphins, the Maryville-Alcoa swim team, this summer and having a blast. And as soon as we “finished” school on May 31st, she proudly declared, “Hey, I’m in fourth grade now!” Man, that sounds old!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

June 11, 2006: A Year in Retrospect: Jesse

Jesse-collage061

It seemed logical that the best way to practice my collage-making skills would be to compile a record of this year for each child. Jesse is horrified that I would post photos of him on my blog, but I told him to “SCRAM!” After all, this is MY blog.

The photos represent several different aspects of Jesse’s life this year. “Bob” joined us sometime last summer. Jesse created Bob as a cartoon for his occasional news magazine, The Freakshow Weekly. Bob became an instant hit, and Jesse’s “Vote for Bob” t-shirts were a hit at our co-op. Unfortunately, he lost interest in marketing Bob products when he discovered Pac-Man, Gamemaker, thrift-store ties, and The Beatles. I am happy to report that Jesse has designed a series of games featuring Bob, including one in which Bob jumps on spikes and squishes little blue rabbits.

It has become evident this year that Jesse has a passion for computers. He has invested a little money and a tremendous amount of time learning programming, graphic design, and game-making skills. This summer he’ll be taking two classes at the U.T. Continuing Education program—“How to Design Your Own Webpage” and “C+++ Programming.” He also has accumulated quite a hefty shelf full of computer books, thanks largely to the free bins at McKays. Who would toss out a gem like, “Writing for Windows Multimedia?”

This was Jesse’s first year of violin, and I think he did great. When Jesse was about 5, his great-grandfather presented him with a violin that he had picked up during WWII. He’d had it all fixed up for Jesse. Finally, seven years later, we buckled down and got Jesse lessons. He has also been fortunate this year to get in on the beginning of the Blount County Homeschoolers’ Orchestra, so he’s had violin and orchestra weekly. The orchestra performed a several venues at Christmas and in April, so this has been a fantastic experience. Lately he’s been learning fiddle music as well as classical, so we are enjoying hearing “Rocky Top” on a more frequent basis.

Boy Scouts continues to play a big part in our lives. One thing we love about our Troop is that the dads play a huge role in all activities. Randy and Jesse head out to meetings twice a month and then also to loads of other activities—camp-outs, hikes, etc. Jesse is now 2nd class but will be ready for 1st class at his next Board of Review. Boy Scout camp, the highlight of the summer, is just a few weeks away.

Jesse also has continued fencing this year. A homeschooling dad started the club last year with about 10 boys, and the club has more than doubled this year. In August they had their first tournament, and we’re hoping that another one happens this summer.

We added a new member to our family this year: our first dog, Daisy. She is a spectacular dog, fitting right into our family. She and Jesse spend many afternoons together, her at Jesse’s feet while he’s on the computer, when I shuttle Laurel and Duncan here and there.

As far as academics go, at home Jesse did Sonlight Core 6 (World History), Pre-Algebra, Daily Grams Jr-High School, Bible, and vocabulary. He also took my Basic Essay Writing class and World Geography with the Laney’s. At our Enrichment Class program, he took creative writing; Drawing II; critical thinking; and speech, debate, and drama. In February Jesse competed in the Word Power Challenge. He got first place in 7th grade and advanced to Nashville. He doesn’t know his ranking there (not in the top 10) against the other 100 finalists across the state, but he had a great time.

Next year we’ll finish Sonlight’s World History program with Core 7. Jesse will be taking his first high school credit, Physical Science, and probably start Algebra 1 mid-year.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

June 8, 2006: Boxing Them In


There’s been all this discussion lately on one homeschooling loop about “gifted” children. I stopped reading the posts after the first few. This whole labeling system drives me crazy. I find it disappointing that homeschoolers would fall into the labeling trap. Years ago there was a member on the same homeschooling loop whose signature was followed by a listing of her three kids and each of their “labels”: OCD, ADD, ODD, what-have-you. I understand that we all feel better sometimes when we have a label or a diagnosis. There’s a feeling of relief: “I’m not the only one with a kid like this!”

But isn’t it somewhat disturbing to be labeled like that? What if you’re the kid whose mom lists your labels after your name? Sure, labels can be challenging. You might be determined enough to break the bondage of your diagnosis. Being known as “shy” as a child, for example, made me want to do everything possible to shed that stigma. (Note to self: why is shyness a stigma--good topic for another day!) But labels can also cripple. Being known as “shy” was limiting to me. Sure, I was shy—but there was a lot more to me than my shyness.

Why do people want to label their kids by one facet of their composition? The whole “gifted” thing rubs me the wrong way. I find it painful to read a post on a homeschooling loop that says something like, “My child has been tested as gifted. Is it possible to get him into the talented-and-gifted program at our local public school but still homeschool him?” And then someone will write back, totally serious: “Yes! Your child is considered special needs, so you have a right to have an IEP for him.” Why in the world would you want your gifted child in the TAG program at your local school? Why not just create your own TAG program? Isn’t that what homeschooling is all about? I must be missing something. And why do we need to test our kids to find out if they are “gifted”? Isn’t that diagnosis really for the parent? I know that my 13-year-old doesn’t need to know if he is officially gifted. He has a big enough head already. (Kidding, Jesse!)

When I hear labels, I see chains. Small boxes. Identifying marks on the forehead. Label parties (“Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m gifted!” “Nice to meet you! I’m Jane, and I’m ODD/OCD!”). No thanks! We’ll take the smorsgasbord.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

June 4, 2006: The Knowing

Eighteen years ago was a hotter June 4th. Eighteen years ago this evening, I was sitting on the hood of a car with my ex-boyfriend and all the sudden realized: "My life starts now."

I had graduated from college just a few weeks beforehand. I was hanging around for the summer, "finishing up an incomplete." (Note to friends: that's along the same lines as "going to see E.T.") My life at that point was a big question mark. I had a very vague grasp on the future. I guess I thought I would be going to graduate school at U.T. and driving back to Johnson City on the weekends to hang-out with all my friends (who were still in college) and continue our regular college life. It was all very nebulous. I'd been accepted in U.T's English department for graduate school, but I really had no plan. The future went no further than that night's plans.

But on that night, June 4, I saw my future with perfect clarity, and he was sitting on the hood of the car right there with me. To think that moment might not have happened used to frighten me. Sometimes in later years I would have those kinds of dreams where we are lost to each other, and I'd wake feeling like I'd been weeping all night. I am still relieved and overjoyed to find him here with me.

We had been officially broken-up for 8 months at that point, but the year before that had not been a good one. It's all so complicated--was then, and is now. Who can explain who we were then? But I had let him go and had moved on. It was a choice I made every day. At twenty-two, I knew that I'd already had the love of my life. I knew that I could and would go on. I'd get married someday, have kids. But I knew that what we'd had at 19 would never be replaced.

There was this poem called "Four Poems for Robin" by Gary Snyder that I saw as my future. I read this so many times during my senior year in college that I had it nearly memorized. I was resigned to this fate in the last stanzas of the poem:

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.
We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.
I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
karma demands.

But on that muggy June night 18 years ago, all kinds of things fell into place. I can't remember what led up to us sitting on the hood of the car. I can't remember much of what was said, except for a quote from a Dire Straits song. What I do remember is that powerful feeling that all moments in my life had led up to this place, this person, and this future.

Some people scoff at young love. I do it myself sometimes, because 19 just seems so, well, young. (And so does 20, and 21, and 22, for that matter!) A young woman at church, having recently broken up with her boyfriend, asked me: "How do you know who is 'the one'? Do you ever just completely know?" To answer that question with a yes is the most I can do, because to explain that knowing is impossible. Sometimes, you just know.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

June 1, 2006: Last Day

And so summer begins. Our "last day" ended without much fanfare. Wednesdays are so busy around here that we didn't give our year a good, proper party. I used to imagine ending the year with cake and trophies, but now I know that the waking up with a whole free day ahead is enough.

Those are the days of my childhood that are so clear to me. It's different here in the south, to be sure, largely because of air conditioning. As a child, summer meant birds in the morning, warm breeze through the screens, and utter freedom. The air conditioning here wipes out the bird songs fairly thoroughly and of course the warm breeze left us last week--but I can still feel that freedom .

Each year I contemplate year-round "schooling"...for about a minute. The sheer joy of "nothing to do" in the summer surpasses all arguments in favor of "keeping their math skills sharp" and such. The learning never stops, of course. Camping, hiking, swimming, reading, arts and crafts, hole-digging, bug collecting. And they have their share of sports and camps of various sorts and other activities of that nature. Jesse's even taking two computer courses this summer--just for fun. ;-)

But crack a math book? Do a page of Daily Grams? You won't see that happening in our own Small World. We're on summer break!